The 2021 NHL season is here! After awarding the Stanley Cup in September following a most unusual 2019-20 season, we’re back on the ice again. Four new divisions, 56-game schedules and, most importantly, 116 consecutive nights of NHL games, beginning Wednesday.
For our first week of power rankings, we offer a reason for hope for each team entering this season.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account past results and offseason additions — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our mid-offseason power rankings, published on Nov. 16. Stanley Cup odds are courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill.
Previous ranking: 1Stanley Cup odds: +750
Being without Nikita Kucherov would derail most teams. Not the Lightning, who have one of the deepest forward corps in the league and a budding superstar in Brayden Point, coming off a spectacular postseason during which he scored 33 points in 23 games.
Previous ranking: 2Stanley Cup odds: +700
General manager Joe Sakic has had an incredible track record on trades lately, and it appears he won two more. Brandon Saad adds secondary scoring (as Chicago still picks up $1 million of his salary), while Devon Toews reinforces the blue line (and cost only two second-round picks in trade).
Previous ranking: 3Stanley Cup odds: +800
In their existence as an NHL franchise, the Golden Knights have never had a true No. 1 defenseman. Vegas might have developed one in house (Shea Theodore), and they went out and signed another in free agency (Alex Pietrangelo).
Previous ranking: 9Stanley Cup odds: +2000
The Blues got one of the top scorers on the free-agent market, Mike Hoffman, for a budget rate of $4 million without having to commit to more than one year. If this isn’t a massive victory, we’re not sure what is.
Previous ranking: 7Stanley Cup odds: +1800
Players tend to perform well when they are in a contract year. Alex Ovechkin is up for a new deal this summer (he is negotiating for himself) and enters the season having won seven of the past eight Rocket Richard trophies.
Previous ranking: 11Stanley Cup odds: +1200
Toronto could get a big blue-line boost from 26-year-old Mikko Lehtonen, who was voted the KHL defenseman of the year in 2019-20. His nickname is the “Finnish Bobby Orr.” (“It’s a long story,” Lehtonen said.)
Previous ranking: 8Stanley Cup odds: +1600
Carter Hart wants to win multiple Vezina Trophies, and at age 22, he is definitely tracking to meet that goal. Hart was good for the Flyers in his first NHL season — even better in the playoffs — and he could be due for a bigger share of the workload in 2021.
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Previous ranking: 5Stanley Cup odds: +1200
The losses of Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug give the Bruins a decidedly different look on the blue line. But their losses mean even added responsibility for Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk — who have both been steadily ascending anyway.
Previous ranking: 4Stanley Cup odds: +1800
Dallas’ run to the Stanley Cup Final gave critical playoff experience to the next generation of Stars, including Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Denis Gurianov and even Joel Kiviranta. They are a better organization because of it.
Previous ranking: 6Stanley Cup odds: +2500
The Isles saved a little more than $1 million in goaltending this season — moving on from veteran Thomas Greiss to rookie Ilya Sorokin as the platoon mate for Semyon Varlamov — but they shouldn’t miss a beat. Sorokin, who hasn’t posted lower than a .929 save percentage over the past four KHL seasons, is the real deal.
Previous ranking: 12Stanley Cup odds: +1600
We always focus on who should be playing on Sidney Crosby’s wings. But Pittsburgh’s second line — which should start as Jason Zucker, Evgeni Malkin and Bryan Rust — could be a high-performing one, especially with Rust coming off a career-high 27 goals in 55 games in 2019-20.
The NHL returns on Jan. 13! Here’s everything you need to know heading into the season:
• Guide to all 31 teams »• NHL Rank: Top 100 players »• Fantasy hockey draft guide »• Key rule changes for 2021 »• Watchability rankings »• Top 100 prospects »
Previous ranking: 10Stanley Cup odds: +2000
The Canes get a reprieve from the crowded Metropolitan Division and temporarily relocate to the less competitive Central, where they can potentially beat up on bottom-dwellers Chicago and Detroit a combined 16 times en route to a playoff berth.
Previous ranking: 17Stanley Cup odds: +2000
The Oilers have missed the playoffs in 13 of the past 14 seasons, and they fizzled out of their home bubble last summer. But management brought in five new roster players, and maybe that’s enough to change the postseason fate for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Previous ranking: 14Stanley Cup odds: +3000
The blue line got an overhaul with Nate Schmidt, Travis Hamonic and Olli Juolevi replacing Christopher Tanev, Troy Stecher and Oscar Fantenberg. Schmidt is now Vancouver’s second-most important defenseman, behind Quinn Hughes.
Previous ranking: 19Stanley Cup odds: +2500
Reports from Rangers training camp are that Pavel Buchnevich, entering his fifth NHL season, is ready to take a leap. “The guy that’s kind of jumping out to all of us is Buchnevich,” coach David Quinn said. “I just love the way things are going for him.”
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Previous ranking: 16Stanley Cup odds: +3000
Don’t look now, but the Flames are the only NHL team with two 2020 All-Star goaltenders on their roster. The big get was Jacob Markstrom, whom many teams (including the rival Oilers) were interested in snagging in free agency, and he’ll be backed up by David Rittich.
Previous ranking: 13Stanley Cup odds: +4000
For the first time in recent memory, the Blue Jackets might have a second scoring line that strikes fear in opponents. That’s what GM Jarmo Kekalainen envisioned when he swapped Josh Anderson for Max Domi. Cam Atkinson (on Domi’s wing) should rebound from a letdown season.
Previous ranking: 21Stanley Cup odds: +2500
The Predators had a brutal 2019-20 season on special teams, finishing with the seventh-worst power play and third-worst penalty kill. The penalty kill should improve with the signing of Brad Richardson, one of the best PK specialists in the league.
Previous ranking: 18Stanley Cup odds: +3000
One could view the Patrik Laine situation pessimistically: A top player wants to leave town. Or the optimist’s view: The Jets have an incredible trade asset, and if they time it right, they could strike gold in return.
Previous ranking: 15Stanley Cup odds: +3000
Marc Bergevin was among the busiest GMs this offseason. The result: Every positional group got improved depth. A top-four spot in the North Division is well within reach for this enhanced team.
• Who will be the top pick this summer? »• Early top-32 prospect rankings »• How COVID-19 will impact evaluations »
Previous ranking: 23Stanley Cup odds: +4000
A new GM (Bill Zito) means plenty of turnover. The Panthers have taken fliers on several new players (including Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Wennberg, Radko Gudas, Markus Nutivaara, Patric Hornqvist) and have been active on waivers, eager to see what sticks.
Previous ranking: 20Stanley Cup odds: +6000
The obvious reason to have hope in the Sabres is that 2018 league MVP Taylor Hall decided to sign here to put up big numbers on Jack Eichel’s wing. A low-key reason for hope: The center depth has improved.
Previous ranking: 24Stanley Cup odds: +6000
It’s been a yearslong saga spanning three GMs, but the Wild’s top prospect, Kirill Kaprizov, has finally left Russia and signed with Minnesota. The winger is the most exciting and skilled player on the roster and should be worth the wait.
Previous ranking: 22Stanley Cup odds: +6000
The Coyotes struggled with scoring last season (ranking 23rd in the league), but they said goodbye to six forwards this offseason and welcomed in six new forwards. In this case, fresh faces are definitely not a bad thing.
Previous ranking: 27Stanley Cup odds: +6000
Brent Burns posted only 45 points last season — nearly half of his point total from a season prior, when he finished second in Norris Trophy voting. A rebound season feels inevitable for the 35-year-old, all-situations defensemen.
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Previous ranking: 25Stanley Cup odds: +6000
Many are skeptical of Chicago’s unproven goaltending trio, but the Blackhawks might walk out of this season having identified their goaltender of the future. Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen are each inked only through next season, so there’s potential for a long-term, team-friendly contract play too.
Previous ranking: 28Stanley Cup odds: +7500
Did you watch the 2021 World Junior Championship? That’s the reason for hope for the Ducks. Trevor Zegras, the tournament MVP who helped the United States to gold, is Anaheim’s top prospect, and he could be in the league as soon as this season.
Previous ranking: 29Stanley Cup odds: +7500
The Kings had a whopping nine prospects play at the World Junior Championship, which highlights their impressive prospect system. Get excited to say the names Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Tobias Bjornfot and Alex Turcotte soon.
Previous ranking: 26Stanley Cup odds: +6000
Corey Crawford retired, but the Devils don’t feel in a bind, because they’re so bullish on Mackenzie Blackwood (who just re-upped for three more years). He shined to close out last season, going 8-2-2 over his last 13 appearances, with a .936 save percentage.
Here’s what to know, including plans for the NHL season and how it might work.• How the NHL will look in 2020-21 »• NHL and COVID-19: What we know »• What to know for international events »• How COVID-19 will impact prospects »
Previous ranking: 30Stanley Cup odds: +15000
The Senators competed hard for D.J. Smith last season, and they should see improved effort now that there’s more talent on the roster. Winger Evgenii Dadonov chose Ottawa in free agency, immediately upgrading the top six.
Previous ranking: 31Stanley Cup odds: +20000
The Red Wings allowed 265 goals last season — 27 more than any other team. Detroit should be less leaky thanks to improved goaltending (Thomas Greiss) and several veteran blue-line additions (Marc Staal, Troy Stecher, Jon Merrill).
Published: 2021-01-13 13:44:42
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