The Washington Capitals will open the 2022-23 season on Wednesday, October 12. Before then, it’s critical that you prepare yourself for all the incoming narratives. The only way to be safe is to read my season preview series. This is the end of that series.
Today’s episode of Uncle Good Tweet Pete’s Preseason Season Preview is chock full of bold and dumb predictions.
Washington loses a ton of expiring UFAs
Washington’s expiring class goes like this: Forwards Lars Eller, Garnet Hathaway, Connor Sheary, and Carl Hagelin; and defenders Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, and Trevor van Riemsdyk. For Eller and Sheary, it sure feels like the end of their time in Washington. Hagelin might be done with pro hockey altogether.
But Hathaway is a tremendous depth forward and could be worth a modest overpay for that position. Orlov and Jensen are a very impressive pairing, but I don’t know if both could be kept on open-market prices, so Orlov would be the keeper. Either way, we’ll probably see another face from the Cup-winning team turn gray, and there’ll be a lot of turnover next summer.
Peter Laviolette shines in lame-duck season
The Capitals have a lot of headwinds this season, particularly age, but they’re also in a much softer division, with Columbus and Philly in the basement, and Jersey not too far above them. Dom Luszczyszyn’s model says the Caps will finish 12th overall, and Micah McCurdy has them even higher. With a good outlook despite a ton of injuries — especially to stars like Backstrom and Wilson — Laviolette, in the final year of his contract, could look like the calm, collected leader of hard-scrabble underdogs.
But that still doesn’t guarantee an extension, and the front office will resist ending the lame-duck status, letting the playoffs decide instead.
The Philadelphia Flyers are utterly lost
The saddest kind of team is the kind where everyone knows they need a hard reset except the team itself. The Flyers’ offseason was filled with delusion. Their boldest move might have been the overpay of Tony DeAngelo at $5 million.
Actually, scratch that. Making John “filled diaper” Tortorella their head coach was the boldest move. He’ll be sure to discipline a team of under-skilled (Laughton) and cooked (Atkinson) players ahead of a goalie who has never lived up to his excessive hype (Hart).
All this plus missing a genuinely good player, Sean Couturier, long-term to a herniated disc. The Flyers will deserve their spot in the Metropolitan basement.
Ottawa is the most improved team in the NHL
Team owner Eugene Melnyk passed away late last season, so it’s kind of macabre to appreciate how quickly the team turned around in his absence. But he was neither a good person nor a good team owner, and the team’s actions since his death have been uniformly positive. The NHL draft was a rapturous debut for Anna and Olivia Melnyk, and so far they deserve the adulation.
The team added Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and Claude Giroux from free agency. They gave Josh Norris a huge extension, which I like a lot, and they replaced Matt Murray with Cam Talbot, which, meh either way I guess. Those are big spends — and signals from ownership that this team is done pinching pennies.
There’s still a lot of holes in the lineup, but the vibes are good and they extend off-ice. Gone is Pierre McGuire, a net-positive for the team even if it may subject TV audiences to more junior hockey trivia. And the big news on the business front is actual progress on a new arena, which had sputtered under Eugene. There’s a long way to go, but that was a great start.
The Metro feasts on Columbus
The Blue Jackets won 81 standings points last season, and they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat even that meager total in 2022-23. Sure, they signed Johnny Gaudreau, which is still bizarre, but in every other position they seem to be getting worse.
If anything, the Gaudreau signing feels like the management and ownership being desperate to bring fans in – despite the rest of the team’s core is in tatters. We’re talking about a team with a star-studded third line of Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, and Kirill Marchenko. Maybe Gaudreau can get some chemistry going with Laine (who I suspect was never more than a flash in the pan), but this feels like a team with two good forwards, one good defender, and Elvis Merzkilins. The last guy is the only reason I could see keeping Washington from taking eight points off them.
I make no prediction if they’ll be above or below Philly.
Samsonov and Vanecek make tiny waves
The Toronto Maple Leafs face unbelievable scrutiny and pressure to succeed, so it’s buckwild they signed goalies Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov in the offseason. Murray had a low-key good last season with Ottawa, but Samsonov has had a fiercely downward trajectory since his strong debut in 2019-20. The Leafs team defense last season was #actuallygood, so a bounce-back could happen for Sammy, but my expectations are low.
They get even lower in New Jersey, where Vitek Vanecek has come to play. The Devils didn’t have a good defense last season, and though they have Dougie Hamilton (nearing 30) and the unbelievably underrated Jonas Siegenthaler (as well as the most underrated forward in the league, Jesper Bratt), I’m not feeling good about Vanecek’s fortunes either.
Washington’s decision to move on will be vindicated.
The Capitals logo, besieged
The Capitals are the only team in the NHL to have a wordmark as their primary logo. It also sucks. The secondary logo, the weagle, is not often used on their jerseys. In addition to the plain blue W, we’ve also seen a comeback of the screagle (screaming eagle).
It seems the days of the wordmark are numbered, though its successor remains unclear to me. Weagle, Screagle, or something different? I make no prediction there.
Sportsbetting gets even omnipresent-er
Wayyy back in the salad days of 2019, the NHL announced a partnership with William Hill. Since then, sportsbooks have taken on ever-increasing roles in the NHL. Capital One Arena now contains a sportsbook. Unrelated: that sportsbook contains a Guy Fieri. The Caps’ first jersey advertiser is that same sportsbook. A bunch of media properties have dedicated sports verticals now, including the Washington Post. Gambling is everywhere. Almost everywhere.
The league is soaking in gambling money right now, so they’re not gonna stop anytime soon. We will see sportsbetting take a bigger role in the game, advertisement, and coverage. But there is one line I don’t think we’ll cross… yet. I don’t think we’ll see in-game broadcasters like Joe B and Locker call out specific odds and bets during games. We won’t see enticement merge with calling games. But when that line gets crossed — when they’re trying to convert every last audience member into a gambler — then we’ll sure be in an interesting place.
The situation in Arizona is an embarrassment
The Coyotes are playing in a place called Mullett Arena. The name is the only fun part. It’s a college facility. It fits like 10,000 fewer people than other NHL arenas. Bright side: they’re expecting sellouts! Bad news: the players reportedly hate it, as its conditions are “even worse” than expected. Regarding those players, the team has maybe three good ones: Schmaltz, Crouse, and Keller.
Dom and Micah both project the Coyotes to be the worst team in the NHL. A third model burst into flames trying to make a prediction. The situation seems tense, and yet as Gary Bettman’s pet project expanding the NHL into the sunbelt, I don’t expect the Coyotes to make any big changes soon. It’s not like there’s going to be a player revolt.
I don’t know who wins the Stanley Cup
The Avalanche lost Kadri and Kuemper, but they’ll still be good, but good enough? The Panthers and Flames both feel like they’ve lost a step. The Lightning can’t keep contending forever. The Leafs have a big weakness in net.
There’s a tier below with the Bruins, Hurricanes, and the Wild, but I don’t know who can notch it up. I am confident the Coyotes will not bring the Cup home to Mullett Arena. That’s as far as I go.
The NHL will not deserve you
Soaked in depredation but free of shame, the hockey community will continue unabated its hurting of marginalized people. We may see statements and suspensions and working committees who will circle back next week to explore synergies with the marketing department for exciting new activations for diversity and inclusion and consequently marginally less sexual assault, but fundamental change to the culture will not happen. We’ll get decapitations, not transformations.
Power structures mediate who can hold their reins, so the people who end up holding those reins in hockey will remain those best at navigating and holding power. They will protect their constituents, deflect responsibility, clutch their power – even and especially when the cost is exploitation and injustice. Their job isn’t to make the world a better place, and they think of themselves as humble functionaries. Same goes, sadly, for NHL insiders, whose job requires cultivating sources – not burning them in justified righteousness.
So any meaningful embrace of hockey from you has to come with kayfabe. You must use your imagination a bit if you’re to accept this culture and these organizations. You have to forcefully inject some whimsy into the proceedings or else it’s just too bleak. You deserve better than the reality of professional hockey, so you gotta invent your own way to enjoy it, orthogonal to the real thing. We’ll try to be a part of that.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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