Beyond the dust of the NHL’s settled concussion lawsuit, the self-inflicted wounds of two lockouts within eight years and never-ending complaints against the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, hockey hasn’t dealt with a major, league-wide scandal on the professional level. No tiffs with China. No steroid epidemic. And definitely no deflated pucks.
That changed this season. Don Cherry’s nonsensical ramblings strayed into anti-immigration rhetoric, resulting in his resignation. Mike Babcock made then-rookie Mitch Marner fill out a “hardest working Leafs” list—and then made it public to the locker room. Benign? Maybe, but more on Babcock soon. Bill Peters stepped down in Calgary after he was accused of using a racial slur 10 years ago and physical abuse from his time in Carolina. Then, Chris Chelios revealed Babcock had verbally abused Johan Franzen to the point of nervous breakdown in Detroit. Plus, the Blackhawks are looking into assistant Marc Crawford’s conduct after Sean Avery alleged Crawford kicked him when with the Kings.
There’s no sense in a “due” reckoning. The stereotypes of crazed hockey parents are well known. Despite the league’s recent efforts to promote diversity, racism hasn’t been expelled from an overwhelmingly white sport.
Sometimes what happens off the ice is secondary to what happens within the confines of the 200-foot rink. Despite everything off the ice, here’s how we see teams stacking up on it this week:
31. Detroit Red Wings | 7-20-3 | Previous Ranking: 31
Detroit’s top line was one of the team’s only bright spots. Then a lower-body injury sidelined Anthony Mantha for a couple weeks. Everything else is a mess.
30. Ottawa Senators | 11-16-1 | Previous Ranking: 24
The bottom finally fell out: The Sens have lost five straight while providing feel-good victories to both the Wild and Flames to close out November.
29. New Jersey Devils | 9-14-4 | Previous Ranking: 28
With Taylor Hall’s contract situation up in the air, GM Ray Shero has reportedly started to listen to trade calls on the Devils’ 28-year-old star. And this was all before Shero fired John Hynes just hours before puckdrop against the Golden Knights. That sums up how disappointing New Jersey’s season has been.
28. Los Angeles Kings | 11-15-2 | Previous Ranking: 30
The Kings actually have one of the league’s better home records through the first two months of the season. The only problem? Ten of the team’s next 13 games are on the road, where L.A. has posted a 2-10-1 record.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets | 11-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 29
A John Tortorella–coached team where youth might take away time from veterans? He hinted as much with players like Cam Atkinson and Josh Anderson performing below expectations.
26. Anaheim Ducks | 12-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 25
Rickard Rakell has bounced back, helping Anaheim slightly improve from the league’s worst goal-scoring team last season, but there are more holes than answers after goaltender John Gibson’s shaky November.
25. Chicago Blackhawks | 10-12-5 | Previous Ranking: 23
With Duncan Keith and Drake Caggiula sidelined with injuries, ‘tis the season for the Blackhawks’ rebuild to get even more experience. Even so, playing a back-to-back against the Avalanche seems a bit unfair (the Blackhawks lost twice, by a combined score of 12–5).
24. New York Rangers | 13-10-3 | Previous Ranking: 27
Artemi Panarin, the team leader with 12 goals and 33 points, has the Rangers slightly ahead of their rebuilding schedule, but New York would benefit from its blue line playing as well in its own end as it does in the offensive zone.
23. Minnesota Wild | 13-11-4 | Previous Ranking: 26
For the first time this season, the Wild have more wins than regulation losses. Minnesota, after a sluggish start, has managed to collect at least a point in 10 consecutive games. Alex Stalock has performed admirably while Devan Dubnyk spent time with his ailing wife.
22. Buffalo Sabres | 13-10-5 | Previous Ranking: 22
The Sabres plummeted after (another) hot start, but the team has stabilized. Buffalo is 3-1-2 in its last six games. The Sabres will be tested in a three-game road trip against the Flames, Canucks and Oilers.
21. Montreal Canadiens | 12-10-6 | Previous Ranking: 14
Despite owning a +52 shot margin over their opponents, the Canadiens were riding a eight-game losing streak, which they snapped Tuesday with a 4–2 win over the Islanders. Montreal’s defense has disappeared—the Canadiens allowed six-plus goals in three straight games for the third time in almost a century—and left Carey Price to flounder during the stretch.
20. Nashville Predators | 12-10-5 | Previous Ranking: 15
Let’s see if you have heard this before: Nashville has all the pieces, but the Predators are struggling to put it all together. Inconsistent goaltending from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros isn’t helping matters, either.
19. Calgary Flames | 13-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 21
After Calgary’s brutal week off the ice, interim coach Geoff Ward led the Flames to two consecutive wins. One came in overtime against Buffalo and the other came against Ottawa, but something is better than nothing.
18. Vegas Golden Knights | 15-11-4 | Previous Ranking: 19
After a down year, Max Pacioretty has been Vegas’s best players and leads the team with 26 points. The Golden Knights’ forwards have been fine, but defense and backup goaltending has gotten in the way of any added success.
17. Winnipeg Jets | 17-10-1 | Previous Ranking: 18
The Jets laid a clunker in L.A. after picking up two wins against the Sharks and Ducks on its three-game California trip. In general, Winnipeg has been better (10-3-1 in November vs. 6-7-0 in October) since Paul Maurice moved Blake Wheeler to center the second line.
16. Philadelphia Flyers | 16-7-5 | Previous Ranking: 20
The league’s most streaky team continues its wild ride. The Flyers have won five straight and Jakub Voracek has seven points in six games back on Philly’s top line.
15. Florida Panthers | 13-9-5 | Previous Ranking: 16
Joel Quenneville benched Sergei Bobrovsky after a disappointing start, and goaltender Chris Driedger shutout the Predators in his first NHL start. Scoring has never been an issue—the Panthers have scored one or fewers goals just once—but solid defense and goaltending would go a long way to turning Florida into a contender in the East.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning | 13-9-3 | Previous Ranking: 9
The Lightning have seemed like they are on the verge of turning a corner for more than half the season, but they never have. Tampa Bay has a few games in hand on most teams, but face the Wild, Sharks, Islanders and Panthers in their next four games.
13. Pittsburgh Penguins | 14-9-4 | Previous Ranking: 13
Brian Domoulin and Bryan Rust became the latest Pens to catch the injury bug. All things considered, Pittsburgh’s season could be going a lot worse with the litany of injuries the team has suffered.
12. Vancouver Canucks | 14-11-4 | Previous Ranking: 12
The Canucks escaped a six-game road trip with three wins and ended on a high note with a 5–2 victory against the Oilers. Goaltending has regressed back down to league-average levels, but the Canucks have played well enough against quality opponents to stick around the playoff hunt.
11. Arizona Coyotes | 16-9-4 | Previous Ranking: 11
With the Sharks and Flames falling behind early in the season, the Coyotes only sit a couple of games out of first place in the Pacific division. Arizona won’t have a problem holding its spot if the team can get more out of Clayton Keller (16 points), Phil Kessel (14 points) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
10. San Jose Sharks | 15-13-1 | Previous Ranking: 17
After a sluggish October crept into the beginning of November, the Sharks have won 11 out of their last 14 games, scoring four-plus goals in eight times during that stretch. It helps when Martin Jones plays like an above-average NHL goaltender.
9. Dallas Stars | 15-11-3 | Previous Ranking: 6
The Stars lost four consecutive games after reeling off a 14-1-1 record. With Dallas’s season saved, it’s time to find consistent scoring from Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn.
8. Carolina Hurricanes | 16-11-1 | Previous Ranking: 5
Even though Sebastian Aho, Dougie Hamilton and Andrei Svechnikov each have double-digit goals, Carolina could use more scoring from Nino Niederreiter (three goals). That, and it might be time for James Reimer to take over 1A duties the rest of the way.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs | 13-12-4 | Previous Ranking: 10
Frederik Andersen has played well, but his backups have a combined 0-6-1 record with a 0.871 save percentage and 4.76 goals against average. Get him some help. Meanwhile, the Leafs have won four of their last six since Sheldon Keefe took the reigns despite a mini three-game goal-scoring drought from Auston Matthews.
6. Edmonton Oilers | 17-9-3 | Previous Ranking: 4
While Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl continue to rack up a bajillion points, Edmonton’s blue line deserves some credit for solidifying the league’s second-best penalty killing unit. Oscar Klefbom and Kris Russell both rank top 10 in blocked shots on a defensive unit that’s been better than recent iterations.
5. New York Islanders | 18-6-2 | Previous Ranking: 1
The Islanders stumbled in their west coast trip, losing three straight and ending a franchise record 17-game point streak. Mathew Barzal helped the team get back on track with a hand in both the Isles’ goals in a 2–0 win against the Blue Jackets.
4. Colorado Avalanche | 16-8-2 | Previous Ranking: 7
Mikko Rantanen is back and it’s as if he never left. The 23-year-old winger notched four points in his return during a 7–3 rout of the Blackhawks. Gabriel Landeskog could come back soon as well, and the Avalanche should replicate their early season success.
3. St. Louis Blues | 18-5-6 | Previous Ranking: 8
In November, no goalie with at least 10 starts had a better high-danger save percentage than Jordan Binnington. There hasn’t been any dropoff from last season’s Calder campaign and the Blues have fought through a couple injuries to remain atop the Central Division.
2. Washington Capitals | 20-4-5 | Previous Ranking: 3
With a team-high 20 goals, Alex Ovechkin only needs another 22 scores in the Capitals’ final 53 games to reach the 700 goal plateau. It’s easy to take Ovi for granted, but he’s been nothing short of the best goal scorer of all time through 15 NHL seasons.
1. Boston Bruins | 20-3-5 | Previous Ranking: 2
David Pastrnak leads the league in goals. Brad Marchand ranks third in points. Tuukka Rask ranks top five in wins, save percentage and goals against average. No surprise here: The Bruins own the NHL’s best goal differential and have only lost three times in regulation.