Chris Wassel debuts on The Game Day with his 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff Power Rankings: Rating All 16 NHL Postseason Teams.
Stay tuned for more of our 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Power Rankings and playoffs betting tips throughout the postseason.
The NHL’s second season gets underway starting next week with the 2021 NHL playoffs. The U.S. teams will start around the weekend of May 15 with Canada following after. We take an early look at the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoff Power Rankings from 16 to 1.
2021 Stanley Cup Playoff Power Rankings: Rating All 16 NHL Postseason Teams
16. Winnipeg Jets (3rd, North Division)
Winnipeg has struggled mightily in the most crucial stretch of the season. The Jets, at one point, lost seven straight games and eight of 10 to almost fall to the fourth seed. Connor Hellebuyck has not been able to hold the fort down as he was earlier in the season. Winnipeg’s overall numbers rank right in the middle of the pack across the board and off from a lot of the season highs from a month ago.
Blake Wheeler returned to the lineup, and seemingly Winnipeg has only become worse. Their penalty kill has dropped to near 80% and the season-ending injury to Nik Ehlers was a real blow to the transition game of Winnipeg. Arguably, he was their transition game. Think of how Brendan Gallagher‘s loss has impacted Montreal. Defensively, Paul Maurice is trying to patch and plug but nothing is working. The Jets have allowed over three goals a game in the last 15 contests.
- Winnipeg Jets NHL Playoffs Prediction: The Winnipeg Jets do not expect to have a long stay in the playoffs no matter who they play. If the season was a little bit longer, the Jets might not have even made the postseason.
15. St. Louis Blues (4th, West)
St. Louis is just not the same team they were two seasons ago when they won the Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington had a decent enough year, but again, not like 2019. The best way to describe the Blues all season is consistently inconsistent.
St. Louis was one of the three worst teams in terms of the penalty kill and tied for 17th overall in points. They allowed 3.13 goals per game and were just 21st in goals for at 2.96. That is not what you expected from a St. Louis team that had Mike Hoffman on the power play and a solid group of young and veteran talent. Worse, the return of Vladimir Tarasenko seemed to drop their offense a bit further before they reeled off a 5-2-3 run over their last ten games.
Their minus-9 goal differential is also the worst among all playoff teams. One of the more odd things with the Craig Berube coached team this year is not just the injuries but how Colton Parayko and Vince Dunn have been utilized. Should they have been a top pairing? Some argue possibly yes.
St. Louis missed Alex Pietrangelo more than most realized. Even Ryan O’Reilly admitted it more or less a few weeks ago. The Blues just do not have that stability where they can put a long, sustained stretch of play together.
- St. Louis Blues NHL Playoffs Prediction: Unfortunately, St. Louis just does not have the balance to compete with a team like Vegas, guaranteeing them a low spot in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs power rankings. Expect their stay in these playoffs to be a rather short one.
14. Montreal Canadiens (4th, North)
The first priority for the Montreal Canadiens is to hopefully get healthy. Carey Price and Phillip Danault are both out for concussions. It appears that Price is getting closer and closer to a return. So, his playoff prognosis at least looks good.
How he plays is another question entirely. The Canadiens are tied for 17th in points. Also, their shooting percentage of 9% is only better than Boston’s (8.9%) and Nashville (8.8%) heading into the playoffs. Considering they were over 10% after the first six weeks, that is some drop.
Montreal misses Brendan Gallagher as he was that one deep transitional threat that Montreal possessed. Gallagher could be physical, get near the net, but also had enough speed to create opportunities on a frequent basis.
When he went down to a thumb injury, it had a definite ripple effect. Even the opportunistic Jeff Petry suffered on both ends of the ice. That was something that did not occur in the first half. Some of the problems also had to do with the compressed schedule. However, Carey Price has only appeared in 25 games while Jake Allen has played in 28. That’s an ominous sign along with their slightly below-average save percentage.
- Montreal Canadiens NHL Playoffs Prediction: Montreal can be dangerous, if healthy, but will all the parts gel in time to get out of the first round? That appears to be doubtful.
13. Nashville Predators (4th, Central)
The Nashville Predators were about to fire their coach and then Juuse Saros returned from injury. He came back a completely different goalie as Nashville has gone on a 19-7-1 record to make the postseason. Saros is easily one of the top candidates for the Vezina Trophy as he posted a 16-5-2 run over 23 games. He gave up less than two goals a game during this stretch and posted three shutouts. Nashville also found some balance as Luke Kunin ignited the second line behind a span that featured 14 points in 21 contests.
Even without Filip Forsberg for stretches or Viktor Arvidsson, and even Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville kept finding ways to score just enough goals. They average a league-lowest 2.7 goals per game and feature a 74.7% penalty kill (also worst among playoff teams).
Nashville can go on short runs where they can score three or four goals at a clip but then can go ice cold offensively. It leaves little margin for error for Juuse Saros (.940 even-strength save percentage, .820 penalty-kill save percentage). That latter number combined with a very streaky offense is a major red flag.
- Nashville Predators NHL Playoffs Prediction: Nashville in a seven-game series can scare anyone with Saros in net but just do not have the sustained offense of a Carolina to advance to the next round.
12. New York Islanders (4th, East)
The New York Islanders could be one of the more highly debated teams on the 2021 Stanley Cup Power Rankings. They can be a top-five team in stretches and then look like a bottom-third team other nights. They have teetered around .500 over their last dozen games not surprisingly.
While goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been excellent for the team that allows just 2.26 goals per game. The Islanders tally just 2.78 goals per contest. They have not gotten the same clutch scoring as last year going into the playoffs and then once in the playoffs.
Their trade deadline acquisitions have not panned out either. Kyle Palmieri has two goals and two assists in 16 games. Travis Zajac has been a non-factor while being healthy scratched a few times. Braydon Coburn again is just insurance.
Ryan Pulock has never really established himself as that No. 1 defenseman (Nick Leddy leads blueliners with 30 points). Pulock has an incredible shot but just two goals on the season. The lack of defensive goal production and scoring is telling and damning. For the Islanders to advance, they have to improve on a power play that averages less than an 18% conversion rate and score at least three goals per game.
- New York Islanders NHL Playoffs Prediction: Their playoff stay hinges on that offense that has gone dormant too often. If Jordan Eberle and Mathew Barzal can get hot at the right time, they can advance but if not then it is one and done.
11. Edmonton Oilers (2nd, North)
Connor McDavid has three or more points in eight of his last ten games and now has 100 in 53 games in 2021. After him and Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse is their third-leading scorer with just 36 points. Those are some huge gaps and Edmonton would have an offense like the Islanders without McDavid or worse. The center spearheads the top-ranked power play in the NHL at 27.6%. They also possess one of the better shooting percentages at 11%.
There are plenty of concerns, however. Depth scoring was kind of addressed but never has truly materialized. Yes, Nurse has a career-high 16 goals but among the forwards, just four have ten or more goals on the year. Even the defense just has Nurse with 36 points and Tyson Barrie with 46. Everyone else has single digits.
The top-heavy nature of Edmonton even extends to their goaltending as they rely on 39-year old Mike Smith, who is having a season to remember (20-6-2, 2.28 GAA, .924 save percentage). Imagine where Edmonton would be without him (probably a .500 team again).
- Edmonton Oilers NHL Playoffs Prediction: Edmonton has the weapons to scare teams but can the depth and Mike Smith hold up long enough to get out of the North Division. That answer looks to be no as Toronto is the likely ending point.
10. Washington Capitals (2nd, East)
The Washington Capitals represent the best and worst all rolled up into one not so neat package. They still possess one of the most feared offenses in the league. However, their health is a worry now.
Yes, Alexander Ovechkin will be ready for the playoffs, but what condition will players like T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, or Ilya Samsonov be in? Can Samsonov even be trusted in net for the postseason? Head coach Peter Laviolette might have to play Vitek Vanecek, who has been better in the Washington goal anyway.
Washington’s power play still strikes at 25.7% along with an overall shooting percentage of 11.5%. However, the defense and down the middle are areas teams attack with regularity. In spite of all the shortcomings, Washington is not limping into the first round with a 6-3-1 record over their last ten games.
Along with Samsonov, Evgeny Kuznetsov went into COVID protocol again. The two underachieving Russians definitely have put Washington in a playoff bind. If they draw a healthy Boston team, that could be a major problem.
- Washington Capitals NHL Playoffs Prediction: Washington may have enough to outlast New York but Boston may be a tougher task. It depends on the seeding but expect the Capitals to not get very far this postseason.
9. Minnesota Wild (3rd, West)
Minnesota sadly would be a top-two seed almost anywhere else and probably lead at least two of the other divisions if not for Colorado and Vegas, so they might be getting ripped off a bit on these 2021 Stanley Cup power rankings.
The Wild power play connects at 17.95% but that number is closer to 25% over the past month. Combine that with an 11.5% overall shooting percentage and it is no wonder why Minnesota is 7-1-2 in their last ten games. They have been one of the hottest teams in the league over the entire second half. Kirill Kaprizov has led the way for the Wild all season. He has 27 goals and 51 points in 54 games. Kaprizov leads a balanced attack with eight different players who have scored ten or more goals.
The defense has been adequate but at times underperforms from an offensive standpoint. Again, any of the lines can score for Minnesota which is helpful. However, goaltending which was a strength early in the season has leveled off some.
Cam Talbot is 8-1-3 in his last 12 decisions but has allowed three or more goals in five straight starts. He has fared well in his two playoff seasons as a “number one" with a .924 save percentage. Against Colorado and Vegas, Talbot is below .500, however, and has a save percentage under .900.
- Minnesota Wild NHL Playoffs Prediction: Minnesota has been excellent against everyone else but Colorado and Vegas which poses a problem. They can be competitive, but the likelihood is of another first-round elimination.
8. Boston Bruins (3rd, East)
The Boston Bruins are one of those teams that have a lot of pieces. Now, the question becomes can they stay healthy enough to advance deep into the playoffs? Their top three offensive lines are arguably set along with their defensive six according to Bruce Cassidy.
That is the first time all season that he could say this. Boston did have a clunker of a third period against the New York Rangers on Saturday but had won six of their previous nine games before that. Some of those were without Tuukka Rask (back). Thankfully, Rask is healthy and back in the lineup.
The Taylor Hall acquisition has done wonders for the second and even third lines. Hall is averaging around a point game but more importantly, is playing a two-way game not seen in three years. That has ignited the offense enough and allowed players like Charlie Coyle and even Nick Ritchie to slot back into their more accustomed roles.
Boston is one of the better teams in the league offensively at 2.45 goals per game allowed, but if healthy, they are probably a top-10team offensively to go along with the defensive prowess. They are a tough out against most any team this postseason.
- Boston Bruins NHL Playoffs Prediction: Boston is capable of going on a run and even could get out of the East Division. Boston faces an uncertain fate but does fare somewhat well against Pittsburgh. Bruins To Win The 2021 Stanley Cup Trophy (+1200) could prove to be an intriguing, sleeper pick given their ability to role three, even four lines. They also have a bit better defense than most teams. (Place this bet at BetMGM and claim a welcome offer of a Risk-Free Bet of up to $600 — for new customers only.)
7. Florida Panthers (2nd, Central)
The Florida Panthers are in the middle of the other heavyweight division — the Central. Nestled between Carolina and Tampa Bay, the Panthers will have to get past both to escape the Central. They have had an excellent season behind Aleksander Barkov and their top line.
Furthermore, even without Aaron Ekblad (broken leg), Florida has thrived getting help from the newly acquired Sam Bennett, who has solidified their top and even middle-six forwards. The Panthers have averaged 3.4 goals per game despite a shooting percentage under 10%. They unexpectedly yield 2.8 goals per contest despite having a penalty kill that works just 78.5% of the time.
Their biggest question marks are goaltending and depth defense. Chris Driedger and Sergei Bobrovsky have been serviceable while going on a good run or two. It appears Bobrovsky will be the starting goalie for Round 1. The Florida goalie is 3-2 against Tampa Bay but has just a .879 save percentage. That is mostly without Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Florida has the offense, balance, and physicality to scare teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay.
- Florida Panthers NHL Playoffs Prediction: The problem is can Florida sustain Saturday night’s effort, for example, over a seven-game series. That answer looks to be no, but do expect a six or seven-game affair in Round 1.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (1st, East)
The Pittsburgh Penguins have won 32 of their last 45 games but do not even crack the top five in the 2021 Stanley Cup Power Rankings. How? Pittsburgh went on most of their run without Evgeni Malkin, who missed 23 games. Pittsburgh went 16-5-2 in that span.
Overall, the Penguins are one of the league’s highest-scoring teams. They average 3.51 goals per game while shooting 11.5%. They also have a top-five caliber power play at 24%. Their penalty killing is in the bottom third at 77.48%, however. The Sidney Crosby-Bryan Rust-Jake Guentzel line has worked great and been Pittsburgh’s most consistent line by far all year.
However, the acquisition of Jeff Carter has also been a nice boost. Besides the four-goal game, Carter has provided unexpected stability to the bottom six. From the defensive side of things, Marcus Pettersson has rebounded nicely over the second half and played steadily. This is while Brian Dumoulin continues to play a solid two-way game and Kris Letang provides some offensive muster. Pittsburgh closed out the regular season winning eight of their final ten games.
The biggest question may just be in goal with Tristan Jarry. Can Jarry handle the pressure of the playoffs? He can look incredible one game and give up six goals in 20 minutes the next. He has bounced back all year though and Pittsburgh plays a style that makes a goalie have to be more resilient than usual.
- Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Playoffs Prediction: If Pittsburgh can get past a team like Boston, then lookout. They could be extremely dangerous but could also flame out in Round 1.
5. Colorado Avalanche (2nd, West)
Colorado has the talent and the ability to win the Stanley Cup. It is why they were one of the favorite’s odds wise to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. For the Avalanche, it comes down to health. The injury concern to Nathan MacKinnon is minor as Jared Bednar believes the lower-body injury is not serious.
With goaltender Philipp Grubauer healthy again and one of the fastest offensive defenses in the league, Colorado can skate circles around any team not name Vegas, Carolina, or Tampa Bay. Even then, they can cause those teams lots of matchup problems.
The Avalanche leads the league with 3.54 goals per game scored and is one of two teams with a plus-1 goal per game differential (1.04 per contest). Colorado leads the league with 200 power-play opportunities on the season and has a +30 margin when it comes to penalty differential.
That could bode well in the playoffs as power plays are a bit harder to come back. Their speed again causes a lot of problems for defenses. For the Avalanche, it boils down to not diverting from how they play. The minute they starting chasing the game too hard, it gets away from them and quickly.
- Colorado Avalanche NHL Playoffs Prediction: Colorado is still one of the favorites to get to the Stanley Cup Final. If any team can get past Vegas, it is the Avalanche. Their +450 odds are a little less value than most would like so staying away might be a wise pick here.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (1st, North)
The Toronto Maple Leafs benefit from playing in the North Division. There is little doubt arguing this fact. Auston Matthews had 40 goals in just 50 games. The honest feeling is he does not score that many in any other division.
While that fact can be argued, it can’t be debated that Jack Campbell has had a huge impact on the Toronto season. He reeled off 15 wins in his last 17 starts with the Maple Leafs. Even with some of Toronto’s struggles on special teams lately, Campbell has posted a 17-2-2 mark overall with a 2.11 GAA and .923 save percentage with two shutouts.
Toronto has one of the more fearful top-six groups in all of hockey. William Nylander, John Tavares, Zach Hyman, and Mitch Marner are all players who can put defenses easily on their heels. With the steady defensive play of T.J. Brodie and Jake Muzzin, the Maple Leafs are a lot like Pittsburgh. They can score plenty and can play downhill better than most teams.
The difference is Campbell has raised his game to the next level. Match him up against any goaltender in the North playoffs and he likely enjoys an advantage. That is part of why Toronto is the favorite to come out of the North. If their nerves do not get the best of them. the Maple Leafs may give Toronto a reason to be joyful.
- Toronto Maple Leafs NHL Playoffs Prediction: The Toronto Maple Leafs could very well get to the final four or even the Stanley Cup Final. It is all a question of again, the mental part of the game.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (3rd, Central)
In order to be the best, a team has to beat the best. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup Champions. They showed last year how dominant they could be and this year, have been one of the best teams in the league even without Nikita Kucherov and, at times, Steven Stamkos.
One of the main reasons for that is the play of 26-year old Andrei Vasilevskiy. The young Russian goaltender is on his way to his second Vezina Trophy award for best goaltender. He has 31 wins in 41 starts which leads the league along with a goals-saved above average of 22 and a goalie point share of 9.3.
For Tampa Bay to get on a deep run again, they will need a healthy Kucherov and Stamkos along with a 100% Victor Hedman. There has been some debate as to whether the Norris Trophy candidate is 100%. While no definitive answer is known, some indications from watching him play are troublesome. Tampa Bay is capable of lighting up a scoreboard along with opponents. They lead the league in penalty minutes though which taxes their penalty kill and goaltending.
The key in the postseason will be how Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos integrate themselves back into the lineup. Expect Tampa Bay to be back to its usual self.
- Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Playoffs Prediction: Tampa Bay is a scary team to play against when fully healthy. They are more than capable of defending their title again.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (1st, Central)
The Carolina Hurricanes have the most depth from a team not named the Vegas Golden Knights and some would even debate that fact. Carolina has a top six led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov with plenty of bottom-six role players to boot.
If that is not enough, the Hurricanes have a defensive core of Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin. Now, Slavin suffered an injury that will have to be monitored but Carolina has a few defensemen that can fill the void on a short-term basis.
Carolina leads the league in special teams percentage at 111.63. They are second on the power play and third on the penalty-kill. The Hurricanes are the only team in the league to be in the top-five in both disciplines. Carolina features seven or more players with 30 points and eight or more with ten-plus goals. They are led by Aho, who has 24 goals and 57 points on the season.
If there may be one concern with Carolina, it is injuries. How will Petr Mrazek respond in net after playing only 11 games in 2021? Mrazek expects to be the starting goaltender in the postseason. Rest is good but how does he handle the compressed run of games? At least, there is Alex Nedeljkovic. However, Carolina’s plan appears to be not to use the young goalie much in the postseason, if at all.
- Carolina Hurricanes NHL Playoffs Prediction: Carolina is the one team that can defeat Tampa Bay IF it can overcome the occasional lapses. The Hurricanes could march right to the Stanley Cup Final if that happens.
1. Vegas Golden Knights (1st, West)
Vegas is right now the best team in hockey once again. Arguably, that was the case last year entering the bubble. Then, their offense dried up incredibly against Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars.
This has been a big problem for Vegas, but in 2021, Vegas enjoys the best defense allowing just 2.26 goals per game while scoring at 3.45 goals per night. That +1.19 differential tops the league. Their one concern is now the power play which has struggled all year at 18.4%. On the bright side, their penalty kill is outstanding at 86.2%.
They have the luxury of boasting some of the best talent and depth in the league. At forward, they have the dynamic duo of Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty for starters. Then, on defense, Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore patrol the blueline. In the net, they have Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner.
Whereas the core is that good at forwards, defense and goalie, the depth is boosted that much more. Alex Tuch, Mattias Janmark, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, and Reilly Smith are just a few of their other forwards more than capable of being post-season standouts. Alec Martinez could be a top defenseman almost on any other team but is a great three.
For Vegas, it boils down to not going cold on offense.
- Vegas Golden Knights NHL Playoffs Prediction: Vegas is the best team on paper and arguably should be an odds-on favorite, as we reflect in these 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings. If they do not let a goaltender get in their heads, the Golden Knights may very well be in the Stanley Cup Final and win it this time around. Their +550 odds to win the Stanley Cup present a little bit of value over the current favorites, the Colorado Avalanche.