The playoff races are as tight as any in memory.
The trade deadline is nigh.
And once the NHL’s all-star break concludes, it’ll be high time to trade tan lines for storylines.
In our NHL Power Rankings: Pressing Questions Edition, we look at the greatest mystery yet to be solved for each club.
Per tradition, all teams are ranked in descending order according to current standard of excellence.
Our write-ups pose a critical question for each club that will get answered once everyone returns from Turks and/or Caicos and the stretch run through the trade deadline and toward the post-season picks up.
With three games in hand and Andrei Vasilevskiy back in Vezina form, can the Lightning make up eight points and catch Boston for the Atlantic Division crown?
Do we dare doubt that Alexander Ovechkin — with two games in hand and trailing by only three goals — will surpass David Pastrnak and claim a ninth Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy? (Also: what if Ovechkin’s one-game suspension for skipping the All-Star Game becomes the difference?)
How will the Blues — excellent thus far — respond to being the favoured team to beat as opposed to the scrappy, feel-good story they were last spring?
Which goaltender does Mike Sullivan call upon when the chips are down? (And how healthy will Jake Guentzel be come playoff time?)
Can Jaroslav Halak, who’s lost as many games as he’s won, hold the fort in Tuukka Rask’s absence and allow Boston to secure the top seed?
No team has more cap space as the trade deadline nears than the Avalanche. So, how aggressively will Joe Sakic, now overseeing a legit contender, be buying?
If the Canucks indeed hang on and make the playoffs, will Jim Benning get his due credit?
In a season where building on last year’s momentum is realistic, how aggressively do Tom Dundon’s Hurricanes approach the market now that Norris candidate Dougie Hamilton is injured long term?
9. Dallas Stars
Can the Stars — who curiously rank 29th in goals scored — finally get an offensive push from some underwhelming veterans to match their strong defensive play?
10. Florida Panthers
Now that Joel Quenneville has the Cats running, could the dream of an all-Florida playoff series jolt hockey interest in Sunrise?
What is Lou Lamoriello plotting?
If John Tortorella can guide this free-agency-ravaged, injury-plagued roster back to the dance, will this be his greatest coaching performance?
With Carter Hart sidelined, can a 34-year-old Brian Elliott backstop the Flyers into a playoff spot? (On another note, Gritty is totally going to make my 2019 prediction come true, isn’t he?)
14. Edmonton Oilers
Have the Oilers truly become a two-line threat?
15. Winnipeg Jets
So… Dustin Byfuglien or nah?
With no Morgan Rielly, is the Leafs’ defence deep enough to stay afloat?
17. Arizona Coyotes
Can a team that hardly scores find a way to squeak into the playoffs?
Will Vegas’s surprise coaching change really make a difference, or does the Golden Knights’ fate boil down to how many saves Marc-Andre Fleury can make?
19. Calgary Flames
What has happened to Johnny Gaudreau… and can he fix it in time
to save my fantasy team?
If win-now Nashville can’t rally and whiffs on the post-season for the first time in six years, how deep and how fast does David Poile cut into the roster he built?
Are we witnessing a Jonathan Toews renaissance? (And how beautiful would that be for everyone not drawing the Blackhawks as a wild card?)
22. New York Rangers
How big of a return can Jeff Gorton reap for Chris Kreider and Alexandar Georgiev?
Does Marc Bergevin maximize an opportunity to become one of the NHL’s most compelling deadline sellers and increase the franchise’s chances of winning Alexis Lafreniere in the lottery?
24. Buffalo Sabres
How thin is Jason Botterill’s patience wearing?
25. Minnesota Wild
After months of wait-and-see, when are we going to find out what Bill Guerin’s vision is for this franchise?
26. San Jose Sharks
Staring in the face of a lost season, how deep does Doug Wilson cut?
27. Anaheim Ducks
Can Bob Murray’s pitch to take on other teams’ cap space result in tangible gains?
How great of a return can Rob Blake reap from his rental pieces when the whole world knows he’s gotta sell?
29. Ottawa Senators
Do the Senators re-sign Jean-Gabriel Pageau because it’s true that young players need grooming from solid pros, or do they deal him because it’s true that Pageau could be a fine addition to many a contender?
Who is calling the shots… and what kind of shots are they going to call now?
Absolutely, the persistent losing is in the best interest of Steve Yzerman’s lottery odds, but will the ugliness of 2019-20 have a lingering negative effect on the core players and the dwindling fan base that pays to see them lose?