New year, new me? Maybe not so much: In the last five seasons, 80% of teams in a playoff position on Jan. 1 go on to make the postseason. Most teams don’t become radically better or worse, either, with notable hat tips to last year’s Blues and Sabres, the ‘15–16 Ducks (25th to 6th place) and the ‘14–15 Maple Leafs (11th to 27th place). The Predators are hoping to find themselves on the positive end of that after firing Peter Laviollete, the sixth head coach to get axed this season. With the first half of the season in the books, here’s how we see teams stacking up this week:
31. Detroit Red Wings | 11-30-3 | Previous Ranking: 31
"If they didn’t have to pick someone from every team, I know I wouldn’t be there. But I am excited to get this opportunity." — Tyler Bertuzzi on All-Star game
That’s about as depressing of a quote there is from an NHL player. Such is Detroit hockey right now. Even Red Wings prospect Moritz Seider had to help his native Germany stave off relegation at the World Junior Championship.
30. New Jersey Devils | 15-20-7 | Previous Ranking: 30
Since New Jersey traded Taylor Hall to Arizona, the Devils have a 5-3-1 record and even-strength shot attempts, high-danger attempts, goals, and expected goals per 60 minutes are all up behind revitalized wingers Nikita Gusev and Kyle Palmieri. More importantly, MacKenzie Blackwood has a .912 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average in his last seven starts, giving the Devils some much needed stability in net.
29. Los Angeles Kings | 17-23-4 | Previous Ranking: 29
Since last season, no goalie with at least 70 starts has a lower save percentage (.890) or a worse goals saved above average (-41.85) than Jonathan Quick. He’s been minimally better this season, but there’s another three years left on his contract and no trade market. This season Quick leads the league in losses and the Kings haven’t given him a ton of support.
28. Ottawa Senators | 16-22-5 | Previous Ranking: 26
Half of the Senators blue line is sidelined with injuries. GM Pierre Dorion finally gave Thomas Chabot a reprieve from skating 30-plus minutes a night by trading for Mike Reilly, but that’s not a move that’s anything but a stopgap measure. Ottawa has had some bright spots in a year where it was supposed to be historically bad, most notably Anthony Duclair (21 goals, 11 assists) who received his first All-Star nod.
27. Anaheim Ducks | 17-21-5 | Previous Ranking: 28
Even in a weaker-than-expected Pacific Division, the Ducks have fallen behind every team out West. Ryan Getzlaf is off to his worst start in the first half of a season in eight years and Anaheim is past the point of relying solely on its captain for most of the team’s offense. Rickard Rakell’s six-game absence didn’t help matters, either.
26. San Jose Sharks | 19-22-4 | Previous Ranking: 24
The Sharks won their first two games of the New Year and scored an empty-net goal late in the third period against the Caps. Good, right? Not really. San Jose surrendered two goals after its empty netter and lost 5–4 in overtime.
25. New York Rangers | 20-18-4 | Previous Ranking: 25
True to their helter-skelter form, the Rangers fell behind 6–0 late in the second period to the Oilers and then nearly pulled off one of the best regular-season comebacks as the decade came to a close (New York ultimately lost 7–5 after scoring five unanswered). The Rangers’ team defense provides more entertainment than sustained success. It’s going to be tough to mount any playoff push if that doesn’t change.
24. Chicago Blackhawks | 19-19-6 | Previous Ranking: 27
Chicago has won seven out of its last 11 games, but it hasn’t done so convincingly. The Blackhawks have been outshot in all but four of those contests while the team’s power play has sagged again. Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook’s injuries have allowed rookie blueliner Adam Boqvist to see more ice time. That’s one of the few bright spots for a defense that hasn’t made things easy for Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford.
23. Buffalo Sabres | 19-17-7 | Previous Ranking: 21
After a dismal 1-6-1 stretch, the Sabres rebounded with a 3–2 overtime win courtesy of Jack Eichel’s first career penalty-shot goal. It wasn’t all good, though: The team announced Victor Olofsson is out for a few weeks the following day. With Tampa Bay and Toronto regaining their place in the Atlantic, the Sabres sit in fifth place in the division and four points out of a wild-card spot. It’s not an impossible task but Buffalo is falling behind, quick.
22. Minnesota Wild | 20-17-6 | Previous Ranking: 22
Considering how poorly the year started, Bruce Boudreau and the Wild deserve credit for avoiding a disaster season and staying within striking distance of a playoff spot. Minnesota has done that despite possessing the league’s worst goaltending tandem, according to Charting Hockey, and an abysmal penalty kill.
21. Montreal Canadiens | 18-19-7 | Previous Ranking: 18
Ilya Kovalchuk and Marco Scandella aren’t the big acquisition Habs fans were looking for. Kovalchuk, after providing modest offensive contributions for the Kings, will fill in while Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher return to full health. The Canadiens’ weakness has been defense and veteran blueliner Scandella, who Montreal traded for on Jan. 2, isn’t the answer. For the second time this season, the Canadiens dropped seven games in a row.
20. Columbus Blue Jackets | 21-15-8 | Previous Ranking: 23
The Blue Jackets have one of the league’s young, top one-two punches on the blue line with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, and each took their time in the spotlight in a pair of wins against the Panthers and Bruins. With a point in 15 of its last 16 games, Columbus has hunkered down on defense while dealing with several injuries to its forward group.
19. Nashville Predators | 19-16-7 | Previous Ranking: 17
Laviolette led the Predators to its first Stanley Cup final appearance, but GM David Poile fired the 18-year veteran coach after Nashville is, again, talented enough to contend for the Cup but isn’t all the way there. The Predators aren’t in dire straights—the power play has been better recently and the team’s offense hasn’t struggled as it did last season—but the new coach John Hynes will need to fix an ailing penalty kill and hope for either Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros to take command of 1A duties by force in the second half of the season.
18. Calgary Flames | 22-17-5 | Previous Ranking: 14
After the Dallas Stars, the Flames have the most wins (six) while trailing after the second period. Calgary also has also trailed heading into the third more often than any team not named the Detroit Red Wings, so it might not hurt to get off to a few quicker starts.
17. Edmonton Oilers | 23-17-5 | Previous Ranking: 16
For the first time this season, the Oilers moved one game below .500 after a 5–1 loss to the Flames. Edmonton halted its descent with road wins against Boston and Toronto, but Leon Draisaitl has been trending down since his torrid start. He has scored just one 5-on-5 goal over the last six weeks and the Oilers have been outscored 30–11 with Draisaitl on the ice in even-strength situations. No other player has been on the ice for more goals against in that span.
16. Florida Panthers | 22-16-5 | Previous Ranking: 20
Jonathan Huberdeau, who quietly ranks seventh in the NHL with 57 points and on pace for his first career 100 points season, earned the league’s first star of the month in December to go along with his first All-Star selection. He has jumped over Aleksander Barkov as the team’s best player in the first half of the season. With an improved offense, the Panthers are capable of going on a tear if 1) Sergei Bobrovsky plays up to his contract or 2) the defense makes marked improvements.
15. Philadelphia Flyers | 22-15-6 | Previous Ranking: 10
The West didn’t treat Philly kindly: The Flyers lost four of five games, getting outscored 23–12 behind a penalty kill that only stopped 64.3% of its opportunities in that span. Both Carter Hart and Brian Elliott were pulled in separate games. Philadelphia has the league’s seventh-worst road record but will play seven of its next eight back at the Wells Fargo Center.
14. Winnipeg Jets | 23-16-4 | Previous Ranking: 12
A Vezina candidate all season, Connor Hellebuyck sputtered to end the year with two wins in seven games and the Jets likewise suffered. He rebounded and so has Winnipeg, but that stretch illustrated how dependent the team is on its 26-year-old goaltender and how the defense could benefit from an upgrade sooner rather than later.
13. Vancouver Canucks | 23-16-4 | Previous Ranking: 19
The Canucks ended 2019 on a five-game winning streak, then tacked on two more before losing 9–2 to the Lightning. Vancouver’s fate has largely been tied to Jacob Markstrom, who’s undefeated in five games facing 40-or-more shots. Beyond Quinn Hughes’s superb rookie season, the Canucks have had a bottom-10 defense. They’re fun for a middle-of-the-pack team.
12. Arizona Coyotes | 25-16-4 | Previous Ranking: 9
How good could the Coyotes be if both Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel play at an All-Star level at the same time? That could be a season-long experiment Arizona might not get the answer to. Hall and Kessel have a combined 11 goals in 51 games but the Coyotes have more than survived with Conor Garland, Carl Soderberg and Clayton Keller as its leading goal scorers.
11. Dallas Stars | 24-14-4 | Previous Ranking: 15
Pig races, carnival rides, state fair classics, a mechanical bull, an outdoor event equal parts intensity and spectacle and a Stars victory—Dallas came away more than on-ice winners in one of the best Winter Classics to date. The victory came right in the middle of what is now a four-game winning streak.
10. Carolina Hurricanes | 25-16-2 | Previous Ranking: 7
The Hurricanes have lost five of their last eight games, even though the team hasn’t been outshot in any of them. The culprit? A penalty kill that has given up two goals five times in that span.
9. Vegas Golden Knights | 24-16-6 | Previous Ranking: 11
For the first time in franchise history, the Golden Knights erased a three-goal deficit and came back to beat the Blues 5–4 in overtime on Jan. 4. Without too much of a spotlight, Vegas has a 13-4-2 record in its last 17 games and has jumped to second in the Pacific. Reilly Smith, playing primarily next to William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault, has scored the team’s third-most goals in that span while everything on offense seems to be clicking.
8. Colorado Avalanche | 25-15-4 | Previous Ranking: 3
While the Avalanche have struggled to collect wins of late, Nathan MacKinnon has climbed to third on the NHL’s points leaderboard behind his 17 goals and 43 points in his last 27 games. No one has more points than MacKinnon in that stretch. After a short New York road trip, Colorado returns to the Pepsi Center for a five-game home stand.
7. New York Islanders | 27-12-3 | Previous Ranking: 5
The Islanders’ offense has taken a bit of nap to start the New Year and its power play has been even worse—going 0/12 in its last eight games—but the penalty kill allowed just one goal in the last seven games and Semyon Varlamov blanked his former team in a 1-0 defeat of the Avs.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning | 25-13-4 | Previous Ranking: 13
The Lightning have a better goal differential than the Blues, Islanders, Golden Knights, Leafs, Stars and Flyers, Andrei Vasilevskiy is rounding into Vezina form and Tampa Bay still has a top-five offense at worst. They aren’t completely back to last year’s form yet, but the team’s current eight-game winning streak could be a sign of things to come.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins | 26-12-5 | Previous Ranking: 6
With Jake Guentzel sidelined 4–6 months following surgery, almost every key Penguins player has gone down at one point in the season … and Pittsburgh is only 43 games in. Unlike Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s absences, there isn’t another superstar on this team that can replace Guentzel’s goal-scoring prowess. Maybe Alex Galchenyuk steps up, but that hasn’t been the case this year.
4. Boston Bruins | 25-8-11 | Previous Ranking: 4
Since Dec. 5, the Bruins rank bottom-10 in goals for per 60 minutes and shooting percentage while Brad Marchand’s scoring touch has gone cold and the team’s third and fourth lines haven’t given Boston anything. Nearly everyone is healthy; the Bruins should test out a few call ups before the trade deadline comes.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs | 24-15-5 | Previous Ranking: 8
Playing next to John Tavares, William Nylander has flourished with five goals and 10 points in six games. Credit Sheldon Keefe for a willingness to tinker with the lines and stick with them. The Leafs scored 4.9 goals per game during a 10-game point streak and jumped from fifth to third in the Atlantic Division in the process.
2. St. Louis Blues | 27-10-7 | Previous Ranking: 2
The Blues eight-game winning streak came to an end in a 3–1 loss to the Coyotes, and then St. Louis proceeded to drop their next two and lose every game of their three-game road trip. With a small lead over the Avs and Stars in the Central, the Blues should have an opportunity to get back on track with a five-game homestand.
1. Washington Capitals | 30-9-5 | Previous Ranking: 1
Still at the top. The Capitals became the seventh team in NHL history to win after trailing by two goals with one minute remaining. Washington is one of two teams in the league with seven different 10-goal scorers at the halfway mark. Colorado is the other.