NHL Power Rankings: Season-Defining Decisions Edition

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Patrick Marleau (12) celebrates his game-winning goal against the Boston Bruins with centre Mitchell Marner (16) during overtime NHL hockey action in Toronto on Friday, November 10, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP)

What if Calgary never traded for Travis Hamonic? Or Matt Duchene never wanted out of Colorado? Or Claude Giroux refused to play wing?

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings, we look back a pivotal decision made by each of the 31 teams that, in hindsight, made a drastic impact on their season.

It’s our first-ever NHL Power Rankings: Season-Defining Decisions Edition.

As per tradition, all 31 clubs are ranked in order of their current strength.

The write-ups zero in on one key move someone within each franchise made that had significantly impacted how its 2017-18 campaign played out.

1. Nashville Predators

David Poile’s repeated decision to trade from strength (defence) to address weakness (centre) has given the current odds-on Stanley Cup favourite terrific balance as it heads towards a Presidents’ Trophy. Not all GMs would have the cojones to deal away top prospects like Seth Jones and Samuel Girard, but if it results in back-to-back trips to Round 4, it’s worth it.

2. Winnipeg Jets

Paul Stastny waving his no-trade clause for the dark and cold? Connor Hellebuyck hiring 18 coaches to refine his game? Patrik Laine throwing all his razors in the trash can? Plenty of key decisions have led to the next White Out, but none more essential than True North’s choice to ride with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and Paul Maurice through a summer of criticism.

3. Boston Bruins

Removing the “interim” qualifier from head coach Bruce Cassidy’s job title seems like a helluva call.

4. San Jose Sharks

Scooping energy boost Evander Kane (eight goals and 13 points in teal) for pennies on the dollar from Buffalo looks like a pretty good idea, Doug Wilson. Kane is the front-runner to win Best Deadline Pickup Trophy, a phony award we just made up.

5. Washington Capitals

Curbing starter Braden Holtby’s minutes in favour of stud backup Philipp Grubauer is a gutsy move by coach Barry Trotz. How he handles a crease unexpectedly up for grabs could define the Capitals’ post-season.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning

Steve Yzerman’s timely trades of Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev and Vladislav Namestikov (plus futures) for Ryan McDonagh and the quick-to-adapt J.T. Miller will make this Lightning campaign memorable no matter how it turns out.

7. Vegas Golden Knights

The plot twist of buying instead of selling at the trade deadline tells us all we need to know about George McPhee’s Vegas Golden Knights.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Shelling out $18.75 million to pull a 38-year-old difference-maker like Patrick Marleau (24 goals and counting) from one contender to another is no small feat. It’s also a decision that essentially sealed the fate of the younger, more productive James van Riemsdyk.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

Will this be the year Columbus is known for promoting a teenager, Pierre-Luc Dubois, to No. 1 centre success, or the year the Blue Jackets let a 40-goal man, William Karlsson, slip through their grasp for free?

10. St. Louis Blues

Turnover at the centre position is the main talking point for these Blues, who smartly turned Brayden Schenn into an all-star and shockingly dealt away Paul Stastny because they’d hit a rough patch and wanted to secure a return.

11. Minnesota Wild

Although the decision to sign the free agent to a bargain of a contract was made back in 2016, 2017-18 will be the campaign defined by Eric Staal as a member of the Wild (72 points).

12. Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach Mike Sullivan’s plan to spread his three best weapons — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel — across three different means they could all finish as top-10 scorers and gives Pittsburgh a legitimate shot at a three-peat.

13. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks’ best decision might be not making any rash ones and simply staying the course when injuries had them struggling out of the gate. We like the call to add Ryan Miller as a savvy backup for John Gibson. And if Adam Henrique snipes a couple OT winners in the playoffs, his trade will be looked at fondly.

14. Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers’ treatment of the kids from Parkland — from Roberto Luongo’s from-the-heart speech to the chartered plane ride — resonates more than any win streak or trade.

15. Colorado Avalanche

That time Joe Sakic swapped Matt Duchene for a healthy package of pieces following months of speculation and gave sole ownership of the Avalanche to Nathan MacKinnon.

16. New Jersey Devils

Ray Shero’s decision to exercise tough love with all his players heading into training camp, starting with MVP candidate Taylor Hall, set a tone and changed the culture for the new New Jersey.

17. Los Angeles Kings

No doubt, the Kings’ move to clean house and install a new GM and head coach refreshed its best players — Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown — and made them dangerous all over again.

18. Edmonton Oilers

Nothing is more Edmonton ’18 than dealing away great wingers and then waking up and realizing we need some great wingers. (It took 70 games, but the Oilers may have found one.)

19. Philadelphia Flyers

Shifting career centreman Claude Giroux to the wing was so crazy, it just might work.

20. Carolina Hurricanes

Tom Dundon’s decision to purchase the Carolina Hurricanes has cost the franchise its well-respected GM and presented all sorts of mystery about where the club goes from here.

21. Dallas Stars

Jim Nill folding his hand at the trade deadline and not giving this group a boost of secondary scoring tells us he doesn’t see the Stars as good enough, despite all the aggression he showed in the off-season.

22. Montreal Canadiens

Not paying to keep Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov? Shelling out big bucks for Karl Alzner? Dangling but not trading Max Pacioretty? The day-to-day calls on how to properly bring Carey Price back to vintage form? All those decisions have had ripple effects, but opting to use your best trade chip (Mikhail Sergachev) to bring in a winger (Jonathan Drouin) is how we’ll remember the 2017-18 Habs when the 2018-19 Habs are still shopping for centres.

23. Calgary Flames

Calgary’s all-in move at the draft by “winning” the Travis Hamonic bidding war could cost the Flames a top-three lottery pick. Slim odds, but frightening nonetheless.

24. New York Rangers

The gutsy and divisive decision by the Rangers brass to telegraph a sell-off of core talent was a game-changer.

25. Chicago Blackhawks

Lots to choose from here. Stan Bowman’s season will be remembered as the one where he tired to get the old band back together (sayonara, Artemi Panarain! welcome back, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp!), but they hit all the wrong notes. If coach Joel Quenneville leaves, however, that should be even more significant.

26. Arizona Coyotes

Keeping third-overall pick Dylan Strome in the minors (mostly) while so many of the other top draftees of his 2015 class are flourishing in the bigs is quite telling.

27. Ottawa Senators

The words owner Eugene Melnyk chose at his mood-shifting outdoor press availability was a biggie. So was the Kyle Turris trade. But I think the season will be defined by the day Pierre Dorion asked Erik Karlsson to submit his no-trade list. Y’know, just as a formality.

28. Buffalo Sabres

Major moves from the top down: The hiring of Jason Botterill, who in turn hired Phil Housley. Are these the men capable of righting this ship? And how patient will the Pegulas be to find out?

29. Vancouver Canucks

Re-signing instead of dealing Erik Gudbranson was not insignificant, but Jim Benning’s treatment of the UFA-bound Sedins in their twilight will be how we remember a lost season in Vancouver.

30. New York Islanders

No contest here. John Tavare’s decision to delay The Decision is one of the NHL’s most intriguing storylines.

31. Detroit Red Wings

The embrace of the rebuild — trading away Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar for picks — has been a long time coming in Detroit. Now, will they be patient or slam the gas and try to turn things around too quick?

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