The 2021 NHL season is just days away!
Things are going to be very different this year. The divisions have changed and that means there are some old rivalries that we won't get to witness in 2021. Teams are also allowed to carry more players thanks to taxi-squads, so that will be something different to follow, too.
Like the NHL season, the Rotoworld Power Rankings are going to be different too. I'm taking this column over for Michael Finewax, who has done a terrific job writing it over the years. I value Michael's opinion a lot, so his column was always a must-read for me and I'm hoping that I can get both positive and negative reactions from you throughout the season.
Today's Power Rankings are going to be very traditional (ranking the 31 teams), but we're going to think outside the box a lot this season.
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1 – Colorado Avalanche: The Avs aren’t the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but they find themselves at the top of this power rankings column. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar and the rest of the crew have a great opportunity to do some damage this year. The additions of Brandon Saad and Devon Toews should make them even better than they were in 2019-20.
2 – Tampa Bay Lightning: The defending champs were dealt a serious blow when they lost Nikita Kucherov for the 2021 season, but this is still a really deep squad. Steven Stamkos is healthy and Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy are still around. The Bolts will be more than fine in 2021.
3 – Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights found a way to add Alex Pietrangelo in free agency, which is impressive considering how tight they were against the cap. Sure, they had to sacrifice Nate Schmidt in the process, but this team is good enough on paper to make a run at the Stanley Cup. Teams in every sport will continue to look at the Golden Knights as the standard for expansion clubs.
4 – Washington Capitals: This will be an interesting season for this group of veterans. Alex Ovechkin is entering the final year of his contract, while Nick Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov T.J. Oshie and others will try to help their captain carry the load. Adding Zdeno Chara will definitely help, but there are some question marks between the pipes. With Henrik Lundqvist sidelined, will Ilya Samsonov be able to hold down the fort? If he’s capable of doing so, this team can win another Stanley Cup.
5 – Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers were one of the hottest teams in the NHL at the pause. They managed to make it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs before they were knocked out by the Islanders. This team has a nice group of older players and younger ones and they finally seem to have a goalie who can come up with saves in big moments. If Carter Hart continues to improve, this team can be special.
6 – St. Louis Blues: The Blues’ roster took a bit of hit this off-season. Not only did they lose captain Alex Pietrangelo in free agency, they also lost Alex Steen to retirement and Vladimir Tarasenko is out to start the year. They made a splash when they managed to steal Torey Krug away from the Boston Bruins though. This team needs Jordan Binnington to bounce back after a mediocre 2019-20 season, but they should be good enough to compete for a spot in the final four.
7 – Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs’ disappointing season came to an end with a play-in round loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Now, they find themselves in a division with other Canadian teams. They have the high-end talent to dominate the division, but will the defense and goaltending hold up? The addition of T.J. Brodie should help in that area. This team is built to score and that’s how they’re going to win games.
8 – Carolina Hurricanes: Can the goaltending carry the Hurricanes on a long playoff run? Time will tell. But this team has one of the deepest blue lines in the league and they have offensive difference-makers in Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. The Hurricanes were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Boston last year, but they’re just a year removed from an appearance in the conference final.
9 – Dallas Stars: The defending Western Conference Champions came out of the bubble very banged up, but they should be able to put together another strong season. Tyler Seguin (hip) is expected to be back by March, so the Stars need the rest of the crew to pick up the slack. Watching Miro Heiskanen develop into one of the top young defensemen in the league has been a treat and he should be even better this year.
10 – Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are a team with a lot of young star-power. Elias Pettersson is one of the best young forwards in the game. Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are also capable of putting the puck in the net. Quinn Hughes quickly emerged as one of the top young defenders in the league and goaltender Thatcher Demko looked terrific in the playoffs. Whether or not this team has enough depth to compete for the North Division crown remains to be seen.
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11 – New York Islanders: The Isles don’t win games by playing an entertaining brand of hockey, but head coach Barry Trotz knows exactly what his team needs to do to win games. Even though they don't put up big offensive numbers, they can defend and suffocate the opposition like no one else. Not many people expected them to make the Eastern Conference Final last year, but they managed to push the Lightning to six games.
12 – Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens still have two of the best players in the world on their roster in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they have some questions to answer after a lackluster play-in round loss to Montreal. It’s totally fair to wonder whether or not this team’s championship window has closed. They traded Matt Murray, shed Jack Johnson’s contract and added Kasperi Kapanen, Michael Matheson and Cody Ceci. Will that be enough to get out of the East Division?
13 – Montreal Canadiens: The Habs made some significant changes to their roster this off-season. They swapped Max Domi for Josh Anderson, they signed Joel Edmundson and Tyler Toffoli and they added a quality backup goalie in Jake Allen. Rookie Alexander Romanov should also be a key addition for this team. The Canadiens don’t have a superstar offensive talent, but they are one of the deepest teams in the league. That could give them an advantage in this short 56-game season.
14 – Edmonton Oilers: If you enjoy watching stars play, the Oilers are a team you’re going to follow closely. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two of the premiere players in the league and they're going to be tough for every Canadian team to stop. The issue is that there isn’t much quality behind them. That became obvious during Edmonton’s play-in round loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. This group needs others to step up.
15- Calgary Flames: It’s easy to forget that this Flames team finished first in the Western Conference just two seasons ago. A lot of their top players had down years, but any group led by Matthew Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan will have a chance to compete every night. They also added Jacob Markstrom and Brandon Tanev in free-agency, which should make them a better team overall. Will this squad perform more like the 2018-19 Flames or the 2019-20 version?
16- New York Rangers: As if the Rangers’ rebuild wasn’t going well enough, this team also won the 2020 NHL Draft lottery. Alexis Lafreniere has a chance to be a special offensive talent for the next decade and he’ll get to do it in a huge hockey market. Artemi Panarin will have to be spectacular, again, for this team to make a long run, but that’s nothing new for him. A lot can change over the next few years, but it looks like the Rangers are building something special.
17 – Winnipeg Jets: The Jets will be led by defending Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck this season. In order for them to crack the top four in their division, they’ll need him to make up for their mediocre defense. Winnipeg also has quality offensive options in Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and a few others. Will the Laine trade-chatter distract this group from reaching their full potential? That’s a legit concern.
18 – Boston Bruins: The Bruins will look different in 2021. I know their fans aren't going to be happy with this ranking, but I think they're going to drop in the standings this year. The face of their franchise, Zdeno Chara, is no longer around and one of their key defensemen, Torey Krug, also walked in free agency. The other issue is that David Pastrnak is supposed to be out until February. Do the Bruins have enough to hang with the best teams in the East Division until Pastrnak gets back?
19 – San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are coming off one of the worst seasons they’ve had in recent memory. Can they get themselves back on track? Logan Couture, Evander Kane, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl and Kevin Labanc will be the leaders up front. On defense, Brent Burns will continue to put up big numbers, but the health of Erik Karlsson is a big question mark. If the Sharks get the best version of Karlsson, they could be a tough out in the West Division.
20 – Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets added Max Domi, Mikko Koivu and Mikhail Grigorenko. Those aren’t the biggest of names, but they give Columbus some added depth down the middle behind Pierre-Luc Dubois. The Jackets still have a two-headed monster on defense with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski and they have an intriguing tandem of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo in goal. This team has found different ways to surprise us over the last two years. Will John Tortorella's group find a way to do it again?
21 – Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres found a way to land the biggest fish in the free-agent waters this off-season. Taylor Hall gives Jack Eichel a legit top-line winger to play with in 2021. Will Hall extend his stay beyond this year? That will likely depend on the type of success Buffalo has this season. It’s time for this team to go from having potential to realizing their potential. Another tough season would be difficult for the loyal Sabres fan base to swallow.
22 – Florida Panthers: Joel Quenneville’s team still has some of the top forwards in the NHL (Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau), but the roster took a hit this off-season. Both Mike Hoffman and Evgeni Dadonov are gone and that will hurt the team’s ability to score goals. In fairness to the Panthers, Patric Hornqvist, Anthony Duclair and Alexander Wennberg are nice additions. The key to their season will probably come down to whether or not Sergei Bobrovsky bounces back from his mediocre performance in 2019-20.
23 – Nashville Predators: The Preds put together some very good years and they even went to a Stanley Cup Final, but it looks like the championship window has closed. A lot of their forwards have underachieved and things aren’t looking as bright heading into 2021. Nashville still has some talent on the roster, but they don’t possess the same depth they once had. Pekka Rinne isn’t the same player he once was either and that’s a problem.
24 – Minnesota Wild: The Wild are in a weird place as a franchise. They’ve let some veterans go (Eric Staal, Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu) and they are trying to get younger. They still have several older players on the team, but this is a group that needs a revamp. GM Bill Guerin will continue to make changes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see this team take a step back in 2021. Still, it should be fun to follow rookie Kirill Kaprizov this year.
25 – New Jersey Devils: The Devils have accumulated some nice young talent, but they need to prove that they can win meaningful games. New Jersey has some new players and a new coaching staff and they could surprise in 2021, but the East Division will be competitive and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them miss the playoffs again. The fact that Corey Crawford decided to retire over the weekend also leaves them thin behind Mackenzie Blackwood.
26 – Ottawa Senators: The Sens added some talent to the roster, but they’re still an incredibly young team heading into 2021. Derek Stepan, Evgeni Dadonov, Cedric Paquette, Alex Galchenyuk, Erik Gudbranson, Braydon Coburn and Matt Murray add that veteran presence that was lacking last season, but will they get enough out of the youngsters to make the playoffs? That’s unlikely. Tim Stuetzle, who is coming off an incredible performance at the World Juniors, will get every opportunity to be a difference-maker in the years to come.
27 – Arizona Coyotes: There was a lot of turmoil surrounding the Coyotes this off-season. GM John Chayka is gone, captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson was nearly traded, they had to forfeit draft picks for breaking combine rules and they didn’t really make a significant addition to the roster. Yes, the ‘Yotes beat Nashville in the play-in round in 2020, but they actually finished 11th in the Western Conference. Don’t be surprised if it’s a tough year in the desert.
28 – Chicago Blackhawks: The Hawks won’t have Jonathan Toews to start the year, which is a significant blow. Alex Nylander and Kirby Dach will both miss an extended period of time due to injury and their goaltending duo will be made up of Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban. This team has made some bad decisions lately, but we can’t forget that they were the best team in the NHL in the previous decade. With that being said, It’s going to be a long year in Chicago.
29 – Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks didn’t make many changes to their roster during the off-season, so it’ll be interesting to see how much internal growth they can squeeze out of their youngsters. Adding Kevin Shattenkirk is a nice move, but it’s probably not enough to make a real difference. The most interesting storyline will be whether or not top prospects Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale can make an impact in the NHL this season.
30 – Los Angeles Kings: No team has a lower cap charge than the Kings do right now. That’s not surprising considering this team is in the middle of a significant rebuild. The good news is that general manager Rob Blake has found a way to stockpile a lot of quality assets. Alex Turcotte (fifth overall pick in 2019) and Quinton Byfield (second overall pick in 2020) are just two of the many good prospects in the Kings system.
31 – Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings were the worst team in the NHL by a wide margin last year and that should continue in 2021. Their 39 points put them 23 behind Ottawa, who finished 30th in the league standings. The Wings have young players that should be better this year and they added veterans like Bobby Ryan, Sam Gagner, Marc Staal, Patrik Nemeth, Troy Stecher and Thomas Greiss, but it won’t be enough to make a significant improvement.