- Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions which should be enough to crown the number one alone, but they are also hopeful to get back a healthy Kucherov who missed the entire 2020-2021 regular season. The Bolts also added known tough guy Corey Perry who will bring toughness to the team. With their elite core, Tampa should remain atop of this list throughout the campaign
2. Colorado Avalanche
It seems they keep improving every year, and still get heartbroken in the playoffs. The club had some big chances including replacing Philipp Grubauer with Darcy Kuemper and trading young defenseman Ryan Graves to the New Jersey Devils. While the Avalanche did lose some key depth pieces in Joonas Donskoi to Seattle and Brandan Saad in free agency, they still have one of the best players in the league in Nathan McKinnon and Calder trophy finalist Cale Makar. The Avalanche should be one of the toughest opponents in the NHL all season long.
- Boston Bruins
The Bruins were able to keep Taylor Hall for a very team-friendly deal which was huge for the team and they keep their skilled winger for the next four years. The loss of David Krejci is going to hurt, but the team was able to replace him with Nick Foligno, a tough competitor who will slot into that second or third-line wing. The big question mark for this team is their goaltending with the loss of Tuuka Rask to free agency their starter right now would be Linus Ullmark. The Bruins will always be a strong squad, and adding to their depth will only make them stronger.
- Florida Panthers
The emergence of Carter Verhaeghe in the 2020-21 campaign played a key part in the already skilled Panthers team. The team improved, even more, this offseason adding scoring winger Sam Reinhart and fan-favorite veteran Joe Thornton. One of the top-scoring offenses last season gets even more scoring talent without surrendering much skill. The one dark cloud that hovers over this team is goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and his horrendous contract, although 20-year-old rookie goaltender Spencer Knight is here to save the day for the Panthers.
- Las Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights have been to the conference final or further in three of their first four years in the league, so they have earned a top-five ranking this year. The team had to deal with cap issues this offseason departing with Viezna Winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury by way of trade, leaving Robin Lehner the leader between the pipes. The team made some more moves over the offseason, trading the team’s first-ever draft pick Cody Glass, and getting former second overall pick Nolan Patrick from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Golden Knights are always a contender and I do not see that changing in 2021.
- New York Islanders
The Islanders are one of the peskiest teams in the NHL, a team that doesn’t play much offense but is so structurally sound on defense. The additions of Semyon Varlamov paid off big for the team last season. The Islanders resign scrappy forward Kyle Palmari and add a couple of veteran players in Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise, who will contribute to some solid depth. The Islanders are not all that attractive on paper, but they are a team that finds a way to win.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
Yes, the Leafs are atop of another ranking list, but I can’t help it, their roster is just too talented to leave the season with another first-round exit. The leafs finally got rid of their goaltender Fredrick Anderson who has been as inconsistent as any goalie in the NHL. They replaced him with former Hurricanes goalie Peter Mrazik who will share the net with Jack Campbell who stood out last season with the Leafs when they needed it most. The Leafs are known for being a good regular season team and I see that continuing for them this season. The ultimate question is will they overcome their first-round woes in the postseason?
- Edmonton Oilers
Connor Mcdavid, as anyone knows is a generational player, but one player can’t win on his own in hockey. The Oilers have the talent to be competitive, but the goaltending is a continuing issue with this team, and it is something of question again. Key additions include Duncan Kieth and Zach Hyman. Hyman is a tough physical center who will slot in nicely with the Oilers, and Kieth is a very well-known veteran, the question is how much does he have left in his tank.
- Washington Capitals
This is an aging group, especially their superstars in Alexander Ovechkin, and Niklas Backstrom, so the fear for this team every year is when will they start their decline in production. The team is still very strong and should compete again this year.
- Minnesota Wild
Last year’s campaign for the Wild was all about overachievement. The team performed at all levels very well and had multiple players step up to play a big role in the success of Ryan Hartman, and Joel Eriksson Ek. The team also was helped by rookie of the year Kirill Kaprizov who showed to be what fans have been waiting for and even more. The departure of two captains, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise is going to be a big change this season, but the addition they made should help fill those holes, and for the most part, the team stayed the same. With 2020 first-round pick Marco Rossi and 2019 first-round pick Mathew Boldy lurking to take a starting spot on the pro roster, the Wild keep getting younger and more skilled, so expect another competitive year for this team.
- Winnipeg Jets
This is a win-now team with some of their core players getting up into their 30’s. The team’s weakness is their blue line, which they attended to this offseason, adding Nate Shmidt and Brenden Dillion. This team is a wild card, they could live up to all their hype, and their talent and compete for the Central division.
- Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have had so much success the last few years, they have built the team well, and are coached very well. That being said, they lost their best defenceman, and one of the best in the league at that in Dougie Hamilton. I think this loss is going to have a bigger impact than others are thinking. They did attempt to replace the big defenceman by adding Ethan Bear, and Tony DeAngelo, but it will be difficult to replace what Hamilton brought. The team also added big-name goaltender Fredrik Anderson to replace Mrazek in the crease. The big news from this team is their offer sheet addition in Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who could be a candidate for a change of scenery helping his career.
- St.louis Blues
The Blues are a team with an older core with some high upside players who have shown promise like Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou. Goalie Jordan Binnington is a large piece for the Blues, he needs to be on his game for this team to succeed. The addition of Pavel Buchnevich will help this team score and add some skill to an already skilled team.
- Pittsburgh Penguins
The news coming out recently about Evgeni Malkin missing a couple of months due to an injury
- Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are a very interesting team. They underperformed last year mostly because of injury, but also because of poor performances from their goaltending and leaders like Jamie Benn. The team should get Seguin back, which will add a lot more offense to this team, but a year that seems to be very important is upcoming for the Stars.
- Montreal Canadiens
The Canadians were hot at the right time last season, including goaltender Carey Price which fueled them to a Stanley Cup Final appearance. The team lost former first-round pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi to the Hurricanes but added skilled forward Christian Dvorak to replace him. The Canadians look to be a candidate for regression this season seeing how poorly they played to start the season just a year ago.
- New York Rangers
This team is a candidate to take a large step forward. They have spent the last couple of years rebuilding. They have had two top two picks in the last three years in Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere who are looking to make big steps forward this year
- Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks had a very rocky year a season ago, but Jim Benning looked to make some roster changes this off-season and that’s exactly what he did. The Canucks added depth pieces both upfront and on the blue line.
- Los Angeles Kings
The Kings have what is considered to be the best prospect pool in the NHL and that starts with Quinton Byfield first on that list. The team seems to be nearing the end of a rebuild and they look to start winning as soon as this year.
- Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have a wide range of result possibilities this year. The X-factor has to be Carter Hart who had an abysmal season last year. Hart is a candidate to be a bounce-back player, if so that would help this team a lot.
- Nashville Predators
The Predators were horrible to start the year a season ago, considered deadline sellers even, then they caught fire and went on a winning tear. The team lost a couple of long-time pieces in Ryal Ellis, Viktor Arvidson, and Pekka Rinne, so they are looking to build this team with younger players. The Preds are a team that also could have a wide range of results.
- New Jersey Devils
The Devils are yet another team that has been rebuilding and seem to be close to the end. They added a large piece on defense in Dougie Hamilton which should help that blue line improve immensely. The Devils could be a team to watch in 2021
- Seattle Kraken
The brand new team in the NHL is the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken is seen to be a playoff team already. They have solid goaltending and worked to solidify the blue line. It’s hard to say that the Kraken will follow suit to what the Knights did in their inaugural season, but they don’t seem to have a bad team by any means.
- Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks made a large gamble trading for Seth Jones, moving a couple of young high potential players for him in a rebuilding team. The team seems to still want to win now, but is that realistic for a team with aging superstars?
- Calgary Flames
The Flames are in a tough spot, they are at risk of losing their two best players Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk to free agency next season, and the team is still struggling to find success with any other pieces. The Flames don’t look to be getting out of their losing ways any time soon.
- Ottawa Senators
The team’s GM declared the rebuild to be done, but it seems to me that this team is more likely to be in the next stage of the rebuild instead. Their young players still have room to improve, but the team does play tough so I expect them to be a difficult team to play against, but not a team that wins too many games.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
This is a rebuilding team that had a good 2021 draft, but as of this year, they still are looking for a 1-2 center. The Blue Jackets need to find a good player to complement Patrik Laine’s scoring ability, and until they do I’m not sure how successful this team will be.
- San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have veteran talent on their team that could help them win games this year, but their constant disappointment the last couple of years causes concern for this team.
- Detroit Red Wings
Rebuilding rebuilding rebuilding is what this team is doing right now, and it sure seems like it could be working. They have so much young talent along with young veterans who look for a rebound year in Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Don’t expect this team to win many games this year, but this is the definition of a team with a bright future.
- Arizona Coyotes
After a complete roster sale in the offseason, the Coyotes look like they are going to have a very long losing season.
- Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have a very good young prospect pool and seem to be another team that is a couple of years away from their rebuild being done. John Gibson is a tremendous goalie who has been their centerpiece through this rebuild. The team is not going to win many games this year, but they do have a good future.
- Buffalo Sabres
Where do I start? The Sabres have been in a rebuild for what feels like 10 years. Not to mention the Jack Eichel situation which does not seem to be resolved any time soon. The team has little chance of winning this year, and until they figure out what is going to happen with Echiel I don’t think they know what their future holds.