So remember when many people were writing off the regular season and saying it was going to be the worst playoff races in league history? Welp, look where we are now. The Eastern Conference isn’t even close to being set in stone with two games or less left and even if the Western Conference looks more stable, the defending Stanley Cup Champions could be eliminated. It just goes to show that a typical NHL regular season always finds a way to dish out some twist and turns along the way. Add the fact that hockey is always full of luck, narratives and magical lucky charms that nobody knows how to collect consistently (but hey, we analytics people hope we can) and you can understand why hockey has the more meaningful regular seasons this side of baseball.
It has been a very fascinating journey looking at the 30 teams this year in this format. Clearly lots will be changed next year; especially since so much has changed and affected the standing of certain teams in people’s eyes after the trade deadline. A huge amount of credit has to be given to the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg for coming up with the calculations for these weekly power rankings. Adding in score adjusted shot attempts and removing teams from the rankings when it’s obvious they are out of playoff contention have been my wrinkle to turn it into the Nerdy 30.
Now we are down to three intense days of hockey coming up. We have Senators-Rangers and Flames-Kings tonight, Penguins-Islanders on Friday and then Flames-Jets on Saturday. What a way to end the final week of the season and start the latest edition of a jam-packed Nerdy 30.
30. Buffalo (82-game Standings Points Pace: 55 pts, Last Week: 30) 29. Colorado (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 26) 28. Edmonton (Pace: 63 pts, LW: 27) 27. Arizona (Pace: 57 pts, LW: 29) 26. Toronto (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 28) 25. New Jersey (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24) 24. Columbus (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 25) 23. Philadelphia (Pace: 86 pts, LW: 23) 22. Carolina (Pace: 71 pts, LW: 21) 21. Florida (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 22) 20. San Jose (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 20) 19. Ottawa (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 19) 18. Dallas (Pace: 91 pts, LW: 18)
There is no question now that, at minimum, these have been the two most improving and most fun non-playoff teams this season. But some of you may ask why Dallas has “improved” while they made the playoffs last year. Here’s the deal that everyone better understand until proven otherwise: THE CENTRAL DIVISION IS NUTS. I guarantee that when Chicago begins to show any signs of age from Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and/or Patrick Sharp like Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown are going through in Los Angeles, they will go from 100-110 points in the standings to struggling to surpass 90 in a heartbeat. That’s a fact that everyone in that division understands and there is plenty of youth that is and will be served in the coming years to prevent struggling teams from improving. Nashville has Filip Forsberg, Seth Jones and Kevin Fiala. Winnipeg has Josh Morrisey, Jacob Trouba, Mark Scheifle, Nikolaj Ehlers and Nic Petan. Chicago only has Teuvo Teravainen while Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad begin to hit veteran status. Minnesota has Matt Dumba and a handful of 21 to 22-year old skaters. St. Louis no longer has the prospect pool to fantasize in the coming years but their young players are separating them from fun playoff team to cup contender. Dallas, welp, take Tylie Benguin out of the equation and there’s not a lot to work with. I mean, this was the second worst team in the conference. You can understand the frustrations I have for following this team and understand that until they draft 2-3 guaranteed NHL caliber players a year, Colorado will never go anywhere.
As for Ottawa, as soon as they had the makings of a great hockey team under Dave Cameron, the bad habits seemed to creep back in. It’s how sports work sometimes when a team goes on a streak as long as Ottawa’s been in. Whether they make the playoffs or not, this team still doesn’t have a sense of a complete team that knows who they are yet. They’re offensive firepower has what it takes to match up with anyone in the league and thanks to Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and an improving Mika Zibanejad, it should get much better. The defenseman group has to be in question no matter what because it is clear that it’s Erik Karlsson and a bunch of “I don’t knows”. If there’s an off-season to improve upon that at a cheap cost (because that’s how Eugene Melnyk rolls and nothing else), this is it. Either way, thank you Dallas and Ottawa for making the regular season more fun than it originally was. When in doubt, I can watch this on a loop.
- 17. Calgary (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 17)
- 16. Vancouver (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 16)
- 15. Montreal (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 15)
- 14. Anaheim (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 14)
These group of teams all year have been the playoff teams that have been playing at an overrated level all year long and most of their fans already know it. That all being said, they are here and they are not going away anytime soon. So where do we start?
First, Vancouver has not been that great of a defensive team all year and yet they have found a way tread water since Ryan Miller has been out with a knee injury on February 22nd. Since then, the Canucks have gone 13-7-2 under Eddie Lack despite having zero shutouts and only 10 games out of 22 in which two goals or less have been given up. What has been clicking for them all year has been their record in one-goal games. This season, only Anaheim (one regulation loss!!!) has a better winning percentage than Vancouver (21-4-6) in one-goal games. In games going to overtime or a shootout, those same Ducks and Columbus can only match with the Canucks, who are 11-5 on the year in those type of games.
As for Montreal, only Los Angeles has stayed the healthiest out of any team within the NHL. Along with that, Montreal has the best goaltender in the NHL for the second straight year in Carey Price. In fact, his season might be historic compared to some of the goaltending in modern NHL history. And to think, Canadiens fans wanted Price traded some five years ago because Jaroslav Halak was a better option at the time. Boy, is goaltending weird!
- 13. Boston (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)
- 12. Minnesota (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 12)
- 11. Detroit (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 11)
- 10. New York Rangers (Pace: 114 pts, LW: 9)
- 9. Washington (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 10)
- 8. Pittsburgh (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 6)
After weeks and months of having these teams as potential Stanley Cup contenders, both Detroit and Pittsburgh have fallen apart to where they are biting on their fingernails to hope they get in the playoffs. Pittsburgh has been dealing with injuries to some of their key players (Olli Maata, Christian Ehrhoff, Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang) all year and now it is starting to affect their puck luck. One year-long issue that is beginning to hamper them big time all season is the fact that only Winnipeg has committed more penalty minutes than the Penguins. Now even though they draw the most penalty minutes in the league too, Pittsburgh’s penalty kill has been a bowl full of lucky charms (91.1 save percentage, second in the NHL) with a side of shot attempts that can shatter anyone’s teeth (102.5 shot attempts against per 60 minutes, fifth most in the NHL). Even when Pittsburgh gets into the power play, their ten shorthanded goals against are only better than Toronto’s 12. Looking at shorthanded attempts may not be the most appropriate way of going through things because first and 30th in this category are only separated by less than eight shot attempts per 60 minutes. Clearly, save percentage and other pieces of data have to be looked at when analyzing giving up shots while on the power play and who knows if that is a number that becomes sustainable in the long term.
For the Red Wings, they have gone 7-10-2 since the mid-season trade deadline and now Erik Cole is done for the year with a spinal contusion. This will now be the third time in four free agency periods or trade deadlines where Detroit could have rebuilt and developed their younger players but instead demanded to get “veteran leadership” (Stephen Weiss and David Legwand) and have egg poured on their face as a result of it. Even if the Red Wings make the playoffs, having such a bad run of games coming into it is always a telltale sign for a first round exit. Anything beyond winning one series for this team now is a major accomplishment, and that is a shame for a team that was playing so well beforehand.
- 7. Nashville (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. Winnipeg (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 8)
- 5. New York Islanders (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. St. Louis (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 3)
- 3. Los Angeles (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 4)
- 2. Tampa Bay (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Chicago (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 1)
Now we go from the most free-falling teams in the Eastern Conference to the most free-falling in the Western Conference. After looking like the Kings would take advantage of their weak schedule, they fell apart to Vancouver and Edmonton in consecutive games. Now they face Calgary tonight in a scenario that could see them eliminated from the playoffs and a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Even if the 2007 Carolina Hurricanes and 2006 Tampa Bay Lightning performed the same act recently, only the 1968 Toronto Maple Leafs were the other expansion era team to not make the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup. That’s shocking, especially to a team that has put themselves in such a big hole for too many consecutive seasons. Even when the analytics say that this team should win it all again, you remember that these are probabilities we are talking about. If you don’t hit them enough after 82 games, doesn’t matter how good you are, you’re not good enough.
As for the Predators, any form of league-leading puck luck they had up until the all star break has mostly ran out, recently. They are still an effective team in puck possession and they are one of the better penalty differential teams in the NHL this season. However, you would think that their power play would be so much better on the power play considering that the amount of improved skill on their team since last summer. Instead, they sit 24th in both shot attempt generation and converting their opportunities. Their penalty kill is much better as they are one of the ten best teams in preventing shot attempts, but their lack of a strong save percentage puts them at a league average conversion rate. If the season were to end, the Predators will be facing Chicago in round one and that might be a good time to bring back the lucky charms again. After all, plenty of it will be needed to get out the central division and into the Conference Finals.