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NHL Preseason Power Rankings: Can the Avalanche Steal the Lightning’s Thunder?

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
 2021-10-12

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Colorado is a Stanley Cup favorite yet again, even after three straight second-round postseason exits. Can the Avs get over the playoff hump to end Tampa Bay’s reign?

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The Lightning enter the new NHL season still celebrating their second straight Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay will go for a third this season , but plenty of teams are eager to steal the Bolts’ thunder. The Avalanche in particular seem ready to claim the mantle of the top team despite three consecutive second-round postseason exits.

The newest franchise will make its debut Tuesday as the regular season gets underway. The Kraken will take on the Golden Knights, whose early success they will look to emulate, but Seattle could have a tougher time making a deep playoff run in its inaugural season. Check out where every team stands.

Ron Chenoy/USA Today Sports

32. Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres’ feud with Jack Eichel remains one of the top story lines not just in Buffalo but across the entire league as the puck drops on the regular season. A trade of the star center seems all but inevitable, leaving the Sabres to embark on yet another rebuild.

RELATED: Some Movement at Last in the Jack Eichel Saga?

31. Arizona Coyotes

Jakob Chychrun led all NHL defenseman with 18 goals last season. He will be joined on defense by Shayne Gostisbehere, a trade acquisition from the Flyers looking to rejuvenate his career.

30. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks scored the fewest goals of any NHL team last season (126), and Max Comtois led the team with 16 goals. Anaheim will again turn to a pack of young forwards, including 22-year-old Comtois, to power the attack.

29. Detroit Red Wings

After the Ducks, Red Wings scored the second-fewest goals last season, and they also had the second-worst power-play production. Detroit will need to improve in both categories to move out of the basement.

28. Seattle Kraken

The Kraken will aim to follow in the footsteps of the Golden Knights, who made a run to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. The team should be strong on defense and in net behind defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Adam Larsson and goalie Philipp Grubauer, but they could fall short in offensive production.

27. San Jose Sharks

Evander Kane led the Sharks with 22 goals and 49 points last season in 56 games last season, but he is not on the roster to start the season . The forward is being investigated by the NHL for allegations of sexual assault by his estranged wife as well as for the possible use of a fake COVID-19 vaccination card .

26. Ottawa Senators

Brady Tkachuk remains in limbo as the season begins. The restricted free agent is looking for a short-term contract, while the Senators want to lock him down with a long-term deal. The stalemate with the 22-year-old winger could signal the start of a rocky season in Ottawa.

RELATED: What to Make of the Ottawa Senators

25. Columbus Blue Jackets

A black hole at the center position could drag Columbus down. Alexandre Texier, Jack Roslovic and Max Domi all could step into top-line roles, but the Blue Jackets have no obvious choice.

24. Calgary Flames

To compete for a playoff spot, the Flames will rely on forwards Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk as they enter the final year of their contracts. Calgary will feel the absence of captain Mark Giordano, who was selected by the Kraken in the expansion draft.

23. Nashville Predators

A surprise playoff team last season, Nashville faces an uphill climb to a return appearance after trading away forward Viktor Arvidsson and defenseman Ryan Ellis and choosing to focus on its youth movement.

22. New Jersey Devils

The Devils brought in defenseman Dougie Hamilton in the offseason to lead a defensive turnaround. The unrestricted free agent signed a seven-year, $63 million contract with New Jersey after scoring 42 points in 55 games for the Hurricanes last season.

21. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks ran the gauntlet last year: A COVID-19 outbreak put their season on hold, and when they restarted, they had to play their final 19 games in 32 days. Veteran center Brandon Sutter remains out of the lineup with lingering COVID-19 symptoms, and Vancouver will also start the season without winger Brock Boeser and defenseman Travis Hamonic.

RELATED: The Stakes Are High for the Vancouver Canucks

20. Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago acquired defenseman Seth Jones in a blockbuster trade and then signed him to an eight-year, $76 million contract. The Blackhawks also traded for reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-André Fleury, and captain Jonathan Toews will play in Wednesday’s opener after missing all of last season. If all the pieces come together, this could be a team on the rise .

19. Montreal Canadiens

Star goalie Carey Price entered the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program last week and will miss at least the first month of the season. The Canadiens will turn to backup Jake Allen in net as they begin their quest to return to the Stanley Cup Final.

18. Los Angeles Kings

With the additions of forwards Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson, the Kings seemed to signal their intention to move past the rebuilding phase. In a Pacific Division light on contenders, a playoff spot could be theirs for the taking.

17. New York Rangers

New York will look to young forwards Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko—the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft and the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft, respectively—for more offensive production. If they both step up under new coach Gerard Gallant, the Rangers could find themselves in the thick of the crowded competition in the Metro Division.

16. Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers goalie Carter Hart enters the season looking to rebound after an abysmal 2020–21 campaign. The 23-year-old finished last season with a 3.67 goals-against average and an .877 save percentage, both the worst of any goalie who played at least 20 games. The additions of defensemen Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle should help.

15. St. Louis Blues

Vladimir Tarasenko remains with the Blues for now , but so does the simmering tension between the team and the star winger, who requested a trade in the offseason.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins

Are the Penguins still the Penguins without centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin? They will have to find out, as Crosby will miss the start of the season with a wrist injury and Malkin is expected to miss the first two months as he recovers from knee surgery.

13. Dallas Stars

The Stars missed the playoffs last season but made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020. With a healthy Tyler Seguin, who missed all but three games last season with a hip injury, Dallas will look to return to Cup contention.

RELATED: Could the Stars' John Klingberg Price Himself Out of Dallas?

12. Winnipeg Jets

An upgraded blue line, bolstered by the signings of Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt, should take the pressure off goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who faced the most shots (1,335)—and allowed the most goals (112)—in the NHL last season.

11. Washington Capitals

Nicklas Backstrom is still recovering from a hip injury, and with no timetable for his return, the Capitals will rely on 2020 first-round pick Hendrix Lapierre to fill the hole left by their top-line center.

10. Edmonton Oilers

The signing of winger Zach Hyman is a boon for star center Connor McDavid and the Oilers’ offense. The defense, though, looks shakier, even with the offseason additions of Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci.

9. Minnesota Wild

With second-year forward Kirill Kaprizov locked into a new five-year contract, the Wild will look to the reigning rookie of the year to continue to lead their young core. Kaprizov had 27 goals and 24 assists in 55 games last season.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Another year of playoff disappointment has left Toronto fans antsy. Auston Matthews, who led the league with 41 goals in 52 games last year, begins the season still recovering from his August wrist surgery , so he will miss Wednesday’s opener against Montreal, the very team that upset the Leafs in the first round of the postseason.

7. Boston Bruins

The biggest question mark in Boston remains the goalie situation. Longtime netminder Tuukka Rask remains a free agent after undergoing hip surgery last season, although he could return later this season if his recovery goes smoothly. For now, though, the Bruins will rely on rookie Jeremy Swayman or former Sabre Linus Ullmark to backstop.

6. Florida Panthers

Even without star defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who missed the end of last season and the playoffs with a broken leg, the Panthers looked competitive in their first-round loss to the Lightning. With Ekblad back on the ice, Florida could vie for the Atlantic Division title.

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Despite Carolina’s success last season, the team retooled its lineup in the offseason. The transformed blue line includes four new defensemen in Tony DeAngelo, Ethan Bear, Ian Cole and Brendan Smith, and the team also has a new goalie tandem in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta.

4. Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas has reached at least the Stanley Cup semifinals in three of its first four years of existence, and the team seems primed to win again this season in a weak Pacific Division. Yet trading Marc-André Fleury to the Blackhawks for cap space could come back to haunt the Golden Knights, no matter how capable a replacement Robin Lehner seems.

3. New York Islanders

The Islanders fell one game short of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance last season after losing 1–0 to the Lightning in the seventh game of the semifinal series. Team captain Anders Lee has returned from a knee injury he suffered in March, and if he can stay healthy, New York could take the next step.

RELATED: New York Islanders: From the Hunters to the Hunted

2. Colorado Avalanche

While the Avalanche finished last season with the best record, the Presidents’ Trophy proved cold comfort after they were bounced from the playoffs in the second round for the third consecutive season. Colorado will look to get over the hump , but it will have to do so without Vezina finalist Philipp Grubauer, who signed a six-year deal with the Kraken.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lighting will try to become the fourth franchise to win three straight Stanley Cup s, and the first since the Islanders won four in a row from 1980–83. The salary cap, which Tampa Bay played to its advantage on the championship run, exacted its toll this offseason. The team could not retain its reliable third line of Blake Coleman (now with the Flames), Barclay Goodrow (Rangers) and Yanni Gourde (Kraken), but with young forwards, including Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph, ready to step in, the Lightning remain the team to beat.

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