The Washington Capitals will open the 2022-23 season on Wednesday October 12. Before that, it is essential that you prepare for all the incoming stories. The only way to be safe is to read my Season Preview series. This is the end of this series.
Today’s episode of Uncle Good Tweet Pete Pre-Season Preview is full of bold and stupid predictions.
Washington loses a ton of expiring UFAs
Washington’s expiring class is as follows: forwards Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway, Connor Sheary and Carl Hagelin; and defenders Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen and Trevor van Riemsdyk. For Eller and Sheary, this feels like the end of their time in Washington. Hagelin might be done with professional hockey.
But Hathaway is massive depth and could be worth a modest overpayment for the position. Orlov and Jensen make a very impressive pair, but I don’t know if the two could be kept at free market prices, so Orlov would be the keeper. Either way, we’ll likely see another face of the Cup-winning side turn gray, and there’ll be plenty of turnover next summer.
Peter Laviolette shines in lame duck season
The Capitals have a lot of headwinds this season, especially age, but they’re also in a much softer division, with Columbus and Philly in the basement, and Jersey not too far above them. Dom Luszczyszyn’s model says the Caps will finish 12th overall, and Micah McCurdy has them even higher. With good prospects despite a ton of injuries — especially for stars like Backstrom and Wilson — Laviolette, in the final year of his contract, could look like the calm and collected leader of the hard scrabble underdogs.
But that still doesn’t guarantee an extension, and the front office will resist ending lame duck status, letting the playoffs decide instead.
The Philadelphia Flyers are completely lost
The saddest type of team is one where everyone knows they need a hard reset except for the team itself. The Flyers’ offseason has been filled with illusions. Their boldest move might have been overpaying Tony DeAngelo to $5 million.
In fact, scratch that. Making John Tortorella a “filled layer” as head coach was the boldest move. He’ll be sure to discipline a team of under-qualified (Laughton) and undercooked (Atkinson) players in front of a goalie who never lived up to his excessive hype (Hart).
All of this on top of missing a very good player, Sean Couturier, long-term from a herniated disc. The Flyers will deserve their place in the metropolitan basement.
Ottawa is the most improved team in the NHL
Team owner Eugene Melnyk passed away at the end of last season, so it’s pretty gruesome to appreciate how quickly the team turned around in his absence. But he was neither a good person nor a good team owner, and the team’s actions since his death have been uniformly positive. The NHL Draft was a rousing start for Anna and Olivia Melnyk, and so far they’ve earned the adulation.
The team added Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and Claude Giroux from free agency. They gave Josh Norris a huge extension, which I really like, and they replaced Matt Murray with Cam Talbot, which I guess anyway. Those are big spends — and signals of ownership that this team is done pinching pennies.
There are still a lot of holes in the lineup, but the vibrations are good and they carry over off the ice. Gone is Pierre McGuire, a net positive for the team, even if he can subject viewers to anecdotes about junior hockey. And the big news on the business front is real progress on a new arena, which had spat under Eugene. There’s a long way to go, but it was a good start.
The Metro feasts on Columbus
The Blue Jackets earned 81 points in the standings last season, and they will struggle to repeat even that meager total in 2022-23. Sure, they signed Johnny Gaudreau, which is always weird, but in every other position they seem to be getting worse.
If anything, signing Gaudreau makes it seem like management and ownership are desperate to get fans — even if the rest of the team’s core are in tatters. We’re talking about a team with a star-studded third line of Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger and Kirill Marchenko. Maybe Gaudreau can build chemistry with Laine (who I guess was never more than a flash in the pan), but it looks like a team with two good forwards, a good defender and Elvis Merzkilins. The last guy is the only reason I could see stopping Washington from taking eight points away from them.
I make no predictions if they will be above or below Philadelphia.
Samsonov and Vanecek make small waves
The Toronto Maple Leafs face incredible scrutiny and pressure to succeed, so it’s crazy they signed goalies Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov this offseason. Murray had a strong last season with Ottawa, but Samsonov has been on a fiercely downward trajectory since his strong debut in 2019-20. The Leafs team defense last season was #actuallygood, so a rebound could happen for Sammy, but my expectations are low.
They’re even lower in New Jersey, where Vitek Vanecek came to play. The Devils didn’t have a good defense last season, and although they had Dougie Hamilton (almost 30) and the incredibly underrated Jonas Siegenthaler (as well as the league’s most underrated forward , Jesper Bratt), I don’t feel good about Vanecek’s fortune either.
Washington’s decision to move on will be justified.
The Capitals logo, beleaguered
The Capitals are the only NHL team to have a wordmark as their primary logo. It also sucks. The secondary logo, the weagle, is not often used on their jerseys. In addition to plain blue Owe also saw the return of the screagle (screaming eagle).
It looks like the wordmark’s days are numbered, though its successor remains unclear to me. Weagle, Screagle or something different? I’m not making any predictions.
Sports betting is still becoming ubiquitous
Back in the salad days of 2019, the NHL announced a partnership with William Hill. Since then, sports betting has played an increasingly important role in the NHL. Capital One Arena now contains a bookmaker. Unrelated: This bookmaker contains a Guy Fieri. The first announcer of the Caps jersey is this same bookmaker. A bunch of media properties now have dedicated sports verticals, including the Washington Post. The game is everywhere. Almost everywhere.
The league is soaking up gambling money right now, so they’re not going to stop anytime soon. We will see sports betting play a bigger role in gambling, advertising and coverage. But there’s a line I don’t think I’m crossing…yet. I don’t think we’ll see in-game broadcasters like Joe B and Locker calling out specific odds and bets during matches. We won’t see seduction merging with calling games. But when that line is crossed – when they try to convert every last member of the public into a player – then we’ll definitely be in an interesting place.
The situation in Arizona is embarrassing
The Coyotes play in a place called Mullett Arena. The name is the only fun part. It is a university facility. It seats about 10,000 fewer people than other NHL arenas. On the bright side: they expect full sales! Bad news: Players would hate him, as his conditions are “even worse” than expected. As for those players, the team has maybe three good ones: Schmaltz, Crouse and Keller.
Dom and Micah both think the Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL. A third model caught fire trying to make a prediction. The situation looks tense, and yet, with Gary Bettman’s pet project stretching the NHL to the Solar Belt, I don’t expect the Coyotes to make any big changes soon. It’s not like there’s going to be a player uprising.
I don’t know who wins the Stanley Cup
The Avalanche lost Kadri and Kuemper, but they will still be good, but good enough? The Panthers and Flames feel like they lost a stage. The Lightning cannot continue to struggle indefinitely. The Leafs have a big weakness in net.
There is a level below with the Bruins, Hurricanes and Wild, but I don’t know who can raise it. I’m sure the Coyotes won’t bring the Cup back to Mullett Arena. That’s as far as I go.
The NHL won’t deserve you
Soaked in depredation but unashamed, the hockey community will relentlessly continue to hurt marginalized people. We may see declarations, suspensions and working committees returning next week to explore synergies with the marketing department for exciting new activations for diversity and inclusion and as a result slightly less sexual assault, but a Fundamental culture change will not happen. We will have decapitations, not transformations.
Power structures determine who can hold their reins, so the people who end up holding those reins in hockey will remain the best at navigating and holding power. They will protect their constituents, deflect responsibility, cling to their power – even and especially when the cost is exploitation and injustice. Their job is not to make the world a better place and they consider themselves humble public servants. The same goes, unfortunately, for NHL insiders, whose jobs require cultivating sources — not burning them in righteous justice.
So any meaningful hockey embrace from you has to come with kayfabe. It takes a bit of imagination to accept this culture and these organizations. You have to forcefully inject some fantasy into the proceedings, otherwise it’s just too dark. You deserve better than the reality of professional hockey, so you have to invent your own way to enjoy it, orthogonal to reality. We will at least try to be part of it.