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5. Washington Capitals (5th)
The Capitals were bumped from the playoffs by the plucky New York Islanders, but they’re still just two seasons removed from a championship and certainly in the mix for another. Alex Ovechkin is the NHL’s ageless goal-scoring wonder, and Zdeno Chara adds grit and leadership. It’s title or bust in D.C.
4. Boston Bruins (1st)
The Bruins were the best in the league during the 2019-20 regular season but plummeted during a play-in round-robin and never fully regained that swagger before getting bounced by the Lightning. Injuries may impact things, but any team with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is a contender. 
3. Vegas Golden Knights (8th)
It was supposed to happen in 2019-20 for the Golden Knights, who were the top seed in the West before losing to the Stars in the conference final. They come back amped for another run with Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, Alex Pietrangelo on the blue line and four 20-plus goal scorers up front.
2. Colorado Avalanche (3rd)
There are a lot of reasons to love the Avalanche. In fact, according to DraftKings, they’re the preseason betting favorite (+650) to win the Stanley Cup. Nathan MacKinnon was an MVP finalist, Cale Makar was the best rookie and goalie Pavel Francouz had a 2.41 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (4th)
For the top spot, we subscribe to Ric Flair’s theory of “to be the man, you gotta beat the man.” And until proven otherwise, the Lightning are the NHL’s version of “the man.” Losing Nikita Kucherov for the regular season because of a hip injury hurts, but remaining talent and a soft division warrant a No. 1 tag to start.
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