March 2020 Power Rankings
I wrote in my last FFR that March is the month where contenders emerge. Solidify would probably be a better word to describe what March means. At this point, we already know a few teams that certainly will not make the playoffs, and a few that certainly will. These fanbases will have a relatively relaxing final five weeks of the season, awaiting the excitement of the playoffs or/and hope of the draft lottery.
For everybody else, March is terrifying excitement. Bubble teams will make their case to be one of the sixteen teams that make the playoffs. Long shot teams take their final stab at being this year's Blues, more than likely falling short... but you never know with this league.
And there's the other group - the one of teams that are in a playoff spot, and probably will make the playoffs, but you're not quite sure what to think of them. Some could be legitimate Cup contenders. Others are very solid teams capable of pulling off a deep run if a lot of things go right. And a few will fall to the bubble, limping towards the playoffs - if they even make it all.
With the trade deadline now firmly in the rearview mirror, every team knows, for the most part (injuries providing the lone exception), what group they will have to take them to the playoffs and beyond. Here's how the NHL looks in March, the month that sets up the Stanley Cup Playoffs. All stats and records are accurate as of March 1, 11:59 AM.
31. Detroit Red Wings (15-47-5, February: 31)
For the first time in the salary cap era, a team has been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before the trade deadline. Detroit's -120 goal differential is nearly three times worse than the next most futile team (LA: -45). The Mike Green trade was solid, but it's disappointing they didn't get more for Andreas Athanasiou, who scored 30 goals last year and will likely thrive playing with Connor McDavid.
30. San Jose Sharks (28-33-4, February: 28)
What a nightmare season it's been for San Jose. Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl have missed significant time. Erik Karlsson is done for the year. Joe Thornton is downright depressed about not being dealt to a contender. Doug Wilson pulled in solid returns for Brendan Dillon and Patrick Marleau, and somehow convinced Tampa Bay to give up a first for all eight goals to Barclay Goodrow's name.
29. Anaheim Ducks (26-30-8, February: 29)
There wasn't much for Bob Murray to sell - the Ducks already have a lot of strong young players, but they need time before they'll dominate. Trading Ondrej Kase was a curious decision, but the return was pretty nice - credit the Ducks for weaponizing their cap space to take on David Backes' albatross deal. Danton Heinen's an intriguing bounce-back candidate as well.
28. Ottawa Senators (23-31-12, February: 30)
Ottawa's twelve loser points are tied for the second most in the NHL, but they were winners at the trade deadline. A first, a second, and conditional third was more than market value for JG Pageau, whose having a career year. Perhaps Pierre Dorion could've pulled in more for Tyler Ennis (5th) and Dylan DeMelo (3rd), but with San Jose in the gutter, the Sens have their sights said on landing two top-five picks in June. But how cool was it to see Bobby Ryan score a hat-trick in his first home game in two months after entering the NHL/NHLPA's substance abuse help program? That gave everybody chills.
27. Los Angeles Kings (24-35-6, February: 26)
A combined three second round picks and a sneaky good college prospect Tyler Madden is a nice combined return for Tyler Toffoli (sent to Vancouver) and Alec Martinez (Vegas). Both players have done well in their new homes, which shows how much the Kings are struggling. Yes, their analytics are strong and they did win the Stadium Series, but the Kings are a far cry from what they were six years ago.
26. Buffalo Sabres (29-28-8, Last Month: 25)
I don't even know with this team. They were off to such a strong start, and just like last year, everything has fallen to crap. I don't hate buying Wayne Simmonds; the price was low, and they need locker room help. Dominik Kahun is a nice young player to acquire from Pittsburgh for two pending UFA forwards. Will the Sabres really blow it up again, or do they hope that staying the course eventually pays off?
25. Chicago Blackhawks (29-28-8, February: 19)
January me was right to call the dynasty dead for good. It turns out a brief winning streak in early February was a mirage, and the Blackhawks remain in no man's land. Trading Robin Lehner was a curious decision because it sounded like the sparkling goalie was open to an extension. At what point is Stan Bowman's seat to hot to ignore?
24. New Jersey Devils (25-27-12, February: 27)
MacKenzie Blackwood has been better of late, giving Devils fans hope that one of their main issues (goaltending) will be fixed soon. In the meantime, it was a yard sale in Jersey - Simmonds, Vatanen, Blake Coleman for essentially two first round picks, EVERYTHING MUST GO!
23. Montreal Canadiens (30-28-9, February: 18)
Their Ilya Kovalchuk sparked hot streak is officially in the rearview mirror. It was long before they dealt Kovalchuk to Washington for essentially a free 3rd, which matches nicely with the free 2nd they stole from Buffalo by flipping Marco Scandella. At what point does Marc Bergevin need to starting winning before he receives a pink slip? After being so close last year, is this disappointing season enough?
22. Arizona Coyotes (32-27-8, February: 21)
Talk about a fall from grace. The Coyotes have been struggling for a solid two months ago, and now they've slipped out of a playoff spot. Darcy Kuemper has finally returned from injury, but it may be too little, too late. Hall and Kessel: now is the time to conjure beast mode. This market needs this team to make the playoffs in the worst way.
21. Minnesota Wild (32-25-7, February: 23)
I don't understand, or at least I don't agree with firing head coach Bruce Boudreau, and by all accounts, I'm not alone. The Wild weren't expected to be anything this year - to keep them on the bubble that long is impressive, not pink slip worthy. The Wild remain unlikely to make a serious push due to their lack of star-power (and assimilating to an interim coach isn't easy).
20. Florida Panthers (33-25-7, February: 14)
It's been all downhill for the Panthers after the trade deadline. They entered it riding a six-game winning streak; now, they're 3-6-1 in their last ten and falling out farther by the day with Toronto slowly stabilizing. Defensively, they're a mess, and Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled mightily this year. I feel for Barkov, Ekblad, and Huberdeau.
19. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-21-14, February: 7)
Even though Columbus is still in a playoff spot, free-fall mode appears engaged. Elvis is no longer ripping up goalie records like the other Elvis lit up music charts. Injuries have been handed out like candy on Halloween, and it's not just quantity. Top defenseman Seth Jones and snipers Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand are on the shelf long-term. The Jackets have lost nine of their last ten - that's not great momentum to ride into a stretch run.
18. Winnipeg Jets (33-28-6, February: 17)
The Dustin Byfuglien situation has been one of the craziest and underrated of the hockey season. He was going to come back, then he was going to retire, then his contract would be terminated, then he was getting traded, and ultimately... he and his cap hit are still in Winnipeg. The Jets have done a great job dealing with their depleted blue-line, which is slightly stronger with the DeMelo addition. Can Connor Hellebuyck carry them to a third straight playoff appearance?
17. Nashville Predators (32-24-8, February: 22)
Maybe John Hynes is the answer after all. Smashville is finally starting to heat up as Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros are finding form as the team tries to avoid having catfish chucked at them by their own fans. It was a surprisingly quite deadline for David Poile; he's giving this group a chance to sink or swim on their own.
16. Carolina Hurricanes (35-24-5, February: 8)
How are the Canes going to keep the puck out of the net for the next few weeks? Brett Pesce is their second star defenseman to hit the shelf, and both goaltenders were hurt in their game last week against Toronto. It was worth the sacrifice, as it produced the amazing headline of 42-year old David Ayres, the Zamboni driver for Toronto's AHL affiliate, shutting them down for 30 minutes. The Vatanen and Skjei trades are solid band-aids for the backend, but goaltending could be rough until Mrazek or/and Reimer return.
15. Vancouver Canucks (34-24-6, February: 11)
Injuries are also hitting Vancouver at the worst time in the worst way. Star sniper and Brock Boeser and Vezina-candidate Jacob Markstrom are both out, possibly for the rest of the regular season. Tyler Toffoli is a much-needed scoring depth boost, but the key is young goalie Thatcher Demko. It's sink or swim time for him between the pipes in the tight Pacific Division.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins (37-21-6, February: 3)
They're still a very good team and I like their deadline moves (four forwards acquired, headlined by Jason Zucker. But I can't rank a team that's lost six straight and was just swept on the California road trip any higher. Maybe it's 4D-chess to avoid peaking too early, but the Penguins aren't looking like the Penguins lately. I expect them to be much higher in these rankings next month.
13. Calgary Flames (34-26-7, February: 20)
They were eight two months ago and twenty last month: in March, they fall exactly in the middle. Erik Gustafsson and Derek Forbort were nice low-risk buys at the deadline to help an injured d-core. Johnny Hockey is out of the doghouse (and the bathroom) and might be heating up at just the right time. Please let these guys face Edmonton in the playoffs. What a treat that would be.
12. New York Rangers (35-25-4, February: 24)
As nearly all of the Metro sputters, the Rangers begin to rise. Led by outstanding young goaltending and a strong forward core, the Rangers won nine straight road games and nine of ten overall before running into another red-hot Metro club. Unfortunately, a car crash has the budding Igor Shesterykin out for two weeks, and Chris Kreider fractured a foot blocking a shot just days after receiving a seven-year extension. There's a lane for this team to make it, but this last set of injuries and trading Brady Skjei for futures may be too much to overcome.
11. New York Islanders (35-21-8, February: 12)
If there's anything that jumpstart the Islanders, who haven't looked truly formidable since November, it's another quality scorer in JG Pageau. Giving him the AMac extension (6 years, $30 million) may be costly long-term, but for now, it's much needed scoring depth for the Islanders. Andy Greene is a capable replacement for Adam Pelech. The Isles should be an interesting team to follow down the stretch.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (35-23-8, February: 13)
The David Ayres loss was embarrassing, no doubt. But the Leafs did win the game before it and the three after it. Their blue-line is as beat up as you'll find with Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and Cody Ceci out for weeks. But you can score your way out of a lot of problems, and for now, the Maple Leafs are pulling away for the third Atlantic spot. Who would've thought Calle Rosen might be one of the most impactful deadline acquisitions in the NHL?
9. Edmonton Oilers (34-23-8, February: 15)
Both they and the Maple Leafs moved up largely via process of elimination. I liked Ken Holland's deadline decisions, finding speedy wingers to complement McDavid. Unfortunately, one of those wingers (Andreas Athanasiou) and d-man Mike Green have been hurt since coming over. Leon Draisaitl is a beast; he's already at 100 points and may win the Hart. Do the Oilers have enough depth to make it? Probably. But going deep might be a different story, although they certainly won't be an easy out.
8. Washington Capitals (39-19-6, February: 4)
Like Pittsburgh, this is the highest I can rank the Capitals, who are better than eighth on paper - they just aren't playing like it. They're fifth in the NHL, which is good, but they're 3-6-1 in their last 10, which isn't. Brendan Dillon should be a nice addition to their backend and Ilya Kovalchuk is an intriguing add to their forward core. Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov will be competing down the stretch for the right to start Game 1 of the playoffs.
7. Dallas Stars (37-21-7, February: 9)
The Stars held pat at the trade deadline, trusting their sturdy d-core and lock-down goalie tandem will continue to hold down the fort. Jamie Benn is having a disappointing year, but it hasn't held the Stars back. Dallas snuck up on everybody last year in the playoffs; they won't have that luxury this season.
6. Vegas Golden Knights (36-22-8, February: 16)
The longest active winning streak in the league (eight) has pulled the Golden Knights off the bubble and created separation from the rest of the Pacific. Acquiring Robin Lehner may lead to starter controversy in April, but for now it gives Vegas quality goaltending for the first time all season. Alec Martinez has pushed all the right buttons to improve the defense so far. Even with Mark Stone out for most of the regular season, the Knights are a dangerous team.
5. Philadelphia Flyers (37-20-7, February: 10)
Ok, so they don't scream "wrong side of the bubble" like I said in January - they're not that bad. Moneypuck.com says they're the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup (13%) - I don't think they're that good. But the Philadelphia Flyers are a good team. You really can't argue that right now. They've won six of six in the last twenty days against Florida, Columbus, and the Rangers. Carter Hart has been outstanding since returning from injury. Derek Grant and Nate Thompson aren't great, but they're decent forward depth. The Flyers have been hot before; now comes sustaining that momentum, which is always the hardest part.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning (41-19-5, February: 2)
After a franchise-record eleven game winning-streak, the Bolts have cooled off just a little down the stretch. Catching Boston once seemed like a lock; now, it's much less likely. Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are solid depth pieces to solidify the third line, but two firsts and Nolan Foote (a former first himself) is a LOT to give up for non-impact players. If they get a ring, it'll be worth it though. The Bolts were also dealt a major blow, as captain Steven Stamkos just had core surgery and his timetable means he'll miss most, if not all, of round one.
3. Colorado Avalanche (39-18-7, February: 5)
Even with Mikko Rantanen and Philip Grubauer on IR, the Avs are thriving. Nathan MacKinnon has twice as many points as their next highest-scoring forward, which bodes well for his Hart chances. Pavel Francouz's breakout season in goal means Colorado should be ok until Grubauer returns. Vladislav Namestikov, acquired from Ottawa for a 4th, is low-risk skilled scoring depth. Maybe they could've been more aggressive, but it's hard to blame Joe Sakic for playing the long-game with this talented core.
2. St. Louis Blues (39-17-10, February: 6)
First and foremost, here's to Jay Bouwmeester having a speedy recovery from the scary cardiac arrest incident that saw him collapse on the bench mid-game. Props to the Ducks medical staff (the home team) for taking such great care of him. Marco Scandella will fill his void on the backend, and if/when Vladimir Tarasenko returns from injury, the Blues will be an even greater force to be reckoned with.
1. Boston Bruins (41-13-12, February: 1)
Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie could very well be this year's Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson for the league's best team. The Bruins are six points clear of St. Louis for the President's Trophy and seven ahead of Tampa Bay for first in the East (and the Atlantic). Even if they lose out, they would probably still make the playoffs.