Every week, we’ll discuss and rank the “good” teams (the ones making some legitimate noise) as well as the “bad” teams (the ones that are so bad they’re actually worth talking about) and a few teams stuck in the middle. You know, the teams that aren’t quite good enough to be relevant but aren’t bad enough to be irrelevant either? The dreaded No Man’s Land.
Welcome to November — a month that forces hockey fans to stop using the patented excuse of “It’s still October.” Yes, it’s still early in a new season and, yes, we still have plenty to learn. However, we’re creeping up on double-digit games played for individual teams across the league, and that means, while samples are still small, they’re no longer insignificantly small.
As such, November is really the month in which Power Rankings pick up traction. No offense to my first three editions of these rankings, but they were largely arbitrary (as Power Rankings often are) and didn’t have a whole lot of “oomph” behind them. Rankings in October … who the hell cares? But rankings in November? Well, if it’s not too soon to get behind Christmas music in November, why can’t we get overly invested in our hockey teams as well?
And so it (really) begins.
1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: 2): The Canes are the last remaining undefeated team in the NHL (8-0-0), and they have the best goal differential (+21) in the league. I was skeptical about bailing on Alex Nedeljkovic as quickly as they did, but Frederik Andersen has been fantastic in the early going. That’s a really promising sign.
2. Florida Panthers (LW: 1): What a weird time to be a Panthers fan. After a tremendous start to the season — and maybe a new level of hope and optimism for the franchise — Joel Quenneville resigned in the wake of the Blackhawks investigation. Now the team has to find a way to transition and keep the positive momentum it built out of the gate. The Panthers finally lost a game last week, but it came in overtime to a pretty good team (Bruins). So no need to jump off the bandwagon just yet.
3. St. Louis Blues (LW: 6): I was a fan of the Blues’ forward depth coming into the season but still had concerns about their defense and goaltending — and those concerns still exist. However, they’ve done a pretty good job keeping the puck out of their own net despite allowing a good number of high-danger chances. They’ve only given up 15 goals through their first seven games (including two shutouts). If Vladimir Tarasenko still wants to be traded, he’s sure doing a good job of boosting his value (nine points in seven games).
4. Calgary Flames (LW: Not ranked): Well hello, Calgary! I would like to apologize for taking so long to put some respect on the Flames’ name, but better late than never. After losing the first two games of the season, Calgary has won six in a row and is giving up less than two goals per game — all while playing six of its first eight games on the road. The Flames got back-to-back clean sheets from Jacob Markstrom last week, and it seems Darryl Sutter is getting his club to buy in. Also, Andrew Mangiapane (seven goals in eight games) is on a tear and he rocks.
5. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 3): Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are still carrying the load (no surprise there), but there are other reasons to feel good about the Oilers right now. The power play has been incredible, the goaltending has been very good and they’re getting necessary lifts from ancillary pieces -- Zach Hyman and Jesse Puljujarvi among them.
6. Washington Capitals (LW: 8): Alex Ovechkin has nine goals in eight games. I’m starting to think he wants to break Wayne Gretzky’s goal record this year and just get it over with. And, at this rate, he might do it.
7. Minnesota Wild (LW: 4): The Wild have been an interesting case study so far this season. Their underlying numbers look pretty good (including first in xGF% at 5v5), but the results have been mixed. They need Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala (one combined goal) to start scoring, and they could also use a few more saves, as the club’s .901 save percentage is 26th in the league. If those things get worked out, they’ll be in better shape.
8. New York Rangers (LW: 7): Igor Shesterkin looks absolutely incredible to start the year. Through seven starts, he’s 5-1-1 with a .947 save percentage and 7.6 GSAA. That’s pretty absurd. The pressing question: Is it close to sustainable and, if not, how much different do the Rangers look if he comes back to earth?
9. Buffalo Sabres (LW: 10): Even more shocking than the Sabres being in the top 10 for the first three weeks of the season? They didn’t peak at No. 10! Once again, I’ll reiterate that I don’t expect them to hold here very long, but they’ve played some spirited, solid hockey to this point and are doing a good job of keeping the puck out of their own net. They enter November second place in the Atlantic and deserve some credit for that.
10. Winnipeg Jets (LW: NR): I don’t want to read too much into beating up on the California teams, but the Jets ripped off four straight wins over the last week and a half and have earned points in six of eight overall. They’re seeing some awesome early returns from Pierre-Luc Dubois. They're also at this point despite a lackluster start from Connor Hellebuyck and an extended absence from Mark Scheifele — two of their most important players. They’re doing a decent job of weathering the storm.
32. Chicago Blackhawks (Last week: 32): Off-ice dysfunction aside, the Blackhawks remain a mess. They managed to pick up a couple loser points via OT. But they’re still winless through nine games and frustration is starting to show. Marc-Andre Fleury already sounds like he wishes he had retired this summer. Can’t really blame him.
31. Arizona Coyotes (LW: 31): They’re also winless through nine games. Everything is going according to plan.
30. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 30): I was hesitant to light the Canadiens on fire after their slow start. But we’re now into double-digit games played and they still look terrible. Cole Caufield has been demoted, and he’s probably not going to be the only one packing up his stuff if things don’t magically turn around.
29. Dallas Stars (LW: Not ranked): They’ve lost three straight and have scored 15 total goals through their first eight games. That, uh, isn’t gonna get the job done.
28. Vancouver Canucks (LW: Not ranked): I’m worried about the Canucks but not exactly ready to start digging the grave just yet. They’re struggling to put the puck in the net — and Elias Pettersson’s line has been particularly dry — so that’s the first order of business to turn things around. They’ve got the league’s worst expected goals for rate (42.1 percent) and have had their asses (literally) saved by strong goaltending from Thatcher Demko. If Demko can continue to thrive while the team in front of him pieces things together, there could be brighter days ahead.
No Man’s Land
Pittsburgh Penguins (Last week: 5): After a surprisingly solid start, the Penguins have lost three straight and just look a bit out of sorts, but these things happen over the course of an 82-game season. The good news is that Sidney Crosby is back. The bad news is that Crosby looked quite bad in his first game back. Is it time to consider him a bust? (I’m kidding.) They’re going to get more from Crosby moving forward, but they’ll also need to find more luck and production from ancillary pieces like Jake Guentzel and Kasperi Kapanen.
New Jersey Devils (LW: Not ranked): Just when I was starting to feel good about the foundation that the Devils were building, Jack Hughes goes down with a shoulder injury that will likely keep him out a few months. That’s a massive blow for a budding superstar and his emerging team, and now expectations and optimism have likely shifted significantly. (Losing Miles Wood didn’t help, either.) How this team responds to adversity may give us a clearer indication of what its ceiling is this season.