The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin with 16 teams ready to go through the gauntlet that is the NHL postseason. Only one of them can win it all, and you probably have your list of favorites and top picks.
You can make a strong argument for pretty much every team in the field to win.
Conversely, it doesn’t take much to keep a team from winning 16 games.
We’re going to look at both, and examine why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup.
Teams are listed in order of league-wide standings.
Why they can win: They are the best team in the NHL. They have the best record, they have a loaded roster with superstar forwards, quality depth, and the best defense in the league. They are the most impressive team by almost every objective measure that we have to analyze hockey teams. They are not only built to win this season, they are built to contend for years.
Why they can not win: If something happens to Philipp Grubauer or he struggles. Goaltending can turn a postseason upside down and the Avalanche depth behind him is questionable.
[Related: Avalanche win Presidents’ Trophy for third time]
Vegas Golden Knights
Why they can win: They are right there with Colorado as one of the NHL’s elite teams with All-Star talent at all three layers (forward, defense, goaltending). Mark Stone is an elite two-way player, they have two No. 1 defenders (Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore) and two outstanding goalies (Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner). They have been a contender since they entered the league.
Why they can not win: Simply getting out of the West Division will be an accomplishment. Sometimes matchups matter. Not only does Vegas have a really tough First Round series (Minnesota), but if it gets through that the Avalanche will most likely be waiting in the Second Round.
Why they can win: An elite defense and a deep, talented group of young forwards with few weaknesses. They also have the goaltending this season with the emergence of Alex Nedeljkovic. They are built for long-term Stanley Cup contention, and they have as good of a shot as anybody this season.
Why they can not win: Maybe you do not trust Nedeljkovic given his lack of experience. But that seems like a reach due to his play this season. Plus, rookie goalies have won the Stanley Cup multiple times in recent seasons. They could also face a difficult Second Round matchup against the defending champion Lightning that could send them home.
Why they can win: This is the best team in Panthers history with a Hall of Fame coach, two superstars (Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau) and a much improved supporting cast.
Why they can not win: If they trust the wrong goalie. Chris Driedger is the only choice.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Why they can win: One of the most talented rosters in the league from top to bottom and a defense that is much better than it gets credit for being. They will be massive favorites in any matchup they get over the first two rounds and should — should — be in the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
Why they can not win: They have to break through the ceiling that is the First Round of the playoffs, and until they do there should be skepticism. Also, the goalie situation is scary.
Why they can win: Their forward depth is incredible, probably the best it has been in years, and anytime you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel, and Kris Letang at the top of your lineup you are going to have a chance.
Why they can not win: Goaltending could be a significant Achilles heel here and the penalty kill is not good. That is not an area you want to be struggling in come playoff time.
Why they can win: They still have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and are one of the NHL’s most talented teams. The one team that has found a perfect blind of size, strength, and skill to overpower teams in a variety of ways.
Why they can not win: The goaltending situation is very concerning, and they are also going into the playoffs pretty banged up with a lot of uncertainty surrounding the team (specifically the Evgeny Kuznetsov situation, on top of the goalie situation). They also have one of the toughest First Round matchups with Boston.
[Roundtable: Which playoff series has upset potential?]
Why they can win: They have suddenly transformed into one of the most exciting teams in the league and have an emerging, game-changing superstar in Kirill Kaprizov.
Why they can not win: They might have to get through Vegas and Colorado in the first two rounds. The Wild are good. But are they better than both of them? Also, for as good as they have played this season they have struggled with playoff teams down the stretch. Since April 1 they played 13 games against the other three playoff teams in the West. They only won five of them. Only three of those wins were in regulation.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Why they can win: The defending Stanley Cup champions are getting their two best forwards (Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos) back for the start of the playoffs. Kucherov has not played all season and Stamkos has missed months. Two big upgrades to an already loaded team.
Why they can not win: They have struggled down the stretch, and also it is really difficult to go through that type of playoff run two years in a row.
Why they can win: With Taylor Hall in the mix they have two elite scoring lines that can dominate a game. Add that to a strong defense and great goaltending and you have a legitimate Cup contender.
Why they can not win: Their top two lines are great. Are the third and fourth lines good enough? Sometimes weaknesses can get exploited in the playoffs. Those might be a weakness.
Why they can win: They have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and play in a division that is, for the most part, pretty wide open.
Why they can not win: They do not have much else around Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
[Related: Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Schedule]
New York Islanders
Why they can win: Outstanding goaltending, a great coach, and a defensive system that can frustrate even the best and most talented teams. It is not an accident that they have won four playoff series the past two seasons.
Why they can not win: The lack of offense and lack of high-end talent outside of Mathew Barzal.
Why they can win: Have you seen the way Juuse Saros has played lately? That sort of goaltending can take even an average team a long way.
Why they can not win: Can they score enough to keep up with Tampa Bay, Florida, and Carolina? Also the special teams are among the NHL’s worst(even if the penalty kill has been better in the second half of the season).
St. Louis Blues
Why they can win: Even though the season has not gone as planned this is still a very talented team that is just two years removed from a championship. Getting Vladimir Tarasenko back would be another boost to the lineup.
Why they can not win: They are not the same team defensively as they were a couple of years ago, and the goaltending is very inconsistent. They have to beat a Colorado team they were 3-5-0 against in the regular season in the First Round.
Why they can win: Very good forwards and a great goalie that can steal a lot of games. Also a winnable division.
Why they can not win: They have not played well for more than a month and the defense is not good at all.
Why they can win: Great possession team that is getting its best two-way forward (Brendan Gallagher) back for the playoffs.
Why they can not win: They are spending $15M on goalies this season but the all situations save percentage is 27th in the league. Not enough high-end talent elsewhere on the roster 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.