Wednesday, October 4 2023

The Boston Bruins finished the regular season with a historic 65 wins and 135 points, making them the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup. But their path won’t be easy: 15 other teams are starting anew this postseason, and that might be the biggest reason for optimism for the rest of the league. The regular season does not matter anymore. Records mean nothing during the unpredictable, chaotic playoff season.

Thus, it would be easy to rank the playoff teams by standings finish and award those odds to their Stanley Cup chances. But the playoffs are not fair and the conference brackets present different challenges.

NHL PLAYOFFS: What are the first round series in Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Here are USA TODAY Sports’ power rankings of each playoff team based on their Stanley Cup chances:

1 – Boston Bruins

Sixty-five wins. 17 losses (five in overtime). League-leading goal differential of +128. The league stood no chance against the Bruins this year. How could they not be No. 1?

2 – Colorado Avalanche

The defending Stanley Cup champions won 16 of 19 games after March 9. They have two 100-plus-point producers (Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen) and one of the best defensemen in the game (Cale Makar). And they’ve been here before.

3 – Edmonton Oilers

Connor McDavid (64 goals, 153 points), somehow, continues to be better than the year before and has consistently carried Edmonton since he entered the league. This year, though, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins gave the Oilers three 100-point players, and their depth has improved, helping them rank fifth in expected goals, according to Money Puck.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid had 64 goals and 153 points this season.Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid had 64 goals and 153 points this season.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid had 64 goals and 153 points this season.

4 – Dallas Stars

Dallas led the Western Conference with a plus-67 goal differential, and being in the same division as the Avalanche is the only major cause for concern. Other than that, their mix of veterans and youth, strong defense and physicality and high-end players all over the ice, including in net with Jake Oettinger, should bode well. Jamie Benn has returned to being a force, too.

5 – Toronto Maple Leafs

On talent alone, the Maple Leafs should rank higher. But they will have to go through Boston, and that dings them a touch. Their recent playoff history has not been good – to put it kindly – but eventually the names on the back of the jersey have to mean something, right?

6 – New York Rangers

New York finished fifth in the conference, but it’s hard to not consider them a contender after the additions of Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane to a lineup that already had Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. Thanks to the growth of younger players and trades, their depth is better than the version that reached last year’s Eastern Conference final. Goalie Igor Shesterkin gives them the ability to steal a series, too.

7 – Vegas Golden Knights

Health has not been on the Golden Knights’ side this year and here they are with the most points (111) in the Western Conference. Why aren’t they higher on this list? The top-end talent seems a bit light, and they are relying on Jonathan Quick and Laurent Brossoit in net.

8 – Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning are not as formidable as the group that won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 and then reached the final last year … but the core of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy is still here. And, again, they have reached the final for three consecutive seasons. While it’s impossible to count them out, the conference is a juggernaut and makes their path more difficult.

9 – Carolina Hurricanes

The underlying analytics are always strong, though one wonders whether the Hurricanes’ style can win it all. They have advanced to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons, with ousters in the second round of the last two.

10 – New Jersey Devils

The long rebuild is clearly over: The Devils are coming, and if they aren’t the class of the East now, it could realistically happen next year. Jack Hughes and Timo Meier lead one of the most explosive offenses, especially in transition. The defense has also improved greatly. The big question is whether such a young team’s time is now, and if their goaltending can hold up.

11 – Los Angeles Kings

Anze Kopitar, 35, led the Kings with 74 points, and Adrian Kempe paced with 41 goals. The scoring depth and balance are underrated; they finished with the same number of goals per game as the Rangers. The underlying metrics are strong, too, with a clear strength in limiting chances. Goalie Joonas Korpisalo will be the X-factor, especially against the high-octane Oilers in the first round.

12 – Minnesota Wild

It looked last year that the Wild were in trouble because of some bad contracts, so mark their 103-point season as a surprise. This is the weakest offense in the playoffs: Kirill Kaprizov (75 points, 40 goals in 67 games) was their only point-per-game player this season. Minnesota will win by playing tight games.

13 – Winnipeg Jets

The Jets have the elite talent to match up with the teams in the West, but their Stanley Cup hopes ride on goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who is capable of willing them through series.

14 – Seattle Kraken

Two years into existence, the Kraken are playoff-bound and will not be an easy out. Thirteen players have notched double-digit goals, including 20-year-old rookie Matty Beniers, who had 24 goals and 57 points. Goaltending is a major deficiency with a team-wide .890 save percentage, third-worst in the league.

15 – New York Islanders

For a team that in recent years has thrived through concept over star-level individuals, forward Mathew Barzal’s potential return could go a long way to deciding their fate. Goalie Ilya Sorokin will keep them in games.

16 – Florida Panthers

A matchup against the Bruins in the first round with Alex Lyon in net? Better luck next year.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoff bracket 2023: Ranking best bets to hoist Stanley Cup

Source: Yahoo Sports

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