The Sabres, Canadiens and Jets are going nowhere, fast. The allure of the playoffs and the millions of dollars it generates is real: Ask the Blue Jackets, who snatched the franchise’s first playoff series win after making the choice to buy and not to sell. The trade deadline, just a few weeks away, presents a hard fork in the season before each franchise’s path diverges toward a playoff push or a mediocre conclusion. And neither Buffalo, Montreal or Winnipeg have much to stake their postseason hopes to.
The rest of the league isn’t settled, but a few groupings have emerged. The Capitals, Bruins, Blues, Lightning and Penguins solidify the NHL’s top tier. The Avalanche, Islanders, Stars, Leafs and Hurricanes rear the next group of potential contenders. Teams like the Flyers, Golden Knights, Panthers, Oilers and Flames are on the cusp of rising up, while the Canucks and Blue Jackets, improbably, hold a top-10 position in the standings. Everybody else? Good luck.
Now that the Battle of Alberta has concluded and brought playoff-esque resentment to hockey in February, here’s how we see teams stacking up this week:
31. Detroit Red Wings | 12-38-4 | Previous Ranking: 31
The Red Wings were shut out in two consecutive games and have extended their current losing streak to nine. That’s the third stretch of at least eight consecutive losses this season, and Detroit has scored 1.33 goals per game in this most recent losing spurt.
30. Los Angeles Kings | 19-30-5 | Previous Ranking: 30
The Kings rank fourth in even-strength shot attempts per 60 minutes (61.1) since the New Year, but they also rank dead last in goals for per game (1.38). L.A. is shooting 4.1% in that stretch and the team’s offensive woes aren’t about to be solved with Tyler Toffoli and Alex Iafallo potentially on the move.
29. New Jersey Devils | 18-24-10 | Previous Ranking: 29
New Jersey fired John Hynes on Dec. 3. Less than two months later, he came back with the Predators and defeated the Devils in their own building. Then, two nights later, New Jersey lost after honoring the 2000 Stanley Cup squad. Maybe put the homecomings on hold.
28. Ottawa Senators | 18-24-11 | Previous Ranking: 28
The Senators drew 9,673 fans against the Devils on Jan. 27, but that’s not the worst of it: Ottawa’s attendance has dropped 33% (!) since 2014–15. The team still plays in Canada, right? Owner Eugene Melnyk has alienated fans through shipping off stars, denigrating his own team and placing the responsibility on fans to prevent a move. There’s no amount of draft picks that will create good will until the Senators start winning.
27. Anaheim Ducks | 22-26-5 | Previous Ranking: 27
In a contest between the two worst teams out West, the Ducks topped the Kings as Ryan Miller saved 40-plus shots for the 42nd time in his career. Anaheim hasn’t been awful since dropping four straight in mid January, notching wins against the Predators and Hurricanes and going toe-to-toe with the Lightning.
26. San Jose Sharks | 23-27-4 | Previous Ranking: 26
First Logan Couture suffered a broken ankle, sidelining him for six weeks, and now Tomas Hertl is done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. The Sharks are dressing Joe Thornton, Barclay Goodrow, Dylan Gambrell and Joe Kellman at center until Couture returns. Fortune has not been in San Jose’s favor, and Hertl’s injury all-but guarantees the franchise’s first losing season in 17 years.
25. New York Rangers | 25-22-4 | Previous Ranking: 25
Not even an 11-day break could cool off Artemi Panarin: The Rangers’ hyper-talented Russian winger tallied two points in a 4–2 defeat of the Red Wings, pushing his point total to 70. Henrik Lundqvist shut out Detroit in New York’s next game, but the Rangers’ goalie roulette came up empty when Lundqvist surrendered four in two periods to the Stars.
24. Minnesota Wild | 24-22-6 | Previous Ranking: 24
Coach Bruce Boudreau had this to say about his team’s penalty kill, according to the Star Tribune: “If I start talking about it, I’m going to start using names. I’m not going to talk about it. It’s just obviously as bad as you can possibly get in this league.” The Wild surrendered three power-play goals against the Bruins, and now it’s 30th-ranked penalty kill sits at 74% on the season.
23. Buffalo Sabres | 23-23-7 | Previous Ranking: 21
With Sabres fans plotting a protest against ownership, Buffalo went out and notched a victory against the recently near-invincible Blue Jackets. Jack Eichel—who else?—scored the game winner in overtime. At some point, someone else has to do something to help ease the burden on Eichel’s shoulders.
22. Chicago Blackhawks | 25-21-7 | Previous Ranking: 23
Winners of five of six heading into the All-Star break, the Blackhawks edged the Coyotes and moved within three points of a wild-card spot. Chicago is still holding out hope for a playoff push, but getting its young core experience with competitive games down the stretch might be a more realistic goal as the season winds down.
21. Montreal Canadiens | 25-23-7 | Previous Ranking: 22
As Montreal’s playoff hopes dim, the Canadiens were unable to extend their two-game winning streak into anything substantial. The Habs have as many streaks of three wins in a row (3) as they do three losses in a row and time is running out.
20. Winnipeg Jets | 26-23-5 | Previous Ranking: 20
According to TSN’s Frank Seravalli, the Jets and Dustin Byfulgien are moving toward mutual contract termination. That’s bad news for Winnipeg’s blue line but it could allow GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to get a little more creative at the deadline, whether he decides to buy or sell with the team at a crossroads with a third of the season remaining.
19. Nashville Predators | 25-20-7 | Previous Ranking: 19
One step forward, one step back: The Predators beat the Capitals on the road then defeated the Devils on the second night of a back-to-back, but then they were outshot 39-19 and shut out by the Golden Knights despite a solid performance from Pekka Rinne. Trading wins for losses has kept Nashville on the fringe of a playoff spot.
18. Calgary Flames | 27-21-6 | Previous Ranking: 17
Flames goalie Dave Rittich celebrated the team’s shootout win with the NHL equivalent of the bat flip, but then left Cam Talbot to get plastered in an 8–3 loss in the final matchup of the Battle of Alberta. A loss for Calgary, but the series was a win for hockey at-large.
17. Arizona Coyotes | 27-21-7 | Previous Ranking: 16
While not quite the level of the Astros cheating scandal, the NHL is investigating the Coyotes for allegedly fitness testing draft-eligible CHL players, according to TSN. On the ice, Arizona has a 2-5-3 record in its last 10 games as the team’s offense dries up. Oliver Ekman-Larsson remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets | 29-16-9 | Previous Ranking: 18
While Columbus’s pair of Latvian netminders has boosted the Blue Jackets up the standings since mid-December, 21-year-old winger Pierre-Luc Dubois has notched 24 points in his last 22 games as the forwards around him have gone down with injuries. Columbus hasn’t torched teams offensively but timely contributions from players like Dubois and Olivier Bjorkstrand have been enough.
15. Edmonton Oilers | 28-19-6 | Previous Ranking: 15
Is it April, already? No, but Edmonton stole hockey’s Uncivil War. More than the fights or 156 penalty minutes across three games, the Oilers and Flames captured hockey’s distinctive ability to combine untempered aggressiveness and legislated ill-will with speed and talent on the ice, and that alone does more for the game than prospective off-ice ploys between Jordan Binnington and Justin Bieber. Kailer Yamamota told Hockey Night in Canada, “We hate each other. The Hatred is real.” More of that.
14. Vegas Golden Knights | 27-21-7 | Previous Ranking: 14
New lines, positive results: Coach Pete DeBoer swapped centers Paul Stastny and Chandler Stephenson on the top two lines and each line produced at least one goal in the Golden Knights’ wins against the Hurricanes and Predators. Vegas’s eight-game road trip comes to an end on Thursday and then the team will play 10 of its next 12 games at home, which hasn’t big as big of an advantage this year.
13. Philadelphia Flyers | 29-17-7 | Previous Ranking: 13
Only the Bruins have fewer home losses than the Flyers, and Philly turned its home dominance into a 6–3 win against the Avalanche. Plus 19-year-old rookie Joe Farabee scored twice, extending his point streak to five games. The Flyers face the Devils before playing seven straight games against Eastern Conference teams in playoff contention.
12. Vancouver Canucks | 30-19-5 | Previous Ranking: 12
Quinn Hughes added another resume item to his Calder argument when he took the puck high on the right side, skated down to the end boards, peeled around the right face-off circle and wired a wrister over Thomas Greiss’s blocker, giving the Canucks a fifth straight win on Saturday. Vancouver now sits in third in the Western Conference but shouldn’t get too jumpy at the trade deadline. There’s nothing wrong with taking a good year as it comes and resisting the temptation to go for it all.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs | 28-18-7 | Previous Ranking: 7
Frederik Andersen exited Monday night’s game against the Panthers and is now day-to-day with a neck injury. While Toronto has dealt with injuries to John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly, losing Andersen for any extended period of time wouldn’t be a problem the Leafs could fix without outside help. Andersen’s health is something to keep an eye on. But, for positive news, 19-year-old defenseman Rasmus Sandin’s growing comfort level is encouraging and he ranks first among Toronto blueliners with a 56.38 corsi for percentage since his second call-up.
10. Dallas Stars | 30-18-5 | Previous Ranking: 10
The Stars are built to be a physical, defense-first team, but they haven’t converted that into a high-octane, counter-attacking offense. Dallas and Roope Hintz highlighted how effective that could be in last year’s playoffs but, when the offense dried up, the Blues walked away with the series and the Stanley Cup.
9. Florida Panthers | 29-17-6 | Previous Ranking: 11
The Panthers had won six straight going into the All-Star break, but that winning spurt came to an end when Florida was shut out for the first time this season in a 4–0 loss to the Canadiens. Florida made amends two nights later with a 5–3 win over the Leafs, and avoided any long-term injury scare after it was announced Alex Barkov would be day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
8. New York Islanders | 30-15-5 | Previous Ranking: 9
The Islanders tied the game with 25.1 seconds left, coming back from a 3–1 deficit, but ultimately fell short in overtime against the Canucks. The Isles will take the points where it can get them to help maintain its lead on the Metropolitan’s last playoff spot.
7. Carolina Hurricanes | 30-20-3 | Previous Ranking: 8
Two shootouts, two game-winning goals from the freshly returned Justin Williams. In a three-way tie for the last playoff spot in the Atlantic heading into Saturday’s game, the Canes needed both points after losing to Vegas at home and few remaining soft spots in the team’s schedule.
6. Colorado Avalanche | 29-16-6 | Previous Ranking: 6
Even with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar, the Avs power play has converted just 18.9% of its chances. That’s not cause for panic—the Capitals and Islanders have done worse in that stretch—but Colorado has room to improve in extra-man situations down the stretch.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins | 33-14-5 | Previous Ranking: 5
The Penguins survived a third period offensive barrage from the Capitals as goaltender Matt Murray secured his fifth win in a row. Since the beginning of December, Pittsburgh has the best points percentage (.780) out of anyone in the NHL and could become even better if GM Jim Rutherford adds a piece at the deadline.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning | 33-15-5 | Previous Ranking: 4
After a loss against the Stars coming out of the All-Star break, the Lightning won all three contests on its three-game California trip while Steven Stamkos extended his streak to seven games. Tampa Bay now trails Boston by just five points for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Just keep swimming.
3. St. Louis Blues | 32-14-8 | Previous Ranking: 2
St. Louis ended its five-game road trip with a loss against the Jets, and it wasn’t pretty. Opponents outscored the Blues 21-13 while the team’s power play fell to 14.3% during that stretch. Binnington has time to regain form (.871 save percentage and 3.54 goals against average in his last eight starts) ahead of the postseason, and an eventual showdown with Justin Bieber.
2. Boston Bruins | 32-10-12 | Previous Ranking: 3
The Bruins fought back—literally, with thundering hits and a trio of fighting majors from Brad Marchand, Brandon Carlo and Karson Kuhlman—from an early deficit against the Jets and grinded its way to a win behind stellar goaltending from Tuukka Rask. Boston is ready, two months early, for the playoffs.
1. Washington Capitals | 36-13-5 | Previous Ranking: 1
Alex Ovechkin yanked down two more legends in his quest for 700 goals, this week passing Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier with 698 goals. Next up? Caps legend Mike Gartner, who has 708.