After a couple weeks’ hiatus to celebrate the holidays, we are back with the NHL power rankings.
To be fair, it hasn’t been an overly eventful couple of weeks on the ice. Mass postponements of games and several COVID outbreaks among teams forced the NHL to begin its holiday break a day early. The NHL has backed out of participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing due to concerns about China’s strict protocols regarding positive tests. The World Juniors tournament was quickly postponed after multiple forfeits due to positive tests. The NHL has also been forced to change things after the break, bringing back the taxi squads from last season and postponing several games in Canada due to COVID protocols limiting arena capacities. Needless to say, COVID has continued to work its way into how the NHL handles its business.
The good news is we still had hockey after Christmas, including the coldest game in NHL history in this season’s Winter Classic in Minneapolis’s Target Field. With the start of the new year, the urgency of teams to make their postseason pushes has certainly increased. Favorites like Florida and Carolina have continued to impress, but others are starting to trend in different directions from how they began. The New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks have started to pick things up as the season has gone along, while the Minnesota Wild and Edmonton Oilers have hit rough patches as the year changes. While early success does pose a factor in determining who makes the postseason, a strong finish could decide who gets sent packing early and who skates around with the Stanley Cup at the end.
So, how does the NHL stack up this week?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since January 2.
1. Florida Panthers (1): The 9-3 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning was inflated by facing Maxime Lagace instead of Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the Panthers will take a victory over a major divisional rival any way they can. An easier road in the postseason would certainly be preferable.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (2): Coming back from a 4-0 deficit against Columbus is just the latest high mark in a season full of them for the Hurricanes. Even when you think they lose, they manage to win somehow.
3. Colorado Avalanche (3): Take a guess who’s leading the Avalanche in scoring right now? You’d be incorrect. The answer is Nazem Kadri, who’s currently tied for fifth in the league with 39 points.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (7): Toronto has seen this movie before: big-money players are producing, depth is coming up strong, and goaltending has looked improved. Until they win a postseason series for the first time since 2004, it won’t mean anything to them.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (9): The fact that Vegas is pacing the Western Conference and has one of the league’s most potent offenses with all of the injuries they’ve had to navigate through is praiseworthy. How good can they be when Jack Eichel gets healthy?
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (13): The Penguins have won eight in a row, Evan Rodrigues looks like a legitimate piece in Pittsburgh, and Evgeni Malkin could be returning soon. Almost everything is coming up roses for the Penguins right now.
7. Washington Capitals (5): Alex Ovechkin now has 24 goals on the season, matching his total from last season’s shortened schedule. If he continues to be the driving force for the Capitals, does he deserve to land just his second Hart Trophy?
8. New York Rangers (11): The Rangers continue to defy analytics, and picking up back-to-back wins over the Lightning was just the latest evidence of that. It may come back to bite them in the end, but they’re putting themselves in good position to make a playoff appearance in a stacked Eastern Conference.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (6): If there was ever a goaltender who deserved the Hart Trophy, it’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. Since entering the league’s COVID protocol on December 28, the Lightning have let go of at least four goals in their four games since, including nine to the Florida Panthers.
10. Nashville Predators (10): Everything has worked out for the Predators lately, going 8-1-1 in their last ten games and getting key contributions from multiple sources. Expect another season of buying at the deadline, as it seems Smashville has some life left after all.
11. St. Louis Blues (12): The Blues have one of the best offenses in the league, but their best weapon might be one of the most underrated players in the league. Despite being eighth among Blues forwards in average ice time, Jordan Kyrou is second in points with 32, including four in the Winter Classic.
12. Minnesota Wild (4): The Wild have fallen off a bit since the last rankings, going on a five-game losing streak. Injuries to Joel Eriksson Ek and Jared Spurgeon might have something to do with that, so it would be wise for the Wild not to hit the panic button just yet.
13. Calgary Flames (16): The Flames have been up-and-down this season, but Johnny Gaudreau has been solid in the regular season so far. A pending unrestricted free agent, it would be interesting if the Flames make some moves to get the money for an extension (Sean Monahan, perhaps?)
14. Anaheim Ducks (8): Similar to the Wild, the Ducks’ rough stretch can be blamed on injuries. Trevor Zegras’s absence can definitely be felt, as the Ducks have scored only four goals in the three games without their young star center.
15. Boston Bruins (14): While the Bruins’ offensive depth has been maligned over the years, David Pastrnak should take some of the blame for the inconsistent season in Boston. He’s only scored eight goals in 27 games so far, which is well below what was expected of him to start the year.
16. Vancouver Canucks (23): The Canucks have only lost once since Bruce Boudreau took the reins, but Thatcher Demko has been equally responsible for the recent hot streak. The NHL’s third star of December, Demko dominated last month with a .946 save percentage and a 1.72 GAA.
17. Winnipeg Jets (18): It seems the Jets needed a two-week pause from a middling stretch. Defeating the Golden Knights on the road was a good way to get back into the swing of things.
18. Los Angeles Kings (17): The Kings have remained close in the playoff race on the back of Jonathan Quick and some solid play. If they can improve on special teams, they have a chance to get into the postseason for the first time since 2017.
19. Edmonton Oilers (15): When you’re continuing to lose despite having arguably the two best players in the world at your disposal, that’s the sign of serious problems. There’s no more obvious buyer at the trade deadline.
20. Philadelphia Flyers (27): The Flyers have started to look better since firing Alain Vigneault, but the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture is looking pretty clear right now. Any prolonged struggle is enough to take a team out, especially in the Metropolitan Division.
21. Dallas Stars (19): The Stars haven’t played in two weeks, so it’s tough to get a gauge on them for now. It’s clear that they need more from their offensive players, but that’s been a common theme for a while.
22. San Jose Sharks (21): I have zero idea what the Sharks are doing, and I probably still won’t until the deadline. They aren’t bad enough to fall into the basement, but they seem well behind the top dogs in the Pacific.
23. Detroit Red Wings (20): Losing to the Bruins is one thing, but doing so in a key divisional matchup with potential playoff implications is disastrous. Still, the fact the Red Wings are at least in the picture after New Year’s Day is progress from where they were to start the year.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (22): Only one regulation win in their last twelve games, including that disastrous game against Carolina where they blew a 4-0 lead. Again, stretches like that are killers in the Metropolitan.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (26): A combined score of 11-2 is a disastrous outing for their last two games, even if both Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen were out. Speaking of Fleury, he’ll be the most intriguing goaltender on the trade market this season.
26. New Jersey Devils (29): A three-game winning streak is nice, and Jack Hughes has started to regain his form into a top offensive option. It’s too late for the Devils to make much postseason noise, but progress is progress.
27. New York Islanders (28): The schedule has been weird for the Islanders, from the thirteen-game road trip to start the year to having four games postponed. It’s not the sole explanation for this disappointing season, but it’s certainly part of it.
28. Ottawa Senators (24): The Senators seem to be stuck on their rebuild, but they still have some young players they’re waiting on. Give it time, keep getting more future assets, and see what comes up.
29. Seattle Kraken (25): The Kraken have been a huge disappointment, and Brandon Tanev’s ACL injury only adds more to the pain. Think they’d like a mulligan on the expansion draft?
30. Buffalo Sabres (32): It’s another lost season in Buffalo, but they’ve gotten to see some young players progress. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and Tage Thompson have both been having good seasons, and Alex Tuch made a strong first impression since coming to Buffalo in the Jack Eichel trade.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): Scoring seven goals in a game and still losing is almost par for the course for the Coyotes. It’s sounding like every player is up for grabs as Arizona seems committed to a long-term rebuild.
32. Montreal Canadiens (30): The Canadiens won once in December…and it was in a shootout against Philadelphia. Every player not named Suzuki or Caufield is available as Jeff Gorton prepares for a natural disaster sale.