The NHL season is officially underway.
Like any first week of a new season, this year’s NHL has given us a couple of surprises already. The Buffalo Sabres, widely regarded as the worst team in all of hockey, are currently undefeated. Meanwhile, championship contenders like the New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights have gotten off to relatively slow starts. It’s far to early to say anything regarding the seasons of any of those teams, and time should even things out so performances matches the talent, but it’s what makes these opening weeks some parts fun, some parts confusing.
While overreactions are always important to stay away from in the sports world, some trends have been interesting to note. Teams like the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild may have been better than initially reported. Others like the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are starting to get on the right track. On the flip side, the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Montreal Canadiens all seem to have serious flaws that need to be fixed before the season kicks into full swing. While it is still to early to consider these teams as playoff contenders or enduring lost seasons, there’s still enough evidence to suggest where they are as a team.
So how does your team stack up?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on record and stats from October 17.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (1): It hasn’t been easy for the defending Stanley Cup champions so far, as their banner-raising ceremony was ruined by an upset loss to the Crosby-less Penguins. They’ve managed to rebound, but losing Nikita Kucherov to injury again and having to come back against Detroit is cause for concern.
2. Florida Panthers (5): A rally against Pittsburgh and a blowout of the New York Islanders have the Panthers living up to their loftiest expectations yet, at least early on in the year. Keep an eye out for Sam Bennett, who recorded a hat trick in the Islanders win and has looked rejuvenated since coming from Calgary at last season’s trade deadline.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (7): Frederik Andersen has looked alright to start his Carolina tenure, which the Hurricanes will need if they want to go anywhere this season. Andrei Svechnikov’s strong start is also promising, as he appears set to emerge as Carolina’s next great offensive superstar.
4. Boston Bruins (6): The Bruins core is still strong as usual, but a goaltending battle may be brewing in Beantown. Despite Boston throwing a good chunk of change at Linus Ullmark in the offseason, Jeremy Swayman’s strong opening-game start and fantastic finish to last season could force Bruce Cassidy into some interesting lineup choices.
5. Colorado Avalanche (2): It was an inconsistent start for the Avalanche, dominating the Blackhawks in their opening game before dropping the next one to the Blues. Not having Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in the lineup is partially to blame; I’d imagine they’ll be back up to their old spot soon.
6. Minnesota Wild (12): A successful first two games against the Kings and Ducks have the Wild picking up where they left off after being a pleasant surprise from last season. While the schedule will undoubtedly get tougher, a drama-free Wild squad should have no problem being competitive in the Central.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (14): Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jake Guentzel in tow, the Penguins managed to pick up five points in their first three games. More impressive is that they scored fifteen goals in those games, which could be a sign that the Penguins could be fine until the captain and his primary cohorts return to action.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): Losing to the Senators was a rough start, but they at least got a revenge win and picked up four of six points to start the season. Having Auston Matthews back will help matters considerably, but everyone knows the real test for this group is the playoffs.
9. Edmonton Oilers (11): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to rack up the points, to the shock of absolutely nobody. Outside of those two, it’s still unclear who’s going to emerge as the primary help, but Mike Smith continuing to kick and scream at Father Time is nice for Edmonton’s season prospects.
10. Vegas Golden Knights (4): They looked wholly unimpressive in their first two games, and now have to deal with long-term injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. A week of rest couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Knights, who need some bodies back if they want to make this opening stretch any easier.
11. New York Islanders (3): Being outscored 11-4 isn’t a strong start by any stretch, and they still have eleven more road games before they head back to Long Island. Similar to Vegas, I wouldn’t be overly concerned just yet, but the rust will hopefully shake off sooner rather than later.
12. Washington Capitals (10): The Capitals didn’t start out too poorly, but I liked the start of the teams who leaped ahead of them better. Alex Ovechkin passed another legend on his quest to catch the Great One’s goal-scoring record, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vitek Vanecek’s strong starts should make any Capitals fan feel good about their chances.
13. St. Louis Blues (13): The Blues have played only one game, but a road victory against Colorado is sure to open some eyes. Granted, that did also happen last season before St. Louis endured an up-and-down year, so take it with a grain of salt.
14. Vancouver Canucks (16): Three games in four days is tough stretch for any team, so I’ll give the Canucks the benefit of the doubt for the .500 start on the year. With how most of the Pacific is playing right now, Vancouver’s start puts them in decent position for a run to the playoffs.
15. Dallas Stars (20): Ditto to the Stars, who had to play three games in four days with less positive results. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov didn’t move the offensive needle too much in their returns, which has to change if the Stars want to be taken seriously.
16. New York Rangers (15): The season debut for the Rangers against the Capitals was an anti-climactic start to what should have been an interesting rivalry this year. Gerard Gallant may need a bit of time for this group to gel under his guidance, but having a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in Adam Fox should help.
17. Seattle Kraken (18): A rough call against Vegas probably should have given the Kraken at least one more point this week, but they seem to be willing to grind out for results. A victory against Nashville and strong efforts in Vegas and Columbus exemplify this team as one to at least pay attention to.
18. Los Angeles Kings (23): The Kings’ offseason moves indicated that they were pushing to make the playoffs and cement themselves as a team on the rise. Absolutely dominating Vegas in their season opener was a great start to that goal.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (17): Four goals on nearly forty shots made Flyers fans fear that the leaky defense and goaltending from last season would return to sink them this year. If Carter Hart’s confidence is shot, that dampens the Flyers’ short and long-term prospects.
20. New Jersey Devils (22): Defeating the Blackhawks a great start to the season, and it gave the Devils a great opportunity to showcase its stars. Dougie Hamilton got his Devils tenure off to a great start with a goal, while Jack Hughes showed why everyone feels he’s ready to take the next step.
21. Winnipeg Jets (9): The Jets are far better than what they were this week, so don’t anticipate them staying down here for too long. Still, coming up empty in a stretch against rebuilding teams is more than justifiable to knock Winnipeg out of the top twenty.
22. Columbus Blue Jackets (27): Elvis Merzlikins has looked locked-in to start the year, and the cannons fired so many times against Arizona that Nationwide Arena sounded like a Civil War reenactment. One word of advice: do it for Matiss.
23. Ottawa Senators (26): The Brady Tkachuk saga is finally over, and the Senators were able to pick up two wins in their first three games. How many segments for the Senators are going to be me waxing poetic about Filip Gustavsson?
24. Calgary Flames (24): A mediocre start for a mediocre team in a mediocre division. Yawn.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (19): Few teams have been as disappointing as the Blackhawks this season, and Marc-Andre Fleury’s over-7 GAA and .826 save percentage should tell you exactly how this team’s doing. Would Hawks fans feel too bad if the sexual assault scandal from the offseason took down Stan Bowman? Just saying.
26. Detroit Red Wings (29): The Red Wings blowing two three-goal leads against the Lightning wasn’t good, but at least it shows Detroit still has the potential to put up goals. At least Moritz Seider looks like the real deal so far.
27. San Jose Sharks (28): Evander Kane is officially lost for over a quarter of the season, which doesn’t help a team that already has issues. They did win their first game, though, and they should get a great package out of Tomas Hertl when he gets traded.
28. Montreal Canadiens (21): Maybe Carey Price and Shea Weber were more important for les Canadiens than anyone could have envisioned. With an 0-3 start and a putrid offense so far, Marc Bergevin’s gambles have landed on snake eyes in the early going.
29. Buffalo Sabres (32): Unlike the Canadiens, the Sabres have turned no expectations into two straight wins and a decent offensive performance. No slander here for Buffalo; just let the suffering fans enjoy this moment of happiness for however long this lasts.
30. Nashville Predators (25): Sorry, Juuse Saros, but it seems you won’t be getting much help this season. Mattias Ekholm’s contract extension was confusing for a team that so clearly looks like it needs a full-scale rebuild.
31. Anaheim Ducks (30): The Ducks won’t be very good this season, but at least goaltending and the development of their top prospects have all been positive so far. As long as it stays that way, this season will be successful, even if the results say otherwise.
32. Arizona Coyotes (31): Karel Vejmelka looked good in his NHL debut, which might not bode too well for his playing time this season. As obvious a tank job as there is in hockey right now.