2021-22 Season Preview: Part 8

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Feel free to view Part 1 (Anaheim, Calgary, Edmonton), Part 2 (Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle), Part 3 (Vancouver, Vegas, Carolina, Columbus), Part 4 (New Jersey, NY Islanders, NY Rangers), Part 5 (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington), Part 6 (Boston, Buffalo, Detroit) and Part 7 (Florida, Ottawa, Montreal) of our 2021-22 season preview series if you haven't already done so.

Don’t forget, for everything NHL, check out NBC Sports EDGE's Player News, and follow @NBCSEdgeHK and @CoreAbbott on Twitter.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

2020-21 Record: 36-17-3, 75 points

Result: Third in the Central Division. Won the 2021 Stanley Cup.

Significant Gains: Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Zach Bogosian, Brian Elliott

Significant Losses: Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, David Savard, Tyler Johnson

Strengths: The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions have talent up and down the lineup. Nikita Kucherov led the playoffs in scoring after missing the entire 2020-21 season following hip surgery. He will be reunited with Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat this season, while Steven Stamkos has formed a productive combination with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. Victor Hedman anchors a strong defense corps, which remains intact and got back Bogosian. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy and captured the Conn Smythe Trophy. He remains the best fantasy netminder as well going into this season. The Lightning upgraded their backup situation with the signing of Elliott.

Weaknesses: Tampa Bay has depth concerns up front for the first time in a while after losing every member of the team’s third line during the offseason. Gourde was chosen by Seattle in the expansion draft, while Goodrow signed with the New York Rangers after he was traded there and Coleman joined the Calgary Flames via free agency. The trio has been a valuable part of the team’s success defensively and offensively, which will be difficult to replace. Johnson was also traded for some salary cap relief, so Tampa Bay will be looking for players like Perry, Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph to step up.

Player to Watch: Alex Barre-Boulet is worth keeping an eye on, especially if he gets another chance to move up to Tampa Bay’s top-six forward group. He could land a permanent NHL spot this year, but his fantasy upside will obviously be limited if he is playing on the fourth line and not seeing power-play time. Colton, who performed well when he subbed in on the third line last year, is also a good candidate for improvement in 2021-22 with a larger role likely coming.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

2020-21 Record: 35-14-7, 77 points

Result: First in the North Division. Lost 4-3 to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

Significant Gains: Nick Ritchie, Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase, Petr Mrazek

Significant Losses: Zach Hyman, Zach Bogosian, Joe Thornton

Strengths: Toronto’s offense scored the fifth-most goals in the league (186) last season. Auston Matthews led all players with 41 markers in 52 games. He has formed a productive pairing with Mitch Marner since coach Sheldon Keefe took over behind the bench. John Tavares and William Nylander give the team plenty of scoring punch and skill on the top-two lines. The Leafs have also improved greatly defensively since Keefe’s arrival. Toronto tied for the sixth-best goals against per game played (2.64) last season. Jack Campbell starred for the team between the pipes and the team signed Mrazek in the offseason to share crease duties with him this campaign.

Weaknesses: Toronto’s top-heavy offense, and the amount of salary cap space that they take up, doesn’t leave the team with much wiggle room. The Leafs have managed to find some success with players on cheap deals before, but the task was made a bit more difficult this offseason following the departure of Hyman to Edmonton via free agency. Ritchie, Kase and Bunting are the latest batch of new arrivals who will get opportunities to land top-six spots. Toronto will also be looking to improve a penalty kill that placed 24th overall last season at 78.5%.

Player to Watch: Rasmus Sandin will be worthy of a pickup this season in most fantasy leagues if he continues to see playing time on the top power-play combination. Bunting and Kase have plenty of boom or bust potential, but Ritchie is the player to watch the closest. He appears to have the likeliest route to a top-six forward spot and possible power-play time after he occupied those roles last season with Boston.

ARIZONA COYOTES

2020-21 Record: 24-26-6, 54 points

Result: Fifth in the West Division. Did not make the playoffs.

Significant Gains: Dmitrij Jaskin, Shayne Gostisbehere, Conor Timmins, Loui Eriksson, Antoine Roussel, Carter Hutton

Significant Losses: Darcy Kuemper, Antti Raanta, Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Michael Bunting

Strengths: The Coyotes have been stockpiling draft picks this offseason, while taking on some contracts that other teams were motivated to shed from their books. Arizona has two first-round selections and five second-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft. That should help the team’s rebuild plans, especially once they are added to the mix that includes Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak, Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun and Timmins

Weaknesses: Arizona ranked 26th in the league last season in goals for per game played (2.68) and 22nd in goals against per game played (3.11). The Coyotes’ offense took another hit in the offseason when Garland and Ekman-Larsson were traded to Vancouver. The team’s goaltending is also a major concern going into the 2021-22 campaign after Kuemper was traded to Colorado and Raanta left for Carolina via free agency. Carter Hutton and Josef Korenar were brought in during the offseason and they project to be the team’s goaltending duo going into the year.

Player to Watch: Dvorak has been the subject of some trade speculation, but if he remains with the team then he should take steps forward offensively. He has come close to the 20-goal plateau in each of the past two seasons and his expanding role with the organization will provide a boost.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS

2020-21 Record: 24-25-7, 55 points

Result: Sixth in the Central Division. Did not make the playoffs.

Significant Gains: Seth Jones, Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson, Jake McCabe

Significant Losses: Pius Suter, Adam Boqvist, Duncan Keith

Strengths: Chicago has offensive firepower with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat occupying winger spots on the top line. The team will benefit from the returns of Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews this season. Getting back their top-two centers will better balance the rest of the lineup and should provide some much-needed secondary scoring. Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, Dylan Strome, Henrik Borgstrom and Johnson are capable of supplementing the group further.

Weaknesses: The Blackhawks have had issues defensively for a while. The additions of Jones and McCabe upgrades the top-four group, but keeping shots against and scoring chances against down could still prove to be a tall order for the team collectively. If that ends up being the case then Fleury and Kevin Lankinen will need to be at their best in the blue paint in order for Chicago to get back into the playoff picture.

Player to Watch: Jones gains plenty of fantasy value after being acquired by Chicago. His expected usage and exposure to the team’s top talent after signing a lucrative eight-year, $76 million contract extension with the Blackhawks following the trade from Columbus has pushed him up the draft sheets of most fantasy managers. Jones will log big minutes for his new team, while playing in all situations, and he is capable of contributing in multiple categories.