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NHL Playoff Power Rankings: Starting the climb

Jesse Montano Avatar
May 2, 2022

It’s like the first day of school. Actually no… it’s like Christmas morning. You’ve talked about it, looked forward to it, imagined what it would be like, ad now it’s here. The NHL Playoffs. We’ve talked so much about the lead up to the end of the regular season, and how teams were mailing it in just trying to get to the end, and now we are at a time of year where there are no moral victories, no feel-good stories about teams at the bottom, now it is about winning. Nothing else matters.

So in that spirit, I give you the Playoff Power Rankings. We’ll be ranking the remaining teams every week in their pursuit of the hockey’s ultimate prize, and this week is our only “blank slate”, where you’re ranked based off of what you can/should accomplish, after this it is “what have you done lately”.

1. Tampa Bay (3rd – Atlantic)

They finished third in their division, but that has nothing to do with them being at the top of my rankings. When you’re the back-to-back defending champion, you are the best team in the playoffs until someone proves that you aren’t.

A really interesting year for the Bolts. For the first 2/3 of the season, they were right up at the top, jockeying for the top spots in the East and the NHL. As we came out of the All-Star break though, Tampa Bay slowed down a little, leading some to wonder if they had run out of gas after two straight seasons of going all the way. They quieted those thoughts by hammering some teams down the stretch, but in my opinion, they were never in any trouble anyways.

Tampa has shown they know what it takes to win, and they know how to prepare. They really seem like they are embodying the “just get in” mentality.

They’re starting on the road, and they’ve got a really tough matchup against Toronto, but I’ll finish this the way I started it… when you’ve won two Cups in a row, you’re the best team until you aren’t.

2. Florida Panthers (1st – Atlantic)

What a remarkable season for the President’s Trophy-winning Panthers.  They were a bit of a surprise last year, but they caught nobody off guard this time around. This team was already absolutely LOADED upfront, and then they added Claude Giroux at the deadline.

They finished with the league’s best record, so it’s hard to not have them at #1, and if it wasn’t for a potential dynasty in the making in Tampa, that’s right where they’d be.

Florida desperately wants to show that they’re not the sideshow to Tampa’s main event, and they’ve put a team together who can do it.

3. Colorado Avalanche (1st – Central)

A bit of a stumble down the stretch cost them their second consecutive President’s Trophy, but I don’t think any members of the Avalanche are going to lose sleep over it.

For my money, this is the deepest team in the NHL from top to bottom, nobody can match their depth on both sides of the puck.

The only question facing this Avalanche team is the one that we’ve heard ad nauseam all year… can they get out of the second round? If you listen to our podcast or read any of my work you know that I think there’s so much context that is left out when people talk about Colorado’s recent inability to get beyond round 2. At the end of the day though, it is this team’s reality and they have to prove that they have to ability to make the climb.

All things equal, everybody playing at 100%,  I don’t know if there’s a better team in the NHL this season.

4 Carolina Hurricanes (1st – Metropolitan)

I was hesitant to have them this high, given the uncertainty around Freddie Andersen’s health, but I think they are that good.

Carolina is a team that shoots in volume and defends so incredibly well, add in the fact that Antti Raanta is a totally serviceable 1B, and I think they’ll be fine to get by long enough to get Andersen back.

They’ve got a tough path, but this Hurricanes team has been as consistent as anybody all season long. Carolina has given zero reason to think they can’t take another step forward this year by making a deep run.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (3rd 0 Metropolitan)

17 straight postseason appearances for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, and as long as Crosby and Malkin are on the roster, I’m just not going to ever bet against them.

It’s been an up and down year, and there are a couple question marks about Tristan Jarry’s health (and ability come playoff time if we’re being honest), but this core has three Cups and is such a tough out every single season.

Pittsburgh is among the perennial playoff elites, and their core makes them a contender every year.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (Second – Atlantic)

Like the Avs, these guys have something to prove. Obviously the goal this time of year is to win and keep winning until there’s nothing left. Before they can do that, the Maple Leafs need to get out of the first round.

Heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss has been an unfortunate hallmark of the Leafs playoff existence since before the 2005 lockout. The expectations are maybe the highest they’ve been since Toronto last won a Stanley Cup in 1967, with an elite, high-powered offense, and as good of a D-corps as they have deployed in decades, they HAVE to find some level of success in the playoffs.

There are two problems staring Toronto right in the face though. One is that their goaltending has been an absolute mess since the NHL All-Star Game, and the other is that they just so happened to pull the team at the very top of this list for their first-round opponent. I don’t care how good your offense is, you won’t be able to outscore your problems against Andre Vasilevsky and the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jack Campbell is going to have to look like the Jack Campbell we saw at the start of the year for Toronto to have a chance in this one.

7. Calgary Flames (1st – Pacific)

No doubt about it, they’ve had a spectacular regular season. Career highs all over the lineup, breakout stars, and the league leader in shutouts from the man in net. So why are they almost halfway down my playoff rankings?

Calgary finished the season with just 75 man-games lost and had eight players play in all 82 regular season games. That is borderline unheard of, and just an overwhelming amount of luck.

The 2019 Calgary Flames had a similar season when they last won the Pacific Division title, a season where everything went right. They got into the first round, got punched in the mouth and completely cratered. Is this group any different?

I’m always skeptical of teams that have not had to deal with much adversity throughout a season, you have to be able to weather a storm to get through four rounds. I’m not saying they can’t, but there are too many parallels between this team and the ‘19 team for me to ignore them.

8. St Louis Blues (3rd – Central)

The Blues are a very good team, but may just have too many flaws. Just a couple years removed from a surprise Stanley Cup championship, much of the core that got them to the promised land is still intact, but there’s no doubt they’ve lost a bit in terms of impactful depth pieces.

The defense will have to play far above what we’ve seen from them this season, and one of Ville Husso or Jordan Binnington is going to have to take control in net for this team to go deep.

Either way, they have one of the most anticipated first round matchups of the playoffs, I expect it to go seven.

9. New York Rangers (2nd – Metropolitan)

Boy oh boy, what to make of the Rangers? Star-studded, elite talent at the top of their forward group, a goaltender that should be a unanimous Vezina winner, and a #1 defenseman that is a year removed from winning the Norris Trophy.

So why are they all the way down at #9? Well, once you get beyond those things that I listed, there isn’t much there for the Rangers. Of all 16 teams in the playoffs this season, maybe Dallas is the only other one who has such a wide discrepancy in talent from the top of their lineup to the bottom. I just don’t think the Rangers have the depth to be successful in the playoffs.

In my opinion, it’s going to take a heroic effort from Igor Shesterkin for the Rangers to even get out of the first round, let alone make any meaningful noise in the later rounds.

10. Washington Capitals (WC2 – East)

I want to believe in them so badly. The weapons are there, they have the experience, but ultimately I just think their opponent is too good and the Caps just have such an uphill climb in net.

By no means am I going to write off Alex Ovechkin and company, they’re too talented and too experienced for me to do that, but if you’re being realistic it’s hard to see this team getting past the Floridas, the Tampas, and the Torontos of the world. They just don’t have the defensive depth, and the goaltending has been legitimately problematic all season long. If a lot of things go their way, and Sergei Bobrovsky comes unraveled for Florida, it’s possible… then again it’s also possible that the Seattle Kraken will win the Stanley Cup next year, but I don’t think many people would get on that, ya know what I mean?

11. Minnesota Wild (2nd – Central)

Every year in the NHL we see one team have a spotlight shined upon them by the hockey gods, giving them unbelievable amounts of luck, career years out of anybody that dons a uniform, and enough confidence to last a lifetime. This year, that team is the Minnesota Wild.

When you dig into it… all conventional wisdom tells you is that this team, while a solid, skilled, hard-working group, is living on a prayer and are one game away from running out of luck. Everything has broken the right way for the Wild this year, they led the league in 6-on-5 goals, and almost ran the table in 3-on-3 OT this season. While neither are completely irrelevant, those are just tough things to rely on come playoff time.

This is do or die for Minnesota, as salary cap hell starts next season; can they play desperate enough to make a run? We’ll see I guess.

12. Boston Bruins (WC1 – East)

Well well well, if it’s not the ol’ grizzled veteran Boston Bruins back again for another crack at the Cup.

Give full credit to the Bruins for getting back into things after a really tough start, and this is a core that has definitely been there done that… all of that being said, this looks like a team who is finally starting g to approach the beginning of the end.

Question marks in net, an aging core, more familiar faces gone, I just think there’s too much stacked against them. It’s not that they won’t be a tough out, I just don’t think there’s enough left in the tank for them to unseat any of the top teams out East.

13. Edmonton Oilers (2nd – Pacific)

Ok, I know I know, I am much lower on the Oilers than most. For me there’s just too many holes and too many question marks.

For starters, their playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of a 40-year-old goaltender who has an entire career of being average, to slightly above average for short bursts. The net was something that needed to be addressed two off-seasons ago, and Edmonton has chosen to kick that can down the road in order to continue to overpay aging former stars and role players.

Go from the net to the defense, where they are leaning on 38-year-old Duncan Keith to be one of their rocks when it comes time to close out games.

On top of all of that, and there’s just no depth upfront. The Oilers are as top-heavy as they come, featuring two top-five forwards in the world, and then just a bunch of guys everywhere you look. Evander Kane has been a big offensive boost for them, and as of right now looks to be worth the gamble in terms of on-ice production, but I just don’t think that’s anywhere near enough.

They couldn’t have pulled a better matchup for round one in the LA Kings, if it were anyone else, there’s a good chance we’d be looking at another first-round exit for Connor McDavid.

14. Nashville Predators (WC2 – West)

At one point earlier this season, right around Christmas, fans of the Nashville Predators were upset with National media because e they felt the division-leading Preds weren’t getting enough love for how good they were.

Fast forward four months, and they backed their way into the final wild card spot out West, and if it wasn’t for two other teams being equally as bad down the stretch, they could’ve been on the outside looking in.

Look, huge offensive year’s from Duchene and Forsberg, both eclipsing the 40-goal mark. They got a Vezina-caliber season from Jussi Saros, and Roman Josi will be a Norris finalist, with a good chance to win it, but this team just has so many other flaws.

Depth and defense are both huge question marks, then factor in that Saros’ health is of major concern right now, and I think the chips just may be stacked too high. I think the Preds will be a really tough out, and I think they’re going to play their hearts out, I’m just not sure if they’re quite good enough.

15. Los Angeles Kings (3rd – Pacific)

I say this with all due respect to the Kings players who worked their asses off to get this far, but does anyone else have dog/mailman vibes here? Like, I just don’t know if LA ever thought they’d ACTUALLY get in, and now that they’re here… what do you do?

When they shut Drew Doughty down for the season, that kind of felt like they were conceding the fact that they had just run out of gas after a really fun and unexpected run in the regular season. Like I said for Nashville though, the teams chasing them just never picked it up and took advantage of the stumbling Kings down the stretch.

If they had their full lineup, I think they’d have a shot against Edmonton. No Drew Doughty on the top pairing though, I just don’t know if this group has enough left in them.

16. Dallas Stars (WC1 – West)

The team that couldn’t get out of its own way during the last two weeks of the season. The Dallas Stars gave every team they were competing with for the final Wild Card spot every opportunity to get in ahead of them. Luckily for Dallas, Vegas also played terribly in their final 10 games, and Vancouver was too far out of it to truly give them a run.

Short and sweet, I just don’t think Dallas is very good. They have one line upfront and a D corps that is league average at absolute best. The goaltending has been fine, but given what is playing in front of them, I don’t see either goaltender stealing the series.

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