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.
Hope you didn’t blink because, look, we’ve already arrived at the Thanksgiving pole position of the NHL season. This is an important mark in the schedule because it’s typically viewed as the first point where we should start putting stock into what the standings are telling us. (We’ll dive into those standings takeaways in a column later this week.)
But with the holiday coming up, it’s also a good time to consider what we should be thankful for around the NHL. As such, this week’s edition of NHL Power Rankings will examine what each team listed should most be thankful for at this juncture. Let’s say grace, ignore our drunk uncle and dig in.
1. Carolina Hurricanes (Last week: 1): They should be thankful for the early returns of their offseason, especially the goaltending of Frederik Andersen. Many people (including myself) questioned Carolina’s offseason decision-making, particularly with regards to trading Alex Nedeljkovic in favor of signing Andersen. While Ned has been good in Detroit, Andersen has seen a complete resurgence with the Canes, and it’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve been at the top of the league. Between the great goaltending and the production of Tony DeAngelo mitigating the loss of Dougie Hamilton, this hot start has quieted a lot of concerns about the way Carolina approached its business this summer.
2. Florida Panthers (LW: 3): The resilience to survive the sudden departure of Joel Quenneville. Florida surged out of the gate, and it looked like everything was finally coming together and starting to click for that organization. Then the findings of the investigation into the Blackhawks implicated Quenneville and forced him to resign as coach of the Panthers. That seemed like it could have been a demoralizing blow to throw Florida off track, but the team has stayed the course under interim coach Andrew Brunette. The Panthers should be proud of that.
3. Edmonton Oilers (LW: 2): They have two of the greatest players in the world. Yes, the Oilers added reinforcements beside/behind Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl this season, but those two are still the engine that makes the entire thing run. And, boy, is it ever chugging along so far this season. Draisaitl is scoring goals at a ridiculous pace, and McDavid isn’t all that far behind with his wizardry. (They’ve combined for 30 of Edmonton’s 68 goals so far.) Most teams would be fortunate enough to have one of the greatest players on Earth in their uniform. The Oilers have two — and one of them may be the greatest talent to ever lace up skates — so they should never take that for granted.
4. Washington Capitals (LW: 4): Russian Machine Never Breaks. I can’t believe we’re still subscribing to the RMNB mantra but, hey, the results speak for themselves with 36-year-old Alex Ovechkin. Not only is he still scoring goals and climbing up the all-time leaderboard, but he’s also still refining his game and scoring at prime Ovi pace. Nineteen games into the season, he has 15 goals with a 2.2 goals per 60 minutes rate. He’s a freak.
5. Calgary Flames (LW: 9): Darryl Sutter — no ifs, ands or buts about it. He has transformed the Flames, and the club is better off for it. They’re a fun offensive team that ranks top 10 in goals per 60 this season, and they’re also the BEST defensive team in the league with 1.87 goals against per 60. They also have seven shutouts in 19 games, which is patently absurd. Sure, a lot of that can be attributed to the great play of Jacob Markstrom in net, but backup Dan Vladar has two shutouts as well. Overall, you’ve got to credit Sutter’s defensive system and the entire roster for buying in.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (LW: 5): They should be thankful that the playoffs don’t start for another five months. There’s still plenty of time to figure out a spectacular way to puke all over themselves in historically embarrassing fashion.
7. Anaheim Ducks (LW: 8): A new, relevant era of Ducks hockey is here. I’m still not convinced that this level of play is sustainable, but it’s fun and promising. After a horribly dull and lifeless few years of rebuilding, Anaheim is starting to see exciting young talent emerge on its roster. Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Jamie Drysdale should be big pieces of the franchise for years to come, but there’s also been enjoyment in seeing some older guys rediscover success as well. Ryan Getzlaf looks reinvigorated, as does John Gibson between the pipes. Most importantly, this team is simply enjoyable and worth paying attention for the first time in a while.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (LW: Not ranked): They’re still back-to-back champs. Seems rather basic but, hey, sometimes you got to take a step back and be thankful for the big picture. Things have been a bit rocky for Tampa to start the season, but that’s somewhat reasonable considering the offseason losses and early season injuries the Lightning have been forced to overcome. They’re still staying very competitive, and, as a reminder, they’ve won two straight Cups. It’s still good to be the Tampa Bay Lightning.
10. New York Rangers (LW: 10): Tom Wilson hasn’t yet lit their season on fire. Also, Adam Fox is no fluke and Igor Shesterkin has been the guy the team needs between the pipes. It’s a bit of a roller coaster in New York, but the Rangers are always keeping things interesting.
32. Arizona Coyotes (Last week: 32): The tank is working extremely well. Maybe a little TOO well.
31. Montreal Canadiens (LW: 31): Well, there are always the memories from last season’s playoff run.
30. Ottawa Senators (LW: 28): The rebuild is over! The team is taking a big step forward and the future is now! At least that’s what Pierre Dorion told us a couple of months ago. I guess we have to be thankful for blindly optimistic general managers.
29. Seattle Kraken (LW: 30): In all seriousness, they shouldn’t be this bad. Things will seemingly get better once their goaltenders remember that stopping pucks is an important part of the job description.
28. Vancouver Canucks (LW: 29): Sure, things might seem really bad right now, but just remember -- Jim Benning probably only has enough leash left to make five or six really terrible decisions that will hurt the team.
No Man’s Land
New York Islanders (Last week: Not ranked): It’s official. They have a brand new, shiny home arena that allows fans to go to the bathroom without feeling like they’re participating in the Hunger Games. That nightmarish 13-game road trip to start the season is in the past, and the wins are ready to start rolling in. (Checks schedule) Oh no.