We’re into the final week-plus (for most teams) of the 2021 NHL season, and while 16 of them will be competing for the Stanley Cup this spring and summer, 15 of them will begin to devise their plan to get back in the playoff mix in 2021-22.
Usually, it’s a pretty straightforward exercise of determining which free agents to re-sign and which to let explore the market, along with tweaks to be made via trade, and additions to the pipeline courtesy of the draft. This summer, however, there’s the added wrinkle of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft — and any side deals that must be made to sway GM Ron Francis to stay away from choosing certain players to join his roster.
For this week’s power rankings, we take an early look at the most pressing summer issues for all 31 teams.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 15 edition, published on April 28. Points percentages are through the games of May 4.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: .720
Remaining schedule: @ SJ (May 5); @ LA (May 7, 8); @ VGS (May 10); vs. LA (May 12, 13)
First things first, the Avs have a few players to resign, such as captain Gabriel Landeskog, goalie Philipp Grubauer and restricted free-agent defenseman Cale Makar. Those three will eat into the available cap space, and the expansion draft will likely see one contributor move to Seattle. The team as assembled is a Cup favorite, and holding on to its key players is the best move.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: .745
Remaining schedule: vs. CHI (May 6); @ NSH (May 8, 10)
The team boasting the best record in the league also expects to have nearly $30 million in cap space, which it will need to use to re-sign a few key free agents. Dougie Hamilton has been one of the best defensemen in the league since his trade to Carolina, and will command a premium contract as he hits free agency at age 28. Past that, the Hurricanes will need to work out extensions with forward Andrei Svechnikov and at least two of their three free-agent goalies.
3. Vegas Golden Knights
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: .725
Remaining schedule: @ MIN (May 5); vs. STL (May 7, 8); vs. COL (May 10); @ SJ (May 12)
The Knights have a lot of money tied up in their crease, but the goaltending has been essential to the success of this contender. The summer will likely see defenseman Alec Martinez move on, but if the Golden Knights are one piece away from the Cup, I’d like to see them swing for the fences here, and add one more top-notch scorer for their power play.
4. Washington Capitals
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: .683
Remaining schedule: @ NYR (May 5); vs. PHI (May 7, 8); vs. BOS (May 11)
Kind of a “no, duh” answer, but with franchise star Alex Ovechkin being an unrestricted free agent this summer, the Capitals need to come to a deal that will see Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s goal-scoring record in the coming seasons while wearing a Caps sweater. Beyond that, they will likely have to move a contract or two to fit Ovi’s extension into a structure that is already nearly capped out.
5. Florida Panthers
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: .694
Remaining schedule: vs. TB (May 8, 10)
The Panthers made a flurry of changes to their forward group last offseason, but their offense did not suffer for it, as they lead the league in goals scored and shots per game thanks to four strong lines. However, they will have up to six pending free agents from their forward group, and will have to replace that offense should any of them walk.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: .702
Remaining schedule: vs. DAL (May 5, 7); @ FLA (May 8, 10)
The window is wide open for the Lightning to make another deep Cup run, but the bill is coming due soon. The Lightning will need to find new homes for some contracts to alleviate the cap situation. Tampa will likely have to add picks to entice a team to take on one of its heavier contracts, or even strike a deal with Seattle before the expansion draft.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: .692
Remaining schedule: vs. MTL (May 6, 8); @ OTT (May 12); @ WPG (May 14)
Is Frederik Andersen the guy for the future? Is Jack Campbell? Andersen is an unrestricted free agent, and GM Kyle Dubas has a critical decision to make. The Leafs have very little cap room, so if they run with Campbell, they will need to secure a veteran backup at a discount price. With the injuries the team has already suffered in net this season, the Leafs likely need more than just one reliable backup.
8. Minnesota Wild
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: .686
Remaining schedule: vs. VGS (May 5); vs. ANA (May 7, 8); @ STL (May 12, 13)
The surprise contenders out of the West are in good shape capwise, as they’re led by a young core. However, the Wild have a few free agents-to-be in their forward group: Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad and, most notably, Nick Bonino. Re-signing some of their own free agents, while looking to add help on the NHL’s 22nd-ranked power play, would be a fine offseason in Minnesota.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: .676
Remaining schedule: vs. BUF (May 6, 8)
The goalie tandem for the Penguins has been inconsistent, but usually when one netminder struggles, the other can pick it up. Tristan Jarry is on a roll at the right time, but the Penguins still have some weaknesses, in particular the NHL’s seventh-worst penalty kill. GM Ron Hextall will have very little cap room to work with as the Penguins aim to shore up their special teams, either with a new defenseman or goalie.
10. Boston Bruins
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: .663
Remaining schedule: vs. NYR (May 6, 8); vs. NYI (May 10); @ WSH (May 11)
Due to the expiring deals of David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Taylor Hall, the Bruins will have a healthy amount of cap space with which to work. However, Krejci and Hall have played so well together that it might be in Boston’s best interests to re-sign them both. Should the Bruins ink new deals with their pair of forwards, it could likely accelerate the handing of the keys to the crease to rookie Jeremy Swayman sooner than some might expect.
11. New York Islanders
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: .642
Remaining schedule: vs. NJ (May 6, 8); @ BOS (May 10)
The Islanders will have limited cap space this summer, and a few RFAs like Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier receiving a raise. There’s no way around it: The Isles will have key contributors exposed during the expansion draft, so perhaps GM Lou Lamoriello needs to strike a deal with Seattle to send a pick to the Kraken in exchange for taking a contract off of his hands.
12. Edmonton Oilers
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: .647
Remaining schedule: vs. VAN (May 6, 8); @ MTL (May 10, 12); vs. VAN (May 15)
The Oilers have two of the best players in the game in their primes but need to add the wingers around them to fill out their roster. They will also have to decide if they’re re-signing any of their free agents, such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson or Tyson Barrie.
13. Nashville Predators
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: .566
Remaining schedule: @ CBJ (May 5); vs. CAR (May 8, 10)
The Predators chose not to sell at the deadline, and will likely be rewarded for that with a playoff berth. However, their biggest area of need remains: They need more goal scorers. The emergence of Eeli Tolvanen and continued growth of Filip Forsberg have been welcome, but Nashville will have to make decision on re-signing Mikael Granlund and looking for ways to add scoring with the rest of the money coming off its books this summer.
14. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: .559
Remaining schedule: @ CGY (May 5); vs. OTT (May 8); vs. VAN (May 10, 11); vs. TOR (May 14)
The Jets are in free-fall right now at the worst time, and this is the type of slide that could lead to changes in the offseason. The expansion draft will likely pick off one of their contributors, and the Jets don’t have too many draft picks to work with, either. Though they’re in playoff position, the Jets are bottom third in 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage, and could look at trading from their forward depth to add another defenseman this summer.
15. Montreal Canadiens
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: .559
Remaining schedule: @ OTT (May 5); @ TOR (May 6, 8); vs. EDM (May 10, 12)
The Canadiens are sixth best at getting pucks on net, but only 15th best at getting them in. A middling power-play percentage is a part of that, but they also were affected by injuries to key players. While Montreal is likely to lose at least one of its depth players to Seattle, getting some added scoring help would be the best move for the Canadiens.
16. St. Louis Blues
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: .550
Remaining schedule: vs. ANA (May 5); @ VGS (May 7, 8); @ LA (May 10); vs. MIN (May 12, 13)
Jordan Binnington is likely the Blues’ guy in goal for the future, and won the Cup in the past, but his present has seen some rough stretches. Moving him isn’t realistic, so the Blues should look for a strong veteran backup to replace Jake Allen, who is now part of Montreal’s tandem.
17. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: .538
Remaining schedule: @ TB (May 5, 7); @ CHI (May 9, 10)
The Stars have lost 14 times beyond regulation, most in the league, with a 2-6 record in shootouts contributing to that. Obviously, injuries have taken a bite out of their season, but this offseason, the Stars need to grab a forward or two who can contribute in the shootout.
18. New York Rangers
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: .547
Remaining schedule: vs. WSH (May 5); @ BOS (May 6, 8)
There’s not much wrong with the roster, it’s just young and developing. Adam Fox emerged as a Norris Trophy candidate this season, while Igor Shesterkin grabbed the reins of the starting goaltending job. It’s a cliché, but the Rangers are lacking in playoff-experienced veterans, so a few experienced depth pickups to their middle six and bottom D pairing could go a long way to helping the team gain the edge needed to make the playoffs next season.
19. Chicago Blackhawks
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: .472
Remaining schedule: @ CAR (May 6); vs. DAL (May 9, 10)
Injuries have taken a chunk out of this team, but Chicago needs to add some size on defense. The Blackhawks have been getting outmuscled in front of the net on defense, as they have the third-lightest defenseman corps. The result is that goalie Kevin Lankinen faces the third-shortest average depth of shot from opponents. Re-signing the 6-6, 235-pound Nikita Zadorov could help, but Chicago doesn’t have much cap room with which to work, and Zadorov himself has struggled at times. Most likely, the rebuilding Blackhawks address their needs through a trade.
20. Calgary Flames
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: .470
Remaining schedule: vs. WPG (May 5); vs. OTT (May 9); vs. VAN (May 13); @ VAN (May 16, 18); vs. VAN (May 19)
Some heavy lifting will be needed with this roster, and piecemeal fixes aren’t enough. With Johnny Gaudreau set to be a free agent in 2022, the Flames owe it to themselves to see what their former leading scorer would fetch on the trade market, even coming off of back-to-back disappointing seasons. Gaudreau has a partial no-trade clause, and the Flames could look to send the South Jersey native to the East Coast.
21. Arizona Coyotes
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: .472
Remaining schedule: vs. LA (May 5); @ SJ (May 7, 8)
The Coyotes need help up the middle, as their centers have produced the third fewest points of any group of pivots in the NHL. Perhaps it’s a matter that can be solved internally with their emerging group of Christian Dvorak and Nick Schmaltz, or perhaps they look at a veteran option in free agency.
22. Vancouver Canucks
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: .436
Remaining schedule: @ EDM (May 6, 8); @ WPG (May 10, 11); @ CGY (May 13); @ EDM (May 15); vs. CGY (May 16, 18); @ CGY (May 19)
This franchise will be at a crossroads. A playoff run in 2020 and the signing of Braden Holtby tricked us into thinking the Canucks were contenders, but after a tumultuous 2021 campaign, Vancouver sits near the bottom of the North. If the Canucks decide to commit to a retool, do they look to move captain Bo Horvat or forward J.T. Miller? Vancouver also needs to keep in mind extensions for Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson forthcoming this offseason.
23. Philadelphia Flyers
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: .500
Remaining schedule: @ WSH (May 7, 8); vs. NJ (May 10)
After they won the top seed in the East during the 2020 postseason bubble, things turned sour for the Flyers in 2021. Are they a contender in disguise or do they need to rebuild? If it’s the former, then the Flyers will need to move some contracts to create cap space, because the projected $11 million available, per Cap Friendly, will likely be taken up by extensions to defenseman Travis Sanheim and goalie Carter Hart, both of whom are coming off disappointing seasons.
24. Los Angeles Kings
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: .460
Remaining schedule: @ ARI (May 5); vs. COL (May 7, 8); vs. STL (May 10); @ COL (May 12, 13)
All things considered, this was a good season for the Kings. Their prospects made strides, they had a nice win streak in February, and Calvin Petersen emerged as their new No. 1 goalie. What they need is offense, as the Kings scored the fourth-fewest even-strength goals in the league, and second-fewest goals overall in the West Division. A decision on re-signing Andreas Athanasiou is coming up, as well as using their cap space to add some veteran forwards to surround the impressive pipeline of young talent.
25. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: .433
Remaining schedule: vs. MTL (May 5); @ WPG (May 8); @ CGY (May 9); vs. TOR (May 12)
After their horrible start, the Senators have played much better in the second half of the season, though they’ll finish outside of the playoffs in the North Division. The Senators surrender the fifth-most shots against per game, so some smart pickups or trades to fill out their second and third pairing will help, while they wait for their loaded farm system to graduate to the top club.
26. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: .442
Remaining schedule: vs. COL (May 5); vs. ARI (May 7, 8); vs. VGS (May 12)
Among many problems, the most immediate need for the Sharks is goaltending. Their plan coming into the season to pair Devan Dubnyk and Martin Jones failed, and rookie backup Josef Korenar has not looked quite ready for prime time over the past month. Jones has now struggled for three straight seasons, so adding another veteran option is something that must be done.
27. Detroit Red Wings
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: .417
Remaining schedule: @ CBJ (May 7, 8)
The Red Wings have the worst offense in the league, and are one of the most outshot teams. Injuries have played a part in this, as Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov and Robby Fabbri have all spent time on the injured list. Detroit won’t do anything to compromise the rebuild, but perhaps a few savvy veteran forward pickups or trades can help its young forwards like Filip Zadina, Bertuzzi and trade deadline pickup Jakub Vrana continue to develop.
28. New Jersey Devils
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: .406
Remaining schedule: @ NYI (May 6, 8); @ PHI (May 10)
There’s a lot to like about the Devils’ young offensive group, but the goaltending has been a problem. Mackenzie Blackwood came into the season as the starter but failed to distinguish himself from backup Scott Wedgewood, with both netminders sporting identical .902 save percentages. The Devils have lost 20 games by two or more goals, the third-worst total in the league, and seem to always be playing from behind. Making a move for a goalie would help the situation immensely.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: .415
Remaining schedule: vs. NSH (May 5); vs. DET (May 7, 8)
While many of the rumors out of the Buckeye State concern the future of head coach John Tortorella, GM Jarmo Kekalainen must address his defense corps. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are bona fide top-pair defensemen, but Columbus went from 19th in Corsi for percentage last season to 28th this season, and Blue Jackets blueliners have accounted for the seventh-fewest points by defensemen. The Blue Jackets project to have some cap space with which to maneuver, and securing a defensively strong second pair would do a lot to help them next season.
30. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: .368
Remaining schedule: @ STL (May 5); @MIN (May 7, 8)
Well, the Ducks need help all over the lineup, but their productive farm system has graduated Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale to the main club. The Ducks could move veteran mainstays Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson to add more players on entry-level contacts, or they could use their available cap space, over $19 million per Cap Friendly, to facilitate some deals with other clubs for picks.
31. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: .343
Remaining schedule: @ PIT (May 6, 8)
Where to begin? In reality, their biggest need is to keep star Jack Eichel happy, but as far as on-ice matters, let’s start in net. The Sabres have started six different netminders due to injuries, with their top tandem of Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton hitting free agency. Given the circumstances, Ullmark has played well enough to earn another contract, of which GM Kevyn Adams said to reporters in April, “A priority for us is absolutely to sign Linus, and he and his agent both know that.”