Welcome back to the NHL Power Rankings, and the postseason race is officially on.
While the midseason mark has already passed, the All-Star Game is significant for being the true starting point of the playoff push. It gives teams an opportunity to look at where they are in the standings, figure out what they can expect going forward, and plan to either increase their odds in the postseason or start looking towards the future. While the Eastern Conference’s playoff field is realistically determined in every manner except seeding, the Western Conference looks to be coming down to the wire. By the time the March 21 trade deadline rolls around, we will have a clear picture of where every team sees themselves.
As a matter of fact, the first big domino on the trade market has fallen earlier today. New Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes has wasted no time in beginning the fire sale that everyone was expecting. Tyler Toffoli, one of the key contributors of Montreal’s surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final last season, has officially been shipped off to the Calgary Flames in exchange for first and fifth-round draft picks, prospect Emil Heineman, and a bottom-six forward in Tyler Pitlick. It’s a fair trade on both sides, in my opinion; Montreal officially gets their rebuild underway, while Calgary reunites Toffoli with coach Darryl Sutter, both of whom were on the Los Angeles Kings’ 2013-14 Stanley Cup-winning squad. It’s officially time for the trade rumor mills to spin out of control, and I’m excited to see what deals come out of the woodwork this time.
For now, however, where does the NHL stack up this week?
Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since February 13.
1. Colorado Avalanche (1): Want to know how dominant the Avalanche have been this season? After losing six of their first ten games, Colorado has lost that same number in the next 36 games. Losing in the Second Round again will NOT cut it this time.
2. Florida Panthers (2): The Panthers have been linked to premier trade chip Jakob Chychrun, which would certainly bolster their chances at making it out of the Eastern Conference in the postseason. Can they avoid giving up Anton Lundell in the process, however?
3. Minnesota Wild (4): Defeating Carolina this weekend felt like a statement win for the Wild, who are firing on all cylinders. The ‘dark horse’ label I’ve given the Wild before might not be entirely accurate; they’re looking more like a legitimate Cup contender with each passing week.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (5): Losing to the Avalanche in a tightly-contested game doesn’t hurt too badly, which is why the Lightning rise in the rankings this week. After last season, it feels difficult to doubt this team’s ability to threepeat.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (3): Four games in five days didn’t help the Hurricanes, as a 6-0 blasting of Boston was the only real dominant effort this week. Expect them to get better, and possibly take a closer look at the John Klingberg rumors floating around.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (7): “When will the Penguins go away?”, cries every exacerbated hockey fan out there. It feels like every time pundits expect this team to start declining, they somehow continue to perform at a higher level.
7. Calgary Flames (13): The Flames are riding a six-game winning streak, look to usurp Vegas atop the Pacific Division, and the Toffoli trade gives them much-needed offensive depth. That said, this has to be the year this core proves it can handle the rigors of the postseason.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs (6): Jack Campbell is starting to fall back down to Earth, and the Leafs are starting to fall behind their Florida counterparts in the Atlantic Division. For a long-suffering fanbase desperate for postseason success, that’s a massive cause for concern.
9. New York Rangers (9): This is a core that should compete with the big dogs in the East, but the depth is concerning. Expect the Rangers to be major players for any middle-six forward that comes up in the rumor mill.
10. Vegas Golden Knights (8): Mark Stone taking Jack Eichel’s place on LTIR all but guarantees the Knights will go the Lightning route in the playoffs and not trade anybody, which is great for them. If Robin Lehner can’t find his form consistently, though, it may not matter in the end.
11. Boston Bruins (10): Tuukka Rask’s hip injuries proved to be too severe to overcome, and Brad Marchand’s six-game suspension will highlight the depth issues continuing to plague Boston. Expect any and all future assets to be on the table in order to make good on a potential final Cup run with this core.
12. St. Louis Blues (12): The longer Jordan Binnington’s struggles continue to coincide with Ville Husso’s phenomenal play, the louder the goalie controversy in St. Louis will get. Is there a chance Husso gets the nod over Binnington in the playoffs if the issues go that far?
13. Nashville Predators (11): Losses to divisional rivals in Dallas and Winnipeg highlight the poor discipline the Predators have shown as of late. If they want to emerge as a true sleeper team in the postseason, that’s an issue that needs to get fixed quickly.
14. Washington Capitals (14): The Capitals tried to coax Marc-Andre Fleury to fix their goaltending, but it seems that the former Pittsburgh goalie has no interest in joining his former team’s rival. It’s looking more and more like Washington’s ceiling is a first-round exit.
15. Dallas Stars (16): John Klingberg trade rumors will haunt the team for the next month, but the Stars have started to find a groove. As young players like Jason Robertson continue to impress, Dallas will only see their chances to make the postseason grow.
16. Los Angeles Kings (18): The fact that the Kings are deep in the playoff hunt at this point makes this season a success for their rebuild. The only question is if they can push for more.
17. Edmonton Oilers (17): A rough stretch saw the end of Dave Tippett’s run in Edmonton, and it’s fair to assume that it will take a miracle second half for Ken Holland to not follow him out the door. Get those McDavid trade rumors firing up again.
18. Anaheim Ducks (15): I’m not sure if Anaheim has the horses to get into the playoffs, but their rebuild is starting to trend in the right direction. Trevor Zegras was robbed of the Breakaway Challenge victory, and I will NOT be told otherwise.
19. Vancouver Canucks (20): J.T. Miller’s continued to be a huge part of the Canucks, but it seems that the rest of the team’s struggles are too much to overcome. Could he be available if a contender is willing to pay?
20. Winnipeg Jets (21): Blake Wheeler’s five-point game against the Predators has to be an exciting prospect for the Jets. If they want to make a run to the postseason, Winnipeg will have to hope their captain can use that to build some much-needed momentum.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (25): The Eastern Conference’s postseason spots are likely locked up, so Columbus doesn’t have too much to play for right now. Seeing what Patrik Laine is capable of offensively, however, has to be a positive sign for the future.
22. Detroit Red Wings (23): Beating Philadelphia twice isn’t terribly impressive, but it’s still a positive sign for Detroit to beat the teams it should beat. Moritz Seider is slowly looking like he’ll be a star on the back end for a long time.
23. San Jose Sharks (22): Six of the next seven Sharks games will be in San Jose, so this feels like their last chance to start a run to the postseason. If they falter here, Tomas Hertl would be wise to pack his bags.
24. New York Islanders (19): Defensive problems on top of a continually-disappointing offense is a death knell to the Islanders. This is the most disappointing team in the NHL this season, and it doesn’t feel too close.
25. Ottawa Senators (27): The Senators shined in a five-game week, and the tandem of Matt Murray and Anton Forsberg have looked really good as of late. For a team that needs to look to the future, this has to be a positive sign.
26. Seattle Kraken (26): Expect the Kraken to be looked at for a few pieces at the deadline, most notably Mark Giordano and Calle Jarnkrok. Both players could give Seattle some pieces to work with for the future.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (24): A terrible season on and off the ice, and another poor stretch of play all but eliminates Chicago from playoff contention. An offseason of serious and necessary introspection awaits.
28. Buffalo Sabres (28): A four-goal game for Jeff Skinner has pushed him past the 20-goal mark for the first time since his 40-goal season three years ago. Buffalo would have liked to see this production with a certain star center still on the team, but better late than never.
29. New Jersey Devils (29): Two straight seven-goal games for the Devils had to be a pleasant surprise. With the struggles in net, however, this offensive explosion came just too late.
30. Philadelphia Flyers (30): Claude Giroux is all but gone, virtually every major player for the Flyers has struggled, and they’re locked in to some bad-looking contracts. Expecting this to be a quick turnaround is foolish optimism, at best.
31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The Arizona State Coyotes are a real thing now? Do I have to make another Nerd Rage segment for this team?
32. Montreal Canadiens (32): Good luck, Martin St. Louis. That is all.