NHL offseason power rankings 2021: Devils, Oilers move up while Sabres remain in the basement

These may be the dog days of summer, but that hasn’t stopped the NHL from staying busy as bees, because the offseason is everyone’s favorite time to rejig everything.

The free-agent floodgates opened July 28 with a number of big names ripe for the taking. It took a Brinks truck backing up for some teams to entice guys, like blueliner Dougie Hamilton, who hauled in $63 million from the Devils over the next seven years. Other teams were a bit more conservative and focused on re-signing some of their own unrestricted free agents. The biggest name who decided not to change addresses was Alex Ovechkin, who agreed to stick around the U.S. capital for another five years.

And then there were the trades. Some were shockers — 2021 Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury getting shipped to Chicago comes to mind — while others were savvy moves. 

After all that was done and not — um, hello, Islanders? — Sporting News looks at how all 32 teams did and where they are in our offseason power rankings.

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NHL power rankings 2021: offseason edition

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Is it possible to just hand Julien BriseBois the 2022 GM of the Year award now? The cap master once again made some magic (“that’s not No. 1 bulls—”). He lost his entire third line via free agency (Blake Coleman), expansion draft (Yanni Gourde) and trade (Barclay Goodrow). Goodrow was a UFA, so BriseBois got something for a player who was going to walk. Although he didn’t go big-game hunting, he added eternal pest and veteran leader Corey Perry, a guy who certainly told his agent: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” after losing the last two years in the Stanley Cup Final to the Bolts.

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2. Colorado Avalanche

“Would he stay or would he go?” That was the question everyone pondered when rumors about captain Gabriel Landeskog began swirling. In the end, he stuck around for this team, which is always on the precipice of doing something big. He also had one of the most awkward moments on free agency Day 1, when news of Philipp Grubauer leaving leaked and left Landeskog a bit surprised (just like everyone else watching).

3. Boston Bruins

The rich keep getting richer. Boston not only kept Taylor Hall (no surprise there) but also swapped out Jaroslav Halak for Linus Ullmark and added Nick Foligno to the forward core. The loss of David Krejci will sting — and there are question marks about the bottom six — but Foligno brings grit and flexibility (he can play wing or center) to Bruce Cassidy’s group. How things will go between the pipes at the start of the season with Tuukka Rask out for a bit (and technically unsigned) will be interesting.

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4. New York Islanders

You know the John Travolta meme where he’s standing in a room with his hands out looking around and not sure where anyone is? Yep, that’s Islanders fans right now, because while there has been plenty of speculation, only one signing has officially been released — Adam Pelech’s eight-year deal. New York did remove some heavy salaries to create cap space, but what GM Lou Lamoriello is doing (or has done) with it beyond locking up the defenseman is anyone’s guess.

5. Montreal Canadiens

Putting aside the team’s nauseating draft day (and the poorly timed letter regarding its first-round pick on the first day of free agency), the Canadiens made some good moves. Losing top two-way centerman and favorite pizza dude Phillip Danault will be a big hit to the lineup, but the kids, specifically Cole Caufield, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki, are now grizzled playoff vets. Marc Bergevin swapped one Quebecois kid (Danault) for three in Cedric Paquette, Matthieu Perreault and David Savard, who is the biggest add. Savard is coming off a Stanley Cup with the Lightning and he maintains consistency on the back end with the loss of Shea Weber.

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6. Edmonton Oilers

There has always been something missing up front in Edmonton, but the Oilers may have finally gotten the missing piece in Zach Hyman. The winger not only is a net-front presence and someone who will go into the corner, but he also can serve on special teams with the best of them. He has played with the likes of Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews and will be a fantastic complement to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Oil Country. While some of the other moves were a bit more questionable — is 39-year-old Mike Smith really the answer in goal? — Hyman and the addition of Derek Ryan, who adds depth down the middle and to the penalty kill, were home runs.

7. Vegas Golden Knights

Vegas is always going to be good, but trading away Marc-Andre Fleury — 2021 Vezina Trophy-winning Marc-Andre Fleury — will leave a gaping hole in net. Robin Lehner is more than capable of picking up the slack, but not having that 1-2 punch will hurt. Laurent Brossoit was brought in to serve as the backup, and while he had a .918 save percentage in 14 games last season, his history is good year followed by bad year followed by good year . . . and last year was a good one.

8. Chicago Blackhawks

Hard to gauge which was bigger: the trade for Seth Jones or the one for Marc-Andre Fleury. While the first was somewhat expected, the latter was not. With these newest additions in the Windy City and the expected return of Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks are poised for a big postseason push.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs

It had been widely speculated for a long time that the Maple Leafs would say goodbye to Frederik Andersen and Zach Hyman — and that happened. GM Kyle Dubas basically swapped out Andersen for Petr Mrazek, and that’s more of a lateral move in terms of talent. The loss of Hyman will be felt because of everything he brought, and the rental of Nick Foligno was a heavy price in the end. The other additions are nice, but whether they are enough to put the Leafs over the top is TBD.

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10. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have the tools up front and a superstar between the pipes. What Paul Maurice’s crew needed was an upgrade on the back end, and it did just that. Adding Brendan Dillon and Nate Schmidt automatically boosts the blue line. Not losing Dylan DeMelo in the expansion draft was a bonus.

11. Carolina Hurricanes

It’s hard to gauge where the Hurricanes fall. They swapped out Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic for Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in net. Andersen is an All-Star goaltender but he’s coming off a season where he barely played. Speaking of guys who barely played, Carolina also brought in Derek Stepan, who missed most of the year with a shoulder injury. And, well, there’s the complicated addition of Tony DeAngelo.

12. Washington Capitals

The Capitals had one major move to make and, to be honest, it wasn’t a surprise they got it done. Alex Ovechkin is sticking around for another five years, which all but guarantees he’ll become the NHL’s all-time goal scorer in red, white and blue.

13. Florida Panthers

The Panthers’ biggest moves this offseason were taking care of their own in Sam Bennett and Anthony Duclair. They added Sam Reinhart via trade to boost the offense, and having a full season of Spencer Knight ain’t too shabby.

14. Minnesota Wild

Minnesota will be looking to build on their breakout 2021 season. Dmitry Kulikov and Jon Merrill add depth to the blue line, but GM Bill Guerin needs to get to work and re-sign Kevin Fiala and Calder Trophy winner Kirill Kaprizov.

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15. St. Louis Blues

Losing Vince Dunn and Jaden Schwartz will sting, but bringing in Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich to play up top will soften the blow. The only big question now is: What happens with forward Vladimir Tarasenko?

16. Seattle Kraken

The Kraken may be new at this but GM Ron Francis is certainly not. The veteran executive pulled one of the biggest coups of the free-agent frenzy when he snagged UFA goaltender Philipp Grubauer away from Joe Sakic in Colorado. Everyone was expecting the goalie to stick around the Rockies; instead, the 2021 Vezina finalist is headed to the Pacific Northwest. So, how awkward was the conversation with Chris Driedger, who seemed to be all but assured the No. 1 spot and now will certainly be No. 2?

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17. Dallas Stars

Less than 10 minutes into free agency, GM Jim Nill had inked one of the biggest names on the market in Ryan Suter. Twenty minutes later, he landed Braden Holtby. While that last one makes you wonder about the health of Ben Bishop, Nill made a smart pickup; the veteran Holtby will work side by side with Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger. Nill also added depth with Luke Glendening and Michael Raffl up top and Andreas Borgman and Jani Hakanpaa on the back end.

18. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins stayed pretty stagnant this offseason, aside from trading Jared McCann and signing Brock McGinn. The latter will be expected to slot in for Brandon Tanev, who was selected by the Kraken in the expansion draft. Ron Hextall lost out on keeping Frederick Gaudreau and Cody Ceci and there are rumblings of wanting an upgrade in net after Tristan Jarry’s postseason collapse.

19. New Jersey Devils

Is the Devils’ rebuild over? It certainly is starting to look that way after GM Tom Fitzgerald snagged the biggest free agent on the market in defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Did he maybe pay a bit too much? Probably, but when you’re ready to make some noise — and have the cap space — you do whatcha gotta do.

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20. Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning was in a bit of a bind, so he cut some money by making a trade. Cool. On the flip side, he had to sign the acquired RFA Conor Garland and now has Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s bloated $8.25 million contract (the Coyotes are retaining 12 percent, but still). OEL is the biggest addition to a blue line that struggled in 2021; he’ll take pressure off Quinn Hughes to be the guy. But the trade, plus upgrading the backup goalie spot with Jaroslav Halak, signing Luke Schenn and binging back Travis Hamonic, has put Benning back in a bind. He has a few ticks above $14 million to sign Hughes, Jason Dickinson (acquired via trade), Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi. Yikes.

21. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers’ biggest move probably was acquiring Ryan Ellis before free agency opened. Philly bumped up its defense a smidge with Ellis and Keith Yandle, who played under coach Alain Vigneault in New York. Was that enough? TBD, but the blue line needed a massive upgrade after allowing an NHL-worst 3.52 goals against per game. The hope is Carter Hart, who remains an unsigned RFA, will rebound in 2021-22; having a better defense in front of him is a good start.

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22. New York Rangers

The Rangers already had talent and skill in the lineup; they now have bite (Ryan Reaves) and grit (Barclay Goodrow), too. Losing Pavel Buchnevich leaves a gap and could cause chemistry issues. But this team’s biggest move was hiring Gerard Gallant as bench boss. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with the likes of Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko.

23. Calgary Flames

Blake Coleman is a shiny new piece who will add much-needed leadership and grit — and crazy goal scoring — but he’s also a distraction from the biggest need. The Flames need to fill the hole left when captain Mark Giordano was picked up in the expansion draft. Trevor Lewis reunites with Darryl Sutter and they hope it will feel so good, but that doesn’t really move the needle.

24. Ottawa Senators

The North Division’s hardest team to play against keeps rolling along. Evgenii Dadonov was sent packing to Vegas but that shouldn’t impact things too much. This team is all about the young guns, like Brady Tkachuk who still needs to be signed.

25. Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus knew it couldn’t keep Seth Jones, so it shipped him out super quick. Zach Werenski was extended and young stud Jake Bean was brought in. The offense is still iffy — maybe a rejuvenated Jakob Voracek will spark it? — and how will things go in the room without longtime Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson.

26. Los Angeles Kings

It’ll be interesting to see how 2021 plays out in LA in the coming season. The club snagged one of the biggest free agents in top defensive center Philipp Danault and has some young stars in the making who could crack the lineup full time. 

27. Nashville Predators

Juuse Saros was in the Vezina Trophy conversation, and rightfully so, but this is a team heading into a rebuild. David Rittich is a nice pickup to back up Saros, and keeping Mikael Granlund in the fold is a good move toward not making 2021-22 a full teardown.

28. Detroit Red Wings

Things may be picking up in Motown. Alex Nedeljkovic could be the goalie of the future and Nick Leddy adds help on the blue line. There’s a good chance they’ll still struggle, but things are definitely turning for the Red Wings.

29. San Jose Sharks

The Sharks leave you scratching your head most of the time. A franchise that needed to retool the lineup didn’t really do anything tangible. James Reimer and Adin Hill are OK additions but don’t scream top goaltending pairing. Andrew Cogliano and Nick Merkley are nice, too, but aren’t game-changers to help boost this flailing team out of the Pacific Division basement.

30. Anaheim Ducks

The best and, really, only move Anaheim made was re-signing captain Ryan Getzlaf. He has spent his entire career with the team and will be back for one more go. It’s a nice move, but this team is in desperate need of offense — a league-worst 2.21 goals for per game in 2021 — and it has yet to address that. Buddy Robinson is a fourth-liner. Brogan Rafferty may be a sneakily good pickup as he was rated very highly in the Canucks’ prospect pool and can put up points, but he’s a defenseman.

31. Arizona Coyotes

Another team whose biggest addition is probably behind the bench with the hiring of Andre Tourigny. The team definitely is lacking in skill but has stockpiled draft picks, including two in the first round and five in the second of next year’s draft. Is this the all-in move for Shane Wright? 

32. Buffalo Sabres

Aside from the whole Jack Eichel debacle still playing out, the Sabres’ free-agent frenzy was basically a lose-lose. Linus Ullmark left for greener pastures — and a better team in Boston — and signing Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell to fill in is a big yikes.

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