NHL power rankings: No. 32 Sabres to No. 1 Lightning

The 2021-22 NHL season features a team looking to achieve a feat not accomplished in a couple of generations, a new franchise, and clubs wanting to rebound from a disappointing campaigns or step forward.

As the league returns somewhat to normalcy following two condensed seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can look forward to the twists and turns that make being a hockey fan so exciting.

As the puck drops Tuesday to start the season, here is where we see the 32 clubs from worst to first.

32. Buffalo Sabres: No resolution regarding Jack Eichel‘s surgery and trade demand is another gory chapter in franchise history.

31. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes performed a teardown to rebuild yet again, with another year of “where will they move” coming, too.

30. Anaheim Ducks: Speaking of rebuilds, the Ducks are still en route to the bottom-out phase while integrating more youth.

29. Detroit Red Wings: The club from Hockeytown, U.S.A., isn’t ready to take much of a step forward, if any at all.

28. San Jose Sharks: Not having Evander Kane, last year’s top point-producer, is likely a blessing for a club that’s racing to the bottom.

Evander Kane
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

27. Columbus Blue Jackets: Since beating Tampa Bay in the first round in 2019, it’s been a mass exodus of talent.

26. Nashville Predators: The late-season hot streak that put the Predators into the playoffs last season is about to become a distant memory.

25. Los Angeles Kings: Adding free agent Phillip Danault was a positive, but the holes in this team are huge. Losing rookie Quinton Byfield to a broken ankle is a brutal start.

24. Montreal Canadiens: Their Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup Final will be a great memory for a team that will be without goalie Carey Price for the first month.

23. Seattle Kraken: The Kraken aren’t a team of castoffs, but temper expectations of duplicating the success of the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season.

Philipp Grubauer
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

22. New Jersey Devils: The Devils are a young team ready to hit the next phase of their rebuild, but they aren’t ready for prime time yet.

21. Ottawa Senators: The Senators are better than their start to last season, but not as good as their final push. The difficult re-signing Brady Tkachuk created an unnecessary distraction.

20. Dallas Stars: Nearly everything that could go wrong last season did go wrong for the 2020 Cup finalists, who have an aging core.

19. Chicago Blackhawks: Acquiring defenseman Seth Jones, forward Tyler Johnson and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury were bold steps.

18. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks aren’t as bad as their disastrous finish last season, but they’re not a slam-dunk playoff team despite their young talent.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins: A new chapter is coming soon with Evgeni Malkin to miss the start of the season, Sidney Crosby recovering from injury and roster holes.

16. Philadelphia Flyers: Massive changes after a disappointing season were needed, but the biggest key will be whether goalie Carter Hart regains his form.

15. Calgary Flames: Contract extensions or trades involving Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk will be front and center for a middling team.

14. New York Rangers: Talent nearly pushed the Rangers into the playoffs last season, and the toughness they added will make a difference.

13. St. Louis Blues: Having a disgruntled star in Vladimir Tarasenko around could derail things further for the 2019 champs.

Vladimir Tarasenko
David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

12. Minnesota Wild: The Wild surprisingly finished ninth overall last season thanks to their young talent, but prepare for a step back before a leap forward.

11. Boston Bruins: The changing of the guard is about to be in full swing for a team that reached the 2019 Cup Final before experiencing two disappointing years.

10. Edmonton Oilers: Zach Hyman adds forward depth for a club that relies so much on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but question marks abound.

9. Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin‘s chase for Wayne Gretzky‘s goal-scoring record will become more of a focus as Father Time impacts the 2018 champs.

Alex Ovechkin
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

8. Winnipeg Jets: Being swept by the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs finally resulted in a much-needed revamped defense corps.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs: The time is at hand for an actual playoff run, not a first-round upset, although goaltending will be a huge focus all season.

6. Carolina Hurricanes: Despite knocking on the door, the Hurricanes made big changes, including going with a questionable new goaltending tandem of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta.

5. Florida Panthers: Without top defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers gave the Tampa Bay Lightning plenty to handle on the way to the title. Truly a team to watch.

4. Vegas Golden Knights: The potential Presidents’ Trophy winners didn’t address the goal-scoring woes that sunk them in playoffs.

3. New York Islanders: Losing to the Lightning in the playoffs semifinals each of the past two seasons shows exactly what task is at hand.

2. Colorado Avalanche: Like the Isles, the Avalanche must kick down the door this season and make a lengthy playoff run to dispel the tag of being underachievers.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: The last team to win three consecutive titles was the Islanders during their four-year run in the early 1980s. Tampa Bay lost its whole third line in the offseason but added a couple of vets in Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare to take a run at history.

–By Randy Sportak (@RandySportak), Field Level Media