Welcome to theScore's ranking of all 31 NHL teams for the 2019-20 season, sorted by tiers.
This is the first installment of the two-part series. Part 2, which addresses the top 16 teams, will be published Wednesday.
Nobody is giving this team a chance at even sniffing the playoffs
A new coach behind the bench and a handful of new names on the lineup card will not move the needle for the lowly Senators; 2018-19's last-place team is poised for another basement-dwelling season. Ottawa general manager Pierre Dorion has collected building blocks - Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Erik Brannstrom, and Colin White - but there's no real argument over which NHL city is currently the furthest from throwing a Stanley Cup parade.
These teams aren't hopeless, but 2019-20 is going to be difficult
Steve Yzerman's return as GM is a nice distraction for a franchise stalled in rebuild mode. Despite taking small steps forward over the past few seasons, the Red Wings still look to be the seventh-best club in the eight-team Atlantic Division. Among a couple of bright spots, Yzerman is inheriting a handful of cringeworthy contracts and an uninspiring lineup. Once again, Detroit fans shouldn't expect much from this non-playoff team.
More pain is coming. Following a season in which the Kings won only 31 times, scored fewer than 2.5 goals per game, and saw their coach get canned, not much has changed from a player personnel standpoint. This is still Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty's team. And, with veterans like Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, and Ilya Kovalchuk along for the ride, the retool toward youth and speed clearly isn't coming to fruition overnight.
At varying stages of regrouping or regressing, these teams are all right
Let's be nice and call 2019-20 a "gap year" for the Ducks. The vets are dropping like flies; Corey Perry is in Dallas and Ryan Kesler is likely out for the entire season. Troy Terry, Sam Steel, and Maxime Comtois, on the other hand, should be joining the full-time forward group, and new bench boss Dallas Eakins knows them well. Goalie John Gibson is the chief reason why this club hasn't bottomed out and will continue to avoid doing so.
The Coyotes are that one team widely believed to be playoff-ready year after year but always find themselves falling short. Injuries and a lack of scoring killed them in 2018-19. GM John Chayka can't do much to fix the former, but he did acquire Phil Kessel to address the latter. Kessel, Clayton Keller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and Antti Raanta form a solid, yet unspectacular, foundation. The entire roster could be described similarly.
At some point, this franchise will figure out this rebuilding thing ... right? With the two-headed monster of Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin entering its second season, perhaps this is the year the Sabres finally take a step toward the light. New coach Ralph Krueger has his hands full - Rasmus Ristolainen's apparent discontent would top the priority list - but there's hope. Marcus Johansson and Colin Miller were nice offseason pickups.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen was rightly lauded for his all-in approach last season. Now, he pays for it. Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene are gone. So, yes, Columbus is objectively worse in 2019-20. However, the floor of this group, which still features Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Zach Werenski, is decently high. Don't completely count out the Blue Jackets; they haven't fallen out of relevancy.
As per tradition with this club, the Wild are decidedly average. Most of their best players are 30 or older - Jason Zucker is still around despite being nearly traded by former GM Paul Fenton - and the sum of the roster's parts is nothing special. On the flip side, history tells us that Bruce Boudreau-coached squads don't dip below .500, and Fenton's replacement, Bill Guerin, is a smart hire. For 2019-20, and perhaps longer, Minnesota is stuck in purgatory.
The additions of Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban to a lineup already headlined by former MVP Taylor Hall has rocketed the Devils' clout around the league. However, nobody knows how it will all fit together in the early going, or if the club's forward depth and goaltending can hold up their ends of the bargain. Teams jump in and out of the playoffs every year, and while New Jersey is a candidate to re-enter, the supporting pieces don't seem good enough.
Coming off a grand-slam offseason, it's tempting to vault New York into a higher tier. Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, and Adam Fox have been added to a long-term nucleus led by Mike Zibanejad, Lias Andersson, and a few others. What a start to a transparent rebuild that now feels more like a retool. At the same time, let's not get carried away. Overhauled clubs require a year or two to gel, so expectations should be tempered.
Despite GM Jim Benning's summer haul of veterans - defensemen Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn, forwards Micheal Ferland and J.T. Miller - the Canucks are probably still a year away from making the playoffs. The enviable 24-and-under core, led by Elias Pettersson, can only take a team so far if other parts of the roster underwhelm. Vancouver is on a path which leads to the club contending soon if all goes according to plan. Now, though? Nope.
These teams have playoff potential, but plenty must go their way
The Blackhawks would like to forget 2018-19. Despite missing the playoffs by only six points, the coaching change was devastating to a retooled Stanley Cup-winning group trying to find its way. Now, with Robin Lehner giving the club what is essentially a second No. 1 goalie, Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta bolstering the defense, and Erik Gustafsson and Alex DeBrincat maturing, Chicago should bounce back. Jeremy Colliton's squad is firmly a playoff bubble team.
If the best player in the world was not on this team, the Oilers would be two tiers lower. Connor McDavid's impact is seismic, especially when he's paired with Leon Draisaitl. Really, it wouldn't be terribly surprising if Edmonton made the playoffs, just as it certainly wouldn't be surprising if they didn't. New bosses Ken Holland and Dave Tippett are hamstrung by previous personnel blunders, and thus must take the long road to fix this capped-out roster.
The Canadiens were one of the better non-playoff teams last year. They can push themselves into the dance this time around if: Shea Weber stays healthy, Jesperi Kotkaniemi continues to level up, and the trio of Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Jonathan Drouin recreate their career years. That's a lot of caveats, sure, but Carey Price is an elite goalie and the Habs play a brand of hockey that is conducive to winning in 2019-20.
Underachievers last year, the 2019-20 Flyers - armed with a new coach in Alain Vigneault, a new top-two center in Kevin Hayes, a new top-four defenseman in Matt Niskanen, and a new full-time starting netminder in Carter Hart - are coming in hot. It's hard to argue against a roster featuring a strong top-six forward group, a solid defense corps, and a goalie tandem of Hart and Brian Elliott. On paper, Philly is a playoff team. Keyword: paper.
Coming Wednesday: Tiers 1-4
John Matisz is theScore's national hockey writer.