We’re approaching the final fortnight of the 2021-22 NHL season, and as teams are clinching playoff berths (or being eliminated) seemingly every night, there are many big questions that each club must answer. Which on-ice coaching decisions will produce the best results? Which pending free agents should be re-signed? Is the current coach the right person for the job — and if not, who is?
For this week’s Power Rankings, we identify the big decision on tap (either in the coming weeks or this summer) for all 32 teams.
How we rank: A panel of ESPN hockey commentators, analysts, reporters and editors rates teams against one another — taking into account game results, injuries and upcoming schedule — and those results are tabulated to produce the list featured here.
Note: Previous ranking for each team refers to the last edition, published April 6. Points paces are through Tuesday’s games.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 0.764
Next seven days: vs. LA (Apr. 13), vs. NJ (Apr. 14), vs. CAR (Apr. 16), vs. WSH (Apr. 18)
It would be tough — but not unexpected — for Colorado to lose Nazem Kadri in free agency. Tougher still is deciding what to do about Darcy Kuemper. The 31-year-old veteran (and pending unrestricted free agent) has been fantastic, and if that holds, he’ll be looking for a pay raise. The Avalanche already have a capable starter option in Pavel Francouz, signed to a two-year, $4 million extension. Does GM Joe Sakic bet on Francouz moving ahead? Look at other free agent options? Or go all-in keeping Kuemper?
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 0.753
Next seven days: vs. WPG (Apr. 15), @ DET (Apr. 17), @ NYI (Apr. 19)
Florida’s hard choices are going to be coming quickly. The Panthers are built to win this year. Their porous defense and reliance on multi-goal comebacks is not the recipe to earn a Stanley Cup. Interim coach Andrew Brunette has to push the right buttons and figure out what his strongest lineup/special teams units are before playoffs. Florida must address its flaws or risk being a quick out.
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 0.703
Next seven days: vs. DET (Apr. 14), @ COL (Apr. 16), @ ARI (Apr. 18)
The Hurricanes are so stacked that Vincent Trocheck‘s quality season barely gets discussed. He also needs a new contract, and talks with Carolina haven’t really progressed. This group of Canes is special, so why wouldn’t they want to keep a core piece like Trocheck? The 28-year-old is in his prime, which requires premium compensation, and Carolina has only so much cap space for several salary negotiations. A decision on Trocheck won’t come easily.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 0.678
Next seven days: vs. VGK (Apr. 14), vs. ARI (Apr. 16), @ CHI (Apr. 18), @ NSH (Apr. 19)
What will Calgary have to sacrifice to keep Johnny Gaudreau? The face of the Flames’ franchise is about to get paid — either by them, or someone else. But Calgary has to find a way. The tough part? What sacrifices elsewhere in the lineup will Calgary have to make to ensure Gaudreau stays part of it?
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 0.685
Next seven days: vs. WSH (Apr. 14), @ OTT (Apr. 16), vs. NYI (Apr. 17), vs. PHI (Apr. 19)
If Toronto can’t win a playoff series, there could be many tough decisions ahead. Beyond that, the Leafs’ goaltending future presents a major challenge. Jack Campbell is a pending UFA who wants to (rightly) cash in. Petr Mrazek has been average and injured and is signed for two more years. Can the cap-strapped Leafs afford Campbell’s ask? Is Mrazek too much of a liability moving forward? It’s going to be a big offseason (as always) in Toronto.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 0.676
Next seven days: @ PHI (Apr. 13), vs. DET (Apr. 16), vs. WPG (Apr. 19)
Gerard Gallant has about three weeks to make some of his toughest coaching decisions. New York has competition brewing for jobs, particularly on the back end, and by the time these Rangers hit playoffs, Gallant has to know what’s what. Does New York go with its youth? Rely on experience? The wrong balance breeds disaster. But it’ll be hard leaving someone on the sidelines.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 0.658
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Apr. 14), vs. WPG (Apr. 16), vs. DET (Apr. 19)
We talk about the potential for a Tampa three-peat. Only, what if they don’t? It might be a hard offseason for a team that’s handed off high draft picks to chase another Stanley Cup now. Will it spell the end for pending UFA Ondrej Palat in Tampa? Will more of the Lightning’s core have to be dismantled? There’s a lot riding on this postseason.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 0.667
Next seven days: @ DAL (Apr. 14), @ STL (Apr. 16), vs. SJ (Apr. 17), @ MTL (Apr. 19)
If you’re Dean Evason, which goaltender are you tapping for the postseason? The guy that’s backstopped you to this point in Cam Talbot, or reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury? The playoffs are all about momentum. It’s rare a coach wants to go back and forth between goalies. Who deserves the first start? And how long is the leash? Both players have earned a chance. It will be tough deciding who gets the nod.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 0.633
Next seven days: vs. NYI (Apr. 14), @ BOS (Apr. 16)
Pittsburgh has enjoyed wonderful success this last decade because of Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Both players are in the final year of their contracts, and the Penguins will have to decide what’s next for its (former?) core. Malkin and Letang are in their mid-30s, but potentially capable of reeling in one last big-money deal. Should it be Pittsburgh that continues investing in them?
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 0.651
Next seven days: vs. OTT (Apr. 14), vs. PIT (Apr. 16), @ STL (Apr. 19)
Is this the last real chance for Boston’s core to win a Cup? Patrice Bergeron (age 36) is a pending UFA with an uncertain future. Brad Marchand is 33. There are young guys in the Bruins’ system knocking on the door for opportunity. How much will Boston have to lean into the franchise’s next generation — and even a new direction — after these playoffs? GM Don Sweeney could be in for a few sleepless nights.
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 0.608
Next seven days: @ NSH (Apr. 14), vs. VGK (Apr. 16)
It’s not easy keeping up with Connor McDavid. Evander Kane has been able to do so. The well-traveled winger came on board in Edmonton and has had undeniable chemistry with McDavid. Does that translate into GM Ken Holland putting a real bid in to keep Kane (a pending UFA) around next season and beyond? Can Edmonton trust Kane to keep performing? And could they live with moving on from a young player to make room for Kane in the fold long term.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 0.658
Next seven days: @ BUF (Apr. 14), vs. MIN (Apr. 16), @ NSH (Apr. 17), vs. BOS (Apr. 19)
The Blues have quite a goaltending conundrum. Ville Husso is a 27-year-old pending UFA who has taken over St. Louis’ crease. Jordan Binnington was the incumbent signed for six more seasons at $6 million per year, but has had an awful 2021-22 season. So, if you’re the Blues, do you trust in Binnington to rebound? Do you try to keep Husso as well? Plenty of scenarios, all of them tough.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 0.610
Next seven days: vs. EDM (Apr. 14), vs. CHI (Apr. 16), vs. STL (Apr. 17), vs. CGY (Apr. 19)
The tough part isn’t whether Nashville wants to retain Filip Forsberg. It’s whether they can afford it. Forsberg will be one of the top players on the market, and likely eyeing an $8 million-per-year deal. The Predators already have three players signed long-term at that price or more. Is it prudent to add another contract that size? Can they really let Forsberg walk as a UFA? GM David Poile must decide what he can live with.
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 0.630
Next seven days: @ TOR (Apr. 14), @ MTL (Apr. 16), @ COL (Apr. 18)
Which goaltender can Washington trust? It didn’t seem like a tough choice last month. Vitek Vanecek had received GM Brian MacLellan’s vote of confidence to carry the Capitals into the playoffs, but he’s struggling. Ilya Samsonov has been more consistent, but with a smaller workload. It may not be an easy pick for Peter Laviolette here.
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 0.603
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Apr. 14), vs. SJ (Apr. 16), @ VAN (Apr. 18)
Rick Bowness is in the last year of his contract. Dallas is still on the playoff bubble. If the Stars don’t make it in — or, even if they do and it’s a short run — will a coaching change be necessary? Do GM Jim Nill and ownership still believe in Bowness behind the bench? Dallas is approaching a crossroads on the ice, where its surging young players are starting to take over, and there’s a choice to be made on who’s best to guide them.
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 0.574
Next seven days: @ CGY (Apr. 14), @ EDM (Apr. 16), vs. NJ (Apr. 18)
The first thing Vegas needs to do is make the playoffs. It’s the only thing that matters. The Golden Knights have dealt with injuries, they’ve clawed to stay in it, and it has to mean something. Who’s in the lineup, and who’s out? Who’s going to get them over the line and into the postseason? And if Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty & Co. can do it, what will their lineup look like in the postseason?
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 0.547
Next seven days: vs. SEA (Apr. 13), @ FLA (Apr. 15), @ TB (Apr. 16), @ NYR (Apr. 19)
The Jets have two top priorities: Figure out where the franchise is at after an underwhelming season, and settle on a long-term coach. Dave Lowry has stepped in admirably after Paul Maurice’s unexpected departure. But Winnipeg hasn’t lived up to its own standards, and neither have some of its best players. Is Lowry the right coach to get more of this team? Or do they need a fresh voice to go with a new direction?
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 0.587
Next seven days: @ COL (Apr. 13), vs. CBJ (Apr. 16), @ ANA (Apr. 19)
So, what’s next for the Kings’ blue line? After this season, L.A. has only two defensemen signed (Drew Doughty and Matt Roy) who aren’t on entry-level contracts. That either speaks to the Kings wanting to build defensive depth from within, or they’ve got some shopping to do. Plus, is Olli Maatta in the mix going forward? Will Troy Stecher stick around? There’s much for GM Rob Blake to ponder.
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 0.554
Next seven days: vs. ARI (Apr. 14), vs. DAL (Apr. 18), vs. OTT (Apr. 19)
What will ultimately be tougher on Vancouver: Handling negotiations with pending RFA Brock Boeser, or deciding whether to keep coach Bruce Boudreau? In theory, Boeser is a great player you’d want to sign long-term, and Boudreau is a terrific coach worth retaining. However, who are the Canucks at this point, and what direction is this franchise going? Maybe answering that will be their toughest task of all.
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 0.535
Next seven days: @ PIT (Apr. 14), @ MTL (Apr. 15), @ TOR (Apr. 17), vs. FLA (Apr. 19)
We know GM Lou Lamoriello has publicly stood behind his team’s core. What lies ahead will be tough decisions on who, exactly, makes up that group. Several Islanders have underperformed this season, and New York has to determine where some of the organization’s younger players are at, too. The difficulties come with paring down, trading away or adding various parts to build a contender.
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 0.507
Next seven days: vs. MTL (Apr. 13), @ LA (Apr. 16), @ ANA (Apr. 17), @ SJ (Apr. 19)
Patrik Laine continues to be an enigma on the ice (he scored 19 goals in 22 games and is now … in a 10-game goal drought). Columbus has to ask what the best path ahead is with their pending RFA. Is it another twirl of Laine accepting his one-year qualifying offer? Should the Blue Jackets lock him in long-term? Go for a bridge deal? Laine’s ability is obvious; it’s his consistency that brings on these questions.
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 0.473
Next seven days: @ TB (Apr. 14), vs. CBJ (Apr. 17), vs. LA (Apr. 19)
Ryan Getzlaf is retiring after this season. That will leave Anaheim with a vacant captaincy for the first time since Oct. 2010. Who should succeed Getzlaf in the role? Talk about a tough decision. It’s not like Anaheim must decide immediately. However, for a franchise trending up, having that leadership position established would be a good thing.
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 0.433
Next seven days: vs. STL (Apr. 14), vs. PHI (Apr. 16), @ PHI (Apr. 17)
The Sabres rightfully have all good vibes right now. What they don’t have is a veteran goaltender signed for next season. The tough part might not be finding one; it might be keeping the guy they want. And that’s Craig Anderson. When healthy, the 40-year-old veteran has had a strong season, and garnered interest at the trade deadline. Will that be the case again come summer? Should Buffalo try to put more dollars in his pocket and keep riding the wave? Or invest in a more long-term option?
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 0.472
Next seven days: @ CHI (Apr. 14), @ DAL (Apr. 16), @ MIN (Apr. 17), vs. CBJ (Apr. 19)
GM Doug Wilson has officially stepped away. So the first tough task for San Jose is choosing his official replacement (Joe Will is the interim until then). Harder from there will be steering the Sharks into a brighter future, which may involve more tough roster decisions. San Jose has a bunch of pending RFAs and an aging back end. Once the Sharks’ next GM is in place, who stays and goes under their watch?
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 0.452
Next seven days: @ CAR (Apr. 14), @ NYR (Apr. 16), vs. FLA (Apr. 17), @ TB (Apr. 19)
The Red Wings are in a tough spot. GM Steve Yzerman says he’ll be patient with the team’s rebuild. But Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi are in their mid-20s and signed for only one more season. Is Yzerman prepared to move on from them, in favor of shuffling along Detroit’s young talent? Can or will both players want to stick around if the Red Wings aren’t actively turning a corner?
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 0.390
Next seven days: vs. NYR (Apr. 13), @ BUF (Apr. 16), vs. BUF (Apr. 17), @ TOR (Apr. 19)
Philadelphia will certainly launch a head coach search this offseason. What happens after that? GM Chuck Fletcher has already traded Claude Giroux, but the Flyers seem determined to avoid a rebuild. Given where they’re at, it won’t be easy. There are more changes to come, and with that many futures will be decided.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 0.404
Next seven days: vs. SJ (Apr. 14), @ NSH (Apr. 16), vs. CGY (Apr. 18)
The Blackhawks are deep in rebuilding mode, obviously. Many of their hardest choices — like trading Brandon Hagel and Fleury — have already passed. Next up? Whether to reward Derek King‘s efforts with the removal of his interim tag. King came in and salvaged some value this season. Does he deserve a longer tenure for it?
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 0.349
Next seven days: @ CBJ (Apr. 13), vs. NYI (Apr. 15), vs. WSH (Apr. 16), vs. MIN (Apr. 19)
Carey Price‘s future in Montreal is the biggest lingering question. This isn’t just a tough choice for the organization, but potentially Price as well. He’s been through the ringer with injuries and personal issues. How much more does he want to give? Can Montreal rely on him to deliver? The Canadiens have come alive under Martin St. Louis. Will Price still be a part of this team’s next chapter?
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 0.397
Next seven days: @ COL (Apr. 14), @ SEA (Apr. 16), @ VGK (Apr. 18)
The toughest hurdle New Jersey faces is fixing its goaltending. Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier are both signed through next season. Are either of them the answer? Nico Daws has been filling in the gaps, but he’s just 21 and needs more time to develop. The Devils can’t enter next season without a ride-or-die starter. Who’s it going to be?
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 0.411
Next seven days: @ BOS (Apr. 14), vs. TOR (Apr. 16), @ SEA (Apr. 18), @ VAN (Apr. 19)
There are certainly tough decisions for Ottawa to make on the ice. But more pressing is sorting out the franchise’s direction following owner Eugene Melnyk’s death. How does that process affect the hockey side? There are a number of people and factors involved, and coming to the right succession plan will be critical.
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 0.356
Next seven days: @ WPG (Apr. 13), vs. NJ (Apr. 16), vs. OTT (Apr. 18)
Seattle hasn’t invested in a high number of long-term deals. That leaves GM Ron Francis with not only a landslide of pending RFAs, but also an abundance of high draft picks to use. It’ll be tough balancing the immediate needs of the club by doling out extensions with potential incoming talent, on a team that’s still really finding its legs.
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 0.336
Next seven days: @ VAN (Apr. 14), @ CGY (Apr. 16), vs. CAR (Apr. 18)
Jakob Chychrun: Staying or going? It’s the can that keeps getting kicked down the road. Perhaps this summer will bring clarity.