Biggest X-Factors for Every NHL Team

Image Credit: NHL.com

With preseason hockey starting up tonight, the NHL is officially back in action.

After another whirlwind offseason filled with big free-agent signing and blockbuster trades, the teams are now in training camp and preseason in order to do the final bit of leg work before the regular season. Each team is going to come in with at least some level of expectation, and most already know who or what it will take to reach those marks.

But what about the unknown quantities? They are arguably just as important, if not more so, than the superstars in the league in terms of how each team does. It could be the new acquisition expected to make an early impact. It could be the young player getting his first crack at the NHL level. It could be the player expected to step up in the wake of departures and injuries. Whatever the case may be, the success of each team hinges on these players and how they perform.

So who’s going to be the X-factor for each team this season? Let’s find out.

Anaheim: Trevor Zegras made the leap to the NHL last season, and the Ducks are hoping that Mason McTavish can have similar success this time around. McTavish is coming off an amazing run at the World Junior Championships this summer with 17 points, and he’ll be expected to produce offensively as a third-line center and on the power play.

Arizona: Clayton Keller had a career-high in goals with 28 before a broken leg at the end of March shut him down for the season. Even with the goal of the Coyotes being to tank for Connor Bedard, they’ll be hoping that Keller can not only return healthy, but continue to provide some scoring touch to a team that needs everything.

Boston: Second-line center was a massive hole for the Bruins this past season, so they brought back David Krejci from his sabbatical in the Czech Republic for one last run at glory. That will be easier said than done; injuries to key contributors like Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy means they will need Krejci to hit the ground running until they return.

Buffalo: While Owen Power will be the rookie that everyone has their eye on, Buffalo fans have reason to believe that Jack Quinn and J.J. Peterka can be equally successful. Buffalo’s first two selections of the 2020 Draft, Quinn (8th overall) and Peterka (34th overall) led their AHL affiliate in scoring (68 points for Peterka, 61 points for Quinn), and it’s possible both will play on the same NHL line and develop together alongside one of the Sabres’ promising young centers.

Calgary: While Jonathan Huberdeau will essentially replace Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri may have the more difficult task of replacing Matthew Tkachuk. There’s serious risk with Kadri’s deal (over 30 years old, coming off of a career season, power forwards tend to decline faster in the NHL), but replicating the success he had with Colorado last year will be crucial for Calgary to continue posing a threat at the top of the Pacific.

Carolina: Father Time hasn’t completely caught up to Brent Burns yet, and the Hurricanes are hoping the 37-year-old defenseman can play a key role towards fulfilling their Cup aspirations. Between being on the top defensive pair with Jaccob Slavin and replacing Tony DeAngelo on the power play, Burns should expect another season of heavy ice time.

Chicago: If there’s any team that can use support from its prospects, it’s the Blackhawks, and no prospect comes with a higher ceiling right now than Lukas Reichel. Reichel was a point-per-game player for Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford (57 points in 56 games), and being potentially locked onto a line with at least one of Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane should give a clear indication of whether he’ll be part of their long-term plans.

Colorado: Colorado won the Stanley Cup with Darcy Kuemper, and now Alexandar Georgiev gets his chance to do the same. Now out of the shadows of Henrik Lundqvist and Igor Shesterkin in New York, Georgiev likely doesn’t have to be elite, but he must be better than his career 2.94 GAA and .908 save percentage in order for the Avalanche to retain their title.

Columbus: Columbus will have plenty of options for who will center Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, but the best option might end up being Jack Roslovic. A Columbus native, Roslovic scored a career-best 22 goals and 45 points, both numbers he could potentially exceed if he impresses enough to win the role of number one center.

Dallas: It’s likely Dallas will replace the departing John Klingberg’s production by committee, giving Thomas Harley the opportunity to stand out in his first full NHL season. With new coach Pete DeBoer being a fan of offensive-minded defensemen like Harley, he should see an increase in ice time and improve on what was a down year (four points in 34 games).

Detroit: While Ben Chiarot wasn’t the biggest acquisition Detroit had this offseason, his impact comes from beyond stuffing the stat sheet. Detroit’s defense and penalty kill were horrible (31st and 32nd last season, respectively), so Chiarot’s responsibility as Moritz Seider’s new defensive partner will be to set the tone and help create a new defensive identity for the young Red Wings.

Edmonton: Very few free agent signings will be under the microscope as quickly or as often as Jack Campbell will be. Signed from Toronto, the Oilers are hoping Campbell (31-9-6, 2.64 GAA, .914 save percentage) can be the upgrade in net they need to take the next step up in the Connor McDavid-Leon Draisaitl era.

Florida: It took a lot to get him, but the Panthers and GM Bill Zito are hoping that Matthew Tkachuk is the final piece they need to bring a talented roster over the hump. While Tkachuk’s impact will be felt in the regular season (104 points last year), his real impact will come from his physical style of play, especially when it comes to the rigors of the postseason.

Los Angeles: It was a surprise for Quinton Byfield to struggle as he did (ten points, -7 in 40 games), but that could be a sign that the Kings will improve drastically if he plays to his potential. Byfield has put in the work this offseason, hopefully improving on his faceoffs and skating to prove himself as a legitimate NHL center.

Minnesota: Minnesota’s cap situation requires entry-level players to step up, and Marco Rossi is in that position this season. Tied for the scoring lead in Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa (53 points in 63 games), Rossi will have a chance to crack into what is an underrated group of centers in the State of Hockey.

Montreal: While special consideration goes to new captain Nick Suzuki learning French fast enough to appease the Quebec media, Jake Allen gets the nod here. With Carey Price likely not playing this season, Allen will be in position to get most of the starts in Montreal again, with the hope that he improves on a career-worst 3.30 GAA.

Nashville: The Predators need depth scoring to make it anywhere past the First Round, so players like Philip Tomasino will be looked at considerably. Despite playing only eleven and a half minutes per game, Tomasino stuck around the NHL roster and put together an impressive rookie campaign, finishing with 14 points in his last 28 games.

New Jersey: The Devils need their prospect core to push their young roster over the top, and top prospect Alexander Holtz will be one of the first candidates to get a crack at it. Scoring 51 points in 52 games in Utica (New Jersey’s AHL affiliate), Holtz has a chance to prove he belongs on a line with either Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, which would make him a dark horse to win the Calder Trophy.

New York Islanders: The Islanders have been let down by poor offensive numbers for a little while, so players like Oliver Wahlstrom need to do their job. Despite a low shooting percentage, Wahlstrom still potted 13 goals last season, and playing on a line with Mathew Barzal should help give him some opportunities.

New York Rangers: While Alexis Lafreniere will be playing right wing for the first time in his career, it will open more opportunities for the former top overall pick. One of the Rangers’ impact players in the postseason (nine points in 20 games), Lafreniere will now be rewarded with playing on New York’s top line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad, which should open more opportunities for him.

Ottawa: Using six goaltenders in the last two seasons is not something Ottawa wants to keep doing, and they’re hoping that Cam Talbot stops the carousel in net. While getting a little older at 35 years old, Talbot should provide the stability that Ottawa needs while they develop a future option like Mads Sogaard.

Philadelphia: Philadelphia’s power play was the worst in the league last year at 12.6 percent, so bringing a proven power play quarterback in Tony DeAngelo made at least some sense. With 20 points on the man advantage last year, Philadelphia will hope they can get that production on the ice while avoiding any clashes with new coach John Tortorella off of it.

Pittsburgh: Injuries robbed Tristan Jarry of getting his postseason revenge, but he more than locked down the top goaltender spot in the regular season. Among goaltenders that played at least 30 games, Jarry finished sixth last season in both GAA (2.42) and save percentage (.919).

San Jose: The Sharks offense has been tepid for the last three seasons (30th in the league with 2.58 goals per game), so younger players like William Eklund will be given looks to boost those numbers. With four assists in the Sharks’ first nine games last season, new coach David Quinn will hope to see some progress in the preseason in order to give Eklund some confidence.

Seattle: There’s a fantastic reason why Matty Beniers is one of the favorites to win the Calder Trophy this season. With nine points in his first ten games and earning a spot on Seattle’s top line, Beniers could easily lead the Kraken in points in his rookie year.

St. Louis: With Ville Husso off to Detroit, Jordan Binnington is back as the clear-cut starter for the Blues. The question for St. Louis is what version of Binnington they’ll get: the one who lost his starting job in the regular season (3.13 GAA, .901 save percentage), or the one who regained it in the playoffs (1.72 GAA, .949 save percentage)?

Tampa Bay: Ondrej Palat was a cap casualty in Tampa Bay this season, so they now need players to step up in his absence. With the potential to be on a line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Brandon Hagel may get a fair opportunity to prove why the Lightning traded for him at the deadline last season.

Toronto: In order for Toronto to break their postseason losing streak, they must rely on the goaltending tandem of Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonov. Neither goaltender had a GAA below 3 or a save percentage above .900 last season, so at least one of them will have to improve dramatically in order to keep Toronto from having to score their way out of trouble.

Vancouver: The first half struggles of Elias Pettersson last year likely came from his training camp holdout, but it was enough to keep Vancouver out of the playoff race. With potentially two new linemates in Ilya Mikheyev and KHL import Andrei Kuzmenko, Pettersson will need to get his chemistry right away to keep Vancouver in the hunt.

Vegas: With Robin Lehner on the shelf for the season, Logan Thompson will effectively be chucked to the wolves in his rookie season. Thompson put together strong numbers in a limited sample size (2.68 GAA and .914 save percentage in 19 games), and that will have to translate to a full season if Vegas wants to return to the postseason.

Washington: Washington will have to replace the production of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson to start the season, so the signing of Dylan Strome made perfect sense. Scoring a career-high 22 goals last season with Chicago, Strome will be tasked with keeping the Capitals afloat while Backstrom heals up.

Winnipeg: This is looking like a transition season for the Jets, and young players like Cole Perfetti will be instrumental in helping Winnipeg decide which direction to take. Scoring seven points in 18 games before injuries ended his season, the Jets will be looking at Perfetti to step up and claim a role in the top-six forward group.

The Sports Nerd’s 2022 NHL Draft Sleepers

Image Credit: OHL

First of all, congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche and their fans on their Stanley Cup victory. This was the season many (myself included) felt the team had to prove something, and they succeeded. Well done.

However, now is not the time to rest on any laurels. Not even a month after a Stanley Cup Champion has been crowned, the league focuses its attention on the NHL Draft. While a lot of people will be looking towards 2023 with the likes of Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, and Adam Fantilli in the mix, that doesn’t mean the 2022 class has to be a throwaway.

Much like every other league, the NHL Draft offers teams to build up their prospect systems and monitor their development before deciding what role each prospect will have in their organization. While some players may have a difficult time adjusting, others just need the opportunity to show what they can do at the next level.

The current NHL landscape is dotted with late-round gems such as Kirill Kaprizov, Mark Stone, Joe Pavelski, Connor Hellebuyck, and Frederik Andersen. Some of the best players the league has ever seen like Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Luc Robitaille had to wait a long time on draft day to finally hear their name called. While it’s uncertain if any of these players will reach those levels, they all have skills that should make them more valued than what their draft placement might indicate.

Let’s see who’s going to make some lucky NHL GM look like a genius.

David Goyette, C, Sudbury (OHL): Now this might require an explanation. Compared to some of the other names on this list, Goyette is relatively high on some boards. How does he count as a sleeper? It probably has to do with the fact that some pundits have questions about how well his game will translate to the NHL level, especially given his size (5’10”, 175 lbs).

I’m someone who believes that Goyette not only has what it takes to make it in the NHL, but also has the tools it takes to be successful. He’s one of the fastest and best-skating players in the draft, which should set him apart from other fringe first-round talents. While he could stand to diversify his offensive game beyond the rush, he has the creativity and willingness to get better on that front. A couple years in the OHL, plus an extra season or two of development in the AHL, should help Goyette bulk up and develop his game. His ceiling is probably that of a second-line wing, which is a nice value for the back half of the first round.

Noah Warren, RD, Gatineau (QMJHL): Another prospect ranked higher than others here, Warren’s primary issue is that he lacks the flash that some of his contemporaries have. With plenty of right-side defensemen in the same tier as Warren (Ryan Chesley, Tristan Luneau, Sam Rinzel, Seamus Casey, and Mattias Havelid,) Warren’s lack of consistent offensive pop could get him lost in the shuffle.

So what does Warren have that stands out? The answer is simple; Warren has the best combination of size and skating at his position. While his skating has some room for improvement, you won’t find many young defensemen that are 6’5″ and move the way Warren does on the ice. That speed helps him out on the defensive end, as Warren isn’t afraid to cut off lanes, work opposing rushers to the boards, and deliver crushing hits. He’s the type of player I can see enjoying an Alec Martinez-esque career in the NHL, working as a top-four defenseman who can chip in enough offensively to complement his defensive and penalty killing acumen.

Reid Schaefer, F, Seattle (WHL): The last of the high-end sleepers, Schaefer picked a great year to have a breakout season. After a couple of mediocre years split between the WHL and AJHL, Schaefer exploded with a 32-goal, 58-point season this time around. That performance carried over the WHL playoffs, which only helped Schaefer’s case as one of this season’s biggest risers.

Schaefer’s frame (6’3″, 215 lbs) and skill set scream power forward. His finishing ability on the offensive end allows him to be a threat both in transition and on set plays in front of the net. Meanwhile, his size also allows him to be a strong defender, causing havoc on the boards and keeping opposing forwards away from the slot. His skating and passing are still works in progress, but there’s reason to believe he can improve. He can thrive as either an all-around top-six wing or a checking line power forward with some scoring touch, depending on how the rest of his game develops.

Cedrick Guindon, C, Owen Sound (OHL): Now we get to the guys who will be drafted later, and let’s start with arguably my favorite sleeper in the class. Guindon’s small stature (5’10”, 163 lbs) will scare some teams away, and he might not come across as dynamic as Goyette or any other small forwards ranked higher than him. This could cause him to slide to the fourth or possibly the fifth round, which I think would be a mistake.

Guindon is one of the best pure skaters in the class, allowing him to play with pace at both ends of the ice. His ability to break out in transition and never give up on a play is what coaching staffs and scouts love. He can stand to improve his shot, but a 30-goal season this year could indicate that it’s getting better already. Most teams profile Guindon as a bottom-six forward who specializes in killing penalties, but I think he has the opportunity to be more. I see a two-way center who can become a middle-six fixture for years, as soon as the playmaking ability and consistency matches his speed.

Martin Johnsen, F, Farjestad BK (SHL): There are very few Norwegian players who have made it to the NHL, and the only notable one of that group is Mats Zuccarello. This year, however, there is a crop of Norwegian prospects who have likely caught the eyes of at least a few NHL scouts, with Johnsen leading the way.

After dominating in his home country, Johnsen was brought to Sweden to play in Farjestad’s youth program. Johnsen played so well against players in his age group that he was brought along to play with the big club; while he didn’t record a point, the fact he was able to reach that level so quickly is astonishing. That dominance wasn’t limited to just Norway and Sweden; at the Under-18 World Junior Championships, Johnsen broke the tournament scoring record with 14 points in only five games. While he isn’t blessed with size or any elite traits, what Johnsen does have on others is how he thinks the game. He allows the play to come to him instead of forcing himself into bad positions, which is incredibly valuable for teams who like to win the possession battles. He’ll be around until the later rounds, but where he ultimately goes will likely be a round or two lower than where I would have him.

Alex Bump, F, Omaha (USHL): While the NCAA doesn’t carry the same level of prestige for NHL prospects as the Canadian Hockey League does, that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. Some of the best players from today (Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Jack Eichel) and all time (Martin St. Louis, Brian Leetch, Rod Brind’Amour) all got their starts playing college hockey. One of the latest products of that system could be Bump, a 2023 commit to St. Louis’s alma mater at the University of Vermont.

Playing most of last season for Prior Lake High School in Minnesota, Bump was the best player on the ice for virtually every game. His offensive ability includes driving the play and creating scoring chances for himself and his teammates, and it was on display often. Eventually, Bump would get called up to play better competition in the USHL, and he didn’t look out of place at all. His defensive game isn’t quite on the same level as the offense, but his speed and stick handling give him at least a viable foundation to develop on that front. To me, Bump is a third-round pick with serious potential to make a difference in the NHL in a few years, but others might be shied away from that range due to his status as a bit of a long-term project.

Connor Kurth, F, Dubuque (USHL): Another college prospect, Kurth is the first overage prospect in this group after being passed over in his first season of eligibility. A large part of this was due to Kurth’s skating and conditioning, both of which probably tanked his stock. With that disappointment, Kurth responded by decimating the USHL the following season.

He doubled his goal scoring from 15 to 35, tied for the team league with fellow prospect Stephen Halliday. While there are still deficiencies in Kurth’s overall game, the fact he was able to work on his weaknesses shows that he has the willingness to develop. That will go nicely at the University of Minnesota, where Kurth has committed to for this upcoming season. Kurth stands out as someone who will be a priority undrafted free agent coming out of college in a few years, but with his production and the University of Minnesota’s track record of churning out talent, I wouldn’t be opposed to spending a late-round pick on him and be able to monitor his development without the risk of competing for him when his time in college is over.

Josh Davies, F, Swift Current (WHL)/Samuel Savoie, F, Gatineau (QMJHL): I decided to group both of these prospects together because they are essentially the same type of player. While both are smaller forwards that don’t provide too much offense, they are players that both coaching staffs and analytics love.

When it comes to both of them, think Brad Marchand without the same level of scoring touch. They are both some of the faster players you’ll find in this class, and both are absolute nightmares to play against. While Savoie is more adept at staying out of the penalty box than Davies is, having players like them who will step up and cause problems for the opponent’s stars are important for any team to have. If they can build off of their attributes, both have futures as bottom-six fixtures. Davies and Savoie aren’t the types of players teams will be looking to lean on offensively, but they’re the players that help those teams win championships, and that’s what important to understand.

Liam Steele, RD, Chilliwack (BCHL): Don’t look now, but Great Britain is starting to come along with their hockey program. While their own league is still coming together, players are starting to emerge as the UK hopes to produce their first full-time NHLer since Owen Nolan retired in 2010. While Arizona’s Liam Kirk has the potential to do that, don’t be surprised if Steele isn’t too far behind.

Captaining Stanstead College in Quebec, Steele was able to produce at a point-per-game pace and show enough skill to not only be tendered to play for the Chilliwack Chiefs this upcoming season, but earn a scholarship to Cornell in 2023. Even more impressive is that Steele has a similar size-speed combination to Warren, with his skating complementing his 6’6″ frame. While he has been shown to dominate lesser competition, this season and his first year at Cornell will be pivotal in his development. I think he has all the tools to be a successful player, and a mid-to-late round pick would make him the low-risk, high-reward gamble that makes a scout look like a genius.

Jake Furlong, LD/RD, Halifax (QMJHL): It’s rare to see someone have the physical transformation that Furlong has had over the past year, growing four inches and gaining almost forty pounds in order to play against bigger forwards. Not only had Furlong been up to that challenge, but he’s been so successful that it should force teams to re-evaluate where his ceiling is.

Furlong has become a proven minute-muncher, often going against quality opposition and being able to stand his ground in his own zone. His hockey IQ and positioning are some of the best in this class, being able to create turnovers and then starting the breakout from the neutral zone or his own end. While he doesn’t have the same offensive capabilities of other defensemen in this class, his production indicates that it can come along. Those skills, along with his versatility to play both sides on defense, should give Furlong a home as a top-four defenseman who can contribute in a variety of situations.

Tyson Jugnauth, LD, West Kelowna (BCHL): Sure, the BCHL isn’t on the same level as the OHL, WHL, or QMJHL. It’s still been a place for talent to develop, as players like Brett Hull, Carey Price, and Scott Gomez have all called the BCHL home at some point. When you take home the award for the league’s best defenseman, that warrants some attention. If you haven’t heard of Jugnauth yet, you will soon enough.

While the consistency still needs to get there, Jugnauth still managed to be second amongst all BCHL defensemen in points with 50. There’s clear skill on the back end here, and Jugnauth’s creativity and vision allow him to drive play from the point. It won’t remind anybody of Erik Karlsson in his prime, but getting a defenseman like Jugnauth who can chip in offensively and be a potential power play quarterback in the middle rounds is a great find. He’s committed to the University of Wisconsin for this upcoming season, so American audiences will get a closer look at what he can bring to the table.

Rastislav Elias, G, Green Bay (USHL): There was once a time when Elias was considered a top goaltending prospect in this year’s class. After a rough maiden season in North America with a poor Green Bay squad, some of that enthusiasm has dampened to the point where Elias may not even be drafted. However, the same goaltender from about a year ago still exists.

While Elias had a rough acclimation to the North American game, it seems he started to pick his game up towards the end. His final five games saw him put up a .914 save percentage, so there’s reason to believe he’ll improve. Add a silver medal in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and being named the best goaltender in the tournament should also indicate there’s a solid framework. In a weak goaltender class this season, prospects like Elias may not fall as hard as people think, and I imagine a team still trying to find an option for the future could look at him as a solution. Keep his name in mind as the draft starts winding down.

Russian players. All of them.: The reason I wanted to list this is because some prospects will fall for the same reason: their home country. The Russian factor has always caused talent to slip down some boards, but the combination of an increasingly volatile political climate and recent events involving Ivan Fedotov have caused some teams to take Russian prospects off their boards entirely.

This could end up creating some serious havoc on draft night, as there are plenty of Russian prospects still in the country that could see their draft stock crater. While Russian-born players playing in North America like Pavel Mintyukov will likely be unaffected, what about others? Danila Yurov, Gleb Trikozov, and Ivan Miroshnichenko would all be likely first-round picks in a normal world. However, the uncertainty and real-world implications could cause these prospects to slip nearly an entire round lower than normal. While teams would be right to be scared away, any team willing to take a chance could end up getting a first-round prospect at a serious discount. There is definite risk attached to everybody, but the rewards have to balance that out at some point.

6 Coaching Candidates for the Vegas Golden Knights

Image Credit: Joe Sargent/NHLI

In hindsight, it was the only move they could have made.

On May 16, the Vegas Golden Knights officially fired head coach Peter DeBoer after a disappointing 2021-22 campaign that saw the NHL’s 31st franchise miss the playoffs for the first time in their history.

While injuries certainly were part of the issue plaguing the team, there were a few reasons that pointed to DeBoer’s downfall. The post-All Star break saw the team struggle and fall from first in the Pacific Division to out of the postseason entirely, including a crucial stretch that saw the team win only once in their final six games. There were also thinly-veiled jabs thrown at starting goaltender Robin Lehner in this stretch, despite Lehner playing injured and even considering season-ending surgery. After the team missed the playoffs, GM Kelly McCrimmon pointed out that management would meet with DeBoer to discuss the future of the team. While details on such a meeting are minimal at the time of this article, DeBoer’s firing is likely an indication that the team sought a new direction.

While the ultimate reason behind DeBoer’s firing is unclear, something that may have played a role in the decision was the glut of candidates that the Knights now have available.

While the Knights will be looking for their third coach in just five seasons, this will be their first real coaching search; the team announced DeBoer’s hiring at the same time as the firing of inaugural coach Gerard Gallant. They will also be competing with the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, and the Winnipeg Jets for their candidates, and that list doesn’t include any other team who may seek a change in direction after a disappointing postseason run. While Vegas faces a serious cap crunch for next season, most of their current core is still locked up for the foreseeable future, so any roster reconfiguration might not damage the chance of a potential Stanley Cup run too badly. This is a team and ownership group that clearly want to win now, which should attract some attention.

In no particular order, these are the six candidates who I would vouch for to take the job:

Barry Trotz, former New York Islanders head coach: Let’s get the obvious name out of the way first, shall we?

Trotz was a name no one was anticipating to lose his job, even after this season ended. The Islanders had injury issues like Vegas did, but also had to contend with a staggering 13-game road trip to start the year while preparing to open the new UBS Arena. Despite all of these issues, the Islanders still finished the season with a top-10 defense, a threshold that the team has crossed in all four years of Trotz’s tenure. This includes a top-ranked defense in the 2018-19 season, which is relevant because of the team’s Jennings Trophy-winning starting goaltender that year: Robin Lehner.

Outside of Lehner potentially vouching for the coach that oversaw his career year, there are other reasons the Knights should be circling Trotz. He has the championship pedigree from winning the Stanley Cup in 2018 which, ironically enough, came against Vegas. He will install a defense-first system that should assist a team like Vegas that doesn’t have a de facto starting goaltender. While he won’t be able to bring top assistant Lane Lambert, who took Trotz’s place as coach of the Islanders, there should be plenty of potential assistant coaches that can help fix what’s been an inconsistent offense and special teams unit.

With how aggressive Vegas has been in the past with their personnel decisions, it would make sense for McCrimmon and owner Bill Foley to send their best possible offer to the top coaching candidate on the market.

Claude Julien, Team Canada and former Boston Bruins head coach: I’m not typically a fan of hiring retreads, but Julien’s mentality and credentials would make him worth a look.

Julien’s NHL career has seen him serve as a head coach to the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, two prestigious franchises in high-profile hockey markets. While his tenure in Montreal was hit-or-miss, his time in Boston was a success. The Bruins made it out of the First Round five of seven times the team made it to the postseason, including being Stanley Cup Champions in 2011 and Eastern Conference Champions in 2013. He would also win the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach in the 2008-09 season.

Julien, much like Trotz, would implement a defensive-minded system that has allowed his teams to succeed in both the regular season and the playoffs. More importantly, however, is his current connection to Team Canada. In Canada’s current run at the World Championships, Vegas is represented by Logan Thompson, Nic Roy, and Zach Whitecloud, so they will have experience playing in Julien’s system. If Team Canada is successful and the Vegas contingent enjoy playing under Julien, that could go a long way towards putting him in good position to land the Knights job.

There will be plenty of former NHL head coaches that will be seeking a return behind the bench. If Vegas can’t land Trotz, Julien would be an excellent backup plan.

Jim Montgomery, St. Louis Blues assistant coach: Even among coaches with NHL experience, Montgomery’s addition here may come across as a bit unorthodox.

Since beginning his head coaching career in 2010, Montgomery has had major success at every level he’s been in. He won championships with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints in 2010 and 2012, as well as with the University of Denver Pioneers in 2017. That success would see the Dallas Stars select him as their head coach for the 2018-19 season. That year, the Stars would make it to the playoffs with the second-best defense in the league, advancing to the Second Round before being bounced by eventual champion St. Louis in a double-overtime Game 7. Midway through the next season, however, Montgomery was fired for “unprofessional conduct” that was later revealed to be alcohol abuse. Despite being coached in the interim by Rick Bowness, the Stars would once again have the second-best defense in the league and make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, indicating that Montgomery’s style of play has a track record of postseason success.

Since then, Montgomery has started to rebuild his reputation with the St. Louis Blues, working under one of the NHL’s best coaches in Craig Berube. While any team that wants Montgomery will have to ensure that his personal demons have been conquered, he also stands as one of the more interesting propositions amongst all of the coaching candidates. Despite his short track record at the NHL level, the results have shown a strong defensive-minded coach who earns the trust of his players. That’s the kind of mentality a team like Vegas could use to push them over the hump.

Montgomery would be a calculated risk, that much is certain. However, he could be the risk that pays huge dividends for the Knights.

Derek Lalonde, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach: Now, we get into the candidates who have never held an NHL head coaching job before. What better way to start than the top lieutenant of the two-time defending champions?

While Lalonde has never been an NHL head coach, he’s had success at nearly every level he’s been a coach in. In previous stops in the USHL and ECHL, he won the award for best coach in both leagues. After a short stint in the AHL, Lalonde was hired by Steve Yzerman to serve as an assistant to Jon Cooper for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning would win the President’s Trophy in his first season under Cooper and, more importantly, would win the Stanley Cup in the next two seasons. It bodes well for Lalonde’s chances to land a spot at the NHL level.

While Detroit would be an obvious landing spot due to his connection with Yzerman, there’s reason for Vegas to throw their hat in the ring. Lalonde’s experience in Tampa gives him experience with superstar-laden teams that are suffering from cap issues, which describes the Knights to a T right now. Bonus points would come if Lalonde could lure a potential assistant in Benoit Groulx, the current head coach of Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse who has overseen the development of many young players on the Lightning right now.

There’s nothing wrong with choosing to zig while the rest of the league zags. In a coaching world that favors those with experience, Vegas hiring Lalonde would be a breath of fresh air that the franchise needs right now.

Spencer Carbery, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach: Well, the Knights are built like the NHL equivalent of the Los Angeles Rams. Why not try and find their Sean McVay?

Carbery, who will only be 40 years old by the time next season begins, is already establishing himself as a name on the rise. He hit the ground running with the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays, building them up in his five years there and winning their coach of the year award in 2014. Even more impressive was his turnaround of the AHL’s Hershey Bears, taking them from one of the league’s bottom-feeders to one of its elite. It culminated in a coach of the year award in 2019 and a first-place finish for Hershey in 2021. This season, Toronto brought him up to breathe life into what was a middling power-play unit, and the results have been superb as Toronto put together the league’s best power play.

That last anecdote should be what draws Vegas’s attention over to Carbery. In DeBoer’s two full seasons as head coach in Vegas, the power play finished bottom-ten on both occasions. It looked far too predictable, the players seemed to lose confidence on the man advantage, and the team would go for long stretches without a power play goal. With the amount of offensive talent this team has, that should be considered unacceptable. Bringing in Carbery, who has experience working on the power play with some of the best offensive players in the league, should certainly see improvement in that area in order to not put so much pressure on defense and goaltending.

We’ve seen before in the sports world that hiring a young coach before his market value hits a premium pays off sometimes. Why shouldn’t Vegas embrace that mentality with Carbery?

Mike Vellucci, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach: Want a veteran coach without wading through the endless supply of retreads? Vellucci is your candidate of choice.

Vellucci served thirteen years as the head coach of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, most notably winning the league championship and Coach of the Year honors in 2007. After a stint as assistant GM in the Carolina Hurricanes organization, he would return behind the bench in 2017 for the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s AHL affiliate. He would eventually win the Calder Cup and the Coach of the Year award in the 2018-19 season against Vegas’s then-affiliate Chicago Wolves. Pittsburgh would call him up to serve on Mike Sullivan’s staff the following season, working with the forwards and penalty kill unit. This season saw a marked improvement on the latter, going from a bottom-five unit in 2020-21 to the third-best penalty kill this year. That kind of turnaround will get noticed by the league, especially with Vegas.

In 2020-21, Vegas had the league’s best penalty kill, but the team saw that statistic drop below the top twenty this year. While injuries to key penalty killers played a role in that drop, Vegas firing DeBoer likely indicates that management doesn’t plan to accept that as an excuse in any facet. Vellucci was also responsible for the development of current Knight Nic Roy, who might be an advocate for his former coach to take the role in Vegas.

Vellucci’s success at the AHL and NHL levels should appeal to plenty of teams who want an outside-of-the-box candidate. He’ll be on Vegas’s radar in some capacity.

The Sports Nerd’s NFL Draft Class Rankings

Photo Credit: AP

The 2022 NFL Draft came to an end yesterday, and all 32 NFL teams came away with a brand-new crop of rookies to develop.

There were many different storylines that came about throughout the draft. The Round 1 run of the top receiver prospects may have forced teams like the Cardinals and Eagles to take a different approach and trade for big-name receivers. The quarterback class this year was severely undervalued, resulting in teams getting great values on potential future starters. The pre-draft process saw talents with raw athleticism once again be drafted higher than they should have been, while more established talents saw their stocks fall. Now, with all 262 picks made official, we can start evaluating the classes each team got.

Let me preface by saying that these early grades are by no means a be-all, end-all for how a team performed over the last few days. The real impact of these classes won’t truly be felt until a few seasons down the line, but that doesn’t make these rankings obsolete. These rankings are based more on how adequately each team filled their own needs, whether the team got the best talent available at the time of their selections, and whether each team’s pick or trade is in-line with their short and long-term plans.

With that said, let’s begin.

1. Baltimore Ravens (A+): Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton (1-14), Iowa C Tyler Linderbaum (1-25), Michigan EDGE David Ojabo (2-45), Connecticut DT Travis Jones (3-76), Minnesota OT Daniel Faalele (4-110), Alabama CB Jalyn Armour-Davis (4-119), Iowa State TE Charlie Kolar (4-128), Penn State P Jordan Stout (4-130), Coastal Carolina TE Isaiah Likely (4-139), Houston CB Damarion Williams (4-141), Missouri RB Tyler Badie (6-196)

By trading an ill-fitting receiver in Hollywood Brown to Arizona, the Ravens were able to come away with two first-round picks. Hamilton is a consistent and versatile playmaker who should only add to arguably the best secondary in football, while Linderbaum has All-Pro potential at the center position. Ojabo’s torn Achilles and rawness as a prospect dropped him down, but reuniting with defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald and high school teammate Odafe Oweh should make the transition a bit smoother for him when he returns. Jones was a borderline first-round talent in my opinion, and he strikes me as someone who can be the next great Ravens defensive tackle. Day 3 was also great, with the Ravens either landing potential future starters (Faalele and Armour-Davis), tight ends who fit the offense (Kolar and Likely), or depth at important positions (Williams and Badie). The Ravens had a great balance of quantity and quality, and this should be a draft Baltimore fans remember for a long time.

2. Philadelphia Eagles (A+): Georgia DT Jordan Davis (1-13), Nebraska C Cam Jurgens (2-51), Georgia LB Nakobe Dean (3-83), Kansas LB Kyron Johnson (6-181), SMU TE Grant Calcaterra (6-198)

Part of the Eagles’ high grade comes from acquiring and extending WR A.J. Brown, who gives Jalen Hurts a legitimate WR1 to throw to. A three-headed receiving monster of Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert should have fans excited. The picks the Eagles did make were equally as good, starting with Davis. While his tape mostly shows a potentially-elite run stuffer, his athletic profile indicates he can be an every-down defensive mauler. Jurgens was a slight reach, but his favorable comparisons to longtime center Jason Kelce make him a natural choice for the heir apparent. Dean was one of my favorite picks of the draft, getting a first-round value out of a third-round pick. The medical issues are cause for concern, but the Eagles have lacked a playmaker out of the linebacker position for too long to let Dean slide by any more. Johnson should be a reserve linebacker and core special teamer, while Calcaterra will be a good red-zone complement to Goedert. Not only that, but Philadelphia’s undrafted free agent haul came loaded with draft-worthy prospects like Carson Strong, Josh Jobe, and Mario Goodrich. Howie Roseman did a great job this draft, and his performance might have gotten him back in some Eagles fans’ good graces.

3. New York Jets (A): Cincinnati CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (1-4), Ohio State WR Garrett Wilson (1-10), Florida State EDGE Jermaine Johnson II (1-26), Iowa State RB Breece Hall (2-36), Ohio State TE Jeremy Ruckert (3-101), Louisiana T Max Mitchell (4-111), Texas A&M EDGE Michael Clemons (4-117)

For the first time in what feels like an eternity for Jets fans, they have a draft class worth celebrating. They lucked out by getting both the class’s top corner and receiver in Gardner and Wilson, respectively, then trading back into the first round to select a falling top-15 talent in Johnson. With their three big needs addressed, the team went with a luxury pick next and traded up to land the class’s top running back in Hall. While trading up for a running back seemed like an odd decision, there’s no denying Hall’s explosive playmaking ability and elite athletic profile. Ruckert also seemed odd after the Jets picked up C.J. Uzomah and Tyler Conklin in free agency, but he should still be someone worth the development time. Bonus points could be rewarded if offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur can turn Ruckert into his new version of Kyle Jusczyzk, as the former has flashed similar ball skills to the league’s premier H-back. Mitchell and Clemons should be solid backups at worst, and viable starting options at best. I’m genuinely intrigued by the vision that Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh have for this Jets squad; here’s hoping that ownership has the patience to see it through.

4. Kansas City Chiefs (A): Washington CB Trent McDuffie (1-21), Purdue EDGE George Karlaftis (1-30), Western Michigan WR Skyy Moore (2-54), Cincinnati S Bryan Cook (2-62), Wisconsin LB Leo Chenal (3-103), Fayetteville State CB Joshua Williams (4-135), Kentucky OT Darian Kinnard (5-145), Washington State CB Jaylen Watson (7-243), Rutgers RB Isaih Pacheco (7-251), Marshall S Nazeeh Johnson (7-259)

Sensing that they won’t be winning too many shootout-style games against their AFC West rivals, the Chiefs made an effort in this draft to bolster their defense on all levels. McDuffie is on the smaller side, but his production and awareness have always been great. He should be a good replacement for Charvarius Ward, and it helps that the Chiefs have done a great job of unearthing talent in the secondary. I’m not as high on Karlaftis as many other pundits, as his sack production was lacking for a first-round talent. His presence moves Chris Jones back to his natural position on the inside, but I have to wonder if Karlaftis would benefit from a similar move at the next level. Cook and Chenal will both earn key roles as designated run-stoppers early, while Williams and Watson should be versatile reserves for the secondary. Moore will be hard-pressed to replace Tyreek Hill on offense, but his presence means that Patrick Mahomes has another big-play threat the chuck the ball downfield to. Kinnard and Pacheco have the chance to be quality depth pieces on offense, as well. For the Chiefs to retain the AFC West crown, they had to prepare for offenses that got stronger in the offseason; this draft may have helped them accomplish that objective.

5. Seattle Seahawks (A-): Mississippi State OT Charles Cross (1-9), Minnesota EDGE Boye Mafe (2-40), Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker III (2-41), Washington State OT Abraham Lucas (3-72), Cincinnati CB Coby Bryant (4-109), UTSA CB Tariq Woolen (5-153), Ohio State EDGE Tyreke Smith (5-158), Rutgers WR Bo Melton (7-229), Lenoir-Rhyne WR Dareke Young (7-233)

Seattle certainly had an idea of what their needs were, as their strategy consisted of doubling up on multiple positions. Cross will be Seattle’s starting left tackle from Day 1, and there’s a chance that the underrated Lucas grabs the other starting spot early. Mafe and Smith should add some explosion and energy to a pass-rushing group that could certainly use it. Walker’s selection was interesting with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny still on the roster, but his versatility and the injury issues of the veterans should allow him to carve out a valuable role quickly. Bryant and Woolen were both highly valuable Day 3 adds, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one of them develop into a starting-caliber player. Melton is a candidate to be Tyler Lockett’s heir apparent, while Young is a worthy flier. The only knock I have here is that Seattle didn’t replace Russell Wilson or Bobby Wagner. Don’t be surprised if the Baker Mayfield chatter ramps up again.

6. New York Giants (A-): Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux (1-5), Alabama OT Evan Neal (1-7), Kentucky WR Wan’Dale Robinson (2-43), North Carolina G Joshua Ezeudu (3-67), LSU CB Cordale Flott (3-81), San Diego State TE Daniel Bellinger (4-112), Iowa S Dane Belton (4-114), Indiana LB Micah McFadden (4-146), Arizona State DT D.J. Davidson (5-147), North Carolina G Marcus McKethan (5-173), Cincinnati LB Darrian Beavers (6-182)

It’s easy to call the Giants a draft winner based solely off of their Day 1 selections. Thibodeaux has arguably the highest ceiling of any prospect in the class, and should give the Giants their first impact pass-rusher since Jason Pierre-Paul. Neal was widely considered the best offensive tackle in the class, and now he slides back into a right tackle position that he dominated in Tuscaloosa. Don’t be surprised if Neal and Andrew Thomas are among the league’s elite tackle duos in a year or two’s time. Day 2 is where things get dicey, as Robinson, Ezeudu, and Flott were all drafted likely a round higher than expected. However, all three fill needs in the Giants’ roster, so I’m more lenient to give the Daboll-Schoen regime the benefit of the doubt. Besides, their Day 3 selections saw serious values in Bellinger, Belton, McFadden, and Beavers fall their way, so that balances things out a bit. How the Giants did will likely depend on how those Day 2 pick develop, but Thibodeaux and Neal alone should make this a class worth monitoring.

7. Indianapolis Colts (A-): Cincinnati WR Alec Pierce (2-53), Virginia TE Jelani Woods (3-73), Central Michigan OT Bernhard Raimann (3-77), Maryland S Nick Cross (3-96), Missouri State DT Eric Johnson (5-159), Youngstown State TE Andrew Ogletree (6-192), Cincinnati DT Curtis Brooks (6-216), Yale S Rodney Thomas II (7-239)

After the Carson Wentz deal blew up in the Colts’ faces, GM Chris Ballard was going to have to deliver on this draft to make up for losing a first-round pick. I would say he accomplished that goal with his Day 2 picks. Pierce is another big-bodied receiver that the Colts seem to like, while Woods will slide in to recently-retired Jack Doyle’s spot in the lineup. Raimann was borderline first-round value for a third-round pick, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he starts at left tackle right away. Cross was another great pick who can play alongside free agent pickup Rodney McLeod and the returning Julian Blackmon. Day 3 was more focused on depth, but keep an eye out on Johnson and Brooks, who have the potential to be versatile defensive line pieces. Sometimes, all you can do is make the best out of a bad situation, and Indianapolis did just that.

8. Atlanta Falcons (B+): USC WR Drake London (1-8), Penn State EDGE Arnold Ebiketie (2-38), Montana State LB Troy Andersen (2-58), Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder (3-74), Western Kentucky EDGE DeAngelo Malone (3-82), BYU RB Tyler Allgeier (5-151), Georgia G Justin Shaffer (6-190), Georgia TE John FitzPatrick (6-213)

I agreed with the Falcons taking a receiver in Round 1, but London’s also the prospect who holds Atlanta out of the A range. He has a high ceiling like the other top receiver prospects, but a lower floor, which is a bit concerning for a team that’s rail-thin at the position. Ebikeite and Andersen are both high-upside prospects who fill holes on defense, while Malone gives the Falcons another chance to get a quality pass-rusher. Ridder drew comparisons to current Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota, and now he’ll get the chance to develop under him. His speed and processing ability were both on display throughout the pre-draft process, and giving him a year to learn an NFL offense will benefit him greatly. I’m not sure how I feel about their Day 3 picks, but if Allgeier gets anywhere close to a poor man’s Derrick Henry, that would go a long way towards making this class a success. It’s a class that has potential, but how London and Ridder develop will be paramount to Atlanta’s long-term success.

9. Detroit Lions (B+): Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson (1-2), Alabama WR Jameson Williams (1-12), Kentucky EDGE Josh Paschal (2-46), Illinois S Kerby Joseph (3-97), Virginia Tech TE James Mitchell (5-177), Oklahoma State LB Malcolm Rodriguez (6-188), Jackson State LB James Houston IV (6-217), Arizona State CB Chase Lucas (237)

While there are questions regarding Hutchinson’s ultimate NFL upside, he was still the home run pick for the home-state Lions. With a floor of a double-digit sack artist and a plus run defender, the Lions would be happy to get just that level of production. An odd inter-division trade with Minnesota also gave them a chance to grab Williams, who was my personal favorite receiver in the class. Despite an ACL injury in the National Championship game, Williams has been progressing well enough that he shouldn’t miss too much time, and he’ll add a new field-stretching element to the offense. Paschal and Joseph both have their question marks as prospects, but both are high-upside adds to a defense that needed help virtually everywhere. Mitchell, Rodriguez and Houston should also see time as quality depth pieces, with the latter two also having the athletic profile to emerge as special teams aces. I’m not sure how I feel about them skipping out on quarterbacks, but if they manage to land Bryce Young in 2023? Look out.

10. Arizona Cardinals (B+): Colorado State TE Trey McBride (2-55), San Diego State EDGE Cameron Thomas (3-87), Cincinnati EDGE Myjai Sanders (3-100), USC RB Keaontay Ingram (6-201), Virginia Tech G Lecitus Smith (6-215), Valdosta State CB Christian Matthew (7-244), Penn State LB Jesse Luketa (7-256), Oklahoma G Marquis Hayes (7-257)

The Hollywood Brown trade that cost the Cardinals their first-round pick was a risk, but it does have its upside. Brown now reunites with his college quarterback in Kyler Murray, and he now slides into the Christian Kirk role in Arizona’s offense. McBride was an odd choice with Zach Ertz and Maxx Williams on the roster, but tight ends typically take a year to develop. Expect him to see the field a bit in his rookie year as he learns how to be a quality NFL player. Both third-round edge rushers have their merits. Thomas has the production and physical comparisons to J.J. Watt to get the fans excited, while Sanders will be their first attempt to replace Chandler Jones. Their Day 3 picks were a bit hit-or-miss for me, but Smith and Luketa stand out as strong values. As much as I liked some of these picks, the success of this draft will come down to how Brown does with a change of scenery.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (B+): Houston DT Logan Hall (2-33), Central Michigan G Luke Goedeke (2-57), Arizona State RB Rachaad White (3-91), Washington TE Cade Otton (4-106), Georgia P Jake Camarda (4-133), Sam Houston State CB Zyon McCollum (5-157), Minnesota TE Ko Kieft (6-218), LSU EDGE Andre Anthony (7-248)

The Bucs didn’t have many holes to fill, but they did manage to hit on some needs. Hall was a necessary pick with Ndamukong Suh still unsigned, and his style means he won’t clash with Vita Vea. I’d expect Tampa to use him all around the defensive line to ensure they can keep their best players on the field at all times. Goedeke’s experience as a tackle helped him out in the draft process, but he projects as a guard at the NFL level. With the Bucs having a soft spot for offensive line maulers and needing to fill the void left behind by Ali Marpet, this was a good choice. PPR fantasy league players need to circle White’s name on draft day. He was arguably the best receiver out of all the running backs in the class, and he stands to be the perfect complement to a pure runner in Leonard Fournette. Otton will be a good insurance policy if Gronk doesn’t return, and a good understudy if he does. The Bucs also needed help with punting, but I’m not sure why they went with Camarda over the more-hyped Matt Araiza. McCollum’s athletic profile make him a good small-school flier to take a chance on. The Bucs did a good job of getting the best value for what they had, so props to them.

12. Buffalo Bills (B): Florida CB Kaiir Elam (1-23), Georgia RB James Cook (2-63), Baylor LB Terrel Bernard (3-89), Boise State WR Khalil Shakir (5-148), San Diego State P Matt Araiza (6-180), Villanova CB Christian Benford (6-185), Virginia Tech T Luke Tenuta (6-209), Clemson LB Baylon Spector (7-231)

The Bills needed a corner opposite Tre’Davious White, and they got that in Elam. While the physicality could translate to penalties early in his career, his game should translate relatively well to the NFL. Cook is the pure speed merchant that the running back room in Buffalo lacked. He should be in line to take over third-down back duties and be a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball. Bernard’s size and tackling issues could push him to safety at the NFL level, but that might not be a bad thing with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde approaching the latter phase of their careers. Sean McDermott would be smart to work on the transition now, as Bernard’s instincts could translate well to the new position. Shakir and Araiza were both great values at the points they were drafted, and both should become early fan favorites in Buffalo. Keep an eye on Benford, who has the physical profile necessary to carve out an NFL role. This wasn’t a great draft from the Bills, especially since the interior offensive line is still a bit messy, but they managed to tackle almost every other need adequately.

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (B): Pittsburgh QB Kenny Pickett (1-20), Georgia WR George Pickens (2-52), Texas A&M DT DeMarvin Leal (3-84), Memphis WR Calvin Austin III (4-138), Michigan State FB/TE Connor Heyward (6-208), Ole Miss LB Mark Robinson (7-225), South Dakota State QB Chris Oladokun (7-241)

This class screams boom-or-bust to me. Pickett was a big riser up draft boards with his Heisman-winning season, but his hand size and less-than-ideal field processing makes him a difficult projection. There’s clear talent here, but there’s also serious bust potential. Pickens has flashed talent at Georgia, but medical issues and off-the-field red flags risked knocking him down lower. At best, he’s Pittsburgh’s new Antonio Brown; at worst, he’s Pittsburgh’s new Antonio Brown. Leal was a consensus first-round pick at the start of last season, but his tweener physical profile and rough final season knocked him down. The third round was a nice spot for him, but I don’t know where he stands at the next level. Austin has impressive deep speed, but I wonder if anyone in Pittsburgh’s QB room has the necessary arm strength to capitalize on that. Expect him to be a gadget player to start his career. Picks like Heyward and Oladokun were decent, but I wonder if there were other needs the Steelers could have tackled. I put the Steelers this high because there’s a good chance these risks pay off; I can’t put them any higher because there’s serious cause for concern here.

14. Cincinnati Bengals (B): Michigan S Daxton Hill (1-31), Nebraska CB Cam Taylor-Britt (2-60), Florida DT Zachary Carter (3-95), North Dakota State OT/G Cordell Volson (4-136), Toledo S Tycen Anderson (5-166), Coastal Carolina EDGE Jeffrey Gunter (7-252)

With the long-term future of the Bengals secondary up in the air, GM Duke Tobin decided to focus his draft capital there. Hill was a good safety/slot corner hybrid for Michigan, and he should see some time in Cincinnati’s secondary early. He’s the insurance policy if Jessie Bates leaves after this season. Taylor-Britt should replace Eli Apple in the starting lineup fairly quickly, and his upward trajectory at Nebraska should have fans excited. After that, there were a couple of reaches. Carter and Volson could both be alright prospects, but they were both drafted a round early and over better prospects at their positions. Anderson and Gunter were both good picks, though, and both should be rotational pieces on defense. It was a mixed bag for the Bengals, but Hill and Taylor-Britt should both be solid players coming from this class.

15. Los Angeles Chargers (B): Boston College G Zion Johnson (1-17), Baylor S JT Woods (3-79), Texas A&M Isaiah Spiller (4-123), UCLA DT Otito Ogbonnia (5-160), Georgia OT/G Jamaree Salyer (6-195), Wake Forest CB Ja’Sir Taylor (6-214), Ole Miss CB Deane Leonard (7-236), Purdue FB Zander Horvath (7-260)

After aggressively working to fix their defense in free agency, the Chargers continued their offensive line rebuild with the Johnson pick. Johnson tore up the Senior Bowl, showcasing his positional versatility and ability in run and pass protection. There may have been greater needs to fill in Round 3, but Woods gives Brandon Staley the ability to be more versatile with his schemes. Expect Woods to play the center-field safety role to better showcase his ball-hawking skills. Spiller was a good value in the fourth round, and he should be exactly what the Chargers are looking for in a running mate to Austin Ekeler. Ogbonnia adds another body to the defensive line, and the hope is that he can showcase his value in run defense to start his career. Salyer was a sixth-round steal who could either slide in at guard or right tackle for the Chargers in a year or two. Taylor will likely be in line for special teams duties, while Horvath serves as a sixth or seventh offensive lineman and short-yardage hammer. There are still a few questions that remain, but it’s hard to say the Chargers missed with any of these selection.

16. Denver Broncos (B): Oklahoma EDGE Nik Bonitto (2-64), UCLA TE Greg Dulcich (3-80), Pittsburgh CB Damarri Mathis (4-115), Iowa State DT Eyioma Uwazurike (4-116), Oklahoma S Delarrin Turner-Yell (5-152), Samford WR Montrell Washington (5-162), Washington C Luke Wattenberg (5-171), Wisconsin DT Matt Henningsen (6-206), Wisconsin CB Faion Hicks (7-232)

With the Russell Wilson trade taking their top two picks this year, the Broncos had to wait until the end of the second to make their first decision. Ironically, the pick they got in the Von Miller trade went to get his replacement in Bonitto. Bonitto is an effective speed rusher who landed in one of the best-fitting places he could have landed, so that should get Denver fans excited. Dulcich replaces Noah Fant, who went in the Russell Wilson trade to Seattle. He should compete with Albert Okwuegbunam for snaps, or the Broncos could decide to opt for two-TE sets to get both in there. Mathis adds depth to a cornerback room that needed it, and his great final season for Pittsburgh should open some eyes to what his potential is. Uwazurike and Henningsen could both move all across the defensive line, giving Denver some versatility in the trenches. Wattenberg is a nice insurance policy if Lloyd Cushenberry doesn’t develop and Quinn Meinerz works better at guard. Denver needed to fill a few holes to prepare for a potential run, and I think they did alright with what they had.

17. Minnesota Vikings (B-): Georgia S Lewis Cine (1-32), Clemson CB Andrew Booth Jr. (2-42), LSU G Ed Ingram (2-59), Oklahoma LB Brian Asamoah II (3-66), Missouri CB Akayleb Evans (4-118), Minnesota EDGE Esezi Otomewo (5-165), North Carolina RB Ty Chandler (5-169), Illinois OT Vederian Lowe (6-184), Michigan State WR Jalen Nailor (6-191), South Carolina TE Nick Muse (7-227)

The trades that the Vikings made to give division rivals in Detroit and Green Bay quality prospects were a bit confusing, but they did make the most of the picks they got. Cine got great production on a Georgia defense loaded with NFL-caliber players, and he’s arguably the best athlete at the position in this class. He’ll be a strong playmaking complement to Harrison Smith. The Vikings traded up to end the fall of Andrew Booth Jr., who was a first-round value in my opinion. Medical concerns knocked him to the second round, but Minnesota may have gotten another starter. Ingram’s off-field concerns are extremely valid, but he’s been relatively clean now for a few years. He’ll be perfect to open up running lanes for Dalvin Cook. Asamoah is a nice off-ball complement to Eric Kendricks, but I think I would have liked to see them take Nakobe Dean here. Doubling down at corner with Evans was a good idea, as it gives the Vikings depth at a position where they desperately need it. Chandler and Nailor are both speedsters at skill positions. Otomewo was an odd choice since he isn’t a great fit for the Vikings’ new defense, so he’ll have to transition to five-technique to stick. The Vikings came out of the draft with a few really good players, but they will mostly be remembered by the trades if Jameson Williams or Christian Watson pan out.

18. Tennessee Titans (B-): Arkansas WR Treylon Burks (1-18), Auburn CB Roger McCreary (2-35), Ohio State OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (3-69), Liberty QB Malik Willis (3-86), Michigan RB Hassan Haskins (4-131), Maryland TE Chigoziem Okonkwo (4-143), UCLA WR Kyle Philips (5-163), Tennessee CB Theo Jackson (6-204), Ole Miss LB Chance Campbell (6-219)

This draft for the Titans will hinge on the decision to trade AJ Brown to the Eagles and draft his replacement in Burks. Burks did draw comparisons to Brown, but there is work that has to be done in order to reach those levels. McCreary’s lack of length was the only reason he fell out of the first round. He has the speed and awareness to match up with receivers, but will he be forced into the slot due to his small arms? Petit-Frere is a good prospect who struggled against the Big 10’s elite pass-rushers, so there’s clearly room to grow. He’ll be a swing tackle that the Titans hope they can develop into Taylor Lewan’s successor. Willis in the third round was a steal. He can provide a whole different dimension to the Tennessee offense that Ryan Tannehill can’t, which could put him in the lineup in certain situations. Haskins is another power back who can spell Derrick Henry so they don’t tire out their All-Pro back too quickly. Okonkwo opened up some eyes with his athletic profile, and he’ll provide a field-stretching element to the offense opposite Austin Hooper. Philips is a candidate for slot receiver and kick return duties, while Campbell is an athletic linebacker who should be an effective special teams gunner. It’s a similar situation with the Vikings; good decisions all around, but the trades will be what defines this class.

19. Green Bay Packers (B-): Georgia LB Quay Walker (1-22), Georgia DT Devonte Wyatt (1-28), North Dakota State WR Christian Watson (2-34), UCLA OT/G Sean Rhyan (3-92), Nevada WR Romeo Doubs (4-132), Wake Forest C/OT Zach Tom (4-140), South Carolina EDGE Kingsley Enagbare (6-179), Georgia Tech S Tariq Carpenter (7-228), Miami (FL) DT Jonathan Ford (7-234), Penn State OT Rasheed Walker (7-249), Nebraska WR Samori Toure (7-258)

The Packers started the draft with a head-scratcher pick in Walker. While there was a need for a playmaking complement to De’Vondre Campbell, but I would have preferred to see them land Devin Lloyd. There were some off-field concerns for Wyatt that popped up late in the pre-draft process, but he’s the more versatile version of fellow Bulldog Jordan Davis. This may be a sign that the Packers are preparing for life without Kenny Clark, which could be a reality soon due to the cap situation in Green Bay. The Packers traded up to land Watson in the second, who’s an exciting player to monitor. While Watson has all of the intangibles to be a great receiver, is he ready to be the top receiver right out of the gate? Rhyan and Tom are both versatile offensive linemen who can play tackle if needed, but will likely be on the interior at the NFL level. Doubs and Toure add more bodies to a receiver room that desperately needed them. Enagbare and Walker were both steals, and I can see them both turning into key reserves as soon as this season. While the Packers had a fine draft, there are a lot of question marks that need to be answered sooner rather than later.

20. Cleveland Browns (B-): Mississippi State CB Martin Emerson (3-68), UAB EDGE Alex Wright (3-78), Purdue WR David Bell (3-99), Oklahoma DT Perrion Winfrey (4-108), LSU K Cade York (4-124), Cincinnati RB Jerome Ford (5-156), Oklahoma WR Michael Woods II (6-202), Oklahoma EDGE Isaiah Thomas (7-223), Texas Tech C Dawson Deaton (7-246)

The Browns sacrificed a lot of premium draft capital to land Deshaun Watson, which is a decision that will undoubtedly determine the franchise’s foreseeable future. Emerson’s ball skills are a work in progress, but he’s a good developmental option to take in the third round. The decision to trade Troy Hill indicates that they think highly enough of Emerson that they can build him up into a starting-caliber player. Don’t let Wright’s lack of premier competition fool you; he’s a legitimate combination of size and strength that can dominate opposing offensive linemen. Within a couple of years, he can emerge as a solid complement to Myles Garrett. Bell isn’t the most dynamic receiver, but the current group in Cleveland is already loaded with speed, so he doesn’t have to be. I liked both Oklahoma defensive linemen (Winfrey and Thomas) and thought both could have been drafted a round or two higher than they were. Ford seemed like an odd choice to add to a loaded backfield, and York’s selection isn’t helped with Cleveland’s poor track record of kickers they drafted. No prospect Cleveland drafted is likely going to develop into a superstar, but there’s a fair enough number of contributors here to warrant keeping them above C level.

21. Carolina Panthers (C+): North Carolina State OT Ikem Ekwonu (1-6), Ole Miss QB Matt Corral (3-94), Penn State LB Brandon Smith (4-120), Virginia Tech EDGE Amare Barno (6-189), Tennessee G Cade Mays (6-199), Baylor CB Kalon Barnes (7-242)

Outside of Ekwonu, who should be an instant starter at left tackle, much of Carolina’s draft is based around projection. Corral has an incredibly high ceiling to me, but an RPO-heavy scheme at Ole Miss and inconsistency make him a difficult prospect to gauge. He reminds me of a more accurate Josh Allen; the arm and mobility are all there, but it’s a matter of giving him time to read NFL defenses. Smith and Barno both have the athletic profiles that teams covet, but can defensive coordinator Phil Snow put them in the right spots to optimize them? Mays should be a decent offensive line reserve, while Barnes’s blazing speed should put him in line for return duties. The Panthers don’t get a B because the floor is as low as the ceiling is high, which isn’t exactly going to make Matt Rhule any more comfortable.

22. Dallas Cowboys (C+): Tulsa OT Tyler Smith (1-24), Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams (2-56), South Alabama WR Jalen Tolbert (3-88), Wisconsin TE Jake Ferguson (4-129), North Dakota OT Matt Waletzko (5-155), Fresno State CB DaRon Bland (5-167), LSU LB Damone Clark (5-176), Arkansas DT John Ridgeway (5-178), Oklahoma State LB Devin Harper (6-193)

Part of the Cowboys’ grade comes from the fact that I liked their later picks more than their early ones. Smith was one of my least favorite picks in the first round, as he’s someone who faces a steep learning curve as an NFL tackle and could be better off transitioning to guard in the long run. The run-blocking ability is there and the youth is promising, but his technique isn’t first-round material. Williams has off-field issues, but the player he’s replacing in Randy Gregory was the same way. He put together his best season last year, but he’ll need to establish consistency quickly. Tolbert has the speed and ball skills necessary to be a good deep threat in the NFL. If Kellen Moore can help him with the nuances of the position, that could go a long way. Ferguson should serve as a nice in-line blocker complement to Dalton Schultz. Waletzko was a good choice for a developmental swing tackle. If he gets stronger, there’s a chance that the Cowboys have found their right tackle of the future. Clark won’t play in 2022 due to spinal fusion surgery, but he was a good choice in the fifth round. Bland, Ridgeway, and Harper are all quality depth pieces for the defense. Day 3 may have been the saving grace for the Cowboys, as I was not blown away with the rest of their draft at all.

23. Houston Texans (C+): LSU CB Derek Stingley Jr. (1-3), Texas A&M G Kenyon Green (1-15), Baylor S Jalen Pitre (2-37), Alabama WR John Metchie III (2-44), Alabama LB Christian Harris (3-75), Florida RB Dameon Pierce (4-107), Stanford DT Thomas Booker (5-150), Oregon State TE Teagan Quitoriano (5-170) LSU OT Austin Deculus (6-205)

As great as Stingley’s 2019 season was, he never got the chance to build off of it and now has some injury risks. It’s a great pick if it pays off, but it’s a huge gamble for a top-5 pick on a roster that needs almost everything. Green isn’t a bad prospect, but I preferred Tyler Linderbaum and Zion Johnson over him at this point. While Green has the ability to play tackle, he’ll almost certainly stay at guard in the NFL. Pitre was my favorite pick they made, as he’s a hybrid defender that NFL defensive coordinators love. He should instantly make the Texans more stout against the run, and his positional versatility is going to get him playing time right away. Metchie and Harris were both big risks to trade up for, whether due to injury concerns (Metchie) or rawness as a prospect (Harris). How the Texans develop both of them could determine how successful this draft was. Fantasy players should get to know Pierce. He was arguably the best running back at the Senior Bowl, and now finds himself in a backfield with little long-term competition. Booker will be a fine defensive line chess piece, while Quitoriano should serve as a sixth offensive lineman. Given how I was a fan of only one of the Texans’ first five picks, a low grade has to be given out.

24. Chicago Bears (C): Washington CB Kyler Gordon (2-39), Penn State S Jaquan Brisker (2-48), Tennessee WR Velus Jones Jr. (3-71), Southern Utah OT Braxton Jones (5-168), Miami (OH) EDGE Dominique Robinson (5-174), San Diego State OT Zachary Thomas (6-186), Baylor RB Trestan Ebner (6-203), Illinois C Doug Kramer (6-207), Southern G Ja’Tyre Carter (7-226), California S Elijah Hicks (7-254), North Carolina State P Trenton Gill (7-255)

The Bears draft confuses me. I want to like the selections of Gordon and Brisker, but they couldn’t have gone towards a receiver or offensive lineman to help Justin Fields? The secondary’s shored up for now, but at what cost? With all due respect to the player, I hate the Velus Jones selection. I know that he has amazing speed, but why are you drafting an older version of Darnell Mooney with better prospects still on the board? Braxton Jones, Thomas, Kramer, and Carter are all good developmental offensive linemen, so there’s that. I want to like this draft and the players they got early, but does it really help your franchise quarterback? I don’t know.

25. Los Angeles Rams (C): Wisconsin OT/G Logan Bruss (3-104), South Carolina State CB Decobie Durant (4-142), Notre Dame RB Kyren Williams (5-164), UCLA S Quentin Lake (6-211), Georgia CB Derion Kendrick (6-212), Montana State EDGE Daniel Hardy (6-235), Kansas State S Russ Yeast (7-253), Michigan State OT AJ Arcuri (7-261)

When this is your GM’s mentality towards premium draft capital, you can’t expect your team to do too much when the draft comes around. They tabbed another Wisconsin offensive lineman in Bruss to compete for the spot left by Austin Corbett. Durant should take Darious William’s slot corner role shortly, but it will be a steep learning curve for him. Williams has serious ball security issues, but he has the ceiling of a poor man’s Austin Ekeler. That’s good value for a fifth-round spot. Ditto for Kendrick in the sixth, who has cover skills but not the top-end speed you’d like to see in a cornerback. The Rams also like small-school edge rushers with good athleticism, so Hardy’s a good fit for them. Again, none of these picks will jump off the page, but winning the Super Bowl makes the lack of premium picks much easier to stomach.

26. Miami Dolphins (C): Georgia LB Channing Tindall (3-102), Texas Tech WR Erik Ezukanma (4-125), California LB Cameron Goode (7-224), Kansas State QB Skylar Thompson (7-247)

Tyreek Hill and trades from last season left the Dolphins without a pick in the top 100, so they would be hard-pressed to do anything notable. Tindall has sideline-to-sideline speed that will make him valuable. Expect him to show up on blitz packages as a rookie to play to his strengths. Ezukanma doesn’t have great speed or agility, but he brings size to a receiver room that lost a big target in DeVante Parker. Goode and Thompson are pure depth selections, nothing more. Tough to do much with just four picks.

27. Las Vegas Raiders (C): Memphis G Dylan Parham (3-90), Georgia RB Zamir White (4-122), LSU DT Neil Farrell Jr. (4-126), Tennessee DT Matthew Butler (5-175), Ohio State G Thayer Munford (7-238), UCLA RB Brittain Brown (7-250)

This may be a little harsh of a grade given that their first two picks landed them Davante Adams, but I can’t help but feel the Raiders left talent on the board. Parham has the athleticism that the Raiders love, but he’ll need to get stronger to win consistently against NFL defensive tackles. White’s a good power back who should fill either Josh Jacobs or Kenyan Drake’s roles next season, but I like Isaiah Spiller (who went to the Chargers with the very next pick) more as a prospect. I like both defensive tackles; Farrell is a pure nose tackle, while Butler should do well as a three-technique. Munford and Brown felt like redundant selections. Adams will make this class better than it probably is, so the good news is these rookies won’t have to do too much too early.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars (C-): Georgia EDGE Travon Walker (1-1), Utah LB Devin Lloyd (1-27), Kentucky C Luke Fortner (3-65), Wyoming LB Chad Muma (3-70), Ole Miss RB Snoop Conner (5-154), Ouachita Baptist CB Gregory Junior (6-197), Arkansas CB Montaric Brown (7-222)

Trent Baalke has gone all in on Walker, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Walker’s athletic profile is insane, but his production is terrifyingly low for a first overall pick. Both linebackers in Lloyd and Muma were good choices. Both should be incredibly versatile additions to the Jaguars defense, as they have shown up well against the run and the pass. Fortner was a necessary pick after the retirement of Brandon Linder. I don’t know if he’s ready to be a starter right away, but it was a big need to fill. There were better running backs than Conner available in the fifth round. Congratulations to Junior on being the first-ever prospect from Ouachita Baptist to be drafted, and his size and agility made him worth a Day 3 pick. This is a draft that will be defined by Walker’s career; if he busts out, Baalke is all but gone.

29. New Orleans Saints (C-): Ohio State WR Chris Olave (1-11), Northern Iowa OT Trevor Penning (1-19), Tennessee CB Alontae Taylor (2-49), Appalachian State LB D’Marco Jackson (5-161), Air Force DT Jordan Jackson (6-194)

Sacrificing more draft capital to go after Olave over a quarterback is a bit odd, but the Saints must have known a receiver run was coming. It shows confidence in Jameis Winston returning to form, and Olave’s fit in the New Orleans offense is as good as any prospect-team combination. Penning will fill in for Terron Armstead at left tackle, which is a bit of a concern. Penning’s a great athlete, but he needs to improve his pass protection and cut down on the penalties. Put Taylor in as one of my least favorite selections of the draft. His size-speed combination is tantalizing, but there are too many technical issues to warrant a top-50 selection. Both of the Jacksons, especially D’Marco, should be fine rotational pieces. The Saints need to invest in younger talent eventually, and the lack of quantity in this class can’t be a common occurrence in the future.

30. San Francisco 49ers (D+): USC EDGE Drake Jackson (2-61), LSU RB Tyrion Davis-Price (3-93), SMU WR Danny Gray (3-105), UTSA OT Spencer Burford (4-134), Toledo CB Samuel Womack (5-172), Fordham OT Nick Zakelj (6-187), UCF DT Kalia Davis (6-220), Penn State CB Tariq Castro-Fields (6-221), Iowa State QB Brock Purdy (7-262)

First things first, they still have a quarterback controversy between Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, so that’s not good. Jackson was a really nice pickup in the second round, and I can see him as a rotational piece in his rookie year before locking down a starting role opposite Nick Bosa next year. Davis-Price and Gray were not good selections, and they would have been available at least two rounds later. Burford and Zakelj will likely compete for the swing tackle role, with the loser likely going to have to kick inside to guard. Womack is a good sleeper candidate, and he could do really well in a slot corner role. Castro-Fields has good speed and cover ability, so watch him as well. Adding Purdy as this year’s Mr. Irrelevant was more funny than anything, given the 49ers current quarterback situation. Hard to think that the 49ers got great value out of anyone, and they need Jackson and one of their other selections to pan out to make this a success.

31. Washington Commanders (D): Penn State WR Jahan Dotson (1-16), Alabama DT Phidarian Mathis (2-47), Alabama RB Brian Robinson Jr. (3-98), Louisiana S Percy Butler (4-113), North Carolina QB Sam Howell (5-144), Nevada TE Cole Turner (5-149), Tulsa G Chris Paul (7-230), Oklahoma State CB Christian Holmes (7-240)

What was odder about the Dotson pick than reaching for a receiver was that they traded their original pick to a receiver-needy team in New Orleans. I understand Washington’s rebuilding and the extra picks can help, but the difference between Chris Olave and Dotson is probably more significant. Mathis and Robinson should both be good contributors, but I can’t help but feel they were drafted a round early and over prospects with higher ceilings at their positions. Howell is amazing value in the fifth round, as he reunites with former North Carolina receiver Dyami Brown and as a whole slew of deep threats to throw lasers to. Don’t be surprised if he competes against Carson Wentz if the veteran struggles again. Butler is a good choice for safety depth, Turner should get a chance to compete for snaps, and Paul should fill in nicely as a swing guard. Howell could easily turn this draft into a positive for the Commanders, but the early reaches sank this grade.

32. New England Patriots (D-): Chattanooga G Cole Strange (1-29), Baylor WR Tyquan Thornton (2-50), Houston CB Marcus Jones (3-85), Arizona State CB Jack Jones (4-121), South Dakota State RB Pierre Strong Jr. (4-127), Western Kentucky QB Bailey Zappe (4-137), South Carolina RB Kevin Harris (6-183), Northwest Missouri State DT Sam Roberts (6-200), LSU G Chasen Hines (6-210), Michigan OT Andrew Stueber (7-245)

If New England was run by any other coach or executive, there would have been calls for his firing by now. Strange and Thornton were far away the two biggest reaches in the draft. Both prospects would likely have been on the board for them two or three rounds later, so using premium picks for either was bizarre. I like both Marcus and Jack Jones, but both fulfill the same exact archetype. Ditto for Strong and Harris. Zappe is a nice backup option and the rest of their picks seem like good depth, but it’s all been too confusing. Belichick has to have a plan for all of this…right?

NHL Power Rankings: Post-All Star Edition

Image Credit: Minas Pangiotakis/Getty Images

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.

NHL Power Rankings: February Edition

Image Credit: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s been a little while, but the NHL Power Rankings are back in full swing.

First of all, I would like to apologize for the brief hiatus from the blog. I have been insanely busy with real-life obligations for the last couple of weeks, and it required me to put this on the backburner for a minute to handle it. I have also had time to conceptualize a new project for this blog, and more information of that will be coming up shortly, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the past couple of weeks have seen the NHL landscape start to even out a bit. We’re starting to determine where teams truly stand, and that could mean big things for the trade deadline in March. Rumors are beginning to swirl around several big-time players, and teams like Washington, Boston, and Edmonton are emerging as aggressive buyer candidates going forward. While the Stanley Cup can’t be won off the back of a strong first half, it does make some serious inferences on who should be taken seriously as legitimate contenders?

So how does the NHL stack up this week?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since January 30.

1. Colorado Avalanche (2): There’s a long list of reasons to watch the best team in the NHL right now, but the top of the list has to be watching Cale Makar. Makar is pushing the forty-goal mark, which would be the first time a defenseman has hit that number in over 35 years (Paul Coffey).

2. Florida Panthers (1): Jonathan Huberdeau was once the best player no one’s ever heard of; now he has a real chance to win the Hart Trophy this season. His 62 points are leading the NHL, and he has become the driving force behind the hottest offense in the league at this time.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (3): I had serious doubts when Carolina shifted away from their goaltending duo last season in favor of Frederik Andersen. He has rewarded the Hurricanes with a Vezina-caliber year.

4. Minnesota Wild (12): It’s amazing how the addition of a single player can shift a team from the middle of the pack to among the league’s elite so quickly. Kirill Kaprizov and crew could use a center at the deadline, but the results have this team looking like a dark horse to finally bring the Stanley Cup to the state of hockey.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (5): Everything is still the same: the elite players are rolling, depth contributions have been up, and Andrei Vasilevskiy still looks like the best goaltender on Earth. It’s odd, however, to think that their biggest competition for their third straight Stanley Cup may be in their own home state.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (7): Do you think the Coyotes are kicking themselves for letting Michael Bunting head north of the border? He’s been one of the quality depth forwards that Toronto has been coveting for years.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (4): The Penguins didn’t look as strong this past week, and players like Evan Rodrigues have started to slow down a bit after a torrid start. We’ve seen good teams break out of slumps like this before, though, so there’s nothing to be concerned about long-term.

8. Vegas Golden Knights (8): 2022 hasn’t been kind to the Knights so far, but a 2-1-1 record on a difficult East Coast road trip could be the start of things turning around for them. The fact this team still looks like the best team in the Pacific despite the serious injuries is a scary thought for the postseason.

9. New York Rangers (9): The analytics haven’t always been favorable towards the Rangers, and they’ve been bailed out far too many times by Igor Shesterkin. This is a good young team, but there are serious flaws that have to be addressed in the next month or so.

10. Boston Bruins (13): Tuukka Rask has been extremely up-and-down since returning to the Bruins, but that was to be expected with such a long layoff. With an aging core and Patrice Bergeron possibly leaving in the offseason, could they go after a player like Claude Giroux to make one more serious Cup run?

11. Nashville Predators (6): Once again, the Predators seem to have the on-ice results to keep holding off a rebuild. Will they be willing to extend Filip Forsberg past this season?

12. St. Louis Blues (11): We may be in the midst of a full-blown goalie controversy in St. Louis. Jordan Binnington’s mediocre season has opened the door for Ville Husso, and the young backup has been more than good enough to earn more opportunities.

13. Calgary Flames (17): Calgary put together the most dominant performance of the season against Columbus, putting up 62 shots in a 6-0 victory. With games in hand of Pacific Division-leading Vegas, that could be a race to monitor as the season progresses.

14. Washington Capitals (10): It’s becoming clear that the Capitals are interested in upgrading their goaltending, and the name they’ve circled is Marc-Andre Fleury. Could you imagine a first-round playoff series between Pittsburgh and Washington with MAF in a Capitals jersey?

15. Anaheim Ducks (14): John Gibson is stealing games, Troy Terry is still producing, and Trevor Zegras continues to produce mind-boggling highlights. The rebuild seems to be reaching a critical phase in Anaheim.

16. Dallas Stars (15): The Stars look good lately, but it seems like they’ve always followed up good runs with equally bad ones. It’s hard to trust them until we see them have this type of success with any sort of consistency.

17. Edmonton Oilers (21): A four-game winning streak has pulled Dave Tippett and Ken Holland out of the fire for now. Can they continue this success with the pressure somewhat alleviated, and will Evander Kane be an asset or a detriment to the locker room?

18. Los Angeles Kings (18): The Kings seem to be a fringe playoff contender at the moment, which could be somewhat disappointing given how high expectations were for them. A strong second half from Quinton Byfield would be huge in pushing them to the postseason without having to make any big trades.

19. New York Islanders (27): They’ve looked better in recent times, but a losing streak at this point would all but end the Islanders’ postseason ambitions. Ilya Sorokin can’t do this on his own, unless he can start scoring goals from his net.

20. Vancouver Canucks (16): The Canucks have cooled off recently, going from winning the first seven games with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench to .500 in the next twelve. Would they potentially trade J.T. Miller if the price is right?

21. Winnipeg Jets (19): Connor Hellebuyck has endured a down season to this point, which is concerning at this stage. Wasting a season where Kyle Connor has been producing outstanding offensive numbers would be disappointing, to say the least.

22. San Jose Sharks (20): The Sharks were already trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff picture. Losing Erik Karlsson might be the cannonball that sinks their ship.

23. Detroit Red Wings (22): The Red Wings have started to cool down, and it seems that they’ll be on the outside looking in the Eastern Conference by the time April rolls around. At least they’ll have two lottery tickets at the Calder Trophy?

24. Chicago Blackhawks (25): The vultures have started to circle Chicago to pick off pieces from them, and players like Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik are starting to worry fans about stalled development. Alex DeBrincat is still sniping goals, though…yay?

25. Columbus Blue Jackets (23): Losing 6-0 to Calgary with 62 shots is worthy of an apology to Elvis Merzlikins. It’s hard to get much worse than that.

26. Seattle Kraken (29): The Kraken are currently on one of those stretches where they’ve been playing better. It still won’t stop them from moving pieces at the deadline, though.

27. Ottawa Senators (28): Drake Batherson was arguably Ottawa’s best player all season. Losing him to long-term injury makes a bad team even worse.

28. Buffalo Sabres (30): The early returns on Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs have been promising, so they might turn out ok after trading Jack Eichel. It’s one of the few positive things going on in Buffalo right now.

29. New Jersey Devils (26): They’ve only won six games between December and January, and are now last in the Metropolitan behind a Flyers team that has had two massive losing streaks. I’ll be respectful towards Lindy Ruff, though, given recent circumstances.

30. Philadelphia Flyers (24): The good news is the Flyers broke their thirteen-game losing streak. The bad news is that it was their only win in January.

31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The Coyotes have already been dealing with massive issues, and now they might be playing in a college stadium for the next three years? Gary Bettman’s pet project is on life support and fading fast.

32. Montreal Canadiens (32): Thank you, Canadiens. Thank you for telling us you’ve given up.

NHL Power Ranking: Futures Edition

Image credit: Stockton Heat

Time for an interesting version of the NHL Power Rankings this week.

I could wax rhetoric about Joe Thornton being only the sixth player in NHL history to surpass 1,700 games, or Marc-Andre Fleury becoming the first goaltender to defeat all 32 NHL teams, or even Cale Makar’s near-historic scoring pace for a defenseman. However, there really isn’t much to talk about. Some teams have played very little or not at all since the start of 2022, and the teams that have have mostly trended in the same directions. There didn’t seem to be enough anecdotes to make a compelling assessment on how the NHL was stacking up.

However, the junior leagues and international hockey is still going on, so it got me to thinking. Teams wait for years for the prospects they draft to mature and develop into NHL-caliber players, and each year seems to introduce at least one young player who appears to have such potential. With that in mind, why not make this list about these prospects? For these rankings, in lieu of discussing the week each team had or any significant statistic regarding a player, I’ll discuss a prospect who is worth keeping an eye on as they continue their journey to reach the NHL one day.

So which prospect is worth watching out for on your team and, more importantly, how does the NHL stack up this time?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded since January 9.

1. Florida Panthers (1): In his second professional season, Cole Schwindt has started making an impact. The AHL’s Rookie of the Month in December, Schwindt’s strong season gave the Panthers enough confidence in him to make his NHL debut.

2. Colorado Avalanche (3): It’s worrying to think that Colorado may have another offensive threat in the works, but it feels that way with Oskar Olausson. The Avalanche’s first-round pick in the 2021 Draft, Olausson is scoring at a point-per-game pace in his first season in North America.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (2): The loss of Alex Nedeljkovic this offseason is somewhat offset by the continued development of goaltenders. Eetu Makiniemi, for instance, has been a revelation for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL with an 11-2-1 record, 2.06 GAA, and .922 save percentage.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (6): The Penguins have one of the more barren farm systems in the NHL, but don’t tell that to prospects like Joel Blomqvist. After being overshadowed by 2020 draft classmate Calle Clang, Blomqvist has recorded an insane 0.93 GAA in 10 games in Finland’s top hockey league.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (9): Great teams like the Lightning know how to strike in the late rounds of a draft, and they might have found a great value in Jaydon Dureau. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Dureau has translated in success in the WHL to time with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, including scoring his first professional goal this season.

6. Nashville Predators (10): After an up-and-down professional debut in the AHL, Luke Evangelista returned to the OHL with resounding success. Scoring at a near goal-per-game pace, Evangelista’s 23 goals already match his total from his last season in the OHL in a third of the games (24 games to reach that mark compared to 2019’s 62).

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (4): It took some time, but it seems that Topi Niemela is progressing towards the NHL. Despite playing for one of Finland’s top teams, Niemela’s 24 points is good for third on his squad as a defenseman.

8. Vegas Golden Knights (5): The Knights have developed a nice reputation at making value choices in their short history, and Jakub Demek is looking like the latest in that group. Vegas’s fourth-round selection in 2021, Demek has burst on the scene with a point-per-game season in his first year in North America.

9. New York Rangers (8): Even if the Rangers trade Alexandar Georgiev, Igor Shesterkin may have a battery mate in the near future in Dylan Garand. A standout for the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, Garand is putting together a career-best season with a 1.86 GAA and .930 save percentage.

10. Washington Capitals (7): While Hendrix Lapierre draws the headlines in Washington’s farm system, the Capitals may get a boost on their defense soon with Vincent Iorio. A 2021 second-round pick, Iorio is on pace to have a career year for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL.

11. St. Louis Blues (11): With Scott Perunovich locking down a full-time NHL role, Jake Neighbours takes his place as St. Louis’s top prospect. After a solid nine-game stint with the Blues, Neighbours has returned to the WHL and continues to dominate with his physical two-way game.

12. Minnesota Wild (12): First-round goaltenders do carry a bit of risk, but Jesper Wallstedt has done a nice job in repaying Minnesota’s trust. Despite a 9-8 record in the Swedish Hockey League, Wallstedt’s 1.82 GAA and .923 save percentage paint a better picture of how special of a talent he is.

13. Boston Bruins (15): Boston’s 2020 draft class was met with some criticism, but defenseman Mason Lohrei has a done nice job representing it. Playing for Ohio State, Lohrei’s 18 points are good for second amongst all Buckeyes.

14. Anaheim Ducks (14): Olen Zellweger was a fast riser on draft boards last year, and he’s continued to show why. A point-per-game producer on defense in both league and international play last year, Zellweger has been dominant at both ends of the ice this year in the WHL.

15. Dallas Stars (21): The Stars will take any offensive production they can get, so Mavrik Bourque’s development has to be a positive sign for them. Despite injury concerns, Bourque has been impressive in his two seasons as a Stars prospect, including a good stint for the AHL’s Texas Stars.

16. Vancouver Canucks (16): While Jim Benning’s run as Vancouver GM will likely be remembered in infamy, he may have given the Canucks a diamond in the rough in Aidan McDonough. A seventh-round pick in 2019, McDonough has been a star for Northeastern University the past three seasons, including a point-per-game season this year.

17. Calgary Flames (13): If the title picture wasn’t a dead giveaway, I am and have always been a Dustin Wolf truther. After a rough first season in the AHL, Wolf has put together a dominant sophomore campaign with a 16-1-2 record, 1.92 GAA, and .936 save percentage.

18. Los Angeles Kings (18): While the Kings have the best farm system in the NHL, their best player so far has been Toronto transplant Sean Durzi. One of the pieces in the Jake Muzzin trade, Durzi has split time between the NHL and AHL this season and has looked good in both.

19. Winnipeg Jets (17): When a young player like Dmitri Rashevsky does well in the KHL, that’s enough of a signal to take notice. A fifth-round pick in 2021, Rashevsky’s first full season in the KHL has him third on his team in goals (19) and points (35).

20. San Jose Sharks (22): Getting progress out of mid-round picks like Brandon Coe will certainly help the Sharks accelerate their current rebuild. A fourth-round pick in 2020, Coe is one point away from matching his previous OHL total of 57 in just over half of the games.

21. Edmonton Oilers (19): Not even the most optimistic of Edmonton fans could have seen Matvei Petrov’s rise coming. A sixth-round pick in 2021, Petrov’s first season in North America has him second behind the aforementioned Brandon Coe in scoring for the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.

22. Detroit Red Wings (23): Another team that took the plunge on a first-round goaltender, the Red Wings are hoping Sebastian Cossa can be the next great Detroit netminder. While he isn’t having the same success as last year’s incredible run, Cossa has continued to be a steady presence in net for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings.

23. Columbus Blue Jackets (24): While Columbus is rebuilding its pool of high-end talent, they have one of the more underrated prospects in hockey in Trey Fix-Wolansky. After a lost season last year due to injury, Fix-Wolansky has picked up right where he left off and has put together great numbers for the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters.

24. Philadelphia Flyers (20): Connor McClennon was one of my favorite picks in the 2020 Draft, and he’s continued to show why. A sixth-round pick by the Flyers, McClennon leads the WHL’s Winnipeg Ice in goals with 25.

25. Chicago Blackhawks (25): Germany has become a hotbed for top hockey talent in recent years, and Lukas Reichel is hoping to make his mark in the NHL soon. Chicago’s first-round pick in 2020, Reichel is currently leading the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs in goals (10) and points (20) in his debut season in North America.

26. New Jersey Devils (26): Aside from having one of the best names in hockey, Akira Schmid is starting to come around as a solid young goaltender. While his stint in New Jersey showed a clear need for improvement, he earned that stint by going 8-0-2 with the AHL’s Utica Comets to go with a 1.60 GAA and .944 save percentage.

27. New York Islanders (27): While the Islanders’ farm system is devoid of a true top talent, William Dufour is doing his best to get himself noticed. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Dufour has already put together career-best numbers in the QMJHL with 22 goals and 47 points.

28. Ottawa Senators (28): The Senators have built a solid pipeline with the University of North Dakota, with Jake Sanderson looking like the crown jewel. The fifth overall pick in 2020, Sanderson’s 22 points are tied for the team lead for the Fighting Hawks.

29. Seattle Kraken (29): Being the NHL’s newest franchise means not having much to choose from for this topic, but the Kraken may have found something with Ryker Evans. A surprising second-round pick due to his age, Evans is currently on pace to have a career year in the WHL.

30. Buffalo Sabres (30): Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is emerging as Buffalo’s top netminder, and Devon Levi is hoping to make his own impact in the Sabres’ system. Coming over in the Sam Reinhart trade from Florida, Levi has been lights out for Northeastern University with a 15-4-1 record, 1.19 GAA, and .958 save percentage.

31. Arizona Coyotes (31): The lost season for the Coyotes could give younger players like Matias Maccelli a chance to prove their worth at the NHL level. A fourth-round pick in 2019, Maccelli has put up a point per game in the AHL after a successful stint in Finland.

32. Montreal Canadiens (32): Marc Bergevin’s final draft will forever be remembered for the controversial first-round pick of Logan Mailloux, so he’ll have to produce at a high level. In Mailloux’s first two games back in the OHL, he already has two goals and four points.

NHL Power Rankings: New Year’s Edition

Image Credit: USA Today Sports

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.

Nerd Rage: Urban Meyer and the Disaster in Duval

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On the morning of December 16, the city of Jacksonville awoke to a shocking development: Urban Meyer had been fired from his position as Jacksonville Jaguars head coach.

It was news that was met by surprise, questioning and, in some cases, pure jubilation. Even to the average NFL fan, Meyer was spinning a web of controversy that he himself was eventually unable to get out of. Meyer’s run with the Jaguars goes down as tied for the third-shortest head coaching stint in NFL history (depending on if you count Bill Belichick’s one day run with the Jets.)

However, to the uninitiated, one would be fair to ask how this happened. Monumental disasters like this aren’t just the cause of isolated incidents. How could the tenure of a man who was once seen as the great savior of Jacksonville football fall apart this quickly and with such magnitude?

To answer such a question, we must take a trip in the time machine to January. Meyer was being introduced to the Jaguars faithful as their new head coach. Shad Khan, the man who had overseen countless regime changes in his decade of owning the team, was firmly under the impression that he had finally found his great football coach. The decision to hire Meyer wasn’t the most shocking of that year’s coaching cycle, but it came with a great degree of risk.

The stigma of college coaches to the NFL stems from a simple theory: the college and professional environments are almost completely different. Coaches no longer have near-total control of their rosters. They must work to sign and draft the right players, instead of recruiting from a near-endless swath of four or five-star athletes. Players at the professional level have their own families and must also make decisions that are best for them, not just based on their own personal ambitions.

It reflects in the lack of success of college coaches at the NFL level: the only one who can safely be considered a successful hire was Jim Harbaugh. Chip Kelly and Bill O’Brien had winning records, but their terrible personnel-making decisions tarnished their reputations. The list bottoms out with former Louisville Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino’s run with the Atlanta Falcons. He not only lasted only thirteen games before bolting back to the college ranks, but engineered the most spineless exit in not just NFL history, but in all of sports.

If that was the only concern regarding Meyer, that might have been worth little more than a few raised eyebrows. Alas, there were more red flags to Meyer than the college stigma. His last job at Ohio State ended in controversy, mostly revolving around domestic abuse allegations against one of Meyer’s assistants. Ohio State’s investigation confirmed that Meyer had knowledge about the allegations in the last few years, only firing the assistant when a protection order was filed against him. Meyer was only suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season for his role in the incident, but the damage was done. He would resign after that season due to health concerns; it wasn’t entirely false (Meyer was diagnosed with a brain cyst at the time and needed proper medical treatment), but it’s likely that his knowledge of the allegations made this a mutual parting of ways.

It wasn’t even just at Ohio State; the culture he built at Florida was arguably even more alarming. In Florida, Meyer not only allowed a toxic culture that prioritized championships over character to fester, but actively enabled it. How else could you explain the 31 arrests that took place in Meyer’s time as Florida’s head coach? Even worse was Meyer’s “Circle of Trust,” a group of elite players that were reportedly given preferential treatment by their coach. Percy Harvin physically assaulted a wide receivers coach during the 2008 championship season, but received no discipline over it. Players like Harvin and Aaron Hernandez failed drug tests, but Meyer passed their absence off as injuries. Reports were even circulating that Meyer helped Hernandez evade trouble for multiple drug test failures and reported acts of violence. It was the stuff that ESPN’s 30 for 30 specials are made for. Meyer would also resign from Florida for health concerns, but how much of that was the on-field product no longer outshining the seedy underbelly off of it?

When you add those two controversy-ridden stints, you can understand why Meyer was a boom-or-bust proposition at the NFL level. Little did anyone know that the drama would start far sooner than anticipated.

A month later, Meyer would hire former Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle to be the Jaguars’ new Director of Sports Performance. Seemed liked a boy’s club hire at worst…until you realize why Doyle was out from the Iowa program in the first place. In June 2020, several former Iowa players spoke out about racial disparities within the program, with Doyle being namedropped as one of the key perpetrators. Incidents such as calling out former defensive tackle and future Vikings draft pick Jaleel Johnson during a workout and telling a former linebacker if he considered taking up rowing before saying “black people don’t like boats in water” are just a couple of the most concerning things to come out of these allegations. Doyle resigned the next day due to not wanting to be a distraction, but Meyer’s tenure already had a black eye just a month in.

Good news is, until the 2021 Draft, things remained relatively quiet. The Jaguars, with the first pick in the Draft, unsurprisingly took Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, widely regarded as the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. The real questions started with their second pick of the first round, when they drafted another Clemson player in running back Travis Etienne. There were plenty of issues surrounding the pick. Running backs tend to have short shelf lives in the NFL. Rumors came out that the Jaguars were coveting Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney with the pick. First-round picks should be used for premium players at positions of need, not third-down backs like Meyer fashioned Etienne to be. Unfortunately for Meyer, a Lisfranc foot injury would cut his rookie season short. Rotten luck, more than anything.

However, the preseason wouldn’t be dominated with headlines about either of the former Clemson stars. Shortly after the draft, Meyer decided to phone a friend to bring him aboard. He would bring in a true legend: Tim Tebow…at tight end. It wasn’t a terrible idea, in all honesty; had Tebow swallowed his pride and converted to the positions after his run as the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback was over, it would’ve been intriguing. The problem is that Tebow was 33 at the time of signing with Jacksonville, and was converting positions with no formal training. How shocking was it that Tebow struggled to block when thrust into action during the preseason? Tebow’s tenure would last three months before he was part of the Jaguars’ first roster cuts.

Preseason activities had more concerning reports attached to them. Meyer and the Jaguars were fined for breaking the non-contact rule for OTAs prior to training camp. Jaguars players were reportedly not thrilled about Meyer trying to implement college-style techniques into professional practices. Meyer stating that a player’s vaccination status was “certainly in consideration” for roster cuts, despite the NFLPA not requiring vaccinations at the time. A lot of controversy was starting to swirl, but there was good news; the Jaguars were facing the Houston Texans in the season opener. Meyer’s regular season debut was against a team that many pundits were already labeling as the worst team in the NFL. What could possibly go wrong?

The correct answer was everything. The game was more dominating for the Texans than the final score would suggest. Lawrence’s debut was a misfire, with much of his production coming when the game was already well out of reach. The team shot themselves in the foot repeatedly with ten penalties called against them. The lack of preparation against a supposed doormat was on full display. The sad part is that the game wouldn’t be the most damning statement of Meyer’s performance that day. A report by CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora came out before the game, mentioning that Meyer was not taking his losses in the preseason well and lashing out at his coaching staff after games. A loss off the field to compound the one on it.

It wouldn’t get much better. After the Jaguars dropped their Week 2 game to the Denver Broncos, Meyer told Broncos coach Vic Fangio that the NFL was “like playing Alabama every week.” Even with that remark, the worst of Meyer’s early days was yet to come. On Thursday Night Football in Week 4, the Jaguars would blow a first-half lead to the Cincinnati Bengals and drop to 0-4 on the season. Normally, coaches would want to be with the team after a tough loss, evaluate what needs to be fixed, and use the long week to plan for the next opponent. Meyer took a different approach: he didn’t travel with the team to Jacksonville and instead went back to his old stomping grounds of Columbus to visit family. A bit strange, but at least the intentions were noble…on the surface.

Instead, much more came out of the return home than expected. A couple of days after the game, a viral video appeared on Twitter showing Meyer at an Ohio bar with a young woman dancing up against him. The cracks that had been forming between Meyer and the Jaguars grew wider as a result. Players were (rightfully) incensed by the actions of their coach, resulting in a total loss of respect of Meyer throughout the locker room. Jaguars executives held closed-door meetings in regard to Meyer’s conduct, possibly arguing about whether the coach had violated a “morals clause” in his contract that could be grounds for dismissal. Even Shad Khan released a statement calling Meyer’s conduct “inexcusable” and that the coach “must regain our trust and respect.” When the team is discussing the feasibility of the coach’s future with the team just a month into the season, that is the sign of a massive problem.

Fortunately, the tension died down over the next month or so. Little drama seeped out of the organization at the time since the bar video. Meyer even managed to pick up his first two NFL wins against Miami and Buffalo. Cue the craziest college football coaching carousel in recent memory. There were plenty of high-profile openings at the time, and questions began to swirl regarding Meyer’s availability. One of the jobs that opened up was Notre Dame, a position that Meyer once stated was his dream job. USC and Oklahoma were also linked in some capacity to Meyer, but the coach would commit to rebuilding the Jaguars and not return to the college ranks, unlike Petrino. It would just be a matter of if he got the chance.

By this time, it was clear that Meyer was having a difficult time adjusting to the rigors of NFL coaching, even as the season was reaching the late stages. He didn’t trust Lawrence with a fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak to tie a game against the Tennessee Titans late, despite the quarterback saying he was confident in his ability to execute the play. He benched one of the team’s best offensive players in James Robinson after an early fumble against the Los Angeles Rams in favor of former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, only to bring Robinson back for a few carries in garbage time. In the team’s second game against the Titans, he talked about third-round rookie Andre Cisco playing more, despite Cisco playing zero defensive snaps in that game.

The reports of the off-field dysfunction surrounding the team were also raging like wildfire at this point, with all aspects of the organization seemingly against Meyer. A report from NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero depicted that locker room leaders such as Marvin Jones Jr. had grown adversarial towards Meyer, as well as some of Meyer’s assistants jumping off the burning ship at the first opportunity. The assistants who remained were tired of their constant humiliation at the hands of Meyer and being forced to defend their resumes for their coach, despite the 2-11 record. Meyer did himself no favors when he denied the Pelissero report, saying that anyone in the Jaguars organization under him who wanted to play whistleblower would find themselves unemployed. Everything was going wrong. A toxic culture was growing under Meyer’s watch once again. The situation had become a powder keg, practically begging for a spark to ignite it.

Then came the kicker…quite literally. Before a practice session in August, then-kicker Josh Lambo was stretching. The preseason wasn’t going as planned, with Lambo missing a field goal in each of the Jaguars’ first two preseason games. Meyer was apparently incensed with this, going over to Lambo during his stretches and telling him to make his kicks…before kicking Lambo in the leg. When Lambo confronted Meyer about his actions, Meyer responded by telling Lambo “I’m the head ball coach, I’ll kick you whenever the f**k I want.” The next morning, Meyer and Lambo had a conversation where the coach said that if the kicker confronted him again, he would be gone.

Forget the fact that Meyer’s remarks towards Lambo lacked any sort of professionalism; he outright struck one of his own players. Whatever chance there was of Meyer regaining any semblance of respect in the Jaguars locker room was gone with the release of Lambo’s story. Despite Shad Khan wanting to stay the course with Meyer until at least the end of the season, such a scenario had now become impossible. For the sake of the immediate and long-term future of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Meyer had to go.

It leads us to the present day. Meyer’s reputation as a coach is now in flames, with little hope of ever recovering. Whatever on-field success he’s had is forever tarnished by his failures of building a sustainable culture. He had been tasked to lead a great era of Jacksonville football only to leave the team arguably worse off, and he hadn’t even been in the organization for a full year. Even with four years left on his contract, there’s a chance that he doesn’t even see any of the money left on the deal. A catastrophic failure on all fronts.

It makes me feel somewhat bad for college coaches who actually do have legitimate chances at making it at the NFL level. I feel bad for Matt Campbell, who has turned Iowa State into a legitimate Big 12 contender and received offers from NFL teams as recently as the last coaching cycle. I feel bad for Lincoln Riley, who has been a popular name to bring up for NFL coaching jobs in the past and could see interest skyrocket if he can return USC to its former glory. I feel bad for Ryan Day, Meyer’s successor at Ohio State who has developed two great quarterbacks and looks to be a name to mark down for the future. I feel bad for Luke Fickell, who took a mid-major program in Cincinnati and led them to become the first-ever Group of 5 school to make the College Football Playoff. These four men all have legitimate futures in the NFL at some point but, with Meyer’s tenure playing out as a nuclear winter scenario, who knows if their candidacies have been hurt?

While Khan and the Jaguars do deserve some blame for ignoring the obvious red flags on Meyer’s resume, they do deserve credit for their handling of the situation. They realized their mistake, took accountability, and acted quickly enough to keep the situation from growing any worse. As a result, they have been rewarded with something truly rare in the sports world: a second chance. There are plenty of candidates who should appeal to the Jaguars and, most importantly, help Lawrence shake off a disastrous rookie season that might not be entirely his fault. With some of the options they’ll have available, including former Jaguars quarterback and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to land the right man for the job this time.

The Jaguars need to take their next coaching search seriously in order to avoid another debacle like the Urban Meyer era. They owe their players, their fans, and themselves at least that much.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 9 Edition

Image Credit: NHL

We are rapidly approaching the Christmas break of the NHL season, and it’s nice of the league to have some nice gifts for us.

This has been a week of streaks, where unexpected teams have come out of the woodwork to emerge as potential playoff contenders. The Colorado Avalanche have emerged from a shaky start to return to what they were expected to be in October: a Stanley Cup contender. Meanwhile, the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks have been pleasant surprises this season by way of resurgent seasons from veterans or young players finally breaking out.

However, this week has made many top teams from last week’s rankings look relatively average. The Oilers and Flames have gone on long losing streaks after looking like the top teams in the Pacific Division. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes suffered tough losses to the likes of Ottawa and Vancouver, respectively. It’s the parity of the league on full display; any team can pull out a victory on any given night.

So how does the NHL stack up?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on games played and stats recorded from December 12.

1. Florida Panthers (1): It was a bit of a rough week for the Panthers, but going .500 on a tough stretch without their best player is respectable enough to keep the top spot. Be forewarned, though; their grip on the top spot is tenuous, at best.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (5): The loss to Vancouver ended the week on a sour note for the Hurricanes, who had four straight wins prior to that. It’s fitting that the loss came without Sebastian Aho; he’s currently riding a five-game streak of scoring at least two points.

3. Colorado Avalanche (10): The Avalanche won all four of their games this week, have won twelve of their last fifteen games, and have scored at least six goals in their last three games. Their victory against Florida was all I needed to see; the Avs are back where they belong.

4. Minnesota Wild (2): Losing to LA and Vegas to end the week was rough, but those two have been their only losses in the last ten games. If the Kevin Fiala trade rumors are to be believed, the Wild could be in on some of the big trade targets at the deadline.

5. Washington Capitals (4): Alex Ovechkin has been impressive enough on his own, but the Capitals leading the Metropolitan Division without many key players is terrifying. Imagine how good this team might be when the likes of Nicklas Backstrom come back.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning (6): The Lightning haven’t been bad enough to drop and, to Ottawa’s credit, they’ve won against pretty stiff competition these days. That, and Tampa Bay defeating the team below them keeps them even this week.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (3): The defensive play that helped the Leafs get off to a fantastic start has faltered since the calendar turned to December. The Leafs have let go of at least three goals in every game this month, and at least four goals in their last five games.

8. Anaheim Ducks (12): The Troy Terry breakout looks legitimate, and the Ducks have continued to stay competitive. Also, credit Trevor Zegras and Sonny Milano for the new Goal of the Year favorite (and giving another reason for NHL teams to stay away from John Tortorella.)

9. Vegas Golden Knights (13): Breaking Philadelphia’s losing streak was outweighed with strong performances about then-hot teams in Dallas, Calgary, and Minnesota. The offense has predictably come back with the returns of their top players, but the goaltending has to get better if the Knights want to sustain this recent success.

10. Nashville Predators (19): I’m not a fan of spikes or drops like this, but a strange week has made it absolutely possible. That, and the Predators have the longest active winning streak in the league at five, including their last four games on the road.

11. New York Rangers (9): A blown call against Buffalo led to the Rangers’ only win this week, Chris Kreider has slowed down, and goaltending has struggled without Igor Shesterkin. The concerns about the Rangers being top-heavy were at least somewhat validated.

12. St. Louis Blues (16): With the Blues being rattled with injuries, they’ve needed players to step up in increased roles. This week was Nathan Walker’s turn to rise to the occasion, as the NHL’s only Aussie player picked up his first career hat trick against Detroit.

13. Pittsburgh Penguins (17): Another team that’s suffered from the injury bug got more bad news with leading scorer Jake Guentzel needing to miss more time. However, the Penguins are still on pace for another 100-point season, so can we really count them out at this stage?

14. Boston Bruins (14): Depth scoring has still been an issue, but the metrics show the Bruins as being more unlucky than bad. This is still a playoff-caliber team, but Boston could use some good bounces to improve on their current standing.

15. Edmonton Oilers (7): The old issues that have haunted the Oilers for years have re-emerged, and it’s led to Edmonton dropping five games in a row. Streaks like this are why I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edmonton as the most aggressive buyer at the trade deadline.

16. Calgary Flames (8): The Oilers’ cross-province rival isn’t doing so hot themselves, no pun intended. The Flames have lost four in a row, and now will have their next three games postponed due to COVID.

17. Los Angeles Kings (21): I will actively vouch for Jonathan Quick to make it to the All-Star game this year. He is the sole reason the Kings are anywhere close to the playoff picture right now.

18. Winnipeg Jets (18): Same story this week as usual: Kyle Connor’s been fantastic, but the rest of Winnipeg’s top players are middling at best. Not good news in a Central Division that’s looked more competitive than expected.

19. Dallas Stars (11): After an impressive winning streak, dropping three in a row has the Stars trending back in the wrong direction. A stretch against Central Division opponents could be the litmus test of where Dallas truly is.

20. Detroit Red Wings (15): Sure, this season has been all about progress for the Red Wings, but three blowout losses in the past week is not a good look. Hopefully, this doesn’t lead to a confidence-breaking losing streak for the young Wings.

21. San Jose Sharks (22): Jonathan Dahlen and James Reimer barely saw any NHL playing time down the stretch last season. Now, both have become key players for a Sharks team that’s been somewhat better than anticipated.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets (20): It feels like the Jackets could use Patrik Laine back, but it may be even more important to give Elvis Merzlikins a reliable battery mate. Daniil Tarasov hasn’t gotten his first NHL victory yet, but do the otherwise solid stats give him a chance to unseat a struggling Joonas Korpisalo?

23. Vancouver Canucks (27): Give Bruce Boudreau some credit; he took a Canucks team in despair and has fired off four straight wins out of them. The difference in moods of Canucks fans last month and now have been night and day.

24. Ottawa Senators (28): The Senators have won four of their last five games, including wins against Carolina, Colorado, and Tampa Bay. Are we sure Brady Tkachuk isn’t real-life Peter Parker?; he’s been playing his best hockey of the season since the Brendan Lemieux bite.

25. Seattle Kraken (23): A couple of bad losses squandered the momentum that the Kraken seemed to be creating. Can anyone think of a bigger disappointment this season than the Philipp Grubauer/Chris Driedger goalie tandem?

26. Chicago Blackhawks (24): Congratulations to Marc-Andre Fleury on his 500th career NHL victory, and his play has certainly improved since Derek King took over as Blackhawks coach. If the offense could do the same, Chicago might be on to something.

27. Philadelphia Flyers (26): The Flyers broke their losing streak this week, but this has been par for the course far too often for this team. It always feels like a winning streak carries them to the playoffs, or a losing streak like this destroys their chances early.

28. New York Islanders (32): The Islanders finally won a game at UBS Arena, which has to be a relief. For a team as offensively challenged as this, however, being down this big in a competitive division might be an early kiss of death.

29. New Jersey Devils (25): The Devils have won two of their last 10 games, and Jack Hughes coming back hasn’t been the shot in the arm the team had hoped it would be. Maybe hiring Lindy Ruff in the midst of a clear rebuild wasn’t a good idea.

30. Montreal Canadiens (29): No team as a whole has been more disappointing this season, and Tyler Toffoli’s injury is just the latest setback. The teardown is coming.

31. Arizona Coyotes (31): Do we have to go any further?

32. Buffalo Sabres (30): One win in their last twelve games sees the Sabres return to the basement. How can a team be this consistently bad?