We do not know when we will see the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs take place, but we are hopeful that can happen sooner rather than later. We are going to work with the assumption that they will eventually happen and take a look at the biggest flaw for every potential Stanley Cup Playoff contender.
Even with the additions of Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, this is still a pretty thin group offensively. A lot Arizona's early success was dependent on defensive play and goaltending, and when the Coyotes lost both Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta to injury, the bottom kind of fell out on their season. No player on the team has more than 45 points this season (Hall has more than 45, but some of those came with the New Jersey Devils), while only one (Conor Garland) has more than 20 goals.
Emphasis on the maybe. Picking a flaw here is almost impossible. On paper the Bruins have no weakness. They have the best top line in hockey with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. They have depth, a good defense and two outstanding goalies and are top-five in both penalty killing and power play. They do everything well. They are also on their way to running away with the Presidents Trophy. The only thing you might be able to pick at here is they do still have some questions about their secondary scoring, but even that is reaching. This is the best team in hockey.
There was an assumption around the hockey world that the Flames would be in line for a regression this season after owning the top record in the Western Conference a year ago. That regression has happened. Probably the biggest surprise, though, is where it has taken place: Offensively. After finishing the 2018-19 season as the second-highest scoring team in the NHL, the Flames find themselves in the bottom half of the league this season and have seen some down years from their biggest stars.
It is not just the fact the Hurricanes had a lot of injuries, but also that they had significant injuries to major players. At one point they were down to their third- and fourth-string goalies, while both Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce are out long term on defense. When it comes to the latter players, they did add Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen at the trade deadline, and they will certainly help. The problem is the Hurricanes are better with Hamilton and Pesce in the lineup.
Maybe you want to say it's their overall inexperience or perhaps their goaltending situation with two mostly unproven postseason goalies. But the biggest concern the Avalanche had before the season hiatus was injuries to Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer. They were still finding ways to win games, but winning in the postseason is not always about simply being the hottest or the best team. Sometimes it is also about being the team with the fewest injuries on your roster and having all of your key players available.
It was assumed that goaltending would be the trouble spot for this team, following the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency. But thanks to Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins the goaltending has turned out to be the team's greatest strength. The problem has turned out to be an offense that has limited playmakers while also being devastated all season by injuries.
The Stars have the type of goaltending that can carry a team deep into the playoffs thanks to the duo of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. They also have a great defensive structure and two elite players on their blue line in Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg. They will shut you down and keep the puck out of the net. The problem is they also do not put the puck in the net often and have one of the worst offenses among playoff teams. Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry were supposed to help address their secondary scoring issues, but both players are a shell of their former selves, and it remains a top-heavy team offensively around Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.
The Oilers have two of the leagues best players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but the lineup after them is, to say the least, lacking. They have taken steps to fix that. Splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl and giving them their own line to center has worked out better than anyone could have imagined, while they also made a couple of moves at the trade deadline to add Mike Green and Andreas Athanasiou. They are a playoff team with a manageable path through the division but not as deep as you would want a true contender to be.
They have the offense to win. They have the offense to compete for a Stanley Cup. But they absolutely cannot stop anyone. Sergei Bobrovsky has taken most of the heat for that in goal after signing that massive contract in free agency, but it is unfair to put it all on him. The bottom line is the defense — and the overall team defense — in front of him has been lousy from the start. Combine that with what has been a down year for Bobrovsky, and you have a mess of a situation that has produced one of the most disappointing seasons in the league.
The Wild were one of the NHL's hottest teams over the past couple of months, and a big part of that was the play of Alex Stalock in net. The concern there is that Stalock has never really played at this type of level, and there are questions as to how sustainable it might be. The Wild are a good defensive team and have some scoring depth up front, but they need Stalock to keep playing the way he has in goal.
All year the Predators have been one of the league's best 5-on-5 teams by every objective measure. Shot attempts, scoring chances, shots on goal, goal differential. They have played at a Stanley Cup-contending level when all things are even. What has held them back, however, is their special teams. They are among the worst in the league on the power play and penalty kill. Those two areas have been huge contributors to their down year, and they now need to scramble just to get in the playoffs. Improved goaltending could really help the PK (and they are getting that with Juuse Saros), but the power play has been a lost cause for two years now.
It was their biggest flaw last season. It is their biggest flaw this season. Outside of Mathew Barzal, the Islanders simply do not have a player who can make a significant impact offensively, which will continue to hold them back. They don't have the talent to play an overly aggressive system offensively, and it's kind of shocking they did not do more to address it over the past year. Jean-Gabriel Pageau was a nice trade deadline addition, but he is also having a career year and may never score at this rate again.
At the start of the season I would have said center depth, but Mika Zibanejad and Ryan Strome have been outstanding this season and really helped solidify that position. Defensively they have two outstanding young players in Adam Fox and Tony DeAngelo to lead their blue line, but there is a pretty big gap from the top to the next group, especially following the trade of Brady Skjei. Jacob Trouba was supposed to be a huge addition on defense, but it has not quite worked out as planned.
The Flyers might finally have their franchise goalie, and since returning from injury Hart has been a wall in their net. The only flaw in his game right now is the monstrous split between his home and road play. He is 20-3-2 on home ice this season with a .943 save percentage. On the road, he is only 4-10-1 with an .857 save percentage. Is it meaningful? Random chance? A fluke? Who knows? But the Flyers are going to have to win some games on the road come playoff time, and Hart will play a big role in whether that happens.
Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry are both capable of being the top goalie in Pittsburgh — Murray won two Stanley Cups with the team already — but neither one has really taken a hold of the job this season. They have both had moments of brilliance, and both have gone through extended slumps. Before the season went on pause, they were regularly rotating starts until someone secured the spot, but no one managed to take that step.
The defending Stanley Cup champions look even better than they did a year ago and have pretty much everything to go on another deep run. The only potential flaw might simply be the fact they are lacking a truly elite scorer with the season-long absence of Vladimir Tarasenko. There was, however, the belief he was getting closer to a return before the season was suspended and he could very well be back when things resume.
I am not normally one to make something intangible like this a flaw, but it is definitely something the Lightning have to get over. They have the talent. The roster is as deep and loaded as any other in the league. They also have been one of the league's most dominant teams over the past six years. The only hurdle they have to clear is being able to finish the job. They had a 2-1 lead in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and then lost three straight. They had 3-2 series leads in two different Eastern Conference Finals and then lost each. They won 62 regular-season games a year ago and then got swept in the first round. Until they actually finish the deal, those questions will linger.
The Maple Leafs have an embarrassment of riches at forward, they have a legit No. 1 goalie and they added a good backup in Jack Campbell. Now they just need to figure out a way to stop people. Morgan Rielly returned just before the NHL went on pause, and that was going to help, but they still give up way too many shots and chances and lean on their goalies a bit too much.
The top of the Canucks lineup is tremendous. Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat and Jacob Markstrom form an outstanding young core to build around — maybe one of the best in the NHL. But they have serious flaws at both forward and defense when it comes to their overall depth. Those flaws were only magnified before the NHL hiatus when Boeser and Markstrom were both injured.
Goaltending depth was the big flaw earlier in the year, but the trade deadline acquisition of Robin Lehner absolutely settled that. While they have dramatically improved their overall defensive play under new coach Pete DeBoer, it is still probably the current weak link for this team. It's not a bad unit, but they lack a true No. 1 defender to really drive the defense. Their forwards are great, and now they have two really good goalies. That leaves defense as likely the one flaw.
The Capitals have regressed a bit as the season has gone on, but they still have one of the deepest and best rosters in the league. The concern, though, is their goaltending, which has been a bit of a weak link. And that is a bad position to be weak. Braden Holtby still has moments of brilliance, but he is not the same goalie he once was. Ilya Samsonov is the future at the position, and he had a great start to the season, but he also has regressed a bit in the second half.
The Jets have exceeded most expectations this season, staying in the playoff hunt even with what has been, at times, a patchwork and makeshift defense. The biggest reason for that has been the play of goalie Connor Hellebuyck. As long as he is on top of his game, they have a chance. But if he slips even a little, that could be enough to knock the Jets out of it.
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