NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL Season (Part 3)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue our look at the top-30 storylines to watch for the 2021-22 NHL season.

We have been looking at 10 storylines each Monday. We continue today with the top-10 including Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin‘s run at history, the Olympics, the Seattle Kraken, the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres.

Which stories make the cut this week?

[You can read Part 1 here] | [You can read Part 2 here]

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

10. Future of the Arizona Coyotes. As always, there is a lot going on here with the Coyotes. On the ice the team is going all in on a complete rebuild that has seen them overturn a significant portion of the roster, trade key veterans (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak) and stockpile a ton of draft picks in the near future. But they also have that pesky arena situation looming over everything with Glendale cutting ties with them after this season, the team submitting a bit for an arena in Tempe, and the team likely needing to find a temporary solution in between, all while remaining in the valley. It is never boring with this team.

9. Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues. Tarasenko made headlines over the offseason by requesting a trade, but as the 2021-22 season approaches he remains in St. Louis and is committed to playing his best as long as he is there. But what exactly happens here? Is a trade still on the table? And what sort of season is ahead for Tarasenko? Injuries have robbed him of most of the past two seasons, while his production plummeted this past season (almost certainly due to not being totally healthy). When he is 100 percent he should still be one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, and getting that sort of production would be a huge boost for the Blues. Or a huge boost to his trade value.

8. The Maple Leafs core gets another run. After yet another disappointing First Round exit, the fifth in a row for this group, the Maple Leafs again only made minor tweaks to their roster. No major trades. No major changes. Bringing back the same core, same head coach, same general manager. This season has the feel of a true make-or-break season for pretty much all of them. They are now more than six years into this thing and simply making the playoffs is no longer an acceptable result. They have to do something, and if it does not happen this season there is no way they can bring back the same group next season.

7. Consecutive games streak record. Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played is in danger of not only falling this season, but being passed by three different players. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle is the closest, needing just 42 games to match it (and 43 to pass it). Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel is 64 games behind, while current free agent Patrick Marleau is 54 games away. Playing nearly 1,000 games in a row without missing any is truly magnificent accomplishment in the NHL.

6. Alex Ovechkin keeps climbing the goal scoring leaderboard. Ovechkin has a chance to make a significant leap on the goal scoring leader board this season and could find himself as high as third all-time by the end of the season. He enters the season in sixth place with 730 career goals, just one behind Marcel Dionne for the fifth spot. Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) are also both well within reach this season as he continues to close in on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 career goals.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

5. Tampa Bay Lightning three-peat attempt. The NHL has not had a three-peat since the New York Islanders back in the early 1980s, while there have only been a handful of teams (Edmonton, Pittsburgh on two different occasions, Detroit) that have even had a chance at it since then. The Lightning are the latest team to go for it. They lost quite a few key players this offseason in a salary cap crunch, but they are still returning a magnificent roster and core that has helped produce the league’s best team for the past seven seasons.

4. The NHL returns to the Olympics. After missing the 2018 Olympic games, the NHL is making its return for the 2022 Games in Beijing. That means Connor McDavid plays in his first Olympics, Sidney Crosby gets a chance to add another gold medal to his individual trophy case, and the United States team gets a chance to disappoint everybody again with its roster selection for an international tournament. Canada has won three of the past four golds in which NHL players have participated.

kraken
Derek Leung/Getty Images

3. The Seattle Kraken. The NHL’s 32nd team begins play this season as the Kraken enter the league. All eyes will be on them to see if they can come close to replicating the immediate success of the league’s most recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Maybe that is setting the bar way too high, but given the overall quality of the Pacific Division, and the fact Seattle should have some strong goaltending and spent big money on its defense, the window is open for the Kraken to be competitive this season.

2. The Chicago Blackhawks. The absolute biggest story here is what — if anything — comes from the investigations into the sexual assault allegations and lawsuits the team is facing. Two lawsuits were filed accusing a former assistant coach of sexually assaulting two former players during the 2010 season. The team has pledged to release the findings of its independent investigation, but nobody knows when that will be or what the end result will be. General manager Stan Bowman and several other executives were reportedly made aware of the incidents during that season, but nothing was reported at the time to the NHL or local police. Will any of it result in changes to the organization? Will it all be swept aside? That is what everybody should be watching this season regarding this team.

The secondary storyline here is on the ice, where the Blackhawks made major changes to the roster this offseason to add Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Tyler Johnson, and Marc-Andre Fleury to the roster, while jettisoning the contracts of Duncan Keith (Edmonton for Caleb Jones) and Brent Seabrook (Tampa Bay for Tyler Johnson). They will also be getting team captain and top-line center Jonathan Toews back after he missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season. The Blackhawks’ only playoff appearance over the past four seasons was the 2019-20 bubble situation when they snuck in as the 23rd ranked team in the league.

1. Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres. What a nightmare situation this has turned into for the Sabres. The team is lousy, it needs another massive rebuild to fix the mess of its previous failed rebuild (which was started to fix the mess of its previous rebuild) and now bridges seem burned with the best player on the roster, Jack Eichel. They can not agree on the best course of action for surgery to fix a neck issue, he has been stripped of his captaincy, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he has already played his last game in Buffalo, and now we just sit back and wait for some sort of resolution, both medically and on the ice. The two biggest questions now seem to be where is he going to be traded to, and how bad of a return are the Sabres going to get after all of this mess? This is not how this rebuild was supposed to go. The Sabres are likely to miss the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. We’ll examine best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Pittsburgh Penguins.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 37-16-3 (77 points) first place in Eastern Division
• Postseason: Lost in First Round to New York Islanders in six games
• Offensive leader: Sidney Crosby (55 games, 24 goals, 62 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Brock McGinn, Danton Heinen, Dominik Simon
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jared McCann (traded to Toronto Maple Leafs), Brandon Tanev (Seattle Kraken), Cody Ceci, Colton Sceviour, Mark Jankowski, Frederick Gaudreau

Biggest question facing the Pittsburgh Penguins?

• Will the goaltending be good enough?

Honestly there are quite a few questions with this team, ranging from the health of Evgeni Malkin, the depth following the offseason departures of Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev, and the state of the defense. But all of those questions are probably insignificant compared to the obvious elephant in the room, which is the goaltending situation. It is no secret what happened in the 2020-21 Stanley Cup Playoffs where Tristan Jarry‘s struggles played a key role in their First Round result. Jarry remains a significant question mark entering this season, while the Penguins made no real change to the position by bringing back him and Casey DeSmith.

That is a big gamble for a team that is trying to maximize the remaining seasons of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. You do not want to waste any of them.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The salary cap situation for the Penguins is always going to be a challenge because they have so much money committed to their top superstars. It has worked for them for a long time. But those superstars are starting to get older, and they now have contract situations to worry about with Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust, all of whom are eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season. All three players are still high level players right now, but Malkin and Letang are not getting any younger.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

How much money are the Penguins comfortable committing to them on a new contract, and for how long? Ownership wants them to finish their careers in Pittsburgh, so big decisions are ahead and a flat salary cap is not going to make them any easier.

Breakout Candidate

• Pierre-Olivier Joseph

There are not many young players on this roster but Joseph is probably the most intriguing. He is the main piece of the Phil Kessel trade from a couple of years ago and is an exciting young defenseman that is the team’s most NHL-ready prospect. He got a brief cup of coffee at the NHL level a year ago and showed a ton of promise. Highly skilled, a great skater, and a potential long-term piece to their blue line. The short-term problem is he is a left defenseman and the Penguins are very strong on the left side. Mike Sullivan does not like to play defenders on their off side so it will limit his chances early on, but you have to figure injuries will happen at some point and open the door for him.

Nathan Legare and Samuel Poulin are the top forward prospects on the team, while Legare has had an impressive camp so far. He could be another potential breakout option.

Best-Case Scenario

If a lot of things go right this can still be a Stanley Cup contender. But a lot of things need to go right. Tristan Jarry needs to be good. Evgeni Malkin needs to come back healthy at some point and still be an impact player. Jeff Carter has to show his resurgence after the trade is something he can continue over a full season, and do so as a second-line center for at least two months and then carry the third line after that. They need Danton Heinen and Brock McGinn to be suitable replacements for Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev. And they need somebody unexpected to step up and make an impact in the bottom-six, whether it be a rookie (Legare? Poulin?) or somebody else. If most of those things happen? This is still going to be a really good team. But that is a lot of “ifs” that have to go right.

Worst-Case Scenario

If playoff Tristan Jarry shows up again in the regular season it is going to be a major problem for the Penguins. There is also the question of Malkin’s health, Carter’s age, and the question marks in the bottom-six after losing Tanev and McCann this offseason. A struggling Jarry, declining Malkin, and lack of production from a new-look bottom-six could take a potential Stanley Cup contender and turn it into a non-playoff team in an increasingly tough Metropolitan Division.

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NHL Power Rankings: Top storylines for 2021-22 NHL season (Part 2)

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue counting down the 30 biggest storylines to watch across the league for the 2021-22 season.

We are looking at 10 storylines each Monday until the start of the season. We continue today with storylines 20-11, including looks at the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, the top rookies, pending free agents, the salary cap, and new Stanley Cup contenders.

[You can read Part 1 here]

What stories make the list this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

20. The Philadelphia Flyers offseason. Now this is the type of offseason you expect from the Flyers. Big moves! Bold moves! Maybe even crazy moves! The trades for Ryan Ellis and Cam Atkinson have the potential to be huge additions, but the Rasmus Ristolainen trade is a little difficult to figure. Do they think they can turn his career around? Of course, all of these moves will be rendered pointless if Carter Hart does not play better in goal this season.

19. What do the Montreal Canadiens do for a repeat? The Canadiens shocked the NHL by making a stunning run to the Stanley Cup Final. Carey Price found the fountain of youth and helped lead them to upsets over Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas before running into the Tampa Bay Lightning buzzsaw.

They are bringing back a very different roster, however. Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi are gone, Tomas Tatar left in free agency, Shea Weber will not play this season, while Mike Hoffman, Christian Dvorak, and David Savard join the team. They are also getting Jonathan Drouin back after he missed most of the 2020-21 season and all of the playoffs. They also have potential breakout seasons for Nick Suzuki and Cole Caulfield to look forward to. But is this roster good enough to even get back in the playoffs in a tough division?

18. The salary cap situation in the NHL. We are still looking at a situation in the league where salary cap increases are going to be minimal in the coming years. There are obvious ramifications for contending teams close to the cap and with pending free agents to sign. It could also make more players available in trades and allow teams with excess salary cap space to utilize that in trades.

17. Potential unrestricted free agents. A lot of significant players are entering the final year of their contracts this season with Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Alexander Barkov, Filip Forsberg, Tomas Hertl, John Klingberg, Johnny Gaudreau, Morgan Rielly, Ryan Pulock, Patrice Bergeron, Claude Giroux, Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban, Marc-Andre Fleury, Darcy Kuemper, and Mika Zibanejad leading the way. Many of those players will re-sign with their current teams. Some might even retire (Fleury? Bergeron?). But there are a few players that they could end up changing teams, including Forsberg, Hertl, Gaudreau, and maybe even Rielly.

16. The rookie of the year race. Always one of the more intriguing individual award races because it highlights new stars coming into the league. This year’s favorites have to include Caufield in Montreal, Spencer Knight in Florida, Moritz Seider in Detroit, Quinton Byfield in Los Angeles, and Vasili Podkolzin in Vancouver.

[NHL Power Rankings: Calder Trophy candidates for 2021-22 season]

15. Can Islanders break through to the Stanley Cup Final? It has been three decades since the New York Islanders played in a Cup Final, but they are getting closer every year. They just can not seem to get over the final hurdle that is the Lightning, having lost to them two years in a row in the Eastern Conference Final/Semifinal round. They are bringing back mostly the same roster, but will have a full season of Kyle Palmieri, a returning Anders Lee, and the offseason additions of Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara. Not to mention one of the league’s best coaches and a sensational goalie duo with Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin.

Their regular season performances never look impressive. But they are probably one of the last teams you want to see in a best-of-seven series in the playoffs.

14. New York Rangers changes. The Rangers’ rebuild was not going fast enough for ownership, so a lot of changes were made this offseason in the front office, coaching staff, and even on the roster. Chris Drury takes over for Jeff Gorton in the GM chair, Gerard Gallant replaces David Quinn behind the bench, and the team attempted to get tougher this offseason by trading Pavel Buchnevich, while also acquiring Ryan Reaves, Patrik Nemeth, and Barclay Goodrow. It is the Tom Wilson impact. The Rangers can say it is not all about Wilson all they want, but it is pretty clear that is what this is about. Is that the right step for a team that has a Hart Trophy candidate (Artemi Panarin), a Norris Trophy-winning defender (Adam Fox), and an impressive collection of young talent? We are about to find out.

In the end, though, the success or failure of this season will depend on the development of Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, and Igor Shesterkin. If that quartet becomes impact players, the Rangers will be very good. If they do not, the Rangers’ rebuild will remain stuck in neutral.

13. Panthers becoming a Cup contender. This might be the first time ever that the Florida Panthers are entering a season with real, championship level expectations. This is a really good roster with a couple of All-Stars at the top of it (Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) coming off the best regular season in franchise history They also added Sam Reinhart to the mix this offseason. If Spencer Knight can take over the goaltending job and play to his potential this could be a sleeper Cup team.

12. Can Avalanche get through Second Round ceiling. On paper the Colorado Avalanche might have the best team in the NHL. They are loaded from top to bottom with a deep, talented group of forwards, an excellent defense with young stars, and a strong goalie with the offseason addition of Kuemper. They have been Cup contenders and favorites for a couple of years now. But they remain stuck in the Second Round, having lost their three years in a row.

When a team like this can’t get through a particular round, or can’t take that next step, it is easy to get frustrated and think that some kind of change needs to happen. We heard it constantly with the Washington Capitals and how they needed to change and who they needed to trade. We heard it all the time with the Lightning. Eventually talent breaks through and wins. The Avalanche have the talent to get there. They just need to be patient and stick with the process and talent they have. It is championship caliber, and still has its best days ahead of it.

11. Can the Oilers finally take advantage of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid and Draisaitl are the two best offensive players in the world. They are both league MVPs, winning the award in three of the past five seasons. Most teams will go decades, maybe even their entire existence to this point, without getting one player like this, let alone two of them together at the exact same time. You can not waste that luck. The Oilers are wasting it. Badly.

They made some significant changes this offseason with the additions of Zach Hyman, Warren Foegele, Duncan Keith, and Cody Ceci. But even with that depth still looks suspect, as does this defense (largely due to the changes there with an aging Keith and Ceci replacing Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson), and they are counting on a 39-year-old Mike Smith to have another strong year when he has only had one good season in the past three seasons. Still a lot that can go wrong here, even with two megastars at the top of the lineup.