NHL Power Rankings: Season of Shockers Edition

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Kasperi Kapanen (centre) celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders with teammates Travis Dermott and Justin Holl during first period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Wednesday, January 31, 2018. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The Tampa Bay Lightning rebounding like Dennis Rodman in his prime, the Nashville Predators reasserting themselves as the best in the West, the Vancouver Canucks chucking more balls in the lottery hopper as we wind down to the end of March….

Yes, much of these 2017-18 NHL happenings we could have predicted.

But the fun of sports lies in what we don’t see coming.

And so we look back at a winter filled with happy surprises and unfortunate head-scratchers in our NHL Power Rankings: Season of Shockers Edition.

As per tradition, all 31 clubs are ranked in order of their current scariness. The write-ups single out an event or performance regarding each team that we could not have foreseen back in October.

1. Nashville Predators

Mike Fisher coming out of retirement and signing on the last possible day to qualify for what could be a lengthy Predators playoff run feels like a twist torn from a WWE script.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

Despite all the wonderful surprises this season – Nikita Kucherov’s Hart and Art Ross bid, Steven Stamkos’s return to form, the continued emergence of Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde, and the Vezina bid of Andrei Vasilevskiy – the biggest surprise in Tampa is that it’s finishing the season with Ryan Callahan on the roster.

3. Vegas Golden Knights

Life is a dream and the expansion Golden Knights are your Pacific Division champs running away.

4. Boston Bruins

We knew Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak could play, but the level of play from young forwards such as Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk – both set to crush 40 points – has impressed. And the bounce-back of Zdeno Chara, still logging more than 23 minutes a night, wasn’t something we saw coming at age 40.

5. Winnipeg Jets

Connor Hellebuyck’s .923 save percentage and almost immediate reclaiming of the starter’s job from summer signing Steve Mason is one of the league’s best surprises.

6. Minnesota Wild

Is there a bigger individual shocker than Eric Staal, 33, enjoying his greatest offensive season in a decade? The Wild’s bargain centre is on track for 40 goals and 70-plus points.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins

We were surprised that after the price Jim Rutherford paid to acquire some muscle in Ryan Reaves at the 2017 draft the Penguins GM dealt him to Vegas. If Pittsburgh gets into a nasty playoff series, will they wish they had Reaves back?

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Pierre-Luc Dubois stepping in at 19 and showing Number 1 centre pedigree when Alex Wennberg stumbled out of the gates was fantastic.

9. Washington Capitals

After all the core players Washington lost over the summer – Marcus Johansson, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Justin Williams, Kevin Shattenkirk – the fact the Capitals are still atop the Metropolitan Division is a testament to the coaching of Barry Trotz.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs

Here’s a twist: The Maple Leafs could have the best regular season in franchise history, and that might happen with Auston Matthews not hitting 60 games played.

11. Los Angeles Kings

Dustin Brown is second in L.A. Kings scoring (46 points) and first in plus/minus (+22).

12. Florida Panthers

The Panthers took a hacksaw to their salary and watched 80-plus goals walk out the door with the bodies they didn’t retain – and yet, our money is on the Cats eking into the second wildcard spot.

13. San Jose Sharks

The sudden and sharp falloff of Paul Martin – a long-serving, stay-at-home defenceman whom we thought would continue to be relied upon – caught us by surprise.

14. Dallas Stars

We’ve always appreciated John Klingberg’s ability to drive offence, but the way Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson had been producing, we didn’t expect the Stars D-man to lead all blueliners in points.

15. Colorado Avalanche

Where do we start? On paper, there was little reason to expect Colorado to finish higher than 30th, but the Avs have rebounded lovely, thanks in no small part to a Jonathan Bernier resurgence that seemed unlikely.

16. St. Louis Blues

We’re torn. Is it more surprising that the Blues sold off Paul Stastny for futures or that they tumbled so low in the standings that it kinda made some sense?

17. Anaheim Ducks

Knowing cornerstones Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry would score just 25 goals combined by the 65-game mark, would you believe the Ducks still have a decent shot of making the playoffs?

18. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers embarked on a 10-game losing skid and still need three teams to pass them in order to lose their playoff spot.

19. New Jersey Devils

It’s not that Taylor Hall has been awesome that’s eye-opening, it’s that he’s soooo much more dominant than anyone else on his team. Hall has 31 more points than any other Devil, and he missed five games.

20. Calgary Flames

Honestly, we’re floored this group – a collection of players we could’ve sworn got better over the summer with the Travis Hamonic and Mike Smith additions – is so frustratingly average.

21. Carolina Hurricanes

Well, the sudden removal of Ron Francis from his GM post made some news as the Hurricanes still have an outside chance of rallying for the post-season.

22. Edmonton Oilers

All of it. Just… all of it.

23. New York Rangers

The letter of intent to disassemble is more stunning than the disassembling itself.

24. Chicago Blackhawks

We’d be lying if we wrote that Chicago’s tumble from elite rocked our world, but the rumour that the Blackhawks may fire coach Joel Quenneville, who is due a reported $12 million through 2019-2020, is a biggie.

25. New York Islanders

There were some lovely surprises in Brooklyn this season – Mathew Barzal running away with the Calder, Josh Bailey late-blooming into a star, securing a new arena at Belmont – but GM Garth Snow’s decision to sit on his hands when things started to slip is truly puzzling.

26. Ottawa Senators

In October, we never would’ve imagined thinking that Erik Karlsson could ever be traded. Now we can’t imagine he won’t be.

27. Arizona Coyotes

No fan thinks heading into a hockey season that their team will use six different goaltenders to get through the year.* (*Except maybe Vegas fans in 2018-19.)

28. Detroit Red Wings

How could Mike Green, the only right-shot defenceman worth renting at the deadline, not get traded for picks?

29. Montreal Canadiens

Lots to choose from here. Perennial 30-goal man Max Pacioretty struggling to reach 20? Brendan Gallagher leading the team in scoring? Shea Weber failing to play 30 games? Tomas Plekanec becoming a Maple Leaf?

30. Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres got worse.

31. Vancouver Canucks

We knew Brock Boeser would be good, but not so good that the Canucks can barely score without him in the lineup.

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