CBS Sports

After an abbreviated offseason, the 2021-22 NHL season is upon us. For the first time since the 2018-19 season, teams are slated to play a full 82-game schedule, so there will be plenty of hockey to go around.

The biggest overall question as the season begins is whether any team can knock the Tampa Bay Lightning off their perch after two straight Stanley Cup victories. There are several candidates, with the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights looking to break through with Cup parades of their own. Those teams are battling it out for the top spot in the first Power Rankings of the year.

The main contenders will have more competition this season, literally. The Seattle Kraken entered the NHL this offseason and will start out with a competitive roster, much like Vegas did in 2017-18. Can the Kraken follow in the Golden Knights' footsteps and make a run to the Cup final in their inaugural campaign? It's a tall task, but the Kraken already look like one of the league's better teams on paper.

As hope overflows with just hours until puck drop, here's a look at the first NHL Power Rankings of the 2021-22 season:

Biggest Movers
5 Devils
12 Coyotes
1 Lightning The back-to-back Stanley Cup champs have earned the right to start the season at the top of the rankings, despite some roster turnover in the offseason. That is surely their biggest achievement of the last two years. 3 45-29-8
2 Avalanche As scary as it might sound, the Avalanche probably improved in the offseason. Coming into the season, the only question about the Avs is whether they will finally be able to capitalize on having the NHL's deepest roster with a run to the Western Conference final and beyond. 1 50-25-7
3 Golden Knights The Golden Knights shipped out the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner for next to nothing in the offseason (apologies to Mikael Hakkarainen), and they are still one of the elite teams in the NHL. Vegas is loaded at nearly every position, and they will be a Stanley Cup contender again this year. It helps that the Golden Knights are clearly the best team in their own division. 1 45-29-8
4 Maple Leafs Led by Auston Matthews, who was nothing less than dominant last season, Toronto will boast one of the league's most lethal forward groups. As long as the goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek holds up, the Leafs have a legitimate shot to win the Stanley Cup. Good thing nothing has ever gone wrong for the Maple Leafs when they enter the season with high expectations. 2 46-26-10
5 Islanders The Islanders may not have the elite talent that some of the teams above them boast, but they are strong at every position. With Barry Trotz behind the bench, the Isles have been one of the most underrated teams in the NHL, but they won't fool me anymore. 3 39-27-16
6 Bruins The Bruins will be without two former franchise icons for at least part of the season. David Krejci returned home to the Czech Republic this offseason, and free agent goalie Tuukka Rask is still recovering from surgery. Despite those losses, the Bruins still have the high-end talent at forward and defense to be one of the best teams in the Atlantic Division. 3 47-20-15
7 Panthers I really wanted to put the Panthers higher on this list. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau are two players who would be superstars in bigger markets. MacKenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad are a formidable top pairing on defense. However, the goaltending situation is scary. Sergei Bobrovsky has been dreadful in his 81 games played for Florida and Spencer Knight is still very inexperienced. 2 52-24-6
8 Wild Gone are the days when the Wild were a recommended substitute for sleeping medication. Players like Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala have helped change that perception, and Minnesota looks like one of the best teams in the Central Division on paper. 3 39-34-9
9 Hurricanes The Hurricanes are still a very dangerous team, but they look a little less scary at the outset of the 2021-22 season. That's because the team lost star defenseman Dougie Hamilton in free agency and parted ways with the goaltending tandem of Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic. 6 52-23-7
10 Kraken Unfortunately for the Kraken, Vegas set the bar pretty high for modern expansion franchises. All Seattle has to do is reach the Stanley Cup Final, and everyone will be satisfied. Easy. The crazy thing is, with this roster, it's not necessarily outside the realm of possibility. It's hard to find any glaring weaknesses on this Kraken team, and they will be a tough out in the Pacific Division. NR 34-35-13
11 Rangers The rebuild is nearing its end for the Rangers, and the pressure will be on head coach Gerard Gallant to make sure this team reaches the playoffs in earnest for the first time since 2017. With elite skill players like winger Artemi Panarin and defenseman Adam Fox, New York has the talent to do just that. 2 55-23-4
12 Penguins Father Time is the enemy of the Penguins these days, but betting against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang still feels like a risky proposition. The problem is that Pittsburgh will have to start the season without Crosby, who underwent wrist surgery in September. Can the team keep its head above water until the captain returns? 2 38-32-12
13 Capitals The Capitals round out this cluster of Metropolitan Division teams, and they will be a strong squad again this year. With Alex Ovechkin chipping away at Wayne Gretzky's all-time goals record, Washington's offense will present problems for any defense. Between goalies Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanacek, keeping the puck out of their own net might prove to be a challenge. 6 40-31-11
14 Oilers There is a very good case that the Oilers should be higher, but they are not to be trusted. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisitl are two of the best players on the planet, and the addition of Zach Hyman only bolsters a strong offensive attack. However, the glaring lack of talent on the blue line and the team's decision to roll the dice with Mike Smith in net again this year are big problems. -- 49-27-6
15 Stars After making a run to the Stanley Cup Final in the bubble of 2020, the Stars failed to make the playoffs at all in 2021. The truth of the matter is that Dallas is probably somewhere in the middle. Young stars like Jason Roberston, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen will complement the likes of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. The Stars should make a return to the playoffs this season. 1 52-21-9
16 Blues Last season, the Blues looked like a far cry from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2019. St. Louis limped into the playoffs and got swept by the Colorado Avalanche with relative ease. The Blues need some sort of rejuvenation that may not be coming, but the savvy addition of Pavel Buchnevich will definitely help. 4 43-33-6
17 Jets For the last couple of seasons, the Jets have relied solely on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to keep the puck out of the net. Defensemen can be useful in that endeavor too, and Winnipeg added Nate Schmidt and Brenden Dillon in the offseason. Neither of those players are elite, but they do signal a potential improvement for the Jets in 2021-22. 5 52-24-6
18 Flames The Flames have been the picture of mediocrity for years now, save for one strong regular season in 2018-19. That might not change this year. Up front, Calgary has a solid top-nine forward group, but losing Mark Giordano to the expansion draft could prove to be a big blow on the blue line. 3 38-39-5
19 Blackhawks They added Marc-Andre Fleury. They added Seth Jones. Captain Jonathan Toews is back. With all that in mind, I struggle to believe the Blackhawks are a playoff team. The defense is still a concern, even with Jones, and it's fair to wonder how well Fleury holds up behind a significantly worse roster than the one he had in Vegas. Chicago might wind up making me look foolish, but for now they land outside the top half of the league. 1 23-53-6
20 Flyers No team gave up more goals last season than the Flyers. To their credit, they went out and traded for defenseman Ryan Ellis in the offseason in order to address that problem. On the other hand, Philadelphia also made the... interesting... choices to trade for blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen and sign Martin Jones to back up Carter Hart in net. 3 38-33-11
21 Canucks The good news for the Canucks is that they have a fairly strong top-six forward group that is led by young phenom Elias Pettersson. The bad news is that those players may need to score a lot of goals to give Vancouver a shot at the postseason because the defense is largely a disaster outside of Quinn Hughes. 1 50-23-9
22 Predators With the retirement of Pekka Rinne and the departures of Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis, the Predators decided that it was out with the old and in with the new. Will Nashville be better for it this year? Probably not, but they should be interesting. Go ahead and make that the team motto for 2021-22. 7 47-30-5
23 Canadiens This probably looks pretty disrespectful to a team that was in the Stanley Cup Final last season, but a lot has changed since then. The team lost Philip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Tomas Tatar to other teams in the offseason. Shea Weber is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Carey Price just recently entered the NHL's player assistance program. It will be an uphill battle for the Habs this season. 6 30-36-16
24 Kings The Kings have one of the most loaded prospect pools in the NHL, and if those players start to come into their own this season, the team could fly up the rankings. At this moment, Los Angeles might still be a year or so away from really getting to where it wants to be. 1 44-27-11
25 Devils The additions of Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves definitely make this team better, but by how much? If young forwards Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier can start to figure it out in the NHL, then the answer to that question will be, "A lot." 5 38-39-5
26 Blue Jackets Columbus is a pesky team, but don't get that confused with being a good team. It's hard to see where consistent offensive production will come from, especially if Patrik Laine doesn't improve under new management. -- 27-43-12
27 Sharks The Sharks have fallen off a cliff in the last two seasons, but extremely poor goaltending has had a lot to do with that. They upgraded at that position in the offseason, yet there is still the matter of some deteriorating veterans, especially on the back end. 3 19-54-9
28 Senators Senators general manager Pierre Dorion claims that the team's rebuild is over. I'll have to respectfully disagree with him. There are still some fun young players, headlined by Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. -- 37-41-4
29 Red Wings The Red Wings are still rebuilding, and it shows. Detroit will be in the hotly contested race to the bottom again in the 2021-22 season, but Steve Yzerman has already made some good moves. Trading for wiger Jakub Vrana and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic are among them. 2 41-32-9
30 Ducks The Ducks probably need to keep vying for the best draft pick possible in order for them to complete their rebuild. However, sending out John Gibson in goal every night might be counterproductive to that effort, especially if he has a return to form this year. 1 27-50-5
31 Coyotes Throwing it back to 2015 when fans of the Coyotes and Sabres were cheering for the other team in hopes of landing the No. 1 overall pick, Connor McDavid. Neither team drafted him, but 2022 is a new draft and a new opportunity. 12 36-41-5
32 Sabres The tiebreaker for this last spot came down to which team was currently in a very public dispute with its now former captain over which medical procedure he should get to repair an injury. 1 39-37-6