12 key NHL storylines to watch for in 2022, on and off the ice

Sportsnet

After looking like we might just make it out of 2021 on the upswing, a late run of postponements, rising case numbers and a new variant has thrust a fresh thorn into our collective side.

And as we leave behind this tumultuous, unpredictable year, that final turn leaves plenty of questions on the table for what the hockey world will look like in 2022. Those hazy ones come alongside the more familiar questions we usually have on the lighthearted stuff — the records, awards and championship dreams. And then there's the larger question of all that has been exposed about hockey's flawed culture over these recent years, and what steps will be taken to find genuine progress, to make real change.

All that considered, here's a look at our top NHL storylines to watch for in 2022:

What impact will the COVID-19 pandemic have on the NHL in 2022?

For the third straight season, the NHL has seen its campaign disrupted by the unending unpredictability of the pandemic. First came the suspended (and later restarted) 2019-20 season, then the realigned 2020-21. Now, after a fairly normal start to 2021-22, a new highly transmissible variant has led to rising case numbers and a rash of postponed games.

While the hope is the pandemic subsides slowly and steadily over the next year, it’s impossible to know what exactly the situation will look like. And with NHL players more immersed in the public than they were a year ago, it’s unclear what impact the pandemic will continue to have on the league and the need to hit pause if the risk of spreading the virus becomes too great.

So, where will that leave us by the end of 2021-22 — will the current campaign stretch a full 82 games, or will the interruption we’re currently seeing force another on-the-fly adjustment to the season? How many fans will be permitted to safely fill arenas by the time that final game of the year rolls around? Amid a season that seemed to be a return to normalcy, only to become a reminder that we aren’t out of the woods yet, will 2022-23 be the cookie-cutter, 82-game season of familiarity we’d hoped for?

Beyond the basic structure of this season and the next, there’s also the question of how the league’s financial situation will be affected by the pandemic’s continued impact. In December, commissioner Gary Bettman said he believed the salary cap would continue to rise by $1 million each year moving forward and would spike again a few seasons after this current one. Does the new string of postponements and revenues lost in attendance restrictions change that prediction?

What will the 2022 playoffs look like?

Coming off two years of altered playoff pictures, what exactly will we see from the 2022 post-season?

The 2020 iteration was the most significant format divergence brought on by the pandemic, the league opting for a 24-team tournament with a Qualifying Round, played in two hub cities. Last year’s marked a return to the traditional 16-team tourney with best-of-seven series, but one that featured four realigned divisions to deal with cross-border travel restrictions.

#hockey, #nhl

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