November 2019 Power Rankings
It's that time of year again! Welcome to the first edition of the second season of Back of the Net's NHL power rankings. Last year, on the first Sunday of every month, I would rank all 31 teams in the NHL, one through thirty one. These ones are coming out a little bit later (due to college visits), but should return to their regular slot going forward.
These rankings are meant to be a snapshot of the previous month of NHL hockey, as well as a bit of a preview for the month ahead. To determine the rankings, I make a spreadsheet that takes into account record, last 10 games, goals for/against, power play, penalty kill (all from NHL.com), Corsi, Expected Goals (xG), save percentage, and PDO (all from Naturalstattrick.com). I also take into account schedule, roster strength on paper, injuries, and notable individual performances when putting these rankings together.
Since this is the first rankings of the month, I'll also be taking last year into account, mainly as a way to handicap players and teams performing much better or worse than last season. You should expect to completely agree with these rankings each and every month, and if you disagree, then you're wrong.
Kidding. This is actually a tough month to judge (the first one always is) because of a pretty stark difference between the standings and the analytics. But I managed to get through it. As a final note, all stats are accurate as of the beginning of play on Sunday, November 3rd. Now, without further ado, the completely accurate power rankings of the 2019-20 National Hockey League's first month.
31. Ottawa Senators (3-8-1)
That's about where we expected to see them. A quick glance at the Senators roster suggests that they'll never climb above the bottom five on this list. They'll be paying for the sins of Eugene Melnyk for a long time as their rebuild slowly chugs on.
30. Detroit Red Wings (4-10-1)
The Red Wings actually began the season relatively well, starting 3-1-0, capped off with a four-goal game from Anthony Mantha. Since then, they're the worst team in the NHL at 1-9-1, and their roster is the only one that rivals the Senators for on paper awfulness. Other than their top line of Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and Tyler Bertuzzi, there's not much to look forward to at the NHL level this year.
29. Minnesota Wild (4-9-1)
Everyone thought the Wild would be mediocrity defined this year. Turns out we weren't harsh enough. Though they've dealt with some injuries, namely to Mats Zuccarello, we underestimated Minnesota's lack of talent up front. The Wild are 28th in goals per game. Devan Dubnyk has been a let down in goal. When Brad Hunt is tied as your second highest scorer, there is a serious problem.
28. New Jersey Devils (3-5-4)
Speaking of issues we all underestimated, let us take a look at the New Jersey Devils goaltending.
And it's not like the team around them has been amazing, either. Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes struggled to get going and have been moved down the lineup at times. John Hynes seems like the heavy favorite to be the first coach out the door this season. There's still time to salvage the season, but it gets early late.
27. New York Rangers (5-5-1)
Defense was a major issue for the Rangers last season, and it's plagued them once again this year. New York's goalie situation will be interesting to follow - Henrik Lundqvist (.906 save percentage) has been the starter forever, but Alex Georgiev (.933) is threatening to take the lead in Dan Quinn's tandem. The coming out party of Mika Zibanejad as an elite center will be a treat to watch (how's Derick Brassard working out, Ottawa?), but is there enough behind him and Panarin to carry the load?
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (5-6-3)
It's going to take a miracle for the Blue Jackets to be competitive in a tough Eastern Conference after losing so much talent from last year's run. Sure enough, goaltending has been a huge problem - neither goalie is above a .890 save percentage. Only Pierre-Luc Dubois (10 points in 14 games) is averaging more than .5 points per game. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are still a treat to watch, but they're not enough to carry Columbus to success.
25. Chicago Blackhawks (3-6-3)
The Blackhawks October schedule gave them a lot of rest and games in the Windy City, the perfect opportunity to build momentum for the long season ahead. Instead, the Blackhawks wasted an early gift, recording a mediocre 2-3-2 record on a 7-game home-stand. Despite adding Calvin de Hann and Olli Mattaa, the regression of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have turned their defense into a mess. Robin Lehner hasn't missed a beat from last year's Vezina nomination, but even that's mitigated by a yikes level start for Jonathan Toews (1 goal, 3 points in 12 games).
24. San Jose Sharks (4-10-1)
Most people saw the Sharks as part of three locks along with Vegas and Calgary to take the Pacific division playoff spots. But we may actually be seeing the beginning of the end of the Sharks decades of dominance. The points are there for Erik Karlsson, but reports are that he may never be the same elite talent because of his injury history. Anyone who thought last year's sudden struggles for Martin Jones and Aaron Dell were a blip on the radar have been incredibly disappointed - San Jose's .873 team save percentage is second to worst in the league. That has to give if the Sharks have any chance of making a 5th straight playoff appearance.
23. Los Angeles Kings (5-9-0)
Goaltending is also a major issue for the Sharks biggest Californian rival. Father time appears to have caught up to Jonathan Quick, who is second last in the NHL in save percentage (.858) and goals against average (4.55), ahead of only Cory Schneider. But analytics paint a brighter picture - under new coach Todd McClellan, LA is second in the league in Corsi and first in Expected Goals For %. The Kings will probably regress because of their lack of speed and talent eventually, but at least there are signs of life in Los Angeles.
22. Anaheim Ducks (9-6-0)
We've been down this road before. Anaheim is being outplayed and out-chanced to hell and back in nearly every game, but are near the top in the standings because of the powers of John Gibson. Granted, it's not quite as extreme as last year, but it still feels that the Ducks are more likely to hit rock bottom (just like last year) than not. That adds to the pain of the awful Erik Gudbranson trade - the Ducks just took one of the league's worst contract off the Penguins hands for hardly any cost.
21. Winnipeg Jets (8-7-0)
It's honestly impressive that the Jets are off to such a solid start, considering their defense consists of Josh Morrissey and a bunch of players who look they belong in Europe. With Dustin Byfuglien still out on a leave of absence, keeping the puck out of the net is a major struggle in the True North. Connor Hellebuyck has been great, and he'll need to continue that to give the Jets a shot. It's nice to see Nikolaj Ehlers and a more pass happy Patrik Laine starting to return to form.
20. Montreal Canadiens (7-5-2)
Not much has changed in Montreal from last year to this. They're still scoring by committee and receiving great goaltending from Carey Price. Jesperi Kotkaniemi has been off to a sophomore slump (3 points in 12 games), but Nick Suzuki has proven he can contribute in the NHL, and just about everyone else is meeting expectations. The result is a solid opening month that leaves the Habs on the playoff bubble, a trend that will probably continue throughout the season.
19. Dallas Stars (7-8-1)
Dallas deserves a ton of credit for being this high up after how they began the month. The Stars have bounced back from a nightmare 1-7-1 start, they have quietly become one of the hottest teams in the NHL behind a breakout start from Roope Hintz and more great goaltending from the Ben Bishop-Anton Khudobin tandem. Jamie Benn and John Klingberg still need to return to form before the Stars can fancy themselves a serious threat, but at least they have a pulse.
18. Florida Panthers (7-3-4)
Despite the decent record, this isn't the start the Panthers had in mind for their golden goose Sergei Bobrovsky. 10 million dollars shouldn't equate to a .882 save percentage, though he ended the month with a 22-save shutout of Detroit. The offensive core is producing as advertised and Aaron Ekblad looks more like a first overall pick than ever. Betting on Bob to bounce back seems pretty safe, and if he does, the Panthers could be dangerous.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (6-5-2)
If you would have told me that the Flyers would be leading the NHL in Corsi at the end of the first month, I would have taken it hands down. Granted, I'd also expect them to be higher in the standings. That's due in large part to a bit disappointing month for Carter Hart, though Brian Elliott has partially picked up the slack. Special teams have gone from a weakness to a major strength, and the Lindblom-Couturier-Konecny line is one of the best in the league by any stat. There's a lot to like going forward.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs (7-5-3)
Yes, the Leafs have dealt with a lot of injuries to impact players and a schedule chocked full of back-to-backs. Ilya Mikheyev has been a pleasant surprise early on and the big boys have been producing on paper. But it feels like time is running out on Mike Babcock. Something about the Leafs just feels broken, and Babcock may have taken this team as far as he can. November will be a massive month for the future of Maple Leafs hockey.
15. Vegas Golden Knights (8-5-2)
It feels like Vegas has weathered an early storm, dodging early injuries to Malcom Subban, Nate Schmidt, and Alex Tuch while escaping October with a solid record. Mark Stone has proved worthy of his extension with a dynamite start. Marc-Andre Fleury continues to defy father time, and Cody Glass has begun his rookie season nicely. The Knights feel on the cusp of a breakout.
14. Buffalo Sabres (9-4-2)
Once again, there is reason for optimism in Buffalol. The owner of the league’s longest active playoff drought is once again looking to break through with another strong season. Though Carter Hutton is actually playing like a starting goalie and Victor Olofsson is making a surprise Calder push, analytics once again warn that the Sabres hot start may not last (23rd in Corsi). But after all the additions they made over the summer, I think there’s a chance the Sabres are actually good this year.
13. Arizona Coyotes (8-4-1)
The team below the Sabres have a similar story to tell. The Yotes were much closer to making the playoffs than Buffalo last year despite an injury list rivaling the death count of Spanish Flu. Darcy Kuemper is a beast, and with Antti Raanta still unable to stay healthy, he might take over the starter’s job for good. Phil Kessel’s slow start isn’t optimal, and a big reason why the Coyotes are still in the bottom half of goal scoring. But give them some time, and the Coyotes might prove themselves for real.
12. Colorado Avalanche (8-4-2)
Injuries are a major reason the Avs didn’t crack the top 10 this month. Two-thirds of their vaunted top line in Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen are out, potentially for the long haul. Joe Sakic’s depth additions will be trusted to hold down the fort for them. They’ll be aided by a Philip Grubauer that is turning a corner at just the right time and a d-core that hasn’t missed a beat despite losing Tyson Barrie over the summer. Expect the Avs to push for a top-5 spot once Mikko and Landy return.
11. Calgary Flames (8-6-2)
I’m betting on myself by having the Flames this high. By all accounts, they’ve been incredibly mediocre so far this season. The James Neal trade has blown up in their face faster than a Milan Lucic sucker punch. What’s most surprising is for all their offensive talent, the Flames have struggled to find the back of the net, ranking 21st in goals and shooting percentage. But their goaltending has been decent enough that I’m willing to bet if they play just a little bit better, they’ll look like a powerhouse again in a month or two.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (8-5-1)
They just don’t die. No Malkin, no Bjugstad, no problem for the Penguins, who look just as strong as ever after a rocky opening week. Matt Murray and Tristian Jarry have been phenomenal between the pipes thus far and the impact players that have been healthy are producing. More and more it looks like Jim Rutherford was playing four-dimensional chess all along, evident by escaping the Gudbranson contract and Brandon Tanev’s hot start (7 points in 14 games). Maybe the preseason concerns become more apparent as the season wears on, but it already feels like the Penguins will avoid the lottery for yet another year.
9. Edmonton Oilers (10-4-1)
One of the biggest team shocks in the NHL are being lead not by Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl (but they’re playing better than ever) but by the once again real deal James Neal. He’s already on pace to fulfill that conditional 3rd requirement for outscoring Lucic by 10 or more goals, beating him, well, 10 to nothing. Granted, the Oilers had a relatively easy schedule to start the year, but there’s something to be said for taking advantage of your breaks. The hard part will be sustaining this success, especially since I don’t the Mikko Koskinen-Mike Smith tandem is ending the year top-10 in save percentage.
8. St. Louis Blues (9-3-3)
Yes, losing Vladimir Tarasenko for probably the rest of the regular season is going to hurt. Yes, they are dead last in the league in Expected Goals Percentage. But they are still the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and their record is still pretty good. The Blues are a team built on depth, and while there’s no one player that can replace Tara’s production, there’s enough talent left standing to hold down the fort. Besides, the Blues main strength is keeping the puck out of the net, and Jordan Binnington and their stacked defense have done a solid job of that so far.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (6-5-2)
No team was harder to rank in this exercise than the Tampa Bay Lightning. On one hand, they’re easily the best team in the NHL on paper and it’s not like they’ve been awful. But a game over hockey .500 is hardly the response you want to see from a team that literally had their hearts ripped out of their chests for six days in April. The points are there for the big names and Kevin Shattenkirk has been a massive success, but Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a shell of his usual self and the Lightning have just four regulation wins in eleven games. Logic says they return to elite form sooner rather than later, but you have to wonder if last year’s shell shocking defeat may be too much for this core to come back from.
6. New York Islanders (10-3-0)
Last year taught me not to doubt the Long Island Magic, as the Islanders rode a massive upgrade behind the bench and a bit of a PDO bender for 86 games before it all came crashing down against Carolina. There’s a part of me that wants to do it again, especially when they still aren’t scoring much and have the worst Corsi in the league of any team not in New York. But Seymon Varlamov has picked up right where Robin Lehner left off, and you have to respect a 9-game winning streak. Maybe it’s more likely the Islanders end up as a bubble team than a true contender, but any thoughts of them falling off the map are being chucked out of the window rapidly.
5. Nashville Predators (8-4-2)
A lot of people’s bold preseason prediction was for Nashville to fall off, but I wasn’t buying it. Peter Laviolette is a good coach and Matt Duchene is a great player, and the Predators are a good team even before accounting for both. Getting Roman Josi’s extension out of the way early is great for all parties, as the Predators top-four remains as the perfect complement to a balanced forward core with some of the best center depth in the league and an aging wonder in Pekka Rinne in goal. Their special teams aren’t great, but they are the raging tire fire that last year’s power play was. So far, they’re rewarding the trust I put in them in preseason, and there’s no reason why they won’t continue to into April.
4. Vancouver Canucks (9-3-2)
It may be hard to believe, but the Canucks began last year inside the top 10, thanks in large part to Elias Pettersson’s inhuman start in the NHL. This year, there are more reasons to believe the Canucks can remain near the top. For all of the criticism he faces (most of it deserved), Jim Benning has built a very deep hockey team that can beat opponents with grit AND skill. JT Miller has been a huge success so far, producing at a point per game pace, and Jacob Markstrom and Thatcher Demko are as underrated a tandem as you’ll find. I don’t think they’ll finish in the top 5, but with the Sharks looking like hot garbage early on, there’s a Pacific playoff spot up for grabs, and the Canucks appear hungry to snatch it.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (9-4-1)
To the surprise of no one outside of "old hockey men", the reinforced Bunch of Jerks are just as good as last year’s surprise Eastern Conference Finalists. They’re a top-5 team by both Corsi and Expected Goals Percentage, Petr Mrazek and James Reimer have been more than good enough in goal, and motivational mastermind Rod Brind’Amour is getting production up and down the lineup. If Sebastian Aho gets hot (and he’s starting to) or/and Justin Williams returns for the stretch run, look out.
2. Washington Capitals (10-2-3)
Without a Cup hangover to hold them and back and reenergized by the Nationals’ title on the baseball diamond, the Caps once again appear to be one of the strongest teams in the NHL. It’s another year in the office for Alex Ovechkin and company, highlighted by an early Norris push from John Carlson and, more recently, a hat-trick from Jakub Vrana. The only question going forward is in net. Braden Holtby has not been good - top prospect Ilya Samsonov. It’s a small sample size for sure, but there may be a changing of the guard behind what appears to be a trademark Capitals regular season of excellence.
1. Boston Bruins (10-1-2)
Last year’s finals defeat didn’t wear out the Bruins; rather, it’s inspired them to climb the mountain with passion, intent on crushing all competition en route to another deep playoff run with a much different ending. Every stat you can find loves the Bruins. They’re scoring goals and keeping the puck out of their net; they’re dominant at 5-on-5 and special teams; they’re controlling play and generating chances with the best of them. A little extra scoring from their depth (looking at you, Krejci and McAvoy), but it’s hard to complain. Flipping Tukka Rask and Jarsolav Halak on basically a game-by-game basis is working wonders now and in the future. It's hard to argue against the B's being the early number one seed.