Ranking the NHL's realigned divisions
Patrick McDermott / National Hockey League / Getty

The NHL's landscape looks slightly different this season as clubs have been temporarily realigned into new divisions to restrict travel amid the pandemic.

With so much parity in today's game, the balance of talent remains rather consistent across the four groups, but some will inevitably be tougher than others.

After evaluating each division's talent pool, we've ranked them from weakest to strongest.

4. West

Andy Devlin / National Hockey League / Getty
2019-20 Standings Record Win% (league rank) Goal Differential
1. St. Louis Blues 42-19-10 .662 (2nd) +32
2. Colorado Avalanche 42-20-8 .657 (3rd) +46
3. Vegas Golden Knights 39-24-8 .606 (8th) +16
4. Minnesota Wild 35-27-7 .558 (21st) 0
5. Arizona Coyotes 33-29-8 .529 (22nd) +8
6. Anaheim Ducks 29-33-9 .472 (27th) -39
7. Los Angeles Kings 29-35-6 .457 (28th) -34
8. San Jose Sharks 29-36-5 .450 (29th) -44

The West may be headlined by a trio of elite Stanley Cup contenders, but there's a pretty steep drop off after that.

The Avalanche, Blues, and Golden Knights will likely jockey for the top three seeds while the other five teams - who each finished among the bottom 11 clubs in the NHL last season - will look to seize a playoff opportunity that may not have existed without the realignment.

Hockey has seen brighter days in California. The 2019-20 campaign marked just the second time - and first since 1995-96 - that the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks all missed the postseason. Neither of the three will be much of a threat this year, either, and the increased number of late-season matchups between the clubs will make the draft lottery picture all the more interesting.

The Wild enter the campaign with one of the league's slimmest depth charts at center ice, and the Coyotes fell backward into the playoffs last season even with Taylor Hall on the roster. When it comes to competitive balance, it doesn't get any more lopsided than the West.

3. Central

Gregg Forwerck / National Hockey League / Getty
2019-20 Standings Record Win% (league rank) Goal Differential
1. Tampa Bay Lightning 43-21-6 .657 (4th) +50
2. Carolina Hurricanes 38-25-5 .596 (8th) +29
3. Dallas Stars 37-24-8 .594 (10th) +3
4. Columbus Blue Jackets 33-22-15 .579 (14th) -7
5. Florida Panthers 35-26-8 .565 (T15th) +3
6. Nashville Predators 35-26-8 .565 (T15th) -2
7. Chicago Blackhawks 32-30-8 .514 (23rd) -6
8. Detroit Red Wings 17-49-5 .275 (31st) -122

The Central is led by last year's Stanley Cup finalists in the Lightning and Stars, with the budding Hurricanes hoping its young talented cast can take another leap this season. Six of the eight clubs finished in the top half of the league in 2019-20, and five of them advanced to the Round of 16 in the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets, Panthers, and Predators are clubs with relatively high floors but questionable ceilings. Nashville has a ton of talent and vastly outplayed Arizona in its best-of-five series last summer despite losing in four games. It'll be interesting to see how the club responds with a fresh start. Florida and Columbus made some key lineup changes over the offseason and will be competitive on most nights.

Detroit will continue its rebuild and are likely to finish at the bottom again. Other than that, however, the division is pretty open. If the Blackhawks were entering the season healthy, we could've seen any four of the top seven clubs clinching a playoff berth.

North

Codie McLachlan / Getty Images Sport / Getty
2019-20 Standings Record Win% (league rank) Goal Differential
1. Edmonton Oilers 37-25-9 .585 (12th) +8
2. Toronto Maple Leafs 36-25-9 .579 (13th) +11
3. Vancouver Canucks 36-27-6 .565 (17th) +11
4. Calgary Flames 36-27-7 .564 (19th) -5
5. Winnipeg Jets 37-28-6 .563 (20th) +13
6. Montreal Canadiens 31-31-9 .500 (24th) -9
7. Ottawa Senators 25-34-12 .437 (30th) -52

The Canadian division will be an absolute treat for fans across the country, and every game will be worth tuning into. Outside of the rebuilding Senators, who will be much harder to play against this season, the division is completely up for grabs.

The other six clubs have high expectations for the season ahead. Though neither team is a heavy Stanley Cup favorite, all can author deep postseason runs and perhaps even capture a championship. The Maple Leafs and Canadiens are improved on paper. The Flames and Jets have a ton of potential. The Canucks and Oilers look to continue to build off of promising 2019-20 campaigns.

There's no shortage of star power in the division. The group includes some of the best under-25 talents in the league, including Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Nick Suzuki, Thomas Chabot, and the Tkachuk brothers, to name a few.

The North is full of parity and the most difficult to call. However, the fact it's the only realigned group with seven teams slightly increases each club's odds of a playoff berth, so it can't claim the top spot.

East

Len Redkoles / National Hockey League / Getty
2019-20 Standings Record Win% (league rank) Goal Differential
1. Boston Bruins 44-14-12 .714 (1st) +53
2. Washington Capitals 41-20-8 .652 (5th) +25
3. Philadelphia Flyers 41-21-7 .645 (6th) +36
4. Pittsburgh Penguins 40-23-6 .623 (7th) +28
5. New York Islanders 35-23-10 .588 (11th) -1
6. New York Rangers 37-28-5 .564 (18th) +12
7. Buffalo Sabres 30-31-8 .493 (T25th) -22
8. New Jersey Devils 28-29-12 .493 (T25th) -41

The East is absolutely stacked. It's home to five of the NHL's top 11 teams from a season ago, and one of those clubs is guaranteed to miss the next playoffs.

The Bruins may take a slight step back after losing Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara this summer, but their championship window isn't shut just yet. The Capitals, Penguins, and Islanders have established themselves as perennial contenders. The Flyers finally appear to have found their identity with netminder Carter Hart providing the long-missing ingredient between the pipes.

Both the Sabres and Rangers added franchise-altering pieces in Hall and Alexis Lafreniere, respectively, and each team must be taken seriously. The clubs have two of the most dangerous top-six forward units in the league, and although depth and defense remain a question mark, Buffalo and New York are capable of knocking off any opponent on any given night.

New Jersey appears to be at least another year away from being back in the playoff picture, but the team made noteworthy improvements toward the end of 2019-20 and won't roll over for any opponent this season.

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Ranking the NHL's realigned divisions
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