Every new NHL season brings numerous question marks, and there are more than usual heading into 2021-22.
The league returns to an 82-game schedule after each team played 26 fewer contests in 2021, and after the 2019-20 regular season was cut short before those playoffs took place in bubbles.
Additionally, the Seattle Kraken embark on their inaugural campaign. Many wondered whether they'd take the NHL by storm as the Golden Knights did in 2017-18, but that appears unlikely with opposing organizations better prepared for the 2021 expansion draft and that now-perennially elite Vegas team in the same division.
Here are five significant questions as the upcoming campaign draws near:
Can the Lightning pull off a 3-peat?
The Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished an impressive feat with their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship in July, but it's not going to be easy to win a third straight. The last time an NHL team won the Cup three times in a row was nearly four decades ago when the New York Islanders prevailed in four straight years from 1980 to 1983.
It's also much harder to do it in the salary cap era. The Lightning lost Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, David Savard, and Tyler Johnson this offseason, and they added Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Zach Bogosian, among others.
However, if any team can do it, it's this powerhouse Tampa Bay squad. Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, and Steven Stamkos lead a dominant core full of all-world talent that remains intact, and the club's depth is still solid enough to ensure another Cup run.
How will the Eichel saga end?
Few expected Jack Eichel to still be with the Buffalo Sabres at this point. With the regular season about a week away, we'll see how the drama finally concludes after everything that's transpired.
It seemed the Sabres would move Eichel during the offseason, but that didn't come to fruition, presumably because other teams felt Buffalo's asking price was too high considering the risks. The internal rift between the center's camp and the club over the type of surgery he ultimately undergoes is further complicating a resolution, as well.