1. New York Rangers

Given their recent success, it's hard to count the New York Rangers out no matter where they're sitting on the table.

Right now they own the 10th-best record in the league, and if the season ended today, would be looking at a mouth-watering playoffs matchup with their cross-town rivals the Islanders.

Despite sitting fourth in the East as of today, the Rangers would no doubt be a nightmare matchup for anyone in the playoffs. Whether they are capable of putting it all together this year is unknown, but with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals as recent as 2014, don't count them out.

Verdict: contender

  1. New York Islanders

The New York Islanders have a good mix of age and youth in their side, and should be a late post-season presence in the coming seasons.

A recent groin injury to number one goaltender Jaroslav Halak that will see him miss around two months may see the Islanders drop in favour over the coming weeks, but there is generally enough quality to stay in a competitive position.

The one problem facing the Isles is their lack of playoffs experience as a team. Since 2006, they have made the playoffs only three times, making it as far as the quarters twice. They might need a bit more post-season conditioning before they can mount a serious run at Lord Stanley.

Verdict: pretenders

  1. Anaheim Ducks

The Anaheim Ducks' recent surge back up the table has injected some fear back into the hearts of their Western Conference companions, but is it enough to make it two Cups in a decade?

Right now, Anaheim sit behind just Los Angeles in their division, which would pit them against San Jose in the first round – whom they lead the season series against 3-1.

Where they become a far trickier prospect for the more talented teams in the playoffs is their experience – they're coming off the back of a conference finals trip, and won the Stanley Cup as recently as 2007, making for a large chance for an upset. Can they go all the way? Do not write them off.

Verdict: contenders

  1. Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins are in a similar position to the Anaheim Ducks – their last Cup triumph was a while ago now, but with the team they have assembled this year, they would fancy their chances for another deep run.

Head coach Claude Julien has all the experience necessary to guide this experienced group into the later rounds of the playoffs, and with two prior Stanley Cup Finals appearances to his name, anything is possible.

Their defence will need to get much tighter in order to help out their brilliant goalie Tuuka Rask, but their current first-round matchup – the Tampa Bay Lightning – would not be happy with meeting them this early on.

Verdict: pretenders

  1. Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are an interesting team – two of their best players, Jaromir Jagr and Aaron Ekblad, are 24 years apart in age. They have a promising mix of experience and youth, but similar to the Islanders, their limited time together their major unsettler.

What's more, with 10 major players in their lineup over 30, including 43 year-old linchpin Jagr, Florida will need to get a move on towards the Cup soon.

Will this year be the year the Panthers' fairytale comes true? Unlikely. But watch for this squad over the next few years.

Verdict: pretenders

  1. Chicago Blackhawks

Believe it or not, the Chicago Blackhawks are currently the owners of the NHL's longest losing streak – four games – but akin to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, Chicago have little to be worried about regarding their regular season exploits.

Everyone knows how dangerous the Hawks are come playoffs time – they own two of the past three Stanley Cups, and have beat off the owners of the other (LA) in the conference finals before.

Whilst their defence is not as deep as one could hope, the Blackhawks have all the tools required to be the first team to go back-to-back since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998.

  1. Los Angeles Kings

Experienced groups wins Cups – that's what the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have shown the past few years. Again, the Kings sit in that upper echelon of NHL teams.

Just starting to hit their straps late in the season, Los Angeles are showing why keeping a core group together is so important, especially given salary cap rules.

Similar to the MLB's San Francisco Giants, the LA Kings have won the Stanley Cup every even year, and are a red-hot chance to continue the trend in 2016.

  1. St. Louis Blues

The St. Louis Blues' playoffs frailty is well documented. Early playoff exits the past three seasons despite advantageous finishes does not bode well for a team's confidence.

History cannot concern St. Louis, as mental fragility is the mother of failure, but considering the depth in the West this year, there is plenty of cause for worry.

Not a whole lot has changed from this year to last – they're on track for a similar wins total to last year, and neither their offence nor defence is much to write home about. What was that Einstein quote about madness again?

Verdict: pretenders

  1. Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars are easily the highest-scoring team in the league. Their total of 229 is eight better than their nearest rival Washington's 221. Their major hole, which they have failed to address all season, has been their defence.

They currently sit 25th out of the 30 teams for goals let in. For some perspective, the next nearest team that currently occupies a non-wildcard playoffs spot is Boston at 18th, and then the Rangers at 14th.

In typically low scoring playoffs matches, this will not bode well for Dallas. Their offensive core is as good as any in the league, but it's the little things – or in this case, the big things such as defence – that make champions.

Verdict: pretenders

  1. Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals are right now the runaway favourites to win the Cup, and rightfully so. With a second ranked offence and a third ranked defence, they're by far the most well rounded team in the league.

14 points clear of their nearest rivals the Stars, it should be a runaway SC win for Washington - their biggest opponents are not of the ice – they're the ones between their ears.

Since drafting Alex Ovechkin, they have finished first or second in their division eight of 11 times, making it no farther than the conference semis. Do you see what I mean by “it's all in their head?”

Verdict: contenders