As the NHL’s 32 teams all work their way back from the holiday break — and various postponements due to COVID-19 — it’s time for another round of the power rankings. And this week, we’re also laying out the most pivotal situations for every club by identifying one big question for 2022.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the last edition, published on Dec. 15. Points percentages are through Tuesday’s games.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 0.758
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Jan. 7), vs. FLA (Jan. 8), @ PHI (Jan. 11)
Can the Hurricanes stay balanced? Carolina’s having a great season, and a big reason is they are an exceedingly well-balanced club. The Hurricanes are top 10 in several major categories — shots against, goals against, goals for, special teams — and get great contributions up front and on the blue line, and are strong in net. That recipe is hard to perfect and even tougher to sustain.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 0.727
Next seven days: @ DAL (Jan. 6), @ CAR (Jan 8.), vs. VAN (Jan. 11)
Can the Panthers’ depth keep holding? Florida has had to test the depths of its, well, depth all season. Key injuries (to Aleksander Barkov, Sergei Bobrovsky and Anthony Duclair, among others), a team-wide outbreak of COVID-19 and patches of inconsistent goaltending have challenged the Panthers, but they’ve rallied contributions to stay a top team in the league. That’s the energy Florida needs to bring into 2022.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 0.710
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Jan. 5), @ COL (Jan. 8), @ VGK (Jan. 11)
Can the Leafs win a playoff round? We’re all thinking it. Regular-season success might mean less for Toronto than any other team this season. Love ’em or loathe ’em, everyone will be watching to see if the Leafs can finally get over that hump and out of the first round.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 0.690
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Jan. 6), vs. TOR (Jan. 8), vs. SEA (Jan. 10), @ NSH (Jan. 11)
Can the Avalanche keep scoring like this? Colorado is the only team in the NHL averaging over four goals per game, which is even more impressive considering they’ve had their share of COVID-19-related issues. That offense has just kept rolling, and it has lessened the impact of Colorado also being top 10 in goals allowed. Sustaining their current scoring pace will be a tall order; do the Avalanche have enough skill to do it?
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 0.706
Next seven days: @ STL (Jan. 7), @ MIN (Jan. 8), vs. BOS (Jan. 10)
Can the Capitals fix their power play? There’s not a whole lot to nitpick about Washington this season, except its glaringly (and somewhat inexplicably) bad power play. First, you’ve got the NHL’s all-time-leading power play goal scorer (that’s Alex Ovechkin) on the ice. So how is that man advantage only at 15%? Again, the Capitals are having a great season, but fixing that power play should be a priority to maximize potential playoff success.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 0.700
Next seven days: vs. CGY (Jan. 6), vs. BOS (Jan. 8), @ NJ (Jan. 10), @ BUF (Jan. 11)
Can the Lightning three-peat? Not since the New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983 has an NHL team achieved a three-peat. Tampa could be next, although it stumbled into 2022 with three straight losses (and was outscored 17-6). Having Andrei Vasilevskiy back and healthy should help with that — and Tampa’s chances of another Cup championship could pivot on another elite run from the young Russian goaltender.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 0.706
Next seven days: @ VGK (Jan. 6), @ ANA (Jan. 8), @ LA (Jan. 10)
Can the Rangers go all-in? We know New York has great goaltending from Igor Shesterkin. We know Chris Kreider is having an underrated season, that Adam Fox is a terrific defender, that Artemi Panarin is an elite forward. It can still seem like the Rangers are a step off from competing with the NHL’s best, something that could be remedied before the trade deadline. If GM Chris Drury thinks his team is close, New York could be active in making the right addition to push from being a midrange to a high-end Cup contender.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 0.652
Next seven days: @ PIT (Jan. 5), vs. WSH (Jan. 7), vs. DAL (Jan. 9)
Can the Blues play Cup-worthy defense? If you’ve seen Jordan Kyrou or Vladimir Tarasenko lately, you know St. Louis has scoring prowess to spare. It’s the Blues’ defensive game that’s needed attention and could potentially hold them back from another Stanley Cup run. Colton Parayko rebounding from a tough start will be crucial. The growth of 25-year-old Niko Mikkola must be accelerated. And of course, good team defense will go a long way in helping netminder Jordan Binnington.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 0.645
Next seven days: @ TB (Jan. 6), @ CAR (Jan. 7)
Can the Flames rise again? Before its full-blown COVID-19 outbreak, Calgary was among the NHL’s elite. And the Flames won their first two games back in action. There’s a lot of ground to make up, though, in the league’s upcoming schedule crunch, and Calgary’s overall endurance will be tested. How well can they handle the heat?
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 0.645
Next seven days: @ BOS (Jan. 6), vs. WSH (Jan. 8)
Can the Wild keep climbing? The new year got off to a rocky start in Minnesota, with a 6-4 loss to St. Louis in the Winter Classic following 12 days without games due to COVID-19 postponements and the holidays. Regardless, that was also the Wild’s fifth straight defeat and third time in that stretch they allowed six or more goals. How Minnesota gets out of its season-long losing streak will tell us a lot about the team’s foundation, and where it can take them after a terrific start to the campaign.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 0.625
Next seven days: vs. NYR (Jan. 6), vs. CHI (Jan. 8), vs. TOR (Jan. 11)
Can the Golden Knights be a top contender with Jack Eichel? Vegas ended 2021 on a high note, winning 10 of 12 games up to Dec. 31. The 2022 part of the season will be all about the addition of Jack Eichel. The forward has been skating for about a month following neck surgery, and whenever he’s ready to play, there’s little doubt the impact Eichel can make. How far that can help carry the Golden Knights will be a story worth watching.
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 0.661
Next seven days: vs. STL (Jan. 5), @ PHI (Jan. 6), @ DAL (Jan. 8), @ ANA (Jan. 11)
Can the Penguins stay stingy? One of the bright spots all season in Pittsburgh has been minimizing shots and goals against (great goaltending from Tristan Jarry has certainly helped on that, too). No matter who has been in and out of the lineup, the Penguins have been relatively consistent in their structure and identity as a tough team to play against. Maintaining that as more healthy players return will be a major component in continued success.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 0.647
Next seven days: @ LA (Jan. 6), @ ARI (Jan. 8), vs. COL (Jan. 11)
Can the Predators continue to surprise? In October, Nashville might not have projected as a playoff contender. Now it’s on pace to finish high in the Central Division and have multiple 20-plus goal scorers. The Predators have been locking it down defensively, too, sitting top 10 in goals against. If that keeps up, along with the success so far up front, they could make some noise this spring.
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 0.597
Next seven days: vs. DET (Jan. 6), vs. NYR (Jan. 8), vs. PIT (Jan. 11)
Can the Ducks keep pace in the Pacific? Anaheim has been a surprise playoff contender so far, but the Pacific Division is about to get interesting. Calgary is back from its COVID-19 pause, Vancouver is surging, Edmonton is faltering, Vegas is improving. Will the Ducks continue to stay in the mix? Or will this young team succumb to a second-half slide?
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 0.621
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Jan. 6), @ TB (Jan. 8), @ WSH (Jan. 10)
Can the Bruins build back an identity? It has been a weird season in Boston, from early injuries to sporadic illnesses to a COVID-19 pause. The Bruins weren’t striking their usual balance of bruising physicality with top-notch skill. Boston has looked more like itself, though, as 2022 begins, with an uptick in secondary scoring and terrific blue-line play from Charlie McAvoy.
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 0.576
Next seven days: @ TOR (Jan. 5), vs. OTT (Jan. 10)
Can the Oilers ever reach their potential? There’s something off in Edmonton. The Oilers have all the assets needed to be a top team, and yet they’re 2-8-2 in their past 12, fall behind early (and often) in games, their goaltending is mediocre and (beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) Edmonton’s not striking much fear into opponents. It’s a curious issue, and has Edmonton falling short of where it was to start the season.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 0.578
Next seven days: @ COL (Jan. 6)
Can the Jets get in a groove? What hasn’t Winnipeg been through this season? There have been COVID-19 setbacks, major injuries and a head coach’s resignation. All the while, Winnipeg has tried to keep up in the Central Division without fully establishing a rhythm. Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor have done their part offensively to elevate the Jets, and there’s no more room for passengers in the new year.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 0.515
Next seven days: vs. OTT (Jan. 8), @ FLA (Jan. 11)
Can the Canucks keep their spark? Blame it on the Bruce Boudreau bump. Under their new head coach, the Canucks are thriving and making a rapid rise in the standings. Through the first nine games after Boudreau took over, Vancouver had the best winning percentage (.944) in the NHL and looked like a team that could propel itself into playoff contention.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 0.515
Next seven days: @ BUF (Jan. 6), @ PHI (Jan. 8), vs. DET (Jan. 11)
Can the Sharks find something special? Everything about San Jose is fine. But what could really make this team pop? The Sharks are in the middle of a tough Pacific Division battle and to win out, they need that X factor to emerge. Will it be more commitment defensively? More consistent goaltending? Increased secondary scoring? A young star making a leap? Time will tell.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 0.552
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Jan. 6), vs. PIT (Jan. 8), @ STL (Jan. 9)
Can the Stars get more from their stars? Dallas has been working through a serious COVID-19 outbreak that has kept the team from playing in over two weeks. When Dallas is back in business, will its most important players be up and running, too? Tyler Seguin has 12 points in 29 games, Jamie Benn has 15 (in 29), and Alexander Radulov has 12 (in 28). The Stars need more output to get some traction up the standings, and there’s no time like the present to get started.
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 0.515
Next seven days: @ ANA (Jan. 6), @ LA (Jan. 8), @ SJ (Jan. 11)
Can the Red Wings be better than average? Detroit entered 2022 as a .500 team, still in the mix for a wild-card playoff spot but with the potential to fade quickly. Why? Going into Tuesday’s game against San Jose, Detroit had two wins in its past eight. That’s after a stretch in which the club won nine of 14. There’s potential in the Red Wings; they showed it early in the season. Now past their COVID-19 issues, Detroit needs to reengage with what has worked before.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 0.485
Next seven days: vs. PIT (Jan. 6), vs. SJ (Jan. 8), vs. CAR (Jan. 11)
Can the Flyers decide on a direction? Philadelphia has a few choices to make, and most depend on where the team sees itself going. As a middle-of-the-pack club in the Metropolitan Division, Philadelphia could push their chips in and try to make a go at the playoffs. That likely means not moving pending free agent Claude Giroux for prospects and picks before the trade deadline. Or the Flyers could call this season a wash and gather pieces for years to come. It’s a lot to figure out in not a lot of time.
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 0.561
Next seven days: vs. NSH (Jan. 6), vs. DET (Jan. 8), vs. NYR (Jan. 10)
Can the Kings break on through? L.A. hasn’t been on a real winning streak since late October into November. Mostly, the Kings have sandwiched a few wins between losses, relying heavily on the performances of Jonathan Quick in net. But the team itself is in decent position, hovering over .500 and in the wild-card conversation. With more consistency, the Kings could push their way further into the picture.
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 0.500
Next seven days: @ NJ (Jan. 6), vs. NJ (Jan. 8), vs. CHI (Jan. 11)
Can the Blue Jackets learn to finish? Columbus had one of the lowest win percentages (.500) in the NHL through 30 games when leading after the first period. There have been increasing examples lately of Columbus blowing multigoal leads and struggling to close teams out. It’s not as if the Blue Jackets don’t have ability; they’re near the top 10 in the NHL in scoring. Those self-inflicted wounds add up, and Columbus needs to stop the bleeding.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 0.456
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Jan. 6), @ CBJ (Jan. 8), vs. TB (Jan. 10)
Can the Devils rely on Nico Hischier? This query might seem like it’s just about New Jersey’s captain Nico Hischier, but it’s also a bigger-picture thing. The Devils seem to all play better with Hischier in the lineup, and injuries/illnesses have kept him out for too much of the season already. But Hischier looks like he’s turning a corner; after struggling to score earlier, Hischier had three goals in a recent two-game stretch, a promising resolution for New Jersey’s prospects in 2022, though he missed Tuesday’s game with a lower-body injury.
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 0.464
Next seven days: N/A
Can the Islanders get unpaused? A landslide of COVID-19 complications and cancellations has hurt New York this season, and their inconsistency on the ice hasn’t helped either. It might be too late for the Islanders to get back in the hunt, but they have too much talent to simply fade quietly. Having played only 28 games in an (expected) 82-game slate does provide some time to catch up, and the Islanders should be more than rested for a run when their schedule gets mapped out again.
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 0.409
Next seven days: @ ARI (Jan. 6), @ VGK (Jan. 8), @ CBJ (Jan. 11)
Can the Blackhawks recapture the magic? It was all going so well. Derek King took over behind Chicago’s bench in November, and a 1-9-2 team began to blossom. The Blackhawks were more confident, more engaged and more successful. Recently, the luster has come off. The Blackhawks look flat, and a little lost. It could be just a bump in the road, or a sign of further derailment to come. Chicago will be looking at King to get that buy-in back from his players.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 0.394
Next seven days: vs. SJ (Jan. 6), vs. TB (Jan. 11)
Can the Sabres stay positive? Being on a losing team isn’t fun. Credit to Buffalo for keeping a good attitude about it. The Sabres have continuously been a tough out, and even pulled off a couple upsets in December against Minnesota and Winnipeg. Continuing to build confidence through strong habits and a positive mindset would go a long way for Buffalo’s core with its eye on the future.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 0.345
Next seven days: @ VAN (Jan. 8), @ EDM (Jan. 10)
Can the Senators help resurrect Matt Murray‘s career? Listen, Ottawa isn’t making the playoffs. The Senators are amid a second team outbreak of COVID-19, and what has happened on the ice in between those breaks has been lackluster. That includes the play of Matt Murray, just back from a demotion to the AHL. Ottawa invested a lot in Murray — $25 million over four years, to be exact — and there are still two seasons to go on that deal. If Murray at least can get back in a good place, this season could pay dividends in the longer term.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 0.364
Next seven days: @ COL (Jan. 10)
Can the Kraken get some good goaltending? It’s hard being an expansion team. It’s harder still when your centerpiece goaltender — Philipp Grubauer — is having a very poor season. Fortunately for Grubauer and the Kraken, backup goalie Chris Driedger is getting healthy and could take some pressure off Grubauer, and let Seattle settle in a bit.
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 0.265
Next seven days: N/A
Can the Canadiens salvage something this season? Montreal won seven of its first 34 games. In nearly every league category, the Canadiens are at or near the bottom. Now it seems like the entire team is in COVID-19 protocols. It’s improbable, but not impossible, that the Canadiens bounce back in some form following their latest pause. Anything that breeds confidence for the future (whether on the ice or an active trade deadline day) would likely be enough.
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 0.242
Next seven days: vs. CHI (Jan. 6), vs. NSH (Jan. 8)
Can the Coyotes win the draft lottery? It would be a game-changer for Arizona to see its name atop the draft board for 2022, with the chance to select an impact player like Shane Wright.