May 22 might as well have been Christmas, because hockey fans received the gift of the NHL Players Association agreeing to terms on the league's new 24-team playoff format.
The new tournament, taking the place of the traditional 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs, will serve as the NHL's return to play format. The top four teams in each conference will play in a round robin to determine the top four seeds, while the remaining eight teams in each conference would subsequently compete in a best-of-five play-in round.
12up has already covered the five teams with the greatest advantage in the new format, but now it's time to rank the top 10 NHL teams in the 24-team tourney.
10. Edmonton Oilers
The team hurt most by the halt of the 2019-20 season were the Edmonton Oilers. Connor McDavid was set to clinch his first playoff spot since 2017, and then the coronavirus hit. But now, the NHL has done the Oilers a solid and given them the No. 5 seed in the West, where they play a Chicago Blackhawks team without solid goaltending. Expect McDavid and NHL leading point-getter Leon Draisaitl (110) to wreak havoc against the Blackhawks. Even so, the Oilers better pray that their goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen can hold up.
9. Dallas Stars
The Stars have all the potential in the world to make a run to the Stanley Cup Final. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn make up one of the more dynamic scoring duos in the NHL this past decade, but they can never put it together when it matters most. Even though the Stars added Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry last offseason, they've still managed to have a measly goal differential of +3. But they do have an advantage in net, as Ben Bishop proved last postseason that he can put Dallas on his back -- they'd better give him support, though.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
When it comes to the playoffs, you can never count out the Pittsburgh Penguins, regardless of their seeding. Sidney Crosby is hockey's version of Michael Jordan, and he's got his version of Scottie Pippen in Evgeni Malkin. To make matters better for the Pens, they could get winger Jake Guenztel back from injury. But if they have a weakness, it's their goaltending situation...and Montreal Canadiens netminder Carey Price is still living rent free in their heads, too.
7. Washington Capitals
We're getting a bit controversial here, but yes, the Capitals rank as the seventh-best team in the playoffs. Yes, Alexander Ovechkin is tied for most goals in the league, and he has a tremendous supporting cast in Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson. But, they've been knocked down a peg in the Eastern Conference. The only way we could see a deep run is if young goalie Ilya Samsonov plays out of his mind right out of the gate. We don't see it happening, though.
6. Vegas Golden Knights
It's simply impressive how the Vegas Golden Knights transitioned from an expansion team straight into a Stanley Cup contender three years later. This season, Vegas soldified their status as one of the top teams in the West, with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone leading the way offensively. But their best move came at the trade deadline, when they acquired Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner to create a dominant tandem alongside Marc-Andre Fleury. That move alone can result in the Knights reaching the playoffs, but they'd have to withstand the other top teams in the West to do so.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
The most shocking team of the 2019-20 season is undoubtedly the Philadelphia Flyers. We laughed at them for signing Kevin Hayes to a lucrative deal, but look who's laughing now. They have the second-best goal differential in the Eastern Conference (+36), a stud goalie in Carter Hart, and an accomplished coach in Alain Vigneault. This team could make it to the championship game, but let's hope Vigneault doesn't have a trademark collapse like in years past (2011 with Vancouver Canucks, 2014 with New York Rangers).
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning were the joke of sports last year. They broke every single record last season, clinched the Presidents' Trophy, and got swept in the first round by the underdog Columbus Blue Jackets. But you can't mock them this year. They have a ridiculous scoring attack in the form of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point, and have a top-tier goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. You can't sleep on Tampa this year. If you do, they'll strike.
3. Colorado Avalanche
Is there a team that's more fun than the Colorado Avalanche? This is a serious question. The Avs are the team that can win over the younger audience. They're fast, they can score at will, and have a pretty good defense overall. Perhaps no team has a better advantage in the playoffs than the Avalanche, because their speed can kill.
2. St. Louis Blues
You have to include the defending Stanley Cup champions near the top of the list. They still have a majority of their roster from last season, and they know what it takes to reach the mountaintop. They've even secured the best record in the Western Conference without top scorer Vladimir Tarasenko! The Blues are going to be dangerous come playoff time.
1. Boston Bruins
The best team in hockey ranks at No. 1. It's an easy choice. Goalie Tuukka Rask is playing the best hockey he has in years. Brad Marchand can get under everyone's skin. The defense is hard-hitting and brutal. David Pastrnak is the best goal-scorer in the game today. Don't be shocked to see the Bruins hoist the Cup this summer. They're the odds-on favorites.