In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the 15 teams that missed the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs and which ones are most likely to return to the postseason in 2022.
Every year there are always one or two teams that rebound to make the playoffs after a down year and there are no shortage of options to look at here. Obviously a lot will depend on the offseason and what teams do in trades and free agency, but we are just looking at teams in the best position right now to improve.
The Stars seem like the most obvious choice given their success the previous two seasons and the injury situation they dealt with. Right behind them are the Rangers and Flyers, and a couple of teams that could be sleepers going into the 2021-22 season.
Where does your team (assuming it missed the playoffs this season) land on this week’s NHL Power Rankings?
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The Most Likely candidates
1. Dallas Stars. This is an easy pick. During the 2019 and 2020 postseasons no team won more playoff games than the Stars, and they are just one-year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are their two best offensive players and were limited to just 14 games total(and they never played in a game together), while Ben Bishop never played. When healthy they have a great top line, some strong complementary pieces, good goaltending depth, and a pair of No. 1 defenders (Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg). They also had an unfathomable run of bad luck in overtime and shootouts. This season is the outlier.
2. New York Rangers. They totally cleaned house by firing John Davidson, Jeff Gorton, and head coach David Quinn because there was a belief they underachieved. But did they? They were stuck in a division with four Cup contenders, lost Artemi Panarin and Igor Shesterkin for extended periods of time, and had a slow start from Mika Zibanejad as he returned from COVID. Having Panarin, Shesterkin, and a fully healthy Zibanejad all year would have made a significant difference, and they probably would have been a playoff team this season had they played in any of the other three divisions. The young talent on this team is as impressive as any other team in the league, while they have two established stars in Panarin and Zibanejad.
3. Philadelphia Flyers. Their season was sabotaged by an old problem — goaltending. Specifically, Carter Hart not only failing to take a step forward, but significantly regressing. They need him to return to the form he showed in his first two seasons, and they could also use a big addition on defense to help strengthen their blue line.
The division makes it possible
4. Calgary Flames. A big step backwards for the Flames as they put together one of their worst seasons in nearly a decade. The offense dried up, Jacob Markstrom did not perform the way the Flames expected him to in goal, and it was just an overall disappointing season. Next year they return to the Pacific Division where they will be surrounded by two teams at the top (Vegas and Edmonton), a bunch of rebuilding teams, and an expansion team (Seattle). They should be better than this.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]
Long shots, but possible
5. Arizona Coyotes. They hung around in the playoff race for a while this season before running out of steam down the stretch. They have a ton of unrestricted free agents to deal, especially on defense, but they have some strong pieces at the top (Jakob Chychrun, Phil Kessel, Conor Garland, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Clayton Keller) and moving to the Central Division next season with some flawed teams and what should be a wide open race for the third automatic spot.
6. New Jersey Devils. You know what makes the Devils interesting? Jack Hughes being another year older and on the verge of a breakout season, hopefully a fully healthy Nico Hischier and Mackenzie Blackwood, and an enormous amount of salary cap space to play with in an offseason where other teams around the league are going to have to shed salary or make tough expansion draft decisions. The Devils could be there to pounce on all of that and really start to build something around Hughes, Hischier, and Blackwood.
7. Vancouver Canucks. What the Canucks have going for them: They have the high-end talent a team needs to compete, and like Calgary and Arizona are playing in a division that is wide open. What the Canucks have working against them: An awful salary cap situation, no depth beyond the top players, and a front office that has not been great at managing its assets.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets. Pretty much everything went wrong for the Blue Jackets this season, and they should be better than this. Will they respond to a different coach? A lot of this team’s success will depend on what the goalies do, and whether or not they can figure out a way to get more out of Max Domi and Patrik Laine.
[Related: Blue Jackets, John Tortorella mutually agree to part ways]
9. Chicago Blackhawks. They definitely have some players. Patrick Kane is still an elite scorer, Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik are strong top-six forwards, and they found out this year that Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashav look like NHL players. A full season of Kirby Dach and (hopefully) a Jonathan Toews return could really boost the center depth. Scoring depth, defense, and goaltending will still be the big question marks that have to be addressed in a meaningful way. That might be too much to address in one offseason.
10. Los Angeles Kings. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are still really good players and they have one of the absolute best farm systems in the league. You also have to anticipate they will be in the market for a major splash in the offseason (*cough* Jack Eichel?) given their trade assets to work with and salary cap space.
Start thinking about 2022
11. Ottawa Senators. They are getting there. They really are. They finished this season with a winning record over their final 41 games, they have a great collection of young talent, and they have salary cap space. But ownership has to be willing to spend to the cap, and they are going back to a division where Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto have the three automatic spots locked down. That means a Wild Card spot is probably the ceiling right now, and I just do not see that big of a jump in one offseason. The 2022-23 season is the season to look at.
12. Detroit Red Wings. Everything we just said about Ottawa: Repeat it here. Same thing applies. Their young talent just seems to be a little bit behind where Ottawa’s is.
[Related: What went wrong for the 2020-21 Detroit Red Wings]
13. San Jose Sharks. An aging, declining core, a lot of bad contracts, no goalie, and not much young talent on the horizon makes for a bleak situation in San Jose for the foreseeable future. They have a .444 points percentage, 27th in the NHL, over the past two years.
14. Buffalo Sabres. They look like they are on the verge of starting a rebuild to try and fix their most recent rebuild. This is not a good team to begin with, and you have to consider the possibility that Jack Eichel and/or Sam Reinhart will be playing for somebody else next season.
15. Anaheim Ducks. They just cannot commit to a full rebuild and there is not really anything here that offers a lot of short-term or long-term hope that they will be competing for the playoffs or a championship anytime soon.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.