As we slowly creep our way up to the NHL Trade Deadline, it’s starting to become apparent where team’s stand on if they have a chance at the Stanley Cup this season, so I’ve decided to rank them by tier in my own opinion on where I’d have them.
Tier 1: Full-on Stanley Cup favourites
Teams: Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning
These are the teams that I expect to make a heavy impact in the playoffs without a doubt, and the four teams that I expect to have the best chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
Obviously, when playoff time rolls around anything can happen. We’ve seen a second wild card spot team take down the top ranked team, we’ve seen the 24th best team in the NHL take down the 5th best. So very realistically, we could see a team from this list get bounced in the first round, however, as of right now, they’re the four strongest teams in my books.
All four rank in the top four in the NHL league-wide standings, and Colorado and Florida this season are quite frankly two of the best teams I’ve seen in the last few years of hockey.
Tier 2: Contenders
Teams: Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Vegas Golden Knights
Now you’re probably rolling your eyes at the amount of teams on this list, but I truly could see any of them pushing for a Stanley Cup this year. I’m expecting this to be the best postseason we’ve seen in a long time just because of his many strong teams there are.
For me, the thing holding teams like the Maple Leafs and Wild back from being in Tier 1 is their goaltending, which has just been a let-down this season. Although goaltending is such a random position and can switch up at any moment, you also know that basically any team that wins a Stanley Cup is backstopped by an elite goaltending performance in the postseason, and that’s what these two teams lack.
For the Kings and Blues, their main weakness is the defensive core. They’ve both been backstopped by great goaltenders this season in Jonathan Quick and Ville Husso which is great and all, but defense is a key piece in Stanley Cup champions as well. These are two teams I could see pushing for deep playoff performances, but I think they’ll need to add to their blue line to win a cup this season.
The Bruins and Flames both lack offensive depth in their bottom-six in my opinion. Their top-six is star studded enough to carry the load for a potential playoff run, but if they go cold, these teams would be in deep, deep trouble.
As for the Penguins and Golden Knights, they’re both pretty much fine going into the deadline, but I just haven’t seen enough consistency from them to put them into Tier 1, yet. I know the Golden Knights have struggled as of late, but it’s important to remember they’re missing two of their best forwards in Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
Tier 3: Pretenders
Teams: New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators, Edmonton Oilers, Dallas Stars
This tier for me is teams that are likely to make the playoffs or just barely miss, but wouldn’t contend much in the postseason in my eyes.
I love the New York Rangers, I think they’re going to be a top team in the league for a long time, but as of right now they’re relying heavily on Igor Shesterkin and have an abysmal defensive core for the most part. If they are heavy buyers at the deadline, I’d might even have them leapfrog over Tier 2 to Tier 1, but for now I just can’t see them doing much damage.
The Predators are in the same boat for me, a team that is pretty average all-around but carried by an elite goaltender in Juuse Saros. That’s fine too, the Predators were expected to be bottom-feeders this season, so having improvement in the team all around, building a winning culture and making the playoffs wouldn’t be a disappointment at all. Keep building off of the success into next season.
The Capitals and Oilers both aren’t projected to do anything to their goaltending into the deadline, and that’s why they’re in the pretenders category. These are two teams with the potential to do some serious damage in the postseason if they made the right calls, but they just don’t have the goaltending to backstop them. The Capitals’ tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov is painfully average, and while Mikko Koskinen has had a good few recent games, there’s no universe where he’s a Stanley Cup winning goaltender, neither is Mike Smith at this stage of his career.
As for the Stars, they’re just there for me. Not good, not bad, just the Stars…
Tier 4: Outside looking in
Teams: Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Winnipeg Jets, Columbus Blue Jackets
These are the teams that are making a nice effort to push for a playoff spot, but I think will ultimately fall short.
For the Ducks, this isn’t disappointing at all. I projected one more year of them being a bottom-five team before being able to have a season like this, but they exceeded expectations heavily and put the team on notice. Their core is extremely young and we haven’t even see Mason McTavish with a full-time role in Anaheim yet. The future is bright, but they’ll need to be watching from home come May.
The Blue Jackets are in the same boat. After completely rehauling the team this offseason, it was looking like we were set to see a long-term rebuild in Ohio. Instead, this team has managed to get just 10 points back of the Capitals with two games in hand. As great of a story that would be, I think they’ve dug themselves too big of a hole to come back. As I said though, it’d be great to see if they managed to pull it off, and if not, two lottery picks in this year’s draft doesn’t seem to shabby.
As for the Canucks and Jets, this is just a disappointment of a year. The Canucks are doing very solid now, but the hole that Travis Green dug for them seems too much for them to get out of, even though they sit just four points back of a wild card spot. I’d love to see this team make the playoffs with all their talent, but I’m not sure it happens. For the Jets, this season has been brutal and I’m not sure where they go from here, but it’s been extremely disappointing, and they won’t be in the playoffs when May rolls around.
Tier 5: Better luck next year
Teams: San Jose Sharks, Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Ottawa Senators, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, Seattle Kraken, Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes
These are the teams that I can say with full confidence, will not make the playoffs this year.
The Sharks started the season unexpectedly great, but that slowly turned into mediocrity due to their lack of offensive depth, and they’ve just continued to swim around .500 since then. Great baby steps after the last two rough years, but they’re not making the playoffs.
The Red Wings, like the Sharks, started the season off great. Next year, they’ll be contending for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference as the likes of Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond continue to develop, but they’ll need one more year of the sidelines before that happens.
The Islanders and Senators you can argue were screwed over by COVID issues, but let’s be real here, was there ever any hope for these two to make the playoffs? If either one of them wants a chance next year, they’ll need to retool their lineup…
The Blackhawks tried to accelerate the rebuild, likely due to pressure from their franchise stars, but that just wasn’t an options. Now they’re without their first-round pick in this year’s stacked draft class, and won’t even be making the playoffs. There’s always next year I guess?
The Devils and Flyers were two teams that were hoping to take major steps towards playoff contention, and many had them doing it. Personally, I expected another poor campaign from the Devils, as that’s mainly what they’re consistent at, but I expected the Flyers to make their way back to the postseason. Both teams will need to take a serious look in the mirror this summer and decide what direction they want to go in.
Nobody really expected the Sabres to do much, and they haven’t.
The Kraken were a disappointment compared to the Golden Knights, but this is what a normal expansion team looks like. The Golden Knights benefited from a bunch of general managers who hadn’t dealt with an expansion draft scenario before, while the Kraken didn’t. It’ll be a long team before a playoff team is built in Seattle…
The Canadiens have had an abysmal season full of COVID issues, injuries and just purely sucking. However, the future is bright as they’ll end up with a top-five pick for sure, and Martin St. Louis is looking like a fantastic coaching fit.
The Coyotes were expected to suck. They’ll do the same next year in their college arena in front of 5,000 fans. I hope they can get the assets they need for this team, because I really like hockey in Arizona and want to see it stay.