NHL Power Rankings: Report Cards for all 31 Teams Edition

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, left, and general manager Kyle Dubas watch a scrimmage game during Maple Leafs training camp. (Aaron Lynett/CP)

Quality coaches getting fired from recent champions six weeks deep, the Sabres and Canadiens playing good hockey, the Rangers grinding into playoff position, the Penguins and Blues on the road to disaster, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

It’s our NHL Power Rankings: Quarterly Report Card Edition, in which we give each of the league’s 31 franchises a letter grade at the 20-game mark.

As usual, the clubs are ranked in order of current strength. The write-ups sum up the first quarter of this wildly unpredictable 2018-19 season.

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1. Nashville Predators

The Predators are on track for back-to-back Presidents’ trophies. They just beat one of their closest competitors, the Lightning, in a thriller. They’ve cruised through a P.K. Subban injury like it was barely a speed bump, and smartly re-signed Vezina champ Pekka Rinne (NHL-leading .942 save percentage) to a reasonable contract extension well in advance of deadline. Let’s pre-order another bulk shipment of regular-season banners, shall we? Grade: A+

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

The top team in the Eastern Conference couldn’t possibly be sucking more leverage away from William Nylander. John Tavares and Mitch Marner are on track for career years. Auston Matthews was gunning for the Rocket prior to his injury. Morgan Rielly and Frederik Andersen are among the best at their respective positions. And the road record is ridiculous. Grade: A+

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

No team has scored more goals than the Lightning (75), who remain the team to beat in the exciting (and surprisingly very competitive) Atlantic. Jon Cooper, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, has kept his squad afloat despite an injury to Andrei Vasilevskiy, and next-wave studs Brayden Point and Yanni Gourde are outscoring Steven Stamkos. Grade: A+

4. Winnipeg Jets

No team has been more effective on the power play (32.1 per cent) or allowed fewer goals than the Jets (47), whose excellent start feels even scarier when you realize that young Patrik Laine is finally warming up. Grade: A

5. Buffalo Sabres

The trade for Jeff Skinner (14 goals) looks like a stickup. Jack Eichel is a beast. Jason Pominville has rediscovered his game at the 1,000 mark. Rasmus Dahlin should be on the Calder ballot. And Carter Hutton is proving (so far) that, yes, he can be a No. 1 goaltender. The Sabres are relevant again, and it feels good. Grade: A+

6. Calgary Flames

Some growing pains were to be expected with so many tweaks on the ice and behind the bench, but Calgary seems to have found its heart (thanks to Matthew Tkachuk), some secondary scoring, and a reasonable level of goaltending — even if the source of those last two qualities isn’t what Brad Treliving expected. Grade: B

7. Minnesota Wild

On paper, we predicted a fall-off in Minnesota, a franchise that looked too old at first glance. Yet the core of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Ryan Suter, Eric Staal, Matt Dumba and Devan Dubnyk have all been healthy and effective. One of several nice surprises at the 20-game plateau. Grade: A-

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets dropped the puck under a dark cloud of uncertainty: Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are leaving, right? But armed with a contract extension, John Tortorella has his bunch churning through the noise, playing a heavy cycle game, and pushing for that top seed in the Metro. Meanwhile, Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson have formed the best line in hockey no one talks about. Grade: B+

9. Boston Bruins

The best line we do talk about resides in Boston, and it just took a severe hit with news that injured centre Patrice Bergeron will be out four weeks minimum. The Bruins have done well to keep their head above water in the wake of constant injuries, the rise of some unexpected divisional threats, and an uncharacteristically average Tuukka Rask. Grade: B-

10. Montreal Canadiens

Max Domi and Tomas Tatar serve as exhibits A and B in the case that Marc Bergevin can win trades. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was drafted NHL-ready. And, look here, Carey Price’s save percentage is back in the .900s. Claude Julien deserves full marks for getting more out this roster than the most optimistic among us believed. Captain Shea Weber is coming back soon. Grade: A

11. Colorado Avalanche

The Avs were a trendy pick to fall back to the pack after their incredible 2017-18 uprising, but the top two scorers league-wide — Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen — call Denver home, and support players like Carl Soderberg and Alex Kerfoot are quietly providing unsung depth. Grade: B

12. San Jose Sharks

Admit it: You kinda thought the Sharks would run away with the divisional crown and Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns would have to take a chainsaw to the Norris Trophy. Sure, there have been some great performances in San Jose — Timo Meier is breaking out, Logan Couture is healthy (knock wood), Joe Pavelski is having himself a nice contract year — but there is room for improvement. Grade: B-

13. New York Islanders

The Islanders lost John Tavares, gained Leo Komarov and are firmly in the playoff hunt. As great a start as anyone could’ve hoped. Grade: B+

14. Dallas Stars

Injuries to John Klingberg and now Ben Bishop are concerning, and Valeri Nichushkin has been less than a difference-maker. But young D-man Miro Heiskanen is proving Jim Nill wise for not trading him to Ottawa, and the Stars’ most handsomely paid stars — Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Jason Spezza — are their best players. Grade: C+

15. Washington Capitals

Who knew they’d miss Tom Wilson this much? The champs’ big boys are delivering the goods, save for Braden Holtby, who has been just OK (.906 save percentage). Once Holtby finds his groove and T.J. Oshie is healthy, we’d expect these ho-hum Caps to go on a little run and get back into form. Grade: C+

16. New York Rangers

The Blueshirts looked like “Lose for Hughes” candidates, but no-nonsense coach David Quinn, who’s already scratched Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk, is milking the most out of this roster. At 8-1-1, the Rangers have the NHL’s best record over their past 10 outings. Grade: B+

17. Detroit Red Wings

Things could’ve been much worse in the aftermath of Henrik Zetterberg’s retirement, but Jimmy Howard has kept the Wings in most games, Dylan Larkin has taken another step towards face-of-the-franchise status, and Mike Green and Dennis Cholowski are contributing from the back end. Depth, however, remains a serious issue. Grade: C+

18. Florida Panthers

When Roberto Luongo went down in Game 1, the Panthers proceeded to dig themselves a tremendous hole. Now, just as they’re about to claw back to the surface — Mike Hoffman is going streaking! — Vincent Trocheck suffers a sickening long-term injury. Snake bit. Grade: C-

19. Arizona Coyotes

The Coyotes are one of just three Pacific squads with a positive goal differential, and with games in hand over all their divisional rivals, there’s serious potential for a playoff push. Grade: B-

20. Carolina Hurricanes

Those gif-ready victory celebrations kinda obscure from the fact that Carolina has scored the fewest goals of any Eastern Conference team (53). Man, the Hurricanes sure could use Jeff Skinner. Or William Nylander. Decent possession metrics, though. Grade: D+

21. Ottawa Senators

Well, apart from the P.R. tire fire to which a tanker of premium unleaded arrives weekly, the Sens have much to get excited about. Brady Tkachuk is the real deal. Thomas Chabot is putting up EK65 numbers. Chris Tierney is a better player than you imagined. Their more aggressive style of play has created some actual on-ice entertainment value. And impending UFAs Mark Stone and Matt Duchene are full value. Grade: C

22. Philadelphia Flyers

If the Flyers ever got a steady dose of solid, healthy netminding, we’d be happy to take them seriously. Instead, they remain one of the league’s streakiest teams, front-loaded with high-end talent but forever one injury away from coach-on-the-hot-seat rumours. Gritty’s cool, though. Grade: C-

23. Chicago Blackhawks

Joel Quenneville’s firing signals the end of a wonderful modern dynasty. But seeing Corey Crawford return healthy and playing does provide a glimmer of hope. We can drink to that. Grade: C

24. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks’ five-game losing string is the worst slump in the league. Sure, injuries are mounting, but this is the pull back to reality many have been waiting for. We give Vancouver bonus points for, somehow, still being in playoff position and for holding the rights to Elias Pettersson. Grade: C+

25. Edmonton Oilers

Todd McLellan takes the blame for not building a real team around the most gifted hockey player in the world or saving an average amount of shots. The Ken Hitchcock experiment inspires us to fire up a batch of Jiffy Pop. Grade: D

26. Vegas Golden Knights

The team that could do no wrong can no longer catch a break. The Knights’ offence has taken hit after hit: Nate Schmidt’s (disputed) suspension, Paul Stastny’s long-term injury, Max Pacioretty’s underwhelming play, Erik Haula’s month-to-month injury. Again, Vegas proves how quickly fate can turn. Grade: C-

27. Anaheim Ducks

In John Gibson, Anaheim dresses one of the greatest goaltenders and is still a minus-17 team ravaged with injuries and spotted with declining stars on hefty contracts. Grade: D

28. New Jersey Devils

The magic of 2017-18 has been difficult to recapture since Ray Shero subtracted instead of added over the summer. Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall, Travis Zajac, Keith Kinkaid and Damon Severson have each delivered. But depth is a massive concern here. Bottom line: When it’s late November and Cory Schneider still hasn’t won a game, you’re in trouble. Grade: C-

29. Pittsburgh Penguins

We’re not prepared to write off the winners of two of the past three Cups by U.S. Thanksgiving, but this better be rock bottom. Jim Rutherford already made one trade, but he looks like a poker player about to go on tilt. Sidney Crosby is sidelined, Matt Murray can’t locate his mojo, and the Pens have won just once in their past 10. Grade: D

30. St. Louis Blues

Despite the excellence of new guy Ryan O’Reilly, the Blues are in a funk. St. Louis has lost too many close ones, failing to get that key save or big goal. The result? Mike Yeo loses his job at midnight, and Craig Berube still has plenty of runway (63 games) to turn around a group that should be better than its 7-9-3 record. Grade: D

31. Los Angeles Kings

John Stevens is the fall guy for a rash of goaltending injuries and the faulty belief that the once-mighty Kings could compete in this increasingly fast and increasingly young NHL. Tall task, Willie Desjardins. Godspeed. Grade: F

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