NHL Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Ahead of the 2020-21 Season

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2021

NHL Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Ahead of the 2020-21 Season

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    Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images

    The holiday season has been over for a while now.

    But if people are cavorting around your house as if Santa was about to return, cut them some slack.

    They're probably just hockey fans.

    After all, an NHL season already stalled by bargaining squabbles, medical logistics and restructuring concerns is finally about to begin with five games in the United States and Canada.

    For fans in Toronto and Edmonton, it's a return to the two hubs for the bubbled summertime tournament that ultimately led to the Tampa Bay Lightning skating with the Stanley Cup.

    Meanwhile, Wednesday's games in Philadelphia, Tampa and Denver will be the first official contests in the U.S. since the 2019-20 season was shuttered by the pandemic in early March.

    Ten more games are set to be played Thursday, and all teams will hit the ice at least a pair of times by the time the season's initial weekend draws to a close on Sunday in Pittsburgh and Sunrise, Florida.

    It's going to be a season like no other thanks to realigned divisions and accompanying changes in playoff structure, but that'll all make itself apparent soon enough.

    In the meantime, the B/R hockey team took one last look at the 31 teams and put together a comprehensive list of where everyone stands prior to the opening faceoffs. Take a look at our list and see where your favorite squad lands, and let us know in the comments whether you agree or disagree with our assessments.

Nos. 31-26: Red Wings, Ducks, Blackhawks, Kings, Senators, Coyotes

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    31. Detroit Red Wings (31st in point standings in 2019-20)

    General manager Steve Yzerman was a wonderful player. He's a proven executive, and it's a good bet that he'll ultimately get the Red Wings back on a path toward relevance and success, but it won't happen in 2021. Instead, a four-year playoff absence becomes five in the Motor City.

        

    30. Anaheim Ducks (27th)

    Kevin Shattenkirk was a nice enough free-agency prize after he rejuvenated his career and won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but there's not a lot else to suggest big things will be happening with the Ducks. It's been a precipitous drop since a final four berth in 2016-17, and it isn't over yet.

        

    29. Chicago Blackhawks (23rd)

    Dominik Kubalik is back after scoring 30 goals as a rookie, but losing stalwart Jonathan Toews to illness compounds problems created by having no proven option in goal. Corey Crawford left for New Jersey before retiring, leaving Malcolm Subban, who's played 66 games across five seasons. Not a good sign.

           

    28. Los Angeles Kings (28th)

    It's not quite on the level of Apple, but buying in on the Kings now would be a prudent investment in terms of fan allegiance. They're loaded with prospects and should be back among the NHL's best teams within three to five years. As far as 2021 goes, though, it may not be pretty.

         

    27. Ottawa Senators (30th)

    They're not quite as stocked as the Kings, but you could definitely benefit from patiently latching on to the Senators' bandwagon this season. They grabbed three players in the first round of the draft, including No. 3 overall Tim Stutzle, and Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray brings street cred, too.

         

    26. Arizona Coyotes (22nd)

    The Coyotes ended a seven-year playoff drought by beating the Nashville Predators to earn the right to lose to the Colorado Avalanche in five games. The exit of Taylor Hall via free agency means it's star-turn time for young winger Clayton Keller, who's scored 23, 14 and 17 goals in three seasons.

Nos. 25-21: Devils, Sharks, Wild, Sabres, Panthers

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    Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

    25. New Jersey Devils (26th)

    So much for that whole "let's get a veteran goalie to team with Mackenzie Blackwood" idea. Instead, now that Corey Crawford has chosen retirement over his two-year free-agency contract, it's left to Blackwood to follow up on the 2.77 goals-against average and .915 save percentage he had in 47 games last season.

          

    24. San Jose Sharks (29th)

    The last time it missed the playoffs in 2014-15, San Jose returned in 2015-16 to win 46 games and reach the Stanley Cup Final. These Sharks were 29th overall in 2019-20 and may not do it again, but having two-time Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson back from a broken thumb can't hurt.

         

    23. Minnesota Wild (21st)

    Goaltender Cam Talbot was a free-agency prize and signed a three-year deal worth $11 million after spending 2019-20 with the Calgary Flames. He'll stabilize the back end, but the news up front is the arrival of 2015 draft choice Kirill Kaprizov after 113 goals in 293 games in the KHL. He's got Calder Trophy possibilities.

        

    22. Buffalo Sabres (25th)

    Just when it looked safe to anoint the Sabres as the potential surprise of 2020-21, the NHL's powers that be tossed them in a division with an Eastern Conference finalist, the Presidents' Trophy winners and several other teams with lofty goals this season. Still, Taylor Hall and Jack Eichel are as good a one-two punch as any.

           

    21. Florida Panthers (18th)

    Sergei Bobrovsky arrived as a two-time Vezina Trophy winner but didn't play like one in his initial season with the Panthers. He'll need to bounce back in a big way to offset the losses of Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov and their 54 goals via free agency. Still, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov are great pieces.

Nos. 20-16: Predators, Jets, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Islanders

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    Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

    20. Nashville Predators (19th)

    The Predators relied on defense, goaltending and opportunism when Barry Trotz was in charge, and they'll need a similar M.O. after a redo of their forward roster. Having a Norris Trophy winner (Roman Josi) and a premier goaltending tandem (Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros) is a good place to start.

         

    19. Winnipeg Jets (15th)

    Patrik Laine is still a Jet for the time being, and that's a good thing for Winnipeg, which could use something approaching his 34.5-goals-per-season average. He's rejoined by steady veteran Paul Stastny, who was traded by the Vegas Golden Knights and has reached double-digit goals 13 times in the NHL.

          

    18. Columbus Blue Jackets (13th)

    Like Laine in Winnipeg, the Blue Jackets still have the services of talented center Pierre-Luc Dubois for the time being after he signed a two-year deal as a restricted free agent. According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, he's made rumblings about wanting to be elsewhere, though, so the hope in Ohio will be that he clicks quickly with new teammate Max Domi.

        

    17. Montreal Canadiens (24th)

    The Canadiens will have an interesting challenge in the reconfigured North Division, where they'll face their six domestic rivals nine or 10 times apiece. Adding Tyler Toffoli as a free agent and Josh Anderson via the trade for Domi changes the team's look a bit, and Carey Price and Jake Allen are a sound goalie tandem.

          

    16, New York Islanders (14th)

    GM Lou Lamoriello finally checked the biggest item on his to-do agenda with the signing of restricted free agent Mathew Barzal just days before the puck drop, keeping his 19 goals and 41 assists in the fold for a team that made loads of noise in the playoffs. A lot of young talent that got a legitimate confidence boost.

Nos. 15-11: Canucks, Rangers, Flames, Penguins, Flyers

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    15. Vancouver Canucks (20th)

    The Canucks were thrown into some limbo with an apparent false positive COVID-19 test, but they should be ready to roll for the opener in Edmonton. Free-agent goaltender Braden Holtby, a Stanley Cup champion with the Washington Capitals, forms a new pairing with youngster and playoff phenom Thatcher Demko.

          

    14. New York Rangers (16th)

    Alexis Lafreniere arrives on Broadway with all the fanfare of a No. 1 overall draft pick, and he joins a team chock full of young talent up front and in goal. Artemi Panarin posted 95 points in his initial season with the Rangers and was an MVP finalist. If the defense holds up, this ranking will improve dramatically.

            

    13. Calgary Flames (17th)

    There's a lot to loathe about continual playoff frustration, but a lot to like about a team that has prolific forwards like Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk, Add a free-agent goaltender of the caliber of Jacob Markstrom and a defenseman like Christopher Tanev, and it may offset TJ Brodie's exodus to Toronto.

         

    12. Pittsburgh Penguins (7th)

    Go ahead, you tell Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that the window that's been open long enough for them to win three Stanley Cups is irreversibly closed. Still, given that the Penguins were bounced from the playoffs by a No. 12 seed and goalie Matt Murray bolted for Ottawa, there will be whispers of an era's end.

            

    11. Philadelphia Flyers (6th)

    The Flyers looked like the real deal when they won a round-robin tourney to begin the playoffs as the top seed in the East, but less so when they were eliminated by the upstart New York Islanders. Goalie Carter Hart is among the game's young stars, and 2017 No. 2 pick Nolan Patrick may be a breakout player.

Nos. 10-6: Stars, Oilers, Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, Blues

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    Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

    10. Dallas Stars (10th)

    Goaltender Anton Khudobin has never played the majority of his team's regular-season games during a nomadic NHL career that's touched five cities. But he's the man in Dallas now after a heroic run to the Stanley Cup Final and a three-year, $10 million deal in the offseason. As he goes, so go the Stars.

         

    9. Edmonton Oilers (9th)

    Expecting the Oilers to thrive either shows awareness of the low-risk, high-reward transactions made during the offseason or foolishness for believing in a team that didn't make the official playoffs with the league's MVP and its consensus best player. If goaltending has them in the mix at the trade deadline, a run is possible.

          

    8. Carolina Hurricanes (11th)

    It's not hard to find folks who love the Hurricanes but are wary of their seemingly pedestrian goaltending. Like the Oilers, though, if that holds up, there could be a playoff push. Up front, forward Sebastian Aho is one of the game's top young stars and has upped his goal total (24, 29, 30, 38) in each of his four NHL seasons.

           

    7. Toronto Maple Leafs (12th)

    Already loaded with top-flight talent at forward, the Maple Leafs brought in TJ Brodie to anchor the defense on a four-year contract, re-signed veteran forward Jason Spezza and added grit and leadership in Wayne Simmonds and Zach Bogosian. Could this be the year the now-54-year drought ends? Maybe.

         

    6. St. Louis Blues (2nd)

    It was easy to think the sky was falling when St. Louis exited the playoffs in the first round and lost hulking defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to free agency, but things got better with the signing of Boston free agent Torey Krug and the late-stage snatch of consistent sniper Mike Hoffman. The Blues remain a force.

Nos. 5-1: Capitals, Bruins, Golden Knights, Avalanche, Lightning

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    5. Washington Capitals (5th)

    The Capitals were bumped from the playoffs by the plucky New York Islanders, but they're still just two seasons removed from a championship and certainly in the mix for another. Alex Ovechkin, 35, is the NHL's ageless goal-scoring wonder, and 43-year-old Zdeno Chara adds grit and leadership. It's title or bust in D.C.

          

    4. Boston Bruins (1st)

    The Bruins were the best in the league during the 2019-20 regular season but plummeted during a play-in round robin and never fully regained that swagger before getting bounced by the Lightning. Injuries may impact things, but any team with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is a contender. 

         

    3. Vegas Golden Knights (8th)

    It was supposed to happen in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, who were the top seed in the West before losing to the Stars in the conference final. They come back amped for another run with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, Alex Pietrangelo on the blue line and four 20-plus goal scorers up front.

          

    2. Colorado Avalanche (3rd)

    There are a lot of reasons to love the Avalanche. In fact, according to DraftKings, they're the preseason betting favorite (+650; bet $100 to win $650) to win the Stanley Cup. Nathan MacKinnon was an MVP finalist, Cale Makar was the best rookie and goalie Pavel Francouz had a 2.41 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

         

    1. Tampa Bay Lightning (4th)

    For the top spot, we subscribe to Ric Flair's theory of "to be the man, you gotta beat the man." And until proven otherwise, the Lightning are the NHL's version of "the man." Losing Nikita Kucherov for the regular season because of a hip injury hurts, but remaining talent and a soft division warrant a No. 1 tag to start.

        

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