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.
There’s nothing quite like putting on the Power Rankings cap in the first week of a new season. Your preconceived notions and expectations coming into the season? Throw them all out because we’ve now got a two-to-three game sample size that needs to be treated as gospel. There’s no such thing as overreacting when you’ve got the evidence of a few mid-October hockey games.
Let’s face it: We all know someone who is either planning the parade or holding their finger over the “BLOW IT UP” button after just a couple of games, and we love watching those people go to work. One of life’s most entertaining spectacles is watching a distraught fan try to cancel the rest of the season after failing to get a few bounces in Game 3 of 82.
So, in honor of those brave heroes, here’s a knee-jerk look at the Good, the Bad and the No Man’s Land less than a week into a new NHL season.
1. Florida Panthers (Last week: 9): Expectations are high for the Panthers, and they’ve come out of the gate strong. They opened the season with a nice comeback win over the Penguins and then absolutely took it to the Islanders, who many consider to be one of the best teams in the East. The Cats look ferocious through two games, and that's with Sergei Bobrovsky in net for both games.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (LW: 7): The Canes had a weird offseason, but there’s no reason to jump ship from the bandwagon after the first couple of games. They’ve still got the star power to thrive, and I’m thinking this might be the season Andrei Svechnikov touches 40 goals.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: 2): They haven’t really played well and yet they’ve still won two of their first three. And Nikita Kucherov is on the injury shelf already, which means maybe we get to fire up the glorious Cap Circumvention Machine once again this year!
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (LW: No Man's Land): Despite starting the season without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, plus a tough first couple of matchups (Tampa and Florida), the Penguins have looked pretty good! They got five out of a possible six points and have averaged five goals per game through three games. That’ll play.
5. Edmonton Oilers (LW: Not ranked): Turns out Connor McDavid (five points through two games) is still good, so that’s encouraging. Jesse Puljujarvi is a guy I selected to have a next-level breakout this year and that’s off to a good start with two goals in his first two games. Most importantly, Mike Smith is still stopping pucks (though not without an occasional facepalm moment mixed in), and that’s going to be key.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 5): They navigated an emergency goalie situation without completely embarrassing themselves, so maybe this IS their year after all.
7. Minnesota Wild (LW: 8): They haven’t faced anyone super tough yet, and they’ve still got some kinks to work out. But they’re 2-for-2 in the win department and that’s what matters.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets (LW: 29): They were among the five teams listed in the “bad” category last week, and I still think they’re going to end up back there at some point sooner rather than later. But you gotta give them credit for a strong start. They kicked the crap out of Arizona in the opener and then snuck past Seattle for four quick points. Plus, Patrik Laine has gone full 80s Movie Villain, so they’ve got the power of intimidation on their side.
9. Buffalo Sabres (LW: Not ranked): OK, hear me out for a second. Yes, the Sabres’ lineup is a hilarious mess of misfits and Buffalo is expected to be one of the very worst teams in the league this season. HOWEVER, they’ve started the season 2-0 and have looked pretty good in the process, outscoring opponents 7-2. Sure, four of those goals have come on the power play, but they own a league-best (!) expected goals rate of 67.2 percent at 5v5 too. And while it’s a two-game sample (with one of those games coming against Arizona) and I still think Buffalo is going to suck big time, they may have already exceeded my expectations for the season and deserve some credit for that.
10. Colorado Avalanche (LW: 1): They had to start the season without Nathan MacKinnon (COVID-19), and captain Gabriel Landeskog got himself suspended in Game 1, which is far from ideal. Still, they’re the Avs and they’re going to be fine. I’m putting them at No. 10 simply because I think it’s very funny to see them below the Blue Jackets and Sabres.
32. Arizona Coyotes (Last week: 31): They opened the season by giving up eight goals to the Blue Jackets, a team with fewer respectable centers than a basketball team full of short kings. Then they lost to the Sabres. The tank is on and it’s going to be incredible.
31. Chicago Blackhawks (Last week: No Man's Land): Is it too early to regret the Seth Jones deal? Is it too early to feel horrible for Marc-Andre Fleury? Is it too early to fire Jeremy Colliton and/or Stan Bowman? They’ve been so bad through three games that I’m not really sure.
30. Montreal Canadiens (Last week: Not ranked): It turns out that if you take away Playoff Carey Price, Shea Weber and Philip Danault, this team looks a LOT worse. Who would have guessed? But, hey, at least Jonathan Drouin is back and living well.
29. New York Islanders (Last week: 4): Well, this is a very bad start for the team I predicted would win the East. They’re 0-2 and have been outscored 11-4 in those two games. Not great for a team that prides itself in defensive identity. Not worth panicking over, but it’s ugly early. And they’ve still got 11 more consecutive games on the road.
28. Anaheim Ducks (Last week: 30): They’ll probably make themselves comfy in this section all year long, but some of the rebuilding pieces are developing so that’s nice. Still, they’re probably going to get run over a bunch this season.
No Man’s Land
New York Rangers: The Summer of Grit has come to an end, and now it’s time to see how an uptick in toughness translates on the ice. The early returns? Pretty uninspiring, for the most part. Early lineup absences from Ryan Strome and Kaapo Kakko haven’t helped, and the standoff with top prospect Vitali Kravtsov is just another hurdle. This team is in a pretty uncomfortable spot right now.
Seattle Kraken: Through three games, it’s tough to know what to make of Seattle. They have three points and have looked really strong at points, yet really sloppy at others especially defensively. That’s maybe to be expected with a brand new expansion team. However, with how much emphasis they put on acquiring strong defensive players (including two-way forwards) and goaltending this offseason, I expected them to be better at goal prevention. That being said, the offense has had its moments, and there’s plenty of time to tighten things up.