NHL Power Rankings: Who's got the edge when 24-team format starts?
The new 24-team playoff format certainly won’t please everyone in the NHL, but it gives a lifeline to a handful of teams that were on the outside looking in at the time of the league pause on March 12. And there is no coincidence that the NHL made it a point to include Montreal and Chicago, two of the biggest fanbases in the league, to provide yet another opportunity to recoup some lost revenue. The new format also provides some intriguing matchups, not only in the play-in round, but also deeper into the playoffs. Could a play-in team go on an improbable run to the Stanley Cup? That remains to be seen. The new format is a whole new adventure and will surely feature plenty of unpredictability, as every Stanley Cup Playoffs does. Here’s our rankings of the 24 teams taking part.
24) Minnesota Wild
The Wild lack some of the star power much of the West has, but they boast a deep group and an elite defenseman in Ryan Suter. When at his peak, Devan Dubnyk is capable of stealing a series, but will they roll with Dubnyk over Alex Stalock? Doubtful.
23) Montreal Canadiens
Carey Price can carry a team if he heats up. The Habs’ problem in the qualifying round will be if they can keep pace with the Penguins’ scoring, especially considering their power-play woes. Basically, Carey Price is Montreal’s only shot.
22) Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford give Chicago a chance in any series. The healthy return of Calvin de Haan could be a difference maker for the Blackhawks, particularly against the Oilers' potent power play, but the special teams matchup is a nightmare for the Hawks in this play-in series.
21) Florida Panthers
The Panthers have five 20-goal scorers and Joel Quenneville behind the bench. What drops them down in the rankings are their issues between the pipes. Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t lived up to his big contract, but could make up for it with a strong playoff performance. It’s a favorable matchup against the Islanders, who struggle to score.
20) Calgary Flames
Calgary has the top-end talent to compete with anyone, but David Rittich’s inconsistency in the net is cause for concern. The Flames' top-six forward group is as good as any in the West, but not enough to truly scare anyone.
19) Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have some young talent at forward led by Clayton Keller and a deep blueline paced by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjlamarsson. Phil Kessel was brought in as a bonafide goal-scorer and to provide veteran leadership, but he's largely been a disappointment so far this season.
18) New York Rangers
Watch out for this team. Young, fast and talented in the offensive zone, the Rangers will go as far as their goaltending takes them. We just don’t know which of their three goalies they’ll roll with.
17) Columbus Blue Jackets
For the Jackets, goaltending is everything. They own a collective 2.51 GAA. If they can play well at even strength they can do some damage, but they can’t rely on their power play to make a difference. Say it with us: ELVIS MERZLIKINS.
16) Winnipeg Jets
The Jets have five 20-goal scorers in their forward group and one of the NHL’s top goalies in Connor Hellebuyck. Their downfall could be their lack of top-end talent on the blue line, but don’t discount their experience.
15) Nashville Predators
Which team is going to show up? The Preds have been wildly inconsistent all year, but have arguably the most talented defensive group in the West. Pekka Rinne has been through it all, though he posted just an .883 save percentage since his back-to-back October shutouts. Could they run with Jusse Saros in the playoffs?
14) Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a young team on the rise, with as talented a group of young forwards as there is the NHL and a goaltender in Jacob Markstrom having a career year. While extremely talented, lack of playoff experience could be their glaring weakness. Vancouver has a favorable matchup with Minnesota to start.
13) New York Islanders
The Islanders have a strong defensive core and Barry Trotz behind the bench. If they can score just enough, this squad can win some games.
12) Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are arguably the top two players in the West, and their special teams are elite. The Oilers' inconsistency in net and on the blue line also make them vulnerable against anyone.
11) Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina boasts a deep defensive core despite question marks in net, and potentially getting Dougie Hamilton back would bolster the D. Sebastian Aho will have to really shine if the ‘Canes are going to go deep this year, but they have the experience to make another run.
10) Toronto Maple Leafs
The young and talented legs of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander should scare the entire Eastern Conference field. Those three players combined for 94 goals in 70 games. In the qualifying round, can the Leafs break down the wall that Columbus has built between the pipes?
9) Dallas Stars
The Stars have a talented group of forwards who play a two-way game, the type of style that succeeds come playoff time. They also have a top-end defensive group and a goalie in Ben Bishop who's been there in the biggest playoff situations. Despite their slow start to the season, the Stars can make some major noise.
8) Pittsburgh Penguins
What can you say? The Penguins are proven winners who rise to the occasion and will be so until proven otherwise. Still dangerous after all these years, but they have quite the task in their play-in round against Montreal's Carey Price.
7) Colorado Avalanche
Speed, speed, speed. The Avalanche can skate past anyone and have as much talent as any team in the West. And a team that fast, with healthy, fresh legs is potentially lethal. Pavel Francouz and Phillipp Grubauer make for a talented goalie tandem, but a largely unproven one come playoff time.
6) Washington Capitals
Ovi is still Ovi, and as long as you have Alex Ovechkin, you have a chance. Oh, and that John Carlson guy is pretty ok, too. As a team, the Caps ranked second in the NHL in goals, but the question is whether they’ll get the goaltending they need from Braden Holtby for a deep playoff run.
5) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers were the hottest team in the NHL at the time of the pause, having just had a nine-game winning streak snapped. They have Claude Giroux and a power play unit that clicks at 25%. Carter Hart might finally be the solution to their long-time goaltending woes.
4) St. Louis Blues
The defending Stanley Cup champions have the deepest forward group in the West, and get back arguably their best player and one of the NHL’s top goal scorers in Vladimir Tarasenko. Jordan Binnington proved last season he can carry a team through a series. The Blues are as dangerous as anyone in the West.
3) Vegas Golden Knights
Depth is the name of the game for Vegas. The Golden Knights play a great two-way game, led by star forward Mark Stone. Most importantly, the goaltending tandem of Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner is as good as any in the NHL.
2) Boston Bruins
At age 23, David Pastrnak is otherworldly with 95 points on the year. Playing 5-on-5, the Bruins are plus-24 and Tuukka Rask is on his game with a 2.12 GAA. They were the best team in the NHL for most of the season, and they’ll go into the playoffs healthy and fresh. They’re as much of a Stanley Cup favorite as anyone.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning sport the second-best goal differential in the league at +50, trailing only the Boston Bruins. The layoff allows captain Steve Stamkos to have core muscle surgery, heal and miss little action. Andrei Vasilevskiy is good enough with a 2.56 GAA and a .917 save percentage. The Lightning are loaded, and they have a chip on their shoulder following last year’s early exit.