NHL Power Rankings: Non-playoff teams most likely to make 2022 postseason

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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?

To the NHL Power Rankings!

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.

Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

“I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

“It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

“We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

“It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

NEW COACHES

The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

“Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

CAMP TRYOUTS

Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

“They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

EARLY START

Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

“We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

“I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”