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Dec 30, 2021; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Remi Elie (38) and Florida Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg (94) battle for the puck during the third period at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Every week, we’ll discuss and rank the “good” teams (the ones making some legitimate noise) as well as the “bad” teams (the ones that are so bad they’re actually worth talking about) and a few teams stuck in the middle. You know, the teams that aren’t quite good enough to be relevant but aren’t bad enough to be irrelevant either? The dreaded No Man’s Land.

Happy New Year, friends! (According to Larry David, this is the last day that I’m actually allowed to say that to you.) After a few weeks off due to the holidays and COVID-19 hitting the NHL hard, we’re back on the Power Rankings grind.

A new year provides an opportunity for all teams across the league to establish some goals for 2022, so this week, we’ll not only look at who’s hot and who’s not but we’ll also consider some possible New Year’s resolutions for those teams.

Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that most resolutions are made to be broken. (“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls begins playing softly in the background.)

The Good

1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last ranking: 5) — Resolution: Show some snarl this postseason.

The Hurricanes are once again finding success this regular season. They’re at the top of these rankings for a reason. They have the league’s best points percentage and goal differential, so it feels safe to assume they’ll find a fourth straight postseason berth. But despite being analytical darlings for much of the past handful of years, Carolina has lacked a certain edge in the postseason and hasn’t quite gotten over the hump. (Getting swept by Boston in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final is as far as the ‘Canes have gone.) The talent, skill and system is all in place for Carolina to be a true contender, but I think it will be important for Rod Brind’Amour’s team to show that it has enough bite and nastiness to avoid getting pushed around during the playoffs. We’re all looking at this team to take the next step and to play its best hockey.

2. Florida Panthers (LR: 1) — Resolution: Shake the “little brother” tag.

The Panthers are in the midst of a great season and look like one of the most fearsome teams in the Eastern Conference, but let’s be honest — it’s probably not going to matter much unless they make some noise this postseason. Florida hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996 and it’s a big reason why the Panthers are one of the most chirped franchises in the league. It also doesn’t help that their in-state brother, the Lightning, have been a league powerhouse for years now, including back-to-back Stanley Cups over the past two seasons. (COVID be damned, it still counts, you haters.) While Florida gave Tampa Bay a good fight in last year’s playoffs and the Lightning still look pretty good themselves this season, this may finally be the year that the Panthers can shake that little brother tag and put some respect on their name. Out-advancing Tampa — or, even better, going through the champs — would do a lot to help the cause.

3. Washington Capitals (LR: 2) — Resolution: Protect and support Ovechkin at all costs.

Yeah, the Capitals look very good this season, and they’re probably focused on securing a second Stanley Cup, as they should be. However, from a neutral observer’s perspective, all I care about is the preservation of one Alex Ovechkin, who is — somehow, some way — still having an absolutely monster season at age 36 (50 points in 34 games!). He continues to hunt Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record — a record that was long considered unbreakable — and is not slowing down, so it looks quite plausible that he’ll get there. I truly believe Ovechkin is the greatest goal scorer in the history of the sport, and I want to see him eclipse Gretzky. That’s why I need the Capitals to do everything in their power to help him stay healthy and productive.

4. Colorado Avalanche (LR: 6) — Resolution: Take that next step.

This one is pretty simple. The Avs are loaded, and they’ve been looking to take the next step for a few years now. They’ve seemingly got all the pieces in place and are on the precipice of making a serious Stanley Cup run led by Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar and the rest of a stacked cast, but they’ve failed to make it out of the second round in each of the past three seasons. They got off to a slow start this season, but they have bounced back nicely and are looking like the dominant force we expected them to be. If Colorado doesn’t want to wade into the waters of being dubbed a perennial playoff disappointment, it’s going to need to take a step ahead this year. And that means making it to the Western Conference Final, at the very least.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (LR: 7) — Resolution: Do you even really have to ask?

Toronto’s main objective is to give everyone a reason to not blow up the current core, and that obviously starts with winning a playoff series — something the Maple Leafs haven’t done since 2004 despite some elite top tier talent on the roster in recent years. They absolutely need to snap that drought this year or else a big shake-up seems inevitable over the summer. If they’re not going to win a series, they should at least focus on not collapsing in outrageously embarrassing fashion. Gotta start somewhere.

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6. Tampa Bay Lightning (LR: 4) — Resolution: Silence the haters that remain.

Listen, if you’re still doubting or trying to invalidate what the Lightning have accomplished over the past few years, you’re an idiot. That’s a harsh truth, and so too is the fact that a lot of idiots exist in this world. That means there are definitely people still out there yelling at the clouds about the Lightning’s back-to-back titles not being legitimate because they won in a bubble and/or because they finessed the league’s salary-cap structure. Over the past couple of years, Tampa has iced a few of the most complete and impressive teams we’ve seen in the cap era, but that cost them a number of integral pieces over the summer. And yet here they are, still finding success and putting themselves in a decent position to become the NHL’s first three-peat champion since the Islanders in the 80s. If Tampa finds a way to get it done, there should be zero doubters left. (Ah, who am I kidding? Idiots will always find a way to be idiots.)

7. Vegas Golden Knights (LR: Not ranked) — Resolution: Live healthy.

A lot of you can probably identify with this resolution. Your goal might be to eat healthier, work out more, take care of your mentals or do something else toward general wellness. Well, general wellness is something Vegas struggled with late in 2021 after losing several integral pieces from its lineup for extended periods of time. The Golden Knights have one of the most talented groups in the league, and if they can get to full strength — that includes the arrival of one Jack Eichel — then that’s going to give them the best chance to make another deep playoff run. We expected Vegas to be one of the most impressive and fun teams in the West this season, but it’s been a rocky road out of the gate. It would be a shame if we didn’t get a chance to see what this team is fully capable of with all of its pieces in place.

8. New York Rangers (LR: 8) — Resolution: Prove they know what they’re doing.

The Rangers shocked the hockey world last year when they suddenly elected to change front-office leadership in the middle of a pretty effective rebuild. After that, they made a number of moves that emphasized getting tougher and grittier, some of which were questioned by the masses. So far, the Rangers have looked pretty good (despite being a bit inconsistent and unpredictable). If they stay in the playoff picture and that toughness proves to be a valuable postseason asset, it’s going to help quiet concerns about the front office’s mentality. And if they are committed to making some noise this year, that front office would probably be wise to add some reinforcements on the right wing.

9. Calgary Flames (LR: No Man’s Land) — Resolution: Establish some long-term clarity.

The Flames are finding success under Darryl Sutter’s system this season but, looking down the road, it’s not quite clear what lies ahead for the franchise in the later stages of 2022. A number of key pieces (Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, Andrew Mangiapane, Sean Monahan, Oliver Kylington) will be looking for new contracts in the next year or two. On top of that, the organization is still fighting with the city of Calgary to build a new arena. There were plans to begin building a new home for the club this year, but things took a discouraging turn this week when the existing agreement was terminated by Flames ownership over — what else? — a financial dispute. I’m sure there are a lot of Flames fans who want to know which players are going to be playing for the team in the years to come and where the team might be playing.

10. St. Louis Blues (LR: NR) — Resolution: Reinforce the back end.

I’m a big fan of what the Blues have up front this season — especially if Jordan Kyrou and Vladimir Tarasenko can keep their foot on the gas — but I still have concerns about the stability of their blue line down the stretch, especially if Jordan Binnington isn’t playing his best between the pipes. The team has managed fine enough to this point, but I’ll be hesitant to buy-in if St. Louis doesn’t add some defensive help.

DROPPED OUT: Minnesota Wild (Last ranking: 3), Nashville Predators (LR: 9), Anaheim Ducks (LR: 10).

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Nov 22, 2021; St. Louis, Missouri, USA; St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington (50) defends the net against the Vegas Golden Knights during the third period at Enterprise Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Bad

32. Arizona Coyotes (Last ranking: 32) — Resolution: Find a glimmer of hope for the future.

There’s really no other way to put it: The Coyotes are the NHL’s most obvious punching bag right now. The team is currently trash (albeit by design), there’s been very little success over the past decade, attendance stinks and its arena bills aren’t being paid on time. All things considered, it’d be hard not to label the club as the league’s least-respected and most-dysfunctional franchise, so that has to start turning around soon. This summer will be an important one. Arizona should finish at the bottom of the league standings this season and give itself a good chance to secure Shane Wright at No. 1 overall in the draft. Also, the Yotes stand to have eight total selections through the first two rounds, and they’ll have a mountain of cap space to work with. The goal should be to look back on this disastrous season as means to an end as they implement a long-term rebuild, but that will require patience and smart front office decisions. It also would help if they could avoid constant relocation rumors by either securing plans for a new arena or, at the very least, making sure rent is paid on time.

31. Montreal Canadiens (LR: 31) — Resolution: Trust in Jeff Gorton.

This season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Habs, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about the team’s future. The silver lining, though, is that they brought in Jeff Gorton, a guy who has a strong track record of savvy decision-making in the front office, especially for teams looking to turn things around. He will be the driving force of Montreal’s rebuild, and there’s going to be some challenging work ahead. This roster isn’t exactly in an ideal spot for a full strip-down, so Gorton (and company) will have to make some tough decisions and likely endure some immediate scrutiny as the front office looks to implement a long-term vision. We’d all be wise to trust that vision, though, as Gorton is one of the more respected execs in the league.

30. Ottawa Senators (LR: 28) — Resolution: Actually transition out of the rebuild.

Despite what Pierre Dorion claimed ahead of this season, the Senators are most certainly not done with their current rebuild. This team has some nice young pieces, but it’s not even close to being competitive or respectable. We’ll soon be approaching Year 5 of Ottawa living in the basement. With six draft picks through the first three rounds (including another projected high first-rounder) and some significant cap flexibility, the Senators may be positioned to add more pieces to the long-term picture this summer. There will (and should) be some urgency to get things moving in the right direction, especially if Dorion wants to keep his job beyond 2022.

29. Seattle Kraken (LR: 29) — Resolution: Reconsider who to trust.

There was some debate this past week about whether the Kraken put too much emphasis on “analytics” in last summer’s expansion draft. If that’s the case, Ron Francis’ problem might be more centered in trusting the wrong analytics (or the wrong data scientists) because a lot of the smart analytics folks I trust weren’t overly impressed with Seattle’s draft. The inaugural season has gone very poorly so far, and it’s not simply because the Kraken have gotten awful goaltending (which, of course, hasn’t helped). Things have been pretty messy as a whole, and the front office is going to need to reevaluate the approach at several levels — from the players, to the coaching staff, to the data feeding their decisions. I don’t expect sweeping changes after half a season, but Seattle is closer to the bottom than being relevant. That means changes could be made as soon as the March 21 trade deadline.

28. Buffalo Sabres (LR: 30) — Resolution: Start winning fans back.

Of course, “winning” is a key piece of winning fans back, and the Sabres haven’t been particularly good at that over the years. However, there are some positives to be taken from this season so far. The first is that Don Granato looks to be a decent coach behind the bench. He’s inspired his team to play with self-respect, and the compete level has been massively improved from last season. Second, the Jack Eichel saga is finally over and, although it’s hard to call the conclusion a win for Buffalo, it allows the team to officially move on and begin a new chapter. Third, there’s talent in the pipeline that should be arriving in the coming years. All of those factors should help bring more fans back into the building next year and beyond … but that’s assuming the Pegulas don’t find a way to anger all of them from now until then. That’s certainly no guarantee.

No Man’s Land

Edmonton Oilers (Last ranking: No Man’s Land) — Resolution: Stop wasting prime years of McDavid/Draisaitl

I repeat, STOP WASTING PRIME YEARS OF CONNOR MCDAVID AND LEON DRAISAITL.

Boston Bruins (LR: Not ranked) — Resolution: Go for broke at the trade deadline.

It’s been a mediocre first half of the season for the Bruins, and Don Sweeney is likely feeling some urgency burning the seat of his pants. Boston’s current window is closing quickly — this is probably the final year it’ll have Tuukka Rask in the mix, and Patrice Bergeron’s future with the club remains up in the air — and Sweeney’s offseason acquisitions haven’t exactly provided his anticipated returns. The Bruins look more like a lower-rung playoff team than a contender at this point, and that’s not good enough for a group that may only have one or two big swings left with its current core. At some point, you have to push all your chips to the center of the table, and that time is now for Boston.

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