The 2021-22 NHL season is underway, a little later than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic's ongoing effects upon life in general. Its impact upon unvaccinated players and the league's schedule will remain a noteworthy storyline to follow in the coming weeks.
That's not the only topic worth following that could shape this season. There's the inaugural campaign of the NHL's latest franchise in Seattle, the anticipation of the league's return to the Winter Olympics and Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin's ongoing rise up the all-time goal-scoring leaderboard.
Here are 10 storylines to keep an eye on at the start of the 2021-22 NHL season. You can express your opinion on this topic in the comments section.
This is the third straight NHL season affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, however, a full 82-game schedule is planned, with teams in their normal divisions playing before arenas allowed to be at full capacity while fans observe strict health and safety guidelines. It should bring a return to some semblance of normalcy after the 2020 playoffs were held in bubble cities and a shortened schedule last season with limited travel and attendance restrictions.
Under the league's updated COVID-19 protocol, fully vaccinated players face fewer restrictions. If they contract COVID-19, it will be treated as a hockey-related injury. The league's four remaining unvaccinated players face much stricter guidelines, including potential suspension without pay for missing games for COVID-19-related reasons.
It's hoped the high vaccination rate among players and staff, combined with the league's strict protocols, will prevent or reduce the possibility of outbreaks, which wreaked havoc with last season's schedule. The effectiveness of those rules will be tested as long as COVID-19 continues to work its way through the population.
2022 Winter Olympics
For the first time since 2014, the NHL is sending players to the Winter Olympics. They'll be part of the men's ice hockey tournament at the 2022 Beijing Games. The Olympic break in the league's regular-season schedule is slated for Feb. 3-22.
The Olympic break is still months away, but already the nations participating in the tournament have named the first three players to their respective rosters. Canada's are Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Alex Pietrangelo. Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane and Seth Jones are part of the United States contingent. The Russian Olympic Committee includes Alex Ovechkin, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov.
Each country must submit its full list of 55 potential candidates by Oct. 15, with the final selections expected to be made in January. Which players will round out those rosters will be the subject of growing fan and pundit speculation in the coming weeks.