As someone who has spent the past few years putting together weekly NHL Power Rankings, I have a good understanding of how the operation works. You rank the teams, post a small blurb, hit publish and then wait for a bunch of disgruntled fans to invade your mentions and yell at you for ranking their favorite team too low. (Or ranking another person’s favorite team too high.) It’s a beautiful cycle of clicks and anger.
This year, though, I’m going to attack my “Power Rankings” with a different sort of spin. Instead of ranking the league’s teams 1 through 32 on a weekly basis, we’re going to rank and sort via tiers. In my experience, Power Rankings are largely arbitrary and worthless between the very top and the very bottom. It’s often hard to qualify and separate the mediocrity between the top 10 and bottom five, especially when it’s an ever-changing bubble through the course of a season.
So why not streamline the approach? 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.
My hope is that this process will cut out a bit of the unnecessary filler and focus on the teams that truly matter most. That being said, I fully expect the anger levels to remain critical once I hit publish each week … and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
1. Colorado Avalanche: The Avs open the season as Stanley Cup favorites, and for good reason. They’re loaded with talent (including one of the world’s best players in Nathan MacKinnon) and are poised to take the next step.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning: They lost a lot of big depth pieces this offseason, and that may bring them back down to earth a little bit. But they’re still back-to-back champs with the main core intact.
3. Vegas Golden Knights: Vegas has some big question marks — Will the goaltending be as good without Marc-Andre Fleury? Is center depth going to give them issues? — but they still look to be one of the best teams in the league. It should help that they also play in the worst division.
4. New York Islanders: I shouldn’t have to say it at this point, but I will anyway: Doubt the Islanders at your own risk. The Metro Division is wide open, and the Isles are returning largely the same roster that has taken them to the Stanley Cup semis the past two seasons.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s easy to make fun of the Leafs (and nobody enjoys doing so more than me), but they still look good on paper. If the desperation to accomplish something worthwhile with this group hasn’t kicked in already, it should certainly be there this season.
6. Boston Bruins: They have some areas of uncertainty (center depth and goaltending among them), and the core isn’t getting any younger. But this group has consistently found ways to remain competitive.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: Yes, they had a weird offseason and, yes, they may have gotten a bit worse (especially in net). However, this team still has talent and depth. There’s still plenty of promise.
8. Minnesota Wild: They finally started to shake some of the “Minnesota Mild” jokes last year when Kirill Kaprizov arrived on the scene. With some more offensive help on the way and a strong defensive group, they’re going to be tough to play against.
9. Florida Panthers: Seems like we’ve been waiting forever for the Panthers to take “the next step,” but this could be the year, especially if Spencer Knight can stabilize the goaltending situation. Everyone talks about Tampa, Boston and Toronto as the three-headed beast in the Atlantic, but Florida could be right there too.
10. Dallas Stars: Almost everything that could’ve gone wrong for the Stars did last season. They were troubled by COVID-19 and dealt with numerous key injuries. Still, this is a team that is only a year removed from going to Game 6 of the Cup Final. They could be poised for a big bounce-back in 2021-22.
32. Buffalo Sabres: But I’m guessing you already knew that.
31. Arizona Coyotes: The tank is picking up steam. They stripped away pieces (and took on bad contracts) in order to build draft capital this offseason, and it seems clear that winning isn’t a priority right now. They have a first-year coach and a very bad roster. It’s a good bet that this team is going to be a mess this season.
30. Anaheim Ducks: Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are set to arrive, so their development will be fun to watch. That being said, it’s tough to say “the future is now” when the rest of the team still looks pretty bad.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets: John Tortorella is gone, so it’ll be interesting to see if the play style changes under Brad Larsen. They have some talent on the wings (and on the blue line), but their lack of talent down the middle is a massive concern.
28. Ottawa Senators: This a team that has young talent and will be fun to watch at points, but the rebuild is by no means finished. The lack of established stars and the abundance of question marks on the back end (including in net) is still pretty glaring.
No Man’s Land
Pittsburgh Penguins: It may seem strange to say that the Penguins are trending in the wrong direction considering they won their division last season, but this has the stink of a team that’s a few bad breaks away from falling out of contention in a tough division. They’re starting the season with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the shelf, and I’m not sure anyone should trust Tristan Jarry after his performance last postseason.
Chicago Blackhawks: They have remained committed to rebuilding on the fly, and they did better this offseason. Bringing in Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury could go a long way toward goal prevention, and Jonathan Toews/Kirby Dach/Tyler Johnson gives them more strength down the middle. Still, it seems like they’re a bubble team at best.
Nashville Predators: The Preds are also working to rebuild on the fly. They said goodbye to some mainstays this offseason (Victor Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis, Pekka Rinne), and after getting dragged into the playoffs by Juuse Saros, they didn’t do a whole lot to get better. They could remain competitive, but I don’t see them being a real threat.