Why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup this season

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.

Colorado Avalanche

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.

Carolina Hurricanes

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.

Florida Panthers

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.

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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.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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.

Washington Capitals

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?]

Minnesota Wild

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.

Boston Bruins

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.

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Edmonton Oilers

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.

Nashville Predators

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.

Winnipeg Jets

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.

Montreal Canadiens

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

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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.


    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”


    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”


    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”


    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

    Harry How/Getty Images

    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.