Ranking the NHL's 2021-22 divisions

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty

Normality is nice, isn't it?

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shuffling of the NHL landscape in 2020-21, the league is back on track this season. Farewell to all the think pieces about whether the all-Canadian North Division was good or not. Goodbye to the intense fight for first place in the West Division.

It's time to welcome back the good old Pacific, Atlantic, Metropolitan, and Central divisions. Here's how the NHL's realigned realigned divisions stack up, from weakest to strongest.

4. Pacific

Jeff Bottari / National Hockey League / Getty
Team 2020-21 Record Goal Diff. Playoffs
Golden Knights 40-14-2 +67 Lost in semifinals
Oilers 35-19-2 +29 Lost in 1st round
Flames 26-27-3 -5 Did not qualify
Canucks 23-29-4 -37 Did not qualify
Kings 21-28-7 -27 Did not qualify
Sharks 21-28-7 -48 Did not qualify
Ducks 17-30-9 -53 Did not qualify 
Kraken N/A N/A N/A

Congratulations to the Golden Knights on making the playoffs for the fifth straight season in 2021-22.

Nothing is guaranteed in the NHL, but the Golden Knights won't even have to compete with the Avalanche for the division's top spot like they did last year. Between the Sharks, Ducks, Kings, and Canucks, the Pacific is home to four teams that were among the league's bottom 10 in goal differential last season.

The Oilers will likely be Vegas' biggest competition since they employ Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the league's highest-scoring duo in 2020-21. The picture gets hazier for Edmonton on the back end - the team didn't get any help for 39-year-old goaltender Mike Smith and its defense took a hit with the losses of Ethan Bear and Adam Larsson.

Beyond the Golden Knights and Oilers, the Pacific is open. Hockey in California is in a rebuilding phase, but the Kings are in a position to surprise thanks to their additions of Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson.

The Canucks and Flames will be looking for redemption after missing the playoffs. Vancouver will want a clean slate after a season riddled with COVID-19 issues, while Calgary will need to cope without Mark Giordano's leadership.

Meanwhile, the Kraken probably won't stun the league like the Knights did in their inaugural season, but they're still an unknown quantity.

3. Central

Michael Martin / National Hockey League / Getty
Team 2020-21 Record Goal Diff. Playoffs
Avalanche 39-13-4 +64 Lost in 2nd round
Wild 35-16-5 +21 Lost in 1st round
Predators 31-23-2 +2 Lost in 1st round
Jets 30-23-3 +16 Lost in 2nd round
Blues 27-20-9 -1 Lost in 1st round
Stars 23-19-14 +4 Did not qualify
Coyotes 24-26-6 -23 Did not qualify
Blackhawks 24-25-7 -25 Did not qualify

Beyond the Avalanche at the very top, the Central is looking a little crowded - five of these teams made the playoffs in 2020-21, and two of the squads that didn't qualify were the Stars, who are getting Tyler Seguin back, and the Blackhawks, who have improved exponentially after adding Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Like Chicago, the Jets filled some pretty big holes this summer after shoring up their blue line with Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt and look poised to challenge for a playoff spot.

Additionally, the Wild are certainly a better team with Kirill Kaprizov, and their future outlook is stronger with him in the mix on a five-year deal.

However, the Central falls short when considering that some teams either got worse in the offseason or have too many question marks for anyone to really figure out what these clubs actually are.

After stumbling into the playoffs, the Predators started their rebuild and parted ways with several franchise mainstays like Arvidsson, Ryan Ellis, and Pekka Rinne.

The Blues added solid forwards in Brandon Saad and Pavel Buchnevich, but Vladimir Tarasenko's long-term status with the club is still up in the air.

The Coyotes, the newest members of the Central Division, are where other teams' unwanted contracts went to die this offseason. Hopefully, they can find a new arena.

2. Metropolitan

Mike Stobe / National Hockey League / Getty
Team 2020-21 Record Goal Diff. Playoffs
Hurricanes 36-12-8 +43 Lost in 2nd round
Penguins 37-16-3 +40 Lost in 1st round
Capitals 36-15-5 +28 Lost in 1st round
Islanders 32-17-7 +28 Lost in semifinals
Rangers 27-23-6 +20 Did not qualify
Flyers 25-23-8 -38 Did not qualify
Blue Jackets 18-26-12 -50 Did not qualify
Devils 19-30-7 -49 Did not qualify

Death, taxes, and the Penguins and Capitals being playoff threats in the Metropolitan Division. They've recently been joined by the Islanders, who've been the postseason bridesmaid but never the bride, running into a brick wall known as the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third round two years in a row.

The Hurricanes are perhaps the most interesting case in the Metro. They finished first in their division last season but followed it up with a less-than-desirable offseason during which they lost defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Calder Trophy nominee Alex Nedeljkovic. How they respond to that will be the key to their season.

Couple that with the fact that Washington's core is aging and Pittsburgh will start the season without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (all while banking on goaltender Tristan Jarry rebounding from a downright horrific postseason) and there just might be some wiggle room in the Metropolitan.

The Rangers enter the season with higher expectations, the reigning Norris winner in Adam Fox, and a grittier lineup. The Flyers revamped their defense after a frightful 2020-21 campaign and will hope for a better performance from goalie Carter Hart. Even the Devils are going to be harder to play against after scooping up Hamilton in free agency.

If the Blue Jackets are going to join the party, defenseman Zach Werenski will have to handle some serious pressure as the new No. 1 blue-liner, while Patrik Laine will have to put up or shut up.

1. Atlantic

Dave Sandford / National Hockey League / Getty
Team 2020-21 Record Goal Diff. Playoffs
Panthers 37-14-5 +36 Lost in 1st round
Lightning 36-17-3 +34 Won Stanley Cup
Maple Leafs 35-14-7 +39 Lost in 1st round
Bruins 33-16-7 +32 Lost in 2nd round
Canadiens 24-21-11 -9 Lost in final
Senators 23-28-5 -33 Did not qualify
Red Wings 19-27-10 -44 Did not qualify
Sabres 15-34-7 -61 Did not qualify

It's impossible to not put the division that has both 2021 Stanley Cup finalists in the No. 1 spot. With a strong supporting cast that includes the Maple Leafs, Bruins, and Panthers, the Atlantic Division is gearing up to be a slugfest. Four of these squads were among the league's top 10 in the standings last season.

Though the Lightning lost the heart of their offensive depth this offseason, they didn't lose any of their star power and look like major contenders again.

It's hard to gauge what the Canadiens will be without Shea Weber, but hoping to fill his skates is Stanley Cup champ David Savard, and the team boasts more offensive toys like Mike Hoffman.

The contending Leafs and Bruins have some roster questions to answer - both will have to adapt after losing key forwards in Zach Hyman and David Krejci, respectively. There's uncertainty surrounding Tuukka Rask's status, but Boston has filled his absence with Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. The Panthers are dealing with goaltending issues of their own after Chris Driedger went to Seattle.

Following the juggernauts at the top, the bottom of the Atlantic tells a different story. The headache-inducing Senators will want to build on their strong finish to the 2020-21 season, while the Red Wings are one year closer to being scary. Detroit will likely get some better goaltending with Nedeljkovic in the crease.

At least there's another high draft pick in the Sabres' future.

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Ranking the NHL's 2021-22 divisions
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