Ranking the NHL's divisions by strength
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It doesn't take long for the balance of power to shift in today's NHL. With so much parity, any team has a real chance to win on any given night; come playoff time, it's impossible to predict who may go on a lengthy run to Lord Stanley's Cup.

It's far easier to forecast things like which teams should be the best, and which division provides the toughest competition. Let's take a crack at that instead, and rank each NHL division's top-to-bottom strength heading into the 2019-20 season.

4. Pacific

Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images Sport / Getty
2018-19 Standings Record Pts Goal differential
1. Calgary Flames 50-25-7 107 +62
2. San Jose Sharks 46-27-9 101 +28
3. Vegas Golden Knights 43-32-7 92 +19
4. Arizona Coyotes 39-35-8 86 -10
5. Vancouver Canucks 35-36-11 81 -29
6. Anaheim Ducks 35-37-10 80 -52
7. Edmonton Oilers 35-38-9 79 -43
8. Los Angeles Kings 31-42-9 71 -61

The Pacific might own the best rivalry in the sport right now between the Sharks and Golden Knights, but the rest of the division lacks that same heat - no disrespect to the Flames.

It's hard to imagine any turnover among the top three Pacific teams heading into the 2019-20 campaign. Their order in the standings might change, but the clubs this division sent to the playoffs last season don't seem destined to drop out.

The Coyotes and Canucks made improvements this summer but don't project to be anything close to contenders just yet. The Ducks and Kings are both retooling, while the Oilers ... well, you know the story there.

There's considerable talent at the top of the Pacific pack, but the drop-off is vast.

3. Metropolitan

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2018-19 Standings Record Pts Goal differential
1. Washington Capitals 48-26-8 104 +29
2. New York Islanders 48-27-7 103 +32
3. Pittsburgh Penguins 44-26-12 100 +32
4. Carolina Hurricanes 46-29-7 99 +22
5. Columbus Blue Jackets 47-31-4 98 +26
6. Philadelphia Flyers 37-37-8 82 -37
7. New York Rangers 32-36-14 78 -45
8. New Jersey Devils 31-41-19 72 -53

The Metro sent five teams to the postseason a year ago, but now there's some major inconsistency within the division. Aside from the Capitals - who have won four consecutive division titles - and the up-and-coming Hurricanes, the group is largely in limbo.

With their veteran core, the Penguins are always dangerous. But they did little, if anything, to improve their roster this summer. The Islanders lost their star goalie and replaced him with one who's proven inconsistent over the years, while the Blue Jackets lost more talent than anyone this offseason. The Flyers are seemingly stuck between the playoffs and the draft lottery, and their hopes of contention rest on the shoulders of a netminder entering his second season.

Big offseasons from the Devils and Rangers certainly make the Metro more compelling, but both Hudson River rivals are likely a year or two from taking true steps toward contention.

2. Central

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty
2018-19 Standings Record Pts Goal differential
1. Nashville Predators 47-29-6 100 +26
2. Winnipeg Jets 47-30-5 99 +28
3. St. Louis Blues 45-28-9 99 +24
4. Dallas Stars 42-32-7 93 +8
5. Colorado Avalanche 38-30-14 90 +14
6. Chicago Blackhawks 36-34-12 84 -22
7. Minnesota Wild 37-36-9 83 -26

Probably the most competitively balanced division in the league, the Central is always tightly contested. That should stay the same in 2019-20, as the three teams that topped the division last season - including the eventual champs - have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations once again.

The Avalanche and Stars, both coming off playoff appearances of their own, are strongly trending upward after busy summers; the race for top spot in the Central will be a close one all season long.

The Blackhawks and Wild probably can't keep up with the pack leaders here, rounding out what's otherwise an incredibly deep and dangerous group of teams.

1. Atlantic

Steve Babineau / National Hockey League / Getty
2018-19 Standings Record Pts Goal differential
1. Tampa Bay Lightning 62-16-4 128 +103
2. Boston Bruins 49-24-9 107 +44
3. Toronto Maple Leafs 46-28-8 100 +35
4. Montreal Canadiens 44-30-8 96 +13
5. Florida Panthers 36-32-14 86 -13
6. Buffalo Sabres 33-39-10 76 -45
7. Detroit Red Wings 32-40-10 74 -50
8. Ottawa Senators 29-47-6 64 -60

There are some very bad teams at the bottom, but the top three clubs in the Atlantic form undoubtedly the best group in the league. The Lightning are fresh off a historically dominant regular season and are Presidents' Trophy favorites in 2019-20. Then there's the Bruins and Leafs, who both have championship-ready rosters and could be on a collision course for a third straight first-round playoff matchup.

The Atlantic's middling teams are on the rise, too. The Panthers made a huge splash with the signing of Sergei Bobrovsky, and steady goaltending could be the key to getting a wildly talented forward corps into the playoffs. The Canadiens missed last year's postseason by two points and remain a threat to qualify this season so long as Carey Price is his usual self.

The Sabres built a nice blue line and added some bodies to shore up a shallow group of forwards; they shouldn't be completely counted out if Jack Eichel is healthy.

As for the Red Wings and Senators, let's just say they're a few years away from being a few years away.

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Ranking the NHL's divisions by strength
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