NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

March 11. That was the last time we released an NHL Power Rankings installment, coming just before the league went into a COVID-19 shutdown. Now, after nearly five months without a meaningful game, the NHL is getting ready to return to the ice and kick off the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday. And so if the NHL is back, so are we.

In any given year, there's a whole lot of uncertainty as you begin a Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's hard to entirely throw out the body of work and takeaways established throughout an 82-game season, but there tends to always be a large degree of randomness and unpredictability when it comes to playoff hockey. That's part of the reason why it's often regarded as the most entertaining postseason in sports, and also why the Stanley Cup is considered by many to be the hardest trophy to win in all of sports.

Now, we have a smaller sample of regular-season games to work with and a nearly five-month layoff to take into account, not to mention a 24-team format, a best-of-five play-in round and no true home-ice advantage with crowdless hub cities. The unpredictability factor has been cranked up exponentially. If anyone tells you they know what to expect, they're lying to you.

That being said, we can still do our best to use what we've been given so far and evaluate how these 24 teams might rank in terms of likeliness of eventually being crowned champions. So let's do that and then see what things look like a a week from now.

Biggest Movers
9 Islanders
9 Rangers
1 Bruins The Bruins were the top overall team in the league this season and we won't put too much stock into their rough first exhibition game against Columbus. They're the reigning Eastern Conference champions and still have the pieces you look for when evaluating a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. -- 33-16-7
2 Lightning They've battled their issues with consistency this season but Tampa's talent level is unquestionable. When they're at their best, they can be the most dominant and explosive team in the league. But can they put last season's playoff debacle behind them and go on a sustained run to find redemption? 4 36-17-3
3 Golden Knights Like Tampa, Vegas also had some inconsistency issues this year but are capable of being one of the most fearsome teams in the league. They were dominant over the final few months of the regular season and showed why they should be considered the favorites in the West. -- 40-14-2
4 Blues They're not just the reigning champs. This is a team that finished first in the Western Conference (albeit by a VERY thin margin) while playing most of the season without their best player. Now, Vladimir Tarasenko is back and the Blues look like they're in solid shape to defend their title. -- 27-20-9
5 Avalanche Colorado has been building momentum over the past few years and they may be ready to take the next step this postseason. They proved to be one of the conference's best teams throughout this season and are led by one of the best players in the world in Nathan MacKinnon. At the very least they should be one of the most fun teams to watch over the next few months. -- 39-13-4
6 Capitals Washington was among the best in the league this year and they have the pieces you look for in a legit threat. Heck, this is largely the same team that won it all in 2018. But there are also some concerns. Norris finalist John Carlson got dinged up in the preliminary stage...how much of an impact will that have on his play, assuming he's even able to return? The Caps also lost Ilya Samsonov, which gives them much more uncertainty in net given Braden Holtby's shaky/inconsistent play. 1 36-15-5
7 Flyers You have to wonder how much the extended layoff may have hurt Philly. They were one of the best teams in the league over the final few months of the season and won nine games in a row just prior to the shutdown. Will they be able to continue that momentum or be sort of reset by the pause? They're definitely capable of being much higher on this list but they're going to have to prove the magic is still there, especially without the aspect of home ice. 5 25-23-8
8 Penguins A tough final stretch of the regular season means they're participating in the play-in round but make no mistake about it: Pittsburgh is capable of winning this whole thing. They've got elite high-end talent (ever heard of that Sidney Crosby guy?) and a strong supporting cast that will be aided by the unlikely return of Jake Guentzel. This team showed resilience all year despite a plethora of key injuries, so if they can maintain a healthy lineup they should be as scary as anyone else. 2 37-16-3
9 Stars Dallas had the West's longest losing streak (six in a row) prior to the pause so maybe the break came at a good time for them. In any case, they've got a good (if not top-heavy) team that relies on strong defensive structure and goaltending. Don't forget, they were a double-OT goal away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champions last postseason, so don't sleep on the Stars if they can play to their strengths. 4 23-19-14
10 Hurricanes Carolina was the darling of the Eastern Conference in last year's playoffs and this year's roster is even more impressive. They've got exciting young talent up front and a very strong, deep and mobile defensive corps on the back end. The biggest question for the Canes is if their goaltending can be good enough. 2 36-12-8
11 Oilers The biggest question here is how far Edmonton's top talent can take them. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were the two most productive players in the league this season and if any duo is capable of putting a team on its back offensively, it's those two. But how much support will they get from the pieces around them? And will it be enough to make up for some of the holes elsewhere on an imperfect Oilers team? 2 35-19-2
12 Maple Leafs There may not be a team in the league facing more pressure than Toronto as we head into these playoffs. They're still in search of their first playoff series win since 2004 and had a terribly frustrating regular season, so the fact that they're even in the play-in round is a bit disappointing. However, they've still got an elite offensive group that is capable of outsourcing any team in the league on any given night, so that's scary. But will it be enough to overshadow what they lack on defense and sometimes in net? 5 35-14-7
13 Islanders The long break may have worked to the Isles's benefit. They had the league's longest losing streaking before the pause, dropping seven games in a row before the league shut down. But this is still a team that plays with an excellent lockdown defensive structure and can suffocate even the league's best offenses, They'll need to play to their strengths against a good Panthers offense in the play-in round, but the Islanders can't rely on winning every game 1-0 or 2-1 so they're going to need to get more offensively. 9 32-17-7
14 Predators The Predators have a better team that their record would suggest (especially at 5-on-5) but it's just a matter of them being able to put it all together. Their special teams play and goaltending were a mess at points this year and those areas can often be the difference between postseason success and failure. 2 31-23-2
15 Flames It should be interesting to see what the Flames are able to get offensively in these playoffs. They finished as the top scoring team in the West last season but struggled to rediscover that offensive touch until the final few months of the season. From February until the pause in mid-March, Calgary was the second-highest scoring team in the league, and they'll have a chance to do some significant damage against a Jets team that gives up a lot of opportunities in their own end. 3 26-27-3
16 Canucks Vancouver is an entertaining team with a lot of young talent and a potent power play but, overall, they have their flaws structurally and can be quite inconsistent. The hub city dynamic may hurt them considering how much stronger they were at home than on the road this season. 2 23-29-4
17 Jets Winnipeg's defense doesn't inspire confidence when it comes to finding playoff success but the play-in matchup against Calgary is very intriguing. The Jets are front-loaded with offensive talent and are one of the league's best teams on the rush, and the Flames give up the most goals via the rush. Still, Connor Hellebuyck will need to continue being one of the league's best goalies for the Jets to have any shot. 3 30-23-3
18 Coyotes Arizona is back in the postseason for the first time since 2012 and they've got an outside shot at making some noise. Their goaltending is their biggest strength and that can often carry teams in the playoffs, but they're going to need to get an uptick in offensive production from their lineup. Can new additions like Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel help carry that load? 1 24-26-6
19 Wild The Wild aren't going to win any track meets but if they can dictate pace they can find success. They allowed the lowest number of high danger chances on net this season, meaning their defensive group does a very good job of staying structured and responsible in their own end -- especially around the net. 4 35-16-5
20 Rangers New York has been really fun to watch this year and they've surprised me with how tough they play good opponents, but they're still in the middle of a rebuild and probably a ways off from being a true threat. Their offense runs through a few players and depth could end up hurting them. The defense isn't trustworthy enough yet either. Still, they're capable of being a team that gathers momentum and rides that wave, even if it's not entirely sustainable. 9 27-23-6
21 Panthers The Panthers can be a fast, exciting team that scores in bunches but they'll have their work cut out for them trying to crack through the Islanders' defense. Florida often plays too loose and makes too many mistakes that end up burning them. The defense needs to be tighter and Sergei Bobrovsky needs to be MUCH better for them to have any chance at making a run. -- 37-14-5
22 Blue Jackets Columbus is not the most talented team in this postseason picture but it's tough to completely write them off because of how hard they play. They pride themselves on outworking opponents and are certainly capable of grinding down a team over the course of a series, so their play-in round matchup against the Leafs (a team often criticized for being too soft) should be interesting. 2 18-26-12
23 Blackhawks Chicago has the youngest team in the playoffs and there are a whole lot of unprovens on that roster. They do still have experienced and productive postseason leaders like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith but these aren't the same Blackhawks that won three Stanley Cups earlier in the decade. 2 24-25-7
24 Canadiens Simply put, the Habs have no business being in the playoffs. They won 19 games in regulation this season (out of 71 total contests) and are flawed in nearly all aspects of their game. Their only hope of making any sort of noise probably lies in Carey Price reverting to his god-tier days in net. 2 24-21-11
25 Devils (Eliminated) 2 19-30-7
26 Kings (Eliminated) 2 21-28-7
27 Sabres (Eliminated) -- 15-34-7
28 Ducks (Eliminated) -- 17-30-9
29 Sharks (Eliminated) -- 21-28-7
30 Senators (Eliminated) -- 23-28-5
31 Red Wings (Eliminated) -- 19-27-10