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.

Montreal Canadiens 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 Montreal Canadiens.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 24-21-11 (59 points) fourth place in North Division
• Postseason: Lost Stanley Cup Final in five games to Lightning
• Offensive leader: Tyler Toffoli (52 games, 28 goals, 16 assists, 44 points)

• Free Agent Additions: David Savard, Christian Dvorak (trade with Arizona), Mike Hoffman, Mathieu Perrault
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Hurricanes offer sheet), Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault

Biggest question facing the Montreal Canadiens?

• Have they done enough to replace what they have lost?

The Canadiens stunned the hockey world this postseason by going on a shocking run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, beating Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas along the way. Carey Price played a huge role in that, but a couple of the players that contributed are no longer going to be around this season. Phillip Danault, a consistent Selke Trophy contender, is now in Los Angeles. Tomas Tatar did not play much in the playoffs but has been the Canadiens’ leading scorer the past three seasons, is now in New Jersey. Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a Hurricane after signing a restricted free agent offer sheet. They will also be without veteran defender Shea Weber, whose career seems to be in jeopardy at this point thanks to injuries.

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

That is a lot of talent either leaving or not being available.

There is also the inevitable regression that might come from a player like Tyler Toffoli who had a career year.

Hoffman can score goals, but they might lose a little on the defensive end with him. Dvorak might be a short-term upgrade over Kotkaniemi, but he does not have the long-term upside. Weber to Savard is a pretty big downgrade on the blue line.

Then there is the fact they are going from the North Division back to an Atlantic Division with Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, and Florida. Finishing above fifth place is going to be a real challenge.

What’s the salary cap situation?

The Canadiens are pressed right up against the upper limits of the league salary cap and have a lot of long-term contracts on the roster. They will get some relief with Weber going on LTIR, but beyond that they do not have a lot of flexibility in future seasons while players like Nick Suzuki and Alexander Romanov are restricted free agents after this season (and Cole Caufield in two years).

They have 11 players signed for at least the next three seasons, with eight of them counting more than $4 million against the salary cap. Most of those players are in their late 20s or 30s. That includes the $18 million they have committed to Price (34) and Weber (36).

Breakout Candidate

• Cole Caufield

The obvious breakout candidate here. We only saw Caufield for 30 games last year (10 regular season, 20 playoffs) but they were very exciting. He scored eight goals and 17 total points in those games, which comes out to a 22-goal, 45-point pace over 82 games. Not bad for a 20-year-old in his first taste of NHL action.

He is one player on this team that has game-breaking ability and superstar potential. He can be a one-man highlight reel when he is on the ice and should be considered one of the early favorites for the Calder Trophy.

Best-Case Scenario

If Carey Price and Jake Allen give them quality goaltending they are going to have a chance to compete every night, and there is a solid core of forwards in place here. Suzuki and Caufield taking big steps forward will be the biggest X-factor here, as will the return of Jonathan Drouin. Brendan Gallagher is one of the most underrated players in the league and an elite play driver, so you know his line will perform, but they also need Toffoli to duplicate his 2020-21 performance and for Josh Anderson to find some consistency. Making the playoffs in this division is going to be tough, and expecting a repeat of last year’s playoff run is expecting way too much, but they should be competitive.

Worst-Case Scenario

While Price is clearly still capable of putting the team on his shoulders and carrying it for long stretches of time, he does not do that as consistently as he once did. If the goaltending is not there for this team, it is going to make it awfully difficult to stay competitive in that division. Even with young talent like Suzuki and Caufield at the top of the roster.

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NHL Power Rankings: 2021-22 Calder Trophy candidates

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are going to take a look at some of the top contenders for the NHL’s 2021-22 Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.

When we talk rookies here, we are not just necessarily talking first year players. We are looking at anybody that still has Calder eligibility.

A reminder, to be eligible for the Calder “a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season, nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons, in any major professional league.”

Normally the top pick in the draft (in this case Sabres defenseman Owen Power) would very much be in the discussion, but Power has decided to return to the University of Michigan for one more season. Even without him in the mix this has the look of an extremely strong rookie class.

Who all makes the initial list?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens. We were able to get our first look at Caufield at the end of last season and throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs and he looks like he has a chance to be special. An electrifying talent with natural finishing ability, Caufield’s initial cup of coffee in the NHL as well as his talent level has to make him the leading 2022 Calder favorite. The development of him and Nick Suzuki will go a long way toward determining what the Canadiens’ long-term future looks like.

2. Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers. The NHL’s top goalie prospect, Knight figures to get significant playing time this season and will soon be the main guy in Florida’s crease. Playing behind what should be a playoff team and maybe a sneaky contender could really boost him in the race, especially if he builds on what he showed at the end of this past season.

3. Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings. It is amazing how quickly the perception of this pick has changed for the Red Wings. When they took Seider with the No. 6 overall pick in 2019 it was not a popular choice. But in just two years he has quickly developed into one of the top defense prospects in the league and is coming off an incredible 2020-21 season in Sweden.

4. Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have the best farm system in hockey and Byfield is the best prospect in it. With Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault leading the way, Byfield won’t have to take on a top role, so hopefully the Kings can get him into positions to succeed early on.

5. Vasili Podkolzin, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks always seem to have a Calder candidate on their roster, from Brock Boeser, to Elias Pettersson, to Quinn Hughes, to Thatcher Demko, and now Podkolzin. They have patiently waited a couple of years for him to make his debut and he has the potential to be another core building block.

6. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks need something positive and a young cornerstone building block. Zegras and Jamie Drysdale (more on him in a minute) are the two best chances for that. He was great in the AHL last season and showed some really positive signs in his brief NHL action.

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

7. Alex Newhook, Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche roster is an embarrassment of riches, and it is almost unfair to have a prospect like Newhook ready to crack the lineup when they already have so many stars.

8. Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild. Rossi’s entire 2020-21 season was wiped out due to some serious COVID-19 complications but he seems to be healthy now and should have a chance to make an impact for the Wild. The fact the Wild have major weaknesses at center and will be counting on young players to step forward the next few years should give him plenty of opportunity this season.

9. Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche. We just mentioned the embarrassment of riches the Avs have at forward with Newhook arriving, and the same thing is true on defense with the arrival of Byram. They selected him in 2019 with the No. 4 overall pick they received from Ottawa as a result of the Matt Duchene trade, and he is ready to join an already stacked defense that features Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and Devon Toews.

10. Vitali Kravtsov, New York Rangers. Kravtsov is one of the many young prospects that gives the Rangers such a promising future. He appeared in 20 games a year ago and now that he has some North American hockey experience under his belt should be poised to take a step forward.

11. Jamie Drysdale, Anaheim Ducks. One of the Ducks’ other key young building blocks, Drysdale just barely qualifies for Calder eligibility this season (he played in 24 games this past season; if he played in 25 he would not be eligible) but figures to play a big role for a Ducks team that has to at some point start looking toward the future.

12. Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit Red Wings. Even though he finished in third place in the Calder voting last season with the Hurricanes he is still technically Calder eligible this season. But can he repeat his 2020-21 performance? Especially when playing behind a weaker team?

13. Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins. A lot of this could depend on what happens with Tuukka Rask. If Rask is back, Swayman’s role obviously gets dramatically reduced. But if Rask does not return the Bruins are going to rely on him along with Linus Ullmark to handle the goaltending spot. Swayman was very impressive a year ago when the Bruins needed him.

14. Connor McMichael, Washington Capitals. The Capitals have one of the oldest rosters in the league and at some point need to start working in some fresh talent. McMichael is their best hope for that in the short-term and he is a great prospect. He had a strong 2020-21 season in the AHL, but how much of a chance will he get to make an impact on a Cup contender?

15. Peyton Krebs, Vegas Golden Knights. Like McMichael in Washington, Krebs is an excellent prospect with a bright future but is going to struggle to get playing time on a stacked roster that is looking to win right now.