The 2021 NHL season has officially begun to take form, as the February schedule gets rolling. For this week’s power rankings, we identified the biggest disappointment so far for every team.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1 to 31 — taking into account past results and offseason additions — and those results are tabulated in the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to our Week 2 edition, published on Jan. 27. Records are through the games of Feb. 2
Previous ranking: 2
This week: vs. DET (Feb. 3, 5); @ NSH (Feb. 8, 9)
It’s been a bummer for Tampa Bay, to win the Stanley Cup and then not be able to raise the banner in front of fans. They’ve also enjoyed a 4-0 start at Amalie Arena, but haven’t been able to welcome any crowd back yet.
Previous ranking: 4
This week: vs. OTT (Feb. 4); @ OTT (Feb. 6)
Nearly everything has gone well so far for the Habs, but they could clean up their game a bit. Montreal has taken 50 penalties in their first nine games, ranking second in the league with 13:30 penalty minutes per game.
Previous ranking: 3
This week: vs. VAN (Feb. 4, 6, 8)
It’s been a logjam at the back end of Toronto’s defensive rotation, especially with the team wanting to give Mikko Lehtonen opportunity — but still hesitant to use him too much at 5-on-5 as he adjusts to the North American game.
Previous ranking: 8
This week: @ PHI (Feb. 3, 5)
The Bruins have had to shuffle their lines, specifically the right wingers, quite often early in the season as they battle injuries. “It’s the right-side dilemma with [David] Krejci that we thought we’d have solved this year,” coach Bruce Cassidy said this week.
Previous ranking: 1
This week: vs. LA (Feb. 5, 7); vs. ANA (Feb. 9)
The Golden Knights had a top-10 power play last season, but it’s just not working for them yet. It’s 29th in the league right now. Coach Peter DeBoer said last week that the team was trying new concepts. “We’re just not connected as a group out there yet,” he said. “But I believe it’s coming.”
Previous ranking: 5
This week: @ NYR (Feb. 4); vs. PHI (Feb. 7, 9)
The Caps’ biggest disappointment this season was with themselves, when Alex Ovechkin and three teammates violated the strict road trip rules forcing the captain to miss four games. However, Washington went 3-0-1 in his absence, including a whopping 55.6% on the power play.
Previous ranking: 18
This week: vs. NSH (Feb. 4, 5); vs. DET (Feb. 7, 9)
The Panthers’ biggest disappointment may be this: they have the league’s best points percentage and a 5-0-1 record — while newcomers Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaeghe have a combined 10 goals — but they probably aren’t getting enough credit for it.
Previous ranking: 9
This week: vs. BOS (Feb. 3, 5); @ WSH (Feb. 7, 9)
Travis Konecny is one of Philadelphia’s best young forwards, and has put up five goals in nine games. But the Flyers are still looking for more, leading to a benching on Saturday. “His 5-on-5 game needs to be better in the areas that he’s aware of,” coach Alain Vigneault said.
Previous ranking: 16
This week: @ CHI (Feb. 4); @ CBJ (Feb. 7, 8)
After four starts, Petr Mrazek led the NHL in save percentage (.955) and goals-against average (0.99). But Mrazek got injured last weekend, and coach Rod Brind’Amour says his absence will be “longer term” and he could require surgery.
Previous ranking: 12
This week: vs. ARI (Feb. 4); vs. COL (Feb. 6, 7), @ MIN (Feb. 9)
Vince Dunn is an analytics darling, but a slow start and some healthy scratches have him on the trade block. At 24 with an annual cap hit under $2 million, plenty of teams are interested. But can the Blues get a first-rounder in return?
Previous ranking: 6
This week: vs. MIN (Feb. 4); @ STL (Feb. 6, 7); vs. ARI (Feb. 9)
Over the last two seasons, Nathan MacKinnon carried the load when the Avs’ roster has been ravaged by injuries. Unfortunately, they’ll have to repay the favor after the star center is now out “week-to-week” with a lower-body injury.
Previous ranking: 7
This week: @ CBJ (Feb. 4); vs. CHI (Feb. 7, 9)
The Stars are off to a great start — especially their power play, which scored in five straight to start the season. Though it can be characteristic of this team, it still feels like Dallas isn’t scoring as much as it could; they’re at 2.17 goals per game through the first six.
Previous ranking: 11
This week: @ COL (Feb. 4); vs. ARI (Feb. 6, 7); vs. STL (Feb. 9)
Minnesota’s future is looking bright, but the Wild have also been a top focus for the Department of Player Safety this week. Kevin Fiala got suspended three games for boarding, while Nick Bjugstad was fined $5,000 for cross-checking.
Previous ranking: 13
This week: vs. CGY (Feb. 4); @ CGY (Feb. 9)
Though the Jets are happy they acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois, as an organization they need to look inward and evaluate their culture. While Dustin Byfuglien, Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic are all isolated cases, it’s hard to get past three top players wanting out.
Previous ranking: 19
This week: vs. DAL (Feb. 4); vs. CAR (Feb. 7, 8)
Here’s something the Blue Jackets are not used to seeing: through their first 10 games of the season, with the top pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on the ice, Columbus has been outscored 11-4.
Previous ranking: 10
This week: @ NYI (Feb. 6); @ NJ (Feb. 9)
The injury bug bit the Penguins hard in 2019-20, and hasn’t let up in 2021. This time, the blue line is adversely affected. With Jim Rutherford’s surprise resignation last week, it’s up to a new GM to figure out these woes.
Previous ranking: 15
This week: @ CGY (Feb. 6); @ OTT (Feb. 8, 9)
There was hope that after three frustrating seasons in Nashville, Kyle Turris could revive his game in Edmonton. Not so much. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still getting very little help from their teammates, including from Turris (just three points in 11 games).
Previous ranking: 24
This week: @ TOR (Feb. 4, 6, 8)
A leaky defense and less-than-expected production from the top stars was the rationale for the Canucks’ slow start. Vancouver isn’t in too rough of shape, but can’t afford to wait 20-30 games to find its stride.
Previous ranking: 21
This week: @ WPG (Feb. 4); vs. EDM (Feb. 6); vs. WPG (Feb. 9)
Something is going on with Sam Bennett. His agent, Darren Ferris, told Sportsnet the center would like “a change of scenery,” but the Flames denied that Bennett has a trade request. Whatever is true, bouncing around the bottom six isn’t ideal.
Previous ranking: 17
This week: vs. PIT (Feb. 9)
It’s been nice to see the Devils — led by a resurgent Jack Hughes — take strides this season, but their penalty kill (a strength last season) is performing poorly, ranking 29th in the league (67.7%).
Previous ranking: 14
This week: vs. PIT (Feb. 6); @ NYR (Feb. 8)
A five-game winless stretch was worrisome, which means the Islanders’ usual woes are compounded. That includes an uninspiring power play (they are 19th in the league, at 15.8%) and lack of goal scoring in general (29th, with 2.11 goals per game).
Previous ranking: 20
This week: @ FLA (Feb. 4, 5); vs. TB (Feb. 8, 9)
The Preds are off to a sluggish start, and can’t score early, or enough, ranking 27th in the league with 2.33 goals per game. Through their first nine games, the Preds have held a lead for less than 38 total minutes.
Previous ranking: 27
This week: vs. WSH (Feb. 4); vs. NYI (Feb. 8)
Tony DeAngelo went from finishing 12th in Norris Trophy voting last season to earning a $9.6 million contract in October to being a 25-year-old who will likely never play another game as a New York Ranger. A disappointing downfall.
Previous ranking: 23
This week: @ VGS (Feb. 5, 7); vs. SJ (Feb. 9)
It’s been a promising start to the Kings’ season, but depth is becoming a concern. Injuries have hit the blue line hard, with defenseman Sean Walker (Matt Dumba puck to the face) and Matt Roy (boarded by Kevin Fiala) out “for extended periods.”
Previous ranking: 29
This week: vs. CAR (Feb. 4); @ DAL (Feb. 7, 9)
While it was an open goaltending competition, Collin Delia and Malcolm Subban may be disappointed that Kevin Lankinen has taken the hold so early. The young Finn (who ranks fourth in NHL save percentage) has been sensational.
Previous ranking: 28
This week: @ STL (Feb. 4); @ MIN (Feb. 6, 7); @ COL (Feb. 9)
The Coyotes decided not to trade captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson this offseason, but now they’re seeing how hard it is to fill his role. Kyle Capobianco, Jordan Gross and Victor Soderstrom have rotated in for the injured captain, but it hasn’t been the same.
Previous ranking: 26
This week: All games postponed
Veteran Kyle Okposo sums up the Sabres’ season so far as thus: “You could probably ask anybody if they’re happy with their offensive game, especially up front, and I’m assuming you’d get a lot of no’s, myself included. … That’s going to be our biggest challenge.”
Previous ranking: 22
This week: @ ANA (Feb. 5, 6); @ LA (Feb. 9)
The biggest disappointment for the Sharks so far is that they are the only team not to get a home game yet. Though the schedule has changed a few times, it appears San Jose will finally get to play at home on Feb. 13.
Previous ranking: 25
This week: vs. SJ (Feb. 5, 6); @ VGS (Feb. 9)
Fans in Anaheim know that this season is all about transitioning toward the future. That’s why it might be a disappointment Trevor Zegras hasn’t been called up yet, especially when he’s doing things like this.
Yeah, you’re not gonna stop that!
— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) February 1, 2021
Previous ranking: 31
This week: @ TB (Feb. 3, 5); @ FLA (Feb. 7, 9)
The Red Wings were frustrated that just when they were trying to establish their identity this season, they lost several players to COVID-related absences. Such is life in the NHL in 2021.
Previous ranking: 30
This week: @ MTL (Feb. 4); vs. MTL (Feb. 6); vs. EDM (Feb. 8, 9)
Matt Murray won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh by the time he was 23. He signed a plump contract in Ottawa, but is struggling there (and it’s not just the last-place team’s fault). His .849 save percentage is second-worst in the league.