January 2020 Power Rankings: Revisiting Preseason Predictions
The first power rankings of the twelfth decade of NHL hockey are going to begin a little bit different than the ten or so I've done before. Rather than focus on the last month of performance for the 31 NHL teams, I wanted to look back and where we've come from the beginning the season. We are now firmly in the second half of the season, and groups of legitimate contenders and floundering bottom-feeders have officially taken shape.
Obviously, there's still a lot of time for things to change. Of course, last year's Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues, were dead last in the NHL a year and nine days ago, only to rally behind a fourth-string goalie and a random song from the 80s to end a 52-year Cup drought. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but here's a look comparing my thoughts on these clubs in October to where they sit (not necessarily where I think they'll finish) in the standings today.
31. Detroit Red Wings (12-30-3, Last Month: 31)
Preseason Prediction: 8th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 8th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
Everyone knew the Red Wings were going to be bad this season, but no one expected them to be worse than the 16-17 Avalanche. Detroit is on pace for one of the worst seasons by a non-expansion team in NHL history. Picking them to finish below the Senators was actually a bit of a hot-take in October, but it's aged very well.
30. Anaheim Ducks (17-23-5, Last Month: 29)
Preseason Prediction: 6th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 8th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
I thought John Gibson and new head coach Dallas Eakins could carry this team to relevancy, but there just isn't enough talent to lead the Ducks to relevance. There are still plenty of intriguing young pieces, but they aren't ready to carry the load yet. I wonder if Ryan Getzlaf ($8.25 million cap hit through 2021) starts popping up in trade rumors sometime.
29. New Jersey Devils (16-21-7, Last Month: 30)
Preseason Prediction: 5th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 8th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
They actually haven't been as bad as we all thought they would be post-Hall and post-Hynes. Of course, finding out that both would be gone before Christmas in the beginning of the season would be stunning. The Devils were a trendy pick for a playoff spot, but most of their offseason acquisitions flopped and Cory Schneider played so bad he had to be sent to the AHL. Will GM Ray Shero be next to receive a pink slip?
28. San Jose Sharks (21-22-4, Last Month: 14)
Preseason Prediction: 3rd in Pacific, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 6th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
Oh, how the once mighty have fallen. With Logan Couture going down to injury, an already struggling Sharks team suffers one more loss that might take them out of contention for good. With a CapFriendly page scarier than a middle school report card and their first round pick Ottawa property, the Sharks may finally be drowning. That being said, I'm not ready to count them out just yet, only because it feels like they've been in this position before.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (20-20-6, Last Month: 26)
Preseason Prediction: 6th in Central, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 7th in Central, Miss Playoffs
I'm officially going to say it: the dynasty is dead. I thought the Hawks could hang around with the moves that were made over the offseason, but it just wasn't meant to be. Alex DeBrincat has taken a step back, and their blue-line has lost Calvin de Hann and Brent Seabrook for the year. Robin Lehner has been great, but he's an anomaly on a team that has mostly flailed. Stan Bowman's days might be numbered.
26. Ottawa Senators (16-22-7, Last Month: 28)
Preseason Prediction: 7th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 7th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
This season has been pretty much best case scenario for the Sens. JG Pageau and especially Anthony Duclair are in the midst of career years. DJ Smith has made his team tough to play against on a nightly basis. And the Sharks may just give them a top-five pick, which would almost make up for the Matt Duchene trade. They're nowhere near the playoffs, but it's always been about the future for the Sens. Maybe that "unparalleled success" will come to pass after all.
25. Los Angeles Kings (18-25-4, Last Month: 27)
Preseason Prediction: 7th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 7th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
You're probably expecting the Kings to be much lower in these rankings, but their underlying numbers have actually been solid this season. That being said, there just isn't enough talent to be competitive, especially with the brutal goaltending they've been getting. The rebuild rolls on.
24. Montreal Canadiens (19-20-7, Last Month: 22)
Preseason Prediction: 5th in Atlantic, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 6th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
When you can't beat the Detroit Red Wings to save your life, there is a serious problem. The Habs have undergone their second major losing streak of the season and their playoff hopes have taken a major slip, thanks to some critical injuries up-front to Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin. This team has always lived and died by Carey Price, and this year, it's come back to bite them.
23. Minnesota Wild (20-18-6, Last Month: 18)
Preseason Prediction: 7th in Central, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 6th in Central, Miss Playoffs
After a two-to-three week stretch where they looked dangerous, the Wild have fallen back into mediocrity, going 4-5-1 in their last ten games. The lack of high-end talent is tough to overcome even if they've gotten some solid depth. Playoffs are still a possibility, but there are just too many good teams above them to consider the Wild a serious threat.
22. New York Rangers (21-19-4, Last Month: 25)
Preseason Prediction: 6th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 7th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
This year has gone about as predicted for the Rangers. Some young pieces have taken nice steps (some not so much - looking at you, Lias Andersson), and Artemi Panarin is a superstar. The depth is lacking a little bit, which is preventing them from being a legit playoff competitor (though maybe they could still squeak in). Goalie Alex Georgiev has to be on the trade block with King Henrik still hanging and top prospect Igor Shestyorkin starting strong in the NHL.
21. Nashville Predators (20-16-7, Last Month: 17)
Preseason Prediction: 2nd in Central, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 5th in Central, Miss Playoffs
A lot of people thought Nashville might slip this season, which is exactly what I said they wouldn't (at least in the regular season). Turns out, they were right. Peter Laviolette's shelf life has expired as he became the latest head coach to get the boot. Kyle Turris still hasn't found a role. John Hynes has been brought in try to right the ship, but I'm skeptical. This should be an interesting team to watch at the deadline. Will they be a risky buyer or play it safe and sell?
20. Buffalo Sabres (19-19-7, Last Month: 23)
Preseason Prediction: 6th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 5th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
The Sabres are about where I thought they'd be: hovering around .500, not a legit playoff contender but close enough that the path to ending the league's longest active playoff drought is still there. Jack Eichel will probably win the Hart if they get there; he's been unreal and then some. The only problem is that they can't put him in net.
19. Edmonton Oilers (24-18-5, Last Month: 6)
Preseason Prediction: 8th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 4th in Pacific, 1st Wild Card in West
The Oilers (and James Neal's) red-hot start have unsurprisingly cooled down, leaving the team on the playoff bubble once again. They could realistically finish anywhere between first and sixth in the Pacific Division, it's that wide open. Connor McDavid is a freak, and with he and Leon Draisaitl carrying the team, they're hard to count out. But until their depth situation gets better, I don't see the Oilers doing much damage in the playoffs, if they even make them at all.
18. Florida Panthers (23-16-5, Last Month: 20)
Preseason Prediction: 4th in Atlantic, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 4th in Atlantic, Miss Playoffs
We all thought Sergei Bobrovsky would be bad in the last year or two of his contract, not so much in the first season. It's been a struggle for Florida's $10 million man between the pipes, although this is the time last year where he got his act together. The Panthers have a lot of likable pieces, and I wouldn't be surprised if they make a major push to supplement their core at the deadline. They could be this year's Columbus.
17. Philadelphia Flyers (23-16-6, Last Month: 11)
Preseason Prediction: 3rd in Metro, Lose in Round 3
Today's Outlook: 5th in Metro, 2nd Wild Card in East
You either had to be homer or an idiot to think this team would go to the Eastern Conference Finals in October, and unfortunately, I am both. Through half a season, despite all the additions they made to the roster and behind the bench over the summer, they are the same old Flyers. No team has more streaks of three consecutive wins or losses than this roller coaster ride of a team. Lately, their play on the road and goaltending have been problems (sound familiar?), but the injury bug is starting to pile up as well. This team feels like the type that falls just short of the right side of the bubble. Prove me wrong.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (22-16-8, Last Month: 21)
Preseason Prediction: 8th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 6th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
This year's Columbus may actually just be Columbus themselves. To defend myself, I didn't think the Blue Jackets would be *that* bad, even after losing three All-Star caliber players. They were only in last because of how highly I thought of the rest of the Metro. John Tortorella deserves a ton of credit for keeping this team right in the thick of the race, as do Joonas Koprisalo and Elvis Merzlinkins for holding down the fort between the pipes.
15. Winnipeg Jets (24-17-4, Last Month: 13)
Preseason Prediction: 5th in Central, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 5th in Central, Miss Playoffs
The Jets deserve a ton of credit for remaining a solid team despite losing half of their defense over the summer. Connor Hellebuyck has returned to peak 17-18 form, and the forward core is as good as advertised. If Dustin Byfuglien comes back, the Jets could be a scary team to face if they make it past early April. If not, Kevin Cheveldayoff needs to do something to supplement their defense. After all, the Jets give up the 3rd most shots in the NHL.
14. Vancouver Canucks (24-17-4, Last Month: 19)
Preseason Prediction: 5th in Pacific, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 5th in Pacific, 2nd Wild Card in West
Ranking the Canucks requires taking in all of the good with all of the bad. Jacob Markstrom has been strong in goal and their top line of Elias Pettersson centering Brock Boeser and J.T. Miller is sensational, as has their power play. The lack of a game-changing defenseman (Quinn Hughes will be that soon, but not quite yet) and quality scorers behind that first line is the issue. To be honest, if I had to put money on it, I say the Canucks make the dance for the first time since 2015, especially if Markstrom continues to be money.
13. Arizona Coyotes (25-18-4, Last Month: 12)
Preseason Prediction: 4th in Pacific, Lose in Round 2
Today's Outlook: 2nd in Pacific
Ok, these guys are actually this year's version of Columbus. Right down to the mid-season superstar acquisition - Taylor Hall is a Coyote. If Hall can do what Phil Kessel was supposed to do to their offense (or if Kessel can do it himself), the Coyotes will be a very tough team to beat, especially if the (currently injured) Darcy Kuemper remains at peak performance. They've only been average since acquiring Hall, but I feel a surge coming soon. They could be a lot higher in the next set of these rankings.
12. Vegas Golden Knights (24-18-6, Last Month: 15)
Preseason Prediction: 1st in Pacific, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 2nd in Pacific
Despite a fairly weak defense on paper, the Golden Knights are a pretty well balanced team this season, ranking middle of the pack in goals for and against per game. They're the most likely team to take control of the Pacific in my opinion, but they need to develop some more consistency.
11. New York Islanders (27-12-4, Last Month: 4)
Preseason Prediction: 7th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 3rd in Metro
The Isles have overcome my doubts about their sustainability, but there is still work to be done. They appear to be coasting off their sixteen game point streak that ended well over a month ago now, as the team has been mediocre as of late. If their goaltending remains this good they will always be a threat, but they need more of their offense (looking at you, Jordan Eberle). The loss of shutdown defenseman Adam Pelech is also a tough pill to swallow - he was great for them in the playoffs last year.
10. Dallas Stars (26-15-4, Last Month: 10)
Preseason Prediction: 4th in Central, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 2nd in Central
The Stars have not skipped a beat, even with the surprise dismissal of Jim Montgomery from head coach due to substance problems. Rick Bowness has stepped in nicely, leading the Stars to a comeback victory over Nashville in the Winter Classic. The final 50 minutes of that game are a good summary of the Stars' last month.
9. Carolina Hurricanes (27-16-2, Last Month: 8)
Preseason Prediction: 2nd in Metro, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 4th in Metro, 1st Wild Card in East
This demotion has less to do with Carolina (though they are a meh 5-5-0 in their last 10) and more to do with the teams ahead of them. The Canes remain analytical darlings and should get a shot in the arm with the return of veteran Justin Williams. If only Jake Gardiner could get his game going, the Hurricanes would look that much more dangerous as they hope for another deep playoff run.
8. Calgary Flames (25-17-5, Last Month: 24)
Preseason Prediction: 2nd in Pacific, Lose in Finals
Today's Outlook: 1st in Pacific
The Flames have been night and day since Bill Peters' past actions forced him to resign. The team won six straight Geoff Ward and haven't looked back, taking back first place of the weak Pacific Division. Johnny Gaudreau is in the midst of a frustrating season, but his struggles have been cancelled out by the underrated tandem of Cam Talbot and David Rittich. With Michael Frolik traded, the Flames now have the cap space to make a splash at the deadline if they desire.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs (24-15-6, Last Month: 16)
Preseason Prediction: 2nd in Atlantic, Win Stanley Cup
Today's Outlook: 3rd in Atlantic
The Leafs have been playing up to and maybe even exceeding their potential ever since Sheldon Keefe took over. He's using the Leafs best players the way they should be, and the results have been amazing. Auston Matthews is beginning to enter super saiyan mode and might even fulfill my pre-season Rocket Richard prediction. If this team ever gets healthy, look out - although they're probably going to have to beat a juggernaut in Round 1, whether it's Boston or Tampa Bay.
6. Colorado Avalanche (25-15-5, Last Month: 5)
Preseason Prediction: 3rd in Central, Lose in Round 3
Today's Outlook: 3rd in Central
The Avs have been just as good as advertised for most of the season. Their top line needs no introduction, Cale Makar is running away with the Calder, and their goaltending has been strong, with Pavel Francouz thriving at the NHL level. Now that the Avalanche have quality forwards behind Mikko, Nathan, and Gabe, they have a real shot at going deep. They're the second best team in the West in these rankings for a reason.
5. Boston Bruins (27-8-11, Last Month: 1)
Preseason Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic, Lose in Round 1
Today's Outlook: 1st in Atlantic, 1st in East, 1st in NHL
Boston is the only team in the NHL with more overtime losses than regulation losses. You can take that as a good thing or a bad thing. They still lead their division, and have the tie-breaker over Washington to be the best team in the league, but Tampa and Toronto are coming in hot. How does Charlie McAvoy not have a goal yet?
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (27-12-5, Last Month: 7)
Preseason Prediction: 4th in Metro, Miss Playoffs
Today's Outlook: 2nd in Metro
Unlike the Blackhawks and Kings before them, the Penguins just do not die. It doesn't matter that Sidney Crosby has been out for the last month. It doesn't matter that Jake Guentzel is done for the regular season (and maybe the playoffs as well). It doesn't matter that Matt Murray has been trash. As @ActingtheFulemin prophesied, this team is led by Mark Donk and Buzz Fibbett, aka 100-point pace Bryan Rust and sudden All-Star Tristan Jarry. They'll probably go deep just because.
3. St. Louis Blues (29-10-7, Last Month: 5)
Preseason Prediction: 1st in Central, Lose in Round 2
Today's Outlook: 1st in Central, 1st in West
Recently reaching the one-year anniversary of the point of their turnaround (January 3), the Blues continue to dominate all who stand in their way of a repeat. David Perron is having a tremendous season, certainly deserving of being one of four Blues to represent the team at the All Star Game in their building. Jordan Binnington is legit, and if he keeps it up, the Blues should be just fine. When is captain Alex Pietrangelo getting an extension? He's getting one, right?
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (27-13-4, Last Month: 9)
Preseason Prediction: 1st in Atlantic, Lose in Round 2
Today's Outlook: 2nd in Atlantic
Oh, they're back, all right. The Bolts have finally usurped the clutches of mediocrity to the tune of a 10-game winning streak, tied for the longest in the NHL this season. With the amount of talent on the roster, it really was a matter of time. The regular season really never was a question for Tampa Bay - it's April, May, and June that are the endgame. Can the Lightning overcome their demons this time around? That's the only question that matters.
1. Washington Capitals (30-11-5, Last Month: 2)
Preseason Prediction: 1st in Metro, Lose in Round 2
Today's Outlook: 1st in Metro
They're the only team in the NHL with 30 victories, and the team is just as good, if not better, than the one that won the Stanley Cup eighteen months ago. John Carlson is on pace for one of the greatest seasons by a defenseman in NHL history. Braden Holtby has been a disappointment, but Ilya Samsonov is picking up the slack in goal. The Caps are deep, talented, and, to me, the best team in the NHL right now.