NHL power rankings entering the 2021-21 season

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NHL power rankings entering the 2021-21 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The wait is over and the NHL season is finally here.

The regular season kicks off Tuesday night with the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lighting hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins, followed by the Seattle Kraken’s first game in the NHL as they visit the Vegas Golden Knights.

Tons of changes were made across the league this offseason. Some teams looked to add depth to make a run at the Stanley Cup, some solved their salary cap issues and others shifted their focus to the future by acquiring draft capital.

Here are power rankings of all 32 teams in the NHL entering the 2021-22 season.

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups. This past summer, they lost their entire third line in Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow, as well as Tyler Johnson, but added bottom-six grinders in Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The core very much remains intact and there’s a real chance the Lightning go for a three-peat. 

  1. Colorado Avalanche

After tying with the Vegas Golden Knights for the best record in hockey last season, the Avalanche are poised to finish atop the league yet again. One of their most important offseason moves was re-signing captain Gabriel Landeskog. The biggest questions for the Avalanche are can Darcy Kuemper replace Philipp Grubauer’s effectiveness in goal, and how will they replace the secondary scoring they lost in Brandon Saad and Joonas Donskoi?

  1. Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights had a fairly quiet offseason, keeping mostly the same lineup as last season. The key was re-signing Alec Martinez to keep their top-four on the blue line. They did trade away Marc-Andre Fleury for next to nothing, so it’s Robin Lehner’s net this season. Adding Evgenii Dadonov and Nolan Patrick may benefit their bottom-six at forward. They’re in an extremely weak Pacific Division and should easily win it.

  1. New York Islanders

The best defensive team in hockey was one game away from the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals. The Islanders didn’t have much roster turnover this offseason, only losing Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft and Nick Leddy in free agency. Barry Trotz has an extremely well-oiled machine on Long Island and the Isles are in line to once again be an absolute pain in the butt to play against.

  1. Boston Bruins

One of the busiest teams this offseason, the Bruins added Linus Ullmark, Erik Haula, Nick Foligno, Derek Forbort and Tomas Nosek in free agency, and re-signed Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly. They let Sean Kuraly walk, David Krejci went back home to the Czech Republic and Tuukka Rask’s future in the NHL is up in the air. They’ll be another strong team, but the biggest concern is who will replace Krejci’s production on the second line.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs

No first-round exit jokes here … for now. Toronto held onto defenseman Morgan Rielly after trade rumors this offseason, but the biggest concern was letting Zach Hyman walk in free agency. There’s a hole in the top-six that needs to be replaced and Nick Ritchie or Ilya Mikheyev isn’t going to cut it. The good news is Jack Campbell, the most likeable goalie/player in the league, seems like the real deal and gets the starting role this season.

  1. Florida Panthers

People waited for the Panthers to fall off last season. They waited, and waited, and waited, and it just never came. They’re a legitimate contender after adding Sam Reinhart and re-signing Sam Bennett. The biggest questions -- was Aaron Ekblad’s 2020-21 season a blip on the radar, or has he finally formed into the player the Panthers thought he would be when they took him No. 2 overall in 2014? And will they let rookie Spencer Knight take over the crease or will they continue to go with Sergei Bobrovsky because they paid him $70 million two years ago?

  1. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes’ summer was ... interesting. They let top defenseman Dougie Hamilton walk in free agency, traded rising goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic because they didn’t want to pay him, pulled off the first successful offer sheet since 2007 by getting Jesperi Kotkaniemi and re-signed Andrei Svechnikov. The Canes completely overhauled their goaltender position, letting three goalies go and bringing in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta. This team should be a contender, but you can’t help but feel they are a step behind the rest without Hamilton.

  1. Edmonton Oilers

Can the Oilers do it? Can they not waste away another year with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? Who knows. Bringing in Zach Hyman and re-signing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were smart moves to bolster the offense. However, they lost Adam Larsson, Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear on the blue line and the response was to trade for an aging Duncan Keith and bring in Cody Ceci. The Oilers will have an incredible offense with an extremely sub-par defense. Same old song and dance in Edmonton. They are lucky they’re in the Pacific, where they very well could finish second.

  1. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets needed to fix their defense, and they addressed it by adding Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon. Jets fans should be jumping for joy that management finally answered the defense problem so Connor Hellebuyck isn’t continuously left out to dry. Winnipeg has one of the strongest top-sixes in the league and the scoring has never truly been an issue. Pierre-Luc Dubois should be better this season after coming over in the Patrik Laine trade. We need more playoff Winnipeg whiteouts, and the Jets should deliver.

  1. Washington Capitals

In Washington, the core isn’t getting any younger. They are one of the oldest teams again this season, yet will be relying on two young goaltenders in net who have yet to prove they are reliable No. 1 starters. For the Capitals to be successful, they need Evgeny Kuznetsov to be better after a tough season with two COVID bouts, a suspension for breaking COVID protocols and a suspension at the beginning of the season for testing positive for cocaine. The veterans will do enough to get this team into the playoffs, but not sure about beyond that. One thing that is certain is that it will be fun to see how much closer Alex Ovechkin gets to Wayne Gretzky’s goal record.

  1. Minnesota Wild

After signing a five-year, $45 million deal, new face of the franchise and Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov is back in Minnesota and looking to build off a sensational rookie season. The Wild buying out Ryan Suter was one of the biggest shocks of the offseason, but it provides cap relief in the long term. In response, GM Bill Guerin added veterans Dmitry Kulikov, Alex Goligoski and Jon Merrill on defense. The Wild are no longer the average, middle-of-the-pack team they were for years, but just how far can this team go come the postseason?

  1. St. Louis Blues

The story for the Blues this offseason was changes at the forward position. They brought in Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich to replace Mike Hoffman, Sammy Blais and Jaden Schwartz. But are those changes enough to improve from last season? St. Louis is extremely deep on defense and has a strong goaltender in Jordan Binnington. That should be enough to push for a playoff spot, but the forward group will determine just how far.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Another group where the core is aging. The Penguins have it tough out of the gates with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for a few weeks to start the season. Without their top two centers, Jeff Carter will be relied upon much more than anticipated. The good news is this is nothing new to Pittsburgh, who has dealt with injuries to key players before and has continued to be successful through those shorthanded periods. The beginning of the season will set the tone for the rest of the year. Also, Tristan Jarry has to prove himself in goal after he struggled in the postseason.

  1. New York Rangers

This could be the year Rangers fans have waited for. It will all depend on the youth. If Alexis Lafrenière, Kaapo Kakko and K’Andre Miller can take another leap forward, the Rangers will be dangerous. They have reigning Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox, one of the top wingers in Artemi Panarin and a budding star in net with Igor Shesterkin. Don’t be shocked to see this Rangers team make the postseason.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers extremely underperformed last season. In order to bounce back, it starts and stops with Carter Hart. The young goaltender who was extended this offseason needs to be better for Philadelphia to be better. Adding Ryan Ellis, one of the more underrated defensemen, was a solid move by GM Chuck Fletcher. But for as good of a move as that was, the eyebrows were raised at the trade for Rasmus Ristolainen. With not much change at forward, it looks like the Flyers are relying on their go-to players to get back to form.

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

A lot of turnover in Chicago this offseason. Good turnover, to say the least. GM Stan Bowman traded for Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury to be his No. 1 goalie. He traded for Seth and Caleb Jones, as well as Tyler Johnson. They also will get captain Jonathan Toews back this season. There is a concern with the lack of depth both at forward and on defense. They’ll rely heavily on Fleury to keep them in games and fight for a playoff spot in a tough Central Division.

  1. Dallas Stars

The Stars regressed last season after making a run to the Stanley Cup in 2019-20 due to the injury bug that hit Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Without them, the Stars just couldn’t put it together. They’ll need to stay healthy to compete in a competitive Central Division. The major question will be the goaltending. More specifically, just who will it be? The Stars have four potential starting goaltenders with free agent signing Braden Holtby joining Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger.

  1. Montreal Canadiens

Montreal fell short of completing an immaculate championship run last season, but make no mistake, that was not the normal Montreal Canadiens. Two non-playoff teams had a better record than the Habs, who benefited from playing in a weak Canadian Division. This year, they have a serious lack of depth at center with Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi gone. Shea Weber is out for the year and Carey Price will be out for an undetermined time after entering the NHL’s player assistance program. Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki can only carry this team so far.

  1. Calgary Flames

Calgary is just an incredibly average team. The Flames rely on their top players to do the heavy work and don’t have a ton of depth. Jacob Markstrom is a good goalie, but not great. They also lost top defenseman and captain Mark Giordano after exposing him in the expansion draft. If the Flames’ top pieces play up to an elite level, they’re fighting for a playoff spot. Otherwise they’ll be on the outside looking in.

  1. New Jersey Devils

Young talent is the name of the game in New Jersey. After years of being a bottom-dweller in the Eastern Conference, things look like they might just be turning around. Jack Hughes has all the tools to be a superstar and this could be his breakout season. The Devils improved on the blue line, winning the Dougie Hamilton free agency sweepstakes, as well as trading for Ryan Graves. This might not be the year the Devils get back to the postseason, but it’s a team on the rise that could provide some excitement for Devils fans.

  1. Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver has an exciting top-six forward group and a potential budding young goalie. And that’s just about it. The defense may have gotten worse this offseason, adding a declining Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tucker Poolman to replace Alexander Edler and Nate Schmidt. Thatcher Demko had flashes of being a good goalie last season, but also had some performances that made you shake your head. As we saw last year, if the top-six gets injured, this team goes nowhere. Here’s to hoping for a healthy season for the Canucks as they fight for the third spot in the Pacific.

  1. Nashville Predators

If everything goes well for the Predators this season, they likely only top out as a wild card team and a first-round exit in the postseason. GM David Poile is still waiting for the return on investment after giving Matt Duchene and Ryan Johansen big contracts a couple years ago. Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm are pending free agents and could be gone by the deadline. If the team isn’t in the playoff hunt, a rebuild is likely in Nashville. The first step of that may have been Poile surprisingly trading away Viktor Arvidsson this offseason.

  1. Los Angeles Kings

There’s a lot to like about the Kings and their rebuild. They have prospects in the organization who are showing promise. The veterans are continuing to produce at a high level. GM Rob Blake basically stole Viktor Arvidsson from the Predators this summer and got a big signing in Phillip Danault. The broken ankle to top prospect Quinton Byfield is less than ideal, but the Kings are in good shape; not for this season, they likely won’t make the playoffs. But it’s a bright future in L.A.

  1. Seattle Kraken

There will be no Vegas effect here when it comes to the Kraken’s preseason ranking in their inaugural season. GM Ron Francis passed over some bigger players in the expansion draft to save cap space, but then overpaid in free agency. It’s always hard to tell just how well a team will do in their first season. Can the Kraken replicate the Golden Knight’s success, getting a group of outcasts to band together with a “prove you wrong” attitude and make a run in the playoffs? Or will they struggle as most expansion teams have? The latter seems more likely.

  1. Ottawa Senators

Another team going with a youth movement. There are tons of young studs who are overtaking this Senators team -- Tim Stützle, Drake Batherson, Shane Pinto, Brady Tkachuk (once he signs his new deal). Goaltending is still a major concern, as is most of the defense outside of Thomas Chabot and perhaps Artem Zub. Ottawa still has a ways to go before getting back into contention.

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season’s trade deadline was a sign of things to come for the Blue Jackets -- change. GM Jarmo Kekäläinen traded away his pending free agents for draft assets and continued on this offseason, dealing Seth Jones to the Blackhawks. John Tortorella and the team parted ways, with Brad Larsen taking over the coaching job. Columbus is trending toward a “reload” as Kekäläinen prefers to put it. Nonetheless, the Blue Jackets are in a tough Metropolitan Division and very well could end up as the punching bag, which would benefit a rebuild -- sorry, a reload.

  1. Detroit Red Wings

You want to do a rebuild right? You look at what GM Steve Yzerman has done in Detroit. The Red Wings aren’t going to be contenders for another two to three years, but the pieces are there. This offseason, Yzerman took advantage of the Hurricanes not wanting to pay Alex Nedeljkovic and traded for the young goaltender. Top prospect Moritz Seider will get his first taste of the NHL this season and could be in contention for the Calder. It’s probably better for the Red Wings if they finish toward the bottom of the league in order to get a top pick in 2022.

  1. San Jose Sharks

GM Doug Wilson and team president Jonathan Becher refuse to go into full-rebuild mode in San Jose. As a result, the Sharks are in a limbo where they are overpaying for players who haven't played up to their contract in a few years, and they don’t have a ton of young talent coming through the pipeline (with the exception of Jonathan Dahlen and 2021 No. 7 pick William Eklund). There’s also Tomas Hertl, whose future in San Jose is uncertain as he enters the final year of his contract.

  1. Anaheim Ducks

Another team in the middle of a rebuild, the Ducks are waiting on the development of their prospects. Troy Terry, Jamie Drysdale, Trevor Zegras and 2021 No. 3 pick Mason McTavish will all get time this year to showcase the future. Along with goalie John Gibson, the youngsters’ progression will be one of the only good things to watch in Anaheim. The Ducks still have solid veterans like Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell, but don’t be surprised to see some of them shipped out before the end of the season.

  1. Arizona Coyotes

You know how some teams kind of quietly go into a rebuild? Yeah, not the Coyotes. The team stocked up on draft picks this offseason, taking on any bad contracts for draft compensation as the tanking in the desert begins. They shipped out Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland and Christian Dvorak. They’re going to battle with team No. 32 on this list for the worst goaltending tandem. But hey, Jakob Chychrun may win a Norris, or at least be in contention.

  1. Buffalo Sabres

It’s a tough time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. There’s the whole Jack Eichel debacle, where it’s just a matter of when a trade out of Buffalo happens, not if. Their 2021 No. 1 pick, Owen Power, elected to go back to Michigan for another year. Rasmus Dahlin only would sign a bridge deal rather than committing long term. The progression of Casey Mittelstadt and Dylan Cozens might be fun to watch, I guess?