December 2019 Power Rankings
Another month of riveting NHL hockey has come to a close. Most teams are somewhere between the one quarter and one third mark of their season, meaning it's about too late for struggling teams and players to put their concerns aside as merely a slow start.
Thanksgiving has always been a big benchmark for NHL teams. 77% of teams in a playoff spot on Turkey Day since 2014 have ended the season in the big dance. Last year that number was a little bit lower at 68.75% (11 of 16 teams held their playoff position), but the point remains true: if you're not in now, it's an uphill battle to push yourself in.
That battle will easier for some teams than others, just like the fall will be for the handful of teams that slip from their current spots by season's end. November saw a lot of turnover, with many teams pulling a full 180 from their October play with a few either rising higher and higher, and a few more digging their holes even deeper. Here's what the NHL landscape looks like after two months of play (all stats are accurate as of November 29).
31. Detroit Red Wings (7-18-3, Last Month: 30)
I saw this team play in person on Friday, and man, they are just plain bad. The Flyers blew them out of the water without lifting a finger. Add in that Anthony Mantha and both goalies being injured, and this team is going nowhere fast. Their goal differential is THIRTY goals worse than the next worst team.
30. New Jersey Devils (9-11-4, Last Month: 28)
Mark my word: John Hynes is going to be the next head coach fired, and it'll probably happen sometime within the next month. The Devils' struggles aren't all his fault; goaltending has been absolutely terrible, with Cory Schneider's revenge tour ending in a sad demotion to the AHL. But it's not like the team Hynes is leading in front of him (and MacKenzie Blackwood) has come anywhere close to meeting expectations.
29. Anaheim Ducks (11-12-4, Last Month: 22)
I knew this team was nothing more than a group of young players still not ready for stardom and overpaid vets (with the exception of Getzlaf and Lindholm) being dragged to relevance by John Gibson. They're 25th in the league in Corsi and Expected Goals%, and probably won't finish the season much higher in the standings than they are.
28. Ottawa Senators (11-14-1, Last Month: 31)
D.J. Smith has done his best in a tough situation, making the Senators somewhat watchable and leading the team to hockey .500 just a few weeks ago. They've fallen off since with three straight losses, but Anders Nilsson has kept them in games this season with a stellar .917 save percentage.
27. Los Angeles Kings (10-14-2, Last Month: 23)
Speaking of coaches doing their best in tough spots, give Todd McClellan some credit as well. He's gotten the Kings to play pretty well; they're top-5 in Corsi and top-10 in Expected Goals%. Their lack of offensive talent and Jonathan Quick's dramatic fall from grace have and will continue to undue them, but it's not all bad in LA.
26. Chicago Blackhawks (10-10-5, Last Month: 25)
The goaltending has been even better than advertised; Robin Lehner leads the league in save percentage and Corey Crawford isn't far behind. However, outside of the DeBrincat-Strome-Kane line, they need more offensively from just about everyone, especially on the power play, where they rank 28th in the league.
25. New York Rangers (12-9-3, Last Month: 27)
The underlying numbers are still in the basement, but the Rangers offense is starting to wake up thanks to god-mode Artemi Panarin, the better-late-than-never emergence of Ryan Strome, and Kappo Kakko starting to adjust to the NHL. Doing most of this with Mika Zibanejad out with injury is impressive, but I'm still concerned about their defense long-term.
24. Calgary Flames (12-12-4, Last Month: 11)
In the lamest pun ever, everything in the Calgary Flames organization is literally on fire. Johnny Gaudreau has underachieved and failed to meet expectations. TJ Brodie suffered a stroke (but has thankfully returned to the lineup). Milan Lucic still hasn't scored. And to top it all of, Bill Peters resigned after an ugly incident that involved a racial slur and other physical abuse from a decade ago.
23. Buffalo Sabres (12-10-4, Last Month: 14)
It feels like Groundhog Day in Buffalo, where the Sabres have taken a great start and turned it into a massive collapse for the second straight year. It's not as dramatic of a fall as last year's (yet), but their goaltending has struggled at times and Rasmus Dahlin is mired in a sophomore slump. They need someone other than Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson to step up badly.
22. Montreal Canadiens (11-9-5, Last Month: 20)
Two weeks ago, the Canadiens figured to make a solid leap in these rankings, as they once climbed as high as 2nd in the Atlantic. But then Carey Price began to struggle, which snowballed with their poor special teams into a six-game losing streak. The Atlantic is still wide open, and if Price finds his game, the Habs should be ok. But as we found in the 17-18 season, that's not a total guarantee.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets (11-10-4, Last Month: 26)
Who would've thought Joonas Korpisalo would be rocking a higher save percentage than Segrei Bobrovsky? It's not like he's been great though; goaltending and the loss of their high-end talent up front have sunk the Jackets, just as we predicted. No one is over 20 points on the season this year for Columbus, who just doesn't have enough to compete with the big boys right now.
20. Florida Panthers (12-8-5, Last Month: 18)
Bob's Panthers rank above his old team in large part due to a scoring outburst led by their underrated but low-key stacked top-six. Analytics say the Panthers are a decent team, one that deserve to be around the playoff bubble where they are now. Remember, Bobrovsky had a terrible start last year before turning it around down the stretch. He better do the same this year.
19. Vancouver Canucks (12-10-4, Last Month: 4)
I don't necessarily think the Canucks deserve to be this low with a still decent record that has them in the thick of the playoff hunt. But a 3-7-2 November isn't doing them any favors. They've been good on special teams and they're about 50% in Corsi and Expected Goals%. Travis Green just had this team on a different level in October; he needs to get them back to that soon.
18. Minnesota Wild (11-11-4, Last Month: 29)
All the credit in the world to the Wild for forcing their way back up these rankings. I thought they were just going to slowly die all season and wind up as a lock for dead last in the Central. But the Wild rediscovered their offense, and with a great top-four defense, there's at least a little chance they make some noise. Now if only Devan Dubnyk could return to 2015 form...
17. Nashville Predators (12-9-4, Last Month: 5)
Smashville has pretty much had the exact opposite season the Wild have so far. After a great October, November has seen Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros put up sub-.900 save percentages, making them one of the worst tandems in the league. The Kyle Turris situation may be past the point of no return with the skilled center healthy scratched multiple times. I think they're due for a turnaround, because their roster is that good, but if not, all eyes turn to Peter Laviolette.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs (12-11-4, Last Month: 16)
It may be surprising to see the Maple Leafs here after a six-game losing streak cost Mike Babcock his job less than two weeks ago. But having a new head coach is grounds of reevaluation of Toronto, who is 3-1-0 under new boss Sheldon Keefe. Tyson Barrie has gone from ticked to tremendous with a 3-game goal-streak under Keefe, who seems more open to using the Leafs' skill to their advantage. We'll check in on them in a month.
15. Vegas Golden Knights (13-11-4, Last Month: 15)
I don't really know what to think about the Golden Knights. I thought they might struggle in the goals against column due to a weak defense and a spotty backup situation (the latter has held true). But it's their offense that's been the main problem, averaging less than 3 goals per game. They need Jonathan Marchessault and Paul Stastny to find a second gear, as the Pacific is looking much more competitive than we all thought in September.
14. San Jose Sharks (14-12-1, Last Month: 24)
Just when you think the Sharks are ready to fade away and slam their window shut, they find a way to stay relevant. To be honest, I'm not really sure how they've done it. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell are just as trash as last year, and Timo Meier hasn't taken the massive jump that some were expecting. They were 5-1-0 in one goal games, so there may be some regression coming it, but with where they were at the end of October, I think the Sharks will be happy being here.
13. Winnipeg Jets (16-9-1, Last Month: 21)
We all thought if there was any chance the Jets would stay relevant, it would be because Laine, Ehlers, Wheeler, and Scheifele would score them through their problems. Yet it's Josh Morrissey and that AHL-caliber defense that have led the way. Just kidding - it's Connor Hellebuyck's world and we're just living in it up in the True North. However, Winnipeg is dead last in the league in Expected Goals%, suggesting if Hellebuyck slips up even a little, the Jets dreams may come crashing down.
12. Arizona Coyotes (15-8-4, Last Month: 13)
Scroll back up to the thumbnail for a second. Done? You just saw the best goalie tandem in the NHL. Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper have led the Coyotes to the best save-percentage in the entire NHL, enough to make up for Phil Kessel's tough start in the desert (4 goals in 27 games). Arizona was elite defensively last year and nearly made it in; if they stay healthy and find a way to start scoring just a little bit more, look out.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (14-7-5, Last Month: 17)
After a few blips on the radar, the Flyers have found their footing under Alain Vigneault to the tune of their highest spot ever in these rankings. The youth (Hart, Farabee, Frost) has performed as advertised, and while it's been a bit rockier road for the vets, guys like Jake Voracek and Kevin Hayes are starting to turn things around. Combine that with elite special teams and Ivan Provorov's return to form, and the Flyers are off to their best start since 2011-12.
10. Dallas Stars (15-10-2, Last Month: 19)
No team has won more games since October 19th than the Stars (14). They still need more out of Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, and Alex Radulov (40 points combined). But Anton Khudobin and Ben Bishop have stolen the show with .928 and .931 save percentages respectively, turning the Stars into an elite defensive team. You have to figure both will regress to the mean as the season goes on, but they should just about cancel out, leaving the Stars as a solid contender.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (12-8-3, Last Month: 7)
Don't let their spot in the standings fool you; Tampa Bay has played just 23 games, tied with the Islanders for the fewest in the league. They're still second in the Atlantic by points percentage. But considering how stacked they are on paper, you should expect more. The Bolts are dominate in the o-zone, leading the league in goals per game and are 3rd on the power play. But Andrei Vasilevskiy has been off to a meh start, leaving the Lightning tied for 23rd in goals against per game.
8. Carolina Hurricanes (15-10-1, Last Month: 3)
The Canes have been a frustrating team to follow this year. After a dominant start, Carolina has been a roller-coaster team so far, losing four consecutive games early in the month (including two straight to Ottawa), then winning four of five, then losing two straight. Andrei Svechnikov is enjoying his coming out party as an elite forward (did you see that lacrosse goal?!), but goaltending remains a bit of a concern for the Bunch of Jerks.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (14-8-4, Last Month: 10)
I don't get it. This year was set up as the perfect storm for the Penguins to fall off. Malkin missed a month, Galchenyuk can't buy a goal, they had the worst third pairing in the league in Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbransson, and now Sidney Crosby's out long-term. Matt Murray hasn't even been that good! And yet, when one star has been hurt, the other has risen. Gudbransson was traded to Anaheim without retaining salary. Tristan Jarry has a .929 save percentage. Their depth is allowing the Penguins to motor on like nothing ever happened as they seem to be just as elite as ever.
6. Edmonton Oilers (16-8-3, Last Month: 9)
I'm still a little wary of the Oilers long-term viability as an elite team, but you've got to respect where they're at. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl seem to Thanos snap defensemen and goalies out of their way, they're just that good. James Neal has slowed down from his torrid start, however, and other than Zack Kassian (the lucky man who gets to play with Draisaitl and McDavid), most of their forwards are still underwhelming. They'll need to improve their 24th ranked Corsi to stay on top.
5. St. Louis Blues (15-5-6, Last Month: 8)
The loss of Vladimir Tarasenko has predictably hurt the Blues offense, but they've responded by leaning on their stacked defense and a Jordan Binnington picking right up from Game 7 of the Final. Granted, the early returns of Justin Faulk (0 goals) haven't been great, but it might not matter if Binnington keeps playing as well as he is right now.
4. Colorado Avalanche (15-8-2, Last Month: 12)
So much for the Avs just being a one-line team. Even with Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen on the shelf, Nathan MacKinnon has gone off and is an early Hart contender. Cale Makar is already better than Tyson Barrie and is the heavy favorite for the Calder. The forward additions (Burakovsky, Donskoi, Kadri) have come through in spades. Mixed in dynamite goaltending, and you have my new pick to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Final.
3. New York Islanders (16-5-2, Last Month: 6)
This is the most confusing team in the NHL. The Islanders Corsi is second-worst and their Expected Goals% isn't much better. Even if you look at Fenwick (Corsi but without blocked shots, something the Islanders supposedly do a lot of), they don't grade out well. And yet they just finished a 16-game point-streak. Derick Brassard is turning back the clock to his Rangers days, but the tandem of Thomas Greiss and Seymon Varlamov are the biggest reason for their success. I'd say their due for regression, but it took 86 games for that to hit last season - why would this year be anything different?
2. Washington Capitals (18-4-5, Last Month: 2)
Alex Ovechkin just caught Teemu Selanne with 675 all-time goals, which tells you that things are going well in what is apparently the new title town. John Carlson is running away with the Norris and is on pace for A HUNDRED AND NINE points. That's some Bobby Orr/Paul Coffey stuff right there. Braden Holtby is even turning his play around after a rough start. Nothing to complain about here.
1. Boston Bruins (18-3-5, Last Month: 1)
At this point, the word "perfection" doesn't just apply to the Bruins top line; it fits with their whole team. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are world beaters with over 40 points each. Halak and Rask are automatic between the pipes. I didn't love the Charlie Coyle extension, but he's a solid depth piece now and in the immediate future. The reigning conference champs are on a mission, and right now, nobody can stop them.