Way Too Early NHL Power Rankings for Next Season: Lightning, Avs Tied at No. 1

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2021

Way Too Early NHL Power Rankings for Next Season: Lightning, Avs Tied at No. 1

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    They're off.

    Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have temporarily transformed from competitive mode to parade-planning mode, it's a signal to the rest of the NHL that the offseason—and the corresponding race to unseat Jon Cooper's two-time champs from their lofty perch—has officially begun.

    And what better time for the B/R hockey writing team to put one last stamp on the season that was than with a final set of power rankings from our voting panel.

    No fewer than nine teams shared or held the No. 1 position outright during the regular season, including three solo weeks and one shared week by the Presidents Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche. The Vegas Golden Knights, who finished second overall, joined them as three-time solo kingpins.

    As for the Lightning, they were the solo No. 1 twice and shared the spot two other times during the 16-week stretch from January to May. They finished eighth overall, behind the Avalanche, Golden Knights, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals.

    Every team in that group but one—Pittsburgh—had at least a turn atop the B/R rankings, while two others not in the league's top eight, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens, also saw the view from the top.

    Fittingly, Colorado and Tampa Bay split the top spot for this week's 2020-21 finale, and the same three teams—the Avalanche, the Lightning and Vegas—made up the top three on each voter's ballot.

    Click through to see how the list came together elsewhere as well, and drop a thought or two in the comments section to let us know how we did. 

Nos. 31-26: Sabres, Coyotes, Devils, Sharks, Blue Jackets, Ducks

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    31. Buffalo Sabres (Last Ranking: 31st)

    Now that Don Granato has been installed as the full-fledged head coach, the Sabres are looking toward their No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming entry draft and chatting up potential selections. It's a supplementary storyline for general manager Kevyn Adams alongside persistent Jack Eichel trade talk.


    30. Arizona Coyotes (Last Ranking: 21st)

    GM Bill Armstrong made the call to hire a first-time NHL head coach in Andre Tourigny, so now he'll sit back and see if the former junior coach and NHL assistant can cultivate the same player relationships with the Coyotes as he had in previous stops. It's a vital step toward Arizona's return to respectability.


    29. New Jersey Devils (Last Ranking: 29th)

    The Devils are the youngest team in the NHL and are flush with salary cap space heading into the offseason. That could mean the addition of some veteran leadership and perhaps lead to a reunion with a former player or two. Several could be available as free agents, including Blake Coleman and Travis Zajac. 


    28. San Jose Sharks (Last Ranking: 27th)

    Crunching the off-ice numbers has made improving the on-ice product even more of a priority in San Jose, where season ticket sales are noticeably down. The Sharks have missed the playoffs for the last two seasons. That hadn't happened to the franchise since the mid-1990s.


    27. Columbus Blue Jackets (Last Ranking: 28th)

    The transactions and other tasks for the offseason will commence soon enough, but the Blue Jackets are reeling at the moment after the death of goalie Matiss Kivlenieks from a fireworks accident at a party at the home of an assistant coach. Kivlenieks played in eight games for Columbus in two seasons.


    26. Anaheim Ducks (Last Ranking: 30th)

    Head coach Dallas Eakins is still in place, but his staff is being retooled after a second straight losing season on his watch. Geoff Ward and Mike Stothers are in and Mark Morrison and Marty Wilford are out after the swaps. As for player moves, the Ducks are still rumored to be in the mix if Eichel is dealt.

Nos. 25-21: Senators, Red Wings, Flames, Canucks, Blackhawks

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    Larry MacDougal/Associated Press

    25. Ottawa Senators (Last Ranking: 23rd)

    Fans of the Senators may have had a "why not us?" vibe watching Montreal, against whom Ottawa was 6-3-1 in 2020-21, run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Senators were 21-16-3 after a woeful 2-12-1 in the season's first 15 games. The 2021-22 season means a return to a rugged Atlantic Division though.


    24. Detroit Red Wings (Last Ranking: 26th)

    The Red Wings are loaded with draft picks and salary cap space, two important weapons in GM Steve Yzerman's arsenal as he continues the Detroit rebuild. Seven of the team's 12 picks in the draft are in the first three rounds, meaning impact players are available or pieces can be used to facilitate deals.


    23. Calgary Flames (Last Ranking: 24th)

    Captain Mark Giordano debuted with the Flames during the 2005-06 season and is due $6.75 million in 2021-22 on the last season of a six-year contract. So, at age 37, he's not a lock to be on the protected list Calgary submits prior to the expansion draft. But if he goes, a vacancy at the No. 1 blue line slot opens.


    22. Vancouver Canucks (Last Ranking: 25th)

    A challenging season is finally in the rear-view mirror for the Canucks, but GM Jim Benning has some immediate priorities in front of him as well. Among them, locking down young core players Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson. Both are restricted free agents and short-term "bridge" deals are the expectation.


    21. Chicago Blackhawks (Last Ranking: 19th)

    It's "will they or won't they" time for the Blackhawks on defenseman Duncan Keith, a three-time Stanley Cup winner who wants to be traded to be closer to family in Western Canada. How much of his $5.538 million salary, if any, the team retains will determine how much is available to spend elsewhere. 

Nos. 20-16: Predators, Stars, Flyers, Kings, Blues

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    20. Nashville Predators (Last Ranking: 13th)

    No Predator had scored more goals over the last five seasons than Viktor Arvidsson's 119. Still, the 28-year-old winger and the three years remaining on a deal paying him $4.25 million apiece were sent to Los Angeles for a pair of draft picks. The good news: It provides some extra wiggle room for reinforcements. 


    19. Dallas Stars (Last Ranking: 16th)

    The Stars have three goalies with respectable NHL experience but only one slot allotted for protection in the expansion draft. Ben Bishop was the No. 1, but didn't play in 2020-21 due to injury. Anton Khubodin is signed for two years at $3.33 million per and Jake Oettinger had a good rookie season. Who goes?


    18. Philadelphia Flyers (Last Ranking: 20th)

    The Flyers have identified adding a defenseman as a priority following a season in which they allowed more goals than any team. Several options are on track to be there in free agency, including Dougie Hamilton, Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie; and Seth Jones or Matt Dumba could be trade acquisitions.


    17. Los Angeles Kings (Last Ranking: 22nd)

    The Kings are consistently included on lists of the league's best farm systems and they have another nine draft picks this season, including five in the first three rounds. Could they parlay some of that capital into a deal for an Eichel or some other impact player? It'll be GM Rob Blake's decision to make.


    16. St. Louis Blues (Last Ranking: 14th)

    A calm offseason in the Midwest was thrown into some level of chaos with reports that winger Vladimir Tarasenko wants out of St. Louis. The 29-year-old has two years remaining on a deal paying $7.5 million annually, but has played only 34 games in the past two seasons. Is he protected in the expansion draft?

Nos. 15-11: Rangers, Oilers, Jets, Canadiens, Capitals

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    15. New York Rangers (Last Ranking: 18th)

    Now that coach Gerard Gallant is in place, it's up to GM Chris Drury to fit the new hire's M.O. with players who can thrive in a fast, pressure-based system. Having just under $23 million in cap room and nine draft picks this summer might make phone calls to other executives a little more productive.


    14. Edmonton Oilers (Last Ranking: 11th)

    It's buyout season in Alberta, where a handful of players could be dispatched by GM Ken Holland. Winger James Neal has two years remaining at $5.75 million apiece and goalie Mikko Koskinen is on his final season of a deal paying $4.5 million. Acting on one or both frees up immediate money for the Oilers.


    13. Winnipeg Jets (Last Ranking: 15th)

    There's work to be done and decisions to be made in Winnipeg, where the Jets have a number of complementary players due to become free agents. Thirteen players are under contract for 2021-22, leaving a tick more than $20.5 million in cap room to fill out the roster at forward, defense and goalie.


    12. Montreal Canadiens (Last Ranking: 17th)

    Winger Brendan Gallagher was one of the emotional spark plugs of the Canadiens' improbable run to the brink of the Stanley Cup, but his suffering didn't end in the Game 5 handshake line. He took to social media to claim his house in Montreal was robbed while the team was in Florida for the end of the series.


    11. Washington Capitals (Last Ranking: 9th)

    The resigning of impending free agent Alex Ovechkin is a formality, but the fate of his 29-year-old Russian counterpart, Evgeny Kuznetsov, is not so certain. The center missed 15 games in 2020-21 and is due $7.8 million for four more seasons. It's conceivable he could be made available to the Seattle Kraken.

Nos. 10-6: Penguins, Wild, Bruins, Panthers, Maple Leafs

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    Joe Buglewicz/Associated Press

    10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Ranking: 6th)

    The Penguins were primed for a playoff run that'd prove their window was still open. Then they were bounced by the Islanders and goaltending was an issue. Tristan Jarry had an ugly .888 save percentage in six games, but he's signed for two more years at $3.3 million apiece. Getting a tandem partner may be a plan.


    9. Minnesota Wild (Last Ranking: 8th)

    Kirill Kaprizov was everything the Wild could have hoped for as an NHL rookie. He led all first-year players in multiple statistical categories and earned the Calder Trophy. Now, he's on the verge of unrestricted free agency and getting a manageable deal done is offseason job No. 1 for GM Bill Guerin.


    8. Boston Bruins (Last Ranking: 10th)

    Two big-name players—Tuukka Rask and Taylor Hall—could test the waters as unrestricted free agents later this month. Rask is 34, but had stellar numbers in his 12th full-time NHL season. Hall, meanwhile, had 14 points in 16 games with the Bruins after arriving in a deadline deal from Buffalo.


    7. Florida Panthers (Last Ranking: 4th)

    Chris Driedger is drawing interest as a potential unrestricted free agent after a season in which he played 23 games and had a 2.07 goals-against average. Teams can make a deal with the Panthers before the free agency window opens to have exclusive negotiating rights, or he could be left exposed to the Kraken.


    6. Toronto Maple Leafs (Last Ranking: 5th)

    The player has said he's open to staying put, but that hasn't stopped a report suggesting the Maple Leafs have an interest in plucking Hall away from Boston as a free agent. The Leafs have a bit more than $9 million in cap room, but could have more if they choose not to pursue some of their own free agents.

Nos. 5-1: Islanders, Hurricanes, Golden Knights, Lightning, Avalanche

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    Phelan Ebenhack/Associated Press

    5. New York Islanders (Last Ranking: 12th)

    It's pre-expansion draft crunch time for the Islanders, who may have a decision to make on whether to protect Scott Mayfield or Nick Leddy. Mayfield, 28, is two years younger and is signed for two years at $1.45 million apiece. Leddy is more established, but is on the books for one more season at $5.5 million.


    4. Carolina Hurricanes (Last Ranking: 3rd)

    Personnel decisions are coming, but the Hurricanes did establish some off-ice certainty with an extension to a lease agreement on PNC Arena in Raleigh. The pact was set to expire in 2024 but stretches five more years to September 2029. The team would owe $31 million if it relocates prior to the 2024-25 season.


    3. Vegas Golden Knights (Last Ranking: 2nd)

    The Golden Knights fell one round short of a return to the Stanley Cup Final, but oddsmakers at DraftKings remain bullish on their chances to win a championship. Vegas is second only to Colorado when it comes to early odds on winning the 2021-22 title. The team has reached the playoffs in each of its four seasons.


    1. (tie) Tampa Bay Lightning (Last Ranking: 7th)

    The players and coaches made it a mantra during the run to a second straight title. They knew a lot of changes were coming in the offseason, so they wanted "take advantage of this opportunity." Suffice to say, with multiple important pieces on the verge of free agency, the 2021-22 team won't look the same.


    1. (tie) Colorado Avalanche (Last Ranking: 1st)

    It feels like put up or shut up time for the Avalanche, who've finished third and first overall in the last two seasons but have precisely two playoff series wins (and two second-round exits) to show for it. Ironically, the Lightning were third and first overall (with only two series wins) before starting their two-title run.


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