After passing the halfway mark of this shortened NHL season, it’s time to assign each team a grade and make my playoff seeding predictions.
Anaheim Ducks: C+
Yes, the Ducks sit dead last in the West division and hold one of the league’s worst goal differentials at -39, but more importantly, they are getting their rookies on the ice. Rookie defenseman Jamie Drysdale and rookie forward Trevor Zegras, who are 18 and 20 years old, respectively, are getting a taste of the franchise they are expected to carry into the future.
Arizona Coyotes: C
The Coyotes have plenty of talent, but were not expected to make the playoffs in the top heavy West, and they are staying true to that expectation. The Coyotes do too many things at an average level and their goaltending hasn’t been great either.
Boston Bruins: A
The Bruins are always solid and this year is no exception. What is most surprising is the team’s ability to lose two of its core defenseman in Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug during the offseason and hardly skip a beat. Charlie McAvoy has filled the void and asserted himself as an elite defenseman in the league, and Boston’s top forward line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is dominating.
Buffalo Sabres: F
The Taylor Hall experiment has gone horribly wrong. They’ve already fired a coach and say they are trying to revamp the organizational culture, but how many times can you offer up the same generic cover-ups? This year’s Sabres squad makes an argument for the worst team in NHL history.
Calgary Flames: D
Multiple offseason additions and nothing to show at the halfway point summarize the Flames this year. If newly hired head coach Darryl Sutter can provide a spark, there is still hope for the Flames to squeak into the last playoff spot in the North, but it seems unlikely at this point. With so much talent, this season will surely be labeled a failure if they don’t qualify.
Carolina Hurricanes: A+
Twenty wins in their first thirty games and a scary good offense — what more is there to say? The only question mark down the stretch is if the Hurricanes’ goaltending will hold up. Make no mistake, if this team gets quality play between the pipes, it is a Stanley Cup contender.
Chicago Blackhawks: B+
Although they don’t have a spectacular record, the Blackhawks are still very much contending for the fourth playoff spot in the Central. Keep in mind this is a team missing two of its best offensive weapons in forwards Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach. Patrick Kane’s performance this year shouldn’t be overlooked in the MVP discussion.
Colorado Avalanche: A
Colorado was a Stanley Cup favorite coming into the season, and despite some injury trouble, it still sports the second best goal differential in the league, only behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. Goaltender Phillip Grubauer has been good, too.
Columbus Blue Jackets: B-
The Blue Jackets are right where they were expected to be, and that’s battling for the final spot in the Central. Forward Patrik Laine has not had the smoothest transition to the team, and some are speculating if John Tortorella is coaching himself right out of Columbus.
Dallas Stars: C
The Stars have shown an inability to win games that go past 60 minutes, and they are paying for it. A plethora of injuries and a few bad breaks have the defending Western Conference Champions on the outside looking in.
Detroit Red Wings: C+
The Red Wings are amidst a rebuild, and if anything, have shown more fight than was expected of them. There was never any hope that they’d do anything special this year, so it is not like they’re letting anyone down.
Edmonton Oilers: A-
After a horrific start to the season, the Oilers have been playing at a high level and are holding onto the second seed in the North. Forward Connor McDavid has been unimaginably good with 60 points through 34 games.
Florida Panthers: A+
Dominant since the season started, the Panthers have been thriving in the pandemic format and are a lock to make the playoffs this year. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau has been outstanding and defensemen Aaron Ekblad is maturing into one of the most solid defenseman in the game.
Los Angeles Kings: A-
No one expected the Kings to be fighting for a playoff spot at the halfway mark, but here they are. Led by a rejuvenated trio including forwards Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, as well as defensemen Drew Doughty, this team is competitive even in the middle of a rebuild.
Minnesota Wild: A+
The Wild is having a great season and is watching the emergence of forward Kirill Kaprizov, who will be a superstar in the league for the next decade plus. Between Kaprizov and rookie goaltender, Kaapo Kahkonen, Wild fans should be excited.
Montréal Canadiens: B-
They started as the hottest team in the league before hitting some speed bumps and firing their head coach. The team still occupies a playoff spot in the North and I would be shocked to see it fail to qualify. Its record is hurt immensely by its inability to win past regulation.
Nashville Predators: C-
Can you believe this team won the Western Conference just four seasons ago? It has a -26 goal differential on the year yet is still plenty capable of earning the fourth seed in the Central.
New Jersey Devils: B-
Despite seeing key growth from some of their young talent like forward Jack Hughes, the Devils are still too weak to compete with such a stacked East division. Unfortunately for Devils fans, they’ll have to wait a couple more years for their turn.
New York Islanders: A
The Islanders were looking like a championship-caliber team prior to the injury sustained by captain and leading goal scorer, forward Anders Lee. They should make the playoffs without him, but if this is really their year, they will need others to step up big time in his absence.
New York Rangers: B-
All the talk in New York was about the disappointing season forward Mika Zibanejad was having. Maybe his NHL-record, six-point period against the Flyers will quiet some of the doubters. With Zibanejad on his game and forward Artemi Panarin back in the lineup, the Rangers could make a run at the final playoff spot in the East, but if I had to guess, I’d say it doesn’t happen.
Ottawa Senators: B-
The only rebuilding team in the North division has paid for it big time. The team has shown some character, so the season is not a complete failure. It has also seen growth in its rookie star forward Tim Stützle.
Philadelphia Flyers: B-
The Flyers are currently on the outside looking in, and things have not gone according to plan. The defense has been lackluster and Carter Hart has not been the goaltender he was just a year ago. It will be an uphill battle to regain a playoff position in the East.
Pittsburgh Penguins: A-
The Sidney Crosby-led Penguins have stumbled at points this season, but seem to have finally found their game. The last playoff spot in the East will likely come down to them and the Flyers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes until the last whistle of the season to decide which one qualifies.
San Jose Sharks: C+
The Sharks have shown heart at times during the season, but are overall trending down with an aging and overpaid core. They suffer from bad goaltending and I sense there is more drama ahead following defensemen Erik Karlsson’s comments from last week. Sad times in San Jose.
St. Louis Blues: B
The Blues have underperformed expectations, but still should not have trouble locking up a playoff spot in the West. Forward Mike Hoffman and defensemen Torey Krug have been nice additions, and the Blues are dangerous if they make the playoffs, being only two years removed from their Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning: A+
No Stanley Cup hangover in Tampa Bay. The team is dominant on both sides of the puck and has the best goaltender in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy backstopping them.
Toronto Maple Leafs: A
The Leafs have slowed down as of late, but are still a great team. Forward Auston Matthews is tied for the most goals in the league and should regain form as he gets healthy. The teams playoff expectations are still unclear based on its goalie situation and whether or not its adds a player at the trade deadline.
Vancouver Canucks: B-
After such a promising playoffs last year, the Canucks appear to have regressed. They’ve had a tumultuous season to say the least, but have found their form recently, winning seven of their last ten and remaining in the hunt in the North.
Vegas Golden Knights: A+
First in the West with excellent goaltending and a sound group of defensemen — that is a recipe for championships.
Washington Capitals: A
The Capitals experienced a rough patch in February but appear to have found their footing. Forward Nicklas Backstrom is having an excellent campaign and forward Alex Ovechkin shows no signs of slowing down. If they can get solid goaltending, the Capitals are poised to make another deep playoff run.
Winnipeg Jets: A
The addition of forward Pierre-Luc Dubois has worked well for the Jets, a team that is built for playoff success. The Jets are a dark horse candidate to win it all this year but could use another blueliner to sure up their defensive core. Other than that, they are big, have depth and a world class goaltender.
Playoff Seeding Predictions…
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Winnipeg Jets
- Edmonton Oilers
- Montréal Canadiens
- Washington Capitals
- Boston Bruins
- New York Islanders
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Vegas Golden Knights
- Colorado Avalanche
- Minnesota Wild
- St. Louis Blues
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Florida Panthers
- Dallas Stars
Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.
Last week’s ranking in parentheses.
- Colorado Avalanche (Not ranked)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
- Vegas Golden Knights (4)
- Carolina Hurricanes (1)
- New York Islanders (2)
- Washington Capitals (6)
- Florida Panthers (7)
- Minnesota Wild (5)
- Boston Bruins (Not ranked)
- Edmonton Oilers (Not ranked)
What to watch this week…
Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks: Wednesday, Mar. 24 at 7:30 p.m. PT
Vegas Golden Knights at Colorado Avalanche: Saturday, Mar. 27 at 12 p.m. PT
Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes: Saturday, Mar. 27 at 4 p.m. PT