NHL life in 2021 — like regular life — was dominated by COVID-19.
The league maneuvered, constrained and pivoted to play 56-game campaigns that culminated with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning their second consecutive pandemic Stanley Cup.
Things started out well until the Omicron strain swept North America. It caused a string of postponements, team shut downs, fan bans in some Canadian arenas, new coronavirus restrictions, a lengthy pause over the holiday break and finally, the NHL’s withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics.
COVID-19’s 2022 shadow will be long. It will impact how the schedule is revised and the economic effects on a league that, less than a month before, was projecting a return of $5.2 billion in revenue.
WATCH | NHL schedule upended by virus:
However, there are plenty of other storylines that you can follow.
The Olympic decision means that there is a possibility that NHL stars could go a decade with no best-on-best tournament. This was after the league skipped South Korea’s 2018 Games.
The NHL and NHL Players Association staged the World Cup of Hockey in 1996, 2004, 2016 and 2016. The league’s desire to increase its business means that the event could see a rebirth before NHLers go to the 2026 Olympics.
WATCH: Where Olympic hockey starts from here| Where Olympic hockey goes from here:
To focus on other league events, the Edmonton Oilers opened 2021-22 sporting a 16-5-0 record. They topped the Western Conference on December 1.
However, injuries, COVID-19, and poor play saw the club fall to 2-8-2 in its last 12 games against the Maple Leafs.
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been doing their part — the pair sit 1-2 in the scoring race — but roster holes are once again showing, including in goal where under-fire head coach Dave Tippett blasted Mikko Koskinen this week for a couple soft ones in a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers.
Toronto is currently tied with Tampa Bay and Florida Panthers for the Atlantic Division’s first place. Auston Matthews (Leafs) led the charge, with Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander leading. The Leafs had gone 18-4-1 before Wednesday.
If you’re looking for teams that can push their limits, the Colorado Avalanche have a lot of talent. They are stacked with talent, including Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen as well as Gabriel Landeskog, Cale Makar, Cale Makar, and Gabriel Landeskog.
Colorado has lost three consecutive rounds despite being among the most highly ranked Cup contenders.
Switching to the board room, four teams — the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks — are currently without permanent, full-time general managers.
With a variety of candidates available and the NHL trade deadline on March 21, it will be fascinating to see who they choose to fill these roles.
McDavid owned the 2021
McDavid was awarded the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, as well as the Art Ross Trophy, for his outstanding performance in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 campaign.
The Edmonton star, who was in COVID-19 protocol Wednesday, missed the Toronto game. He led the NHL last season with 105 points in 56 matches, 21 more than Draisaitl.
McDavid has added 52 points to his 31-game schedule to make it the league’s best for 2021.
Draisaitl came in second place with 135 points. Auston Matthews (99), Panthers’ winger Jonathan Huberdeau (999) and Rantanen 96 completed the top 5.
WATCH: McDavid leaps past 4 defenders to score an incredible goal| McDavid dangles through 4 defenders for incredible goal:
Gaudreau receives praise from coach
Darryl Sutter, Calgary Flames coach, was not shy when asked about Johnny Gaudreau before his 500th NHL game in March.
Sutter responded, “Hope he has more energy that his 499th,” as only he could.
Gaudreau is a formidable offensive threat. The 28 year-old scored 99 points in 2018-19. Gaudreau is currently eighth in league scoring, with 37 points for 2021-22. That includes seven of the three games since the Flames’ COVID-19 return.
Sutter was impressed by Gaudreau’s versatility.
The coach said this week that Johnny is “one of the top 200-foot players currently in the league,” referring to his star winger. “That speaks volumes about Johnny and the way he approaches the season.
Gaudreau stated that, despite his impressive 2018-19 numbers, he was “maybe cheating slightly on the offensive side.”
He continued, “A good year points wise.” But just looking at my 200-foot game, I feel a lot better.”
From ECHL to NHL
Rarely, a player moves from the third-tier ECHL league to the NHL within the same season.
Cameron Hillis accomplished it in two months.
The Montreal Canadiens gave the 21-year old centre from Oshawa (Ont.), his NHL debut this weekend after he was ravaged by COVID-19 injuries and COVID-19.
Hillis had three assists in six games for the ECHL’s Trois Rivieres Lions. He was promoted to the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket in November, where he scored two goals and four point in eight contests.
Hillis, a third-round draft pick in 2018, played just over 10 minute and recorded two shots in Montreal’s 5-2 loss to Florida New Year’s Day.