The Usual Suspects – Tampa Bay, Colorado, and Las Vegas – Carryover as the Pre-Season Favourites
The NHL is back on the ice today as several training camps will officially open for practice. Pretty soon, preseason games will begin and before too long the 2021-2022 regular season will drop the puck – scheduled on Oct. 12th.
After a one-year deviation, the NHL will be returning to its "normal" division alignments and customary playoff format for the upcoming season. That means no more all-Canadian division, the return of wild cards, and the elimination of play-in rounds.
The 2019-20 playoff format and the 2020-21 seasons produced some wildly unexpected results (but the same champion – Tampa Bay) that almost certainly would have never taken place in a normal season. One major shift taking place this season is the Arizona Coyotes moving from the Pacific to Central Division and being replaced in the west by the expansion Seattle Kraken.
Based on last season's carryover and off-season moves, here's the latest power rankings according to SportsNet.ca
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Key additions: Corey Perry, Brian Elliott, Zach Bogosian, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare
Key subtractions: Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson, Barclay Goodrow
The cap took its toll on the Lightning roster this off-season, forcing them to shed an entire third line that was key to playoff success. Signing UFA Corey Perry brings a little sandpaper back, as Tampa targeted a few experienced players on cheap deals. All of their top players are back, and Nikita Kucherov will be regular season ready this time. Plus, the Lightning have a few younger players to be optimistic about who could become key contributors with new opportunities -- players such as Mathieu Joseph or Alex Barre-Boulet. Keep an eye on them and other youngsters in the pre-season.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Key additions: Darcy Kuemper, Ryan Murray
Key subtractions: Joonas Donskoi, Brandon Saad, Ryan Graves, Conor Timmins, Philipp Grubauer
A Stanley Cup favourite throughout last season, the Avs finished with a third straight second round elimination (as Nazem Kadri served an eight-game playoff suspension). But this still feels and looks like a team primed for a breakthrough. The most important pieces of off-season business were done -- re-signing captain Gabriel Landeskog before he could leave in free agency, and then acquiring Darcy Kuemper to replace Seattle-bound Philipp Grubauer in net. After two stellar seasons in a row, Kuemper was back closer to league average in 2021, but he's a good bet to bounce back behind a much better Avs team. They have top end talent throughout the lineup and should be the best team in the re-formed Central Division.
3. Las Vegas Golden Knights
Key additions: Evgenii Dadonov, Nolan Patrick
Key subtractions: Marc-Andre Fleury, Ryan Reaves, Cody Glass
The Golden Knights have been to the conference final (or semifinal last year) in three of their first four years in existence, so of course they're coming in near the top of the pile again. More of their success this season will depend on Robin Lehner, who starts as the undisputed No. 1 after Vegas' cap picture forced a Marc-Andre Fleury trade upon them. Lehner will have a capable backup in Laurent Brossoit, but he's no Vezina winner. A lack of offence is what ultimately sunk Vegas' playoff run, so we have to watch how that plays out in 2021-22.
4. Florida Panthers
Key additions: Sam Reinhart, Joe Thornton
Key subtractions: Chris Driedger, Alex Wennberg, Keith Yandle
Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston were the Atlantic's three heavy hitters you could count on claiming playoff spots when we last saw normal league alignment, but when we return to form this year the Florida Panthers are going to crash that party. They were one of the top offences in 2021 and had among the most improved defence corps. They took the Lightning to an exciting six-game playoff series before losing, but it's worth remembering that Aaron Ekblad's season ended in March to injury, right in the middle of a great individual season. Sergei Bobrovsky remains a bit of a wild card, but 20-year-old Spencer Knight looked more than ready to take on a workload when we saw him at the tail end last season.
5. NY Islanders
Key additions: Zdeno Chara
Key subtractions: Jordan Eberle, Nick Leddy, Travis Zajac
Not all that attractive on paper, we can't argue with the Islanders' results. They've been eliminated in Round 3 by the Tampa Bay Lightning in both of the past two seasons, taking the champs to seven games this past summer. The Islanders lost some veterans in the off-season, but that will open new opportunities and the strength of this team isn't drawn from one player, but from a team buy-in to coach Barry Trotz's approach. New York should continue to be hard to play against and find positive results.
6. Boston Bruins
Key additions: Linus Ullmark, Nick Foligno, Erik Haula
Key subtractions: David Krejci, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Jeremy Lauzon, Tuukka Rask
The biggest change will be that Rask isn't around, at least through the first half or so of the season (if not for good). He will be replaced with Ullmark in net, an intriguing if playoff-unproven goalie who put together a couple statistically strong seasons behind a bad Buffalo Sabres team. If Ullmark doesn't have any hiccups the Bruins should return as an Atlantic Division force yet again. Time is running out on this core, though, and the loss of David Krejci will further test a secondary scoring issue that has been present for a few seasons. This is why Taylor Hall needs a strong start he can sustain.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Key additions: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Frederik Andersen, Derek Stepan, Josh Leivo, Ethan Bear, Tony DeAngelo, Antti Raanta
Key subtractions: Dougie Hamilton, Warren Foegele, Jake Bean, Morgan Geekie, Alex Nedeljkovic
One of the best teams throughout last season, the Canes underwent more off-season change than perhaps they'd prefer. Top defenceman Dougie Hamilton became too expensive for their liking, so he left via free agency and will be replaced by the deep blue line already in place. Alex Nedeljkovic was a Calder Trophy finalist, but his third contract was more than Carolina felt comfortable with, and so they'll start with a completely new goalie tandem. But expectations will more or less stay the same. The Canes have been a Cup hopeful with goalie questions for the past few seasons and they seemed to solve that concern in 2021. Now they'll have that uncertainty again, though will tackle it with two vets who have had recent success and a need to prove themselves all over again.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Key additions: Nick Ritchie, David Kampf, Ondrej Kase, Michael Bunting, Petr Mrazek
Key subtractions: Joe Thornton, Frederik Andersen, Zach Hyman, Alex Galchenyuk, Zach Bogosian
Replacing the significant loss of Hyman from the top line will have to be done by committee, and the Leafs added a few value pieces with various skill sets to try and figure that out. But that shouldn't sink them, or else there are larger issues. Jack Campbell took over starter's duties last season and now he'll have to do it again, with Mrazek as a partner who could play 30-plus games. Is that good enough in the crease? It's another year with an elite core that hasn't done anything in the playoffs, so in essence nothing they do matters until the next post-season. Anything less than a playoff round win (or two) could lead to substantial change.
9. Edmonton Oilers
Key additions: Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, Duncan Keith, Cody Ceci
Key subtractions: Dominik Kahun, Jujhar Khaira, James Neal, Adam Larsson, Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones
"The time is now," is how Ken Holland described the Oilers' status heading into this season. Promising regular season success two years in a row didn't lead to any playoff series wins, but the significant roster changes Holland oversaw this summer hope to change that. On paper this team looks better, but it isn't without questions. Can Mike Smith have a repeat performance in a season during which he'll turn 40? What does Duncan Keith have left in the tank and is it enough to overcome the loss of Adam Larsson? Losing Dmitri Samorukov to a broken jaw is a bummer, but keep an eye on the other young blue liners in camp.
10. Winnipeg Jets
Key additions: Nate Schmidt, Riley Nash, Brenden Dillon
Key subtractions: Tucker Poolman, Laurent Brossoit, Mathieu Perreault, Mason Appleton
After showing well in the North Division and winning a playoff round, the Jets will return to the Central where Colorado will be a favourite, but the rest of the landscape has changed somewhat. The St. Louis Blues finished first the last time this group was together, but don't appear to be on that level anymore. The Dallas Stars were Stanley Cup finalists two years ago, but missed the post-season in 2021 and have serious concerns in net and on offence. The Minnesota Wild had a good season, but how sustainable was it? And the Nashville Predators are a complete wild card these days. The Jets, though, return mostly the same and perhaps with an upgraded blue line, which has been their weakness in recent years. Keep an eye on Pierre-Luc Dubois in camp, too, as he looks to brush off a tough season and become the elite shutdown centre the Jets traded for.
11. Washington Capitals
Key additions: None
Key subtractions: Brenden Dillon, Zdeno Chara
It was a wild ride of a season for the Capitals in 2021, who had multiple players out with COVID at times and one stretch they had to play through without some of their top players. Heck, starting goalie Ilya Samsonov contracted the virus just two games into the season, which forced the Caps to turn to the unproven Vitek Vanecek. In the end, Washington powered through and finished tied atop the division before being eliminated in Round 1. But we should give this group the benefit of the doubt and expect a strong (and hopefully healthy) return. It's just less of a guarantee these days. Can Evgeny Kuznetsov re-find himself and become an elite producer again, or will trade rumours follow him? And at what point will the age curve catch up to the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, who the Caps depend so much on?
12. Minnesota Wild
Key additions: Alex Goligoski, Dmitry Kulikov
Key subtractions: Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Nick Bonino, Carson Soucy, Ian Cole
Long-term cap challenges lurk following the Suter and Parise buyouts, but rightfully the focus of the organization has shifted to the next generation of players who led the Wild to a top 10 regular season in 2021. Can they do it again? The key to repeating and building on last season's results may be Kirill Kaprizov, the rookie of the year winner who still doesn't have a new contract. The good news, at least, is that he hasn't signed with a KHL team. Without Kaprizov at camp, the youngsters making a case for a spot on the roster come into focus.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins
Key additions: Danton Heinen
Key subtractions: Cody Ceci, Brandon Tanev
While I'm not personally a big believer in Pittsburgh's current construction and they haven't won a playoff series since 2018, the fact is the Penguins had the fifth-most points in the league last season and the Hurricanes were the only team from the Metropolitan Division that finished with more points. Tristan Jarry faltered in the playoffs, so goaltending remains an issue, but trade deadline pickup Jeff Carter will be here for a full season to follow an incredibly productive finish. The problem is that Sidney Crosby will miss camp and possibly the start of the season, while Evgeni Malkin could still miss considerable time. That will challenge them early in the season at least. When everyone is in the lineup, though, the talent is still there. Malkin and Kris Letang have one year left on their contracts, which gives this a bit of a 'Last Dance' vibe.
14. NY Rangers
Key additions: Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Patrik Nemeth, Sammy Blais
Key subtractions: Pavel Buchnevich, Colin Blackwell, Brendan Smith
Is this the year they take a considerable step? The Rangers were the best of all the non-playoff teams last season and seem ripe for a team breakout. All the pieces from the rebuild are in place, they have a couple of award winners, and return to a Metropolitan Division that has more than a few teams with questions about their age window. And while skill is aplenty, a big topic following the Tom Wilson incident last season was if the Rangers had enough snarl to respond. New GM Chris Drury clearly made adding that element a priority and now New York figures to be harder to play against -- which could help them win in the playoffs, too, should they get there.
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15. Dallas Stars
Key additions: Luke Glendening, Braden Holtby, Ryan Suter
Key subtractions: Jason Dickinson, Jamie Oleksiak, Andrew Cogliano
The Stars are going to be one of the more difficult teams to get a handle on before the start of the season. After reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, the Stars faced one of the more challenging schedules in the condensed 2021 season. Their season started late due to a COVID outbreak and a dangerous February storm in the area forced them to postpone another week of games. Because of all this, the Stars were playing from behind everyone all season and they still made a valiant attempt, finishing four points out of the playoffs. There have been some subtle changes to the team, but the bedrock of their success is defence and that should remain the same. In camp, keep an eye on the goalies. With Ben Bishop injured Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby and Jake Oettinger are in the running.
16. Montreal Canadiens
Key additions: Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, Cedric Paquette, Mathieu Perreault, David Savard
Key subtractions: Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Corey Perry, Tomas Tatar
The Habs got to the Stanley Cup Final last season after finishing fourth in the North, but now Montreal returns to an Atlantic Division where they may be the fifth-best team (in the regular season anyway). Few picked them to upset the Leafs, no one picked them to make it all the way to the final and now we wonder exactly what the Habs are. They certainly added some helpful pieces to the group and while the Jesperi Kotkaniemi offer sheet hurt, at least Christian Dvorak should be an upgrade for this season. Shea Weber's future hangs in the balance as the captain faces a potentially career ending injury, and moving on without him will be a tough challenge.
17. Vancouver Canucks
Key additions: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Jaroslav Halak, Jason Dickinson, Tucker Poolman
Key subtractions: Nate Schmidt, Alexander Edler, Antoine Roussel, Jake Virtanen, Braden Holtby
Last place in the North Division in 2021, the Canucks had a rocky road throughout. They got off to a poor start, seemed to find their footing again, and then the team was hammered by a COVID-19 breakout that forced a multi-week stoppage and a jam-packed schedule over the remaining five weeks as players were still recovering. We can't overreact too much to such a challenging season. Still, another playoff miss would likely demand extensive change so GM Jim Benning's off-season was spent trying to upgrade the roster. It appears he's done that, with more depth up front and on the blue line. And if Thatcher Demko takes a step in net again the Canucks could return to the Pacific Division as one of the top teams. We're expecting new contracts to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes before the start of the season, though without them the Canucks' chances significantly decline -- and beginning camp without either could be a bad omen.
18. Los Angeles Kings
Key additions: Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, Alexander Edler
Key subtractions: None
Optimism returns to Los Angeles, where light is beginning to appear from the end of the rebuild. Veterans were the target acquisitions this off-season and each of them should play considerable roles to help support the vets already in place as the Kings also try and bring along their young players who will lead the next generation. Re-joining the Pacific Division should be a positive because right now that looks like it could be the worst grouping in the league. That may be the opening this team needs to take a step back towards relevance, and even staying in the race until the very end would be a win.
19. St. Louis Blues
Key additions: Pavel Buchnevich, Brandon Saad
Key subtractions: Mike Hoffman, Jaden Schwartz, Vince Dunn, Sammy Blais
When the 2019-20 season -- the last "normal" schedule -- was paused, St. Louis was one of the best teams in the NHL. Ranked second overall and on an 8-2-0 run, they nabbed one of the four byes in the 24-team playoff tournament, but didn't win any of the round robin games so qualified fourth in the Western Conference. Then they got upset in Round 1 by Vancouver. Last season was rocky, finishing a distant fourth in the re-aligned West Division, where they might have been lucky to have been placed in such a top-heavy group. Make no mistake, though: there's a lot of potential here still.
The Blues have a veteran core, creating the foundation of a contender, and some still untapped offensive upside with youngsters such as Robert Thomas (unsigned RFA) and Jordan Kyrou, the latter of whom had a breakout 2021. The two off-season pick-ups should make up for the loss of Mike Hoffman, and we may not have seen the best from Buchnevich yet either. There's also a disgruntled star here, with Vladimir Tarasenko's situation still unresolved. They should be in the running for the playoffs again, but are they closer to a bubble team than a sure thing now? The Blues were 5-9-2 against Colorado and Vegas in 2021, the top teams in their division, and certainly seem to have left the "elite contender" category.
20. Nashville Predators
Key additions: Philippe Myers, Cody Glass, David Rittich
Key subtractions: Pekka Rinne, Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis
What a strange season the Predators had in 2021. They were down and out, labeled as deadline sellers. Mattias Ekholm was on the block and Mikael Granlund, too. And then suddenly they caught fire, stood pat at the deadline, and got into the post-season. Now, there have been some big changes here. Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis especially were fixtures on this teamwho were traded away. The Pekka Rinne era is over after he retired, but Jusse Saros played at such a level down the stretch that he was beginning to attract some Vezina Trophy buzz. He ultimately wasn't a finalist, but a repeat performance would do wonders for the Preds. The Central Division might have the most uncertainty of all in terms of how the teams are tiered and the Preds are one of the biggest wild cards.
21. Philadelphia Flyers
Key additions: Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle, Martin Jones
Key subtractions: Jakub Voracek, Philippe Myers, Shayne Gostisbehere, Nolan Patrick, Brian Elliott
Off-season change was promised and delivered by GM Chuck Fletcher, but will it bring desired results? Honestly, the biggest X-Factor for the Flyers this season is goalie Carter Hart, who struggled immensely in 2021. There's no telling what effect the restrictions and demands of last season had on each individual player, but Hart was so uncharacteristically bad that he's a great bounce back candidate. On paper, the Flyers have looked good for a few years, but have struggled to translate that into any sustained success. Now there's been a shake up, which will challenge chemistry. Philadelphia has a wide range of outcomes here.
22. New Jersey Devils
Key additions: Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, Ryan Graves, Jonathan Bernier
Key subtractions: Ryan Murray, Will Butcher
There are five playoff-established teams in the Metro Division, but between the Rangers and Devils trying to emerge from their rebuilds there's a chance for a surprising finishing order. The Devils made one of the biggest off-season pick-ups acquiring Dougie Hamilton as a free agent, and Ryan Graves was a solid under-the-radar grab. If they improve the team defence and Mackenzie Blackwood bounces back from a season in which he battled COVID, New Jersey could see a big breakthrough. Key to that, though, will be further growth from Jack Hughes, Yegor Sharangovich and Ty Smith, young players on cheap contracts, but also Nico Hischier, who is entering the second season of his seven-year, post-ELC deal and coming off an injury shortened campaign.
23. Seattle Kraken
Key additions: Every single player
Key subtractions: Well, none
The NHL's newest team joins us and no one knows how this will go. Could the Kraken storm the league as the Vegas Golden Knights did, or will it be more of a struggle? They're not stacked on paper, but then again, neither was Vegas. The Pacific Division, too, will provide opportunity and how the Kraken fare out of the gate will greatly influence how they balance a "win now" approach with the long-term need of having to build out a prospect cupboard from scratch.
24. Chicago Blackhawks
Key additions: Tyler Johnson, Marc-Andre Fleury, Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Jujhar Khaira, Jake McCabe
Key subtractions: Pius Suter, Duncan Keith, David Kampf, Nikita Zadorov
The massive trade for and signing of Seth Jones is a big gamble for a Blackhawks team that hasn't made the same obvious strides out of a rebuild as we've seen from the Rangers or Kings. This was a bottom-10 team last season, so will these off-season moves combined with the expected return of Jonathan Toews get them back on track?
25. Ottawa Senators
Key additions: Michael Del Zotto
Key subtractions: Derek Stepan, Evgeny Dadonov, Artem Anisimov
Though GM Pierre Dorion has declared the rebuild is done, we should be cautious to note that doesn't mean they're suddenly Cup contenders. I mean, is the rebuild really over? There's a lot of developing still to do here, so maybe it's just a more mature phase of a rebuild. The Sens were written off by everyone before last season even began and while it's true they never really were in the race, it should be reminded that Ottawa had a .545 points percentage from March 1 on that ranked 17th in the NHL and third in the North Division. They became hard to play against and could translate some of that into a better finish this season.
26. Calgary Flames
Key additions: Blake Coleman, Tyler Pitlick, Brad Richardson, Nikita Zadorov, Daniel Vladar
Key subtractions: Mark Giordano, Derek Ryan, Josh Leivo
A disappointing regular season for the team was followed by a disappointing off-season for the fans who hoped the miserable outcome might spur some meaningful change. Of all the possibilities for roster turnover on the Flames, the most notable difference is that Mark Giordano is gone without a real replacement coming back. Johnny Gaudreau is still here too, and enters the last season of his contract. Matthew Tkachuk has one year left as well, though after it expires he'll be an RFA. Both players are questionable to be with the team long-term. Instead of big, sweeping changes, the Flames doubled down on Darryl Sutter hockey and building for a playoff-style of game. Some might describe this situation as not great, Bob.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets
Key additions: Jakub Voracek, Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist
Key subtractions: Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Michael Del Zotto
The biggest questions are at centre, where the Blue Jackets lack an obvious No. 1, 2...and so on. Maybe somebody will shine and grab a job out of camp. The Jackets need to find the right player to complement Patrik Laine to unlock his full goal scoring potential. The Blue Jackets picked three times in the first round of the 2021 draft and hold another two firsts for 2022. This is a rebuilding team, though since they haven't torn everything down there is still some hope for a surprise season.
28. San Jose Sharks
Key additions: Nick Bonino, Andrew Cogliano, James Reimer, Adin Hill
Key subtractions: Ryan Donato, Martin Jones
The best news for the Sharks is that returning to a weak Pacific Division opens the door a crack to some level of surprise. The team is still built to compete, but the same net questions remain even after the front office tried to address the issue. Gone are Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk, in comes James Reimer and Adin Hill -- how do they fare in pre-season? We'll also be watching Erik Karlsson, Timo Meier and Logan Couture, all key players for the Sharks who weren't at their best last season. And then there's the potential locker room drama, with The Athletic reporting that "several" Sharks don't want Evander Kane back -- though it is worth pointing out Kane was the team's leading scorer last season.
29. Detroit Red Wings
Key additions: Pius Suter, Mitchell Stephens, Nick Leddy, Alex Nedeljkovic
Key subtractions: Valtteri Filppula, Bobby Ryan, Darren Helm, Jonathan Bernier
This training camp is all about the kids. What do we see from Moritz Seider and can he force his way on to the roster? How long can Lucas Raymond hang around camp and how close is he to NHL ready? Everyone knows what this Wings team is all about, but while more losing is expected in the short-term, you still want to see bounce backs from Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi as they return from injuries, a step up from Filip Zadina, and more of the same from Jakub Vrana, who was a point per game player after being acquired at the trade deadline.
30. Anaheim Ducks
Key additions: None
Key subtractions: Danton Heinen, Ryan Miller
Connected to a variety of rumours prior to last season's trade deadline, the Ducks have instead been rather quiet and are pushing forward with more of the same. It's clear they're waiting for the next core to grow its way into the NHL. Jamie Drysdale and Trevor Zegras will be the most important young players to watch at camp as they look to make progress. Max Comtois led the team in scoring at 22 years of age, so can he build on that? Will Troy Terry or Max Jones or Sam Steel or Isac Lundestrom -- all under-24 forwards -- force their way into more prominent roles? Progress needs to be made as goalie John Gibson creeps towards his 30s.
31. Arizona Coyotes
Key additions: Loui Eriksson, Andrew Ladd, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Ryan Dzingel, Anton Stralman, Shayne Gostisbehere, Conor Timmins, Carter Hutton
Key subtractions: Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Darcy Kuemper, Alex Goligoski, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derick Brassard, Michael Bunting, Tyler Pitlick, Christian Dvorak, Jason Demers, Antti Raanta
It was a near-complete tear down of the Coyotes this summer as draft picks became the priority. And we still wonder if Phil Kessel could be traded at some point. It's going to be a long year in the desert so in camp we're looking at the kids (can Barrett Hayton earn a bigger role at centre?) and seeing if a positive culture can start to be nurtured by the coaching staff and a hodgepodge of cast-off veterans.
32. Buffalo Sabres
Key additions: Vinny Hinostroza, Drake Caggiula, Will Butcher, Robert Hagg, Craig Anderson, Aaron Dell
Key subtractions: Sam Reinhart, Rasmus Ristolainen, Carter Hutton
No one out-tanks the Sabres. Seriously running forth with a goalie tandem of Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell (unless 22-year-old Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen earns and is allowed to take the job) it's again hard to feel anything good about Buffalo. It's a rebuild all over again, and we're still awaiting a Jack Eichel resolution. However that inevitable trade turns out, the results don't figure to help this team much in the here and now.