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.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 18-26-12 (48 points); seventh place in Central Division
• Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; drafted Kent Johnson No. 5 overall
• Offensive leader: Oliver Bjorkstrand (56 games, 18 goals, 26 assists, 44 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Jakub Voracek (trade with Flyers), Adam Boqvist (trade with Blackhawks), Zac Rinaldo, Jake Bean (trade with Hurricanes), Sean Kuraly
• Free Agent Subtractions: Seth Jones (trade with Blackhawks), Cam Atkinson (trade with Flyers), Michael Del Zotto

Biggest Question Facing the Blue Jackets

• What is going to happen with Patrik Laine?

This is a two-part question, really. The first part is the most pressing for this season and is simply, can he bounce back from what was a lousy 2021-22 season?

When he arrived in Columbus there was some obvious excitement because of the type of player he is and the impact he can make as a goal scorer when he is at his best. But there was also the question of how his style would fit with former coach John Tortorella. The answer turned out to be not well. Laine was benched on more than one occasion under Tortorella and never seemed to find his game after the trade, finishing the season with the worst offensive numbers of his career. It was tough to watch at times.

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

But the 2021-22 season represents a fresh start, a more normal season, a new coach, and hopefully the return of the 35-40 goal player the Blue Jackets thought they would be getting.

The second question is what exactly is his future going to be with the Blue Jackets? That, too, was an important question when the Blue Jackets initially acquired him in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. He signed a one-year deal this offseason and will again be a restricted free agent after this season. We know the Blue Jackets’ history with retaining higher profile players (it is not great) and at some point they are going to have to make a long-term decision on how to keep him. If they want to keep him.

What’s the salary cap situation?

It is not a bad situation. The two most significant long-term contracts on the roster are the recently acquired Voracek (three more years at more than $8 million) and Zach Werenski‘s brand new, massive contract that will pay him more than $9.5 million per season for six years. That contract begins during the 2022-23 season. Werenski’s deal was seen as maybe a slight overpay, but he is a fantastic player and it was important for the Blue Jackets to retain one of their star players. If you are going to have a slight overpay under the salary cap, that is the type of guy to overpay.

The Blue Jackets have some salary cap flexibility, but they do have the Laine situation to deal with, as well as pending unrestricted free agents Max Domi and both goalies, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins after this season.

Breakout Candidate

• Adam Boqvist

Boqvist is one of the key parts of the Seth Jones trade to Chicago, and he could help make this a big win for the Blue Jackets. While his name may not yet carry the same clout as Jones’ around the league, he does have a chance to be an impact player for the Blue Jackets right now.

He has shown flashes of that over his first two years in the league, and had some of the best underlying numbers of any Blackhawks defender a year ago in terms of shot attempt differential, scoring chances, and expected goals. Entering his third season in the league he should be ready for a step forward and become a key long-term part of the Blue Jackets’ blue line.

Best-Case Scenario

Expectations might be low for the Blue Jackets this season but there is some talent here, and it is a team that has at times over the past few years overachieved. Werenski is a legit top-pairing defender, and with Laine, Voracek, Domi, Oliver Bjorkstrand, the return of a healthy Gustav Nyquist, and some intriguing young players (Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, Eric Robinson) there is some talent here. They also have the potential for a strong goalie duo with Korpisalo and Merzlikins. They are not going to be an easy team to beat on most nights and if the goaltending excels there is a chance they could hang around in the playoff race. The biggest problem is going to be the fact they play in the Metropolitan Division where pretty much everybody is good and competitive. So the best case is Laine scores 40 goals, Nyquist has 60 points, Werenski keeps being a star, Boqvist becomes a star, and the goalies help keep them competitive.

Worst-Case Scenario

The other side of the equation here is if Laine does not bounce back, Boqvist does not take a step forward, and the goaltenders are either average or below average. The latter point and Laine, though, are the keys here. They do not have much of a chance to compete if Korpisalo and Merzlikins are not good, and they need Laine to be the player they thought they were acquiring for a variety of reasons. Ranging from the fact they need an impact goal scorer, to the fact they used their most significant trade chip at the time (Dubois) to acquire him. All of that would not only put them in the draft lottery, but also with some of the best odds.

PointsbetColumbus Blue Jackets Stanley Cup odds

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