The postponement of the Summer Games and the pushback of the NHL’s draft and awards means we’re looking ever so hopefully — and, perhaps, naively — at a July-August rescue to the 2019-20 season.
There is a very real and very painful possibility that we’ve spent six months getting sucked into a compelling narrative only to have the book yanked out of our hands and chucked into the fireplace right as we’ve neared the climax.
So, we wonder, which of the NHL’s 31 teams (and their fans) are getting the rawest deal from the pause and potential cancellation of this topsy-turvy campaign?
Ranked in descending order from “totally bummed” to “meh, maybe it’s for the best,” we present the NHL Power Rankings: Which Team Is Most Bummed by the Pause? Edition.
David Pastrnak was charging for the Rocket. Tuukka Rask was playing like he wants a second Vezina on the shelf. Brad Marchand deserves Selke consideration. Who knows if they’ll be able to afford Torey Krug in 2020-21 or if a 44-year-old Zdeno Chara could contribute in the spring of 2021? Boston will win the Presidents’ Trophy, but how many more shots at the real prize will this aging core get?
The Lightning’s entire regular season was just an 82-game dress rehearsal before we got to see how they’d respond to 2019’s embarrassment. A first-round pick was surrendered, depth and sandpaper were brought in (Patrick Maroon, Zach Bogosian, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman), and Anthony Cirelli will never be cheaper. The only silver lining? If we do get a summer post-season, Steven Stamkos will be raring to go.
All of Doug Armstrong’s actions have been for the purpose of repeating. Alex Pietrangelo, Marco Scandella and Vince Dunn all need new contracts next season. They won’t all be back. Vladimir Tarasenko was on track to return at just the right time, and this tight-knit group knows how to win. The band may never be the same.
How many more prime playoff runs of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby will we get blessed with? That’s why Jim Rutherford used his first- and second-round picks on this run, bringing in Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary, Evan Rodrigues and Jason Zucker. Another concern: Both goalies, Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, need raises for 2020-21.
By points percentage, Vancouver sits in the Pacific’s third seed. With Jacob Markstrom and Brock Boeser now healthy, draft picks invested, and cap space extinguished, a drought-ending playoff run would’ve been glorious. This one could sting.
The Capitals invested futures in the rentals of Brenden Dillon and Ilya Kovalchuk. Alex Ovechkin is deadlocked with Pastrnak in the goals race (48) with a game in hand and could be denied his ninth 50-goal performance. And there’s no guarantee important components like Braden Holtby and Radko Gudas will re-sign next season.
Think about all the hours and energy Connor McDavid poured into his unique off-season rehab. Think about Leon Draisaitl’s incredible MVP bid and chance for the Triple Crown. Think about the steady hands of Ken Holland and Dave Tippett, shaping a mess into a threat. Think about Edmonton potentially going 13 of the past 14 springs without playoffs. This one stings.
A pause helps the Avs. A cancellation harms the Avs. Of all the western contenders, Colorado had been bit hardest by the injury bug, with core contributors Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Matt Calvert, Colin Wilson and Philipp Grubauer all nursing ailments. The rest should do them good. An outright axing of the season, however, wastes so many excellent performances by players who will come knocking for pay raises next fall: Andre Burakovsky, Vladislav Namestnikov, Valeri Nichushkin and Ryan Graves. Plus, we could be denied a finish to Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes’ fantastic Calder duel.
The Islanders traded a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a conditional third-round pick to Ottawa to rent Jean-Gabriel Pageau (since extended). That’s a ton to give up, especially for a post-season run that might not take place. Even scarier: What if the playoffs are held with a field of eight instead of 16? If based on points percentage, the Isles hold the final spot in the East.
As the West’s No. 1 wild card (by points percentage), Nashville could’ve saved its erratic season by going through the weaker Pacific Division bracket. Considering the Preds’ aging core, every lost spring hurts a little more.
Hard against the cap, the Golden Knights — top seed in the Pacific — were rounding into the power we expected them to be. Vegas changed coaches and mortgaged some of the future to bring in the excellent Robin Lehner. Max Pacioretty was living up to expectations, Mark Stone was going to get healthy, and this was to be the last guaranteed playoff run for the always-entertaining Ryan Reaves in white gloves.
12. Florida Panthers
The Panthers are likely getting a raw deal. Just outside the Atlantic’s playoff picture, Florida has one win fewer than the Maple Leafs and one fewer game played. The club invested heavily this season, shelling out monstrous money for Sergei Bobrovsky. Had they been given a couple of weeks to rally and succeeded in hopping over Toronto, a revenue-generating, buzz-stirring all-Florida playoff series versus Tampa could’ve been reality.
Know what stinks? That hockey fans could be denied a nasty Penguins-Flyers series and an overdue chance to see underrated Philadelphia talents Travis Konecny, Ivan Provorov, Sean Couturier, Travis Sanheim glow in the spotlight. Another excellent Alain Vigneault season is at risk of coming up short, and it ain’t his fault.
14. Winnipeg Jets
Paul Maurice’s Jets had done so much right in the gust of so much adversity. Connor Hellebuyck was saving, Neal Pionk was pleasantly surprising, Patrik Laine was backchecking, Blake Wheeler was leading… so Kevin Cheveldayoff rewarded the group with smart rentals Cody Eakin and Dylan DeMelo. Winnipeg was turning into the wild card you’d hate to draw from the deck.
15. Dallas Stars
For months, the Stars had found themselves in a rhythm of playing hardnosed, low-scoring, tight-checking, playoff-style hockey and were well positioned to make noise. That nine players on Dallas’s roster — including both goalies and a chunk of the core — are on the wise side of 30 means time is a-wastin’.
While veteran Justin Williams isn’t sure he’ll be able to come back as strong as he did from another layoff, a delayed resumption of the season could do wonders for Carolina’s banged-up blue line (Dougie Hamilton, Sami Vatanen, Brett Pesce). A scratched season means the Canes rented Vatanen for nothing.
17. Calgary Flames
Brad Treliving added at the deadline and extended his purse strings to make a run this spring — likely the last with both TJ Brodie and Travis Hamonic on the back end. Next season’s blue line might get worse and more expensive. More games would’ve also given us a better chance of an all-Alberta first-round matchup (the Oilers and Flames won’t meet if the NHL determines seeding with points percentage).
Belief shaken, the Leafs didn’t go crazy buying at the deadline, and the players’ rampant inconsistency certainly didn’t make 2020 feel like their year. But! Toronto had been on track to dodge Boston in Round 1 and should’ve matched up better against Tampa — the high-scoring series fans deserve right now.
19. Arizona Coyotes
Phil Kessel (14 goals) still had an outside chance of reaching his 12th-consecutive 20-goal season, Christian Dvorak (18 goals) had a great shot at his first, and the Coyotes — who went all-in with the Taylor Hall trade — were four points back and desperate to climb back into the wild card.
20. New York Rangers
For our money, the Rangers are the best team outside the playoff line (plus-12 goal differential) and had shaped into one of the league’s best second-half surprises. A shame we’ll be deprived of a great Islanders-Rangers battle for the wild card.
While the Blue Jackets land on the fun side of the wild-card line in terms of standings points, a calculation of points percentage would kick them out of the dance — despite being the 13th-best NHL team overall. The most injured roster in the league could benefit from this unexpected recovery period, however, if there is a season to be saved. Smartly, GM Jarmo Kekalainen didn’t go spending futures at the deadline.
22. Minnesota Wild
The Wild had been thriving since Bruce Boudreau’s firing, going 8-4 under interim bench boss Dean Evason and making a run toward the wild card. While my personal belief is that the franchise would be better served by lottery balls, Minnesota had become a compelling addition to wild-card race with nothing to lose.
Mathematically alive but realistically eliminated, the Canadiens’ hard-luck campaign could have benefitted from a few more losses. The depleted Habs had played two more games than Buffalo and New Jersey and had a decent chance at dropping below both teams and upping Marc Bergevin’s lottery odds. (On an individual note, Max Domi’s quest for 20 goals — had he reached it — might’ve given him extra leverage in upcoming negotiations.)
Yes, the Blackhawks were six points out of a wild-card spot, but leaping four teams (three of which hold a game in hand) to get there wasn’t happening. Here’s a sad stat: Jonathan Toews (stuck at 18 goals) should’ve hit the 20-goal mark for the 13th-consecutive season had he been given 12 more games.
25. Buffalo Sabres
A cancelled regular season would officially give Buffalo nine consecutive playoff-free seasons, one season shy of the worst droughts in NHL history. It would also deny Jack Eichel (36 goals, 78 points) his first 40-goal showing and back-to-back 80-point campaigns.
How you view the Kings’ abrupt end depends on your perspective. Despite being a deadline seller, L.A. was surprisingly hockey’s hottest team at the stoppage — seven straight victories. The pause stymied a standings climb, which would’ve been bad for lottery odds. The pause also stymies an exciting win streak, which would’ve been great for the kids’ confidence.
27. Anaheim Ducks
More games could’ve given the Ducks an outside chance to fall below their California compadres (the Sharks and surging Kings) in the standings and increase their lottery odds.
The never-say-die Devils had actually been gaining ground on Montreal and Buffalo. They’re likely better off freezing the standings as is.
29. San Jose Sharks
With a battered lineup, lost hope and no 2020 first-rounder of their own — the Sharks did acquire Tampa’s first at the deadline — San Jose was playing out the string and already looking forward to 2020-21.
30. Ottawa Senators
Aside from the scare of having the first two NHLers diagnosed with COVID-19 (both are said to be recovering well), the rebuilding Senators should be fine with calling an end to 2019-20. Not only are the Sens positioned for the second-best draft lottery odds but the third as well. Pierre Dorion owns the pick of 29th-place San Jose.
Hours prior to the season’s pause, the Red Wings locked up 31st place and the best odds to win the Alexis Lafreniere lottery. Besides four home gates and fulfillment of our own sadistic curiosity to see how low their minus-122 goal differential could drop, Detroit isn’t losing much.