It's been a little over three months since we began this sprint of an NHL season, and now it's time for teams to make their moves towards a playoff spot, home-ice advantage or, for the tankers out there, the best draft lottery odds.
So much has been compacted into this season. It's been a non-stop flurry of unfolding stories and action that feels enough to fill an entire 82-game schedule over seven months.
How do you best get across what has happened with each team in a succinct, digestible format? Can we sum up what we've seen so far in a single sentence for each?
That's the challenge in this week's Power Rankings.
1. Colorado Avalanche: They are everything we thought they were and stand at the top of the NHL standings by points percentage not just because of Nathan MacKinnon's wizardry but because the young defence group has been just as dynamic and impactful.
2. Vegas Golden Knights: They've been swinging back and forth with Colorado all season as those two loaded rosters track towards what feels like an inevitable Round 2 series, but the unexpected story for Vegas has been yet another bounce-back season from Marc-Andre Fleury, which has him in the Vezina running and has us wondering who the Game 1 playoff starter will be.
3. Carolina Hurricanes: If you didn't believe in this team before you have to now because the one area of question – goaltending – has had depth added in Alex Nedeljkovic and the team's 5-on-5 save percentage is tops in the league after ranking 26th last season.
4. Boston Bruins: Injuries put the Bruins in a tough spot and left a question if they might tumble right out of the playoffs, but they always seem to have guys like goalie Jeremy Swayman – who came in to settle things while Tuukka Rask was out – and then the big acquisition of Taylor Hall gave them the scoring support they needed and now, suddenly, they look as dangerous as ever.
5. New York Islanders: Their contract structure looks questionable, they don't have any award-chasing household names (although Mathew Barzal might get there) and their style of play doesn't grab you with flash, but the Isles can't make it any more clear that they are one of the absolute best teams in the league with a legit shot at the Stanley Cup.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning: Top five in goals, goals against, shots, shots against, power play and penalty kill, the Lightning are humming along as the defending champs, but the stiff challenges they've gotten from Carolina and Florida might make that path back to the final more difficult.
7. Florida Panthers: The loss of their top two goal scorers last season has been offset by a stark improvement on defence, better overall goaltending (thank you Chris Driedger) and some productive value additions in Patric Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair that now have us wondering if, this time, the Panthers have some post-season staying power.
8. Minnesota Wild: The story in Minnesota has been Kirill Kaprizov, the one-man show who has single-handedly breathed something fresh and exciting into an organization that has for far too long been bland and caught in the mushy middle without any championship upside.
9. Winnipeg Jets: A franchise-altering trade for Pierre-Luc Dubois will have long-lasting effects on the Jets, but while they gave up an elite goal scorer, the centre depth and two-way reliability they got in Dubois might be better for the playoffs anyway as the Jets have overcome blue-line concerns and are a team you won't want to meet in the post-season.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs: The season-long favourite to win the North Division has for the most part been dominant, but given their playoff past there is always reason to panic about something around the Leafs and the team has fuelled that at times with shaky goaltending, a dried-up power play and a few uninspiring efforts along the way.
11. Washington Capitals: They battled through a situation where some key players had to miss games due to COVID protocol, some uncertainty in net, and the Caps head down the homestretch as much a contender as we thought they were heading in, while Alex Ovechkin puts up yet another incredible goal-scoring season that's somehow flown under the radar as he continues to chase down Wayne Gretzky on the all-time list.
12. Pittsburgh Penguins: Whenever this team is faced with change or questions about how open their Cup window still is they always seem to respond and that was the case again this season when their fortunes turned on a dime after Ron Hextall and Brian Burke were hired, leading them to add Jeff Carter at the deadline and maybe, just maybe, they have another run left.
13. Edmonton Oilers: It was a tough learning lesson for Edmonton in last summer's bubble, when defensive and goaltending breakdowns led to an embarrassing loss to the Hawks on home ice, but it seems as though they've learned from it, improved defensively, and have become a much more polished team ready for the post-season grind this time.
14. Dallas Stars: It was hard to get a gauge on them for much of the season because of key injuries, a few stoppages and a packed schedule that will challenge conditioning, but the Stars have found a way through it all to stay in the race and have gotten key offensive outbursts from youngsters Roope Hintz and Jason Robertson that have complemented the team's defence-first approach.
15. Nashville Predators: They've been in full-on panic mode, with GM David Poile's job getting questioned, a rebuild pondered at least from the outside, and seemingly setting up to be big sellers at the deadline, but they've also been on a hot streak lately and currently hold the fourth spot in the Central so it's been a wild ride in Nashville this season.
16. Montreal Canadiens: With so many additions to the roster before and during the season, GM Marc Bergevin's clear all-in attack on 2021 in his ninth season on the job is probably his final attempt to turn this team into a contender after re-tooling the roster once already before, and his fate might ultimately be decided by the homestretch and (hopeful) playoff performance.
17. New York Rangers: Had they not started 7-9-3, the Rangers may be right there with the Bruins, Penguins, Islanders and Capitals in the playoff hunt instead of only tenuously being in the race, but between Adam Fox's Norris bid, Artemi Panarin's ongoing greatness, Igor Shesterkin's netminding and many other individual efforts, the Rangers' plan is clearly ahead of schedule and they could be a big deal again very soon.
18. St. Louis Blues: If they end up missing the playoffs they'll look back at a seven-game series they played, and lost, against Arizona earlier this season as the turning point, but it's hard to fathom the 2019 champs even being in this position so look for GM Doug Armstrong to try and tweak them back towards contention in the summer.
19. Chicago Blackhawks: The surprise of Kevin Lankinen helped the Hawks off to a great start that kept them in the playoff race all season, but as those hopes start to fade a bit the main takeaway should be that the Hawks are perhaps a bit ahead of schedule.
20. Vancouver Canucks: What began as an utter disaster that had a lot of fans calling for GM Jim Benning's job now has the chance to turn into the best story of the season if the Canucks can return from their COVID outbreak and either make the playoffs or at least lead an inspiring run to the end.
21. Philadelphia Flyers: No panic moves at the deadline, but there has to be a bit of an identity crisis going on with the Flyers, who had to healthy-scratch their young franchise netminder, were the first team Buffalo beat in 18 games, allowed the Rangers to score eight or more goals on them twice in the span of eight days, and are 24th in the league by points percentage over the past month and a half – all after an 11-4-3 start that had them near the top of the league.
22. Arizona Coyotes: Out of the playoffs, in the playoffs, and now teetering on the way out again, the Coyotes have been caught in no-man's land and are now facing the prospect of a really tough off-season, especially if they end up on the wrong side of the post-season cut-off line.
23. Los Angeles Kings: It's still all about the rebuild, but kudos to Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown, who have all had monster seasons (all bounce-backs of sorts) and give hope that as the kids start getting into the lineup the vets could help launch them back into playoff contention sooner than later.
24. Calgary Flames: The GM has called out his team more than once this season, replaced the coach and since none of it has worked this has to be the end of the current core.
25. Ottawa Senators: Moral victories and the satisfaction of just being hard to play against have defined the Senators this season and, by those measures, it's been a pretty decent one in tough circumstances, but they can hope the lessons learned and opportunities presented to their young players in 2021 will lead to improvement in the win-loss department next season.
26. San Jose Sharks: They at least teased a playoff push for a brief period, but the Sharks are ultimately caught in the middle after having to surrender the third-overall pick to Ottawa last summer and we don't have any clearer view of where they're headed or what they are with a team that on paper looks good enough, but has faltered two years in a row.
27. Detroit Red Wings: We always thought they'd be at or near the bottom of the standings again, so the biggest surprise and most notable moment of Detroit's season was the deadline-day blockbuster they made with Washington that seemed to indicate the rebuild won't end soon, but when it does, the Wings are setting the table for a sharp move up.
28. Buffalo Sabres: Absolutely nothing changed early on when the Sabres were the butt of all jokes, but since the end of their 18-game winless streak there's been a little light with a 6-4-2 record and a .583 points percentage that ranks 16th in the league.
29. Columbus Blue Jackets: Turbulent to say the least, from Pierre-Luc Dubois' benching and trade to Patrik Laine's acquisition and benching, to Max Domi's benching... you get the point that John Tortorella seems to be on his way out when his contract expires this off-season.
30. Anaheim Ducks: Another rebuilding season where goals have been hard to come by and one of the few reasons to tune in, Trevor Zegras, was sent back to the AHL to develop as a centre.
31. New Jersey Devils: Still more growing pains for the Devils, but improvement from Jack Hughes settled any early worries after his rookie season, and a few other nice seasons from young players (hello Yegor Sharangovich) still gives optimism that this thing is headed in the right direction, even if the scheduled arrival seems to come later than the rival Rangers.