The final month of the NHL season is in sight. We’re nearing the most exciting and intense time in all of sports, in my honest opinion: playoff hockey.
By now, we can safely guess where the teams will stack up. We know who’s got a realistic chance to lift the Stanley Cup in July, and who’s only kidding themselves with their ambitions. We also know who’s got an outside chance of the playoffs, who’s seeing their playoff ambitions dwindle in front of their eyes, and who’s in danger of being officially eliminated from the hunt. With our first elimination happening this past weekend (keep reading for who that might be), it is now time to start hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.
With the playoffs so close and divisional races still yet to be determined, every game and point is important. As the season series between rivals and potential playoff opponents come to an end throughout the four divisions, those games will be the most pivotal of all. Win, and gain valuable momentum in the push for the Stanley Cup. Lose, and see your road to the greatest trophy in all of sports get more difficult.
These rankings will highlight the contenders, pretenders, and remainders as the regular season hits the home stretch. How has the last week and change affected teams in the rankings? And how have the deadline moves helped or hurt their chances? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: These rankings are based on games played and statistics recorded as of April 19.
1. Colorado Avalanche (Even): The top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog has been lighting up the league since March as the Avalanche pushed to the top of the West. They’ll need them more than ever as Colorado shakes off an absence due to COVID protocol, especially if Philipp Grubauer has to miss more time.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (Even): Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic have formed one of the league’s breakout goaltending tandems, placing third in total save percentage behind Vegas and the New York Islanders. For context of how vast the improvement’s been, the Hurricanes finished dead last in that category only three years ago.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (+3): A brief cold spell has given way to an impressive seven-game winning streak, with Mark Stone and Robin Lehner leading the charge. As expected, the final series against them and Colorado will basically determine the winner of the West Division.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (+1): Inconsistency has continued to hurt the Lightning at this point of the season, and Steven Stamkos being out for likely the rest of the regular season does not help their cause. They’ll be ok come playoff time, but reaching the top of the division would do wonders for their confidence.
5. Washington Capitals (-1): I still think the Capitals paid too much for Anthony Mantha, but he’s looked like a great fit so far with a goal scored in each of his first four games. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though: the goaltending has continued to struggle, most notably in a humiliating 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Thursday.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (-3): Toronto has hit their first big rough patch of the season, losing four in a row and preparing to be without Zach Hyman after taking a dirty knee-on-knee hit. They better hope big deadline acquisition Nick Foligno can help turn things around in a hurry.
7. Florida Panthers (+2): Bad news: Mackenzie Weegar and Carter Verhaeghe will both be out for the Panthers, who have already lost Aaron Ekblad for the rest of the year. Good news: the Panthers have won three of their last four, and Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett have done well with their new team thus far.
8. Minnesota Wild (Even): A four-game win streak is helping the Wild keep pace with Colorado and Vegas in the West. Their first-round matchup will undoubtedly be brutal but, with only one series against either one left, a strong finish to the season could give them the momentum to make a surprise playoff run out of it.
9. Boston Bruins (+4): The Bruins have been undefeated since the deadline, and the rest of their schedule looks promising enough for them to make a mad dash to the East Division lead. Big acquisitions Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly have both been as advertised since arriving in Beantown.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): Losing to the Flyers and Sabres does not help the Penguins in the East, which is turning into a tight race down the stretch. They have three games against the Devils next, but the impending series against Boston and Washington will be crucial in deciding Pittsburgh’s fate.
11. New York Islanders (-4): In their last ten games, the Islanders have scored more than two goals in regulation only once. The defense, goaltending, and coaching might negate the concerns come playoff time, but they need more out of their big offensive producers if they want to be taken seriously.
12. Winnipeg Jets (Even): The offense and goaltending have been strong, clocking in at eighth in goals per game and fourth in save percentage. If the defense could prove to be consistently trustworthy, their chances in the North would be much better.
13. Edmonton Oilers (-2): The Oilers are still doing their best to keep pace in the North, but the fact they only made a minor tweak at the deadline is still confusing to me. If Mike Smith can’t keep up his current performance and the scoring depth goes cold, the postseason could turn into a complete meltdown.
14. New York Rangers (+2): The top stars are performing well, Adam Fox is emerging as a sleeper for the Norris Trophy, and Igor Shesterkin is seeing his numbers improve with each game. If someone like Alexis Lafreniere or Kaapo Kaako could finally get it going, I’d be more kind to their chances to land a surprise playoff berth.
15. Nashville Predators (-1): With two games against Columbus being the only series they play against a team not in the Central Division playoff race, the Predators are picking a bad time to start playing inconsistently. They certainly miss Eeli Tolvanen; since the talented Finnish wing got injured, the Predators haven’t scored a single power-play goal.
16. Dallas Stars (+6): Give the Stars credit for making a serious push for a playoff spot, and Jason Robertson has arguably been the NHL’s best rookie for the last little while. If Tyler Seguin can produce when he comes back, Dallas’s chances for playing summer hockey will improve dramatically.
17. Montreal Canadiens (+1): The Canadiens have lost six of their last eight and Carey Price has looked human throughout the year. Would it be too drastic to see what top prospect Cole Caufield can do at the NHL level?
18. Chicago Blackhawks (+2): The Blackhawks are the last of the three teams vying for the final Central Division playoff spot, and the rest of their schedule is against either their fellow competitors or teams likely in the playoffs already. This stretch will be pivotal towards Jeremy Colliton securing his coaching gig.
19. St. Louis Blues (-2): Losses against Colorado and Arizona could kill the momentum St. Louis was trying to build, and the end of their schedule is an absolute nightmare. Do you think they might be regretting not selling Mike Hoffman?
20. Arizona Coyotes (-5): They might be ahead of St. Louis, but winning only one in their last seven games is not promising towards their playoff hopes. They have the easier schedule of the two by far, but winning a playoff game against either Colorado or Vegas would be an accomplishment.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (+2): The Flyers have fallen hard from last season, and the main culprit isn’t overly difficult to spot. Philadelphia’s not only dead last in save percentage; they’re nine percentage points behind the second-lowest team in Ottawa.
22. Calgary Flames (+3): A three-game winning streak was nice, but it’s too little, too late for the Flames this season. I’d be shocked if Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are still in Alberta by the start of next season.
23. Vancouver Canucks (-2): I still find it hard to believe that Vancouver is back to playing, especially given just how accommodating the NHL had to be towards finishing their season. An overtime victory against Toronto isn’t bad for a team that hadn’t played in almost a month prior.
24. San Jose Sharks (-5): On Monday, Patrick Marleau played his record-breaking 1,768th career regular season game, and he will likely be following his jersey from that game into the Hall of Fame soon enough. It will likely be the final time to care about the Sharks, however, as losing seven of their last eight has likely capsized their playoff hopes.
25. Los Angeles Kings (+1): The season is basically over, which shouldn’t surprise a team that’s more focused on the future anyway. While we’re at it, though, is it too late to start a petition to bring that sweet royal purple color scheme back?
26. Detroit Red Wings (+3): The Red Wings won’t make the playoffs, but they at least are staying competitive for the moment. Now would be a great time to see what the prospects can do, as well as see how Jakub Vrana gels with his new team.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (-3): Two wins in their last fifteen games is enough to prove that the Blue Jackets have waved the white flag on the season. The offseason will inevitably see a winner in the cold war between Patrik Laine and John Tortorella, a connection that was doomed from the start, in hindsight.
28. Ottawa Senators (+2): The Senators are destined to finish last in the North, so it’s time to give younger players a chance. That includes Filip Gustavsson, who hasn’t played a game since April 1 despite a decent stretch of play.
29. Anaheim Ducks (-1): They let a prime chance to begin a necessary rebuild slip away. It’s time to acknowledge that GM Bob Murray is part of the problem and needs to go, and Dallas Eakins will probably be out too to make room for a fresh start.
30. New Jersey Devils (-2): Two wins in their last fourteen games, as well as the worst home winning percentage in the 2000s. What is it with the Devils and draft classes without surefire top picks?
31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): It seemed inevitable, but the Sabres will be spending their summer at the golf course. On Saturday, the Sabres were officially eliminated from the postseason, tying another NHL record…for most consecutive seasons without a playoff berth.