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NHL Power Rankings: Contenders and pretenders for 2020-21 NHL season

NHL Power Rankings

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 09: Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates with teammates on the bench after Hedman scored in the first period of Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place on September 09, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we are going to take a look at the the three different tiers of teams in the league this season. The contenders, the pretenders, and the lottery teams.

While it can be difficult, and maybe even impossible, to know exactly which teams are going to end in the Stanley Cup Final we should at least have a pretty good idea as to which teams fit into which category. At least to a point.

How are we defining each tier? The contenders are the teams that should have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. Teams that as of right now you could conceivably see winning it all. The Pretenders are teams that could be good, could easily make the playoffs, but may not quite be at a Stanley Cup level. The lottery teams are teams that seem destined to miss the playoffs entirely.

So let’s take a look.

Which tier is your team in?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

The Contenders

1. Tampa Bay Lightning. Even without Nikita Kucherov for the regular season the defending Stanley Cup champions still have an absolutely loaded roster.

2. Colorado Avalanche. An already great team managed to get even stronger this offseason with the additions of Brandon Saad and Devon Toews.

3. Vegas Golden Knights. They have two starting caliber goalies, two legit top-pairing defensemen, and an excellent group of forwards. A third trip to the NHL’s semifinals in the first four years of their existence seems possible.

4. St. Louis Blues. Losing Alex Pietrangelo hurts, but Torey Krug is a more than capable replacement and the rest of the team is outstanding. Which version of Jordan Binnington they get in goal will play a big role in how far they go.

5. Boston Bruins. There is every reason to be concerned about the state of the defense following the losses of Krug and Zdeno Chara (and not replacing them from outside of the organization) but the forwards and goalies are good enough to make them a force.

6. Washington Capitals. Back-to-back First Round exits is a concern, but they have finished in first place in their division five years in a row, are consistently near the top of the league standings, and still have an excellent roster. The window is still open.

7. Dallas Stars. Surprising fact: No team in the NHL has won more playoff games than the Stars over the past two seasons. The offense is not great, but the goaltending and defense are both great.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. Stop me if you have heard this one before, but if they can get the goaltending the sky is the limit for this team.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins. Do you remember the end of the Dan Bylsma/Ray Shero era when the Penguins had two great forward lines built around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin that could carry them to the playoffs, and then the rest of the team looked severely flawed? This team looks similar to that on paper.

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10. Philadelphia Flyers. There is some question as to how good they really are, but if Carter Hart is the goalie they think he is (and he should be) they could be dangerous.

11. New York Islanders. Islanders fans will not like this ranking, and I get it. They were in the Eastern Conference Final just a year ago and now in 11th in the preseason rankings? But it was such a weird season. They started great for 18 games. Then they were awful for the next 50 games and may have even missed the playoffs in a normal season. Then they got white hot in the bubble. Which team are they? They have enough flaws to make me question them, but enough strengths that I also do not want to bet against them.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs. On one hand, this team has to actually do something when it matters for anyone to take them seriously. On the other hand, they are in probably the most winnable division in the league this season and could easily end up in the semifinals. But again, the time has come to do something. Finish higher than third in the division. Finish in the top-five of the league standings. Win a playoff round. Give me something.

13. Edmonton Oilers. A lot of really good, under-the-radar free agent signings this offseason, but is that enough help for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl?

The Pretenders

14. Calgary Flames. They are not as good as they looked two years ago, but they might be a little better than they showed a year ago. Jacob Markstrom will dictate which direction this thing goes.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets. They have two outstanding defensemen and some underrated forwards that can keep them competitive. They desperate need the goaltending to repeat its performance from a year ago.

16. Vancouver Canucks. The top of the lineup is a championship core. The bottom of the lineup is going to be a liability. The goaltending is a question.

17. Montreal Canadiens. They had great underlying numbers a year ago and needed some finishing ability at forward. I think they found some in Tyler Toffoli and Josh Anderson, and watch out for Nick Suzuki to have a breakout season.

18. Nashville Predators. When things stay at even-strength they are pretty good. When it turns into a special teams game they are as bad as it gets. That has to change.

19. New York Rangers. The forwards and the goalies are cause for a lot of optimism, perhaps as soon as this season. The defense after Adam Fox is a big concern.

20. Florida Panthers. They need the Columbus version of Sergei Bobrovsky or another busy offseason will be rendered pointless.

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21. Winnipeg Jets. Connor Hellebuyck gives them a chance every night. I still think that defense is going to be too much to overcome.

22. Minnesota Wild. I could see them making the playoffs as the fourth-team in a top-heavy West Division. But I do not see them getting through two of Colorado, Vegas, or St. Louis if they get there.

23. San Jose Sharks. Take the entry above about the Wild and repeat the same thing here.

24. Arizona Coyotes. Love the goalies, but where is the offense going to come from?

The Lottery Teams

25. Buffalo Sabres. All of the offseason excitement that came with adding Taylor Hall and Eric Staal, only to do nothing about the goalies and then be placed in a division with Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New York Islanders, and New York Rangers.

26. New Jersey Devils. The reason for optimism here was the potential of Mackenzie Blackwood and Corey Crawford goalie duo. Now it is just down to Blackwood. They need more offense, and that division is going to be brutal.


27. Ottawa Senators. The roster definitely looks like more of an NHL roster this season, and the cupboard is being restocked. Still a long way to go in this rebuild.

28. Los Angeles Kings. Within two years they will be a playoff team again. Within three years they will be a contender. Their time is coming. It is just not right now.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. An already thin roster is already being impacted by injuries and the season has not even started yet. The goaltending question could really make this season a challenge.

30. Anaheim Ducks. Some intriguing young players here, but they need to get the memo that they need to pick a new direction and follow it.

31. Detroit Red Wings. Some really smart offseason signings and a lot of cap space to spend after this season, but this is going to be another tough season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.