NHL Power Rankings: Top 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs storylines

In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we continue to get you ready for the start of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the top storylines to watch ranging from Tampa Bay’s quest for another championship, to the possibility of a dark horse team making a run, and everything in between.

What all makes the cut this week?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Tampa Bay’s quest for a third straight Stanley Cup. Only two different franchises have managed to win three straight Stanley Cups in the post-Original Six era (the 1970s Montreal Canadiens and the 1980s New York Islanders), so the Lightning are trying to make some history. Will Andrei Vasilevskiy run out of steam? Did they adequately replace their depth? Can they put it all together again for another championship? Over the past five teams that won back-to-back Cups four of them lost in the second round in their bid for a three-peat, while the fifth lost in the First Round.

2. Will the Toronto Maple Leafs win a round? Franchise regular season records in wins and points, Auston Matthews60 goals, and Mitch Marner‘s 97 points will not matter if this team, and this core, loses again in the First Round. This current group has lost in the First Round five years in a row, while it has been 16 seasons since the franchise played a game in the Second Round. It is an outstanding team and a very fun team. But it has to do something this time of year to avoid being an annual punchline.

3. Pressure is on Colorado. The Avalanche are now at that point in their development where it becomes Stanley Cup or bust. They have been a top-tier team for three years now, have the best roster in the league on paper, and have yet to reach even the Western Conference Final with this core. If they go out in the Second Round again (or earlier) they are going to start to get the same heat teams like Tampa Bay and Washington got in recent years for not winning (until they did). They have been the odds on favorites all year. That brings pressure.

4. The Penguins core takes another run. For 16 years the Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang Penguins have been mainstays in the playoffs and the most successful organization in the league during that time. The latter two players (and Bryan Rust, another two-time champion) are all unrestricted free agents after this season with uncertain futures. They may be playing in different places next season.

5. This is Edmonton’s chance to do something. The Oilers have looked like a completely different team since the coaching change and did not waste another year of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl‘s prime, actually getting them to the playoffs. Now they have a chance to actually make a run. They are going to be heavy favorites against Los Angeles and would have a very good chances in a potential Second Round matchup against Calgary or Dallas. This is a manageable path, but it is going to require Mike Smith to continue his strong play from the end of the regular season.

[Related: 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs Predictions]

6. Goalie injuries in Carolina, Pittsburgh, Nashville. This is not the position you want to have uncertainty at in the playoffs. The Hurricanes (Frederik Andersen), Penguins (Tristan Jarry), and Predators (Juuse Saros) are all opening their First Round series with their starting goalies on the bench, with no timeline for when any of them will return. Carolina has the best backup situation of the three as long as Antti Raanta stays healthy, but how is Nashville going to get by Colorado without Saros? Might be the toughest task in the playoffs.

7. Sergei Bobrovsky shaking off his playoff struggles. The Panthers can score on any team in the playoffs, but the question is going to be if Bobrovsky can stop anybody. His career playoff numbers are among the worst in the league among active goalies and he was miserable a year ago before being benched. This is definitely something to watch.

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8. How will Minnesota handle its goalie tandem? Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Cam Talbot have been outstanding since they were united as a tandem at the trade deadline, and it gives Minnesota a strong last line of defense behind an already strong team. Fleury has had his playoff struggles in the past, but he has also had some very strong postseason performances. Will they continue to alternate? Will Dean Evason lean on Fleury’s track record and Stanley Cup resume?

9. Will the regular season goal scoring increase carry over to the playoffs? The 2021-22 regular season was one of the highest scoring seasons the NHL has seen in decades. But what happens now that we get to the playoffs? Do teams play more conservatively? Do referees look the other way at obstruction and interference and stick infractions? Does the fun get sucked out of the game like it always seems to this time of year?

10. Which goalie emerges for the Capitals, and will it even matter? The Capitals probably have the most unsettled goalie dynamic going into the playoffs with neither Ilya Samsonov or Vitek Vanecek taking the job and running with it. One of them has to start, but will any of them be good enough? And even if they are solid, will that matter against a Florida team that scores almost four and a half goals per game?

[Related: Why your team will (and will not) win the Stanley Cup]

11. Is Ville Husso the guy for the Blues? The Blues gave Jordan Binnington a massive contract extension that starts this season, but he has been awful in his past couple of playoff appearances and has been significantly outplayed by Ville Husso this season. The Blues have one of the deepest (and best) offenses in the league, but are not going to go anywhere if they can not keep the puck out of their own net. Husso is their best chance based on play this season, but he has almost no track record to speak of and is very much an unknown in the playoffs.

12. Which trade deadline acquisition will pay off the most? Will it be a blockbuster move like Claude Giroux in Florida? A smart move like Andrew Copp in New York or Rickard Rakell in Pittsburgh? Or perhaps Marc-Andre Fleury in Minnesota?

13. Which division champion will lose? Pretty much every year at least one division champion gets upset in the First Round, so odds are at least one of Colorado, Florida, Calgary, or Carolina is in danger. Carolina has a tough matchup and a goalie question. Florida has a goalie question. Those would be the two highest probabilities.

14. Veterans chasing their first Stanley Cup. Always something that gets a lot of attention this time of year. Joe Thornton, Claude Giroux, Mike Smith, Ryan Suter, and Joe Pavelski are all veterans in search of the elusive championship. Thornton will be the player that gets the most attention here given his age and the fact he is at the end of his career.

15. Rangers ready for a run? The pressure was on for the Rangers to make real progress this season and go from rebuilding team to playoff team. They are here. Now the question is if they are ready to take an even bigger step and make a serious run at the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1994. They have the goalie, they have the top-line stars, they have the top defender, and they tinkered with their complementary pieces at the trade deadline.

16. Can the Stars find enough offense beyond their top line to have a chance? This has been a year-long problem for the Stars. Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Pavelski have been excellent (dominant, even) all season, but the Stars do not get much offense beyond that trio. One line teams do not tend to do very well in the playoffs.

[Related: 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, TV information]

17. Potential last rides for Brown, Thornton, Bergeron? We already know Dustin Brown is retiring in Los Angeles, and Joe Thornton probably does not have many (if any) seasons remaining after this. But what about Patrice Bergeron‘s future? Does he return to Boston? Retire?

18. Darryl Sutter’s defense locking down another playoff series. This is the time to shine for Sutter-coached teams. Locking things down in the playoffs and grinding games to a halt with a strong goalie. He did it before in Calgary, did it in LA, and now he is back in Calgary with a deep team and excellent goalie in a very winnable divisional bracket.

19. Will Nazem Kadri be able to keep things under control? Not a major storyline but definitely something to keep an eye on. He may not like carrying around that prior baggage from past suspensions, but sometimes you create your own storyline and Kadri has had three of his recent postseasons cut short by lengthy suspensions that have taken him out of different series’. Something about the playoffs makes him lose sight of where the line is. Colorado needs him in the lineup and on the ice.

20. Who can be this year’s Montreal? The past two Stanley Cup Finals have featured teams that entered the playoffs with little to no expectations (Montreal and Dallas). Is there another unexpected run to be had here? Nashville with a healthy Juuse Saros would have been a good possibility, but his injury makes it difficult to imagine. Could Dallas pull off an upset or two in the Pacific?

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    Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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    FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

    The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

    Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

    “Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

    Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

    The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

    Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

    mark stone surgery
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    LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

    The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

    This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

    But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

    Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

    Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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    DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

    Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

    The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

    According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

    The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

    Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

    Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

    The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

    The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

    Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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    DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

    At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

    “Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

    The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

    There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

    The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

    “Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

    “Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

    The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

    “Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

    Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

    “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

    The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

    Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

    Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

    Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

    “They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”