1. Colorado Avalanche
I think it was Darryl Sutter who said that whoever is the second wildcard team is wasting their time, and I agree with him. The Colorado Avalanche are a juggernaut, adding depth to their lineup and Josh Manson to their defense corp. They are a fast team who have amazing puck possession when they are on it, and they have a top line that is really only rivaled by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Nathan MacKinnon is looking for his first trip to the Stanley Cup finals, and I would be shocked if they don’t make it there. They fleeced the New York Islanders to acquire Devon Toews in the offseason, adding him to a core that includes Cale Makar and Samuel Girard.
Their top-four pairings are scary, but their offense is even more so. I don’t expect Kurtis MacDermid to make an appearance in the playoffs, but if the series gets physical they have a guy who no one really wants to fight, which is an underrated value in a playoff series.
Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog are expected to dominate as the top line again. They also have Nazem Kadri who, if he isn’t suspended, is a useful offensive tool on the second line with Valeri Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen.
On top of this, they have solid depth in J.T. Compher, Andre Burakovsky, Alex Newhook, etc. You get the picture, this team is loaded.
They have added Darcy Kuemper in the offseason as their number one goaltender who is an upgrade over Philipp Grubauer. They also have Pavel Francouz as backup, who is no slouch himself. So goaltending really isn’t an issue either, neither is coaching in all honesty.
The Stanley Cup is, to me, expected to go through Colorado this season. Joe Sakic did an amazing job of assembling a loaded team, but with players who play the style that they like to play, and they have their core signed long term. However, this has to be Stanley Cup or bust as they have multiple moves to make this offseason.