Now that the 2021-22 season is drawing closer, it’s time for some updated NHL power rankings to get a sense of where teams really stand, based in large part on what we saw in the Stanley Cup playoffs and what transpired in free agency.
It was quite a fascinating last year of NHL action, as division realignment and a shortened, 56-game schedule led to a wide-open race for the Stanley Cup. In the end, though, the Tampa Bay Lightning once again prevailed, besting the Montreal Canadiens in five games to successfully defend their title.
Without further ado, here are Sportsnaut’s NHL power rankings as we look ahead to the 2021-22 campaign.
NHL power rankings: Colorado Avalanche reign supreme despite offseason losses
1. Colorado Avalanche (Previous Ranking: 3)
Even though they lost Joonas Donskoi in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, lost Philipp Grubauer and Brandon Saad to free agency, and traded defenseman Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils, the Avs still look like they’ll be in great shape.
Colorado re-signed captain Gabriel Landeskog, goaltender Pavel Francouz will return from the surgery that caused him to miss all of last season, and they acquired Darcy Kuemper to replace Grubauer between the pipes. Nathan MacKinnon is still one of the best players in the league, and Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar sticking around Denver is a huge plus for the club.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (Previous Ranking: 1)
Yes, the back-to-back champs lost their entire third line when Blake Coleman signed with Calgary, Yanni Gourde went to Seattle in the expansion draft, and they traded away Barclay Goodrow before he’d walk away in free agency. But, they added veteran Corey Perry–who comes at a very low price–hoping he’ll stick to his game and be a net-front pest. That said, they still have Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and so many other stellar players that make this team great. As long as Kucherov and Hedman return from injury in short order as expected, the Lightning will continue to be a fixture near the top of the NHL power rankings.
3. Boston Bruins (Previous Ranking: 12)
Re-signing Taylor Hall to a much more team-friendly contract was a smart move for the Bs, who also added grit to their forward core by inking former Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno to a contract. Losing veteran David Krejci is a bit more tolerable when you consider that Foligno is replacing him, and replacing Jaroslav Halak with Linus Ullmark definitely seems like a solid exchange for the Bruins, who already have a solid core in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
4. New York Islanders (Previous Ranking: 4)
Lou Lamoriello is at it again, signing defenseman Adam Pelech to a very team-friendly contract at $5.75 million for eight years (after he went to arbitration). The team signed Kyle Palmieri to a four-year deal, too, and kept Anthony Beauvillier, who was stellar for the Isles in their deep playoff run last season. They lost Jordan Eberle in the expansion draft, but they added another key veteran piece in Zach Parise, which gives them a prime spot among the NHL power rankings.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (Previous Ranking: 10)
Breakout young forward Michael Bunting left the Arizona Coyotes to sign with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and could be a valuable, offensive piece to the club’s already front-heavy roster. They upgraded their goaltending presence, too, losing Freddie Andersen to Carolina but replacing him with former Canes goaltender Petr Mrazek in a free agent swap. Mrazek could be what the Leafs are missing, as his consistency is exactly what the club is looking for.
Their core pieces in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander remain intact, but they lost veteran Nick Foligno (though they replaced his grit with young forward Nick Ritchie) and first liner Zach Hyman, and still could use some help defensively.
6. Vegas Golden Knights (Previous Ranking: 2)
While they may have lost goaltender (and Vezina Trophy winner) Marc-Andre Fleury in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Robin Lehner is still a valuable asset in the blue paint, and the team continues to impress and live in their Cinderella story. They acquired former Jets goalie Laurent Broissoit and retained defenseman Alec Martinez in free agency, but have otherwise kept the core of their team–one that continues to make deep playoff runs–intact.
7. Seattle Kraken (Expansion team, NHL Power Rankings debut)
It’s bold to put a new team so high on the NHL power rankings, especially considering they have yet to play a game, but the Kraken’s key roster pieces are promising, and the club has certainly kept busy in the offseason. They have a solid goaltending duo in Philipp Grubauer and Chris Driedger, goal scorers in Alex Wennberg and Jordan Eberle, and solid defense in Mark Giordano, Adam Larsson and Vince Dunn. If every player on this roster plays to their expectations (or even exceeds them), the Seattle Kraken could be dangerous this season.
8. Florida Panthers (Previous Ranking: 6)
The Panthers had a bit of a disappointing postseason, but chose to keep their roster more or less the same. They re-signed Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair, and added Sam Reinhart to their offensive corps through a trade. With Dreidger gone, goaltending prospect Spencer Knight is expected to take on a heavier load, and Brandon Montour staying in Florida means Aaron Ekblad can take on a lighter load when he returns from injury next season.
9. Washington Capitals (Previous Ranking: 14)
Not shockingly, Alex Ovechkin re-signed with the Caps before free agency officially opened, which keeps them sitting in the top 10 in the NHL power rankings. They lost grinder Brenden Dillon in a trade, but still have plenty of tenacity in Tom Wilson, John Carlson and Nick Jensen. The young goaltending duo in Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov is in DC to stay, as both inked contracts in the offseason. With injuries and Covid ravaging the Caps’ roster last season, they’ll likely have a stronger season this year with minimal roster changes.
10. Winnipeg Jets (Previous Ranking: 9)
The Jets have, quite possibly, one of the best goaltenders in the league in Connor Hellebuyck, and have talent up front in Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor. They strengthened their back end with the additions of Brendan Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Losing Mason Appleton–who just seemed to come into his own–is a tough pill for the club to swallow, but their roster is still god enough to stay in the top ten in the NHL power rankings.
NHL power rankings: Second-tier contenders to watch out for in new season
11. Chicago Blackhawks (Previous Ranking: 21)
A big reason for the Hawks’ struggle last season was captain Jonathan Toews’ unavailability, which seemingly will not be an issue going forward. They made huge moves in the offseason with the additions of Seth Jones (widely considered to be one of the best defensemen in the league) and Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury, which sees them get a huge push in the NHL power rankings. Solid trades with little roster impact seem like a good deal in the short term for the Blackhawks, and may see them return to their former playoff glory.
12. St. Louis Blues (Previous Ranking: 16)
Brandon Saad is a key addition for the Blues, who needed a bit of a shakeup after being swept by the Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs last season. That sweep, though, could hardly be blamed on goaltender Jordan Binnington, who stood on his head for every single game of the series. He’ll be expected to dazzle again this season, especially with the loss of blueliner Vince Dunn.
Pavel Buchnevich, though, will be a welcome addition the club’s forward corps, and slightly alleviates the pressure in the Vladimir Tarasenko saga (the star forward requested a trade shortly after the season ended, but nothing has come of it to date).
13. Edmonton Oilers (Previous Ranking: 11)
Though some are calling Zach Hyman’s contract a bit excessive, he’ll likely play on the first line with Connor McDavid for his new club. Some of the teams other moves, though, were received even less favourably, namely clinging to 39-year old goaltender Mike Smith, as well as two trades that saw Duncan Keith come to Edmonton and, separately, Ethan Bear leave Oil Country.
Re-signing Tyson Barrie was an expected and welcome move, and the club is hoping that Cody Ceci can step into a smaller role on defense, especially with the huge Darnell Nurse extension. This team has potential, but some questionable decisions always leave them middling in the NHL power rankings.
14. Montreal Canadiens (Previous Ranking: 5)
Even though the Habs caught flack for that controversial, less-than-ideal first round pick in this year’s draft, they made some other moves that made way more sense: namely, signing David Savard to a team-friendly, 4 year, $3.5 million deal. They also added veteran (and Stanley Cup winner) Cedric Paquette, as well as Mathieu Perrault, which makes losing Philip Danault a little easier to deal with. Most importantly, though, the young guns in Montreal — namely Cole Caulfield and Nick Suzuki — will be tapped to prove it was more than just a one-season dream.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins (Previous Ranking: 8)
After a disappointing playoff effort that saw Tristan Jarry make some questionable goaltending decisions, the Penguins are oddly quiet of late, save trading away Jared McCann and losing Brandon Tanev in the expansion draft. They’ve acquired Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen, but have little more depth on their roster. It seems their tactic of relying on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang is going to serve them for another year but, as their core gets older, it leaves them middling in the NHL power rankings. Plus, the oft-banged-up Crosby on the mend again after core muscle surgery, which will keep him out till after Christmas.
16. Dallas Stars (Previous Ranking: 17)
Unlike the Pens, the Dallas Stars have been very busy this offseason. They added Braden Holtby, Jani Hakanpaa, Michael Raffl and, of course, Ryan Suter to their roster, which seems a fair amount of additions after losing Jamie Oleksiak in the expansion draft and Andrew Cogliano to free agency. The club went for depth, and they certainly found it. They’re still not far off from their incredible Cup final run, and seem to be preparing for a playoff push again this season, assuming the roster is healthy.