Welcome to the second half of this 2021-22 NHL season, where hope springs eternal for all 32 teams.
That's right. Every franchise has at least one Reason For Optimism (RFO), and we're here to highlight it alongside this week's power rankings. From top performers to comeback stories to future considerations, there's bound to be something about which to smile.
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 on Feb. 2. Points paces are through Tuesday's games.
Previous ranking: 2
Points percentage: 0.766
Next seven days: @ VGK (Feb. 16), @ BUF (Feb. 19), @ BOS (Feb. 21)
RFO: Consistency is key. In 20 games since the start of 2022, the Avs have lost exactly one game in regulation. Even more impressive, Colorado had dealt with superstar Nathan MacKinnon's absences seamlessly, and Nazem Kadri's superb (and, potentially Hart Trophy-contending?) season only gets better. Plus, have we mentioned that Cale Makar has only gotten better this season? Top to bottom, Colorado stays consistent.
Previous ranking: 1
Points percentage: 0.734
Next seven days: @ CAR (Feb. 16), @ MIN (Feb. 18), @ CHI (Feb. 20), vs. NSH (Feb. 22)
RFO: Goals on goals on goals. The Panthers have averaged over four goals per game this season to lead the league in that category. Florida has yet to be shut out and has had only three (3!) occasions all season where it has scored only a single goal. How do you beat that?
Previous ranking: 3
Points percentage: 0.728
Next seven days: vs. FLA (Feb. 16), vs. NSH (Feb. 18), @ PIT (Feb. 20), @ PHI (Feb. 21)
RFO: Sebastian Aho. Consider that Aho is the Hurricanes' leading scorer and already has 20 goals this season, for the sixth 20-goal campaign of his career. The only Carolina Hurricane who has ever had more? Ron Francis (10). Aho is just 24. He's the present, and the future, of the franchise.
Previous ranking: 6
Points percentage: 0.707
Next seven days: vs. PIT (Feb. 17), vs. STL (Feb. 19), @ MTL (Feb. 21), @ CBJ (Feb. 22)
RFO: The Big 2. Forget the Core Four. It's all about the Maple Leafs' Big Two: Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Both are playing terrific hockey. Both are peaking this season around the same time. Both have, at times, tried to pull Toronto through recent rough patches. The caveat is, as always, what can they add in the playoffs? Cautious optimism suggests it could be a whole lot.
Previous ranking: 7
Points percentage: 0.700
Next seven days: @ TOR (Feb. 17), vs. CAR (Feb. 20)
RFO: First-place ... and not fully stocked? Pittsburgh took over the Metropolitan Division's top spot last week, which wouldn't normally be notable except it happened without the Penguins being fully healthy or figured out. Most recently, Evgeni Malkin has missed time and there's still a search going for his ideal linemates. Other players have zipped in and out of the lineup, too. The Penguins have kept humming along, even improving. Resilience is a superpower in the playoffs, and Pittsburgh's got it.
Previous ranking: 4
Points percentage: 0.714
Next seven days: N/A
RFO: Count the Cups. If any team can operate well under pressure, it's Tampa. The Lightning's success comes from consistency in all phases -- veteran leadership, depth of scoring, a solid blue line and MVP-caliber goaltending. When one gives out a bit, another picks up. And Tampa rolls on. To single out any one player or one factor does this group a disservice. The Lighting are truly a sum of their parts, and it's taken them places they should be optimistic about reaching again.
Previous ranking: 5
Points percentage: 0.716
Next seven days: @ WPG (Feb. 16), vs. FLA (Feb. 18), @ EDM (Feb. 20), @ OTT (Feb. 22)
RFO: Kirill Kaprizov. Oh, just admit it. You were a little worried about Kaprizov back in the fall. Where was the heralded scoring stud Minnesota supposedly had in its ranks? Well, he's here. And he has been spectacular. Kaprizov kicked off 2022 with 21 points in 13 games, making an already-strong Wild team even more dangerous. You want hope for today and tomorrow? Kaprizov's that guy.
Previous ranking: 11
Points percentage: 0.618
Next seven days: @ PHI (Feb. 17)
RFO: Ageless Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is also the best player on a team that asks a lot of him and he continues to deliver. The Capitals will be in a fight for playoff seeding in the highly contested Metropolitan Division, and if anyone has the potential to push his team past the competition, it's Ovechkin.
Previous ranking: 9
Points percentage: 0.615
Next seven days: vs. COL (Feb. 16), vs. LA (Feb. 18), @ SJ (Feb. 20)
RFO: Jack Eichel. It's the debut everyone is waiting for: Eichel, suiting up Wednesday for the first time in Vegas after being acquired from Buffalo and having herniated disk surgery. How much better will he make the Golden Knights? What type of postseason impact can Eichel have, considering we've never seen him play in the NHL playoffs? The Vegas Hope-O-Meter should be off the charts on this one.
10. Calgary Flames
Previous ranking: 14
Points percentage: 0.652
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Feb. 16), vs. SEA (Feb. 19), vs. WPG (Feb. 21)
RFO: Jacob Markstrom. Whoever said "defense wins championships" never ran up on a hot goalie in the playoffs. Markstrom could be that type of difference-maker for Calgary. The Flames goalie has a league-leading eight shutouts already this season (the next-closest goalie has four) and he inspires the kind of confidence that's led to massive wins lately. Now, imagine Markstrom's play with more scoring support courtesy of the Tyler Toffoli trade? Could be an exciting spring in Calgary.
11. New York Rangers
Previous ranking: 8
Points percentage: 0.688
Next seven days: vs. DET (Feb. 17), @ OTT (Feb. 20)
RFO: Silencing of the critics. Do you hear that? It's the Rangers, shutting down their haters. The Rangers aren't a top team, they said. New York is only as good as goaltender Igor Shesterkin, they claimed. Well, the Rangers pushed back in a big way, topping the league-leading Panthers 5-2 to start February. After a long layoff between that and their next game, the Rangers had plenty of time to bask in past accomplishments and prepare for future ones.
12. St. Louis Blues
Previous ranking: 10
Points percentage: 0.649
Next seven days: @ MTL (Feb. 17), @ TOR (Feb. 19), @ PHI (Feb. 22)
RFO: Ville Husso. We love a good goalie debate. Although, this isn't much of one. Husso has outplayed Jordan Binnington. Yes, the latter goaltender has that Stanley Cup-winning pedigree. But Husso has the results, losing only one start since early December. Now, a tandem that includes both postseason experience and an up-and-comer playing lights-out? Who doesn't hope for that!
13. Boston Bruins
Previous ranking: 13
Points percentage: 0.617
Next seven days: @ NYI (Feb. 17), @ OTT (Feb. 19), vs. COL (Feb. 21)
RFO: Survive, and advance. Boston knows about a bounce-back. When the Bruins' best players are unavailable (see: Bergeron, Patrice; Marchand, Brad), the team might get knocked down (say, 6-0 vs. Carolina) but there's generally a good response (i.e. Jeremy Swayman's shutout in Ottawa). It's a pattern Boston has perpetuated all season, finding clutch performances throughout its ranks to keep moving forward. You can never count the B's out.
Previous ranking: 12
Points percentage: 0.612
Next seven days: @ CAR (Feb. 18), @ FLA (Feb. 22)
RFO: Juuse Saros. Saros has been the Predators' backbone this season and is a big reason the team has overachieved -- and could continue doing so into the postseason. The Central Division will be hotly contested, and Nashville's best hope of staying in position is standing between the pipes most nights.
15. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 15
Points percentage: 0.561
Next seven days: @ CGY (Feb. 16), @ EDM (Feb. 17), @ VAN (Feb. 19), vs. SJ (Feb. 22)
RFO: Trevor Zegras. He's an unconventional hockey star-in-the-making, in a passionately untraditional market. And goodness, has Zegras captured the game's attention. Anaheim's rebuild has been accelerated by its young talent, and no one will carry that torch into the future with more authority than the captivating freshman.
Previous ranking: 17
Points percentage: 0.573
Next seven days: @ VGK (Feb. 18), @ ARI (Feb. 19)
RFO: Phillip Danault takes the edge off. The Kings needed more offensively and brought Danault in to provide it. Now Danault has stabilized L.A.'s second line, as a shutdown center with more offensive upside than he showed in Montreal. Danault frees up Anze Kopitar to thrive with less weight on his shoulders -- and Danault seems only too happy to carry some extra load.
17. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 18
Points percentage: 0.574
Next seven days: @ CHI (Feb. 18), @ ARI (Feb. 20)
RFO: Getting their R&R. That's (Jason) Robertson & Roope (Hintz), for the uninitiated. Sure, Dallas has the ageless Joe Pavelski as its leading scorer, but a team is only as strong as its depth, and the play of upstarts (and pending RFAs) Robertson and Hintz has covered for fewer veteran contributions elsewhere in the lineup. And a bonus: They're super fun to watch!
Previous ranking: 22
Points percentage: 0.500
Next seven days: @ NYR (Feb. 17)
RFO: The future is (finally) here. Years of rebuilding in Detroit have laid a strong foundation. The Red Wings are competitive already with a rookie-stacked roster, giving them key pieces up front (Lucas Raymond), on the blue line (Moritz Seider) and in net (Alex Nedeljkovic). Dylan Larkin appears more energized than ever. Tyler Bertuzzi is making his mark. Wheels are turning again in Motown, and will take this team far.
19. Edmonton Oilers
Previous ranking: 16
Points percentage: 0.585
Next seven days: vs. ANA (Feb. 17), @ WPG (Feb. 19), vs. MIN (Feb. 20)
RFO: It can't get worse -- right? Let's face it: The Oilers have been in a tough stretch this season. The losing streaks. The playing from behind. The lack of reliable goaltending. The top-heavy scoring (or lack thereof). And now, the coaching change that general manager Ken Holland was forced into by continuous, unexpectedly poor showings. Things can only go up for Edmonton from here. Right?
20. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 21
Points percentage: 0.511
Next seven days: vs. VAN (Feb. 17), vs. VGK (Feb. 20), @ ANA (Feb. 22)
RFO: Tomas Hertl. San Jose needs Hertl. Not just today, but for seasons to come. Luckily for the Sharks, the feeling seems to be mutual. The Sharks' leading scorer has been sensational on the ice, and while he's a pending unrestricted free agent this summer, Hertl has been open about fighting for this club, his desire for a fair deal to stay long-term and his love of "home." With Hertl on its side, San Jose has a lot of reasons to be hopeful.
Previous ranking: 24
Points percentage: 0.510
Next seven days: @ SJ (Feb. 17), vs. ANA (Feb. 19), vs. SEA (Feb. 21)
RFO: Building a better front office. Setting aside what Vancouver's doing on the ice under coach Bruce Boudreau, let's look at the industry-shifting changes the Canucks are making to their front office. Emilie Castonguay and Cammi Granato are now assistant general managers, bringing genuinely fresh perspectives to an organization desperate to reach its potential. Lots of teams talk about diversity; the Canucks are actually embracing it. The future in Vancouver is brighter because of it.
22. Winnipeg Jets
Previous ranking: 19
Points percentage: 0.522
Next seven days: vs. MIN (Feb. 16), vs. SEA (Feb. 17), vs. EDM (Feb. 19), @ CGY (Feb. 21)
RFO: Welcome back, scorers. Winnipeg has seen some droughts this season. Other than Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois being consistent, there wasn't much else about which to feel optimistic offensively. That has changed a lot recently, as Mark Scheifele is finding a groove, Andrew Copp is getting more involved, Blake Wheeler is back from injury and Nikolaj Ehlers will eventually be too. Great play from the Jets' great players is what the team has needed all season, and there's hope now that it's back for good.
Previous ranking: 23
Points percentage: 0.465
Next seven days: vs. BOS (Feb. 17), vs. MTL (Feb. 20), @ SEA (Feb. 22)
RFO: Lou Lamoriello. The Islanders have good players. They have a good coach. But for whatever reason, they haven't been getting the job done often enough. To get the most out of this team, changes might well be inevitable. Fortunately, New York has savvy veteran general manager Lou Lamoriello available to crack the code. If there's a way to right this ship, trust and believe Lamoriello will find it.
Previous ranking: 20
Points percentage: 0.500
Next seven days: @ CHI (Feb. 17), vs. BUF (Feb. 20), vs. TOR (Feb. 22)
RFO: Patrik Laine? Is that you? Laine's first 21 games: six goals, 15 points. Laine's next six games: seven goals, 12 points. And it's been timely offense from the winger to boot, like scoring the equalizer against Montreal with 7.2 seconds left in regulation last week. Laine's reawakening is everything a mediocre Columbus team could hope for to start pushing it back toward contention.
Previous ranking: 25
Points percentage: 0.439
Next seven days: vs. CBJ (Feb. 17), vs. DAL (Feb. 18), vs. FLA (Feb. 20)
RFO: Dylan Strome? Dylan Strome! One month ago, you might not have believed it. But Strome is on a heater. Derek King has embraced the equation previous coaches did not: a top-six role + power-play opportunities = game-changing Strome, who is averaging a point per game in calendar year 2022. Instead of being trade fodder, Strome suddenly looks like an important player for the future -- or at least, his potential trade return has gone way up.
Previous ranking: 28
Points percentage: 0.406
Next seven days: vs. WSH (Feb. 17), vs. CAR (Feb. 21), vs. STL (Feb. 22)
RFO: Trade season, plus blank checks. Hey, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher was given carte blanche by ownership to do what he must to get this Philadelphia team back on track. And, well, there's a lot of holes to plug. But holding a blank check around trade season could also open doors to creative moves born out of total desperation! That's a winning combination if ever we've heard one.
Previous ranking: 26
Points percentage: 0.390
Next seven days: N/A
RFO: The next wave. It's not about where the Devils are now. It's about where a talented troop of young players will take them. Jack Hughes exudes confidence and is already averaging a point-per-game pace. Nico Hischier is developing into a solid center who plays a 200-foot game. Dawson Mercer has shown -- especially earlier this fall -- that he's a special player. Every Devils game is forecasting the team's highly optimistic future.
28. Seattle Kraken
Previous ranking: 27
Points percentage: 0.367
Next seven days: @ WPG (Feb. 17), @ CGY (Feb. 19), @ VAN (Feb. 21), vs. NYI (Feb. 22)
RFO: It won't be like this forever. The Kraken will get better. General manager Ron Francis and coach Dave Hakstol will decide on a direction and get in a rhythm with the rest of the league, moving players in and out in accordance with their vision. Philipp Grubauer will find his form (he's too good not to bounce back). Jordan Eberle will stick around. It will add up to far less pain later.
29. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 29
Points percentage: 0.417
Next seven days: vs. OTT (Feb. 17), vs. COL (Feb. 19), @ CBJ (Feb. 20)
RFO: Rasmus Dahlin. The Sabres' patience with Dahlin's development is paying off. The blueliner is emerging in a big way, and practically each game shows another facet of growth. The confidence Dahlin has in his decisions, how he's beginning to control the pace more and can take on 24-plus minutes per game -- it's all a great sign of things to come.
30. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 30
Points percentage: 0.413
Next seven days: @ BUF (Feb. 17), vs. BOS (Feb. 19), vs. NYR (Feb. 20), vs. MIN (Feb. 22)
RFO: Stars in the making. Brady Tkachuk. Drake Batherson. Tim Stutzle. Thomas Chabot. And on goes the list. There are some great pieces in the Senators' lineup every night already (when healthy, of course), and with time they'll only get better. Yes, some thought Ottawa would be further ahead than the team is now. But that doesn't diminish the talent in the Sens' ranks, a group that's destined to only continue improving.
31. Arizona Coyotes
Previous ranking: 32
Points percentage: 0.292
Next seven days: vs. LA (Feb. 19), vs. DAL (Feb. 20)
RFO: College town-bound. There are plenty of opinions outside Arizona about the Coyotes being approved to retrofit and (temporarily) play in a 5,000-seat venue at Arizona State University next season. But for those true Coyotes fans, it's a win. If not for ASU, the club would be homeless. In a perfect world, this is just a necessary stopgap to building a better, permanent rink in Tempe.
Previous ranking: 31
Points percentage: 0.240
Next seven days: vs. STL (Feb. 17), @ NYI (Feb. 20), vs. TOR (Feb. 21)
RFO: Martin St. Louis. It was the coaching appointment no one saw coming, and it could be exactly what the Canadiens need. Montreal played too much of its season without pride, losing by margins too wide to be acceptable. Enter St. Louis, a fierce competitor on the ice with no professional coaching experience but the rest of this season to prove he deserves more than an interim tag. If nothing else, you'll want to watch what happens.