Winning the Stanley Cup is a daunting task that requires a talented team playing its best hockey at the right time of year, staying reasonably healthy, and perhaps most importantly getting a little bit of luck along the way.
Getting through four best-of-seven series against the best teams in the league over a two-month stretch with all of that going right, and without running into some team that has a ridiculously goalie playing out of his mind for two weeks, is a huge challenge.
Only one team does it every year. That means from a simple mathematical standpoint your team only has a six percent chance of being the one that is standing at the top of the mountain when the playoffs end in mid-June.
[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]
Every team in the field has some sort of a flaw or a question mark that will probably be their ultimate undoing.
In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we get you ready for the playoffs by looking at all of them, ranked in order of the team most likely to overcome their flaws, to the team least likely to do it.
Here we go.
1. Nashville Predators — On paper they are the most complete team in the league and that resulted in the league’s best record. Deep group of forwards? Check. Great defense? Check. Goalie having an amazing season? Check. Speaking of which, Pekka Rinne has been awesome this season, but can he maintain that level of play throughout the playoffs? His performance this season is a bit of an outlier when compared to recent seasons and he’s had some rough postseason showings over the years. He wasn’t great in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, getting pulled in two of the six games.
2. Winnipeg Jets — This team has been around for 18 years, in two different cities, with two different names, and is playing in the playoffs for just the third time. It is an organization that, as of this posting, has yet to win a single playoff game in its existence. Forget winning a series, their next playoff win will be their first. They should finally get one this year. But will they be able to get 16 of them? They have a scary offense and Connor Hellebuyck has put together a season that should get him some Vezina Trophy votes, but there is also the possibility that he reverts back to being the Hellebuyck he was before this season. There’s also the fact that if they do get through Minnesota in round one their reward is (probably) going to be a series with the Presidents’ Trophy winning Nashville Predators. The playoff format might be their biggest undoing.
3. Boston Bruins — No matter how many injuries they had this season they just kept rolling along and have been incredible since the start of November. So what is a concern? Will Zdeno Chara be able to keep logging the minutes he has been at his age and playing the way he has or will he wear down a bit? Will they be able to stay healthy? Will Brad Marchand do something dumb and get himself suspended?
4. Tampa Bay Lightning — On paper the Lightning don’t have a lot of flaws, and they were one of the best teams in the league for most of the season. But they kind of limped down the stretch by winning just six of their final 13 games and generally not looking great over the past month. There is also this nightmare that Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi are going to end up on the ice at the same time, a scenario that has been dreadful for them in the limited time they’ve been on the team together this year (outscored 6-2 in 120 5-on-5 minutes together). Just as it was during their Rangers days.
5. Vegas Golden Knights — The team nobody expected to be here. It has been a pretty incredible season where almost everything they have put their hands on has turned into a success. Eventually some of that luck has to run out … right? Also worth noting that Marc-Andre Fleury has a .908 career playoff save percentage in 115 games and has finished seven of his 11 playoff appearances with a save percentage below .908, including six under .900.
6. Washington Capitals — Deeper and better Capitals teams than this one failed to win the Stanley Cup in each of the past two years, so why would this one be any different? Plus, there were times this season they didn’t look as good as their record would seem to indicate. We don’t really know who their goalie is and the one that has been a rock the past few years — Braden Holtby — had an uncharacteristically bad year. Seems like a concern.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins — They can be a mess at times defensively, their penalty kill has been lousy for a few weeks, and they are not getting great goaltending. They had the some of the same flaws going into the playoffs a year ago and still managed to win another Stanley Cup because they could outscore everyone and, perhaps most importantly, received sensational goaltending from Fleury and Matt Murray. That is a concern going into the playoffs this season because Fleury is playing in Vegas, Murray has been hit-and-miss at times this year, and they do not really have a reliable backup behind him.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are going to score a lot of goals and they are going to give up a lot of chances. No team in the playoffs gives up more shots on goal than them. If Frederik Andersen is not on top of his game the latter will cause a lot of problems. They also have the misfortune of drawing one of the NHL’s best teams in the first round.
9. Anaheim Ducks — They are the “hot team” heading into the playoffs, but they are also one of the teams dealing with some significant injuries (as they have all year). Cam Fowler is a big loss and John Gibson, for as great as he is, can’t seem to stay on the ice consistently.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets — Artemi Panarin is the difference-maker they needed in their lineup and they have an outstanding duo on defense with Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, but how many teams win the Stanley Cup without a No. 1 center that topped 50 points? Pierre Luc-Dubois had a great rookie year and looks like he’s going to be a really good player in the NHL, but the lack of depth down the middle is going to be a problem. And that doesn’t even get into the question mark that is the playoff version of Sergei Bobrovsky.
11. San Jose Sharks — They very quietly put together a 100-point season (their best season in four years) and did it after losing Patrick Marleau in free agency and without Joe Thornton for half of the season. They are good, but that seems to be the ceiling. There is nothing really special about them, especially if Thornton isn’t able to return.
12. Philadelphia Flyers — Goaltending is a big question, as it always seems to be with the Flyers, but they also have a big problem when their top line is not on the ice. When Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice during 5-on-5 play this season the Flyers outscored teams by a 70-40 margin and controlled 55 percent of the total shot attempts. When neither player was on the ice: They were outscored 76-96 and only controlled 48 percent of the total shot attempts. Their first-round opponent is going to roll out Sidney Crosby on one line, Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist on another line, and Derick Brassard and Phil Kessel on another line.
13. Los Angeles Kings — They have been a different team with Jeff Carter in the lineup and he gives them a great 1-2 punch down the middle with Anze Kopitar, but they still have some issues. They are not the dominant possession team they have been in recent years and it’s still a top-heavy team that doesn’t have a lot of scoring depth beyond its top four or five players.
14. Minnesota Wild — The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to win a championship a year ago without their No. 1 defenseman. That might give the Wild, who will not have Ryan Suter in the postseason due to an ankle injury, a little bit of hope that it can be done. The problem for the Wild is going to be the fact they don’t have the firepower the Penguins had, and probably will not be fortunate enough to get the level of goaltending the Penguins did. Their potential path to the Conference Final would also probably have to include going through the top two teams in the NHL. Literally, the top two teams. No. 1 and 2 in the league in total points. Good luck, everybody.
15. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are great, but it’s not a particularly deep team around and they also have some injury issues with Semyon Varlamov and Erik Johnson on the shelf going into the playoffs. Great success story this season to go from the absolute worst team in hockey to the playoffs in one year. It is a nice stepping stone in the development of the team. It probably ends there this season.
16. New Jersey Devils — Taylor Hall almost single handedly dragged this team to the playoffs, and it was an incredible accomplishment. He probably will not be leading them to 16 more. Like the Avalanche this was a wildly successful year and perhaps the most encouraging thing is the development of some of their young players. But it is not a Stanley Cup team. Yet.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.