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

NHL Power Rankings
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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.

[MORE: Bold predictions for NHL season]

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.

[MORE: Award picks, coaches, and free agents]

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

“Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

“When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

“We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

“It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

“Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

“Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

“I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

“You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

“He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

“It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

“I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

“Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

“I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.