NHL Power Rankings: Week 1 Edition

Image Credit: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The NHL season is officially underway.

Like any first week of a new season, this year’s NHL has given us a couple of surprises already. The Buffalo Sabres, widely regarded as the worst team in all of hockey, are currently undefeated. Meanwhile, championship contenders like the New York Islanders and Vegas Golden Knights have gotten off to relatively slow starts. It’s far to early to say anything regarding the seasons of any of those teams, and time should even things out so performances matches the talent, but it’s what makes these opening weeks some parts fun, some parts confusing.

While overreactions are always important to stay away from in the sports world, some trends have been interesting to note. Teams like the Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Minnesota Wild may have been better than initially reported. Others like the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils are starting to get on the right track. On the flip side, the Winnipeg Jets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Montreal Canadiens all seem to have serious flaws that need to be fixed before the season kicks into full swing. While it is still to early to consider these teams as playoff contenders or enduring lost seasons, there’s still enough evidence to suggest where they are as a team.

So how does your team stack up?

Disclaimer: these rankings are based on record and stats from October 17.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (1): It hasn’t been easy for the defending Stanley Cup champions so far, as their banner-raising ceremony was ruined by an upset loss to the Crosby-less Penguins. They’ve managed to rebound, but losing Nikita Kucherov to injury again and having to come back against Detroit is cause for concern.

2. Florida Panthers (5): A rally against Pittsburgh and a blowout of the New York Islanders have the Panthers living up to their loftiest expectations yet, at least early on in the year. Keep an eye out for Sam Bennett, who recorded a hat trick in the Islanders win and has looked rejuvenated since coming from Calgary at last season’s trade deadline.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (7): Frederik Andersen has looked alright to start his Carolina tenure, which the Hurricanes will need if they want to go anywhere this season. Andrei Svechnikov’s strong start is also promising, as he appears set to emerge as Carolina’s next great offensive superstar.

4. Boston Bruins (6): The Bruins core is still strong as usual, but a goaltending battle may be brewing in Beantown. Despite Boston throwing a good chunk of change at Linus Ullmark in the offseason, Jeremy Swayman’s strong opening-game start and fantastic finish to last season could force Bruce Cassidy into some interesting lineup choices.

5. Colorado Avalanche (2): It was an inconsistent start for the Avalanche, dominating the Blackhawks in their opening game before dropping the next one to the Blues. Not having Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in the lineup is partially to blame; I’d imagine they’ll be back up to their old spot soon.

6. Minnesota Wild (12): A successful first two games against the Kings and Ducks have the Wild picking up where they left off after being a pleasant surprise from last season. While the schedule will undoubtedly get tougher, a drama-free Wild squad should have no problem being competitive in the Central.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (14): Even without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, or Jake Guentzel in tow, the Penguins managed to pick up five points in their first three games. More impressive is that they scored fifteen goals in those games, which could be a sign that the Penguins could be fine until the captain and his primary cohorts return to action.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (8): Losing to the Senators was a rough start, but they at least got a revenge win and picked up four of six points to start the season. Having Auston Matthews back will help matters considerably, but everyone knows the real test for this group is the playoffs.

9. Edmonton Oilers (11): Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are going to rack up the points, to the shock of absolutely nobody. Outside of those two, it’s still unclear who’s going to emerge as the primary help, but Mike Smith continuing to kick and scream at Father Time is nice for Edmonton’s season prospects.

10. Vegas Golden Knights (4): They looked wholly unimpressive in their first two games, and now have to deal with long-term injuries to Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty. A week of rest couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Knights, who need some bodies back if they want to make this opening stretch any easier.

11. New York Islanders (3): Being outscored 11-4 isn’t a strong start by any stretch, and they still have eleven more road games before they head back to Long Island. Similar to Vegas, I wouldn’t be overly concerned just yet, but the rust will hopefully shake off sooner rather than later.

12. Washington Capitals (10): The Capitals didn’t start out too poorly, but I liked the start of the teams who leaped ahead of them better. Alex Ovechkin passed another legend on his quest to catch the Great One’s goal-scoring record, while Evgeny Kuznetsov and Vitek Vanecek’s strong starts should make any Capitals fan feel good about their chances.

13. St. Louis Blues (13): The Blues have played only one game, but a road victory against Colorado is sure to open some eyes. Granted, that did also happen last season before St. Louis endured an up-and-down year, so take it with a grain of salt.

14. Vancouver Canucks (16): Three games in four days is tough stretch for any team, so I’ll give the Canucks the benefit of the doubt for the .500 start on the year. With how most of the Pacific is playing right now, Vancouver’s start puts them in decent position for a run to the playoffs.

15. Dallas Stars (20): Ditto to the Stars, who had to play three games in four days with less positive results. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov didn’t move the offensive needle too much in their returns, which has to change if the Stars want to be taken seriously.

16. New York Rangers (15): The season debut for the Rangers against the Capitals was an anti-climactic start to what should have been an interesting rivalry this year. Gerard Gallant may need a bit of time for this group to gel under his guidance, but having a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman in Adam Fox should help.

17. Seattle Kraken (18): A rough call against Vegas probably should have given the Kraken at least one more point this week, but they seem to be willing to grind out for results. A victory against Nashville and strong efforts in Vegas and Columbus exemplify this team as one to at least pay attention to.

18. Los Angeles Kings (23): The Kings’ offseason moves indicated that they were pushing to make the playoffs and cement themselves as a team on the rise. Absolutely dominating Vegas in their season opener was a great start to that goal.

19. Philadelphia Flyers (17): Four goals on nearly forty shots made Flyers fans fear that the leaky defense and goaltending from last season would return to sink them this year. If Carter Hart’s confidence is shot, that dampens the Flyers’ short and long-term prospects.

20. New Jersey Devils (22): Defeating the Blackhawks a great start to the season, and it gave the Devils a great opportunity to showcase its stars. Dougie Hamilton got his Devils tenure off to a great start with a goal, while Jack Hughes showed why everyone feels he’s ready to take the next step.

21. Winnipeg Jets (9): The Jets are far better than what they were this week, so don’t anticipate them staying down here for too long. Still, coming up empty in a stretch against rebuilding teams is more than justifiable to knock Winnipeg out of the top twenty.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets (27): Elvis Merzlikins has looked locked-in to start the year, and the cannons fired so many times against Arizona that Nationwide Arena sounded like a Civil War reenactment. One word of advice: do it for Matiss.

23. Ottawa Senators (26): The Brady Tkachuk saga is finally over, and the Senators were able to pick up two wins in their first three games. How many segments for the Senators are going to be me waxing poetic about Filip Gustavsson?

24. Calgary Flames (24): A mediocre start for a mediocre team in a mediocre division. Yawn.

25. Chicago Blackhawks (19): Few teams have been as disappointing as the Blackhawks this season, and Marc-Andre Fleury’s over-7 GAA and .826 save percentage should tell you exactly how this team’s doing. Would Hawks fans feel too bad if the sexual assault scandal from the offseason took down Stan Bowman? Just saying.

26. Detroit Red Wings (29): The Red Wings blowing two three-goal leads against the Lightning wasn’t good, but at least it shows Detroit still has the potential to put up goals. At least Moritz Seider looks like the real deal so far.

27. San Jose Sharks (28): Evander Kane is officially lost for over a quarter of the season, which doesn’t help a team that already has issues. They did win their first game, though, and they should get a great package out of Tomas Hertl when he gets traded.

28. Montreal Canadiens (21): Maybe Carey Price and Shea Weber were more important for les Canadiens than anyone could have envisioned. With an 0-3 start and a putrid offense so far, Marc Bergevin’s gambles have landed on snake eyes in the early going.

29. Buffalo Sabres (32): Unlike the Canadiens, the Sabres have turned no expectations into two straight wins and a decent offensive performance. No slander here for Buffalo; just let the suffering fans enjoy this moment of happiness for however long this lasts.

30. Nashville Predators (25): Sorry, Juuse Saros, but it seems you won’t be getting much help this season. Mattias Ekholm’s contract extension was confusing for a team that so clearly looks like it needs a full-scale rebuild.

31. Anaheim Ducks (30): The Ducks won’t be very good this season, but at least goaltending and the development of their top prospects have all been positive so far. As long as it stays that way, this season will be successful, even if the results say otherwise.

32. Arizona Coyotes (31): Karel Vejmelka looked good in his NHL debut, which might not bode too well for his playing time this season. As obvious a tank job as there is in hockey right now.

NHL Power Rankings: Start of Season

Photo Credit: NHL

In less than 24 hours, the 2021-22 NHL season will officially be underway.

It’s a reset for the NHL this time around. If everything goes according to plan, each team will play 82 games for the first time in three years. The divisions are back to their pre-pandemic alignment, with the only exception being the Arizona Coyotes moving to the Central to make room for the expansion Seattle Kraken in the Pacific. Every division looks like there will be battles throughout the season, ranging from the division crown to the final playoff spots.

One of the more interesting storylines, however, is the history that the Tampa Bay Lightning have the possibility to make. The last time an NHL squad celebrated a third consecutive cup win, the 1982 New York Islanders were hoisting the Cup for the third of four consecutive times. Their road to history, however, will not get easy. Their division is stacked at the top. Their conference rivals are either tough outs in the playoffs or teams looking for one last shot at glory. The other side of the bracket has two legitimate superpowers and a cluster of hungry squads looking to make their mark. As a wise man once said, it’s lonely at the top.

So where do the teams match up before the puck touches the ice?

1. Tampa Bay Lightning: The bottom six went through a serious overhaul due to cap constraints, but this roster is still loaded with star power. If health is permitting, they’ll be serious contenders for the Atlantic Division crown, the Presidents’ Trophy, and beyond.

2. Colorado Avalanche: They have the deepest roster in the NHL from a talent perspective, but patience could falter if they’re unable to make it past the second round. How the Avs transition from Philipp Grubauer to Darcy Kuemper in net will ultimately decide their fate.

3. New York Islanders: The Islanders have to be the most well-structured team in the NHL, with defense, goaltending, and coaching all being at elite levels or close to them. If they can score consistently and force the Eastern Conference playoff to run through their new stadium, the Isles could break through as a serious Cup contender.

4. Vegas Golden Knights: There’s a couple major questions surrounding the Knights, mostly centering around the forceful transition from Marc-Andre Fleury to Robin Lehner and if they did enough to fix the problems that ended their playoff run last season. They still have more than enough talent to stay competitive, however, and the Pacific Division still looks a year or two away from being on Vegas’s level.

5. Florida Panthers: The core from the best Panthers squad in this century remains intact, with the addition of Sam Reinhart and a healthy Aaron Ekblad hopefully pushing them over the top. The real X-factor here is in goaltending; if Sergei Bobrovsky regains his form or Spencer Knight enjoys a Calder-worthy season, this is a team that could do more than just win their first playoff series in 25 years.

6. Boston Bruins: The Bruins had a really good offseason, but the losses of David Krejci and Tuukka Rask indicate that a changing of the guard is still looming. Rask can likely be offset by a strong duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, but how will the transition from Krejci to Charlie Coyle on the second line affect their scoring depth?

7. Carolina Hurricanes: They still have the pieces to be a quality team, but losing Dougie Hamilton and undergoing an unnecessary overhaul of their goaltending has me somewhat concerned. If Rod Brind’Amour can work his magic again and pull this team into Cup contention, that will be an incredible accomplishment.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs: They have the talent to do some real damage, but it’s always been a question whether this team can finally shed the choker label that’s haunted them for the last decade and a half. If they fall short once again, do the Leafs remain as patient as they were this offseason?

9. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets have always had the offense and the goaltending to carry them far in the playoffs, but a lack of defensive depth has done them in the last few years. Adding Brenden Dillon and Nate Schmidt to pair with an emerging crop of young defenders could work wonders for Winnipeg, especially in the cutthroat Central.

10. Washington Capitals: Nicklas Backstrom’s injury poses a small problem for the Capitals, but Alex Ovechkin and crew should still put up a lot of goals. If Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov can get back on the right track after a season filled with distractions, they have the firepower to make one more spirited Cup run.

11. Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will still likely be pushing the Oilers to some kind of relevance, but did they truly get better? 38-year-old Duncan Keith and Cody Ceci don’t really move the needle for me on defense, and trusting goaltending to 40-year-old Mike Smith is an extremely risky proposition.

12. Minnesota Wild: Kirill Kaprizov has almost single-handedly turned the Wild from one of the more boring squads in the NHL to a legitimately exciting team, and he was awarded the big bucks for it. The question is now what Kaprizov has in store for an encore, as well as if the center depth and defense can hold up to keep the Wild competitive in a stacked division.

13. St. Louis Blues: Replacing Mike Hoffman and Jaden Schwartz with Pavel Buchnevich and Brandon Saad were savvy moves by Doug Armstrong, and having a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko back can only help their scoring depth. They’re a re-emergence from Jordan Binnington and a return to form from their defense away from being competitive, and they do have Scott Perunovich waiting in the wings to help with the latter.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins: Betting against a core featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang feels like a fool’s errand, but there’s viable reason for it this time around. Crosby and Malkin will miss significant time to start the season, and Tristan Jarry has to rebound after a disastrous postseason. If they can weather the early storm, they’ll be ok.

15. New York Rangers: The Rangers are pushing for the playoffs this season, adding grit to pair with their elite skill players and a coach in Gerard Gallant that knows how to maximize the talent under his direction. If that translates to the positive development of players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, and Vitali Kravtsov, the postseason could return to Broadway for the first time since 2017.

16. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks dodged a serious bullet by getting Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes under contracts, and the collection of scoring talent and Thatcher Demko in net looks like enough to consider Vancouver for the playoffs. Their kryptonite, however, will be a defense that may concede a lot of scoring opportunities, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson won’t fix that at this stage of his career.

17. Philadelphia Flyers: The defensive overhaul was completely necessary for the Flyers, but none of their moves will matter if Carter Hart can’t rebound to prior form. Still, the Flyers have a strange trend in recent history of alternating years of playoff appearances, and they did miss the postseason last time…

18. Seattle Kraken: The Kraken will begin their maiden season with a solid goaltending duo and a strong defensive corps, but it’s hard to predict where the goals are going to come from. Expecting a season like the Golden Knights had is probably unrealistic; believing the Kraken can make the playoffs like their desert-dwelling brethren did in their first season is well in the ballpark.

19. Chicago Blackhawks: The return of Jonathan Toews and the additions of Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury have the Blackhawks facing high expectations, but this roster still has some points of concern. How will they respond to the sudden increase in pressure, and do Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton survive if this season disappoints?

20. Dallas Stars: Injuries and bad luck did the Stars in last season, but the team is largely healthy heading into the next season. Call this a conservative ranking for now, as I want to see how the Stars respond to a season of disappointment.

21. Montreal Canadiens: This seems pretty low for last season’s runner-up, but there are more problems facing les Canadiens than a tougher division. Weakened center depth, a shakeup in on-ice leadership, and Carey Price being unavailable for the first month of the season will test this team early.

22. New Jersey Devils: Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves should make the defense a lot better than it was last season, and Jack Hughes seems on the verge of breaking out as a legitimate NHL star. Bad news for the Devils is the division is unforgiving and will likely temper the expectations for this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

23. Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield’s long-term injury certainly dampens the Kings’ outlook for this season, but several key additions and a strong prospect core approaching the NHL has the future looking bright. They could easily take advantage of the weak Pacific Division and make a playoff appearance ahead of schedule.

24. Calgary Flames: Trusting this team feels impossible to me, and there will likely be a lack of leadership in the early going with former captain Mark Giordano getting picked up in the Expansion Draft. Another season of mediocrity has to force this team to take action, and that might mean blowing up this core.

25. Nashville Predators: Juuse Saros can only do so much on his own, and the odds aren’t looking too good. Ryan Ellis and Viktor Arvidsson’s departures indicate a rebuild is coming, and a poor start could lead to a full-blown commitment.

26. Ottawa Senators: The Brady Tkachuk contract saga doesn’t seem to be coming to an end, which is a shame, given the Senators have some legitimately good talent. Young forwards like Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Shane Pinto taking the next step up will be key if the Senators want to have a successful season.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets: A coaching change hopefully allows Patrik Laine to round back into form, and Elvis Merzlikins has some potential as a top netminder in the NHL. Unfortunately, the roster has too many holes to place them anywhere but last in the Metropolitan Division.

28. San Jose Sharks: The Evander Kane drama looms large, which can’t help a team locked into bad contracts and below-average goaltending. Tomas Hertl is shaping up to be one of the league’s premier trade chips come Deadline time.

29. Detroit Red Wings: Alex Nedeljkovic is the latest big move of the Yzerplan, and rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond gives Wings fans something to look forward to. Losing Jakub Vrana for the first half of the year and Tyler Bertuzzi due to his anti-vax views, however, are losses that will be hard for this team to come back from.

30. Anaheim Ducks: With no additions to make any fixes from last season, don’t expect the Ducks to do anything of note this season. The only way this season is a success is if Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale emerge as building blocks for the future.

31. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes tearing down their core netted them several prospects and eight picks in the first two rounds of the 2022 Draft, including three in the first round. With how bad this team will be this season, there’s a chance the Coyotes could head to their new home with phenom Shane Wright in tow.

32. Buffalo Sabres: How the entire Jack Eichel situation has unfolded is how bad teams stay bad. At least the Bills will distract Buffalo from the nightmare their hockey team has become.

NHL Power Rankings: Final Week Edition

Credit: NHL.com

The end is near. The playoffs are approaching. And the speculation for the next few months can finally begin.

First of all, a happy Mother’s Day to my mother, the mothers in the Sports Nerd Speaks community, and mothers all across the world. Your hard work and dedication will never go unnoticed.

The NHL picture is finally starting to come into focus. All but two Canadian teams as of this writing are left to be eliminated, and the seeding is being locked up with three of eight possible first-round matchups already decided. Divisions are being won, the Presidents Trophy race will come down to the wire, and the West Division focuses on a matchup between its top two teams that is, in my opinion, the most important regular season game of the year.

So where does that leave the rankings this week, with so little left at stake and teams settling in for the long haul of the playoffs? The answer is simple: look towards the future. The Expansion Draft and Entry Draft will each get their moments in due time, but what about the prospects that teams already have? I don’t need to regale you of how good the likes of Quinton Byfield and Trevor Zegras are (plenty of outlets do that already), but what about the prospects that go unnoticed? The ones that are just as impressive but slide under the radar, or the underrated prospect that is quietly producing big elsewhere? The NHL is always introducing new talent around this time, and this season has been no different, despite the pandemic.

So which prospect should your team be paying attention to? And how do the rankings look as the season finishes up? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are based on games played and statistics recorded as of May 8.

1. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): Plenty of prospects are cutting their teeth with the Knights or their AHL affiliate in Henderson, but the name Ivan Morozov won’t jump off the page immediately. It will soon, though, as his breakout season in the KHL (a league notorious for limiting the minutes of younger players) indicates the Knights made another good drafting decision in their young history.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (+1): Not willing to take a chance on losing a season of development, Jack Drury left Harvard in order to play professionally in Sweden’s top league. His gamble paid off nicely, as Drury didn’t look out of place playing against grown men.

3. Colorado Avalanche (-1): Finishing second in the NCAA goal-scoring race for the University of Minnesota, Sampo Ranta cashed in and signed his entry-level contract with the Avalanche after the Gophers were knocked out of the NCAA tournament. His professional career is off to a good start, providing some offense to an uneven Colorado Eagles team in the AHL.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (+1): Cup-winning teams require contributions from young players in order to stay dominant, and the Lightning have gotten that from an unexpected source in Alex Barre-Boulet. An undrafted player who has split time between Tampa Bay and Syracuse this season, the Expansion Draft and ABB’s own production could open the door for a full-time role with the Lightning next season.

5. Florida Panthers (-1): Talking about Spencer Knight may feel a little redundant, but it’s impossible to ignore his lightning-fast start to his NHL career. The top goaltending prospect in the NHL, Knight went from another great year at Boston College to beginning his NHL career with four consecutive victories.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (+5): It feels like a matter of time before Timothy Liljegren gains a full-time NHL roster spot, but I’m not sure if he’ll get that in Toronto. Always thrown around in trade rumors, a team would jump at the chance to land a 22-year-old defenseman with first-round pedigree and showing nice adjustment to the North American game (an add-on for an Expansion Draft trade with Seattle, perhaps?)

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (+3): The Penguins’ farm system is considered barren compared to the rest of the league, but diamonds like Samuel Poulin still exist. Lighting it up in the QMJHL this season, the big winger will get another opportunity to crack the Penguins lineup next season (potentially playing alongside friend and current linemate Nathan Legare is an added bonus).

8. Minnesota Wild (-1): Another top prospect to make the jump from the NCAA, Matt Boldy has put together a point-per-game pace in the AHL since making his arrival. He likely won’t make the same impact Kirill Kaprizov did this season, but he’ll provide more youth and excitement to a team that was in desperate need of both.

9. Washington Capitals (-3): After dropping in the 2020 Draft due to serious concussion issues, Hendrix Lapierre entered this season with something to prove. He ran with the chance, staying healthy and producing at a nice pace for Chicoutimi in the QMJHL.

10. Boston Bruins (-2): With the Bruins facing heavy criticism for their 2020 class, seeing positive development from top pick Mason Lohrei has to feel good. Initially seen as a reach in the second round, Lohrei made strong strides this season and will continue his development at Ohio State next year.

11. Edmonton Oilers (+1): While big names like Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, and Dylan Holloway steal the spotlight, lesser-known prospects like Carter Savoie are silently having strong seasons. A local product for the Oilers, Savoie led the University of Denver in goals as a freshman this season.

12. New York Islanders (-3): The Islanders have prided themselves on their defensive corps in the Barry Trotz era, and Robin Salo is making a case of joining that group in the near future. A solid two-way defenseman, Salo has put together his best professional season so far in Sweden this year, and he will likely make his North American debut next season.

13. St. Louis Blues (+5): I was one of the minority that actually liked St. Louis drafting Jake Neighbours last year, believing he could be the David Backes/Patrick Maroon type of player that could guide the Blues to another Cup. His scoring touch is also of note, finishing fourth in point per game in the WHL (for context, the players ahead of him are future top-10 picks Dylan Guenther and Connor Bedard, as well as top Vegas prospect Peyton Krebs).

14. Nashville Predators (+1): After a surprise bout with inconsistency at last year’s World Junior Championship, Yaroslav Askarov needed a bounce-back season. Despite only playing 9 KHL games this season, he finished with a 1.21 GAA and .951 save percentage to cement himself as the best goaltending prospect outside of North America.

15. Dallas Stars (+1): Rookies like Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger are making Stars fans excited about the future, and Thomas Harley will hope to place himself as Dallas’ next big rookie sensation. He is still a work in progress in his own zone, but his offensive skills from the back end have not gone unnoticed.

16. Montreal Canadiens (+1): Cayden Primeau has been given time to marinate in the AHL for a while, but his time may be coming soon in Montreal. With Carey Price experiencing inconsistency, Jake Allen looking like a good bet to head to Seattle in a couple months, and Laval Rocket coach Joel Bouchard a strong candidate to be promoted, the Canadiens could be in position to lean on their goaltender of the future.

17. Winnipeg Jets (-4): The Jets still desperately need improved play in their own zone, making a stay-at-home defenseman like Dylan Samberg a perfect fit. His puck movement skills definitely need work, but he should project as next season’s version of Logan Stanley and make his NHL debut at some point.

18. New York Rangers (-4): The Rangers are becoming flush with young defenseman (Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Zac Jones, etc.), and the next one to make their appearance will likely be Nils Lundkvist. His season this year in the SHL might not have been as strong as last year, but it should be good enough to warrant signing his entry-level contract and some AHL time next season to adjust to the North American game.

19. Philadelphia Flyers (Even): If you’re going to make a list of potential breakout players for next season, you’d be remiss not to include Wade Allison in that conversation. A late debut for the Flyers, Allison has scored four goals in thirteen games and is looking like he’ll be a fixture in Philadelphia’s middle-six for the foreseeable future.

20. Chicago Blackhawks (+1): A former first-round pick of the Florida Panthers who fell out of favor in the organization, Henrik Borgstrom was handed to the Blackhawks in exchange for taking Brett Connolly’s contract. Regaining his confidence in Finland this season, the Hawks are hoping that a fresh start is what Borgstrom needs to succeed at the NHL level.

21. Arizona Coyotes (+1): After losing half of last season due to a knee injury, Jan Jenik had to reestablish himself as the top prospect in the organization with Victor Soderstrom’s graduation. There is still work needed to be done, but scoring two goals in as many NHL games in his brief call-up is a promising sign.

22. Los Angeles Kings (+3): I’ll spare you the Quinton Byfield/Alex Turcotte cop-outs and instead point to someone who may benefit from their presence: Arthur Kaliyev. A natural goal-scorer, Kaliyev got his first NHL goal in his first game and has produced well for their AHL affiliate in Ontario (California, not Canada).

23. Calgary Flames (Even): Put me on the list of Dustin Wolf truthers. Despite being undersized, he was the second-best goaltender in the NHL behind potential first-round pick Sebastian Cossa this season, along with landing an 18-3 record and four shutouts.

24. Ottawa Senators (+3): The Senators seem to have found a nice talent pipeline in the University of North Dakota, with players like Shane Pinto being part of the future in Canada’s capital city. After a breakout performance at the World Junior Championships, Pinto has carried that momentum through a strong sophomore season and a hot start to his NHL career (six points in his first 10 games).

25. Vancouver Canucks (-5): Jim Benning balances his poor free agency decisions with strong drafting, and it looks like Jack Rathbone will be yet another example. A former standout at Harvard, Rathbone used a strong stint for the Utica Comets to land a call-up with the Canucks, scoring his first NHL goal in the process.

26. San Jose Sharks (-2): It’s telling that, despite all the talented freshmen the University of Michigan boasted this season, Thomas Bordeleau managed to lead the Wolverines in points. He’s definitely on the smaller side, but there’s no denying his playmaking abilities.

27. Detroit Red Wings (-1): The NHL has seen an influx of talented Germans enter the league, and Moritz Seider will likely be joining their ranks next season. Impressing in both North America last season and Sweden this season, Seider will hopefully help the Wings forget about the failed development of Dennis Cholowski.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): If the Kirill Marchenko hype train starts getting out of control, you heard it here first. Breaking out in the KHL this season, Marchenko will spend one more year in Russia before bringing his talents over to North America, where he could potentially make it straight to the NHL.

29. New Jersey Devils (+2): The Devils seem to have fully embraced the youth movement, which is good news for prospects like Dawson Mercer to see NHL time sooner rather than later. Breaking out with a strong performance at the World Junior Championships this season, Mercer has shown consistency and versatility in a number of roles.

30. Anaheim Ducks (-1): Lukas Dostal might not get the same level of attention as Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, but he could reach that level. Taking over as the top goaltender for a quality AHL team in the San Diego Gulls, Dostal could compete for Ryan Miller’s soon-to-be vacated spot as John Gibson’s backup.

31. Buffalo Sabres (-1): John-Jason Peterka has had a wild season, appearing in Germany, Austria, and the World Junior Championships in the span of a year. He appears to have taken some positive strides in his development, however, and his remaining two seasons in Germany will hopefully be used to turn him into a more complete player.

NHL Power Rankings: Season Grades Edition

Credit: David Berding/USA Today Sports

Playoff hockey is getting closer, and the races are heating up.

As of this writing, a quarter of the sixteen playoff spots have already been filled up, with three of those coming from the West Division. Toronto is opening up a decent margin on the rest of the North, while the Central and East are looking to be dogfights. There’s even drama involving the bottom spots, as the West seems to be without a clear favorite and defending Western Conference Champion Dallas looking to claim a spot despite a slow start.

In other big news, it’s looking like hockey will be a lot different from this point forward. Hockey will be returning to ESPN shortly, while Turner Media has beaten NBC for the second block. It will be very interesting to see how that all unfolds, especially with ESPN and Turner’s strong ties to basketball. With the NHL and NBA having their seasons and playoffs start around the same time, what logistical issues will arise for both networks as they accommodate two sports simultaneously? It’s definitely a situation worth monitoring going into this offseason.

For now, though, let’s focus on this season. By now, we have an idea where everyone is going to be and we can safely evaluate how each team’s season went, so I decided to run an interesting exercise for this week’s rankings. For this week, I’ll grade each team’s season from A to F, taking not only performance, but where the team was expected to be at the beginning of the season into account. Don’t be too surprised to see a few bottom-feeders pick up positive receptions, while teams in the middle get marked down.

Has your team passed the test, or flunked out entirely? And where do the teams rank after last week? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are based on games played and statistics recorded as of April 25.

1. Vegas Golden Knights (+2): A. Considered a Stanley Cup contender at the start of the year, the Golden Knights have done everything to cement themselves as just that. Alex Pietrangelo is finally starting to heat up, which could prove devastating to opponents at this stage of the season.

2. Colorado Avalanche (-1): A. A couple of inconsistent stretches here and there, but they’re still a powerhouse when completely healthy. A second-round series against Vegas will be must-see TV.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (-1): A. It took a few tries, but the Hurricanes have finally clinched a spot in the playoffs. With no goaltending issues to set them back, they’re ready to prove they belong in the category of the NHL’s elite.

4. Florida Panthers (+3): A. If there was ever a team that defined the term ‘post-hype breakout’, this is it. A year after a disappointing start to the Quenneville-Bobrovsky era, picking up spare parts like Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair have helped to unlock this team’s potential.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (-1): B-. They’re still a strong team, but they haven’t dominated as expected. Getting Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos will be critical for a playoff run, but repeating as Stanley Cup champions will not be easy.

6. Washington Capitals (-1): A-. Not as impressive as the heads of the class, but they’ve still been strong enough to put up a fight in the East. Alex Ovechkin’s injury definitely complicates matters, however, and a poor stretch could mean drawing a playoff pest in the Islanders for the First Round.

7. Minnesota Wild (+1): A. The Wild have long been considered a bland team, stuck between high lottery pick and first-round cannon fodder. Not anymore, has the stellar play of young players like Kirill Kaprizov and Kaapo Kahkonen gives them championship upside for the first time since 2012.

8. Boston Bruins (+1): B+. It hasn’t always been easy for the Bruins, but they’ve managed to stay with the big dogs in the East. A key component to their latest success: the second line of Taylor Hall, David Krejci, and Craig Smith have been the complement to the Perfection Line they’ve desperately needed.

9. New York Islanders (+2): A-. They’ve been exactly what you would expect: average on offense, but nearly lights-out on defense and goaltending. Their records against Washington and Pittsburgh have me concerned, but Barry Trotz is undefeated in the First Round, so something has to give there.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): A-. Games like the one they played against Boston on Sunday are exactly the type of performances you need in the postseason. It’s a good look for a team I thought could be the odd man out in a stacked East Division going into the season.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs (-5): B+. I’d give the Leafs an A for their work atop the North, but this recent stretch of play has provided more than enough concern. If they somehow lose in the First Round again, it might be the most embarrassing playoff exit Toronto has seen in the last ten years (yes, even worse than the 2013 Game 7 choke against Boston).

12. Edmonton Oilers (+1): B. Connor McDavid may be the only player to hit the 100-point plateau this season, and Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have done their part on the back end. Too bad most of the key contributors remain inconsistent, and how much gas does Mike Smith have left in the tank?

13. Winnipeg Jets (-1): B+. This team would be a dark-horse contender, if they had worked harder to improve the defense at the trade deadline. The playoffs don’t exactly favor teams that require high-octane offense to win…

14. New York Rangers (Even): C+. The Rangers haven’t had that big push just yet, but that might be more a product of the division they play in. If they had a young forward break out, this team would be in the playoffs, and their grade would be much higher.

15. Nashville Predators (Even): C. If the Predators miss the playoffs, their decision to not sell at the deadline could come back to haunt them. That grade has room to drop quickly.

16. Dallas Stars (Even): C-. Unlike the Predators, the Stars have the chance to have their grade rise if they’re able to chase them down and sneak into the playoffs. It’s still been an up-and-down year for a team that nearly made it all the way last time, but the destination may end up being a lot more valuable than the journey.

17. Montreal Canadiens (Even): C. Another team whose grade could fall dramatically if they miss the postseason. They have a slightly larger margin of error than Nashville, but they can’t get too confident.

18. St. Louis Blues (+1): D+. The Blues were expected to be one of the big guns in the West, but they have been relegated to holding off Arizona for the final playoff spot. If they can hold on despite their difficult schedule, they will have earned it.

19. Philadelphia Flyers (+2): D. It’s hard to believe this is largely the same group that dominated the second half of last season. Expect a coaching change, a minor overhaul to the defensive corps, and praying to the deities of Broad Street that Carter Hart can regain his confidence.

20. Vancouver Canucks (+3): D+. Their post-COVID success has been a nice story, but it comes too late for this season. The big moves this offseason have done little to move the needle, and GM Jim Benning is looking like a decent bet for termination.

21. Chicago Blackhawks (-3): C-. This season has been a gut punch for Blackhawks fans, with Andrew Shaw joining Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford into retirement. That said, Alex DeBrincat’s bounce back and the emergence of young stars have this group closer than they expected to be.

22. Arizona Coyotes (-2): D+. They have a golden opportunity to make the playoffs, but they’ve picked a terrible time for a slump. Success against some of the weaker teams in their division is crucial if they want to play deep into May.

23. Calgary Flames (-1): D. They’re trying to make a playoff push, but I just don’t think they have the tenacity required to see it through. It’s been an unfortunate black mark against Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, who have developed poor tendencies to disappear in critical situations.

24. San Jose Sharks (Even): C-. Father Time hasn’t come to claim Brent Burns or Evander Kane yet, so that’s good. The bad news is Timo Meier and Kevin LaBanc haven’t shaken off the inconsistency, and goaltending is still shoddy as ever.

25. Los Angeles Kings (Even): C. It’s unlikely they make the playoffs, but they could at least make things interesting. With nothing to lose, now might be an excellent time to get Quinton Byfield and/or Alex Turcotte in the lineup to see how they handle the NHL game.

26. Detroit Red Wings (Even): B-. Yep, the Red Wings actually get a decent grade. They’ve improved dramatically over last season, younger players are beginning to emerge, and Jakub Vrana looks like he’ll be a core contributor for a long time.

27. Ottawa Senators (+1): D-. Nothing much to say here, as the Senators seem locked into the basement of the North Division. I will keep pounding the table on Filip Gustavsson, especially with Matt Murray likely finished for the season.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets (-1): F. A lackluster season that ended up with key pieces traded and a white flag raised since the end of March. John Tortorella is a near-certainty to be fired, as his style of play no longer seems to match what the Blue Jackets are aiming for.

29. Anaheim Ducks (Even): D-. Offense still isn’t there consistently, John Gibson cannot carry this team on his back, and the prospect core of Sam Steel, Max Jones, and company seem to have hit the ceiling for the most part. At least Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale will be useful in the near-future.

30. Buffalo Sabres (+1): F. Don Granato has the Sabres playing better, and it might be enough for him to shed the interim label and be at the helm next season. Still, the taste of 18 straight losses lingers.

31. New Jersey Devils (-1): F. They’ve knocked the Sabres out of dead last, which is enough to call this season a failure. They are in a decent position to get better this offseason, however, so they need to take advantage.

NHL Power Rankings: Post-Trade Deadline Edition

Credit: John Locher/Associated Press

The final month of the NHL season is in sight. We’re nearing the most exciting and intense time in all of sports, in my honest opinion: playoff hockey.

By now, we can safely guess where the teams will stack up. We know who’s got a realistic chance to lift the Stanley Cup in July, and who’s only kidding themselves with their ambitions. We also know who’s got an outside chance of the playoffs, who’s seeing their playoff ambitions dwindle in front of their eyes, and who’s in danger of being officially eliminated from the hunt. With our first elimination happening this past weekend (keep reading for who that might be), it is now time to start hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

With the playoffs so close and divisional races still yet to be determined, every game and point is important. As the season series between rivals and potential playoff opponents come to an end throughout the four divisions, those games will be the most pivotal of all. Win, and gain valuable momentum in the push for the Stanley Cup. Lose, and see your road to the greatest trophy in all of sports get more difficult.

These rankings will highlight the contenders, pretenders, and remainders as the regular season hits the home stretch. How has the last week and change affected teams in the rankings? And how have the deadline moves helped or hurt their chances? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are based on games played and statistics recorded as of April 19.

1. Colorado Avalanche (Even): The top line of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog has been lighting up the league since March as the Avalanche pushed to the top of the West. They’ll need them more than ever as Colorado shakes off an absence due to COVID protocol, especially if Philipp Grubauer has to miss more time.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (Even): Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic have formed one of the league’s breakout goaltending tandems, placing third in total save percentage behind Vegas and the New York Islanders. For context of how vast the improvement’s been, the Hurricanes finished dead last in that category only three years ago.

3. Vegas Golden Knights (+3): A brief cold spell has given way to an impressive seven-game winning streak, with Mark Stone and Robin Lehner leading the charge. As expected, the final series against them and Colorado will basically determine the winner of the West Division.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (+1): Inconsistency has continued to hurt the Lightning at this point of the season, and Steven Stamkos being out for likely the rest of the regular season does not help their cause. They’ll be ok come playoff time, but reaching the top of the division would do wonders for their confidence.

5. Washington Capitals (-1): I still think the Capitals paid too much for Anthony Mantha, but he’s looked like a great fit so far with a goal scored in each of his first four games. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though: the goaltending has continued to struggle, most notably in a humiliating 5-2 loss to Buffalo on Thursday.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (-3): Toronto has hit their first big rough patch of the season, losing four in a row and preparing to be without Zach Hyman after taking a dirty knee-on-knee hit. They better hope big deadline acquisition Nick Foligno can help turn things around in a hurry.

7. Florida Panthers (+2): Bad news: Mackenzie Weegar and Carter Verhaeghe will both be out for the Panthers, who have already lost Aaron Ekblad for the rest of the year. Good news: the Panthers have won three of their last four, and Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett have done well with their new team thus far.

8. Minnesota Wild (Even): A four-game win streak is helping the Wild keep pace with Colorado and Vegas in the West. Their first-round matchup will undoubtedly be brutal but, with only one series against either one left, a strong finish to the season could give them the momentum to make a surprise playoff run out of it.

9. Boston Bruins (+4): The Bruins have been undefeated since the deadline, and the rest of their schedule looks promising enough for them to make a mad dash to the East Division lead. Big acquisitions Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly have both been as advertised since arriving in Beantown.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): Losing to the Flyers and Sabres does not help the Penguins in the East, which is turning into a tight race down the stretch. They have three games against the Devils next, but the impending series against Boston and Washington will be crucial in deciding Pittsburgh’s fate.

11. New York Islanders (-4): In their last ten games, the Islanders have scored more than two goals in regulation only once. The defense, goaltending, and coaching might negate the concerns come playoff time, but they need more out of their big offensive producers if they want to be taken seriously.

12. Winnipeg Jets (Even): The offense and goaltending have been strong, clocking in at eighth in goals per game and fourth in save percentage. If the defense could prove to be consistently trustworthy, their chances in the North would be much better.

13. Edmonton Oilers (-2): The Oilers are still doing their best to keep pace in the North, but the fact they only made a minor tweak at the deadline is still confusing to me. If Mike Smith can’t keep up his current performance and the scoring depth goes cold, the postseason could turn into a complete meltdown.

14. New York Rangers (+2): The top stars are performing well, Adam Fox is emerging as a sleeper for the Norris Trophy, and Igor Shesterkin is seeing his numbers improve with each game. If someone like Alexis Lafreniere or Kaapo Kaako could finally get it going, I’d be more kind to their chances to land a surprise playoff berth.

15. Nashville Predators (-1): With two games against Columbus being the only series they play against a team not in the Central Division playoff race, the Predators are picking a bad time to start playing inconsistently. They certainly miss Eeli Tolvanen; since the talented Finnish wing got injured, the Predators haven’t scored a single power-play goal.

16. Dallas Stars (+6): Give the Stars credit for making a serious push for a playoff spot, and Jason Robertson has arguably been the NHL’s best rookie for the last little while. If Tyler Seguin can produce when he comes back, Dallas’s chances for playing summer hockey will improve dramatically.

17. Montreal Canadiens (+1): The Canadiens have lost six of their last eight and Carey Price has looked human throughout the year. Would it be too drastic to see what top prospect Cole Caufield can do at the NHL level?

18. Chicago Blackhawks (+2): The Blackhawks are the last of the three teams vying for the final Central Division playoff spot, and the rest of their schedule is against either their fellow competitors or teams likely in the playoffs already. This stretch will be pivotal towards Jeremy Colliton securing his coaching gig.

19. St. Louis Blues (-2): Losses against Colorado and Arizona could kill the momentum St. Louis was trying to build, and the end of their schedule is an absolute nightmare. Do you think they might be regretting not selling Mike Hoffman?

20. Arizona Coyotes (-5): They might be ahead of St. Louis, but winning only one in their last seven games is not promising towards their playoff hopes. They have the easier schedule of the two by far, but winning a playoff game against either Colorado or Vegas would be an accomplishment.

21. Philadelphia Flyers (+2): The Flyers have fallen hard from last season, and the main culprit isn’t overly difficult to spot. Philadelphia’s not only dead last in save percentage; they’re nine percentage points behind the second-lowest team in Ottawa.

22. Calgary Flames (+3): A three-game winning streak was nice, but it’s too little, too late for the Flames this season. I’d be shocked if Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan are still in Alberta by the start of next season.

23. Vancouver Canucks (-2): I still find it hard to believe that Vancouver is back to playing, especially given just how accommodating the NHL had to be towards finishing their season. An overtime victory against Toronto isn’t bad for a team that hadn’t played in almost a month prior.

24. San Jose Sharks (-5): On Monday, Patrick Marleau played his record-breaking 1,768th career regular season game, and he will likely be following his jersey from that game into the Hall of Fame soon enough. It will likely be the final time to care about the Sharks, however, as losing seven of their last eight has likely capsized their playoff hopes.

25. Los Angeles Kings (+1): The season is basically over, which shouldn’t surprise a team that’s more focused on the future anyway. While we’re at it, though, is it too late to start a petition to bring that sweet royal purple color scheme back?

26. Detroit Red Wings (+3): The Red Wings won’t make the playoffs, but they at least are staying competitive for the moment. Now would be a great time to see what the prospects can do, as well as see how Jakub Vrana gels with his new team.

27. Columbus Blue Jackets (-3): Two wins in their last fifteen games is enough to prove that the Blue Jackets have waved the white flag on the season. The offseason will inevitably see a winner in the cold war between Patrik Laine and John Tortorella, a connection that was doomed from the start, in hindsight.

28. Ottawa Senators (+2): The Senators are destined to finish last in the North, so it’s time to give younger players a chance. That includes Filip Gustavsson, who hasn’t played a game since April 1 despite a decent stretch of play.

29. Anaheim Ducks (-1): They let a prime chance to begin a necessary rebuild slip away. It’s time to acknowledge that GM Bob Murray is part of the problem and needs to go, and Dallas Eakins will probably be out too to make room for a fresh start.

30. New Jersey Devils (-2): Two wins in their last fourteen games, as well as the worst home winning percentage in the 2000s. What is it with the Devils and draft classes without surefire top picks?

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): It seemed inevitable, but the Sabres will be spending their summer at the golf course. On Saturday, the Sabres were officially eliminated from the postseason, tying another NHL record…for most consecutive seasons without a playoff berth.

NHL Power Rankings: Trade Deadline Edition

Credit: Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers

This isn’t just an average power rankings this week. This is the Trade Deadline edition of the power rankings.

With tomorrow’s trade deadline looming large, the deals can be expected to come in fast and furious as teams make last-ditch efforts to improve their rosters for the months ahead. Trade chips have already come off the board this weekend, but some of the bigger names are still up for grabs. With some sellers suddenly gearing up towards a playoff push and COVID protocols in Canada still requiring a week-long quarantine, however, there’s no guarantee that deadline day will be as action-packed as usual.

With a month remaining in the regular season, picking up momentum is as imperative as ever. While some teams have already started packing it in and preparing for the offseason, the Cup contenders in these rankings face a crucial stretch. Think about the Blues in 2018-19, who rode a second half of the season that took them from the bottom of the standings to the Stanley Cup. While some teams can expect to be playing into the summer, they are still very much jockeying for position in the playoff seedings, and one good late-season push could be the catalyst for a Cup run.

Who’s in position to make that scenario a reality? Whose Cup ambitions are dwindling before their eyes? And where do the teams stand compared to last week? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to April 10.

1. Colorado Avalanche (Even): A dud against the Wild halted the Avalanche’s point streak at 15 games, but they are still deserving of being considered the best team in the rankings. Minor moves to acquire Patrik Nemeth and Devan Dubnyk should shore up any holes on the back end.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (Even): An upset loss to Detroit ended Petr Mrazek’s first week back on a sour note, but it’s been his only rough performance on the year. If Mrazek remains consistent and Alex Nedeljkovic continues his strong rookie campaign, the issues in net might finally be answered for the Hurricanes.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs (+4): It’s been a long odyssey for former first-round pick Jack Campbell, but he seems to have finally found a home in Toronto. A perfect 11-0 on the year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him truly replace Frederik Andersen and start in the playoffs for the Leafs.

4. Washington Capitals (Even): Alex Ovechkin might be starting to fall into Father Time’s clutches, but he still managed to hit the 20-goal mark again. One of the league’s all-time greatest snipers, he will almost certainly pass Marcel Dionne for 5th on the all-time goal list before the season is done.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (-2): An inconsistent few weeks and a challenge for Central Division supremacy likely prompted the Lightning’s bold acquisition of David Savard from the Blue Jackets. I know I should have learned this lesson from last year’s deadline, but…that price is an eyesore for a rental.

6. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): Friday’s game against Arizona was the Knights in a nutshell: dominant when on, ugly when off. More might be necessary, but with how the Knights have had to juggle lineups due to the salary cap, it’s more likely than not they’ll have to rely on their current roster working back into form.

7. New York Islanders (+3): Losing to the Rangers broke a 4-game winning streak for the Isles, but they’ve still performed well against playoff foes in the Capitals and Penguins. Give Lou Lamoriello credit for going in and landing both Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac from New Jersey for a decent price.

8. Minnesota Wild (-3): Sweeping Vegas and blowing out Colorado have the Wild as a sneaky bet to come out of the West. Getting blown out by St. Louis, however, is something that should keep those expectations in check.

9. Florida Panthers (-2): The Panthers have lost three in a row with a challenging series against Tampa ahead, so making moves made a lot of sense. Brandon Montour and Nikita Gusev are good buy-low propositions, while Lucas Carlsson could be an interesting piece for the future.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (-1): Tristan Jarry was welcomed back to action by getting lit up by the Rangers for four goals before being pulled in the first period of his return. Even if they draw the offensively-inconsistent Islanders in the first round, equally inconsistent goaltending won’t get the job done in the playoffs.

11. Edmonton Oilers (Even): Clinching the season sweep over the Senators was nice, but getting dominated by Calgary is not. Here’s an idea being floated around: do the Oilers repent the sins of Peter Chiarelli and bring back Taylor Hall?

12. Winnipeg Jets (Even): Losing captain Blake Wheeler is a huge loss, despite the fact that the Jets swept the Canadiens in their first two games without him. The pressure is on alternate captains Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey to pick up the leadership role and keep this team on course.

13. Boston Bruins (Even): The Bruins have to be pleased with the positive development of young goaltenders Daniel Vladar and Jeremy Swayman. It comes at a great time too, as the Bruin could be on the verge of losing another franchise legend in Tuukka Rask this offseason.

14. Nashville Predators (+2): The Predators might be rolling right now, but it’s time to get concerned about the number of injuries this team has. Losing emerging young players in Eeli Tolvanen, Dante Fabbro, and Mathieu Olivier has pushed the total of injured Predators to 10.

15. Arizona Coyotes (Even): The Coyotes are still trying to make a desperation push to the playoffs, but giving up four goals in the first ten minutes of a critical game does not help matters. Here’s hoping it’s not a sign of things to come for Adin Hill, who has struggled in his last two starts.

16. New York Rangers (+1): The Rangers are still an inconsistent team, but that’s to be expected for a team trying to promote youth development. Still, it would be very tempting for the Rangers to try and reunite coach David Quinn with Jack Eichel this offseason.

17. St. Louis Blues (+1): The Blues have fired off three straight wins after losing six straight, including a 9-1 blowout over Minnesota. In more concerning news, it appears the Blues are willing to bring the Mike Hoffman experiment to an end, as the scoring winger is on pace for a career-worst season since becoming an NHL regular in 2014-15.

18. Montreal Canadiens (-4): It’s been a rough ride for the Canadiens lately, losing Brendan Gallagher for the season and winning only one of their last five games. Also concerning: since scoring the game-winner against Edmonton, Eric Staal has recorded zero points and put up a -5 in his last three games.

19. San Jose Sharks (+3): After their upcoming series against Anaheim, every game San Jose plays will be against either playoff teams or teams in the West Division playoff hunt. What I said at the beginning about a crucial stretch might not apply to any other team more than the Sharks.

20. Chicago Blackhawks (-1): With their playoff hopes at stake, the Blackhawks picked a rough time to start playing inconsistently. The trade deadline did net them Henrik Borgstrom and Riley Stillman, who should both see increased playing time for a still-rebuilding Hawks team.

21. Vancouver Canucks (-1): The end of the regular season got pushed back to accommodate the Canucks, but the fact they’ll even get to see the end of the season is a pleasant surprise. Not so pleasant: Jim Benning overpaying on Tanner Pearson with extensions to Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes coming up.

22. Dallas Stars (+4): With the Predators’ injury woes and the Blackhawks’ inconsistency, the time has to be now for the Stars to break through and steal the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Key to the Stars’ playoff hopes will be Jason Robertson, who has emerged as an offensive weapon in his rookie year.

23. Philadelphia Flyers (Even): Inconsistency in a tough division is causing the Flyers to gradually slip further from the playoff race. If they don’t like their chances, perhaps they can try to swing deals for Scott Laughton and Shayne Gostisbehere at the deadline?

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (-3): Trading their big trade chip in David Savard, losing Boone Jenner and Zach Werenski for the season, and dropping nine of their last eleven games? Those feel like season-enders for the Jackets.

25. Calgary Flames (-1): Blowing out Edmonton is great, but losing eight of the last ten makes it feel like a hollow victory. Don’t be surprised if the Flames look very different next season when the inevitable new regime guts this underachieving core.

26. Los Angeles Kings (-1): Even with the teams in front of them struggling, the Kings would still be better off selling on deadline day. Alex Iafallo should net a nice return, and Dustin Brown’s season should be viewed as a sell-high opportunity.

27. New Jersey Devils (Even): Trading away Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, as well as releasing the disappointing Nikita Gusev, are telltale signs for a team that’s waved the white flag. They did pick up an intriguing piece in Jonas Siegenthaler, though, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

28. Anaheim Ducks (+2): The Ducks are running out of time to make something out of the deadline. Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson would both net decent packages to kickstart a much-needed rebuild, and it’s time Bob Murray admits that.

29. Detroit Red Wings (Even): Bobby Ryan is off the table due to injury, and a 7-1 loss to the Predators this week has symbolized how rough this season has been. With the intriguing coaching candidates available this offseason, it’s hard to visualize the Wings moving forward with Jeff Blashill past this season.

30. Ottawa Senators (-2): It’s not like the Senators had any playoff hopes left, but losing four straight games pretty much seals their fate. The rebuild is still very much in the early stages.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): Brandon Montour is out of the equation now. Now we wait to see who else becomes part of the purge.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 12 Edition

Credit: Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports

March came in like a lion, and we come out of this point of the NHL season with a clear view of what’s going on. Or did we?

This week might be the strangest week the season has had thus far, at least from a power rankings perspective. Teams have leaped up in the rankings to change their trade deadline statuses, the top two teams from last week tumble after rough patches, and a new leader has emerged not just as the top team in the rankings, but my current favorite to go all the way and skate around with the Stanley Cup come late May/early June.

Of course, with the deadline coming up, it’s not too late for the NHL landscape to shift dramatically. The top teams could load up and land a major piece to push them over the top, while the lower-tier playoff teams could land a couple key acquisitions to make themselves more competitive. It’s going to be an interesting week, and I intend to go through the deadline dealings in due time.

For now, though, it’s time to get to the rankings. Where did an insane week push your favorite team in the rankings this time? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to April 3.

1. Colorado Avalanche (+4): The Avalanche are riding a 14-game point streak, including 12 wins in that span. Do I need to justify their spot any further?

2. Carolina Hurricanes (+1): Congratulations to Dougie Hamilton for being only the 102nd defenseman in NHL history to score 100 career goals. Another reason for the Canes to celebrate as they safely add Martin Necas and Alex Nedeljkovic as key pieces to their young core.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (-2): It’s been a rough stretch for the Lightning, just breaking a three-game skid with close wins against Columbus and Detroit. Tampa is now averaging the second-most penalty minutes per game, something that will have to change (especially given Carolina has the league’s best power play).

4. Washington Capitals (Even): The Capitals have the lineup to make a deep run, but goaltending has been a major issue lately as their team save percentage hovers just above the bottom five. Jonathan Bernier or Jonathan Quick might be packing their bags for the nation’s capital within the week.

5. Minnesota Wild (+2): Minnesota has proven they have no problem dealing with Vegas, but if they can make a statement in this upcoming series against Colorado? That could push the Wild into dark-horse Cup candidate territory.

6. Vegas Golden Knights (-4): Forget getting swept by the Wild for a second: the Golden Knights now hold a 4-9-1 all-time record against their likely playoff opponent (only the Bruins hold a better mark). Not saying that’s a recipe for a first-round upset, but…

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (+1): Sweeping the Jets and riding a six-game point streak has put some distance between the Leafs and their North Division rivals. With a perfect 8-0 record and a strong stat line, can Jack Campbell earn himself an opportunity to siphon more starts from Frederik Andersen?

8. Florida Panthers (+1): After losing three straight, the Panthers have rattled off five consecutive wins to keep pace with the Lightning atop the Central Division. Signing the top college free agent in Matt Kiersted was a solid move for the future, but Aaron Ekblad’s injury still looms large over the Panthers.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (+4): A tough-luck loss to the Bruins put an end to the Penguins’ five-game win and seven-game point streaks. They finally seem to have shaken off the inconsistent beginning of their season, but it appears Ron Hextall will target a center at the deadline to fill in for Evgeni Malkin (Scott Laughton, maybe?)

10. New York Islanders (-4): The Islanders have a very similar problem to the Golden Knights: they do great against the lower-end teams in their division, but struggle against their likely playoff opponents like Washington and Pittsburgh. Unlike their western counterparts, however, the Islanders will be able to use the deadline to do something about their situation.

11. Edmonton Oilers (Even): It’s been an inconsistent week for the Oilers, splitting their last four games. If you need proof about how reliant Edmonton is on Connor McDavid, he currently doubles up every other Oiler skater not named Leon Draisaitl in points.

12. Winnipeg Jets (-2): Despite the emergence of Logan Stanley, the Jets still could use some blueline reinforcements to push them past their Canadian rivals in the playoffs. Expect them to be in the mix for every top defenseman at the deadline.

13. Boston Bruins (-1): Splitting with the Devils and Penguins is fine, but the Bruins still need to look over their shoulders for the Flyers and Rangers. Expect them to be one of the deadline’s most aggressive buyers as they hunt for secondary scoring and defensive reinforcements.

14. Montreal Canadiens (+1): An embarrassing loss to Ottawa on Saturday put a damper on what was otherwise a solid week for the Canadiens. Eric Staal will finally make his debut for the Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge this week, and I would be shocked if he’s the only piece on their way to Quebec.

15. Arizona Coyotes (+8): Colorado still poses a major problem for Arizona, but a sweep of San Jose and a bounce-back win over Anaheim has pushed the Coyotes over the Blues for the last playoff spot in the West. There’s still some serious questions regarding the Coyotes, but it looks like they might be a good candidate to pull a hockey trade.

16. Nashville Predators (+9): Talk about coming back from the dead. After victories in seven of their last eight, the Predators must now decide whether to stay the course and rebuild or go for one last push before a still-necessary retool.

17. New York Rangers (Even): A shootout loss to the Sabres is a tough pill to swallow, but the Rangers are still in striking distance for a playoff spot. They certainly hope another top prospect in Vitali Kravtsov doesn’t show the same inconsistency that Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere have endured.

18. St. Louis Blues (-4): A six-game losing streak has pushed the Blues to the brink, with playoffs no longer a sure thing. With all but four games remaining being against the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Wild, they might have to be an aggressive buyer just to get into the postseason again.

19. Chicago Blackhawks (-3): Losing all but one of their last five has the Blackhawks behind the Predators for the last playoff spot in the Central (ironically enough, the Predators have beaten Chicago three times in that span). They’ve still been well above expectations, but missing out on the postseason could still be considered a disappointment.

20. Vancouver Canucks (Even): It took about three months, but the Canucks may finally be going through the worst COVID outbreak of any NHL team so far. With most of the players and coaches testing positive and showing symptoms, it may be a long time before we see them take the ice again.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): It’s been eleven games since Patrik Laine has found the back of the net, and the Jackets have been an uneven 4-5-2 in that span. It’s clear he doesn’t fit John Tortorella’s hard-nosed style of coaching, so the question begins: who leaves Columbus first?

22. San Jose Sharks (+2): Don’t look now, but four straight victories has the Sharks tied with the Blues and one point away from the last playoff spot in the West. Patrick Marleau might be allowed to head to a legitimate contender for one last Cup run, but being so tantalizingly close to the postseason might steer Doug Wilson away from a total rebuild.

23. Philadelphia Flyers (-5): Publicly lambasting your young star goaltender, waiving one of the team’s better-performing defensemen, and getting blown out by a team that was tied for the longest losing streak in the 21st century? Remember this week if Alain Vigneault is sent packing in the offseason.

24. Calgary Flames (-2): Losing six of your last seven to douse the Flames’ playoff hopes is bad enough, but Darryl Sutter publicly calling out Johnny Gaudreau? It won’t happen at the deadline, but I’d be willing to bet on Gaudreau wearing a different team’s sweater next season.

25. Los Angeles Kings (-6): They’ve stolen two games from Vegas, but they have been the only victories the Kings have enjoyed in their last eight games. Selling high on Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick to get out of at least most of their contracts might be the best option for them.

26. Dallas Stars (-2): They’ve gotten points in five of their last six games, but it’s still looking like the Stars will go from Western Conference winner last season to out of the playoffs entirely this time around. Their final hope lies in the return of Tyler Seguin.

27. New Jersey Devils (Even): They have points in their last three games, but have won only once in their last five. With Kyle Palmieri being a healthy scratch and the organization waiving the white flag on Nikita Gusev, it seems the Devils are ready to call it for this year.

28. Ottawa Senators (Even): They have points in four of their last five, but the Senators have likely fallen too far behind to make any real noise in the North Division. Christian Wolanin was a small move, but it’s very likely the beginning of Ottawa’s latest deadline sale.

29. Detroit Red Wings (Even): Losing six of their last eight games is unsurprising for a Wings team that is all but officially eliminated from postseason contention. Jonathan Bernier, Bobby Ryan, Luke Glendening, Marc Staal, and Jon Merrill are all amongst the Detroit players who could be moved in the next week.

30. Anaheim Ducks (Even): Losing five of their last seven puts the Ducks out of the playoff hunt, despite the struggles some of the teams above them are enduring right now. Moving Rickard Rakell and Josh Manson for decent packages should be the priority, as the Ducks could come out of the deadline as a winner.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): They finally won games and have points in every game this week. This feels like the equivalent of winning the Stanley Cup, with how awful the Sabres have been this past month.

NHL Power Rankings: Early Trade Deadline Edition

Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP

The trade deadline is in full swing.

With the moves by Montreal and Los Angeles to acquire Eric Staal and Brendan Lemieux, respectively, one of the busiest times in the NHL season is officially underway. Teams will now be spending the next two weeks evaluating their teams and trying to fill any holes they may find before the deadline comes up.

The last couple of years have provided busy trade deadlines and key moves that are still impacting teams today. Mark Stone, the Vegas Golden Knights’ first-ever captain, was traded for and extended by the organization two seasons ago. Tampa Bay overpaid for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, but were rewarded as both played key roles in the team’s Cup run last year. Not all moves made will have the impact of such deals, and there is likely going to be at least one major mistake revealed down the line. However, for teams looking into the present, they will have an assortment of trade chips to bargain over.

Granted, this deadline will take place amidst the league’s COVID protocols, so the heavy wheeling and dealing might not occur in some cases. That said, there are still plenty of storylines worth digging through. How will Nashville kickstart what is looking like an impending rebuild? Will Rickard Rakell set the market for top-six wingers like Filip Forsberg and Johnny Gaudreau? Will Taylor Hall be headed to a serious contender five months later? All of those questions and more will be decided shortly.

For now, though, it’s time to look at the season again and figure out just where everybody stands. While going through the week will still be done, any analysis on team needs will be determined here. Where do the teams stand since we hit the halfway point? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 27.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): Business as usual for the Lightning, who are looking as complete a team as there is in the NHL. Expect them to sit tight at the deadline and have Nikita Kucherov be their “big acquisition” come playoff time.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): Being up close to the cap will mean any move the Knights make will guarantee a roster player going the other way. If they do decide to swing a deal, though, expect one for a wing to slot with Cody Glass and Alex Tuch to give Vegas yet another impact line.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (+2): The Hurricanes have been going through a strong stretch of play, losing in regulation just once in the last fourteen games. It’s unlikely the Hurricanes will disrupt their current roster with this momentum, but it will all depend on how confident they are about their chances against the Lightning.

4. Washington Capitals (-1): Don’t look now, but Alex Ovechkin is beginning to find that goal-scoring magic again. With 10 goals in as many games, he’s making a late-season push for what would be his tenth Rocket Richard Trophy.

5. Colorado Avalanche (+2): Riding a ten-game point streak, the Avalanche are jockeying for position with Vegas and Minnesota in a competitive race for the West Division crown. With a good supply of young players and contracts they can ship out, would it be surprising for Joe Sakic to land one of the big assets of the deadline to push the Avs over the top?

6. New York Islanders (Even): Just when everything was starting to come together for the Islanders, captain Anders Lee suffered a season-ending torn ACL. Given the high-powered offenses that their East Divison foes have, the Islanders will have to make an aggressive bid for a big asset to keep pace.

7. Minnesota Wild (+1): A team shaping up to be a postseason pest, the Wild have a big four-game stretch coming up against Vegas and Colorado that will likely determine their standing in the West. If they struggle to gain traction, they could pull a surprising move at the midnight hour (pairing Kirill Kaprizov with Nikita Gusev, maybe?)

8. Toronto Maple Leafs (+1): Good bounce-back week for the Leafs, rattling off three straight wins to balance out a three-game losing skid. With how close the North Division is, though, and Kyle Dubas’ admission that top prospects are available for trade, Toronto is shaping up as the deadline’s most aggressive buyer.

9. Florida Panthers (-5): Winning only two of their last six games has put the Panthers in a tight spot, losing ground to Tampa Bay and Carolina in the standings. With arguably the most difficult road to the Cup in front of them, expect Florida to make an unexpected move or two to keep up (consider them a dark horse candidate in the Rickard Rakell sweepstakes).

10. Winnipeg Jets (Even): A solid three-game winning streak was broken by Calgary on Saturday, but the Jets are still in the hunt for the North Division lead. With this year’s deadline playing host to a decent number of defensive rental pieces, expect the Jets to swing a deal for at least one new blueliner.

11. Pittsburgh Penguins (Even): While the Penguins have stayed the course and have put themselves in a good position to make the postseason, GM Ron Hextall might still want to make his mark on the team. With so many forwards currently on injured reserve, do the Penguins decide to bring in some reinforcements?

12. Edmonton Oilers (+1): With a series against Montreal postponed due to COVID, Edmonton finds themselves in the middle of a season-defining tilt with Toronto. If they come up short against their eastern rivals, expect Ken Holland to be more aggressive at the deadline to get help for McDavid and Draisaitl.

13. Boston Bruins (-1): A loss to Buffalo would have undoubtedly knocked the Bruins further down the rankings, but they pulled through in the end. Still, coming so close to an embarrassing defeat should be enough to indicate that the Bruins need a big piece to be considered for Cup contention.

14. St. Louis Blues (Even): Dropping three straight and getting outscored 11-2 last week has the Blues flirting with disaster, as they’re currently tied with Arizona for the last playoff spot in the West. The Blues will almost certainly have to be aggressive at the deadline to keep their playoff hopes alive, including a backup goaltender to take the pressure off of Jordan Binnington.

15. Montreal Canadiens (Even): It’s a good thing the Habs went after Eric Staal when they did, as they became the first Canadian team to enter the league’s COVID protocols. Given the Canadiens were supposed to be one of the league’s bigger buyers at the deadline, how will this alter their plans?

16. Chicago Blackhawks (+1): Similar to the Blues, the Blackhawks’ recent rut has put the fringe teams in the Central Division in position to knock them out of the postseason. Getting Kirby Dach back will be a nice boost, but the Blackhawks will now have to decide whether to continue the rebuild or try and cement their postseason standing.

17. New York Rangers (+5): Despite terrorizing the Flyers by 17-3 in two games, it looks like it won’t be enough to stop the Rangers from selling. Lemieux and other depth pieces might be gone, but it may be a tougher ask to get someone like Ryan Strome or Alexandar Georgiev out of Broadway.

18. Philadelphia Flyers (-1): Redemption against the Rangers on Saturday still puts the Flyers three points behind the Bruins for the last playoff spot in the East, and the Bruins have played three less games. The Flyers will likely have to make a desperation push if they want to make the playoffs, which means top prospects and premium draft capital might be up for grabs.

19. Los Angeles Kings (Even): Getting swept by San Jose and an upcoming road series against Vegas could put a dent in the Kings’ dwindling playoff hopes. It would be wise for the Kings to stop their spending at Lemieux and focus more on keeping their future intact, but would they be willing to mortgage part of their farm system if Jack Eichel becomes available?

20. Vancouver Canucks (Even): Getting outscored 9-1 in their series against Winnipeg might be the end of Vancouver’s playoff ambitions. If Jim Benning’s awful contracts keep the Canucks from being active at the deadline, expect that to be the main reason the Canucks have a GM opening in the offseason.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (Even): Three straight losses, including a rough loss to Detroit on Saturday, puts Columbus in the same boat as the other two teams ahead of them. Despite not being totally out of postseason contention yet, the Jackets would still be wiser to cut their losses and sell to replenish a depleted farm system.

22. Calgary Flames (-6): Saturday’s victory against Winnipeg would’ve been great if it didn’t break up a four-game losing streak, including being limited to two goals against Filip Gustavsson and the Senators. Expect smaller moves at the deadline but, if the Flames do miss the postseason, expect an even larger blowup in the offseason.

23. Arizona Coyotes (Even): A statement win against Colorado and third-stringer Adin Hill’s impressive showings against San Jose have the Coyotes close to a playoff spot. The Clayton Keller rumors are likely finished for this season, but what do the Coyotes do with a defensive corps loaded with expiring contracts?

24. Dallas Stars (Even): Defeating the Lightning was nice, but it was the only win the Stars could muster this week. Nearing the finish of a disappointing season, the Stars would be wise to sell off depth pieces and give their top prospects like Jason Robertson more time in order to assess their abilities.

25. Nashville Predators (Even): Yes, the Predators have won six of their last seven, but I’m not buying it. Even if the Predators wait to sell Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and any rental forwards should still be put on the market to help the Preds build for the future.

26. San Jose Sharks (Even): Losing six of their last eight should be enough for San Jose to call it quits on this year. The rebuild continues with moving expiring contracts, but I don’t think Sharks fans would be opposed to Bob Boughner being a one-and-done deal at the helm.

27. New Jersey Devils (Even): A shutout loss to the Capitals has highlighted the Devils’ struggles, but they’re sitting on some decent assets. If they can get some good deals for the likes of Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, Ryan Murray, and even selling high on P.K. Subban, Tom Fitzgerald could walk out of the trade deadline looking like a genius.

28. Ottawa Senators (+1): Filip Gustavsson’s strong showings against Calgary likely have him pegged as Ottawa’s goaltender of the future. They won’t make the postseason, but the quartet of Tim Stutzle, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Gustavsson emerging ensures Ottawa’s season isn’t a total failure.

29. Detroit Red Wings (-1): Defeating Columbus doesn’t brush off a 12-1 annihilation of the Red Wings in their previous three games. Unless the Anthony Mantha trade rumors are accurate, the Wings won’t be getting a whole lot to help the rebuild out.

30. Anaheim Ducks (Even): It doesn’t matter if Rickard Rakell is one of the rare offensive producers the Ducks have; trading him to kickstart the rebuild while his value is still high is imperative for the Ducks’ long-term success. If Bob Murray isn’t willing to fully commit to a rebuild, it may be time to consider if he’s part of the problem.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): The Sabres are one more loss from tying the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins’ record for the longest losing streak in NHL history. Past that, the only other reason to care about the Sabres is how much they’ll get out Taylor Hall, Brandon Montour, Rasmus Ristolainen, etc.

NHL Power Rankings: First Half Edition

Credit: Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review Journal

Well, friends, we’ve finally arrived. The first half of the NHL season is officially over, and now we await the drama and storylines of the next month and a half.

By the end of this upcoming week, the league could be looking a lot different. Every game will now have some level of playoff implications. Rosters could change dramatically with the trade deadline season in full effect. Rivalries have had the time to escalate and tensions may be higher than ever before. It’s a trying time for any fan, but it’s ultimately part of the reason why the game of hockey is so easy to fall in love with.

If you’ve followed along with my rankings, you know that the last few weeks have been full of speculation. Whether teams should be buyers or sellers at the deadline, who they should target or trade away, who could be available for the Seattle Kraken in a few months, the whole nine yards. To commemorate the first half of the season, however, I decided to go with a topic that’s a little more concrete.

While hockey is very much a team sport, you still need your stars to do well if you want to reach the heights of contention. Key contributions could be the difference between the promised land and the gutter, especially at this critical juncture of the season. With that in mind, these rankings will highlight a player from each team that has been responsible for where their team is at.

Who’s the first-half Hart Trophy candidate from each team? And where do the teams stand from last week? Let’s take a look.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 20.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): The Lightning’s stellar season has been in part to many key pieces, but Andrei Vasilevskiy deserves special mention for cementing his place as the best goaltender in the world. Among goaltenders who have played at least ten game, he ranks first in wins (20), tied for first in save percentage (.933), second in GAA (1.86), and has nearly doubled the field in GSAA (goals saved above average) with an eye-popping 16.66.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (+1): Like Vasilevskiy above him, Marc-Andre Fleury deserves all the credit in the world for helping a star-studded Knights squad play to their potential. He’s regained his starting job by ranking third in wins (16), tying Vasilevskiy for first in save percentage (.933), and coming in just a sliver under Vasilevskiy in GAA (1.87).

3. Washington Capitals (+4): In a first half where stars missed time due to suspension (Tom Wilson) or COVID protocols (Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Samsonov), Nicklas Backstrom had to go from a supporting role to the spotlight. He’s rewarded the team by leading them in points with 34, as he enjoys his best offensive season in a decade.

4. Florida Panthers (Even): Long underrated due to a lack of exposure in Sunrise, Aleksander Barkov is aiming to shed that label at last. He currently leads the team in goals with 13, tied with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team lead in points with 35, and his work in his own zone and on the penalty kill makes him the current front-runner for the Selke Trophy this season.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (-3): I’d love to give Vincent Trocheck some love, but the Canes will need a top star like Sebastian Aho to continue his offensive production if they want to break through. Aho is currently tied with Trocheck and Nino Niederreiter for the team lead in goals with 13, as well as pacing the Hurricanes with 28 points.

6. New York Islanders (Even): Understudy Ilya Sorokin may be starting to shake off a rough start, but Semyon Varlamov has been the key to the Islanders continuing to frustrate teams and maximizing their strengths. Enjoying his best season in a decade, Varlamov is currently sixth in save percentage (.923) and eighth in GAA (2.17) among goaltenders who have played at least ten games.

7. Colorado Avalanche (+6): Just when it appeared Vasilevskiy and Fleury were the clear front-runners for the Vezina Trophy, Philipp Grubauer had to make a dark-horse run. Currently on a personal six-game winning streak, Grubauer ranks second in wins (18), third in save percentage (.929), and he currently leads the league in GAA (1.74) and shutouts (five, with three of them coming on this current win streak).

8. Minnesota Wild (+2): The Wild have long held the label of being uninteresting to watch, but Russian dynamo Kirill Kaprizov has changed that in an instant. The Calder Trophy front-runner currently leads all rookies with 10 goals, as well as leading his team with 25 points.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs (-4): The Leafs may have come out of this week with questions to answer on the back end, but there’s no denying that Auston Matthews has continued to be an offensive force. The preseason favorite to win the Rocket Richard Trophy, he has come out of the first half tied with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for the league lead with 21 goals.

10. Winnipeg Jets (-2): Mark Scheifele would be the easy choice but, in a year where underrated players are finally getting their respect, Nikolaj Ehlers deserves some recognition. Leading the team in plus/minus with +12 and second in both goals and points (15 and 33, respectively), Ehlers is on pace to enjoy the best offensive output of his career.

11. Pittsburgh Penguins (+1): With goals in six of his last seven games, Jake Guentzel is starting to find his stride at the right time for the Penguins. The Omaha-born sniper is currently leading the team with 13 goals, and is only behind Sidney Crosby in points with 29.

12. Boston Bruins (-3): The Perfection Line continues to be the heart of the Bruins’ offense, and David Pastrnak hasn’t missed a beat since returning from injury. Despite playing in seven less games than his linemates, he leads the Bruins with 14 goals and is second to Brad Marchand with 26 points (for context, he’s outpacing Marchand in points per game with a 1.24 mark over Marchand’s 1.21.)

13. Edmonton Oilers (-2): It was nice of Connor McDavid to remind everybody that he’s still the best hockey player in the world today. Tied for the league lead in goals with 21 while also currently being the only player to sit at the 60-point mark, McDavid is continuing to keep an inconsistent Oilers squad competitive.

14. St. Louis Blues (Even): In his first year as the Blues’ captain, Ryan O’Reilly has continued to be one of hockey’s best two-way players. O’Reilly is not only tied with David Perron for assists (21) and second to Perron in points (31), but he also currently leads the team in plus/minus with +11.

15. Montreal Canadiens (+2): Long known for his skills in the offensive zone at the expense of being a defensive liability, Jeff Petry has been enjoying a spectacular year on both ends of the ice. Finding new life with defensive partner Joel Edmundson, Petry not only leads all defensemen with 11 goals, but is also on pace to finish with a positive mark in plus/minus for the first time in his career.

16. Calgary Flames (+4): Jacob Markstrom has been dealing with bouts of inconsistency this season, but Elias Lindholm has been finding new life as a top-line center for the Flames. Currently leading the team in points (28) and plus/minus (+8), Lindholm’s strong two-way play must continue if the Flames want to sneak in to the postseason.

17. Philadelphia Flyers (-2): It’s looking like a disappointing season for the Flyers, but fans can take Joel Farabee‘s impressive development as a step in the right direction. Tied with James van Riemsdyk for the team lead with 13 goals and second to JVR with 25 points, he’s taken the mantle as Philadelphia’s new marquee young gun.

18. Chicago Blackhawks (-2): If the Blackhawks sneak in to the postseason, Patrick Kane should be the one getting the Hart Trophy this season without question. Kane currently sits only behind Edmonton’s powerful duo of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with 42 points.

19. Los Angeles Kings (-1): The aging core of the Kings are doing their best to turn the clock back, with Anze Kopitar leading the charge as usual. If Kopitar leads the team in points this season (he currently is doing just that with 35 points), it will be the 13th season in Kopitar’s career where he has led the Kings in that category.

20. Vancouver Canucks (+4): After a rocky start to the season, the version of Thatcher Demko that nearly carried the Canucks to a postseason run has finally arrived. Winner of eight of his last nine starts, Demko is on pace for career highs in both save percentage and GAA (he currently has .921 and 2.66 marks in both categories, respectively).

21. Columbus Blue Jackets (+1): On a scrappy team trying to fight for a postseason berth once again, Oliver Bjorkstrand has continued to produce offensively. Tied with Cam Atkinson with 11 goals and leading the team with 27 points, Bjorkstrand is looking to beat his current career high of 40 points in a shortened season.

22. New York Rangers (-1): Despite his strong play this season, especially in the wake of Artemi Panarin’s hiatus, Pavel Buchnevich‘s future on Broadway is not guaranteed. Second behind Chris Kreider for the team lead with 11 goals and leading the Rangers with 28 points, Buchnevich could be one of the pieces that get flipped if GM Jeff Gorton pulls the trigger on a blockbuster Jack Eichel trade.

23. Arizona Coyotes (-4): Clayton Keller has endured an up-and-down start to his NHL career, but he’s seemed to improve this time around. The only Coyote so far to hit the 10-goal mark, he will need to continue the production if Arizona wants to remain competitive.

24. Dallas Stars (-1): Looking at Joe Pavelski‘s stats this season is indicative of the Stars’ offense. The good news is that Pavelski leads the team with 14 goals and 27 points; the bad news is that he’s nearly doubled up the rest of the team in goals and a near double-digit lead in points.

25. Nashville Predators (Even): There’s a reason why Filip Forsberg is the most sought-after trade chip on the market this deadline season. The catalyst for the Nashville offense with a team-leading 10 goals and 27 points, it will take a convincing package to pry Forsberg away from the Music City.

26. San Jose Sharks (Even): Off-ice issues not withstanding, Evander Kane has been able to focus completely on the game. It’s paid off for him so far, as he leads the Sharks with 26 points and is second to Logan Couture with 12 goals.

27. New Jersey Devils (Even): It may have taken a year for him to get situated, but Jack Hughes has finally found his game at the professional level. Tied with Pavel Zacha for the team lead with seven goals, the former top overall pick’s development will be crucial for the Devils to compete with the big boys in their division in the future.

28. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Jonathan Bernier is likely playing his final games in a Red Wings uniform, but he’s certainly doing his part to help the rebuild out. Putting up a solid .918 save percentage and 2.78 GAA, Bernier looks like he’ll net a nice trade package for Steve Yzerman to continue implementing his vision.

29. Ottawa Senators (+1): The Senators are beginning to form their new young core, with Brady Tkachuk taking on most of the offensive responsibility for now. Tied for the team lead with 11 goals and leading the Senators with 22 points, Tkachuk is on pace for his third consecutive 20-goal season.

30. Anaheim Ducks (-2): Don’t look now, but Rickard Rakell is beginning to find his touch again. Leading the team with 21 points, Rakell has become an increasingly valuable trade chip if Anaheim decides to kickstart their rebuild.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): There hasn’t been much of anything to get excited about in Buffalo. If you’re a fan who’s been loyal throughout this entire process, no one can question your team spirit.

NHL Power Rankings: Week 9 Edition

Credit: Seattle Kraken/AP

It’s been another week in the NHL, and you know what that means. It’s time for another version of the NHL Power Rankings.

First things first, it’s going to be an intense week for sports, in general. March Madness is finally kicking off as the nation prepares to figure out how their brackets will inevitably be busted. NFL free agency begins as teams prepare to pay up to get their team ready for the upcoming season. Needless to say, speculation is going to be running rampant for the next little while.

However, the NHL also has it’s own speculation-laden events coming up. While I’ve talked extensively about the Trade Deadline, there’s one major offseason happening that’s sure to draw attention: the expansion draft. It may be more than six months until the Seattle Kraken (yep, that name is still music to my ears) take the ice for their maiden season, but it will be about half that time when hockey fans in the Pacific Northwest learn who might be donning the Kraken’s dark blue jerseys.

Now, how the Kraken approach the Expansion Draft won’t be discussed here (trust me, I plan to get around to that later), but this is the time to start really looking into who might be up for grabs for Ron Francis, whoever he selects as the team’s first coach, and the rest of the Kraken brass. They’ve been doing their homework for the last year or so now to build their ideal squad, and we’re not too far away from figuring out just who will fill each spot. That’s why for this week’s power rankings, aside from listing how the teams stand, I will also be looking at just who might entice Francis and the Kraken’s mystery coach enough to hear their name called in a few months’ time.

Who might be headed to Seattle to release the Kraken? And where do the 31 teams they’ll be competing against stand compared to last week? Let’s find out.

Disclaimer: These rankings are reflective of games played and statistics recorded on or prior to March 13.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Even): While Tampa still has a couple of intriguing young players, it is widely expected that the Kraken will chase a side deal for a more expensive veteran. Spokane native Tyler Johnson is the obvious choice, but Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn could draw some interest (maybe Seattle can find a way to get two of these players, a la Panthers in 2017?)

2. Carolina Hurricanes (+4): Now this will be an interesting conundrum for Francis, as many of his former draft picks from his days as Hurricanes GM will be up for grabs. Former first-rounder Jake Bean would be at the top of the shortlist, but Morgan Geekie, Haydn Fleury, and Alex Nedeljkovic are decent alternates if Bean gets protected.

3. Vegas Golden Knights (Even): In exchange for not gaining anything from the Kraken’s expansion fee, the Knights will not have their players be eligible for selection. Knowing this, could Vegas weaponize that fact and use it as leverage against teams preferring to get something out of certain players?

4. Florida Panthers (Even): Plenty of salary dumps to choose from here, from Brett Connolly and Alex Wennberg to Markus Nutivaara and Radko Gudas. If the Kraken are looking for an NHL-caliber veteran on a more manageable salary, Noel Acciari might be worth looking into (trying to land Henrik Borgstrom in the process might be worthwhile, as well.)

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (-3): The Leafs have some intriguing young forwards in their ranks, but their ceilings might not be as high as other targets. I’d expect the Kraken to attack Toronto’s back end, with options like veteran blueliner Justin Holl, young defenseman Travis Dermott, and solid backup goalie Jack Campbell.

6. New York Islanders (+3): The Islanders’ protection list will have some questions to ask towards the bottom: do they keep veterans Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy, cost-effective players Kieffer Bellows and Scott Mayfield, or a combination of the two? Whoever gets the short end of those decisions instantly becomes a target.

7. Washington Capitals (Even): T.J. Oshie would easily be the local choice, but he’ll be 35 before the Kraken finish their first season. There’s far more interesting options in Washington, whether it be a side deal for a veteran defenseman (Justin Schultz, Dmitry Orlov, Brenden Dillon) or a younger player (Vitek Vanecek, Jonas Siegenthaler, Daniel Sprong, Garrett Pilon).

8. Winnipeg Jets (Even): The Jets have a few young players that aren’t getting extended NHL stays, making them easy pickings for the Kraken. Mason Appleton, Jansen Harkins, Logan Stanley, and Sami Niku are all high-upside plays.

9. Boston Bruins (-4): Middle-six stalwarts like Ondrej Kase and Craig Smith would both be side deal options, but would Boston really let recent acquisitions slip away that easily? Young defensemen like Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, and Jakub Zboril are all more interesting options, as is young netminder Daniel Vladar.

10. Minnesota Wild (+4): Matt Dumba and Kevin Fiala would be prizes for Seattle depending on what approach the Wild take for their protection list, making this a dangerous game for Bill Guerin. If he could convince the Kraken to instead take one of Marcus Foligno, Nico Sturm, or Louis Belpedio, how much would he have to give up to ensure that decision?

11. Edmonton Oilers (+4): The Oilers have one young player at nearly every position that could be of interest to the Kraken. They have a forward in Tyler Benson, defensemen in Caleb Jones and William Lagesson, and even a goaltending option in Stuart Skinner.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (+5): Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger will both likely be exposed by the Penguins, giving the Kraken a choice of two capable middle-six forwards. Marcus Pettersson could be a side deal option, however, as Ron Hextall tries to clear up cap space.

13. Colorado Avalanche (-1): Regardless of what the Avalanche decide to do with Devon Toews, they are nearly guaranteed to lose a good player. Veterans like Nazem Kadri and Joonas Donskoi could be available, as well as younger options in Tyson Jost, Valeri Nichushkin, and Ryan Graves.

14. St. Louis Blues (-3): If Vince Dunn stays in St. Louis past the Trade Deadline and is exposed to the Kraken, he’d be a great pickup for the organization. After him, though, is a selection of depth forwards like Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais, Oskar Sundqvist, and Ivan Barbashev.

15. Philadelphia Flyers (-5): Side deal opportunities exist in cap dumps from Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk to Justin Braun and Shayne Gostisbehere. Younger players like Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Scott Laughton, however, are more likely to draw Seattle’s interest (throwing intriguing goaltending prospect Felix Sandstrom in a deal is an option.)

16. Chicago Blackhawks (-3): Andrew Shaw and Calvin de Haan are both capable veterans who can play shutdown roles and come with a little extra incentive to select them, while young players in Brandon Hagel and Lucas Carlsson could fight for extended roles in Seattle. If Malcolm Subban keeps putting in good work as Kevin Lankinen’s backup, however…

17. Montreal Canadiens (-1): After two straight years of shining in relief of the likes of Jordan Binnington and Carey Price, Jake Allen has earned the right to fight for a starting job again. If the Kraken don’t see him as a starting goaltender, however, they could go for shutdown forwards Artturi Lehkonen and Joel Armia, or take a young defenseman such as Cale Fleury or Victor Mete.

18. Los Angeles Kings (Even): Good luck to the Kings if they want to try and push the contracts of Jonathan Quick or even Dustin Brown onto the Kraken. Third-pairing defenseman Matt Roy stands out as a great value choice, but former Seattle Thunderbird Austin Strand and young forwards like Andreas Athanasiou and Matt Luff could make the choice interesting.

19. Arizona Coyotes (+1): Adin Hill seems like the near-unanimous choice for Seattle after multiple seasons of toiling away behind Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Whichever energy forward between Tyler Pitlick and Christian Fischer doesn’t get protected could be in play, or the Kraken can go off the beaten path and select an interesting prospect in Brayden Burke.

20. Calgary Flames (-1): Sam Bennett would be the easy choice if he wasn’t a likely trade candidate, and Mark Giordano would only be in play if the Flames added sweeteners and were ready to begin a teardown. Past those two, young players in Glenn Gawdin and Oliver Kylington are the only other ones with any solid intrigue.

21. New York Rangers (+1): If the Kraken want to establish an identity as being tough to play against, Brendan Lemieux would be a nice choice if he’s exposed. Past him, however, lies a trio of high-upside young forwards in Julien Gauthier, Brett Howden, and Tim Gettinger.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets (-1): Slim pickings from the Jackets this time (no William Karlsson deal this time), but what they do have might be worth the time. Eric Robinson, Kevin Stenlund, and Gabriel Carlsson are all starting to carve out roles in the NHL.

23. Dallas Stars (Even): It was once believed that Anton Khudobin would be the pick, but his rough season has thrown that into question. Whoever isn’t protected between Jason Dickinson and Radek Faksa could fill in roles in the middle six, or the Kraken can choose to grab some toughness with Jamie Oleksiak.

24. Vancouver Canucks (+3): Similar to Khudobin, Braden Holtby was another Kraken goalie option that is now doubtful due to a mediocre season. The Canucks would love to make a deal to get Antoine Roussel off their hands, but it’s more likely the Canucks target youngsters like Kole Lind, Brogan Rafferty, and Jalen Chatfield.

25. Nashville Predators (Even): Let’s not beat around the bush: the only way the Predators win the Expansion Draft is to get an awful contract off of their hands. Ryan Johansen would be the best bet if the Preds can convince the Kraken of the possibility of a William Karlsson-esque renaissance, but Matt Duchene and Colton Sissons would also be adequate.

26. San Jose Sharks (Even): A couple of young forwards make the most sense here, with Bonney Lake native Dylan Gambrell and former Seattle Thunderbird Alexander True having ties to the area. After them is another decent prospect in Jonathan Dahlen, or the Kraken could see about a deal to take Radim Simek.

27. New Jersey Devils (-3): A side deal for P.K. Subban might not make much sense on the surface, but the Kraken might bite for an expiring contract on a player who can still be useful and would be the first face of the franchise. There are other options, however, ranging from decent players on manageable contracts (Miles Wood and Will Butcher) to high-upside forwards (Janne Kuokkanen, Nathan Bastian, Yegor Sharangovich).

28. Anaheim Ducks (Even): It may require a sweetener or two, but the Ducks could really use taking Adam Henrique or Josh Manson off the books to get their rebuild started. Young defensemen like Brendan Guhle and Josh Mahura might not find the chances they need here, though, so the Kraken could strike and nab one as a development project.

29. Detroit Red Wings (+1): Not much here in Detroit to look at, but a grinder in Givani Smith would help as far as building an identity and fostering potential in young players. Veteran defenseman Troy Stecher or younger alternative Gustav Lindstrom would also be in the mix.

30. Ottawa Senators (-1): Like the team above them, Ottawa doesn’t have much to bring to the table. Dirt-cheap veterans like Nick Paul and Austin Watson can fill certain roles, while Vitaly Abramov, Christian Wolanin and Joey Daccord represent the closest thing to upside plays you’ll find here.

31. Buffalo Sabres (Even): Colin Miller might be closing in on being the answer to the trivia question “Which NHL player was selected in the Expansion Draft by two different teams?” If the Kraken won’t take a side deal for him, they could land a fourth-line forward like Curtis Lazar or Riley Sheahan, or go for a third goaltender in Jonas Johansson.