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KnupSports NHL Power Rankings May 11

Hockey article at Knup Sports

In the final NHL Power Rankings for the 2021 Season, Dan Bradley recaps the highlights, lowlights, and history made this year.

Well folks, we made it – we’ve hit the final NHL power rankings of the 2021 NHL season. It’s hard to believe just four short months ago, the league embarked on its 56 game schedule to salvage a season, and it’s been one of the most entertaining years in recent memory.

I loved the concept of the two-game mini-series, dialing up the intensity of regular season matchups. I loved seeing the breakout years from so many great rookies, especially the goaltenders. I loved the milestones of Patrick Marleau breaking the all-time NHL games played record, Connor McDavid’s 100 points in 53 games, and Auston Matthews scoring 40 goals in 49 games. I can’t help but wonder how sustainable those performances would have been over an 82 game stretch this season, but the playoffs will be that blissful continuation of on-ice excellence.

My true hope is that you’ve enjoyed reading the NHL Power Rankings as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. I’ve never done more hockey research in my life than I have this season, and I hope those statistical and analytical deep-dives have made reading this weekly feature more enjoyable. If you have suggestions for how to improve them for next season, I’m all ears.

The playoffs should be a heck of a ride, and I look forward to watching as much of it as possible. Until then, one last time this season, here are the final 2021 NHL Power Rankings, as of Tuesday, May 11 at 8:00 A.M.

NHL Power Rankings: #32-21

32. Seattle Kraken, Last Week’s Ranking: (not ranked)

Officially the newest member of the NHL, the Seattle Kraken are coming to poach your favorite player from your favorite team (ok, not necessarily, but teams will have to get creative with protection lists). Seattle’s expansion draft is scheduled for July 21, and there should be plenty of talent available for the picking. Teams will get the choice of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie, OR eight skaters of any position and one goalie. Players with no-trade clauses or no-movement clauses must be protected. There are a few other rules that I won’t get into here, but the rules are the same as they were for the Vegas Golden Knights’ expansion in 2017 (Vegas is exempt from the expansion draft this year).

31. Buffalo Sabres (15-34-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 31

Buffalo has been at the bottom of the NHL Power Rankings since the March 9 edition, and deservedly so. An NHL record 18 consecutive losses. The injury, fallout, and looming trade speculation around star center and captain Jack Eichel. The Taylor Hall disaster. Sabres fans have been looking forward to the offseason for weeks, but the worst may be yet to come. Will Buffalo be the first team ranked 32nd in these rankings next season? It’s entirely possible.

30. Anaheim Ducks (17-30-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 30

The Ducks ended the season with a pair of overtime losses against the Minnesota Wild and ended with an NHL record for worst power play percentage in league history (8.9%). It was a sad ending for Ryan Miller and David Backes, both of whom are expected to retire at the end of the season (Miller has formally announced his retirement; Backes has not, but all indications are he will). Miller retires as the all-time leader among U.S.-born goaltenders in wins, second in shutouts, and won the 2010 Vezina Trophy (along with leading Team USA to a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver). Backes spent much of his career with the St. Louis Blues, scoring 248 goals and 513 points in his 965 game NHL career.

29. Columbus Blue Jackets (18-26-12), Last Week’s Ranking: 29

Columbus parted ways with head coach John Tortorella, who ended his tenure with the Blue Jackets with a 227-166-54 record. They will have a busy offseason, especially in regards to restricted free agent winger Patrik Laine. With around $25 million to play with in free agency, as well as three first round picks (acquired from Tampa Bay and Toronto), general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen has plenty of options for the future of the franchise.

28. New Jersey Devils (19-30-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 28

Last Thursday night, the Devils started a group of forwards where the oldest among them was 24 years of age. The youth movement is in full effect, but a few of the rookies, in particular Yegor Sharangovich (16 goals, 13 assists), Janne Kuokkanen (seven goals, 17 assists), and Ty Smith (two goals, 21 assists). They’ve got a solid young core in place, and like Columbus, they have multiple first round picks (their own and the Islanders’ pick) and a ton of cap space (nearly $36 million).

27. Vancouver Canucks (21-26-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 25

For the fifth time in the past six seasons, Vancouver has missed the playoffs. It’s time to do some serious soul-searching about the future of this team. COVID-19 ravaged the team in March, but the Canucks were floundering well before that point. Vancouver absolutely must address their defensive woes; the Canucks gave up the third-most shots per game (33.4) and allowed the eighth-most goals per game (3.26).

26. Detroit Red Wings (19-27-10), Last Week’s Ranking: 27

Detroit ranked near the bottom of the league in most of the statistically significant categories in 2021. However, they showed remarkable resilience over the final month of the season. Trading for Jakub Vrána at the trade deadline was a great move, as was bringing in a 2021 first round pick, a 2022 second pick, and Richard Pánik for Anthony Mantha. In 11 games with Detroit, Vrána scored eight goals and added three assists. He’s a piece the Red Wings can build around, and they certainly will. General Manager Steve Yzerman has already done a great job rebuilding the franchise, and that should continue with a busy offseason coming up.

25. San Jose Sharks (21-27-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 26

San Jose holds the cards for the West Division playoff picture. With a win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, the Sharks could open the door for the Avalanche to take the division title and play spoiler for Vegas’ hope of home ice. It will more than likely be Patrick Marleau’s final NHL game as well, now that he’s become the NHL’s all-time games played leader (he’ll hit 1,779 on Wednesday).

24. Los Angeles Kings (21-26-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 23

Kings captain Anze Kopitar recorded his 1,000th career point with an assist in L.A.’s 4-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes last Wednesday. He ranks fourth all-time among Kings skaters in points, needing 69 points to tie Dave Taylor for third (the franchise leader is Marcel Dionne with 1307). If he maintains his .93 points per game pace from this year, he’s got an excellent chance to do so next season.

23. Calgary Flames (23-26-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 21

Unless the NHL deems such games as unnecessary, the Flames will close out the season with four straight games against the Canucks, though both teams are eliminated from postseason contention. With a bunch of questions throughout the roster, tons of trade talk surrounding Johnny Gaudreau, and the Seattle expansion incoming, this roster could look significantly different next season. Captain Mark Giordano may be exposed for the expansion draft, which is another situation worth monitoring.

22. Ottawa Senators (22-28-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 24

Ottawa is on a tear to close out the regular season. In all honesty, I didn’t expect the Senators to rank higher than 29th at any point this season in these NHL Power Rankings, but they have vastly exceeded expectations. Tim Stützle became the youngest Senators player to record a hat trick in Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets, leading to this incredible moment:

21. Arizona Coyotes (24-26-6), Last Week’s Ranking: 22

The Coyotes parted ways with head coach Rick Tocchet after four seasons with the team. Arizona made the playoffs once under Tocchet, advancing through the qualifying round but getting eliminated by Colorado in the first round. In lighter news, Coyotes forward Phil Kessel recorded his 900th career point with an assist on the fifth goal of a 5-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. Kessel has also played in 900 consecutive games, the third-longest active streak in hockey behind Patrick Marleau (909) and Keith Yandle (922).

NHL Power Rankings: #21-11

20. Winnipeg Jets (28-23-6), Last Week’s Ranking: 18

Winnipeg ranks lower in these NHL Power Rankings than any other playoff team, and deservedly so. The Jets are 1-9-0 in their last 10 games, with two games to play, and after looking like a No. 2 seed in the North Division a few weeks ago, they’re now in danger of slipping to a No. 4 seed instead. Connor Hellebuyck missed Monday’s game for an undisclosed reason, and Nikolaj Ehlers is out through the end of the regular season at a minimum. If those two are out during the playoffs, Winnipeg’s playoff run will be more of a limp around the block.

19. Chicago Blackhawks (24-25-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 20

If you told Blackhawks fans on December 1, 2020, that Chicago would play the entire season without Jonathan Toews, that Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford would all retire, and Kirby Dach would miss several months, and despite all of that, the Hawks would be in playoff contention in mid-April, they’d probably think you were nuts. But that’s exactly what happened. Chicago’s rookie development was excellent this season, and with a healthy roster next year, the Blackhawks could turn some heads next year.

18. Philadelphia Flyers (24-23-8), Last Week’s Ranking: 18

Just how bad were the Flyers this season? They finished the year two points behind the New York Rangers in the standings. New York finished with a +20 goal differential, while Philadelphia finished at -38. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were the worst and second-worst goaltenders this season by goals saved above average (GSAA). Elliott is an unrestricted free agent and likely won’t be back next season, while Hart is a restricted free agent. Hart’s next contract will be brilliant or brutal, depending on whether we see 2020 playoffs Hart or 2021 season Hart next year.

17. Montreal Canadiens (24-21-10), Last Week’s Ranking: 16

Montreal extended one of the longest streaks in sports you’ve likely never heard of following an injury to Phillip Danault. In their 104-year franchise history, the Canadiens have never dressed for a game without a Quebec-born player in the lineup. Following Danault’s injury, the team called up Alex Belzile to keep the streak alive for Thursday’s game against the Maple Leafs. The 29-year-old made his NHL debut and added an assist in the 3-2 loss. Danault returned to the lineup Saturday and Belzile was scratched, but Montreal’s Quebec-born player streak remains intact.

16. Dallas Stars (23-19-14), Last Week’s Ranking: 15

Dallas’ strong push in the second half of the season came up just short, and the Stars missed the playoffs for the ninth time in the past 13 seasons. After last year’s grind to the Cup Final, this year’s myriad injuries and illnesses, and a competitive Central Division, Dallas is on the outside looking in for the playoffs this year. Like many other teams, a full offseason will work wonders for the Stars’ health, and they should be a solid playoff competitor next year.

15. St. Louis Blues (25-20-9), Last Week’s Ranking: 14

St. Louis is locked into the No. 4 seed in the West Division and will face either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights in the first round. With all the injuries, including Vladimir Tarasenko, Sammy Blais, Vince Dunn, and a spattering of others, the Blues may have spent themselves just to get to the playoffs. But if they get healthy, they can get hot in a hurry and go on a run, as we saw during the 2019 playoffs.

14. New York Rangers (27-23-6), Last Week’s Ranking: 13

What a week for the Rangers. After Tom Wilson was not suspended for his actions last Monday, the team released a statement of no confidence in George Parros, the head of the Department of Player Safety. However, that statement was reportedly not supported by the team president John Davidson or general manager Jim Gorton. After reports that the two shied away from the statement internally, both were fired, though according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, their firing had nothing to do with the Parros statement and was because the team had “underachieved.” In Wednesday’s rematch with the Capitals, there were six fights and a combined 100 penalty minutes in the first period, a game which the Rangers lost 4-2. Pavel Buchnevich, who Wilson sucker-punched to start the series of events, was suspended a game for cross-checking Capitals forward Anthony Mantha.

13. New York Islanders (32-17-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 12

Semyon Varlamov was dinged up in Monday’s regular season finale, a 3-2 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins. While head coach Barry Trotz referred to the injury as a “little strain” and that if it were a playoff game, Varlamov would have finished the game, it’s still a concern. Varlamov leads the league with seven shutouts this season. If he’s out, the playoff hopes fall on rookie Ilya Sorokin. Sorokin has three shutouts of his own this season, but it would be somewhat of a trial by fire for Sorokin if Varlamov is unable to go.

12. Nashville Predators (31-23-2), Last Week’s Ranking: 17

Nashville closed out the regular season with a pair of wins over the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Canes were resting players to prepare for a Cup run, it was still promising for Nashville to grab momentum against their first round opponent. Pekka Rinne picked up a shutout in the 5-0 season finale win in what may have been his final regular season game. The 38-year-old netminder ranks first among Finnish goaltenders in wins (369) and shutouts (60) while ranking second in GAA (2.43) and save percentage (.917).

11. Edmonton Oilers (34-18-2), Last Week’s Ranking: 11

Finishing just outside the Top 10 of the final NHL Power Rankings, the Edmonton Oilers clinched the No. 2 seed in the North Division and will play the higher finisher among the Jets and Canadiens. But as has been the case for most of the season, I can’t NOT talk about Connor McDavid, who, as I called last week, hit 100 points in 53 games. It’s an insane number to wrap your head around. McDavid is the ninth player in NHL history to hit 100 points in 53 games, and the feat hasn’t been accomplished since Mario Lemieux and Jaromír Jágr did it with the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. To put his number into an even crazier perspective, McDavid has more points in his last 15 games (38) than ANY Ducks, Red Wings, Predators, Devils, or Senators skater has scored ALL SEASON. Read that sentence again until it sinks in. McDavid is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, and if he stays playing at this level, he could nearly single-handedly carry Edmonton to the Cup.

NHL Power Rankings: The Top 10

10. Washington Capitals (35-15-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 8

One of the coolest moments of the season was overshadowed by Wednesday’s fracas with the Rangers. In the first game after the death of his father following a long battle with Alzheimer’s, T.J. Oshie scored a hat trick, leading to an outpouring of emotions on the bench (have the tissues on standby for this one). It was a stirring reminder that athletes are human too, and brought a moment of beauty to an otherwise ugly game.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning (36-17-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 4

Three straight losses to close out the season, including two against their first round opponent the Florida Panthers, saw the Lightning miss out on home ice in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season. Andrei Vasilevskiy has given up four goals through the first two periods three times in his last 74 games; all three of those occurrences came against the Panthers. Injuries are starting to pile up too, and Tampa Bay could be looking at a first round upset.

8. Minnesota Wild (35-14-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 7

While the Wild is 7-1-2 in its last 10 games, it was surprising to see they needed overtime on back-to-back nights to beat the Anaheim Ducks. However, rookie Kirill Kaprizov has all but locked up the Calder Trophy race after being named the NHL’s second star of the week (behind McDavid). He’s on a six-game point streak and has multiple points in each of his past four games.

7. Boston Bruins (33-15-7), Last Week’s Ranking: 10

Taylor Hall has been on a tear since joining the Bruins, with 16 points in 16 games since the Sabres sent him to Boston at the deadline. Boston will open the playoffs against the Washington Capitals, against whom the Bruins are 5-1-2 this season.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (35-13-6), Last Week’s Ranking: 9

The Maple Leafs clinched the North Division and are still waiting to find out their first round opponent (either Winnipeg or Montreal). But with two games remaining, expect Toronto to rest some starters and get healthy. Frederik Andersen is still not close to returning, and his AHL conditioning stint isn’t going well. It’s likely Jack Campbell will backstop the Leafs’ playoff hopes this year.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (37-16-3), Last Week’s Ranking: 6

The Penguins went 8-2-0 over their final 10 games to clinch the incredibly competitive East Division. The Jeff Carter trade is working out quite well, as Carter has scored nine goals and two assists in 14 games with Pittsburgh. With Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup, Sidney Crosby on a greater than one point per game pace, and Tristan Jarry going 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts, Pittsburgh is playing Stanley Cup caliber hockey.

4. Florida Panthers (37-14-5), Last Week’s Ranking: 5

I’ve had some doubts about Florida this season, but I’m going to make a bold prediction in the NHL Power Rankings this week: The Florida Panthers will beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Sam Bennett has six goals and nine assists through 10 games since being traded from Calgary at the deadline. Bennett also set a record with 15 points in 10 games, breaking the record of 13 previously held by Pavel Bure.

3. Vegas Golden Knights (39-14-2), Last Week’s Ranking: 2

With a 3-2 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild last Wednesday, Marc-André Fleury passed Roberto Luongo for sole possession of third place on the all-time goaltender wins list. He’s now up to 491, but has a long way to go to catch Patrick Roy (551), and an even longer way to go to get to Martin Brodeur’s record of 691. Vegas needs a win Wednesday against the Sharks and a Colorado loss in either of their final two games to clinch the North Division title (Colorado holds the tiebreaker on regulation wins).

2. Colorado Avalanche (37-13-4), Last Week’s Ranking: 3

The Avalanche control their own destiny for the playoff picture. If Colorado wins all of their remaining games, they will take the North Division title and be the top overall seed for the playoffs. As good as Colorado has been this season, they’re getting even better with the addition of Alex Newhook to the lineup. In his first four NHL games, Newhook has three assists. As if the Avalanche needed more offense. This team will be very dangerous in the playoffs.

1. Carolina Hurricanes (36-12-8), Last Week’s Ranking: 1

The Carolina Hurricanes end the season in the top spot of the NHL Power Rankings. I feel like the big advantage they have over Colorado is goaltending depth. We saw the Avalanche stumble when Philipp Grubauer was in COVID-19 protocol, and this year more than ever, health is a massive factor. Both teams have significant forward and defensive depth, but Carolina’s is slightly better. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hurricanes and Avalanche meet for the Stanley Cup Final this year, which was my prediction way back in January. However it plays out, I think we’re in for an incredible run through the playoffs.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, complaints, or compliments on the NHL Power Rankings, I would love to hear them. Sound off on Twitter @HockeyVoxDB and let me know what you have to say. Thank you again for reading, and I’ll be back with the power rankings next season!

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