Admittedly, having to look through the most recent NHL team rankings is an exercise in frustration. Not because of the rankings themselves, but rather the uncertainty around when the next NHL season might begin – let alone how might end. Nevertheless, it seems as though it is time to start ranking the NHL offseason activity.
Earlier today, writers at NBC Pro Hockey Talk released what they felt were the top 10 teams heading into the 2021 season. Obviously, as with any list, they’ll be differences of opinion. However, I thought it might be worth examining what changes seem obvious.
The NHL’s Top Ranked Team
I will not bore readers with a team-by-team analysis, but my feeling is that a fully healthy Colorado Avalanche team would beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in a seven-game series. Considering the two key additions – forward Brandon Saad and defender Devon Toews – to an Avalanche roster that is otherwise unchanged, Colorado is now an even better hockey team.
Conversely, the Lighting could possibly subtract pieces from last seasons roster as RFA’s Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak all need contracts. The problem for the Lightning is that they only have under $3 million in cap room to do so. No matter what team you think is number one, an Avalanche vs. Lightning series would make for a heck of a Stanley Cup final in 2021.
Subtractions to the NHL’s List
The rest of the top 10 list looks pretty good until you get towards the end of the list. Specifically, the last two teams – Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers – would not be in my top 10. Both teams are headed in two different directions from a ‘window’ standpoint.
As the core group of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang ages, the Penguins time as an elite team is slowly fading. How the Penguins respond from an early exit from the 2020 might be a good indication of how quickly that window is closing.
Meanwhile, with two of the top five players on the planet, the Oilers are getting there – they just aren’t there yet. Specifically, on the back end and in goal.
The Oilers are not at the stage where they can consistently play well enough defensively to be a top ten team in the league. As players like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Philip Broberg, Evan Bouchard, and even Darnell Nurse continue to mature, the Oilers should also climb the rankings accordingly.
As harsh as it might sound, I am still not sold on a 32-year-old starting goaltender that has played in less than 100 NHL games as the answer. Mikko Koskinen was solid during most of his 38 games last season, but can he maintain that standard for the next two years of his contract?
Additions to the NHL’s List
By subtracting the Penguins and Oilers from the NBC Top 10 list I would then add the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. Just too much talent in Toronto and adding Wayne Simmonds, Joe Thornton, TJ Brodie, Michael Hutchinson into the mix should fill some different needs next season. The Maple Leafs seem poised to take that next step.
The Islanders on the other hand still need to sign a restricted free agent that has become the heartbeat of the club – Matthew Barzal. However, after the recent signing of another young RFA, Ryan Pulock, the Islanders have just shy of $4 million in cap space available. Barzal has quickly become a young star in the game, and the Islanders will need to find at least double the current cap space to ink the 23-year-old Coquitlam native.
All that said, is there any other better NHL executive to stick handle that situation better than the crafty veteran Lou Lamoriello? In my opinion, Mr. Lamoriello and Barry Trotz are a tandem that will always be competitive and hence they belong in the top 10.
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