In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue our look at the top-30 storylines to watch for the 2021-22 NHL season.
We have been looking at 10 storylines each Monday. We continue today with the top-10 including Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Ovechkin‘s run at history, the Olympics, the Seattle Kraken, the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres.
Which stories make the cut this week?
[You can read Part 1 here] | [You can read Part 2 here]
To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!
10. Future of the Arizona Coyotes. As always, there is a lot going on here with the Coyotes. On the ice the team is going all in on a complete rebuild that has seen them overturn a significant portion of the roster, trade key veterans (Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Christian Dvorak) and stockpile a ton of draft picks in the near future. But they also have that pesky arena situation looming over everything with Glendale cutting ties with them after this season, the team submitting a bit for an arena in Tempe, and the team likely needing to find a temporary solution in between, all while remaining in the valley. It is never boring with this team.
9. Vladimir Tarasenko and the St. Louis Blues. Tarasenko made headlines over the offseason by requesting a trade, but as the 2021-22 season approaches he remains in St. Louis and is committed to playing his best as long as he is there. But what exactly happens here? Is a trade still on the table? And what sort of season is ahead for Tarasenko? Injuries have robbed him of most of the past two seasons, while his production plummeted this past season (almost certainly due to not being totally healthy). When he is 100 percent he should still be one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, and getting that sort of production would be a huge boost for the Blues. Or a huge boost to his trade value.
8. The Maple Leafs core gets another run. After yet another disappointing First Round exit, the fifth in a row for this group, the Maple Leafs again only made minor tweaks to their roster. No major trades. No major changes. Bringing back the same core, same head coach, same general manager. This season has the feel of a true make-or-break season for pretty much all of them. They are now more than six years into this thing and simply making the playoffs is no longer an acceptable result. They have to do something, and if it does not happen this season there is no way they can bring back the same group next season.
7. Consecutive games streak record. Doug Jarvis’ record of 964 consecutive games played is in danger of not only falling this season, but being passed by three different players. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Keith Yandle is the closest, needing just 42 games to match it (and 43 to pass it). Arizona Coyotes forward Phil Kessel is 64 games behind, while current free agent Patrick Marleau is 54 games away. Playing nearly 1,000 games in a row without missing any is truly magnificent accomplishment in the NHL.
6. Alex Ovechkin keeps climbing the goal scoring leaderboard. Ovechkin has a chance to make a significant leap on the goal scoring leader board this season and could find himself as high as third all-time by the end of the season. He enters the season in sixth place with 730 career goals, just one behind Marcel Dionne for the fifth spot. Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) are also both well within reach this season as he continues to close in on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time record of 894 career goals.
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5. Tampa Bay Lightning three-peat attempt. The NHL has not had a three-peat since the New York Islanders back in the early 1980s, while there have only been a handful of teams (Edmonton, Pittsburgh on two different occasions, Detroit) that have even had a chance at it since then. The Lightning are the latest team to go for it. They lost quite a few key players this offseason in a salary cap crunch, but they are still returning a magnificent roster and core that has helped produce the league’s best team for the past seven seasons.
4. The NHL returns to the Olympics. After missing the 2018 Olympic games, the NHL is making its return for the 2022 Games in Beijing. That means Connor McDavid plays in his first Olympics, Sidney Crosby gets a chance to add another gold medal to his individual trophy case, and the United States team gets a chance to disappoint everybody again with its roster selection for an international tournament. Canada has won three of the past four golds in which NHL players have participated.
3. The Seattle Kraken. The NHL’s 32nd team begins play this season as the Kraken enter the league. All eyes will be on them to see if they can come close to replicating the immediate success of the league’s most recent expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Maybe that is setting the bar way too high, but given the overall quality of the Pacific Division, and the fact Seattle should have some strong goaltending and spent big money on its defense, the window is open for the Kraken to be competitive this season.
2. The Chicago Blackhawks. The absolute biggest story here is what — if anything — comes from the investigations into the sexual assault allegations and lawsuits the team is facing. Two lawsuits were filed accusing a former assistant coach of sexually assaulting two former players during the 2010 season. The team has pledged to release the findings of its independent investigation, but nobody knows when that will be or what the end result will be. General manager Stan Bowman and several other executives were reportedly made aware of the incidents during that season, but nothing was reported at the time to the NHL or local police. Will any of it result in changes to the organization? Will it all be swept aside? That is what everybody should be watching this season regarding this team.
The secondary storyline here is on the ice, where the Blackhawks made major changes to the roster this offseason to add Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, Tyler Johnson, and Marc-Andre Fleury to the roster, while jettisoning the contracts of Duncan Keith (Edmonton for Caleb Jones) and Brent Seabrook (Tampa Bay for Tyler Johnson). They will also be getting team captain and top-line center Jonathan Toews back after he missed the entirety of the 2020-21 season. The Blackhawks’ only playoff appearance over the past four seasons was the 2019-20 bubble situation when they snuck in as the 23rd ranked team in the league.
1. Jack Eichel and the Buffalo Sabres. What a nightmare situation this has turned into for the Sabres. The team is lousy, it needs another massive rebuild to fix the mess of its previous failed rebuild (which was started to fix the mess of its previous rebuild) and now bridges seem burned with the best player on the roster, Jack Eichel. They can not agree on the best course of action for surgery to fix a neck issue, he has been stripped of his captaincy, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he has already played his last game in Buffalo, and now we just sit back and wait for some sort of resolution, both medically and on the ice. The two biggest questions now seem to be where is he going to be traded to, and how bad of a return are the Sabres going to get after all of this mess? This is not how this rebuild was supposed to go. The Sabres are likely to miss the playoffs for a 10th consecutive season.
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.