The highly-anticipated 2020-21 NHL season opens Wednesday following quick training camps around the league.
There are surprises every campaign, but here’s where all 31 teams stand for us ahead of Opening Night.
1. Colorado Avalanche — They’re healthy and loaded in every area. Colorado might be a runaway train this season.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Wiggled out of a tough cap situation, but that was thanks to Nikita Kucherov’s injury. Losing him hurts, which is why the reigning Stanley Cup champs don’t start the season at No. 1.
3. Dallas Stars — The Stars must be hoping Anton Khudobin has held on to some of that lightning in a bottle, but they’ll be bailed out by an elite defense. Might be a tough start to the season, though, with Tyler Seguin out.
4. Vegas Golden Knights — Somehow a wagon every season, and the Alex Pietrangelo addition makes up for a lot of departures. They’ll be good again.
5. Boston Bruins — The Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara losses give the Bruins defense a new look, but Boston still is a very good team.
6. Philadelphia Flyers — A ton of fun and a great mix of young and old. A legit contender this season.
7. St. Louis Blues — Obviously not great losing Pietrangelo, but obtaining Krug and Mike Hoffman makes for a solid offseason.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs — Defense still is a huge question mark, but maybe this is the season all of the pieces will come together.
9. Washington Capitals — A busy offseason, but one well spent bolstering the back end as they enter the Ilya Samsonov era. By the way — have the AARP cards arrived in the mail yet?
10. Carolina Hurricanes — Always want to pick against them, but Carolina is always good. Here’s to hoping Dougie Hamilton plays Norris-caliber defense again and that the top line keeps undressing opposing teams.
11. New York Islanders— Lots of losses in order to manage their cap situation, but the core that took them to the final four last season still is around. They might be the victim of a tough division, though.
12. Calgary Flames — A team to watch. They elected not to blow it all up this season, instead going out and paying top dollar for Jacob Markstrom. They better hope he doesn’t regress.
13. New York Rangers — Lots of exciting young talent, but their bottom six and depth defense could hurt them. Still, New York has a ton of top-end talent up front and, if nothing else, it miight be the most fun team to watch.
14. Edmonton Oilers — They have two of the best players in the game, but always find a way to disappoint. Our expectations are tempered.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins — The Pens acquired Kasperi Kapanen this offseason, but how much better did they get? Doesn’t feel like a whole lot — which isn’t great after being embarrassed in the bubble.
16. Vancouver Canucks — Loaded with young talent on entry-level contracts, the Canucks need to be good this season. We’ll see how that Braden Holtby-Thatcher Demko tandem works out.
17. Florida Panthers — Great on offense, questionable everywhere else. They must be praying Sergei Bobrovsky comes around, but we otherwise great depth acquisitions (Anthony Duclair, Markus Nutivaara, Radko Gudas, etc.).
18. Nashville Predators — Nashville just might not be good. The Preds expect to compete, but they might be teetering on teardown mode if things unravel early.
19. Montreal Canadiens — They are going to be way better this season, and it seemed like Marc Bergevin had Montreal in on just about every free agent. The cap situation is dicey, but the Habs should be competitive in the North this season.
20. Winnipeg Jets — Hopefully all the turmoil surrounding Patrick Laine doesn’t sink them, because the Jets are a fun team to watch. Defense still is shaky. though, so they’ll need another Vezina-caliber campaign from Connor Hellebuyck.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets — The Blue Jackets kept clearing cap space for a move that never happened. Sure, they re-signed Pierre-Luc Dubois, but he clearly doesn’t want to be there. John Tortorella always finds a way to get the most out of this group, however.
22. Buffalo Sabres — Hard to imagine they’ll be worse after adding Taylor Hall. While the top six should be electric, there are a lot of holes for the Sabres.
23. Minnesota Wild — They feel very directionless. Prospects haven’t worked out, but they keep adding veterans you acquire when you think you can win. Maybe Bill Guerin has a vision, but we don’t see it.
24. Los Angeles Kings — If nothing else, we like the Andreas Athanasiou signing. If some of the youngsters start popping soon, they could be competitive as soon as this season, but there might be some more time left on this rebuild.
25. Anaheim Ducks — Similar spot to the Kings: young and ready to improve. But they are improving, and if last season was an anomaly for John Gibson, then they could be a — dare we say it — fringe postseason contender.
26. San Jose Sharks — Last season had to be an aberration, right? We’re not ruling out the Sharks rocketing up this list before the month is over.
27. Arizona Coyotes — A dreadful cap situation left them watching players walk this offseason with no real way to replace them from inside or outside the organization. The ‘Yotes might be pretty bad this season.
28. Ottawa Senators — We actually like the potential of the Senators following the Evgenii Dadonov signing and addition of Tim Stutzle in the draft. But until they start playing games we’ll keep them at the bottom.
29. New Jersey Devils — Corey Crawford was supposed to be a safety net for MacKenzie Blackwood. He retired Saturday, and the Devils already had been trying to piece things together elsewhere on the roster. They might not be trainwreck-level bad, but they’re definitely rebuilding.
30. Chicago Blackhawks — Jonathan Toews is out to start the season and they traded Brandon Saad. Chicago was already heading in the wrong direction, and it’s become even worse. Could be a rough campaign in the Windy City.
31. Detroit Red Wings — They’re trusting the process. In the interim, they’re losing.