NHL point projections: How we see the 2021-22 season unfolding

Mike Brehm

The NHL will return to a sense of normalcy in 2021-22 after two seasons of coronavirus disruptions.

Once again, there will be an 82-game schedule. The old division alignments are back, with the exception of the Arizona Coyotes shifting to the Central to accommodate the expansion Seattle Kraken.

But there are also plenty of changes.

The salary cap finally caught up with the two-time Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Goalies were redistributed around the league, including Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury and finalist Philipp Grubauer. The Kraken will have a tough act to follow after the first-year success of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Projected point totals for the 32 NHL teams:

Metropolitan Division

The Islanders have reached the third round two years in a row. They’ll carry that success into the regular season, especially if they can get some more goals.  … The Hurricanes have had a major turnover in goal and on defense, but coach of the year Rod Brind’Amour can make it mesh. … The Capitals' core is getting older, but is still productive. The key question is how long Nicklas Backstrom will be out and how well they handle his absence. ... The Penguins are also dealing with major season-opening injuries in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but if any coach can overcome that, it's Mike Sullivan. ... Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher beefed up the defense, but Philadelphia will need the 2019-20 Carter Hart, not last season's version. ... The Rangers are bigger and tougher and Gerard Gallant will coach them well. But youngsters Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière must take a step forward in their development. ... The Devils made solid acquisitions in Dougie Hamilton and Jonathan Bernier, but they'll need another season or two to become a playoff team. ... The Blue Jackets moved on from coach John Tortorella with longtime assistant Brad Larsen, but they should remain a last-place team.

Atlantic Division

The addition of Sam Reinhart and the return of injured defenseman Aaron Ekblad will help carry the Panthers to a division title. …. The Lightning lost a lot of their depth because of salary cap woes. Their entire third line is playing elsewhere this season. … Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews led the league in goals with a bad wrist, and now it's surgically repaired. ... If the Bruins can figure out a No. 2 center to replace David Krejci, they’ll be among the top teams again. ... The Canadiens surprised everyone in the playoffs after being the last team to clinch. They'll have trouble getting back to the playoffs with captain Shea Weber out and Carey Price unavailable early. ... The Senators showed improvement late last season, but they're not quite there yet. ... The Red Wings' patient rebuild continues. Losing Jakub Vrana for four months to a shoulder injury is a big setback. ... The Sabres were a mess even before their rift with Jack Eichel.

Central Division

The Avalanche took the important step of keeping captain Gabriel Landeskog but lost Grubauer. Darcy Kuemper was solid last season and should be a good replacement. ... Kirill Kaprizov has exciting skill and a big-money contract to go with it. The Wild are a team on the rise. ... The Jets shored up their defense by adding Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck will challenge again for the Vezina Trophy. ... The Stars never got on track last season because of a COVID-19 outbreak, an ice storm and injuries. They should get back to being a playoff team. ... The Blackhawks aggressively added Fleury and Seth Jones in the offseason, but the key is getting captain Jonathan Toews back from a season-long ailment. ... The Blues have the talent to make the playoffs again, but other teams have improved. A lot depends on how Vladimir Tarasenko's trade request plays out. ... The Predators did a minor rebuild by moving Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Ellis. Goalie Juuse Saros will keep the team competitive. ... The Coyotes weren't done any favors when they were moved to the tougher Central Division. 

Pacific Division

The Golden Knights should dominate the division despite their trade of Fleury. Robin Lehner can handle the load as the undisputed No. 1 goalie. ... Oilers star Connor McDavid averaged 1.88 points a game last season playing against Canadian teams. Can he do that against the rest of the league? Not quite, but he could approach 140 points. ... The third spot in the division is up for grabs. Why not the Kraken? They're strong on defense and in net. The only question is their scoring depth. ... Phillip Danault was a good pickup for the Kings, whose aging core can still produce. ... The Canucks added depth after last season's disappointment. More important for them is Elias Pettersson is signed and healthy. ... The Flames also disappointed. A full season of coach Darryl Sutter will help their structure, but this team could be looking at a shakeup. ... The Sharks' offseason was dominated by league investigations into Evander Kane. This season will be dominated by speculation about whether pending free agent Tomas Hertl will be traded. ... Captain Ryan Getzlaf will become the Ducks' all-time leading scorer. Other than that, there won't be much to see this season.