Tampa Bay Lightning – The reigning back-to-back champions are looking armed and ready for another deep playoff run. Still boasting multiple, elite stars and some of the best in the game right now such as Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevsky, Ryan McDonagh, and Brayden Point. Once again, they only lost a few people and were able to plug them right up with grit and character such as Corey Perry joining the Bolts. It’s still Lightnings cup to lose as once again they are top hog, then there’s a couple of challengers, then a steep drop-off to the market. Even if injuries happen, the Lightning should be able to make the playoffs comfortably. Vasilevsky in net seems impenetrable and with that veteran core of defense, I will expect hard fought games and low scoring chances against this squad.
Boston Bruins – After a tough loss in the second round of the playoffs, the Bruins decided to make some tough changes. The team did not bring back Bruins legends David Krejci and Tuukka Rask so now this team is left with only a handful of members from the 2011 Stanley Cup squad. Krejci is now playing with Jaromir Jagr in Czech Republic and Rask is a free agent revering from off season surgery. Bruins “perfection line” with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak while the young, stallion Charlie McAvoy continues to develop as Bruins premier d-man is a very solid core. I expect a big season from this squad, featuring a second line that shows serious fight and a promising core to make up the 3rd and 4th lines. Taylor Hall will be a character to keep an eye on and see if he can build some consistency off the magic of last year. Charlie Coyle will try to step in a #2 center that Krejci held for many years. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark in net will either be solid 1-2 punch or a mess. Ullmark has numerous injuries and the sophomore slump for goalies is always a real thing to consider.
Florida Panthers – Fans have got to be happy about this year and where this team could go in the next 2-3 years. This is the best Florida Panthers hockey team I’ve ever seen. Jumbo Joe Thornton is now a Panther, Aaron Ekblad has recovered from injury, now all you need is Bobrovsky to find that form that earned him $10 million a year. You can argue that adding a veteran defenseman closer to the tread deadline could solidify this team and make it complete, but you must be happy with what this team has put together. High flying offense led by one of the best centers in hockey Alexsander Barkov. He is Anze Kopitar 2.0 with high end defense and tactics to elite skill and play making. Huberdeau finished last season in great form and I would be shocked if he doesn’t carry that over. Same with Sam Bennett who came over in a trade from Calgary and averaged a point per game. This squad has so much young talent that in the next 1-4 years, they could make a strong playoff push if one of the goalies can get hot.
Toronto Maple Leafs – Can the Toronto Maple Leafs make it past the 1st round? That’s the decade old question. The offense with John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Auston Matthews can compete with the best any given night. A real promising second line, unknown third line, and a veteran 4th line featuring Jason Spezza and Wayne Simmonds make up the rest of this offense. You can argue its kind of top heavy, but if their top 3 defenseman in Morgan Reilly, TJ Brodie, and Jake Muzzin can stay healthy and string it all together, then this team has some real bite to their bark. Frederick Anderson is gone and replaced by prodigal Jack Campbell and a hopefully, healthy Petr Mrazek. Otherwise it’s going to be the same story as last year, a lot of goals scored and a lot of goals scored against. Toronto added some depth from former Boston Bruins Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase. Ritchie brings size, character, front of net presence, and possibly 20 goals. Kase just simply needs to get and stay healthy and hopefully be a regular on the 3rd or 4th. He has a nice offensive skill set and shouldn’t be too much of a liability in defensive zone.
Montreal Canadiens – The Cinderella story from last year looks to carry that momentum into next year although without the same team. Shea Weber retired, Kotkienmi goes to Carolina on an offer sheet, and Carey Price future is in limbo as he deals with mental health issues. Of course, we all wish him nothing but the best and wish him a wholesome recovery. Unreal performance he had last year. Dennis Savard comes in to help replace the Weber void and Jeff Petry will look to build on last years offensive performance. The depth of the 3 forward lines is so strong, fast, and creative that they don’t feature a true #1 line. Josh Anderson with Christian Dvorak and Jonathen Drouin would be the 1st line but with matchups, they could feast on 2nd and 3rd line pairings. Cole “Goal” Caufield, the young savant is on a Calder campaign and playing with Nick Suzuki and Joel Armia, he could easily win the Rookie of the Year trophy. Having Tyler Toffoli, Brendan Gallagher, and Jake Evans considered as your #3 line is impressive. A healthy Jake Evans and Suzuki will shore up the center depth that they missed out on last year.
Ottawa Senators – Brady Tkachuk getting locked into a massive deal before the season has this ship sailing in the right direction. A healthy Matt Murray will be very pivotal in how fast this rebuild comes along. The back end is still slim, but Thomas Chabot is a weapon in the offensive zone. The forward depth has two top lines of youth that showed signs of promise last year. Joshua Norris, Drake Batherson, Tim Stutzle, all skilled and below 23 years of age.
Detroit Red Wings – Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin headline what could be a more complete team that what was on the roster last year. Injuries and no depth rocked the Red Wings last year but this year looks to be fun with this group. Lucas Raymond has a lot of rookie hype around his name. Philip Zadina has another year behind him and looks to build on the stats this year. Nick Leddy was a nice addition on defense, bringing a consistent, veteran who can log minutes and play a strong game. Thomas Greiss will help Alex Nedelykovic develop and continue what he showed last year for Carolina Hurricanes.
Buffalo Sabres – Just absolute chaos going over in Buffalo. Buffalo strip its disgruntled star player Jack Eichel of his captaincy. Buffalo and Jack have been at each other for some time now, regarding health procedure and recovery. Jack wants a surgery that Buffalo doesn’t want him to get, and Jack doesn’t want to do a surgery that Buffalo recommends. Not only that but the starting goalie pair is Craig Anderson and Dustin Tokarski. The first line could have Jeff Skinner, Vinnie Hinostroza, and Dylan Cozens.
New York Islanders – After a close-run last year, Islanders decided to add Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara to shore up some depth. Illya Sorokin had a great season last year and another solid season as netminder looks very likely. Led by grizzled veteran Andy Greene and stalwarts Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, this defense can compete with anybody. Anders Lee being back after such a strong start to last season is huge. Kyle Palmieri, Brock Nelson, Josh Bailey brings up the over 30+ club and all had strong performances in the playoffs. Boasting one of the best 4th lines in the NHL, I believe Islanders have the best chance to topple the Lightning this season for the Stanley Cup.
Carolina Hurricanes – Exciting and electric offense led by Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal. Derek Stepan on the 4th line was a great add to shore the depth and character on that team. If Martin Necas can bring what he had last year and the power play click like they did, I really like their chances. Dougie Hamilton is gone but Ian Cole is a fine addition to that back end. Slavin can still battle as #1 defenseman while Ethan Bear can build his reputation on a new team. Biggest question mark is the goalies. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta look to rekindle some of their former form and make magic happen for this team. Both are capable goalies but staying consistent has been a problem for both of these goalies.
New York Rangers – lots of excitement here! I think this could be a dark horse team, I wish Hughes was still coaching the team though since they finally added some toughness in Ryan Reaves. Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, and Mika Zibanijad are high flying offensive dynamos. With a promising young goalie in Igor Shesterkin, this squad is built for a possible play off run. If enough things go their way during the regular season, they might add more depth but I like what the Rangers have developed over the past 2-3 years. If Kappo Kakko can blossom this year and the 2nd-3rd defensive pairings as well, then this team is legit. Until then I think they are strong just missing that little bit.
Washington Capitals – Alexander Ovechkin and Nickolas Backstrom look to push for another Stanley Cup win. They bring back much of the same team with Tom Wilson, Dimitry Orlov, and John Carlson. TJ Oshie is coming back and full healthy and shores up the 2nd and 3rd lines when needed. A lot is riding on Evgeny Kuznetzov to rekindle his earlier form and bounce back after a down season. Capitals have a young tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek to protect the grease. Samsonov has looked well in his development and couple of NHL games hes been in. Vanecek as well so it’s a nice 1-2 punch of who can be more consistent. As long as injuries stay away, I think this team with Tom Wilson beats down its division and cause some noise in the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Can Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin catapult this team to a deep playoff run? Brian Dumoulin needs some of that old stuff to go with Kris Letang still holding the blue line down as best as he can. This team can still compete with the best of them but with an uncertain back end of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, I don’t think they can push for a serious playoff run. John Marino and Marcus Petterson have been solid 2nd and 3rd defensive pairing adds and if the whole group can come together then it will relieve the offensive woes of missing that high end goal scoring.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers have been on the cusp of some quality playoff runs but could never pull through it all with either injuries, goalie inconsistencies, or defensive collapses. Claude Giroux and Kevin Hayes are two stalwarts this team will look towards for consistent offensive numbers. Travis Konecy has developed into a solid and tough player out there. Cam Atkinson has already gelled well with the team and looks to chase the Cup which has eluded him while at Columbus. Ivan Provorov, Ryan Ellis, and Keith Yandle on defense is a great group of guys. Rasmus Ristolainen will try to live up to that first round pick name after a disappointing campaign in Buffalo. The problem of old and new is goaltending. Carter Hart hasn’t been the prodigal goalie that the Flyers would have wanted. Too many goals against and too many inconsistent starts has put Hart on a hot seat. Martin Jones was brought in to add depth but with his record coming from San Jose, I don’t see a lot of positivity coming from their own zone.
New Jersey Devils – the Devils have rebuilt and look stoked for a nice 2-3 years of grooming the squad before they will be solid contenders for the playoffs. A 1-2 punch at defense with Ryan Graves and Dougie Hamilton is a great start. Then with the youth in forwards with Jack Hughes and Pavel Zacha who found a nice stride last season and continue to develop. Nico Hischier was banged up a bit last year but showed some quality skill and play making ability with Jack and Pavel last season. PK Subban is also back on the 2nd and 3rd defensive pairing, keeping the depth and leadership on the team while the young guys take over. Now is the big question mark. What goaltending will the Devils get this year? Injuries and poor play was consistent with the Devils and its goaltending previous seasons. With a combo of Scott Wedgewood and Mackenzie Blackwood again, we can only hope for longevity in these players. If that can happen then I like this squad to be an outside playoff contender at the trade deadline.
Columbus Blue Jackets – this team can look promising the one day and then plenty of other day just under perform and underwhelm. Patrik Laine is the role model for that kind of inconsistency. Hopefully he can find that greatness he flashed in previous years and take over games with the elite talent he has. Olivier Bjorkstrand has a solid campaign last season and will try to build on it with Gustav Nyquist and Jack Roslovic. Zach Werenski comes back looking to rebound from a down year but he doesn’t have any help on defense. He is going to have to log some serious minutes for this squad to compete day in and out.
NHL Eastern Conference Power Rankings (2021-22 Season)
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