NHL power rankings entering playoffs: Who has best chance at winning Stanley Cup?

The Colorado Avalanche in March seemed to be a solid pick to win their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons.

They added Casey Mittelstadt to fill a gap at No. 2 center. They added grit with Brandon Duhaime and a penalty killer in Yakov Trenin. Nathan MacKinnon was one of the top candidates for the Hart Trophy and they had a nine-game winning streak.

Then April happened.

The Avalanche played four games against playoff teams, lost three in blowouts and blew a 3-0 lead in another. They did beat the Edmonton Oilers in the season finale but that team was resting seven top players.

A 7-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets, a team they'll play in the first round, cost them home-ice advantage and gave Winnipeg a 3-0 record against Colorado with a 17-4 edge in goals.

With the Stanley Cup playoffs starting on Saturday, here are NHL power rankings based on a team's ability to win it all:

Jake Guentzel (back), acquired at the trade deadline, had 25 points in 17 games with the Hurricanes.
Jake Guentzel (back), acquired at the trade deadline, had 25 points in 17 games with the Hurricanes.

1. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes reached the conference final last season despite missing injured Andrei Svechnikov for the entire playoffs. In addition to having a healthy Svechnikov, Carolina added former Stanley Cup winners Jake Guentzel and Evgeny Kuznetsov at the trade deadline. Guentzel has 58 points in 58 playoff games and scored 25 points in 17 games since the trade. Kuznetsov was a key player when the Washington Capitals won the 2018 Stanley Cup. The Hurricanes have a deep defense and goalie Frederik Andersen has been nearly unbeatable since he returned from treatment for blood clots.

Concern: The Hurricanes played Andersen every other game down the stretch. Is he ready to take on a heavier load?

2. Dallas Stars

The Stars also got to the conference final last season and they're deeper than last season, when they lost to the Golden Knights. They get scoring up and down the lineup and they improved their impressive defense corps by adding Chris Tanev at the deadline. Goalie Jake Oettinger was inconsistent this season, but he was strong in April and seems to turn it up a notch in the playoffs.

Concern: They're facing the defending champions in the first round and Vegas went 3-0 in the season series.

3. New York Rangers

Presidents' Trophy winners rarely win the Stanley Cup but the Rangers did 30 years ago. This year's team also looks dangerous. Artemi Panarin had a career season, Alexis Lafreniere had a breakout one and Filip Chytil could return from injury. They were smarter at this year's trade deadline, plugging gaps rather than just going after big names. Their special teams rank third in the league.

Concern: They ranked 16th in the league in five-on-five play during the regular season.

4. Florida Panthers

Having knocked off three higher-seeded teams last postseason, they know what it takes to get to the Final. Physical scorer Matthew Tkachuk was a force. Aleksander Barkov is a two-way star and Sam Reinhart blossomed into a 50-goal scorer. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who got hot last postseason, was consistently strong all season and will be in the mix for a third Vezina Trophy.

Concern: Tkachuk's totals dropped by 14 goals and 21 points this season.

5. Edmonton Oilers

Kris Knoblauch will get votes for coach of the year for righting the team after his midseason hire. That includes a 16-game winning streak. Connor McDavid and Leon Draistaitl are a 1-2 threat, defenseman Evan Bouchard put up big numbers and Zach Hyman is a 50-goal scorer. They added scoring depth with Adam Henrique and grit with Corey Perry.

Concern: McDavid recently missed three games with a lower-body injury. Is he fully healthy?

6. Winnipeg Jets

Goalie Connor Hellebuyck is the favorite for the Vezina Trophy. Sean Monahan was a good trade deadline pickup, Gabriel Vilardi has six goals in his last seven games and the team defense is strong. Plus, they dominated the Avalanche in the season series and won eight in a row down the stretch.

Concern: Hellebuyck, a Vezina finalist last season, had a tough 2023 postseason.

7. Boston Bruins

Four of the last five Presidents' Trophy winners have gone to the Stanley Cup Final — the next season. The Bruins have the ability to follow that trend. Goalie Jeremy Swayman is an All-Star, and David Pastrnak and company provide plenty of offense. Boston added rugged three-time Stanley Cup winner Pat Maroon in a low-key trade deadline move.

Concern: Their power play is 3-for-32 in their last 12 games.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning

They have a championship pedigree, though the salary cap has eroded their depth. Still, Nikita Kucherov won the scoring title with 144 points and he, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos had 40-goal seasons. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy thrives in the playoffs. Anthony Duclair averaged nearly a point a game since arriving in a trade. The series vs. Florida should be fun.

Concern: Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev isn't ready to start the postseason as he works to recover from his broken leg.

9. Vegas Golden Knights

It's hard to pick against the defending champion, especially since they're built to win. They were aggressive at the trade deadline by adding Tomas Hertl, Noah Hanifin and Anthony Mantha. Injured Mark Stone (lacerated spleen) is skating again. They're deep on defense and offense. Jonathan Marchessault won the Conn Smythe Trophy last season, and Jack Eichel easily could have.

Concern: The Golden Knights won the Stanley Cup last season while having home-ice advantage for four rounds. They won't in any of the first three rounds and possibly four.

10. Vancouver Canucks

Rick Tocchet is expected to win coach of the year and the return of injured goalie Thatcher Demko makes them better prepared for a run. This is a deep team, led by Quinn Hughes, Elias Pettersson, J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. And though they haven't made the playoffs since 2020, this core did well during that playoff run.

Concern: Elias Lindholm had a strong start after his trade to the Canucks, then had two points in his next 14 games. But he has picked up play recently.

11. Colorado Avalanche

Yes, there are concerns about their recent play, but they have MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, etc., and a recent Stanley Cup title. But goalie Alexandar Georgiev will need to play better. He has given up four or more goals in six of his last eight games.

Concerns: Forward Jonathan Drouin (lower body injury) will miss the series after being hurt in the season finale. He had 19 goals and 56 points.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs

There's a lot of high-powered offense, led by Auston Matthews' 69 goals, and this team got grittier than last season by adding Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi and Ryan Reaves. The defense and goaltending isn't as strong. The Maple Leafs got past a psychological barrier last season by reaching the second round for the first time since 2004, but the Bruins seem to have their number in the playoffs.

Concern: William Nylander has no goals in his last 11 games and missed practice on Friday.

13. Nashville Predators

They have cooled off after the end of their 18-game point streak. But they could be a sleeper pick with high-scoring Filip Forsberg, Norris Trophy candidate Roman Josi and former playoff MVP Ryan O'Reilly leading the way.

Concern: Goalie Juuse Saros had a 4.81 goals-against average and .833 save percentage against Vancouver this season.

14. New York Islanders

They went 8-0-1 down the stretch to get into the playoffs. Backup goalie Semyon Varlamov was a big part of that and he's getting the Game 1 start. Midseason coaching hire Patrick Roy has the team playing much better, but it's hard to see the Islanders getting past the Hurricanes, Rangers and whoever emerges from the Atlantic Division side of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Concern: Outside of the coaching change, this is pretty much the same roster that lost to the Hurricanes in the first round last season. The Hurricanes have made major changes.

15. Los Angeles Kings

They have great penalty killing, and they'll need it because the Oilers' power play clicks at 32.8% at home. The Kings have lost in the first round to the Oilers the last two seasons and Edmonton holds a 3-1 edge in the season series.

Concern: They need more than they got out of Pierre-Luc Dubois in his first season with the Kings.

16. Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin surged after the All-Star break and Dylan Strome and younger players emerged with Nicklas Backstrom out and Evgeny Kuznetsov traded. But they face a tough first round against the Rangers. New York has more talent and is led by recent Capitals coach Peter Laviolette. Charlie Lindgren will need to excel in net, and he did this season against the Rangers with a 1.35 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.

Concern: The Capitals' -37 goal differential shows they get blown out at times.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL playoffs power rankings: Who has best shot at Stanley Cup?