It’s Thanksgiving week in America — a good time to look around and take stock of what you’re thankful for. But Thanksgiving is also an important point in the NHL season because it’s typically viewed as the first marker where we should start putting stock into what the standings are telling us.
As such, let’s look at a snapshot of the league going into Tuesday’s games and do a division-by-division, team-by-team vibe check.
Standings and statistics are through Nov. 22
|Toronto Maple Leafs||20||13||6||1||27|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||17||10||4||3||23|
|Detroit Red Wings||20||8||9||3||19|
The Atlantic is no longer being ruled by the three-headed monster that has controlled it over the past few years. Tampa, Toronto and Boston have all had their share of issues to start the season, allowing a new king to slide to the top of the division, but there’s definitely plenty of room for things to get interesting the rest of the way.
Panthers: They have only won two division titles in franchise history (their last was in 2015-16). At this juncture, they’re not only leading the Atlantic, but they’re also projecting to finish with the franchise's highest single-season points total (110). Not bad for a club that had to change coaches unexpectedly.
Maple Leafs: They stumbled a bit out of the gate, but they have been picked up by good goaltending and strong performances from their top-end forwards. There are still concerns over depth (and, well, the fact that they’re the Leafs), but they have the best expected goals rate in the league at 5v5 and have the talent to contend for the division crown.
Lightning: They clearly miss A) Nikita Kucherov and B) the depth that made it possible to survive his absence last season. They had a rough October but have since started to jell a bit more, and they should hang around the top of the division for the remainder of the season.
Red Wings: They’re a nice little surprise to this point. They’re starting to transition out of rebuild mode while going through ups and downs, but the important thing is the future is starting to take shape a bit. Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin are producing at a point-per-game pace, while Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider look like potential stars. Things are on the up, and they’re earning some respect. I wouldn’t anticipate them making the playoffs, though.
Bruins: They’re a bit of an enigma. The underlying numbers suggest they are better than the standings show — they’re second in the league in expected goals rate — but the on-ice product has been mediocre to this point. They’re struggling from familiar issues (lack of production behind the top line), and they clearly miss the stability that David Krejci and Tuukka Rask provided.
Sabres: Well, they aren’t in last, so that’s a bit of a surprise. Most of us fully expected them to be at war with Arizona in the tank battle, but the Sabres have played with enough conviction and heart to force us to respect them a bit. It’s more boring than the clown show they’ve been for the past few years, though.
Canadiens: We all expected a drop-off, but … sheesh. I don’t think anyone predicted them to be out of the playoff discussion by Thanksgiving. What a mess.
Senators: They’re clearly not out of the rebuild, regardless of what Pierre Dorion wants you to believe.
|New York Rangers||18||11||4||3||25|
|Columbus Blue Jackets||16||10||6||0||20|
|New Jersey Devils||16||8||5||3||19|
|New York Islanders||15||5||8||2||12|
I said coming into the season that the Metro had the potential to be the most interesting division in hockey, and I still believe that. Every single team here is respectable and no other grouping in the league can say that.
Hurricanes: They’re the class of the division, and that’s not entirely shocking. They got plenty of criticism for their offseason moves this summer, but the early returns have been really solid, especially in net. The Canes are very fun and very good, and I expect them to finish in the top spot.
Capitals: They’re old, but they’re certainly not through. Alex Ovechkin is rightfully getting a ton of attention thanks to his 30 points (including 15 goals) through 19 games, but Evgeny Kuznetsov also deserves a lot of attention for how well he’s played, especially with all the trade rumors that swirled around him last summer. Washington is trending toward a 100-plus point season, and that’s a bit of a surprise for me.
Rangers: They’re hard to read because they’re a bit of a roller-coaster. Sure, they have exciting high-end talent at the top, but they also have holes in the roster — particularly with the middle six — and their overall offensive and defensive production puts them in the middle of the pack. Can they stay in the hunt? Probably. But without more consistency, it’s hard to know what they’re fully capable of achieving.
Blue Jackets: Who expected them to be top five in goals scored per 60, especially without Patrik Laine in the lineup? Somehow, Columbus always seems to perform above relatively low expectations. I can’t pretend to understand it.
Penguins: In another season in which they should be flattened by bad luck and injuries, they somehow have managed to stay in the fight. If you told me Sidney Crosby would only have six games and two points by Thanksgiving week, I would’ve said the Pens would be out of the conversation. That’s not the case, so credit Mike Sullivan and his guys for keeping their heads above water.
Flyers: Injuries aren’t helping them. Kevin Hayes and Ryan Ellis can’t stay on the ice, and those are two important pieces that Philly is going to need down the stretch. Overall, things could be a lot worse, but this is a competitive division without a lot of room for things to go wrong. So this team is in a tough place at the moment.
Devils: Their fans are probably OK with what they’ve seen. This team isn’t quite ready to hang with the big dogs yet, but the Devils have remained respectable even in the absence of Jack Hughes, who is trending toward superstar status.
Islanders: Oh boy, things have not gone smoothly. That 13-game road trip to start the season was predictably a nightmare, but it hasn’t stopped there. Injuries and COVID-19 issues have further complicated matters, and the hole just keeps getting deeper and deeper. For a team that many (including myself) predicted to finish atop the division, the Isles’ start has been an unmitigated disaster.
|St. Louis Blues||18||10||6||2||22|
I would have been stunned if you’d told me the Avalanche (preseason Cup favorites) weren’t holding first in the Central during Thanksgiving week. But the Avs not even holding a playoff spot? My head would have exploded, and I would have just assumed something had gone HORRIBLY wrong for this team. But the Central is as confusing and complex a division in hockey, so there’s a lot to consider here.
Wild: They survived a slow start from Kirill Kaprizov, and that was rather encouraging. He’s still their leading scorer but hasn’t had to single-handedly carry the offense every night. That’s a good thing. In fact, the team is top five in goals per 60, and the production is coming from a lot of different places. The Wild have been far from dominant, but they find a way to gut out wins.
Blues: It’s tough to know what to expect from them on any given night but, overall, there are promising signs. They’re top 10 in goals and goals against per 60. They’re getting contributions up and down the lineup. They have a good mix of youth (hello, Jordan Kyrou!) and veterans (welcome back, Vladimir Tarasenko!). If they can play to the best of their ability more consistently, they have potential to be dangerous.
Jets: I certainly did not expect them to have the league’s second-best 5v5 goal prevention numbers. And that’s with Connor Hellebuyck shaking off some early season rust. However, their penalty kill has been downright awful, and that’s a major area of concern. They’ve also gotten just two combined goals from Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler. Thankfully for the Blues, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kyle Connor are thriving.
Predators: They’re only two points off the division lead but, to me, that feels more like a product of the Central lacking any major standout rather than the Preds’ capabilities. I have a lot of concerns about them — namely the left side of the lineup, the health and pending free-agent status of Filip Forsberg and the sustainability of Matt Duchene’s impressive start.
Avalanche: We can all agree they haven’t lived up to the hype, but it’s probably not worth panicking over. Nathan MacKinnon has only played eight games, and this team is still very much in the hunt. They’ve started hitting their stride of late, and I’m still banking on them clearing 100 points and taking the division crown.
Stars: They felt like a bounce-back candidate heading into the season, and, hey, maybe that’s still in the cards. They’re certainly not out of the mix, but early returns haven’t been that promising. They can’t score, and the defense and goaltending haven’t been elite enough to make up for that.
Blackhawks: They have looked A LOT better under Derek King than Jeremy Colliton, but that’s not really saying much. It feels safe to say the hill is too steep and the roster is too lacking to think they have a realistic shot of landing on the right side of the bubble.
Coyotes: They are absolutely crushing this tank thing.
|Vegas Golden Knights||19||11||8||0||22|
|San Jose Sharks||18||9||8||1||19|
|Los Angeles Kings||18||8||7||3||19|
The Pacific is like the Central in that the team we expected to rule above everyone else — in this case, the Golden Knights — has been surprisingly mortal so far. However, there are clearer explanations for that out West, and there’s a bit more of a top-heavy presence in this grouping.
Flames: Darryl Sutter has them humming, and it’s been impressive to watch. Calgary is a fun, fast team that can score and be thoroughly entertaining, and it’s also committed to playing shutdown defense with the league’s best goal prevention numbers. Yeah, Jacob Markstrom has been a big part of that success, but the entire team is buying in. It’s hard not to appreciate the jump the Flames have made.
Oilers: Speaking of incredibly fun teams, Edmonton has been a joy. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have met absurdly high expectations, and the power play has been lethal, enough to the point where officials are more hesitant to give the Oilers power plays. And while there are still some concerns about how far their depth can take them, this team is always going to be OK when Nos. 97 and 29 are dominating … at least during the regular season.
Ducks: Who the hell expected them to be here? Certainly not me. I don’t know how long they’ll stick around this spot, but they have excitement around them for the first time in a while. Troy Terry, Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale are injecting an exciting dose of youth, while guys like Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique and John Gibson are feeding off that and rediscovering what they’re capable of. Sustainable or not, it’s been fun to watch.
Golden Knights: They have endured a slew of injuries to pivotal players, so it doesn’t seem fair to read too much into where they are right now. That being said, they’ve started to turn things around, and I’d expect them to continue climbing the ladder if they stay healthy. Also, Jack Eichel might be on the way and, uh, that’s a pretty nice ace to have up the sleeve.
Sharks: They are seemingly stuck in No Man’s Land. They have a mix of overpaid veterans and younger players with something to prove, and that combination has gotten them very average, middle-of-the-road results. They’re not good or bad enough to be relevant, and that’s the worst place to be as an organization. Still, decent performances from their top players and an improvement in net have made the Sharks at least a little more respectable.
Kings: They had the most hype of the three California teams and were projected by many to take a step forward this season, possibly contending for a playoff spot. The early returns have been mixed, with the Ducks stealing much of that hype, but Los Angeles is still worth keeping an eye on. However, they’re a little too streaky, and the losses of Drew Doughty and Sean Walker on the back end will make pushing for a playoff spot a lot tougher.
Canucks: Things are coming unglued for them, and it looks like big changes are (or at least should be) on the horizon. They’re a total mess on the back end, and they stand almost no chance of digging themselves out of this hole, especially if Elias Pettersson doesn’t return to playing at an MVP-caliber level.
Kraken: Well, they aren’t the immediate expansion success that Vegas was, but that was an unfair standard to set for them anyway. The Kraken’s underlying numbers are pretty decent, especially in terms of shot suppression (they allow a league-low 26 shots per 60 at 5v5), but goaltending has completely tanked this team so far. Hopefully for Seattle, situation that improves so we can get a better idea of what this team is capable of. But it might already be too late to salvage the season.