Early last month, during one of the few brief stretches of time when I could even think about hockey, I conjured up some power rankings for the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions. I decided to go by division because I think putting all thirty-one teams into the same list can be a little confusing; after all, teams from either conference infrequently play each other, and those games don’t have the same impact as an interdivision matchup.
Now that I have a little more time to put my thoughts together, I have all four divisions organized into rankings, and my goal is to keep this up through the end of the regular season. As I said in my comment, these rankings aren’t necessarily intended to be an exact reckoning of how each team is doing in the standings, although as we approach the end of the regular season it’s probable that it will turn out that way. For now, there haven’t been any games played, so there’s no certainty that a team like the Ottawa Senators are necessarily going to be the worst team in the Atlantic Division – although it’s probably a safe bet – but there are other things going on, like RFA contract hold-outs, that are playing more of a role in almost every team’s preseason preparations.
With that all in mind, there are some changes to my rankings, and I’ll try to give my reasons for the rankings as time wears on. So, without further ado, here’s the pre-preseason rankings:
- Tampa Bay Lightning (last month: 2nd)
- Boston Bruins (last month: 1st)
- Buffalo Sabres (last month: 4th)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (last month: 3rd)
- Florida Panthers (last month: 5th)
- Detroit Red Wings (last month: 7th)
- Montreal Canadiens (last month: 6th)
- Ottawa Senators (last month: 8th)
With training camps and the preseason approaching, as I mentioned before, there seem to be many more RFAs still unsigned, many of whom are important pieces not just of a team’s present, but their future as well. The Lightning get the bump to first place because, although they do have a big name RFA still left to sign (Brayden Point), they have almost $8.5M in cap space to work with, so there is reason to suspect they’ll manage to sign him. Compare that with the Bruins, who have two key RFAs still unsigned (Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo) and ~$7.3M to work with. I knocked the Maple Leafs down a peg for a similar reason, as they have perhaps the biggest name amongst RFAs, Mitch Marner, still unsigned and Toronto has absolutely no cap room, let alone the rumored $11M/yr that he’s asking for.
Of course, the Sabres aren’t necessarily a better team overall than Toronto, but between the fact that their roster is complete and they are celebrating their fiftieth season this year (and are going straight baller with the gold), it feels like Buffalo are on the upswing for the moment. The bottom half of the division is still mired in its own shit, but I failed to realize that the Red Wings brought Steve Yzerman into the fold back in April, so at least there’s the sense that the culture is changing there. In Montreal: not so much.
- Carolina Hurricanes (last month: 1st)
- New Jersey Devils (last month: 2nd)
- Washington Capitals (last month: 4th)
- New York Rangers (last month: 3rd)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (last month: 6th)
- New York Islanders (last month: 5th)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (last month: 7th)
- Philadelphia Flyers (last month: 8th)
Some minor changes here. Carolina retains first place on the strength of the unveiling of their snazzy new
third jersey home road whites. I keep wanting to say that the new unis are a third jersey, largely due to the similarities with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s “BOLTS” thirds from a few years back. Now the ‘Canes have three unique jerseys, plus the fourth Hartford Whalers throwback. I’m still high on the Devils for the time being, as they seem to be trending in a very good direction. They’ve got plenty of cap space ($8.7M) and one replacement-level RFA to sign (Pavel Zacha), so they could be buyers as things go on this season.
I gave the Penguins a modest bump, but the nasty taste of having their best RFA, Marcus Pettersson, still left unsigned due to poor cap and roster management (*glowers in Jim Rutherford’s direction*) is going to continue getting worse as it likely means more ice time for Jack Johnson. It’s going to be a tough pill to swallow if they have to move Bryan Rust (hell, anyone of value) because of this.
- St. Louis Blues
- Nashville Predators
- Dallas Stars
- Colorado Avalanche
- Winnipeg Jets
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Minnesota Wild
The Blues earned first place for the time being by winning the Cup, and I see no reason to dispute that. Colorado does have a key outstanding RFA still unsigned (Mikko Rantanen) but they have plenty of cap space ($15.6M) if they end up extending him. Winnipeg is in a worse situation with three RFAs unsigned (including Patrik Laine(!!) and Kyle Connor) but since the Blackhawks and Wild are varying degrees of bad I figure the Jets can stay out of the Central Division basement for the moment.
- Calgary Flames
- Vegas Golden Knights
- San Jose Sharks
- Arizona Coyotes
- Vancouver Canucks
- Anaheim Ducks
- Edmonton Oilers
- Los Angeles Kings
Lazy mode enabled, as this order is almost exactly the same as how the division ended up last season, with the exception that Vegas goes ahead of San Jose on the strength of Vegas adding Mark Stone and having an almost full roster, while San Jose is surely trying to figure out if they can re-sign Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and/or Patrick Marleau (and why would they want to?). Calgary stays in first but getting bounced in the first round almost justified me dropping them to second.
The rest of the division doesn’t move the needle much, although Arizona could inch closer to San Jose with the addition of Phil Kessel. Edmonton risks being permanently in last place by virtue of constant mismanagement, but for now having the best player in the League keeps them just ahead of the Kings.
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