With an handful of Eastern Conference teams that look to be serious Stanley Cup contenders, the Chicago Blackhawks have slipped up a bit in our NHL power rankings
Depth issues. We’ve been saying this all year. Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has been cycling every young player into the first-line left wing position, but nothing seems to be clicking.
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Losing to the Blues last year and watching Minnesota seem to take the next step, the Blackhawks need to make one if not a couple moves to be a contender again this year. The Blackhawks have not been satisfied being a “one and done” team in the playoffs, so look for GM Stan Bowman to trade away more prospects and draft picks in exchange for playoff tested veterans.
What does it all mean for this week’s NHL power rankings? Let’s take a look. (Note: Records and stats as of Tuesday night.)
I’m not really sure what’s going to happen at the deadline but Joe Sakic has a lot of decisions to make with the league’s worst team. Cody McLeod was the first domino to fall and we’ll see if any major pieces start to move. It’s been rumored that everybody on the roster is available. The Blackhawks face this team tonight so they will definitely be taking hard looks at Landeskog and Iginla.
The Arizona Coyotes are another team that will be selling at the deadline. GM John Chayka will probably continue to sell off his UFA veterans to desperate contenders for more prospects and picks. He will probably be willing to also soak up even more bad contracts for teams in need of relief such as the Hawks. We’ll see where Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal end up, but there is no doubt there is a strong nucleus of good young players in Arizona. Clayton Keller from Team USA juniors is a kid to keep an eye on.
The Sabres and Dan Bylsma have just been unfortunate this year. Playing in an incredibly hard division without your best young player for the first few months was tough, but the Sabres have proved that they can skate with any team in the NHL. They have a great group young players lead by Rasmus Ristolainen, Jack Eichel, and Sam Reinhart. Combine that with veterans Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, and Evander Kane and this team should be able to make a strong playoff push next year once healthy. For now they will have a top 10 draft pick to look forward to.
With the loss of Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin, and Kyle Okposo, John Tavares is back to doing everything by himself. It will really be a shame if the Islanders don’t make the playoffs since they have such great battles with top Eastern Conference teams every year. With a 6-9-4 record on the road, it’s going to be tough to dig themselves out of Metropolitan Division if they can’t win games in the opposing team’s building.
What the heck happened to this team? With all of the pieces to go deep in the playoffs, the Stars are one of the biggest disappointments of the year. There is no doubt that injuries to key players have slowed them down, but with the talent they have in Benn, Seguin, and Spezza there should be no excuses for missing the playoffs. This was a team that played the Blackhawks with a big chip on their shoulder so maybe it’s a good thing they’re in 5th place in the Central Division.
Could this be first year since 1989 that the Detroit Red Wings miss the playoffs? It’s possible. Sitting in 7th place in a tough Atlantic Division, the Wings will need to be better than a .500 team to hang on to their playoff streak. However if they do go on some crazy winning streak as we’ve seen with a couple other teams this year, they are still not somebody I would want to see in the playoffs. It doesn’t really matter who puts that jersey on, something about that sweater makes them always competitive. If the Wings do fall out of contention, Thomas Vanek is a UFA next year and would bring back a decent return at the deadline. He makes a lot of sense for a team looking for a top line winger…
The Jets have been rebuilding for a few years now and it’s time to make a big splash. Winnipeg fans go absolutely nuts for playoff hockey and it’s time to give them what they deserve. Rookie sensation Patrick Laine and emerging top scorer Mark Scheifele have lead the team all year in scoring and show no signs of slowing down. If the Jets can package some of their young talent to bring in another top six veteran, they will be a force to reckon with.
The Devils are the beginning of many bubble teams in the Eastern Conference. The addition of young sniper Taylor Hall has been a success since he is leading the team in scoring with 28 points in only 35 games. With a lot of veteran depth, the Devils could sneak their way into the playoffs without anybody noticing since the East juggernauts are constantly beating up on each other. If they do, Corey Schneider needs to be better than a .500 goalie.
The Canucks continue to insist they aren’t rebuilding their team but they clearly are. Seemingly the worst place a team can be progression wise is right in the middle and that seems to be where Vancouver falls. They have top veteran talent in the Sedin twins as well as great young prospects. Brock Boeser will be an absolute monster for this team in a few years. A bright spot on this team has been Bo Horvat who will make the team’s only All Star appearance. I’d say the future is bright in British Columbia whether they make the playoffs this year or not.
Ever since the Lightning played the Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup, I thought they would be the top team in the East for years to come. They had everything and could win hard playoff games on the road. But the long term injuries to superstar Steven Stamkos have put immense pressure on their 2nd tier talent. Nikita Kucherov is proving again this year that he is a top player in the league with 41 points in 38 games. Victor Hedman is making a strong push for a Norris Trophy and youngster Jonathan Drouin is finding his scoring touch. Question for Tampa will be their goaltending which has been middle of the road this year.
Nashville was my pick to go to the Stanley Cup out of the West at the beginning of the year. Making that bold move for PK Subban took a lot of guts, but we’re finding out that trading your long time captain may not have been such a great idea. The Preds got out of the gate incredibly slow but have been turning things around lately. Winners of their last three games, the Predators have finally found some cohesiveness in their young forwards group. Ryan Johansen and Fillip Foresberg currently lead the team in scoring which is a great sign. Viktor Arvidsson has been the biggest surprise already with ten goals on the season. The central is a tough division but the Predators are built to go deep in the playoffs. I bet it will be a different story if they somehow meet the Sharks again.
The Senators seem to always be in contention to get into the playoffs but nobody really talks about them all year. Well, with the exception of fantasy-machine Erik Karlsson. Karlsson has 7 goals, 28 assists, 105 blocked shots, and averages 27 minutes of ice time a night. He is absolutely a guy any team would love to have, but for now he’s stuck in Ottawa. If the playoffs started today, the Senators would miss the playoffs even with a great record so far. They are another victim of phenomenal teams this year in the East.
If there is anything Dale Tallon is good at, it’s building teams from the ground up. The Panthers are a strong young team just waiting to take the next step. But with front office musical chairs, it seems like the product on the ice has struggled. I know I was pretty disappointed when the Islanders beat the Panthers last year in the playoffs, but great teams need to learn how to lose first. Let’s hope Jagr, Ekblad, and company can make some noise this spring.
Sitting in the last wild card spot in the conference, the LA Kings continue to be the roaches of the league. Just how they play the Blackhawks, the Kings are not out of it until you squash them dead. This is still not a team the Blackhawks want to see in the playoffs even with their recent early departures in the post season. Jonathan Quick will be back mid-February from injury which will give a huge boost to them defensively. Jeff Carter is playing absolutely out of his mind with 23 goals and 17 assists on the year. At 32, he doesn’t seem to be showing signs of slowing down.
How are the Hurricanes the 16th best team in the NHL? Cam Ward is the answer. Ward has started a whopping 37 games this year and is 18-12-6 with a 2.34 GAA. Good lord. Contributing to their recent success are young stars Victor Rask, Sebastian Aho, and former Blackhawk Teuvo Teravainen. Jeff Skinner also leads the team with 35 points this year. This is a team seen as a bottom feeder hockey club that can compete with just about anybody right now.
Last time I did this Power Rankings article a few months ago, the Flames ranked as one of the worst teams in the league. Now they’re in the top 15. Getting healthy had a lot to do with out. Mikael Backlund currently leads the team in scoring but not by much. Johnny Gaudreau trails by one point with 28 and he’s missed ten games from a wrist injury. The top six of Calgary that features Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan has been extremely productive. Throw in ex-Blackhawk Michael Frolik who has 25 points on the year and it looks like you have a team that’s rolling four lines. That’s usually a recipe for playoff success in this league.
Is there such a thing as pre-mature winning? I’m happy that the Leafs are finding ways to win hockey games but I almost wish they sucked for one more season so they could get some more young talent. That being said, Auston Matthews looks to be taking the lead for the Calder Trophy as Winnipeg Jet’s Patrick Laine is recovering from a concussion. In the last 10 games, the Leafs are 8-1-1 and their young guns are scorching hot. Matthews, JVR, Marner, Kadri, and Bozak are all in double digits for goals this year and it looks like they’re having a lot of fun doing it. I’m pretty sure that’s how it all started here in Chicago.
The Flyers are currently on a 2 game slide and are 2-6-2 in their last ten. But like the Kings, this is not a team I want to mess with as a wild card. There is nothing worse than giving a fundamentally strong team a chance to beat a No. 1 seed with absolutely nothing to lose. Yes I would love to see Capitals vs Penguins, but Flyers Penguins will do just fine too. Heck, I’ll take both! If the Flyers give up a few less goals in the 2nd half of the season, watch out. Voracek and Giroux will be a handful to deal with.
The Blues continue to be a tough team to beat in the Central Division. With 16 wins at home, they will definitely be fighting for home ice with Chicago and Minnesota since they have struggled outside of their own building. In a special year that is supposed to be Ken Hitchcock’s last, the Blues beat the Blackhawks in the Winter Classic and hope to continue their success into the playoffs. Speaking of special years, Blackhawk killer Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 20 goals and 24 assists. It’s safe to say he is worth every penny he’s being paid.
With Boston losing a lot of their defensive depth with Seidenberg, Hamilton, and Boychuk gone, many thought that Boston would take a step back. But since his emergence in the World Cup, Brad Marchand has put this team on his back. Marchand currently has 17 goals and 26 assists and leads the team in scoring. Just behind him is surprise young forward David Pastrnak with 33 points. If Tuuka Rask can also maintain this level of play, the Bruins will definitely be one of the major players this spring. They will be looking to add to their already deep roster.
Returning mostly everybody from their team last year that went to the Stanley Cup, the Sharks are equipped with all the major pieces to make another deep run. Who knows if Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau will be with the team next year but newly signed defenseman Brent Burns will definitely be there. Leading the team in scoring with 18 goals and 27 assists, he, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will be the leaders in the bay area for years to come. Goal tender Martin Jones is currently 22-14-2 with a 2.25 GAA. The Pacific Division will for sure be a dog fight again this year.
Well, the Ducks may be the Western Conference version of the Washington Capitals unless they prove otherwise. They tend to beat up on teams in the regular season, then lay an egg in the playoffs. It hurts so much more that they lose in game 7 all the time, but their fans don’t need to be reminded of that. The Ducks are 7-1-2 in their last ten games with Kesler, Getzlaf, and Perry leading the team in scoring. No surprise there. Let’s see if they finally get it done this year.
The Rangers have come back to earth since their fast start, but still have an impressive team goal differential of +36. Their defense has always been deep but the story this year has been young forward production. Their top three scorers are Kevin Hayes, Derek Stepan, and JT Miller all whom are under 27 years old. Michael Grabner also seems like the pickup of the century with 27 points on the year. The Rangers will get back young forward Mika Zibanejad which will help their depth considerably. Let’s see if King Lundqvist can keep up with his young team at 34 years old.
When Conor McDavid was 14, he was said to be the biggest NHL prospect since Sidney Crosby. Five years later, McDavid leads the league in scoring, just one point in front of Sidney Crosby. With 14 goals and 37 assists, Conor McDavid is leading a previously playoff inept hockey team to the playoffs. Even with the departure of Taylor Hall, the Oilers are rolling. They are 6-3-1 in their last ten games and 12-7-5 ON THE ROAD! If the Oil Change can keep this up, we may have a contender on our hands.
The Blackhawks need Jonathan Toews to wake up from this terrible dream FAST. Since missing some time earlier in the year, Toews doesn’t not look like the same old Toews that we’re used to. He isn’t in on the forecheck as much, his scoring has gone dry, and his top line in the last 8 games has been ineffective. I hope he’s not dealing with an ailing injury, but he needs something to boost his chemistry on the first line. If the Blackhawks can’t find ways to find production from the other lines, it will be pretty easy for playoff opponents to game-plan stopping Kane/Panarin/Anisimov.
Remember last year when the Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of the “C” and they went all the way to the Stanley Cup? It was quite the shakeup for the Sharks, but they needed it. Same thing applies here with the Canadiens. Nobody could believe the blockbuster trade that happened over the summer, but after the first half of the year Shea Weber looks damn good in a Canadiens uniform. He brought veteran leadership, a huge shot, and shutdown defense with him from Nashville and he hasn’t looked back. Could this be the year? I say they go “all in.”
The Blue Jackets have been the breakout team all season long, but now that their streak is over let’s see if they can stay motivated. Cam Atkinson has finally broken out along with surprise contributors Alexander Wnnberg and Zach Werenski. The Jackets have been building their franchise for quite some time and now may be their time. Bobrovsky is having a great season and John Tortorella will probably be the coach of the year. Let’s see if they can keep this up.
Well, Syd and Gino look like they’re back. In an incredibly entertaining game last night between the Penguins and Capitals, the Pens came out with a 8-7 win. The Penguins are making a very strong case to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. There is no doubt this team is still loaded but the question will be if Matt Murray can keep the puck out of the net. With a GAA of under 3 and all the star power they have in Pittsburgh, it’s a safe bet to say they’re going deep again.
Defense wins championships right? Well, the Minnesota Wild have just that and more. With a goal differential of +46, the Wild are scoring on other teams without letting them score back. They are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and seem to grind out wins from the best teams in the league. The addition of former Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal has put the Wild in a position to take the next step. Staal leads the team with 39 points and leads by example for all the young players on the team. The Wild however are coached by Bruce Boudreau who is infamous for great regular season teams and subpar playoff performances. Whether they can get past their central division foes is to be seen.
This Capitals team is simply one well oiled machine. We saw first hand what they can do to a playoff contender when they dismantled the Blackhawks 6-0. Ever since the outdoor game with the Caps, I knew they were an awful matchup for the Blackhawks. That being said, the Capitals were in this same situation last year. Everybody thought they couldn’t be stopped, but they were. The Caps are 9-0-1 in their last ten and will probably continue to steamroll the rest of the NHL. Boy would it be cool to see Syd vs Ovi in the Eastern Conference championship. Let’s pray for that.