NHL Power Rankings: Finding one reason to love each team

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) and goaltender Ilya Samsonov (35) celebrate their win over the Winnipeg Jets in NHL hockey action in Toronto on Thursday Jan. 19, 2023. (Nathan Denette/CP)

Every sports fan can tell you their teams are sometimes hard to love. Stupid penalties; bad trades; championship droughts — they all make us question how and why we got into these relationships.

The answer, of course, is these squads take advantage of our blind devotion. So with Valentine’s Day coming up on Tuesday (you’re welcome) and with a clear understanding that some organizations are a lot easier to be infatuated with than others, we thought it appropriate for this edition of the power rankings to find at least one reason to love every NHL club.

1. Boston Bruins (39-7-5) The infrastructure. It’s not like there hasn’t been turnover in Boston, but everybody new person who arrives immediately becomes a big or small cog in a wheel that just keeps rolling. It just seems like no team is more in sync than the B’s.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (34-9-8) Attitude and the skill to back it up. Bless the Canes, they’re unapologetically good and from the owners’ box to ice level, they’ve become a real success story.

3. New Jersey Devils (33-13-4) It’s one thing to have two great centres, it’s another to have such complimentary pivots in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. The former is an offensive demon, the later an incredible 200-foot player. Also, this surge up the standings feels sustainable considering how young Hughes and Hischier are combined with the fact the Devils have two stud D prospects coming in Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec.

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4. Toronto Maple Leafs (31-13-8) “Baby, I can change! I swear!” From Auston Matthews’ rookie year through the end of last season, the Leafs ranked 19th in the league in terms of per-game goals against. This year, they’ve climbed up to eighth, showing a willingness to reform their style under coach Sheldon Keefe.

5. Dallas Stars (29-13-10) The Stars have found a No. 1 centre (Roope Hintz) and first-line sniper (Jason Robertson) in the second round of the draft to go a long with a franchise goalie (Jake Oettinger) who was a late first-round pick. And when it did have a lottery pick in 2017, Dallas took Miro Heiskanen. Find guys where you can get them.

6. New York Rangers (29-14-8) It’s easy to forget where this team was a relatively short time ago, finishing last or second last in the Metro in 2018, ’19 and ’20 before finishing fifth in its made-up division in the 56-game pandemic season. Yeah, the Rangers have surely benefitted from playing in a spot the likes of Artemi Panarin and Adam Fox wanted to be, but this club — a final-four squad last spring — sure feels set up to contend for a good long while.

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7. Tampa Bay Lightning (32-16-2) They’ve already done enough to make you hold a candle forever. Three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances and two rings in the past two years? This remains the NHL’s model franchise.

8. Edmonton Oilers (29-18-4) Give GM Ken Holland credit; he’s kept a steady hand the past few seasons while the Oilers have scuffled through half the schedule or so, only to turn it on in the back half. It’s happening again this year.

9. Colorado Avalanche (27-18-4) Lots to put your arms around here, including the most recent Stanley Cup. The oldest of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — the Colorado Core 4 — is Landeskog, and he’ll still be just 30 years old when next season begins.

10. Winnipeg Jets (32-19-1) We’re not sure how many players the Jets are in a long-term relationship with, but you can’t argue with the team’s pillars of No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele, No. 1 defenceman Josh Morrissey and No. 1 goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

11. Seattle Kraken (29-16-5) It’s new love, right? Everything is perfect!

12. Pittsburgh Penguins (25-16-9) I mean, c’mon, isn’t it absolutely adorable how Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang have all decided to grow old together?

13. Los Angeles Kings (28-18-7) Stop me if this sounds familiar; the same thing that makes the Kings so alluring is also what makes them so maddening; they’re only a goalie away.

14. Calgary Flames (24-17-10) I know things haven’t gone as Flames fans had hoped for this year, but I stand by my summer statements that they should have immediately built a statue of GM Brad Treliving outside the Saddledome after he refused to take a knee when not one, but two star players asked out or left town and, instead, turned around and brought in new high-end guys who could yet be key players on a contending team.

15. Buffalo Sabres (26-20-4) Be bold, my friends. The Sabres jumped right in last year and inked Tage Thompson to a seven-year extension before his breakout season was over and the $7.1-million cap hit he’ll have starting next season is criminal. Now Buffalo has gone out and extended Dylan Cozens on almost the exact same contract, meaning they’ll possess an awesome 1-2 punch down the middle for the best part of the decade for about $1.5 million more than the Avs will be paying Nathan MacKinnon alone. Best of all, those young stars want to be in Buffalo.

16. Washington Capitals (27-20-6) This team has missed the playoffs just one time since Alex Ovechkin’s third year in the league. This is Year 18 for Ovi and soon enough, the entire hockey world will have its eyes fixed on him as he chases down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record.

17. New York Islanders (27-22-5) How do you not love going for it the way the Isles have with the Bo Horvat trade?

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18. Florida Panthers (25-22-6) Having just been in South Florida for the All-Star Game, it’s worth highlighting that after so many years of flux, this franchise — if nothing else — is stable and has become a place good players want to go.

19. Vegas Golden Knights (30-18-4) This has been Team Go For It since it arrived five years ago and while the upheaval has, at times, taken a toll, you certainly have to admire the all-in spirit.

20. Minnesota Wild (27-19-4) The team on the ice is pretty good and the prospect pool is fantastic.

21. Nashville Predators (24-19-6) One GM since the beginning (1998-99) and only three coaches in that time: Look, the older you get, the more you’ll come to appreciate boring and predictable.

22. Ottawa Senators (24-23-3) With new ownership coming, the real potential for a downtown arena and a handful of really good young players, it just feels like the next 10 years are going to be so, so much better than the last 10.

23. Detroit Red Wings (21-20-8) No crying about bad lottery luck, just going out and getting Mo Seider and Lucas Raymond with the draft positions they were handed.

24. Philadelphia Flyers (21-22-9) Say this, the John Tortorella hiring indicates the Flyers will always stay true to who they are.

25. St. Louis Blues (23-25-3) Love the way St. Louis found two top-of-the-lineup players in Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou in the mid-first and second round. Those guys are in place if there is, indeed, a reset coming in St. Louis.

26. Montreal Canadiens (20-27-4) From John LeClair to Ryan McDonagh, the Habs have given up on some really good players either early in their NHL career or just before it began in the past 25 years. How nice, then, to flip the script and see 22-year-old, six-foot-four centre Kirby Dach become his best self after being acquired from Chicago in the off-season.

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27. San Jose Sharks (16-25-11) It’s going to take a while, but there’s inherent excitement about a rebuild where everything is on the table; especially in a place where things had clearly grown stale.

28. Vancouver Canucks (20-27-4) Whew. I mean, tough season to ask, but the Canucks do still have a No. 1 centre in Elias Pettersson and top D-man in Quinn Hughes who are really good and really young.

29. Chicago Blackhawks (15-29-5) Admittedly, there’s not a tonne to hang your hat on — both on and off the ice — with this organization in the past few years. Say this about the Hawks under GM Kyle Davidson, though; they’re going full-scorched earth and you have to respect the resolve.

30. Anaheim Ducks (17-29-6) It’s one thing to be at the bottom of the league; it’s quite another to have pieces like Trevor Zegras, Mason McTavish and (the injured) Jamie Drysdale with a real chance to draft a mega-stud in six months.

31. Arizona Coyotes (17-28-6) Maybe a bunch of us wish this team played somewhere else already, but you have to admire the way the Coyotes have done all they can to keep Arizona in front of the team name.

32. Columbus Blue Jackets (15-32-4) If you re-do the 2022 NHL Draft today does David Jiricek go No. 1? The Jackets appear to have struck oil with the big, right-shot D-man whose been fantastic as an AHL rookie. That’s great news for a franchise that stands a really good chance to leave the 2023 draft with a franchise-altering centre in the form of Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson

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