NHL Power Rankings: Revisiting preseason expectations as regular season comes to an end, playoffs approach


1


Stars
(3) The Stars had the roster of a Stanley Cup contender coming into the season, and they only added more firepower as the season progressed. Not only did Dallas bring in Chris Tanev to bolster its defense, but it also called up rookie Logan Stankoven, who immediately became a problem for opponents. The Stars are insanely deep, and no team is playing better hockey than them right now. 1 51-21-9
2


Hurricanes
(2) Nailed it. Coming into the 2023-24 season, I thought this year might be different for the Hurricanes. The way things have played out has only reinforced that belief. The Canes got off to a poor start, due in large part to subpar goaltending, but that has since corrected itself. On top of that, Jake Guentzel has been tremendous since coming to Carolina at the trade deadline. He might be what helps this Carolina team get over the Stanley Cup hump. 1 52-23-7
3


Rangers
(9) Once again, the Rangers have managed to ride elite special teams and strong goaltending to the top of the NHL standings. I’m done knocking the blueshirts for their middling five-on-five numbers because they have the high-end skill to overcome that, as they’ve proven again this season. It also helps that Artemi Panarin had a resurgent season with a career high 49 goals and 120 points. That would be good enough to win the Hart Trophy in some years. 2 55-23-4
4


Jets
(21) The Jets are my first big whiff from the preseason rankings, and we’re only four teams into this exercise. Considering how Winnipeg ended last season and the changes made in the offseason, I didn’t see this team improving. Yet, the Jets remained near the top of the Central Division all year. Connor Hellebuyck is the Vezina Trophy favorite, and the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal now looks like a stroke of genius. The Jets have a balanced roster and will likely have home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason. 6 51-24-6
5


Oilers
(1) If not for a horribly disastrous start to the season, the Oilers might have ended this season at No. 1. Edmonton certainly played like the best team in the league for stretches this year. Connor McDavid hit 100 assists on Monday night, Leon Draisaitl hit 40 goals again this season, and the team’s defense took a step forward after Kris Knoblauch took over behind the bench. As long as the goaltending holds up in the playoffs, the Oilers are one of the scarier teams in the West. 2 49-25-6
6


Panthers
(11) The Panthers weathered some injury issues to begin the season, and they wound up looking like the best team in the NHL for several months. Unfortunately for Florida, the team has looked a little more vulnerable lately. Those struggles can probably be attributed to an ice cold power play and an injury to Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers have all the makings of a Stanley Cup winner, but they have kind of stumbled to the finish line of the regular season. 3 52-24-6
7


Bruins
(8) Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired. Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitri Orlov departed in the offseason. Those losses might be devastating for other teams, but they didn’t affect the Bruins too much. That’s what happens when you still have elite defense, tremendous goaltending and a truly elite talent at forward. Now Boston just needs to redeem itself following last season’s first-round playoff exit. 3 47-20-15
8


Maple Leafs
(6) I figured the Maple Leafs would be in this range when the season ended, and they did it in typical Toronto fashion. The top players did a vast majority of the heavy lifting, and that is especially the case with Auston Matthews. Going into Tuesday night’s game against the Panthers, Matthews has 69 goals and is hoping to become the first player to hit 70 in decades. The Leafs’ top-heavy approach has made them plenty formidable in the regular season, but will that formula deliver a deep postseason run? — 46-25-10
9


Canucks
(20) Another swing and a miss from yours truly. It seems like the Canucks have gotten a little playoff hype in each of the last few offseasons, and it never came to fruition until now. Obviously, I wasn’t buying this team heading into the 2023-24 campaign, but Vancouver proved me wrong in a major way. Quinn Hughes is headed for a Norris Trophy win, J.T. Miller has another 100-point season, Brock Boeser has fulfilled goal-scoring potential and Elias Pettersson remains awesome. Everything has finally come together for the Canucks. 3 50-22-9
10


Golden Knights
(7) It wasn’t always easy for the defending Cup champs this season, but they have started to find a groove again lately. In a shocking turn of events, Mark Stone might be back just in time for Game 1 of the playoffs, and he will join a lineup that added Noah Hanifin and Tomas Hertl in his absence. This Vegas team never cared about finishing first in the regular season. Going back-to-back was always the focus, and the Golden Knights have positioned themselves to do just that. 1 45-28-8
11


Lightning
(16) When the puck dropped on opening night, I thought the Lightning might finally be coming down from their absolute peak. For most of the season, I thought I might have been right. Then, the Lightning flipped a switch down the stretch. Since March 1, the Bolts are 12-5-2, and their power play remains among the most lethal in the NHL. Nikita Kucherov is playing at a Hart Trophy level, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is still capable of stealing a series or two. Tampa might not be going anywhere after all. 2 44-29-8
12


Avalanche
(5) On paper, the Avalanche have the ingredients to be a juggernaut and capture their second Stanley Cup in three years. They’ve certainly looked the part at times throughout the season, but the Avs have won just three of their last 10 games and goaltending remains a concern. Alexandar Georgiev has struggled all year, and Justus Annunen has just 17 games of NHL experience under his belt. The good news for Colorado is that Nathan MacKinnon is fully capable of willing his team to victory on his own. 7 49-25-7
13


Predators
(23) After making significant changes in the offseason, the Predators were always going to be more interesting, but I didn’t think that would translate to more wins right out of the gate. Instead, Nashville is back in the playoffs with a 99-point season, and head coach Andrew Brunette is in the Jack Adams conversation. Roman Josi is playing elite hockey, and veterans like Ryan O’Reilly and Gus Nyquist have been the perfect fit alongside Filip Forsberg. The Preds have exceeded expectations and will be a tough out in the postseason. 1 47-30-5
14


Islanders
(18) The Islanders and their fans have been on a rollercoaster that rivals Space Mountain. The Isles’ season has consisted exclusively of peaks and valleys, including the firing of Lane Lambert and the hiring of Patrick Roy. As recently as March 26, the Islanders were six points out of a playoff spot, but they have gotten red hot down the stretch. Team defense and excellent goaltending have helped them earn an improbable playoff berth, and now the question is whether the Islanders will have enough steam left to give the Hurricanes a good fight. 1 38-27-16
15


Kings
(10) The Kings have already punched their playoff ticket, but I kind of expected more from this team heading into the 2023-24 season. After adding Pierre-Luc Dubois, Los Angeles looked like a real contender in the West, but that hasn’t materialized. Don’t get me wrong. This is a good team. It’s just Dubois hasn’t lived up to expectations at all, and the goaltending situation is on shaky ground. Of course, the Kings will have the opportunity to change both of those narratives in the playoffs. 1 43-27-11
16


Red Wings
(22) Detroit has, for better or worse, been the most electrifying team in the closing weeks of the 2023-24 NHL season. Lucas Raymond has been working magic, Dylan Larkin has been the heart and soul of the squad, and it seems like every Red Wings game comes down to the wire. Detroit ultimately fell short of the playoffs, but it has still been the most entertaining season in Hockeytown in a very long time. 2 41-32-9
17


Penguins
(12) I buried the Pens roughly six weeks ago, and Sidney Crosby has done everything he can to dig out of that grave and make me look stupid. Since March 17, Crosby has notched 10 goals and 16 assists in 15 games. In that span, Pittsburgh has gone 9-3-3 to vault itself into the thick of the playoff race. Crosby’s efforts were not enough, and the Penguins missed the playoffs for the second straight year after making a big splash last offseason. 2 38-31-12
18


Blues
(26) In a way, the Blues did kind of prove me wrong. I expected them to be one of the worst teams in the NHL, but they’ll finish just outside the Western Conference playoffs. The only reasons this St. Louis team was anywhere near a postseason berth were a career year for Robert Thomas and goaltender Jordan Binnington standing on his head all year. In terms of five-on-five play, few teams were as poor as the Blues, and there need to be some changes to the blue line in the offseason. 2 43-33-5
19


Capitals
(24) The Capitals defeated the Flyers on Tuesday night, and they are in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs, against all odds. This team has been living on a razor’s edge all season, and the minus-37 goal differential makes that very clear. That is the worst mark of any playoff team in NHL history. Washington deserves a lot of credit for finding a way to get in, but the Rangers have to be licking their chops. Washington can only hope Charlie Lindgren has some more magic hidden between the pipes. 2 40-31-11
20


Wild
(14) The Wild were always going to have an uphill battle this season due to the upwards of $14 million in dead cap hits on the books. That prevented them from making any significant upgrades, but Minnesota still had the potential to be a playoff team. The most shocking part of this season for the Wild is that the goaltending completely collapsed. Filip Gustavsson came down to Earth following an exceptional 2022-23 campaign, and Marc-Andre Fleury was underwhelming too. — 39-33-9
21


Sabres
(17) The Sabres have already fired head coach Don Granato following an 84-point season, and that probably doesn’t happen if they were as close to the playoffs as I expected them to be. Key players like Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson and Dylan Cozens all took steps backward this year, and that really cooked an already middling roster. Buffalo’s playoff drought extends to 13 seasons, and the team will be starting over at head coach yet again. 1 39-37-6
22


Flames
(13) For the second season in a row, I was fooled by the Flames. This year, I thought they would bounce back and reach the playoffs. They are only 17 points away. So close. Calgary accepted its fate as a non-contender and acted accordingly. The Flames dealt away anyone with decent value on the trade market, and they sank like a stone down the Western Conference standings. Needless to say, I won’t be hitching my wagon to this team in 2024-25. 4 37-39-5
23


Coyotes
(25) The Coyotes once again finished near the bottom of the NHL standings, so I deserve no credit for predicting the inevitable. The real story here is that it looks like the Yotes will be playing their final game in Arizona on Wednesday night. After years of mismanagement, the Coyotes are reportedly headed to Salt Lake City this summer, with Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith buying the franchise. It’s an unceremonious way for the Yotes to leave town, and I feel for hockey fans in the desert. 4 35-41-5
24


Kraken
(19) Coming off their improbable 2023 Stanley Cup Playoff run, I wasn’t buying the Kraken. Their magical season was the result of unsustainable percentages masking underlying problems. Apparently, I didn’t sell enough stock because they weren’t even on the playoff bubble in the last couple of weeks. Seattle will be an interesting team this summer because it has some flexibility to make significant moves on the trade market and in free agency. — 33-35-13
25


Devils
(4) Woof. From top five to No. 25. What a fall from grace for the Devils, a team I came to love watching last season. Injuries piled up. The goaltending was an unmitigated disaster. The defense took a step back. It’s hard to find any silver linings in New Jersey. The only solace I can take here is that I was far from alone. 2 38-39-5
26


Senators
(15) Woof again. I called my shot with the Senators as a playoff team in 2024-25, and I struck out on three pitches. Ottawa was never even close to the postseason, despite its promising young lineup. The blue line still needs a lot of work, and Joonas Korpisalo was not the answer between the pipes. We’ll see how many changes are made this summer after another disappointing finish for the Sens. 1 37-41-4
27


Flyers
(31) The Flyers wound up finishing about where I thought they would, but they took a wild path to get here. For much of the season, it looked like Philadelphia would be in the playoffs. John Tortorella was squeezing every bit of juice out of this roster, but the team fell a few drops short. The Flyers went 7-10-4 after the calendar flipped to March, and they fell all the way out of playoff position. Still, this was an encouraging campaign for what looked like a putrid roster to start the year. 6 38-33-11
28


Canadiens
(30) The Habs were still clearly in rebuilding mode this season, and the focus was more on developing their young players. They managed to do that, especially as far as Juraj Slafkovsky is concerned. The 20-year-old former No. 1 overall pick hit the 20-goal mark on the final day of the season, and he finished the season with 50 points. — 30-36-16
29


Blue Jackets
(27) It was another ugly season in Columbus, but perhaps a new regime will bring in some positive vibes this summer. The Blue Jackets do have some interesting young pieces, like Adam Fantilli and David Jiricek, so there is some optimism that the team will take big steps forward in the coming years. — 27-43-12
30


Ducks
(28) Anaheim remains very bad as the team tries to complete its rebuilding process. The biggest downer for this Ducks’ season came in the form of injuries. Trevor Zegras missed significant time, and there is speculation that he has played his final season in Anaheim. 1 26-50-5
31


Blackhawks
(29) Connor Bedard is definitely good at hockey. That was confirmed. Other than that, the Blackhawks can burn the 2023-24 season from their memories. It was another atrocious season in the Windy City, but the team is in contention to land a second consecutive No. 1 overall pick. 1 23-53-5
32


Sharks
(32) Credit to me for having the foresight to predict that the worst roster in the NHL wouldn’t win many games. The Sharks were impressively bad, and they are in the driver’s seat to select Macklin Celebrini at the top of the 2024 NHL Draft. — 19-53-9


[colabot]

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