The 2021 NHL season is only 10 days away as the 31 teams are set to begin their 56-game schedules on January 13. This season will be played in four, realigned divisions with all games being intra-division matchups. The difficulty of a team’s division does factor into their initial spot in the power rankings.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
It is no surprise that the Lightning are #1 as they are coming off the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay is still a complete team even without their top producer Nikita Kucherov, who is out of the regular season due to a hip injury. Tampa also is playing in the “easiest” of the four temporary divisions.
- Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche have lost in back-to-back years in game seven, double overtime of the Western Conference second round to the eventual Western Conference Champions. It is just a matter of time before they get over that hump and win a championship themselves. The deadly pairing of veteran leadership and young talent, as well as the underrated addition of Brandon Saad, could propel Colorado all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
- Vegas Golden Knights
Vegas is once again poised to contend as they added top two defenseman Alex Pietrangelo this offseason. With a strong returning cast of player from the previous season and a goalie tandem of Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury, the only thing the Golden Knights are lacking is consistent scoring power. Either way, this is a dangerous team heading into 2021.
- Dallas Stars
2020’s Western Conference Champions will be in the same division as the team they lost in the Finals to last year. The Stars return a majority of their pieces from last season’s Cup Finals run including both goaltenders. If Dallas can stay healthy, then they can certainly make noise this season.
- St. Louis Blues
Even with the departure of their captain, the Blues still have a fundamentally solid team. St. Louis needs goaltender Jordan Binnington to have a bounce-back year and newly signed Torey Krug to keep his production high throughout this season.
- New York Islanders
The Islanders are the first team to crack the list out of the competitive East Divisions. New York defended its way into the Eastern Conference Finals last season and the Barry Trotz led team would be expected to continue that trend in 2021. Watch for Mathew Barzal’s continued climb to elite status over this season.
- Boston Bruins
It’s time to face the facts. The Bruins are not getting any younger. Boston has somehow been able to keep themselves at an elite level with their aging talent for the past few seasons, but at some point that has to come to an end. The truth is that any of these next few teams can be interchangeable as they all appear to be in the same boat.
- Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins fall into the same category as Boston: getting older. While the Pittsburgh stars are still producing, they are not what they used to be. One thing that Pittsburgh has on its aging rivals is the influx of young talent already on the team. Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and John Marino are the future in the Steel City.
- Washington Capitals
The Capitals are also getting old. Unlike their rival Penguins, they do not have much young talent coming in. Couple this with a young, inexperienced goalie group and the Caps could have to rely on their veteran core to put up absurd scoring numbers in the shortened season.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto is loaded offensively but lack the defense and possibly even the goaltending to be serious contenders. Frederik Andersen needs to be better for this Maple Leaf team and they need to find a way to clamp down on the blueline if they want to win it all.
- Calgary Flames
The Flames signed a handful of top talent from the rival Vancouver Canucks this offseason. Calgary is a great dark-horse candidate to make some noise come the Postseason. Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Giordano are ready to lead this team deep into the spring.
- Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers were the darlings of the East last season but fell flat in the second round. I expect Philly to take a step back this season with their young goaltender Carter Hart. The Flyers put on the disguise of youth last season, but in reality are older than Pittsburgh, Washington and Boston.
- Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are a young, fast and exciting team who plays hard for both their coach and their fellow teammates. Sebastian Aho and company will be high-flying, goal-scoring machines in 2021 and could be another dark-horse team to play deep into the spring.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus always finds a way to get it done in the regular season. Head coach John Tortorella will have his guys believe that they can beat anyone once May comes around. The team’s success in 2021 fall onto their ability to score as they do not have many house-hold names.
- Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks were the shock of the Western Bubble in 2020 but lost some key pieces to free agency this offseason. Vancouver is extremely young and talented but is still a few years away from seriously contending again.
- Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have two of the league’s best in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but that’s it. The two stars have absolutely no help and I do not see them winning anything until that changes.
- Nashville Predators
The aging Preds will be fighting for the final playoff spot in the Central Division this season. The temporary realignment helps Nashville in the short-run, but the Predators need to get younger to keep pace in the fast-paced league.
- Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens made some good moves this offseason and should be contending for a playoff spot in the North Division, but they just are not there yet. Also, Carey Price is still an above average goalie and not at the elite level he used to be.
- New York Rangers
The Rangers were on fire before the Coronavirus stoppage last season, but then fell falt in the play-in round during the restart. New York is one of the youngest and most exciting teams heading into the next decade, but they are still a few years away from contending for anything serious.
- Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are wasting Connor Hellebuyck’s stellar career because Winnipeg has failed to surround him with enough talent to win. The Vezina Trophy winner has never had a good defense in front of him in his career.
- Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo made a splash this offseason signing Taylor Hall to a one-year deal. Although this may just be a ploy to keep Jack Eichel long-term, it will help the Sabres in the shortened season. Unfortunately for Buffalo, the lack of goaltending will be their downfall in the loaded East Division.
- Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes started red-hot last season but cooled down and flat-lined in the Edmonton Bubble. Arizona needs to keep building its young core anchored by emerging star goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
- Minnesota Wild
The Wild made the bubble last year, but the old team was not able to advance past the qualification round. It appears to be time for a rebuild in the Hockey State.
- Florida Panthers
The Panthers have had an unprecedented turnover of players the past three seasons. If Florida is able to keep their hodgepodge group together for long enough, then they may surprise some people.
- New Jersey Devils
The Devils still cannot seem to figure it out. They have gotten much younger, but their players haven’t been able to develop as fast as they would have liked. New Jersey is still rebuilding and should finish near the bottom of the league this season.
- Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks still have the household names, but they are old and the supporting cast just isn’t there. Chicago might look to re-tool and give their veteran core one last shot, but it won’t be this year.
- San Jose Sharks
The glory days of 2015-18 are gone in San Jose as the team’s core has since either left California or aged dramatically. The Sharks should look to trade whoever is left with value and look towards the future.
- Los Angeles Kings
The Kings may not look scary right now, but their prospect pool is the Western Conference’s worst nightmare. Headlined by 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield, the Kings future is bright.
- Ottawa Senators
Ottawa has made some moves this offseason to possibly solidify a core moving forward. The signing of Evgenii Dadonov and acquisition of Matt Murray are steps in the right direction.
- Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks will be one of the NHL’s worst teams in 2021. The only thing the Ducks have going is their goaltender, John Gibson.
- Detroit Red Wings
There is not much to say about Detroit. They are going to be bad again, but the rebuilding process seems to be going well in Hockey Town, USA.