Just because an NHL team is good doesn’t mean it’s exciting to watch, and vice versa. Several clubs that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season wound up in the bottom 16 of this series, and there’s more than one squad in the top 16 that might very well miss out on the postseason.
That’s why it’s important to remember the distinction between a great team and a genuinely entertaining one. This isn’t like a typical power rankings that evaluates the strength of each club in relation to one another. It’s entirely about how appealing the squads are and how much they make the average viewer put down what they’re doing and turn on the game.
Here’s who we consider the 16 most watchable NHL teams as we approach the start of the upcoming campaign:
16. Chicago Blackhawks
The rebuilding Blackhawks would have no business being in the top 16 if not for a certain No. 1 overall pick. Fans will surely tune in just to watch Connor Bedard, even if Chicago loses more often than not. He’s dominated at every level – including internationally – so it won’t be surprising if he justifies the hype sooner rather than later.
15. Buffalo Sabres
Looking for a team that’s sure to be fun even if they don’t make the playoffs? Look no further. Highly touted goaltending prospect Devon Levi is primed to take the reins behind a gifted Sabres core featuring Tage Thompson, Rasmus Dahlin, Dylan Cozens, and Calder Trophy finalist Owen Power. Buffalo may still experience some growing pains, but this squad should give hometown and out-of-state fans alike plenty to talk about.
14. New York Rangers
The Rangers boast one of the best playmaking defensemen in the NHL in Adam Fox, one of the best goaltenders in Igor Shesterkin, and a solid collection of forwards that includes Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider. That hasn’t translated into much success, but there’s enough talent on this team to ensure that they’ll be at least moderately compelling yet again.
13. Seattle Kraken
Christopher Mast / National Hockey League / Getty
The Kraken were one of the league’s best stories in 2022-23, exceeding expectations in their second season. Only three teams scored more goals than Seattle (Jared McCann‘s out-of-nowhere 40 certainly helped), but the club ranked 20th in shots per game, suggesting a little luck was involved. Regardless, the Kraken should be worth a gander in 2023-24 as Calder Trophy winner Matty Beniers and the rest of the squad continue to grow.
12. Boston Bruins
To say this isn’t the same Bruins team that set numerous records last season would be an understatement. Boston’s franchise fixtures at center – Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci – both retired this summer and the club’s two big trade deadline prizes – Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov – signed elsewhere as free agents. David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy are still aboard, but a sizeable drop-off in excitement is expected here.
11. Tampa Bay Lightning
There was a time when not putting the Lightning at or near the top of this list would’ve seemed absurd. But this Tampa Bay squad isn’t on the same level as the ones that claimed the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021 and made the final in 2022. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Victor Hedman are still doing their thing, but only Point is under 30 among them – and now Andrei Vasilevskiy is out for the first two months of the season.
10. Los Angeles Kings
Landing Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Winnipeg Jets was a bit of a coup for the Kings, who were already one of the more aesthetically pleasing clubs in the NHL in terms of their style of play. Los Angeles has also successfully injected youth into the mix alongside a veteran core. The Kings were a top-10 team in scoring as well as the key underlying categories last season.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins
Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
The Penguins’ status as must-see TV had dwindled in recent years, and they missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades last season. But, in August, Pittsburgh’s new dual executive Kyle Dubas landed Erik Karlsson in a blockbuster trade. The Pens will initially play both the reigning Norris Trophy winner and Kris Letang on PP1. As a great man once said, “Get your popcorn ready.”
8. Dallas Stars
The Stars have been known for their defense for years, and they’re still elite on that front. But Dallas is now one of the best offensive teams in the league as well. Superstar winger Jason Robertson, skilled center Roope Hintz, ultra-dependable rearguard Miro Heiskanen (who exploded production-wise last season after primarily dominating on the blue line in prior campaigns), and promising youngster Wyatt Johnston give this team plenty of intrigue.
7. Florida Panthers
The Panthers were exciting long before their surprising run to the Cup Final, and they haven’t changed a whole lot in the offseason. Florida led the NHL in shots on goal and ranked sixth in goals. The Cats also placed in the top five in both expected goals for percentage and scoring chances for percentage at five-on-five, which shows how well they can drive play. They won’t have defensemen Aaron Ekblad or Brandon Montour to start the season, but there’s enough skill in Sunrise to ensure the Panthers remain one of the league’s most tantalizing teams.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
Yet another playoff disappointment led to a significant change in the Maple Leafs front office, and new general manager Brad Treliving brought in what Mitch Marner called “snot, piss, and vinegar” with the questionable signing of Ryan Reaves along with Bertuzzi and Max Domi. Toronto’s Core Four will still make the club worth watching, but the new emphasis on grit may not be a recipe for additional entertainment value.
5. Vegas Golden Knights
Ethan Miller / Getty Images Sport / Getty
The defending Cup champs are obviously one of the most enticing squads in the league, but just because they won it all doesn’t mean they’re No. 1 in watchability. Vegas was average in terms of scoring and puck possession during the 2022-23 regular season, although they played without Mark Stone for about half of it. But the captain’s supporting cast, which includes Jack Eichel, returns largely intact, so the Golden Knights should be one of the NHL’s most riveting teams.
4. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes were the league’s best puck possession squad in 2022-23, authoring the top expected goals for percentage and scoring chances for percentage at five-on-five. Carolina ranked 15th in goals per game but placed third in shots, so this club likely would’ve lit the lamp more with better luck. Stellar forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, along with the Canes’ rock-solid defensive corps, make this team dependable both in terms of the viewing experience and their play on the ice.
3. New Jersey Devils
What if one of the NHL’s most enjoyable teams added a two-time 30-goal scorer? That’s exactly what happened when the Devils acquired Tyler Toffoli in a trade with the Calgary Flames in late June. Toffoli – who also racked up 28 tallies over only 52 games during the abbreviated 2021 season – adds to the appeal this can’t-miss club already had. Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Co. dominate possession and own an elite offense, making them an absolute blast to observe.
2. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s really that simple when it comes to the Oilers. Even the most casual fans will gleefully flip over to Edmonton games just to see what the best player in the world and his superstar teammate can pull off next. But it’s not just the dynamic duo: The Oilers had the best offense in the NHL last season in terms of goal-scoring, and 104-point man Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was a big reason for that.
1. Colorado Avalanche
Codie McLachlan / Getty Images Sport / Getty
Sure, the Oilers have two of the league’s absolute best players, but the Avalanche have three. Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen are all game-breakers who cement Colorado as the NHL’s most watchable team. This club’s offensive and analytic figures were diminished by injuries last season, but the Avalanche are utterly explosive when everybody’s healthy.
Devon Toews is a perennially underrated star in his own right, and the 2021-22 Stanley Cup champions made some shrewd offseason additions, too. Fans can’t afford to miss out on watching Colorado when the team is firing on all cylinders and, considering the Avalanche’s impressive collection of talent, that figures to be the case more often than not this season.
(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick)
Copyright © 2023 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.