The first month of the NHL season is almost over. While it’s still too early to gain a true sense of where everything stands, we can make at least a few inferences about the season.
On the positives, the Carolina Hurricanes are the only team to go through the entire first month of the season undefeated. For a team that lost its top defenseman and made a supposedly unnecessary overhaul of their goaltending, the early results have been promising. Meanwhile, the Battle of Alberta may feature the top two teams in the Pacific in Edmonton and Calgary, St. Louis is benefitting from not pulling the trigger on a Vladimir Tarasenko trade in the offseason, and Buffalo(!) has actually played well with no expectations attached.
Then we get to the ugly parts of the season. While Pittsburgh and San Jose have cooled off after hot starts and contenders like Vegas and Colorado have yet to really hit their stride, the bottom three teams on this list make their problems seem small. Arizona and Chicago ended the month winless, with the latter facing massive fallout from a sexual assault coverup scandal that has marred their early-2010s dynasty. Meanwhile, Montreal is continuing to suffer from having no identity, and it appears the changes to their roster are far too great to overcome.
So how does the NHL shake out this time?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded as of October 31.
1. Carolina Hurricanes (2): The only undefeated team left deserves the top spot of these rankings. Frederik Andersen is undergoing a career revival after a lackluster stint in Toronto, while the roster in front of him is dominating both sides of the ice (second in goals for with 33, first in goals allowed at 12).
2. Florida Panthers (1): It took a shootout loss for the Panthers to end their win streak, but the league’s best offense combined with a great goaltending tandem are still going strong. That said, the resignation of Joel Quenneville does leave questions (and please don’t say replacing him with John Tortorella is a good answer.)
3. Edmonton Oilers (4): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s 29 combined points in just seven games is sheer insanity, but they’ve gained some reliable depth with Jesse Puljujarvi and Zach Hyman. Goaltending has also been strong so far, but can they keep the hot start going?
4. St. Louis Blues (5): The underlying numbers still aren’t great, but the Blues are certainly not complaining about this hot start. How many teams do you think are wishing they took a swing at Vladimir Tarasenko while he was at a discounted rate?
5. Calgary Flames (18): The Flames have managed to go on a six-game winning streak, headlined by Jacob Markstrom in net and Elias Lindholm and Andrew Mangiapane pacing the offense with seven goals each. My general distrust of the Flames has me waiting for the other shoe to drop at some point, but a hot start like this in a weak division could be worthy of playoff contention.
6. New York Rangers (10): There have been some key pieces to the Rangers’ excellent run so far, but Igor Shesterkin has to be the focal point of it all. With an astonishing .944 save percentage in six games, he has the potential to warrant Vezina consideration when all is said and done.
7. Washington Capitals (8): T.J. Oshie’s injury hurts a bit, but can we really count a team with a determined Alex Ovechkin leading the charge out? Ovechkin is already at nine goals to start the year, and Wayne Gretzky’s record is still very much in sight.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (11): Losing to Buffalo this year isn’t at bad at it’s been in years past, and the Lightning did make up for it by beating up on Pittsburgh and Arizona. It’s been an inconsistent start to Tampa Bay’s quest for a threepeat but, with how much hockey they’ve played since the start of the pandemic, is that really too surprising?
9. Boston Bruins (6): Linus Ullmark has stabilized the goaltending in Boston, but injuries have weakened the Bruins. Nowhere has this been more apparent than the offense, which is currently fifth-worst in the league with 18 goals.
10. Colorado Avalanche (14): The offense is starting to emerge, and the Avalanche are shaking off a rough start as a result. Darcy Kuemper still hasn’t quite gotten it together, but he only has to be average for the Avalanche when they’re firing on all cylinders.
11. New York Islanders (9): The Islanders have started to go on a good stretch in this thirteen-game road trip to start the year, but their only game this week a shootout loss to Nashville. As a result, they drop out of the top ten.
12. Pittsburgh Penguins (3): The bad news is that Pittsburgh is on a three-game losing streak, being outscored 13-3 in the process. The good news is that many of their top players are returning or set to return soon from injury or COVID-19 protocol, including Sidney Crosby.
13. Winnipeg Jets (19): Kyle Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois have both been red-hot to start the season, but they need Connor Hellebuyck to replicate his Vezina season and shake off the slow start. Losing to a COVID-battered Sharks team is not a good look.
14. Vegas Golden Knights (23): They haven’t won in overly convincing fashion, but a three-game winning streak to enter November is a positive sign for the injury-battered Knights. They’re still patiently waiting for their top stars to return from injury to help out their offense, including a power play that’s approaching historic levels of futility.
15. Philadelphia Flyers (15): A shutout loss to Calgary is a little worrisome, but Carter Hart and Martin Jones have shaken off terrible seasons last year to be a serviceable goalie tandem. As long as that remains the case, the Flyers should be alright.
16. Minnesota Wild (7): Losing three of their last four drops the Wild back towards the middle of the rankings. Kirill Kaprizov should be getting more shot luck soon, but no goals after signing a massive extension has to be alarming to the Minnesota front office.
17. New Jersey Devils (16): Jack Hughes will miss the next month and change, and hockey fans are worse off for it. At least Dougie Hamilton and Jonathan Bernier have been solid acquisitions in the early going.
18. Toronto Maple Leafs (22): Toronto may have won two straight games to end the month, but neither looked incredibly convincing. The Leafs need to wake up and play to their potential soon, because missing the postseason and the inevitably-ensuing death by memes could force the front office into a full-blown panic.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (17): It hasn’t been perfect, but Elvis Merzlikins and Patrik Laine have this team staying competitive in the early going. How is it that this team always performs when the expectations are off of them?
20. Detroit Red Wings (21): The Red Wings are finally starting to emerge from the depths of the NHL, led by two legitimate Calder Trophy candidates in Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. Playoffs might be too soon for them, but they’ll continue to fight.
21. Buffalo Sabres (25): Do I expect the Sabres to fall back down to earth at some point? Yes. Should we let Buffalo fans enjoy this time and give Craig Anderson his respect? Also yes.
22. Nashville Predators (27): The Predators are getting some juice out of their offense, and Juuse Saros is living up to the task of standing on his head to keep Nashville competitive. A .500 start is good, but I still can’t help but think the Preds are a step or two below most of their division.
23. Seattle Kraken (28): Yanni Gourde’s debut for the Kraken has gone well, and Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev are in a race to determine the first true face of the NHL’s newest franchise. Still, defense and goaltending have to get better if Seattle wants to be any more than competitive in their first year.
24. San Jose Sharks (12): Defeating Winnipeg with a good chunk of their roster on COVID protocol is worthy of respect, but it’s been the Sharks’ only win in the last four games. After a good start, the flaws in San Jose’s roster and the analytically-suggested regression are starting to come around.
25. Dallas Stars (13): The offense is still terrible, and the Stars have yet to win a game in regulation. The underlying numbers and an easier schedule in November should help, but it’s disturbing that neither the old guard or young core is impressing thus far.
26. Ottawa Senators (24): The Senators aren’t a good team, but they should at least be fun to watch. Insert almost-weekly positive Filip Gustavsson rhetoric here.
27. Vancouver Canucks (20): Thatcher Demko and Jaroslav Halak have been solid to start, but the Canucks have still managed to win only three times in nine games. Blame it on Elias Pettersson’s slow start and the offense struggling to find its rhythm.
28. Los Angeles Kings (26): As much as I personally hate Drew Doughty’s guts, it’s still tough to see an injury take out a top player for an extended period of time. With the Kings reeling and now needing to test their defensive depth, it could be a tough start.
29. Anaheim Ducks (29): Ryan Getzlaf becoming the all-time franchise leader in points was nice, but it’s been the only positive in a rough month for the Ducks. Once again, it’s all about the development of the young guns.
30. Montreal Canadiens (30): The only good thing going for the Canadiens has been that the two teams behind them have been much worse. Hope you didn’t bet too much money on Cole Caufield winning the Calder Trophy.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The Coyotes were expected to be bad, but even this is rough. Any fans in Arizona are currently busy watching Shane Wright highlights.
32. Chicago Blackhawks (32): Winless like the team in front of them for the first month, and now they’re tasked with facing the wrath of NHL fans at large. When Marc-Andre Fleury is finding it hard to smile, that’s cataclysmic.