With this year’s NHL All-Star weekend coming to a close, the rest of the regular season is upon us tomorrow and before you know it, the trade deadline will be coming at us fast. Plenty of rumors are already swirling around from struggling teams that are looking to tank and save salary cap room in the future, but when those trades do happen, they will surely be analyzed in these power rankings. It will be quite curious to see if there will be more activity than usual during this period as a result of preparing for Las Vegas’ expansion draft, but we’ll just have to wait and see if such an event can break up the always conservative nature of trade deadline day.
Until then, let’s take a look at eight teams that should be played close attention to this week in the latest edition to the Nerdy 30. Since there wasn’t a post last week, you can look at last week’s rankings here, here, here and here.
30. Colorado (82-game standings points pace: 50 points, Last Week: 30)
29. Arizona (Pace: 65 pts, LW: 29)
28. Vancouver (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 28)
Don’t look now, but the Vancouver Canucks are now in the middle of a push for one of the final playoff seeds in the Western Conference. After starting the year 13-16-3, they have gone 10-4-3 since December 18th. That being said, Vancouver is still the 28th best team in these power rankings for a reason.
During their latest hot streak, the Canucks have only outscored their opposition 39-37, has seen their power play work at a 13% clip and their penalty kill is nothing short of league average at 80%. To top it all off, only three of their last ten wins have been with margins greater than one goal. One thing that has benefited Vancouver could be their +9 penalty differential, which has resulted in only a 7-9 scoring deficit on special teams instead of a greater margin that should have occurred.
Overall, the Canucks have enjoyed a penalty count advantage of +19. If only one Canucks forward can put their hand up and be the go-to answer in goal scoring. Until then, Vancouver will continue to have one of the five worst offenses in the NHL based on expected goals and their chances in the playoffs, no matter how bad the Pacific Division is, are still small.
27. Detroit (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 26)
26. Buffalo (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 27)
25. Winnipeg (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
24. New York Islanders (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 25)
Our latest team to be knocked out of the playoffs is the Buffalo Sabres. New Jersey should be breathing a sigh of relief because it is not even funny how talent-less they are on paper. Also, it was a challenge to knock off a team that has gone 7-4-1 since the New Year, but there are still some genuine reasons to eliminate the Sabres from playoff contention before they have a chance to redeem themselves.
First, they’re adjusted puck possession has been a fifth-worst 47.5% since this calendar year. What has resulted in Buffalo outscoring the opposition 40-36 instead of roughly 34-37 according to corsica.hockey is their efficiency on the power play. The Sabres have scored nine times in their last 35 opportunities and have actually scored on 22.5% of their chances this season. That is the sixth-best rate in the NHL and they are capitalizing on scoring from in tight.
While Buffalo is only averaging 88 shot attempts per hour on the man advantage, they are also having a little over 21 of those attempts come from scoring chance areas. That makes Buffalo look like an above average power play while they really should be a more mediocre bunch. Their 7-4-1 stretch also comes at a time when Tyler Ennis has returned to full fitness. While he’s still getting less playing time than he usually does and Matt Moulson is reduced to fourth line duty, this is the first time all season where all of Buffalo’s most dependable forwards are healthy at the same time. That may not be enough to have them qualify for a playoff position, but now until April is a good time period to truly measure how far the Sabres are in their rebuild.
- 23. New Jersey (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 23)
- 22. Florida (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 22)
- 21. Calgary (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 20)
- 20. Dallas (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 21)
- 19. Philadelphia (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 19)
After making fun of Calgary for so many years because of Hartley Magic, the Flames have now developed themselves into a genuinely good hockey team. The problem is their underlying numbers are not translating into wins. This season, Calgary has become a league average hockey team thanks to their 50.4% adjusted puck possession at even strength.
That being said, Calgary’s expected goals tally in all situations has been about 134-142 while they have been outscored 135-149 in real life. Part of that problem is due to the fact that their goaltending has been surprisingly terrible. Brian Elliott was supposed to come in and finally replace the long term stability of Miikka Kiprusoff, but he hasn’t come close to doing that. The 2016 Conn Smythe trophy contender has a save percentage of 89.2% in all situations this season and has given up over 12 goals more than the league average according to hockey-reference.com. His backup, Chad Johnson, has not done much better thanks to his 91.3% save percentage. While both netminders need to improve, that still doesn’t make up enough goals for Calgary to become a dominant hockey club.
According to corsica.hockey, the Flames have generated a 17th-best even strength scoring chance rate at 7.37 per hour. While that is not a bad rate, it’s definitely not something to write home about either. On the other end, Calgary has given up 8.35 scoring chances per hour at even strength; bad enough for 20th-best in the NHL. The final spots in the Pacific Division and in the wild card are up for grabs, but Glen Gulutzan’s team will have to do a bit more improving before they consider themselves worthy to play later into the Spring and Summer.
- 18. Chicago (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. St. Louis (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 16)
- 16. Tampa Bay (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 17)
- 15. Carolina (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 10)
- 14. Ottawa (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 15)
Don’t look now, but the St. Louis Blues are in deep trouble of missing the postseason. The common narrative about their recent struggles has been the poor performances of goaltender Jake Allen and plenty of that is true. Since December 7th, the Blues have given up 80 goals in all situations when they were expected to give up 57.49 expected goals according to corsica.hockey. Yes, my friends, that is a 22.51 goal difference in a 23 game span! That being said, their offense hasn’t been blameless either.
This season, the Blues are among the worst in the league in generating shots and it has led to them expecting to score only 49.56 goals in their last 23 games. Fortunately, they have scored 66 during that span, but that is all due to an unsustainably high 9.8% shooting at even strength and 16.7% shooting while on the power play. In short, Ken Hitchcock has made St. Louis into a New Jersey Devils style of team with little to no action going on throughout the course of any Blues game. So it is critical that the team gets their on-ice percentages in their favor. Otherwise, a different style of play has to be experimented at even strength. It almost feels like forever since St. Louis was a potent offensive team, but that happened in the 2014-15 season.
It almost feels like forever since St. Louis was a potent offensive team, but that actually happened during the 2014-15 season. With T.J. Oshie and David Backes gone and only Robby Fabbri to inject some form of youth to the core group of players, many have to start wondering if the Blues will ever hit those heights again. Otherwise, it will have to be Vladimir Tarasenko to the rescue every game and who knows if that’s even good enough to get them into the playoffs.
- 13. Nashville (Pace: 94 pts, LW: 14)
- 12. Anaheim (Pace: 101 pts, LW: 12)
- 11. Edmonton (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 13)
- 10. Los Angeles (Pace: 87 pts, LW: 11)
- 9. Boston (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 9)
Speaking of teams that are in danger of missing the postseason again, the Boston Bruins have been in that neighborhood for quite a while. And if they do, it might genuinely be a mistake to get rid of Claude Julien as head coach. Not only are they the best team in the NHL in puck possession, but they are also the best team in the NHL in expected goals for percentage and in expected goals against per hour at even strength. Those last two categories have been proven to be better indicators as to how a team will perform in the future.
Along with that, there is not a scarier first line in the NHL than the Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand. Together, the trio has generated a 64.1% shot attempt for percentage and only Minnesota’s top line of Mikael Granlund, Miiko Koivu and Jason Zucker betters their 63.8% of all expected goals going in their favor.
What’s making the Bruins more of a 90-point team instead of a 110-point group is that they just can not score goals to save their life. They are dead last in the NHL in on-ice shooting percentage with 5.9% and it has resulted in having Pastrnak and Marchand being the only players expected to hit 20 goals and only those two plus David Krejci and Torey Krug expected to reach 40 points. Along with that, only fourth line veteran Dominic Moore joins Pastrnak and Marchand as the only forwards to shoot over 12%. Finally, of all forwards that have played in Julien’s top nine this season, only Frank Vatrano has a better shooting percentage this season in comparison to his career.
With that said, of all those top nine Bruins forwards, only four of them (David Backes, Krejci, Pastrnak and Marchand) have career shooting percentages over the league average for forwards at about 11%. So the real skill level of this team, even if they have a set of systems that could put them in the most successful positions, is possibly not good enough to achieve their ultimate goal. Still, this team plays like one of the best in the league. One of those last two statements is true about who the Boston Bruins really are and determining which one is has to be found out before the closing stages of the regular season.
- 8. Toronto (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 8)
- 7. Montreal (Pace: 107 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. San Jose (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
- 5. New York Rangers (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 4)
- 4. Pittsburgh (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 5)
- 3. Columbus (Pace: 116 pts, LW: 2)
- 2. Washington (Pace: 121 pts, LW: 3)
- 1. Minnesota (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 1)
Finally, we take a look at these three good teams that are just too underappreciated this NHL season so far. While the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Wild are getting all the attention for their long winning streaks this season, the Sharks, Rangers, and Penguins have continued to be consistent and stay among the league leaders all year. Personally, I am sensing another Penguins-Sharks Stanley Cup Final with the way this season has been playing out. Both teams are among the best in the NHL in generating offense via expected goals and the Rangers are also within the top ten.
Still, all three teams will need their defense to improve in order to be successful in the postseason. While San Jose has performed around league average this season, both the Rangers and Penguins are outside the top half in giving up expected goals and scoring chances at even strength. In fact, Pittsburgh is among the five worst in both categories this season.
To make matters worse for the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist is having the worst season of his career. The 34-year old should-be Hall of Famer is producing his worse all-situations save percentage of his career at 90.7% and is saving below the league average for the first time in his career. His 61.8% quality start percentage is around his career average, and if you exclude his 8-game stretch from December 23rd to January 17th where he went 3-4-0 with an 84.3% save percentage, Lundqvist returns to league average form with a 92.2% save percentage. Still, that’s plenty of woulda, coulda, shoulda for a netminder that we expect to be the best in the world every night.
Amazingly, San Jose has actually been one of the better teams in limiting overall shots on goal at even strength and that has resulted in them having one of the best goals-against averages in the NHL. However, their offense has been around league average in generating actual shots and putting them in the back of the net at even strength. Along with that, their usually strong power play is only performing at a 16.6% clip. Losing Thomas Hertl for the vast majority of the season to injury has not helped and neither is seeing Joonas Donskoi and Joel Ward failing to repeat their successes that they had last season. If anything, watching Brent Burns tear up the league offensively has been their saving grace.
Offensively, there may not be a defenseman the likes of which we haven’t seen in the lockout era. The soon-to-be 32-year old should be able to pass Mike Green’s 2009 total of 31 goals and it will be down the wire to see if he can surpass Erik Karlsson’s 2016 total of 82 points while playing on the backend. Thank goodness for his production and thank goodness the Sharks play in the awful Western Conference!
Lastly, Pittsburgh better sort out it’s long time nemesis again: their penalty kill. After having such a successful season hitting league-average or better success rates during their last Stanley Cup winning campaign, the Penguins have fallen below 80% in efficiency and are now at or close to the bottom third in shot suppression and save percentage. Plenty of it has to do with the fact that Marc Andre Fleury has been quite mediocre this season. If it were not for Matt Murray’s two injury stints due to a broken hand and a lower body injury, there would have been no way Fleury would have amassed 27 games this regular season. As a result, Pittsburgh’s defense has suffered greatly from his 90.4% save percentage in all situations. Also, Fluery is 35th out of 40 goaltenders with 100 penalty minutes played with a 83.8% save percentage. Meanwhile, Murray sits in 16th with an 88.2% save percentage in shorthanded situations. But hey 29 other NHL teams, good luck thinking that Fleury isn’t going to flounder after you get him at the trade deadline just like Ryan Miller did!
Now Fleury isn’t the only problem to Pittsburgh’s penalty killing woes. In a weird way, this is the only time Penguins fans might actually be missing Ben Lovejoy. Last season, the now New Jersey Devil, was second among Penguins defensemen with 100 shorthanded minutes or more in on-ice shot suppression while playing a team leading two minutes and 25 seconds per game. This year, Lovejoy’s minutes have been given to Trevor Daley and he has been an unmitigated disaster in this department to the tune of over 108 on-ice attempts against per hour. Meanwhile, Lovejoy’s only rival on the penalty kill, Brian Dumoulin is averaging less than a minute-and-a-half of shorthanded ice time per game while posting great shot suppression numbers. Things haven’t helped that him and Kris Letang have been injured for a good chunk of time this season, but there’s clear evidence that changes need to be made again for this group to perform at their best in April.
Otherwise, I’m making too much of a big deal about a weakness from a hockey team that is on pace for over 110 points and has little to no signs that puck luck is too much in their favor. I think this team will be just fine everyone.