The final six weeks or so of the NHL season after the trade deadline can feel like canoeing on a still pond on the heels of a harrowing experience on whitewater rapids.
Things, in a sense, are much calmer.
Yes, deadline day and everything leading up to it is a lot of fun, but there’s still important business to tend to as we wind through the final leg of the season. There remains a fairly decent playoff chase happening in the Eastern Conference and, if nothing else, the No. 1 seed out West is completely up for grabs as seven of the eight teams holding down a playoff spot could conceivably wind up with home-ice advantage through the Western Conference Final.
Yes, we can get a jump on engraving Connor McDavid’s name on some premium hardware, but other trophy races are worth paying attention to as well.
With all that in mind, this week’s edition of the power rankings poses stretch-drive questions for all 32 teams as they finish up seasons that have been great, gruesome and everything in between.
1. Boston Bruins (49-8-5) How hard to you push for a regular-season record? Boston is on pace for 136 points, four more than the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens posted. Will they be strategic about resting key players here and there, or will they go all-out for the history books?
2. Carolina Hurricanes (42-12-8) What can they do with Jesse Puljujarvi? The price was obviously low, but there must be something in the numbers Carolina liked. Can they help the 2016 fourth-overall pick find the best version of his NHL self?
3. New Jersey Devils (41-16-6) Will Nico Hischier win the Selke? Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek has been banging the drum all season for the Devils captain, who is also having a breakout season offensively.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (39-17-8) Will the Game 1 playoff starter wind up being an obvious choice? Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray will probably have more or less the same amount of starts left to make their case.
5. Vegas Golden Knights (38-20-6) Can they stay in the hunt for the West’s No. 1 seed while playing 12 of their final 18 on the road? Bonus: Can a power play ranked last in the league since Jan. 1 find any kind of life?
6. Los Angeles Kings (37-20-8) Can newcomer Joonas Korpisalo make Kings fans forget the pain of seeing franchise legend Jonathan Quick sent packing? The former Blue Jacket has one win in as many starts for a Kings team that has been scrambling for an answer in net all season. Quick, Pheonix Copley and Calvin Peterson have all played at least 10 games for L.A. this season, and not one of them had a save percentage of .900 or better.
7. Minnesota Wild (37-21-7) What exactly have they found in Filip Gustavsson? The Swede’s .942 save percentage is tied for the best five-on-five mark in the league with Linus Ullmark.
8. Seattle Kraken (37-21-6) Like the Kings, Seattle is a team contending for the top seed in the West while getting seriously subpar goaltending (the Kraken’s .888 save percentage ranks 28th in the league, the Kings’ .882 is 30th). Can Philipp Grubauer correct that? The German has looked better lately, so maybe the situation will stabilize.
9. Colorado Avalanche (35-21-6) Can the Avs get all their key guys healthy by Game 1 of the playoffs? So many important players have spent stretches of the season on the sideline for Colorado, but there’s hope they’ll be at full strength — or close to it — when it matters most.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (38-21-5) Is everybody OK? It seems like the vibes got bad fast in Tampa, but we’re not ready to pull our faith just yet.
11. Dallas Stars (34-17-3) Where will this team be in the standings after it plays nine of its next 12 on the road? Dallas is a pretty flat 11-8-7 in 2023, averaging a pedestrian 2.88 goals-per-game in that time.
12. New York Rangers (35-19-9) How do they get Patrick Kane acclimated? He was on fire at the end of his Chicago tenure and the Rangers have the next few weeks to get him going again.
13. Edmonton Oilers (35-22-8) Can Connor McDavid join Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steve Yzerman as the only players in league history with 155-point seasons? He’s on pace for 156.
14. New York Islanders (33-25-8) Can they keep playing well without Mathew Barzal? The Isles are 5-1-1 since losing their most creative offensive player to a lower-body injury that will keep him out a while yet, so full marks to the squad for hanging tough.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins (32-22-9) Can they find any measure of consistency? It seems like every time you look at the Pens, they’re either on a four-game winning streak or four-game losing run.
16. Florida Panthers (32-27-6) Can they beg, borrow and steal their way into the playoffs? It’s an uphill fight, but this team — which went all in last year — should be horrified by the prospect of missing.
17. Nashville Predators (31-23-7) Who turns heads during audition season? The Preds have been on a roll since being deadline sellers, and we know everything is up for debate in the organization, save the status of pillars Roman Josi and Juuse Saros.
18. Calgary Flames (29-23-13) Is there still time to salvage this thing? There’s basically one playoff spot not yet locked down in the West, and if Calgary can finally find some chemistry, there’s still hope for the Flames to squeak in. Which brings us to …
19. Winnipeg Jets (36-26-3) Where are the brakes? The Jets have basically been skidding since mid-January and are officially in danger of gagging up their playoff spot. It would be such a shame to waste this amazing season from Josh Morrissey and a strong Connor Hellebuyck showing.
20. Ottawa Senators (32-27-4) Whaddya got, Mads Sogaard? With the news Cam Talbot will be out basically the rest of March — and Anton Forsberg’s season already scuttled by knee injuries — it’s on the NHL’s February rookie of the month to try to keep it steady in the Sens crease.
21. Buffalo Sabres (32-27-4) Can they find some way to tighten up? The Sabres have given up too many goals this season, but nobody has allowed more per game since Feb. 1 than Buffalo (4.21).
22. Detroit Red Wings (29-26-9) Did GM Steve Yzerman steal this team’s soul by selling at the deadline? Seeing Filip Hronek and Tyler Bertuzzi leave had to be a tough, tough pill for the guys in the dressing room who still felt like they were in a playoff fight.
23. Washington Capitals (31-28-6) Can Rasmus Sandin keep it up? OK, so five points in two games is likely not a sustainable pace, but it will be interesting to see what kind of offensive clip Sandin can settle into in an enhanced role with his new club.
24. Vancouver Canucks (27-32-5) After everything that’s gone on, is there still a chance to leave this season with some positive vibes? New coach Rick Tocchet has this team playing a competitive brand of hockey and Thatcher Demko has stopped 90 of the past 95 shots he’s faced.
25. St. Louis Blues (27-31-5) How far can they fall? And, to be clear, we mean that in the positive sense. The way they’ve been going, it’s not inconceivable the Blues could wind up with the sixth-best odds to win the lottery. Could you imagine if this re-tool wound up putting, if not Connor Bedard, then Adam Fantilli or Leo Carlsson on the roster? Don’t forget, St. Louis holds two more first-rounders after its own in this draft.
26. Arizona Coyotes (22-32-10) Can Matias Maccelli wind up a Calder Trophy finalist? He’s got the second-best points-per-game (0.72) of any rookie who has played at least 45 games. The top two have got to be Matty Beniers (0.76 points per game) and Owen Power; is Maccelli No. 3 if he keeps this up and gets over 60 games played?
27. Montreal Canadiens (26-33-5) Can anyone play all 82 games? The only contenders left on the injury-ravaged Habs are Nick Suzuki and Christian Dvorak.
28. Anaheim Ducks (21-35-9) Is Mason McTavish already finding a higher gear? If Maccelli doesn’t wind up a Calder finalist, there’s a good chance McTavish will. The Ducks freshman has 10 points in his past 13 games as he starts to establish himself as the player we all expected him to be.
29. Philadelphia Flyers (24-29-11) Will the points start to come for Cam York? The 2019 first-rounder has shown he belongs in The Show; it would be great if he could hit the scoresheet a bit more to build confidence heading into next fall.
30. Chicago Blackhawks (22-37-5) Is Lukas Reichel the first wave of the new Hawks? The heralded 20-year-old German has six points in his past six games.
31. Columbus Blue Jackets (20-37-7) Will we get a David Jiricek sample? The sixth-overall pick from last summer — who did play two NHL games in October — has had a fantastic debut AHL season. With his Cleveland Monsters out of the playoff chase, will the Jackets get the big blueliner up for a little run with the big club before the year ends?
32. San Jose Sharks (19-34-12) Can they become the No. 1 contender for Connor Bedard? It’s in play. Cards on the table, I think San Jose is my choice for a Bedard landing spot based on the franchise being so stable and competitive over almost a 20-year span. They never got any Cup luck; maybe they deserve a Bedard bounce.