Steven Stamkos
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 NHL season begins tonight!

Tab Bamford

We have finally reached Oct. 12, opening night in the NHL.

There is excitement in Seattle for a new beginning. There will be a party in Tampa, where they raise a banner (again). And there is hope across the league for improvement with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

As we begin the new year, ESNY proudly presents our first NHL Power Rankings of the regular season. Where does your favorite team rank before the games are played?

32. Buffalo Sabres

They’re still making a mess out of the Jack Eichel situation. He’s no longer their captain and the two sides can’t agree on the surgery he should have — if he ever has a procedure. They’re a front-runner for consecutive No. 1 overall picks in the draft.

31. Arizona Coyotes

They’re bringing back their retro jerseys full-time this year, but that won’t make their play more effective. The Coyotes are moving to the Central Division because of the expansion Kraken, which means more travel and tougher competition.

30. Ottawa Senators

The Sens should be better this year — but that isn’t saying much. The long climb back to relevance continues in Ottawa, but their youth movement appears to be making progress. They probably won’t compete for a playoff berth this year, but they’ll be tougher to play against.

29. Detroit Red Wings

The Wings made some strong, strategic moves this summer, including the acquisition of Nick Leddy from the Islanders. Steve Yzerman did a terrific job building the Lightning, so we’ll trust his process is on its way in Detroit.

28. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks were in a fight for the distinction of worst team in California last year. The Kings and Sharks are hoping their veterans can improve from last year; the Ducks are rolling out youngsters.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets

Another offseason filled with star players leaving Columbus leaves them once again searching for a long-term identity. Seth Jones departed for Chicago, leaving a significant hole on the blue line they’re hoping Adam Boqvist can fill. We’ll see.

26. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks are hoping Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson can be top point-producing defensemen this year. They’re also hoping their offense can make them interesting. We’re not sold either will be the case this season.

25. Nashville Predators

The Preds turned over a big portion of their roster this summer, marking a rebuild is now under way. Nashville has a strong goaltending tandem but the rest of the roster is a work in progress (at best).

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by New Jersey Devils (@njdevils)

24. New Jersey Devils

The Devils are openly, slowly building their core around young players who are developing at the NHL level for the most part. How those player progress will be an important thing to watch this season. The future is coming in Jersey, but it isn’t here — yet.

23. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings still have Anze Kopitar, who remains one of the tougher centers to play against in the NHL. But Drew Doughty is looking his age more often than not. They’re trying to build around their veterans, but the pricetags on Kopitar and Doughty hurt their ability to make a huge swing in free agency.

22. Calgary Flames

Mark Giordano is now in Seattle, meaning Calgary will have a new leader on the ice this season. The Flames will struggle against Eastern Conference teams this season, but their division is soft. They don’t have realistic Cup hopes this season and may be headed for an in-season sell off of some talented players.

21. Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver is young and has some skill, but depth is the primary concern. They have the one Hughes brother who isn’t part of the Devils’ organization, and he’s a stud. They could surprise a few people in a weak division this season.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Seattle Kraken (@seattlekraken)

20. Seattle Kraken

The baby in the NHL this season, Seattle did a nice job of building their back end into a solid defensive group. Phillip Grubauer will also provide excellent goaltending. Our problem is their scoring… or potential lack thereof. But their jerseys are gorgeous.

19. Montreal Canadiens

After a surprising postseason, the summer brought injury news and not much help from the open market. Cole Caufield will be asked to lead the offense in his rookie season and is a smart bet for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

18. Philadelphia Flyers

Philly overhauled their blue line this summer but we have to wonder: is it that much better? Carter Hart was a disappointment last season and must bounce back if the Flyers have any hopes. They’ll also be without Kevin Hayes to start the regular season.

17. St. Louis Blues

They made the smart trade for Pavel Buchnevich but the losses in St. Louis were big. Jaden Schwartz, Mike Hoffman, Tyler Bozak and Vince Dunn are gone and Vladimir Tarasenko is still unhappy. The Blues appear to be a franchise in transition, but where are they going?

16. Dallas Stars

Their goaltending tandem is among the worst in the NHL. They’re hoping Ryan Suter is angry enough after being bought out by the Wild to have a strong season to help their defensemen and Tyler Seguin can return to his top form offensively. Those are big asks.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Chicago Blackhawks (@nhlblackhawks)

15. Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago was as bold as any team this offseason, acquiring Marc-Andre Fleury and Seth Jones to make another run at something significant. Jonathan Toews is also coming back after a year away and Kirby Dach is healthy; a broken wrist limited him last season. The Hawks could be a surprise playoff team this year.

14. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets will be a strong, physical team again this season with good goaltending. The move back to their usual Central Division will give them opportunities to feast on Arizona and Nashville at the bottom of the standings; moving away from the all-Canada division will be welcomed in Winnipeg.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins

They’ll start the year with Evgeni Malkin on the shelf and try to find opportunities for others to make an impact up front. As we have asked for the last few years, when will Father Time catch up with Sidney Crosby? He’s been incredible for more than a decade, but the clock is ticking on his career.

12. Minnesota Wild

Kirill Kaprizov held out until he got the bag this summer, signing a remarkable five-year deal for a player who has one season on his resume. But Minnesota is betting he can take them to the promised land. They have a lot of dead money hanging around from the buyouts of Suter and Zach Parise which could complicate in-season moves.

11. New York Rangers

The Rangers have the reigning Norris Trophy-winner (in a contract year, by the way) and should have an elite goaltending tandem. If Artemi Panarin comes back at full strength, the Rangers could be a handful for the teams ahead of them in their division — and on this list.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Edmonton Oilers (@edmontonoilers)

10. Edmonton Oilers

They have the two most electrifying offensive players in the NHL. And they added a future Hall of Famer, Duncan Keith, to their defensive group. The question remains: do they have enough to make a run in the playoffs? Or will they continue wasting the elite scoring they get from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

9. Washington Capitals

Alexander Ovechkin is back, chasing history. The rest of the roster is back, too — including Tom Wilson, whose presence had a direct impact on the moves made by the Rangers this summer. Can the Caps make another run at a championship with Ovi running the show?

8. Carolina Hurricanes

Carolina enjoyed playing against their “division” last year, fighting with Florida and Tampa for the top spot all season. Their most significant departure was Dougie Hamilton, a void on their blue line they’re looking to fill in training camp.

7. Florida Panthers

Aleksander Barkov is one of the best players in the NHL, and he got a contract to reflect that on Friday. He’ll be motivated to do something special this season, and they’ll have Joel Quenneville calling the shots to start the season. Beware of the Panthers.

6. Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas lost Fleury to Chicago because of their cap issues and will not ride with Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goaltender. The bottom of their division is still incredibly weak, but we’ll see how they perform against the stronger teams as the season progresses.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by New York Islanders (@ny_islanders)

5. New York Islanders

They have the top-rated goaltender tandem in the NHL and a strong unit in front of them. They also have one of the best coaches in the NHL, Barry Trotz. Can he take a third franchise to a Stanley Cup Final? If he does, they’ll play the games in the Islanders’ new barn.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

The clock is ticking on the salary cap breaking up their talented young core, but the Leafs are going into this season with something to prove. Their ugly exit from the playoffs last year left a mark, and they’ll be out to improve with a healthy John Tavares in the lineup.

3. Boston Bruins

Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are both gone. But their roster still has skill all over the place. The Bruins are a deep, strong, physical team that will have to prove itself every night in arguably the toughest division in the league this year.

2. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs had two significant losses this season in Brandon Saad and Phillip Grubauer. But they believe they have the horses to win the Western Conference; their weak division should help put them in position to have the playoff go through Denver out west.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

If you wanna be the champs, you have to beat the champs. Tampa has most of their group back from last year thanks to some creative offseason deals (including Tyler Johnson to Chicago for Brent Seabrook’s contract). They have the best goaltender on the planet and some of the best forwards in the game. Until proven otherwise, the Bolts are on top.

Betting on NHL Awards or team point totals this season? Be sure to check out our preseason NHL Best Bets series!