A by-the-numbers look at the NHL season ahead

Brayden-Point

Tampa Bay Lightning's Brayden Point hoists the Stanley Cup. (Jason Franson/CP)

Starting Wednesday night, 31 teams will embark on a 56-game regular season in an effort to hoist the one and only Stanley Cup. As we anticipate the action, here’s a by-the-numbers look at some of the numbers that will help bring this season’s storylines to life.

1 – Since the salary cap era began (2005), only the Pittsburgh Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cups, doing so in 2016 and 2017. The Tampa Bay Lightning, with its core intact to run it back, could be the second. The Penguins are also the only team in that span to lose the Cup Final (vs. Detroit, 2008) only to come back and win it the following year (again, vs. Detroit). Might Dallas be the next? (With realignment putting the Stars and Lightning in the same division, the only thing we do know is that they won’t be meeting again in the Cup Final.)

3 – As of Wednesday morning, just three NHL teams have announced they’ll be hosting fans for home games. The Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, and Arizona Coyotes have been permitted by local authorities to welcome socials-distanced, masked-up fans.

4 – Number of teams taking things outside this season, facing off beside Lake Tahoe (sorry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) during the NHL’s upcoming outdoor event in February. Bellemare’s Avalanche will take on the Golden Knights Feb. 21, followed by the Bruins versus Flyers Feb. 22. These outdoor games, which won’t have fans in attendance, will be the 31st and 32nd outdoor games put on by the NHL, continuing a tradition that began in 2003.

5 – No player has ever scored in his first five season openers — Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews has a shot to be the first. Matthews is one of just four players to have scored at least one goal in each of his first four season-opening games (Dit Clapper, Dave Andreychuk, and Sergei Fedorov are the others). His knack for setting the scoring tone started with his four-goal rookie debut in 2016 and he’s since tallied two other multi-goal games to open seasons for a total of nine goals in four season openers to start his NHL career.

6 – Maximum number of players each team can carry on their taxi squad — a measure put in place to protect teams in cases of COVID protocol-related player absences. Taxi squad players won’t count against the salary cap unless they’re called up to the big club.

7 – Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele currently holds the longest active season-opener point streak. Scheifele has registered at least one point in each of the Jets’ last seven season-opening matchups.

9 – The Buffalo Sabres haven’t reached the playoffs since 2010-11, their nine-year absence from the big dance is the league’s longest post-season drought. Newcomer Taylor Hall and captain Jack Eichel will have something to say about that.

10 – That’s how many times we’ll get to see the Battle of Alberta in action this year, which is the most matchups between any two teams. With realignment and regular-season schedules comprised entirely of divisional play, this season will see new rivalries spark and old ones catch fire. Because Canada’s “North” Division has just seven teams, compared to eight in each of the other three, we’ve got even more Canadian rivalry repeats. (With this new temporary realignment, American-based rivalries — say, Pittsburgh-Washington, Vegas-San Jose, and last year’s Cup Final opponents in Dallas and Tampa — will go head-to-head either seven or eight times each.)

11 – Number of NHL teams that have never won the Stanley Cup: Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Florida Panthers, Arizona Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, Vegas Golden Knights, and Ottawa Senators (1992 incarnation). Four clubs — Arizona, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Columbus — have never appeared in the Cup Final.

12.5 – The cap hit of Connor McDavid, in millions — the largest cap hit of any current player.

13 – New York Rangers forward Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 pick last fall, will make his NHL debut wearing lucky No. 13.

13 – Of Sportsnet’s 21 NHL insiders polled, 13 of them believe the Colorado Avalanche will hoist the Stanley Cup this year. (Vegas got the second-most votes, with six.)

15.9 – Salary Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews will earn this season, in millions, making him the highest-paid player this year in terms of annual salary dollars. (Per his salary breakdown, he also earned $15.9 million last year — the first year of his front-loaded five-year deal.)

16 – In keeping with some kind of normalcy, 16 teams will qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only, that’s where part “normal” ends. The top four teams from each division will make the post-season, with the first two rounds of the playoffs taking place within the division confines — No. 1 versus No. 4, 2 vs. 3, with the winners going head-to-head — with each division producing a winner. Conference boundaries aren’t being applied this year, which means we could have a never-before-seen Stanley Cup Final between two clubs typically in the same conference (say, Boston-Montreal) or even pre-COVID division foes (Toronto-Boston, anyone?).

22 – The number on the back of Willie O’Ree’s Boston Bruins sweater, which will be raised to the rafters this season on Feb. 18 — which is also Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and marks 63 years to the day that O’Ree made his NHL debut with the Bruins and in doing so broke the league’s colour barrier as the first Black player in the NHL. The NHL announced earlier this week that all players will also wear a helmet decal through part of the season honouring O’Ree.

27 – The NHL announced Tuesday that 27 players have tested positive for COVID-19 during training camps, with 17 of those cases in Dallas as part of last week’s outbreak among the Stars.

31 – This is the final year the NHL will have 31 teams, as Seattle’s about to release the Kraken and make it 32 for 2021-22. (You can play around with CapFriendly’s awesome Expansion Draft Simulator here.)

43 – Age of Boston Bruins Washington Capitals defenceman Zdeno Chara, the oldest current player in the league. Chara will turn 44 on March 18.

43 – It’s also the number of times we’ll have to do a double-take and remind ourselves that yes, Chara is now a member of the Washington Capitals. Cue the same reaction for big names like Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis to Vegas), Torey Krug (Boston to St. Louis), Joe Thornton (San Jose to Toronto), Jacob Markstrom (Vancouver to Calgary) and Taylor Hall (he’s a Sabre now, remember?), among others.

48 – Number of goals scored by both David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin last year, co-leading the league.

56 – Number of games each team will play in this shortened season, with the puck dropping Wednesday night.

81.5 – million, that is — the dollar-amount of the NHL’s salary cap this year. It stayed flat, like last year, causing a real cap crunch for a number of clubs.

110 – Number of points tallied by Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl last season, which led the league. It was a personal high, too — in 71 games in the Pandemic-cut 2019-20, Draisaitl tallied five more points than he did in the full 82-game season one year prior.

116 – Starting Wednesday and ending May 8, we’ve got 116 consecutive days of NHL hockey ahead of us. Buckle up.

706 – Ovechkin’s career goal total ranks him eighth on the all-time list. At the rate he’s scoring — 48 goals in 68 games last year had his scoring at a pace of 0.70 goals per game — we can project he could add another 40 this year. Doing so would see him pass Mike Gartner (708), Phil Esposito (717), Marcel Dionne (731) and Brett Hull (741) and land fourth overall by season’s end. But the question remains: Can he eventually catch Wayne Gretzky’s 894?

1, 089 – Number of career assists registered by veteran playmaker Joe Thornton, ranking him seventh in the category all-time. Now entering his first season with the Toronto Maple Leafs and eying a spot on the top line alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, he’s got 56 chances to add to that number. (One spot ahead of Thornton on the all-time list is Hall of Famer Paul Coffey, who finished his career with 1,135 assists — 46 more than Thornton.)

1,723 – Patrick Marleau, the league’s leader in games played among current skaters, is just 44 games away from matching Gordie Howe’s all-time record of 1,767. Now back with the Sharks for another go-round, he could get there this year.

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