Power Rankings: Stanley Cup Contenders

·7 min read

It's time for the final regular-season edition of the NBC Sports EDGE NHL Power Rankings.

This week's rankings are simple: The teams that are going to be participating in the playoffs are ranked by their chances (my opinion, obviously) of winning the Stanley Cup this year.

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1 – Vegas Golden Knights:

The Golden Knights don’t have many weaknesses on their roster. Their front office has been aggressive when it comes to making improvements every off-season and they’ve put together a strong year. They may not have a super star down the middle, but they have difference-makers at various positions. Captain Mark Stone is a two-way force and his quality at both ends of the ice will only help in the team’s pursuit of a Stanley Cup.

2 – Colorado Avalanche:

The Avs are sitting in second in the West Division behind Vegas, but they can still finish in the top spot. Colorado has one of the most dynamic players in the game, in Nathan MacKinnon, and they have a lot of quality up front. Their young, mobile defense might be their biggest strength. Cale Makar has an impressive 21 points in 25 career postseason games.

3 – Toronto Maple Leafs:

Do I believe that the Leafs are the third best team in the NHL? No. But their path to the final four is “easier” than the teams in other divisions. Before they can focus on a Stanley Cup chase, this group needs to show that they can win a playoff round first. Stopping Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner is going to be a difficult task for any team. On top of that, you have to worry about John Tavares and William Nylander on the second line. The big question is whether or not they’ll get saves from Frederik Andersen or Jack Campbell.

4 – Tampa Bay Lightning:

The biggest concern I have with the Lightning has to do with their health. Is Steven Stamkos going to be back? How good will Nikita Kucherov look after not playing all season? Can Victor Hedman play at a high level even though he’s dealing with an injury that will likely require surgery in the off-season? The defending champions won’t be an easy out if that trio can come together and contribute.

5 – Carolina Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes are still a relatively young group, but slowing them down is going to be a challenge. Carolina likes to literally play fast and they have the offensive talent to put the puck in the net. Their group of defensemen is deep too. Like a few of the teams ahead of them on the list, goaltending is a question mark. Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and/or James Reimer will have to step up at various times.

6 – Pittsburgh Penguins:

The Penguins are getting hot at the right time. Despite dealing with various injuries throughout the season, they found a way to win the East Division. Obviously, captain Sidney Crosby had a lot to do with that. A long postseason run may depend on whether or not Evgeni Malkin can play at an elite level. The Pens flamed out of the play-in round last year, so this group has a lot to prove this postseason.

7 – Washington Capitals:

For the Caps to have any chance of winning the Stanley Cup again, they’ll need Alex Ovechkin (lower body) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (Covid-19 list) to get healthy. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed Saturday’s game against Philadelphia, is also an important part of the roster. It won’t be easy to come out of the East Division and it looks like the Caps will either line up against Boston or the Islanders in the first round.

8 – Florida Panthers:

There’s no denying that the Panthers have a potent attack and a great head coach in Joel Quenneville. But this is still a group that has to show that they can compete in the playoffs. We’re finally going to get that all-Florida matchup in the opening round of the playoffs, too. It would be impressive if the Panthers knocked out the Lightning in the opening round. For that to happen, they’ll need Sergei Bobrovsky to outplay Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes.

9 – Boston Bruins:

The Bruins got off to a hot start and they’re finishing rather strong, but they definitely hit a rough patch in the middle of the season. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all have different qualities, but their chemistry is undeniable. Tuukka Rask, who is a pending unrestricted free-agent, can silence many of his critics with a strong performance in the playoffs. We’re also going to find out whether or not the acquisition of Taylor Hall will make significant difference for the Bruins.

10 – New York Islanders:

The Islanders are as fun to play against as they are to watch. Their style isn’t flashy or offensive, but they’re the type of team that his hard to break down defensively. If you can get a lead against them, you’ll put them in an uncomfortable position but if they jump ahead, you’re in trouble. As always, the question with this group is whether or not they’ll get enough offense. This style was good enough to get them to the Eastern Conference Final last year.

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11 – Edmonton Oilers:

The Oilers aren’t the deepest team participating in the playoffs, but they’re loaded with offensive weapons. Connor McDavid surpassed the 100-point mark in a shortened season and Leon Draisaitl continues to be a physical force. To beat the Oilers, you have to keep their stars in check and have your depth players outperform their depth players. Veteran Mike Smith has had a solid season in goal, but can the 39-year-old keep it going?

12 – Minnesota Wild:

Not many people expected the Minnesota Wild to clinch a playoff spot in 2021, but here they are. Head coach Dean Evason is probably going to win the Jack Adams award while rookie Kirill Kaprizov is likely going to take home the Calder Trophy. By the way, the Wild can still finish ahead of the Avalanche for second in the West division. Beating Colorado or Vegas in a seven-game series isn’t likely to happen at this point, but picking up 75 points in the standings is impressive for this group.

13 – Winnipeg Jets:

The Jets have looked unstoppable at times this season, but they’ve been terrible down the stretch. Mark Scheifele doesn’t look like himself, Kyle Connor has slowed down and the Pierre-Luc Dubois hasn’t given the Jets enough of a boost down the middle. But once the playoffs start, the regular season doesn’t mean a thing. The Jets also have all-star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who can impact a series in a big way.

14- St. Louis Blues:

The Blues were able to clinch a playoff spot last week, but they’re really far behind Vegas, Colorado and Minnesota in the West Division Standings. Yes, Alex Pietrangelo is no longer with this organization, but a lot of the core players that hoisted the Stanley Cup two years ago are still around. Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Binnington and seven others know what it takes to go all the way. Is it likely to happen this year though? Not a chance.

15 – Nashville Predators:

It’ll be interesting to see whether or not the Predators have enough left in the tank to win a playoff round. Nashville was so far out of the playoff hunt that it looked like they’d be going home early this year. But thanks to the play of Juuse Saros and a few others, they managed to clinch a playoff spot. The problem is that they’ve had to play with a playoff mentality for so long that they might not be able to keep this positive run going. They’re going to face Carolina in the opening round.

16 – Montreal Canadiens:

What a weird season it’s been for the Canadiens. They got off to an incredibly impressive start, but they faded to badly that they decided to fire head coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller and goalie coach Stephane Waite. The Habs are currently without Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Carey Price, Shea Weber, Paul Byron and Phillip Danault. If they’re going to cause an upset in the opening round, they need all those players to come back healthy.