NHL Power Rankings: Spirit of '96

The Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers sit atop the leaderboard as we count down all 31 NHL teams.
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USA Today

USA Today

There is a distinctive tinge of retro to the NHL - and it's not just because fighting seems to be on the incline again. Instead, we turn to the major contenders in the league right now, the Colorado Avalanche and the Florida Panthers. These two franchises haven't had a lot of playoff luck in recent years, but harken back to 1996 and those were your Stanley Cup finalists, with Colorado sweeping the 'Rat Trick' Cats in four games. Joe Sakic is now running the Avs and no doubt he'd love to earn another ring as a builder. The road to that championship series in 2021 won't be easy, but these two teams - and a handful of others - have put themselves in a very good position. Let's count down all 31 franchises and how they look right now.

1. Colorado Avalanche: The Avs are flying around like Conor Garland's helmet and having just as much of a visceral impact. Nathan MacKinnon leads the charge and he's hot with eight points in his past five outings.

2. Florida Panthers: Even without Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers continue to hack a path through the Central and Sunday night's victory over Columbus gave them sole possession of first place in the division. Carter Verhaeghe continues to be one of the best stories of the year.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning: You don't want to get the Bolts riled up because they are still an incredibly potent squad. But Florida and Carolina are challenging their right to be called the class of the division.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: Petr Mrazek returns to the lineup and posts a shutout. Alex Nedeljkovic has a .924 save percentage on the season and played amazing when Mrazek was out. What else do the Canes need at this point?

5. Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin is beginning to heat up like the unstoppable Russian shark that he is. Funny enough, "Unstoppable Russian Shark" would be an incredible B-movie that I now need to see happen.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs: The goaltending depth chart now goes Campbell-Hutchinson-Andersen and Jason Spezza is putting up his best numbers in five years, at the age of 37. Don't try to figure it out, just enjoy the ride.

7. Vegas Golden Knights: The Knights are scuffling oh-so-slightly, but the good news is they don't have to play Minnesota again for another month. Getting Alex Pietrangelo back up to full speed should help, too.

8. New York Islanders: You can rag on the Isles for being a defensive team, but they're now tied for third in goals in the division and Matt Barzal was the NHL player of the week thanks to his seven points and a shootout winner in three games.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins: One of the teams ahead of the Isles in East Division offense is Pittsburgh, where the Penguins continue to insert new players into the lineup as needed. They've already used 31 different skaters this season.

10. Minnesota Wild: That Minnesota has become one of the most fun teams in the NHL this season is truly a wonderful storyline. From Kirill Kaprizov to Joel Eriksson Ek, the patience is really paying off for the Wild.

11. Boston Bruins: Outside of the Big Three, Nick Ritchie is the only member of the Bruins with at least 10 goals. That doesn't sound ideal, and yet Boston still feels like a scary team to meet in the playoffs. Maybe because bears are scary.

12. Edmonton Oilers: It's nice to see Tyson Barrie back to his old, productive self now that he's a member of the Oilers, but that off-season pic of him barefoot in the woods is still weird. What if you step on something Tyson? You need your wheels!

13. Winnipeg Jets: Andrew Copp is putting up more points per game and logging more ice time than Pierre-Luc Dubois right now. I don't know if that's a good thing for the Jets or a bad thing. Maybe it's just a thing.

14. Arizona Coyotes: Defenseman Jakob Chychrun scored a hat trick the other night, with the third goal coming as the overtime winner. He's now up to 25 points in 38 games and I wish I could come up with a Pavel Datsyuk trade joke but it's just not there.

15. Nashville Predators: The Preds have climbed into a playoff spot and gone 8-2-0 in their past 10 games. That sort of redemptive arc would make a great plot at the Grand Old Opera, except it's not that kind of an opera house and it's not actually called the Grand Old Opera, is it?

16. New York Rangers: Riding the likes of Adam Fox, Artemi Panarin and Ryan Strome, the Rangers are now in the mix for a playoff spot. Will they make it? Maybe not. Can they finish ahead of the Flyers and lord it over Philly fans? That's always the dream - and yes.

17. San Jose Sharks: The "Indictment Team of the Week," the Sharks climb the rankings because the Blues have completely fallen apart. So congratulations, St. Louis - you're worse than one of the California teams right now.

18. Philadelphia Flyers: At this point, Philadelphia's only priority is to help Carter Hart find his game again. If it costs the Flyers a playoff spot this year, so be it. The long-term takes precedent.

19. Montreal Canadiens: After Shea Weber fought Brady Tkachuk, I really wanted to know if Weber had ever fought Keith Tkachuk. Alas, it appears he did not. He still could; but it would have to be in a parking lot and that's just illegal.

20. St. Louis Blues: It's been a terrible struggling slide for the Blues, who have won just two of their past 10 games. Jordan Binnington is flailing and Ville Husso doesn't seem to be the answer either.

21. Dallas Stars: The Stars have still played the fewest games in the Central Division and are therefore still in the playoff picture, but they need to pick up some momentum. At the least, Jason Robertson has been a great rookie addition.

22. Chicago Blackhawks: Will the return of Kirby Dach give the Hawks the boost they need to bounce back into a playoff spot? So far, the answer is "no," but you can't blame the teen for that. Perhaps that early season rush was simply a mirage.

23. Vancouver Canucks: Right now, the first and only priority in Vancouver is to get everyone stricken by Covid-19 healthy. The Canucks have been hit hard and it's a pretty scary time out there.

24. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are starting to crater and they're not exactly out of the playoff race, but things aren't going in the right direction, either. When it's all said and done, can we at least get a Quinton Byfield appearance?

25. Calgary Flames: After hitting the mark fairly consistently this season, Matthew Tkachuk hasn't played 20 minutes in a game since Darryl Sutter took over as coach. The Flames have also been in a tailspin, winning just two of their past 10. Coincidence?

26. New Jersey Devils: With 20 games to go, the Devils are practically locked into seventh place in the East Division. In the short-term, dealing Kyle Palmieri is likely the first domino to fall, but how many moves come after that?

27. Ottawa Senators: Just as a little sneak peek, we closed Future Watch last week and I had a chance to do a deep dive on the Senators rebuild. If you aren't excited already about Ottawa's future, I would advise you get very excited now.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets: Florida's Alexander Wennberg scored more goals against Columbus on Saturday (three) than he tallied all season long as a member of the Blue Jackets in 2018-19 (two). That's a special kind of ouch.

29. Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings are on pace to have more points in this year's 56-game season than they did in last year's 71-game campaign. Shout-out to defenseman Filip Hronek, somehow leading the team in scoring.

30. Anaheim Ducks: It's hard to burn Anaheim because the franchise has a Stanley Cup, it's located in sunny California and their AHL team is in San Diego. Plus, Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are super-fun.

31. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres haven't lost a game in regulation in more than a week. It is, quite possibly, the best news surrounding the team all year.

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