December 2018 Power Rankings
After one month (and an extra week), it's time for another new set of power rankings. A lot has happened since the last bunch - a few trades, 3 coaches have been fired (and 1 GM), and, of course, there was a lot of shakeups in the standings. Now about 30 games into the season, we have a better understanding of how things are playing out. Without further adue:
(Statistics and records are accurate as of the conclusion of the matinee games on December 8th, 2018)
31. Chicago Blackhawks (9-16-5, Last Month: 21)
If there was any doubt the Blackhawks dynasty had come to an end, it's gone now. The Blackhawks have lost 6 straight, improbably having the lead for just 41 seconds combined in their last 7 games. The firing of Joel Quenneville has done little to nothing to fix the Blackhawks woes, as Chicago now has major decisions as to how they will handle their core players going forward.
30. Los Angeles Kings (11-18-1, Last Month: 31)
After 30 games, I think it's safe to say it: the Kings can't score. And unlike another Californian team, they haven't been carried to relevancy by their goaltending as Jonathan Quick is still on the shelf. The Blackhawks incompetency and the fact I accounted for John Stevens' firing in the last rankings are the only reasons why the Kings aren't repeating as cellar dwellers.
29. Ottawa Senators (12-14-3, Last Month: 26)
Luckily for the Senators, I didn't get to talk about their Uber fiasco last month. That debacle has been emblamatic of the state of the Senators organization ever since the Kunitz goal. The Senators have been lurking closer to a wild card spot than expected at times thanks to a jumbeled up Eastern Conference, but make no mistake - this is a team who's biggest event is seeing what they can get for Mark Stone and Matt Duchene at the deadline. At least Thomas Chabot is still doing amazing.
28. Vancouver Canucks (12-16-3, Last Month: 8)
Yeah, we all saw this one coming. I had to rank them at 8 just because of how good their record was, but if you look back at what I wrote it was clear I didn't believe in the Canucks. The young core of Horvat, Petterson, and Boeser is still amazing, but their just isn't enough around them to make the Canucks anything serious. They'll be there soon, though. Trust the process, Vancouver.
27. St. Louis Blues (10-13-4, Last Month: 24)
How is a team this good on paper this bad on the ice? Yes, Jaden Schwartz has been injured for the last few weeks which may partially explain some of the lackluster numbers. But this team's true problem is between the pipes and at even-strength. The Blues just aren't quick enough to compete with the upper-echelon teams, and it's shown.
26. New York Rangers (13-12-3, Last Month: 30)
Perhaps I'm selling too low on the Rangers - they were the NHL's best team between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and a team with Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes is never to be taken lightily. Their record may be over hockey .500, but I just don't see this team as really anything more than Canucks. There just isn't enough offense, and their shot rates at both ends of the ice are terrible. Better luck next year, Hank. Probably.
25. New York Islanders (13-11-3, Last Month: 14)
After a strong first month, the Islanders have cooled down to the place where we all expected them to be. Despite one of the better tandems in the NHL of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss, the Islanders don't grade out in the upper-half of any of the metrics that I measure for these rankings (goals for/against, PP%, PK%, shots for/against) due to a lack of scoring depth and overall defensive talent. Maybe the return to Nasseau will fix you guys. Or land you another generational talent to waste like John Tavares.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (12-12-3, Last Month: 23)
I'm sorry Flyers, but I couldn't put you any higher on this list no matter how much I love you. The Flyers are a team without an identity - their special teams are awful, their head coach is a bore, the team usually lacks jump in their games, and, oh yeah, they fired their GM. Do you know how rare that is midseason? Regardless, there's always that ominious feeling surrounding the Flyers, that you know that at any second they could turn their season around and actually play to their potential. But they need to do it soon for it to make any difference.
23. Edmonton Oilers (15-12-2, Last Month: 13)
Yes, Connor McDavid. Yes, anyone who plays with Connor McDavid is guaranteed to look good. Yes, anyone else on the Oilers is guaranteed to look awful. Yes, Cam Talbot is still recovering from the abuse he took during the 2016-17 season and may slowly be losing his job to a guy who hadn't played in the NHL since 2011. Yes, the Oilers were doing so bad they had to fire their head coach. And yes, that Lucic contract is absolutely, 100% a dumpster fire. Have fun being hockey's LA Angles, Edmoney.
22. Florida Panthers (11-11-5, Last Month: 27)
What seemed to be a telegraphed wild card season and likely first round exit for Florida has turned into a nightmare. Their top-6 is still great, but the long-term loss of Vincent Trocheck has significantly impacted their forward depth. Bottom line is that this team needs to learn how to keep the puck out of the net before they'll have a legit chance at contending for a playoff spot. A healthy, reliable Roberto Luongo is a must for that - but the first trait doesn't necessarily guarantee the second.
21. New Jersey Devils (10-12-5, Last Month: 25)
You may be surprised to see the Devils this high (I was too), but none of their team metrics are that bad. That being said, they are being sunk by their lack of scoring depth (predictable) and the sudden and massive drop-off of Cory Schneider (unpredictable). Enjoy all that cap space, Ray Shero.
20. Detroit Red Wings (13-12-4, Last Month: 29)
Much to the excitement of Ken Holland and to the dismay of Red Wings fans that had already pre-ordered Jack Hughes jerseys, Detroit has put together a strong November that has brought them right back to the clutches of mediocrity. The only good thing from this may be the increased stock of Jimmy Howard, who at 34 is having his best year in over half a decade.
19. Arizona Coyotes (13-12-2, Last Month: 9)
Young teams are generally thought to be all offense, but the Coyotes are bucking that trend, although not necessarily in a good way. They may only have one player at the 20 point mark (Clayton Keller), but have been phenominal at keeping the puck out of their net, with the league's best penalty kill at over 90% even with starter Antti Raanta out due to injury.
18. Anaheim Ducks (15-11-5, Last Month: 28)
The Ducks may be winning, but don't be fooled - they still suck. John Gibson is proving worthy of your sympathy and Vezina vote, as he is the only thing keeping the NHL's worst shot creation and 2nd worse shot suppression team relevant. Have fun with that Ryan Kesler contract, Bob Murray.
17. Carolina Hurricanes (13-11-4, Last Month: 20)
Still number 1 of the fun police's most wanted list, Carolina has once again found themselves on the fringes of playoff contention. They may not be the Metro leading juggernaut some people were touting them as in mid-October, but they are certainly an intriguing team as they lead the NHL in both shot creation and suppression despite poor special teams play. Goaltending is still holding them back from a higher placement, though.
16. Minnesota Wild (15-12-2, Last Month: 7)
After a strong start to the year, Minnesota has cooled down severily over the last few weeks, winning just 3 of their last 10 games. In a rare instance of me actually predicting something correctly, Devin Dubnyk has indeed struggled to look like the goalie he was his first 3.5 seasons with the Wild, who have the depth but not the superstars to cover for Dubnyk's slump.
15. Boston Bruins (14-10-4, Last Month: 10)
This has been a weird season for the Bruins so far. They have struggled offensively at 5-on-5 as their highly touted depth has struggled to make the Bruins anything more than a one-line team. Starter Tuukka Rask took a leave of abscene earlier, but has return to form a dominant tandem with Jaroslav Halak. Saturday's dismantling of Toronto may be a sign that things are turning a corner, but I'm leaving them here for now with expectations they'll be back near the top 10 next month.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (12-10-5, Last Month: 16)
From the way Penguins fans talk about their team, you would think they were favorites to win the Jack Hughes sweepstakes. They say Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist are slumping, yet the former is point-per-game and the latter has 19 in 24 games. Casey DeSmith has been a pleasant surprise in net, which should make how the Pens handle their goalie situation once Matt Murray returns interesting.
13. Montreal Canadiens (14-10-5, Last Month: 15)
Both Shittsburgh and the Habs move up two spots from last month, and honestly I'm not sure which is more surprising - that the Pens didn't jump higher or Montreal didn't fall. Habs fans should be plenty concerned with Carey Price's struggles, but encouraged that the team is still staying relevant despite them. Max Domi and Tomas Tatar have been home runs for Marc Bergevin, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi is starting to get going as well.
12. Buffalo Sabres (17-9-4, Last Month: 17)
Buffalol is finally looking to shed that extra "l" after 7 years in the doldrums. For better or for worse, they are all in on joining the roller coaster ride that usually comes with young teams - a 10 game winning streak earlier in the month raised hope, but an embarassing 3rd period on Saturday against Philadelphia secured their 5th straight loss. Which team are you, Sabres? Only time will tell.
11. Vegas Golden Knights (16-14-1, Last Month: 22)
October had a lot of people concerned that the Golden Knights cup run last year was nothing but a fluke, but Vegas looked to flip that script with a strong November. Max Pacioretty is finding his stride, Nate Schmidt has returned from suspension, and I believe Paul Stastny will be back sometime during the month. The Golden Knights may just be getting started after all.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets (16-10-2, Last Month: 15)
In a season that could have gone a lot of ways, it appears things are on the up and up for 'Lumbus. They are finding a way to win a lot of games, but need their depth scoring and Sergei Bobrovsky (.898 save%) to wake up if they're going to be able to sustain their success.
9. San Jose Sharks (14-11-5, Last Month: 12)
I feel kind of dirty putting the Sharks here, but I don't see the opportunity to drop them any lower. The Sharks have gobs of potential, but 30 games into the season the Sharks have largely failed to live on their potential even with Erik Karlsson slowly starting to find his stride. Martin Jones, it is time to step up, sir.
8. Dallas Stars (16-10-3, Last Month: 5)
Dallas being a good team isn't necessarily unexpected, but how they're doing it is. A roster primarily built around the offensive talent of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and company is giving up the 2nd fewest goals per game thanks to a resurgent Ben Bishop, turning back the clock to 2015 Vezina nominee form.
7. Washington Capitals (16-9-3, Last Month: 18)
Up 11 spots from last month, it's safe to say the Capitals cup hangover didn't last long, even if they are still having a difficult time keeping the puck out of their net. The Caps has four players (including a defenseman, John Carlson) producing at a better than point-per-game pace, which may be enough to score themselves to a 4th straight Metro division title.
6. Winnipeg Jets (17-9-2, Last Month: 11)
The Jets are once again looking like a dangerous team in the Central capable of making some noise, although they have a few issues to iron out. Patrik Laine has to have one of the weirdest splits in the NHL, with 21 goals to just 3 assists. They could use some more from Nikolaj Ehlers and especially Connor Hellebuyck, but should be fine long term.
5. Nashville Predators (19-9-1, Last Month: 3)
On a total 180 from Washington, the Predators are having some troubles putting the puck in the net, but are still going strong regardless. Kevin Fiala is the main culprit here, but injuries to Victor Arvidsson and P.K. Subban may be the biggest factor. Smashville will be just fine if Pekka Rinne keeps playing like he is right now - a 1.95 G.A.A. and .930 save% are making David Poile look like a very smart man.
4. Colorado Avalanche (17-7-5, Last Month: 4)
Make no doubt about it - the Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line is the best in the NHL right now. Rantanen is on pace for a 131-point season, the best in the NHL in over a decade. Seymon Varlamov is playing well, too, and while the Avalanche may lack some depth scoring, but that top line more than makes up for it.
3. Calgary Flames (18-9-2, Last Month: 6)
Stealing Smashville's "Highest Western Conference Team in the BoTN Power Rankings" banner this month are the Calgary Flames, who, true to their name, are on fire. The Flames have five players at a point-per-game or better, with Johnny Hockey leading the way as always. So long as David Rittich (or even Mike Smith) can hold down the fort in goal, the Flames could be dangerous.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-8-1, Last Month: 2)
One of just two teams in the NHL at 20 wins, there has been no bigger win for the Maple Leafs this season than being able to re-sign William Nylander, and to a reasonable deal as well. Toronto could score with anyone in the league without Nylander, and are that much better with him. Add in the stellar play of Frederik Andersen, and the Maple Leafs are clearly a top-2 team (even if they didn't wind up playing like it Saturday night against Boston).
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (22-7-1, Last Month: 1)
While the Maple Leafs are dominant offensively, there isn't a more complete team in the NHL than the Lightning. Winners of 8 of their last 10 and first in the standings, the Lightning are the obvious choice for the top spot. They've got talent, depth, and have been winning even without Andrei Vasilevskiy between the pipes. Straight up, no doubt about it - the Lightning are (still) #1.