January 2019 Power Rankings
As the calendar year flips over, the NHL playoff picture is starting to take shape. In the East, 9 teams are realistically in the hunt, while about 11 teams out West should still have playoff goals. For some, this season has been met with optimism and a pleasant surprise. Others just want to see this year come to a merciful end. Now at approximately the halfway point, let's see how things are playing out (statistics are accurate as of the beginning of play on January 5th, 2019).
31. Philadelphia Flyers (15-20-5, Last Month: 24)
I can't believe I'm writing this. What looked like a surefire playoff team in October as become an absolute trash pile in record time. I guess I could've seen the defense being bad and goaltending being troublesome. But to this extent? And where has the scoring depth been? Most of the young core has taken a big step back as the Flyers are now forced to admit this is a lost season and get ready for a 4-month tank. The firing of Dave Hakstol proves this narrative accurate.
30. Ottawa Senators (15-21-5, Last Month: 29)
After a decent start to the year, it has been proved the Senators are truly a bad team. And they still don't have their 1st round pick, remember. Thomas Chabot is still a beast, but the team's lack of depth and goaltending have brought them back to the basement, just like we all expected. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene are having great years, though, which should maximize their return at the deadline. You are going to trade them, right Dorion?
29. Los Angeles Kings (16-23-3, Last Month: 30)
What was supposed to be a year where the Kings continued their dominance of the last half decade with another deep playoff run may have confirmed the end of an era. Most of the team has taken a step back, including Jonathan Quick, who at this point is danger of losing his job to Jack Campbell. The problem with LA is they don't have any assets they can easily sell off to officially start a rebuild. The way they're constructed, they may have no choice but to try to win next year anyway. It's still not gonna go well.
28. Chicago Blackhawks (15-21-7, Last Month: 31)
The fact that the Blackhawks are up 3 spots isn't because they've gotten any better, it's just that teams previously ahead of them have gotten worse. They're basically the Kings of the Central Division but with a few more injuries. Hope you had fun at Notre Dame Stadium, because that's the last time this year your team will be relevant.
27. Detroit Red Wings (16-20-7, Last Month: 20)
For these rankings, I make a spreadsheet of 6 statistical categories: goals (for/against), special teams, and shots (for/against). Guess which team is the only one to be in the 20s or lower for every category? That's what happens when you have no depth behind Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist, who should garner a nice haul at the trade deadline, as could Jimmy Howard. If Ken Holland isn't stubborn enough, the Wings rebuild could back some big strides over the next 2 months.
26. New York Rangers (17-16-7, Last Month: 17)
Much like the Red Wings, the Rangers have cooled down after a red-hot November stretch towards the bottom of the league. When you can't put the puck in or keep the puck out of the net, you're going to have problems winning games. The Rangers rank 27th in both, unsurprising for a team that has admittely been in a rebuild since last year. Henrik Lundqvist can only do so much.
25. St. Louis Blues (16-18-4, Last Month: 27)
The Blues are doing their best to usurp the Flyers as my worst prediction for this season. Despite looking like a playoff contender on paper, the Blues haven't gelled on the ice or the goaltending from Jake Allen to be respectable. When a team with this much talent has only one player above 30 points (Ryan O'Reilly), there's going to be trouble. Now the Blues have to decide whether just a retool at the offseason is enough to get things back on track, or if bigger changes need to be made.
24. Arizona Coyotes (17-21-3, Last Month: 19)
Congrats Coyotes, you are officially the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of hockey. The team everyone expects to challenge for a playoff spot but can never get over the hump. The Coyotes are wasting the feel good story of Adin Hill and the league's best penalty kill with the fact they STILL can't score goals. 5-on-5, power play, shot creation, you name it, if it requires offense, the Coyotes are bad at it. No one has more than 30 points, and only 2 players have more than 20. The calls for a move to Houston only further the latest disappointing season.
23. New Jersey Devils (16-17-7, Last Month: 21)
Perhaps no stat is more surprising than the fact that Cory Schneider went through the entire 2018 calendar year without winning a single game. Not one (though he did win one in the playoffs). Goaltending and the lack of depth I complained about last year have dragged the Devils down as they appear unable to sustain the success of last year. Taylor Hall is still amazing, but it's starting to look like Ray Shero might become the next Ron Hextall (and not in a good way).
22. Edmonton Oilers (19-18-3, Last Month: 23)
The Edmonton McDavids are still as top heavy as ever, an unfortunately, that's starting to be a problem. The injury of Oskar Klefbom (and Kris Russell, I guess) have weakened their defensive corps to the point where they had to trade for McDavid's boogeyman in Brandon Manning. Winners of 3 of their last 10, Peter Chiraelli is on thin ice right now, and it's only a matter of time before it cracks.
21. Florida Panthers (17-16-6, Last Month: 22)
The Panthers are trying to make their way slowly towards the playoffs with strong offensive numbers, both at 5-on-5 and on the man advantage (2nd best). But it looks like they've dug themselves into too deep of a whole. That, their goaltending, which features 0 goalies with a save% in the .900s, and lack of depth will keep them from meeting expectations. The telling stat - Keith Yandle is their 5th leading scorer at 33 points. Frank Vatrano is 6th - at just 17 points. What a dropoff.
20. Vancouver Canucks (20-20-4, Last Month: 28)
It appears that maybe I was a bit too quick to write off the Canucks as their new swedish god Elias Petterson leads them back to the playoff bubble. The Canucks are trying their best to follow the 2016-17 Maple Leafs blueprint, only deviating in goal, where Jacob Markstrom has held down the fort with a respectable .910%, keeping hopes alive in Vancouver.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (18-17-5, Last Month: 17)
The NHL's Corsi and celebration gods are unfortunately still bathing in the mediocrity that has plagued them for the last decade. The Whal-I mean Hurricanes have finally found a stable option in net, thanks to...Curtis McElhinney? He does have a .923 SV% in 15 starts, unofficially making him the best goalie the Canes have had since 2009. Sebastian Aho is having a breakout year, but Carolina is gonna need more help to avoid stretching that playoff drought to 11.
18. Anaheim Ducks (19-16-7, Last Month: 18)
How are you guys still relevant? Forget the Vezina, John Gibson should be a Hart candidate with the way things are going right now. His .925 SV% is that much more impressive when you consider the Ducks give up the 2nd most shots/per game in the NHL, and don't get him much offensive support (30th in goal scoring). This doesn't seem sustainable, but goaltending can mask a lot of problems.
17. Minnesota Wild (19-17-3, Last Month: 16)
So it turns out the Wild might not be as bad as I thought they would be. Their record may suggest mediocrity, but I don't think they're that far from turning a corner. They are one of the best defensive teams in hockey, and Devin Dubnyk offset his awful .882 SV% in November with a respectable .911 SV% in December. It's not going to be an easy road, but I think the Wild have what it takes to make it back to the playoffs.
16. Dallas Stars (22-16-4, Last Month: 8)
Let's just say it's been a rough month for the Dallas Stars. Specifically, it's been a rough month for Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. CEO Jim Lites called out in the two players in an expletive-filled rant for their poor play, despite the fact they're 1 and 3 on the team in scoring because the Stars still don't have much depth. For once, it's been goaltending carrying the Stars to success, but I'll say this - you better make the playoffs. Or else...
15. Colorado Avalanche (20-14-8, Last Month: 4)
You ok, Colorado? The Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line is still as good as ever, but the rest of the team proved unable to overcome a .874 SV% from Seymon Varlamov, as the puck found the back of the Avs net with regularity. The Avalanche are my biggest faller, but I still think they'll be ok long term, so long as they can clean things up defensively.
14. Montreal Canadiens (22-14-5, Last Month: 13)
Another solid month is in the books for the Habs. I honestly don't know how they're doing it. Carey Price is a .908 SV%, and if you had told anyone he'd been at that mark in January they'd have thought the Habs were back in the basement. In a stunning revelation, Marc Bergevin's moves are actually paying off, as the Habs 3 leading scorers were traded for by Bergevin over the last 18 months.
13. New York Islanders (22-13-4, Last Month: 25)
No, the Isles did not magically reacquire John Tavares, but yes, they are playing like they have him and it's 2016 again. Unlike a couple of other teams below them, the Islanders have sustained a previous hot strecth and are now back in a playoff spot. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss have been one of the NHL's best tandems, but all Islanders fans are feeling really good about their recent 4-0 over Tavares' Leafs, featuring a hat trick by leading scorer Matthew Barzal.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-14-3, Last Month: 10)
It seems surprising that a team with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal is struggling to keep the puck out of the net (and winning), but that's what the Blue Jackets are. To be fair, Bob is up to a .908 SV% on the year, but it's been the contributions of Artemi Panarin (who may want to stay after all) and Cam Atkinson, both over 40 points, that look like they may bring playoff hockey to Columbus for a franchise best 3 straight years.
11. Buffalo Sabres (22-13-6, Last Month: 12)
With every passing month, the Sabres are getting that much closer to shaving the extra l off of Buffalol. Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, and Sam Reinhart are leading the charge up front with at least 40 points each. Between the pipes, Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are doing just as good as the Sabres could've hoped for, if not better. Let this season be to hockey in Buffalo what the 2017-18 Bills were to football in the city.
10. San Jose Sharks (22-13-7, Last Month: 9)
Are these guys ever going to live up to their potential? In fairness I could be using this statement for any Sharks season over the last decade plus. Erik Karlsson has finally turned the corner, and the scoring is certainly there. But I can't put these guys any higher with starter Martin Jones still holding a save% under .900.
9. Nashville Predators (24-15-3, Last Month: 5)
I know the Preds are just starting to get healthy with stars like P.K. Subban and Victor Arvidsson just now returning to the lineup. But I don't think that excuses winning only 3 of their last 10 or having a 9-game losing streak on the road at one point. Smashville has a great Pekka Rinne and an outstanding record at Bridgestone Arena to thank for not falling farther.
8. Washington Capitals (24-12-4, Last Month: 6)
The Caps have successfully erased members of their Cup hangover in October with 2 solid months of play, though there are some concerns. The Capitals sport one of the NHL's worst PKs (76.8%), and their shot rates aren't great either. But they have plenty of offense up and down the lineup, and Braden Holtby has been good enough to basically ensure another return to the playoffs for the Caps in April with the chance to do much more.
7. Boston Bruins (23-14-4, Last Month: 15)
It's been a bit of a weird season thus far for the Bruins, but it looks like things are finally starting to stabilize. Tuukka Rask is returning to form, but isn't seeing as much time because of even stronger play from Jaroslav Halak. But how good of a steal is David Pastrnak's contract? Under $7 million for a 104 point pace is just stupid good.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (23-12-6, Last Month: 14)
The Penguins are in trouble, they said. They're not nearly as good as the last few years, they said. Well, look at them now. I had little doubt that the Pens would eventually turn things around, and now they have. To the surprise of no one, the Penguins core of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Murray, etc. has returned to their usual form. Jake Guentzel is making a strong case to prove that, as he has 37 points in 41 games and received a 5 year, $30 million extension to prove it.
5. Winnipeg Jets (25-13-2, Last Month: 6)
The Jets are indeed going for the Win-nipeg with another strong season to bring hope to the true north. They'd probably like a little more from Patrik Laine (7 points in December), but the rest of the core has been as good as advertised, other than Connor Hellebuyck, who has only been ok with a .908 SV%.
4. Vegas Golden Knights (25-15-4, Last Month: 11)
Don't look now folks, but the Vegas Hype Machine is reaching levels not seen since last May. The Golden Knights put up one of the best Decembers in the NHL and have vaulted back up to the top of the league. Marc-Andre Fleury is still a beast, but the team is getting healthy, and their new acquistions in Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny are starting to heat up. Just like last year, just when you start to doubt them, the Golden Knights only become stronger.
3. Calgary Flames (25-13-4, Last Month: 3)
By now you may have realized that the top 3 teams this month are the same as last month (order TBD). Out of those three teams, Calgary has to be the most surprising. Yet the Flames have been solid all season long, led by Johnny Hockey, who is tied for 3rd in the league in scoring. David Rittich has been a revelation in goal, but long term, the Flames should be plenty concerned with James Neal's ugly start to his Flames career (4 goals, 8 points in 41 games).
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-12-2, Last Month: 2)
For all the ups and downs the Maple Leafs have incurred this season, Toronto is 2nd in the standings for a reason. The speed and skill of the Leafs constantly overwhelms teams, and their defense has been better than most people thought. So long as Frederik Andersen isn't out long term (which seems like the case), the Leafs will be remain serious contenders.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (32-7-2, Last Month: 1)
Last month, only 2 teams in the NHL had reached the 20 win plateau. This month, the Lightning stand alone as the only team in the 30s. The fact is the Bolts have pulled away from the rest of the league, winning 7 straight and have a point in SIXTEEN straight. Nikita Kucherov is starting to pull away in the scoring race with 69 points (nice), 4 ahead of 2nd place. Andrei Vasilevisky is back in action too, and seems poised to take the Lightning on another deep playoff run.