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NHL Power Rankings 2021-22: Where each team stands on Opening Night

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Hockey is finally back.

The puck drops on the 2021-22 NHL season Tuesday night when the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning hang another banner before hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The second matchup of the night features the league's newest expansion team -- the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken will play their first ever game against the Golden Knights in Las Vegas.

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After a busy offseason that saw several star players change teams, we're poised to have a very exciting campaign with many different teams capable of taking the next step and becoming contenders.

Here are our first NHL Power Rankings of the new season!

32. Buffalo Sabres

The Jack Eichel situation has gone terribly for everyone involved, and we still don't know how it will turn out. The Sabres stripped him of their captaincy last month and it's unknown how many games he'll play this season (if any).

It's going to be another long season for a Sabres fanbase that hasn't experienced playoff hockey since 2011.

At least they have the Bills.

31. Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes made several trades this offseason and got a boatload of draft picks in return. Arizona has three first-round picks and five second-round picks in the 2022 NHL Draft. That's a great sign for the Coyotes' future, but the present is very much a mess because of the lack of talent on their roster.

 

30. Anaheim Ducks

Longtime captain and center Ryan Getzlaf returned to the Ducks. Not much else of significance happened with the Ducks, who were rumored to be a potential landing spot for Jack Eichel but nothing has materialized so far.

29. Detroit Red Wings

The addition of goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was a nice boost for this rebuilding Red Wings team. 

28. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks had a difficult 2020-21 season and because of local COVID-19 restrictions they weren't able to play home games in San Jose for about a month into the year. For the Sharks to compete for a playoff spot, they need defenseman Brent Burns to make a larger impact offensively. After tallying 83 points in 2018-19, Burns posted just 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 56 games last year. 

27. Ottawa Senators 

The biggest story surrounding the Senators is the ongoing contract negotiations between Brady Tkachuk's camp and the Senators. Tkachuk, a restricted free agent, is a core player for the Senators and led the team in scoring with 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) last season. 

26. Columbus Blue Jackets

Patrik Laine was one of the league's best goal scorers over the first three years of his career. He found the back of the net 102 times from 2017-18 through 2019-20. Offensive success eluded him last season, though, scoring just 12 goals in 40 games between the Jets and Blue Jackets. Laine is in the final year of his contract, and it would help both him and Columbus if he has a bounce-back season. He's way too talented to struggle as much as he did in 2020-21.

25. New Jersey Devils

The Devils have a lot of promising young talent, including 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick Jack Hughes, whose play took a positive step forward last season. The offseason addition of elite offensive defenseman Dougie Hamilton through free agency addressed a major need on New Jersey's blue line. The future is bright for the Devils, but it's hard to envision this team competing for a playoff spot. 

24. Los Angeles Kings

Top prospect Quinton Byfield suffered a left ankle fracture in a preseason game against the Coyotes last week and will be out indefinitely. It was a tough setback for a very talented player. 

The Kings surprisingly competed for a playoff spot last season before a five-game losing streak to finish the campaign. An abundance of top-tier young talent should make the Kings an exciting team to watch in 2021-22.

23. Nashville Predators

Goaltender Juuse Saros literally saved the Predators last season, posting a league-leading .941 save percentage as well as a 1.88 GAA from Feb. 7 through the end of the regular season (May 8), which vaulted Nashville up several spots in the standings and into the playoffs. He also posted an absurdly good 27.17 goals saved above average during that span. Nashville, with its quality goaltending and fantastic blue line, should still be a tough team to beat most nights.

22. Chicago Blackhawks

Acquiring reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury for very little via trade in the offseason gives the Blackhawks hope of making some noise in the Western Conference. 

 

21. New York Rangers

The Rangers are loaded with young talent and played better than many expected last season. One player to watch is 2020 No. 1 overall draft pick Alexis Lafrenière. After a slow start to his rookie year, he finished the 2020-21 campaign strong with seven points over the last nine games.

He's certainly not lacking confidence, that's for sure.

20. Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season and ultimately lost to a much better Lightning squad in five games. They will be without their best player from that playoff push, goaltender Carey Price, to begin the season. It will be up to Jake Allen to keep Montreal afloat in one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

19. Calgary Flames

The Flames were another of the league's most disappointing teams last season, failing to make the playoffs in a weak North Division. It's also a huge year for star winger Johnny Gaudreau, who's entering the final year of his contract. He has not produced at an elite level each of the last two years following a breakout 2018-19 season that saw him tally 99 points (36 goals, 63 assists) in 82 games. That's the Gaudreau the Flames need to get back to the playoffs.

18. Dallas Stars

The Stars had a really tough 2020-21 campaign, including a COVID-19 outbreak near the start of the season. A (mostly) normal year would be a welcome change for the Stars, who still have enough talent to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. 

17. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers were one of the league's most disappointing teams last season, and young goalie Carter Hart's horrible play was the biggest reason for that lack of success. Philly needs a huge bounce-back from Hart if this team is going to be a legit contender in the Eastern Conference.

16. Seattle Kraken

The Kraken probably won't duplicate the Golden Knights' success as a first year expansion team in 2017-18 -- Vegas went to the Stanley Cup Final -- but Seattle should be right in the playoff mix all season. The Kraken have an excellent goaltending duo with Vezina Trophy finalist Philipp Grubauer and backup Chris Driedger. The question is will Seattle have enough goal scoring to beat some of the better teams. 

15. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have a lot of exciting young talent, and it's up to players such as Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson to take the next step in their development. Vancouver will go as far as these players take it.

14. Washington Capitals

The Capitals are a really good team, but after three lackluster first-round exits in a row, it's hard to view them as a legit Cup contender. Alexander Ovechkin's pursuit of Wayne Gretzky's iconic career goals record will be fun, though.

13. Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers' marquee offseason moves were trading for a past-his-prime defenseman in Duncan Keith and overpaying for free agent forward Zach Hyman. Edmonton still isn't a legit contender in the Western Conference, but this team is still must-watch because reigning Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid is so damn talented. 

 

12. Minnesota Wild

The Wild took a huge step forward last season, led by Kirill Kaprizov's dominant rookie campaign that earned him the Calder Trophy. The pressure is on Minnesota to keep that momentum going.

11. St. Louis Blues

There were plenty of offseason trade rumors involving star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, but he's still a member of the Blues as Opening Night nears. A healthy campaign from Tarasenko would be a huge lift for a Blues team that got swept in the first round by the Avalanche last season.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are an older team and not a top Stanley Cup contender, but any group led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang must be taken seriously.

9. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are a legit threat to win the Western Conference this season but they must be better defensively. Elite goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was forced to make the most saves in the league last season. We should also expect a motivated Mark Scheifele after the star center's four-game suspension made it difficult for the Jets to beat the Canadiens in the second round last season.

8. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are a very good team last season -- finishing in the top 10 in several puck possession metrics. The goaltending also was strong, with Alex Nedeljkovic posting a 15-5-3 record, a 1.90 GAA and a .932 save percentage in 23 appearances. James Reimer and Petr Mrazek also played solid in net. But all three of these netminders departed in the offseason, leaving free agent signing Frederik Andersen as the only above-average goalie on the 'Canes roster. Andersen also missed more than half of the 2020-21 regular season due to injury. Carolina's handling of the goalie position was just puzzling, to say the least.

Another question for Carolina is how much will the blue line be impacted by the loss of top-pairing defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who left in free agency to sign a massive deal with the Devils. 

7. Toronto Maple Leafs 

After year's brutal postseason exit -- a Game 7 loss at home to the rival Canadiens after leading the first-round series 3-1 -- this is a massive season for the Leafs, and potentially the last chance for the team's superstar core to find playoff success or major changes will have to be made.

6. Florida Panthers

Re-signing No. 1 center and the reigning Selke Trophy winner Aleksander Barkov to an eight-year extension was a huge win for the Panthers franchise. This is a very talented and young team poised to take another step in its development this season. The return of top defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who missed all off the playoffs with an injury, is a massive boost for Florida as well.

 

Don't just assume the Lightning, Bruins and Leafs will be the top three teams in the Atlantic Division.

5. Boston Bruins

The Bruins totally revamped their goaltending over the offseason, transitioning from veterans Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to Linus Ullmark and rookie Jeremy Swayman. The ideal scenario is Swayman taking over the starting job by the end of the season. 

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Boston also was aggressive in free agency, adding plenty of depth to their bottom-six forward group. The team still needs another top-four defenseman, so we'll see what happens near the trade deadline.

The primary question mark is whether Charlie Coyle (or someone else) can adequately replace longtime No. 2 center David Krejci and maximize the offensive production of wingers Taylor Hall and Craig Smith.

Either way, the Bruins will still be one of the toughest teams to play against in the regular season. It'll also be fun to watch David Pastrnak chase 50 goals, if he can remain healthy.

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4. Vegas Golden Knights

The Golden Knights' run in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended in disappointing fashion when they were upset by an inferior Canadiens team in a six-game semifinal series. Vegas had a salary cap crunch this offseason and ultimately traded Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the Blackhawks for very little. It's now up to Robin Lehner to shoulder most of the responsibility in net. It's still hard to pick against Vegas in the Pacific Division, though. This roster remains loaded.

3. New York Islanders

The Islanders proved a lot of people wrong in the 2021 playoffs -- myself included -- and were so close to reaching the Stanley Cup Final last season, losing 1-0 to the eventual champion Lightning in Game 7 of the semifinal. New York enters the new campaign with Cup Final expectations, and rightly so. The Isles also added veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara and winger Zach Parise to the mix in free agency.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Outside of Tampa Bay, it's hard to find a team with more talent top to bottom than the Avalanche. They are loaded up front with a Hart Trophy-caliber center in Nathan MacKinnon. Top defenseman Cale Makar is the favorite for the Norris Trophy. The question mark again is goaltending. Philipp Grubauer left in free agency, forcing Colorado to pay a steep price to acquire veteran Darcy Kuemper from the Coyotes via trade. Kuemper's performance will be the No. 1 factor in whether the Avs can reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champs lost a couple important depth players in free agency, but they still have the world's best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, an elite defenseman in Victor Hedman and one of the deepest and most talented forward groups in the league. The challenge for the Lightning is becoming the first team to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders' four-peat in the early 1980s. If any team could do it, it's this Tampa Bay group.