As we are approaching further along into the 2017-18 NHL season, it is that time again to eliminate another team from the power rankings. However, I am already at that stage where I have had to disregard analytics and eliminate teams that are so far behind the standings.
The biggest example came last week with Montreal’s elimination. Just as soon as I was done saying bad things about them, Max Pacioretty and Co. unleashed a four-game winning streak and are sitting third in the Atlantic Division. They still have plenty of flaws throughout their roster, but I certainly won’t write off the Canadiens being unleashed back into what the fans demand every year: Stanley Cup contention.
Still, I need more of the season to play things out in order for me to be convinced. With only Arizona and Buffalo being the only really bad team’s this NHL season, it continues to get harder to pick the next bad team that isn’t looking to rebound soon. However, I have mentioned in my preview that Florida has been a worthy candidate of misery all season and they haven’t been that far off in my prediction. That’s why they are the next to go in the latest edition of the Nerdy 30+1.
31. Arizona (82-game Standing’s Points Pace: 47 points, Last Week: 31)
30. Buffalo (Pace: 53 pts, LW: 30)
29. Florida (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 26)
28. Montreal (Pace: 82 pts, LW: 29)
- 27. Anaheim (Pace: 85 pts, LW: 28)
- 26. Detroit (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 24)
- 25. Washington (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 27)
AS mentioned, Florida isn’t as bad as many other teams that aren’t eliminated from my rankings. However, they are the deserved candidates this time around due to how far down they are in the standings and how their roster has been constructed. Plain and simple, they were never going to replace Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith at all. However, general manager gave it some form of a go with Radim Vrbata and KHL veteran Evgeni Dadanov.
On one side, the 28-year old Dadanov has been brilliant partnering with the now-healthy Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov. All three have generated a minimum of 54.5% of their on-ice shot attempts going in their favor at even strength and have combined for 66 points in 24 games this season. It’s the depth below Florida’s top line where things begin to sour and that’s where you’ll find Vrbata.
At 36, the former and Coyote just now looks like a shell of his former self. When he was playing for the Canucks the previous two seasons, it was assumed that Vrbata’s sub 50% puck possession numbers were more a reflection of how bad his teammates were more so than him. After all, he had 33 goals and 82 points in 144 games for them. What could go wrong? Welp, a lot apparently. In 19 games, Vrbata has only put up three goals and 11 points as well as a team worst 41.6% puck possession. Even after missing the last five games due to taking a puck to the face, Vrbata just hasn’t found his game at all this season. While his 14.5 individual shot attempts per hour at even strength are solid, it would easily be his worst rate of his career and his play has really prevented Vincent Trochek from getting any semblance of offense this season.
In defense, only Aaron Ekblad has a a net positive in puck possession as Florida’s blue line is starting to look as bad, if not worse than Ottawa’s. The last thing the 2014 number one overall pick wants to be in an Erik Karlsson situation where he has to carry the whole team on his back for an entire season. It should come as no surprise when the Panthers fell apart last season as soon as Ekblad was concussed against Tampa Bay last March.
Speaking of one-man units, it’s hit the point where 38-year old Roberto Luongo can’t afford to have a bad season. While missing six games due to a broken hand, James Reimer came in to the fold and…yeeeeeeeeeah…not great Bob. Also, Antti Niemi. LOL. I’ts not like Luongo looks like he’s slowing down anytime soon, and that is awesome for a goaltender that should deserve more plaudits than he has been given over the years. However, when you’re on a bad team that has made so many detrimental transactions, the margins of error become less existent if you want to get back to the playoffs. That’s why I can’t trust Florida more than any team left in playoff contention at this point.
- 24. Ottawa (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 19)
- 23. Boston (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 23)
- 22. Vancouver (Pace: 88 pts, LW: 21)
- 21. Edmonton (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 22)
- 20. Pittsburgh (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 25)
- 19. Colorado (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 16)
- 18. Philadelphia (Pace: 75 pts, LW: 8)
- 17. New York Rangers (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 15)
To be honest, I haven’t thought much of the New York Rangers over the past season plus. It’s not like they’re a talentless team. And it’s not like they haven’t given me permanent scars as a Capitals fan. They just feel a bit stale at the moment and I don’t know if that could be fixed immediately.
For starts, New York continues to have a really bad defense despite getting rid of Dan Girardi over the offseason. Kevin Shattenkirk’s flaws have been dramatically exposed now that has has to play top four minutes. Meanwhile, Ryan McDonagh continues to carry this defense corps while playing with the always uncelebrated Nick Holden in the top pair. Up front, Rick Nash looks like the 33 year old version that you can envision him to look like. Too big, too plotting and too exhausted. Stop me if you haven’t seen that in a Rangers uniform in recent years. Lastly, Henrik Lundqvist continues to see his even strength percentage decrease at only 92% this season. While that is not bad compared to other goalies across the league, the 36-year old has to play well to compensate for everything that is wrong with head coach Alain Vigenault’s system. Otherwise, they will be stuck with where they are right now: struggling mightily for a playoff spot.
If there’s anything positive about the Rangers, it’s that Vigenault is finally going laissez faire with 22-year old Pavel Buchnevich and he has rewarded his coach greatly with nine goals, 20 points and 53% puck possession in 25 games. And that’s where general manager Scott Gorton comes in. If he wants to go all in, he certainly has $2.5 million worth of cap space, loads of end-of-year contracts and enough prospects to make a big trade happen. However, I would stand pat if I was in Gorton’s shoes. It’s so difficult for Rangers fans to accept this, but hear me out.
Down on the farm, 18-year old Filip Chytil has already played two games for the Rangers and has been destroying AHL competition with 12 points in 13 games. Meanwhile, fellow first round pick Lias Andersson has been teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeearing up the Swedish Hockey League with 13 points in 19 games on his own. 2017 fourth round pick Brandon Crawley is also getting experience in the AHL while Sean Day is ripping shots left, right and center from the point in his final year in the OHL with Windsor. If things break right, New York’s haul from last summer’s draft could easily surpass their most beneficial class in recent memory. That would be the 2009 class that gave them Michael Del Zotto and Derek Stepan (Dale Weise was also a part of this class, but only played 10 games for the Blueshirts before being picked up on waivers by Vancouver).
As for their NHL roster, Gorton will have to face needing to resign Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, Jimmy Vesey and Brady Skjei this summer. That will be loads of money that will be invested on the minimum $16 million in cap space that will open up. Once that is done, Gorton will have to face either resigning or needing to replace Nash, Holden, Michael Grabner and David Desharnais. Plenty of those players could translate to an above average player that could be a net positive production player for this postseason, but it’s just such a risk to pull off such a trade and make it work beyond 2018.
Either way, Gorton has plenty to think about what to do with his team and each move could decide the fate of the Rangers in the long term.
- 16. Minnesota (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 7)
- 15. Winnipeg (Pace: 112 pts, LW: 20)
- 14. Calgary (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 13)
- 13. Chicago (Pace: 92 pts, LW: 17)
- 12. Nashville (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 14)
- 11. Dallas (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 18)
- 10. New Jersey (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 12)
- 9. Los Angeles (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 11)
On the other side of average is a Minnesota team that has been on a bit of a free fall of late. Until last night’s win over Vegas, the Wild lost four of their last five games; a stretch that saw them outscored 13-5 in their last two games. After being so good in both actual and expected goal differential, Bruce Boudreau’s team now sees themselves hit break even in almost both categories.
Not having Zach Parise on the ice all season is a major reason for their downturn, but that doesn’t excuse how Minnesota is the third worst shot generation team in the NHL at 51.7 attempts per hour at even strength. If it wasn’t for their 23.7% efficiency on the power play, that lack of offense would be emphasized even more. That being said, the Wild also suffer through a -16 penalty differential, so their special teams goal differential is just 23-19 when it should be a much greater margin when considering how well both power play and penalty killing units have performed this season.
Individually, it is a concern that Alex Stalock has been outplaying Devan Dubnyk this season. In fact, this has been the continuation of a trend of bad play for Dubnyk since the tail end of last season. Consider that in his last 15 games, the 31-year old only recorded a 5-7-2 record, a 88.3% save percentage and just four quality starts. This season, Dubnyk has continued to be mediocre thanks to a 42.1% quality start percentage and a 91.9% save percentage at even strength. If this season were to end, it would be Dubnyk’s worst season since 2013-14. At 381 career games, this is usually the time where you start to see mostly average goaltenders careers begin to tail off, much in the same way Jonas Hiller’s and Ilya Bryzgalov’s careers turned out. However, that’s not ideal for either Dubnyk or for Minnesota when you consider that the Wild another four years left on his contract.
The rest of the lineup is looking old and stale themselves. Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno just haven’t produced anything near the offense that Jason Pominville has in Buffalo nor the puck possession that can improve the Wild in comparison to Marco Scandella. That third round pick for this summer better come in handy if this blockbuster trade were to work. Elsewhere, Matt Dumba has been sucked into the sinking black hole that is Jonas Brodin’s puck possession. But with Jared Spurgeon out due to a groin injury, there are hope’s Dumba’s season can improve now that he’ll be pairing with Ryan Suter in defense.
With so much cap space tied to so many veterans, Minnesota are probably in too much of a pickle to even improve for their first round elimination last season. If anything, staying relevant and hoping the team comes back in full health is the best case scenario for the Wild to being good in the long term.
- 8. Carolina (Pace: 89 pts, LW: 9)
- 7. Columbus (Pace: 108 pts, LW: 6)
- 6. New York Islanders (Pace: 109 pts, LW: 10)
- 5. Toronto (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. San Jose (Pace: 100 pts, LW: 4)
- 3. Vegas (Pace: 106 pts, LW: 3)
- 2. St. Louis (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tamp Bay (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 1)
Just when you thought the 2016-17 postseason and Patrick Marleau’s departure was the beginning of the end for the San Jose Sharks, it turns out that they have been playing like a top ten outfit all season. In reality, a 13-8-2 record is not something to right home about, and plenty of that is due to their offense that is still way too putrid. However, almost all of that is due to their second-worst 6.0% shooting percentage at even strength. What has been very impressive has been San Jose’s minuscule 51 goals they have allowed this season. No other team has given up less in the NHL and their talent is not even a fluke.
At even strength, the Sharks allow an eighth best 55.9 shot attempts per hour while being league average in save percentage (92.5%). Meanwhile, their penalty kill is at a slightly above average 100.7 shot attempts against per hour while saving a second best 92.7% of all shots on goal in such situations. Individually, there were fears that a declining Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun defense pair, plus an aging Paul Martin will cancel out anything positive that Brent Burns would bring to the table. Along with that, David Schlemko was an underrated two-way player that never stepped a foot wrong all last season for San Jose. His departure to Montreal was seen as another step down on a supposedly declining franchise.
Instead, Tim Heed and Joakim Ryan have come in and contributed immensely to San Jose’s blue line. At 27 and 24 years old, reespectively, Heed and Ryan are no spring chickens and they have not contributed much on the penalty kill, but both have been perfect compliments to their teammates for guiding them towards positive puck possession all season long. Along with that, having a healthy Tomas Hertl and Joonas Donskoi is massive for the Sharks. With the two returning to the lineup, they have been the perfect compliment to Logan Couture who is in the midst of having a career season (21 points in 23 games).
Plenty of Couture’s production has been due to a 21% shooting percentage, but it’s more than his offense that has carried him through this season. At 1:39, Couture is playing the highest time on ice per game average on the penalty kill in his career and is only seeing 91.22 shot attempts per hour go against him. Along with Hertl, Chris Tierney, Janik Hansen and Melker Karlsson, head coach Peter DeBoer can count on four forwards that are playing among the best defense while shorthanded in the entire NHL. It has been amazing to watch San Jose evolve from an offense first team to a defense first unit, but thanks to the Shark’s role players and the return to health with some key veterans, they could be a much scarier outfit than their record indicates.