Montreal Canadiens: Countdown to the start of the NHL season, plus changes in Canada's sports betting laws
Anticipation for the 2021-2022 NHL season is building. The league will enter its 105th year and there’s no shortness of excitement and controversy in the lead up this time around.
The pre-season schedule was recently announced. Running from Sept. 25 to Oct. 9, the 15-day slate will see the Canadiens open the proceedings, being hosted by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Scotiabank Arena. The contest will gauge the form of both sides as they will also face each other in their first game once the league begins in October.
In a return to the normal October to April programming, October 12 is penned as the league’s launch night. Pittsburgh Penguins will visit champions Tampa Bay Lightning who will be raising their second consecutive and third overall banner in the franchise’s history.
The opening night’s double header will be completed by Seattle Kraken who will make their league debut as the 32nd franchise. The Kraken will compete in the Pacific Division of the Western Conference and their first outing will be against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The NHL is the professional hockey league of America and Canada and makes up one of North America’s Big Four sports leagues. Composed of 32 teams, 25 from the US and 7 from Canada, split across four divisions in two conferences, all vying to make playoffs and ultimately lift the grand prize, the Stanley Cup.
Hockey is Canada’s official national winter sport—lacrosse taking the summer slot—and big Canadian NHL games achieve viewership in the millions. And now Canadians will be able to place single match bets on NHL with sports betting laws in Canada currently undergoing changes.
The Safe and Regulated Sports Betting Act that was brought into force on August 21 of this year, is thought to pave the way for a market that will be worth CA$14 billion annually. Previously citizens could only partake in a bet known as a parlay, where it was required to predict the outcome of two or more events.
The Habs had a great postseason in 2021 despite the unconventional format, being awarded the Campbell Bowl for defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup semi-finals and coming second to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final.
The exhibition matches of the preseason will see the Canadiens play the Maple Leafs three times, once at home and also the Senators three times, twice at home. Preseason matches are a source of excitement among fans when their team performs well but are often dismissed as inconsequential if they do not. Either way they’re a good platform for prospects to stretch their legs and show their potential for the season ahead.
Key roster points for the upcoming season
● Montreal had an easier run in 2021’s North Division which allowed them to sneak through to the playoffs in fourth place but many are saying with a stacked Atlantic division this year, they might struggle, especially with the absence of their NHL All-Star captain Shea Weber.
● Weber, having had a glittering career but never lifting the Stanley Cup, is considering the prospect of early retirement, despite having five years left on his contract. A series of lingering injuries have forced him to take to the bench this season.
● Question marks arose at the culmination of the 2021 season after being left unprotected for the Seattle Kraken draft, Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price has recently undergone knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. Currently in recovery and still not yet skating, he will miss the pre-season games for sure but is expected to be match fit for the start of the regular season. After an average regular season last year he found form in the postseason so will leave a hole in the squad if he’s unable to play.
● Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin, recently confirmed the acquisition of Christian Dvorak from the Arizona Coyotes for two draft picks. The 25-year-old plays center/left wing and while a strong player, is he worth the first round draft pick they traded for him?
● This occurs after lengthy back and forths over Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s offer sheet, which culminated in the Finnish center moving to Carolina.
● Swedish defenseman Mattias Norlinder has looked great at camp this year and there is talk as to whether he will make the opening roster or head back to the SHL for a second season to develop further.
● The Habs re-signed forward Ryan Poehling to a two-year contract.
● A right-side defensive hole was filled by offensive D-man 31- year-old Chris Wideman. Wideman will join David Savard and MikeHoffman, other new additions to the team.
The Canadiens look to enter the preseason with a power ranking of 14 in the league. The Tampa Bay Lightning are favorites and would be the first team to achieve back-to-back-to-back Cup wins since the Islanders in the 80s. The Florida Panthers are getting a few nods as an outside chance.
The Habs face stiff opposition in their division this year alongside four other playoff teams, making each division game all the more important. There are still many unanswered questions regarding the Canadiens roster as the start of the season marches ever closer.