Pre-Season Preview: The 4 Tiers of the NHL

Debate away!

Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Five
Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Five / Chris Unger/GettyImages

With 47 days until the NHL season officially starts, it's still a bit early to make predictions on how things may end up by seasons end. I do believe though that things are starting to be defined in the 4 tiers of the league. You have the contenders, the playoff teams, the fringe playoff teams, and the bottom dwellers already staking claim from my perspective.

Like most seasons there will likley be a team that is perceived to be good that will fall to the bottom as well as a team considered to be a fringe playoff team that will be a contender. Happens almost every season. The Boston Bruins by many accounts were a fringe playoff team before the seaosn and ended up as the Presidents Trophy team in the league.

Here is how I see each tier playing out thus far:

The Contenders (teams that have the best chance at raising Lord Stanley's Cup):

In no particular order those 8 teams look like they will be: Carolina, Toronto, Colorado, Dallas, Edmonton, New Jersey, Vegas, and Tampa Bay.

Notes: The 8th team in was a big debate for me, however I feel that the Lightning still have one final big run in them with Stamkos, Hedman, Kucherov, Point, and Vasilevskiy leading the way. Vegas and Tampa Bay won't likely be built for a run at a 120pt season, they will likely be all in when it comes to the playoffs though and that's what makes them so dangerous.

Playoff Teams (teams that I feel should comfortably make the postseason, although not in the top tier of teams, should have successful seasons):

In no particular order those 8 teams look like they will be: Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Minnesota, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Florida, Winnipeg, and Boston.

Notes: While the first 4 teams in I was comfortable with, the last 4 I believe are an injury or trade away from fighting for (instead of comfortably making) a playoff spot. Boston has lost their top centers, Pittsburgh is a year older, Winnipeg has perhaps an unbalanced locker room, and Florida is everyone's "who knows" team(as they've gone from 1st to 8th playoff seed in the last 2 seasons). In the end though I can't deny the Bruins defensive top 4 paired with a Vezina winner and Pastrnak and Marchand still putting up big numbers. The Jets, while dysfunctional, have one of the most talented rosters top to bottom. Connor could net 60 goals and no one would be surprised. The Penguins have a ticking clock, an aggressive GM, and are all-in to return to the playoffs.

Fringe Playoff Teams (these clubs will likely fight with the bottom 4 of the above tier to try and secure one of the last playoff spots for the upcoming season):

In no particular order those 8 teams look like they'll be: Buffalo, Detroit, Calgary, New York Islanders, Washington, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Columbus.

Notes: Buffalo and Detroit should make the biggest push here. I think that Calgary may end up trading some key pieces (if they don't take the money) and that will affect them moving forward. The Islanders have the defense and goaltending, but their offensive additions seem to be lacking that elite edge they have sorely missed out on over the years. The Capitals are a wildcard, but it seems injuries may play a big part in how their season plays out. Vancouver, Ottawa, and Columbus are all likely in transition years where they need to subtract and add in order to find the roster they'll go all-in with in the 24-25 season.

The Bottom Dwellers (teams that will likely not be in playoff contention and will instead be jockeying for lottery odds):

In no particular order those teams appear to be: San Jose, Philadelphia, Arizona, Chicago, Anaheim, St. Louis, Montreal, and Nashville.

Notes: San Jose and Philadelphia are going to be bad, Chicago, Arizona, and Anaheim improved but ultimately overmatched, and St. Louis, Montreal, and Nashville while competitive are all likely realizing it won't be their year half way through the season.

While this preview is quite early, it does appear that most rosters are set for the upcoming 23-24 season. Will it all play out like this? Time will tell.