NHL Power Rankings: The story of the second half for all 32 teams

The Hockey Central panel previews the likely Stanley Cup playoffs matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning and debate whether the Maple Leafs will be more ready this time around.

As anybody who’s taken an English class — or just lived through our golden age of TV, I suppose — can tell you, most dramas unfold over three acts.

In the NHL, the curtain comes down on half the league before the third act starts in the form of seven-game series.

So with just two weeks remaining in the regular season — yes, really — we thought we’d examine the last chunk of time shared by every squad and determine what the story of the second half has been for all 32 clubs.

Of course, a few teams still figure to experience the high-tension moments that make both storytelling and sports compelling before Game 82.

But that’s no impediment to identifying a theme that’s emerged in every city since about mid-January for this week’s power rankings.

1. Boston Bruins (57-12-5): The Bruins had an .829 points percentage after losing Game 41 to Seattle and have been a .750 squad in 34 games since then. Sure, it’s a slight dip, but we’re still talking about wall-to-wall excellence from this team.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (46-22-6): In late January, it looked like the story of the second half in Vegas might be a team that blasted out of the gates in October completely flushing that hot start after it went 16-16-4 over a 36-game sample. But Jack Eichel has lived up to his star centre reputation in the past 20 games or so and a lot of other Knights are pulling on the rope, too. This squad has overcome losing starting goalie Logan Thompson and captain Mark Stone to injuries to be one of the best teams in the league the past two months and give itself a great shot at home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.

3. New York Rangers (44-20-10): A team that’s shown itself to be limited offensively in the recent past went out and got Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane at the trade deadline. That’s the headline on Broadway.

4. Los Angeles Kings (43-21-10): On the first day of March, GM Rob Blake bit down and traded franchise icon and career King Jonathan Quick because he believed getting a better goalie in town in the form of Joonas Korpisalo would help his team. L.A. is 9-1-2 since then, sporting the third-best five-on-five save percentage in the league.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (47-17-9): Just before Carolina hit the halfway point of the season, summertime acquisition Max Pacioretty returned from surgery on his right Achilles and scored three goals in his first three games. Then, in a brutal twist, he tore the same Achilles and was gone for the year just as quickly as he’d returned. Now factor in sniper Andrei Svechnikov’s season-ending ACL injury just a couple weeks ago and it’s easy to feel sympathy for this tenacious Canes squad that just might not have enough pure scoring to get it done.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs (44-20-10): The Maple Leafs are a fairly flat 7-5-2 in March since GM Kyle Dubas pushed his stack in at the deadline, but the ongoing story of the second half may be Auston Matthews rediscovering his 60-goal form from a year ago at the best possible time.

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7. New Jersey Devils (46-20-8): This team finished 37 points out of the playoffs last year and could win the Metro this season. The story of the second half has simply been seeing this all come to fruition and getting excited for what’s next.

8. Minnesota Wild (44-22-9): The Wild lost three straight coming out of their one-week break in early February and were only in the playoffs at that point by virtue of holding a regulation-time wins tiebreaker over Calgary. Since then, the Wild have surged to the top of the Central standings, thanks in large part to the fact Filip Gustavsson has the second-best five-on-five save percentage in the league (.947, just behind Jeremy Swayman’s .948) since Jan. 1.

9. Colorado Avalanche (44-24-6): The surge was anticipated, but the defending champs still had to put it together. Though still not fully healthy, Colorado has the second-best points percentage in the league (.750) since Jan. 14.

10. Edmonton Oilers (43-23-9): As has been the case in recent seasons, the Oilers have shown they’re a second-half team. They were 21-17-3 through 41 games and are 22-6-6 since.

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11. Dallas Stars (40-20-14): Any notion that Jamie Benn’s comeback season would hit a second-half wall has gone out the window. The Stars captain has been even more productive in the back half of the season than he was in the first, leading the Stars with 34 points in 32 outings since Jan. 11. Dallas has also seen Miro Heiskanen completely arrive as an offensive stud D-man. Since that same Jan. 11 date, the only blue-liners with more points than the big Finn’s 31 are Quinn Hughes, Erik Karlsson, Dougie Hamilton and Vince Dunn.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning (43-26-6): The story of the second half has some of us on the outside reluctantly working up the courage to actually doubt this team and wonder if they’re ripe for a first-round exit after three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final.

13. New York Islanders (39-28-9): It would have been very easy for the Isles to slip out of a playoff spot with Mathew Barzal injured. Instead, the team has gone 11-4-2 since Barzal was hurt playing the Bruins on Feb. 18 and is all but assured a wild card berth.

14. Seattle Kraken (40-25-8): Hello, Vince Dunn. The D-man’s previous career high for points in a season was 35; he’s got 32 in 33 contests since Seattle passed the halfway point of the season.

15. Calgary Flames (34-26-15): Through it all, the story is the fact the Flames still have a chance to salvage a playoff spot this season. That and Tyler Toffoli’s fantastic play.

16. Winnipeg Jets (41-31-3): How far will the slide go? Winnipeg is clinging to a playoff spot and each loss brings them closer to a horrible outcome and hard, hard questions about the future of a club that has serious dudes eligible for free agency in 2024.

17. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-28-10): Tristan Jarry hasn’t been able to stay healthy, the goaltending hasn’t been good enough and while the Penguins are still in control of their own destiny, missing the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie year is an actual possibility.

18. Nashville Predators (37-28-8): David Poile was the Day 1 GM in Nashville, so the fact he’s stepping aside for Barry Trotz to run the show is huge. Kudos to the Preds for leaning into a seller’s role at the deadline while still managing to hang in the playoff race.

19. Florida Panthers (37-31-7): If the Panthers manage to squeeze into the playoffs, maybe we’ll view Paul Maurice losing his mind on Wednesday night as the turning point.

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20. Vancouver Canucks (34-34-6): How much carries over? Vancouver is 16-9-3 since Rick Tocchet took over and 10-2-1 in its past 13. Quinn Hughes has more points than any defenceman in the NHL since Jan. 10 (41 in 35 games!) and Elias Pettersson truly looks like the Swedish prince who was promised.

21. Buffalo Sabres (35-31-7): Where would this team be with some saves? Probably in a wild card spot or still within spitting distance of one. Buffalo has the second-worst five-on-five save percentage since Jan. 10 and is giving up nearly four goals-per-game (3.91) since then.

22. St. Louis Blues (34-34-6): St. Louis traded the MVP of its only Cup run in franchise history, Ryan O’Reilly, and Vladimir Tarasenko, who scored more goals in a Blues uniform than all but four guys. The story of the second half is turning the page.

23. Ottawa Senators (36-33-5): The Senators lost their first- and second-string goalies to injury in the second half. Still, the biggest news will likely be who buys the team in the next few weeks and what — if any — the immediate plans for potentially moving it downtown are.

24. Washington Capitals (34-32-9): It’s never easy to take a hard look in the mirror, but Washington did it, decided it wasn’t going anywhere this year and sold at the deadline despite being in and around the playoff hunt.

25. Detroit Red Wings (32-32-9): We’ve applauded other teams for being realistic about their chances and selling at the deadline, but it’s hard to believe GM Steve Yzerman’s decision to deal pending-UFA Tyler Bertuzzi and, more specifically, Filip Hronek for futures didn’t have a negative impact on a young Wings squad that has gone 4-8-0 since the deadline to fall completely out of the playoff hunt.

26. Philadelphia Flyers (29-32-12): “The Flyers don’t rebuild” we heard for years, until very recently when they fired GM Chuck Fletcher and more or less acknowledged it was time to tear it down.

27. Arizona Coyotes (27-35-13): There’s something here, right? Clayton Keller is tied for third in league scoring with 40 points since Feb. 1; Nick Schmaltz is a point-per-game player since then; Barrett Hayton is finally making good on his fifth-overall draft slot; Matias Maccelli is the points-per-game leader among rookies and defenceman Juuso Valimaki is playing at a 65-point pace in the past two months. Yeah, there’s something here.

28. Montreal Canadiens (30-39-6): Seventh-rounder Rafael Harvey-Pinard, he of 13 goals in 31 games, is your goals-per-game leader among freshmen at 0.42. Harvey-Pinard hadn’t played a game with Montreal until Jan. 17 this year and had all of four NHL contests on his resume coming into this season.

29. San Jose Sharks (20-39-15): The Sharks have become a real Connor Bedard contender by having the worst points percentage in the league (.348) since Jan. 10.

30. Anaheim Ducks (23-41-10): Could Cam Fowler actually stick around until this team is good again? The 31-year-old just established a career high with 43 points, and he’s just young enough to make you wonder if could still be there when the Ducks turn the corner.

31. Columbus Blue Jackets (23-43-7): Yeah, everyone is dreaming of winning the right to draft the next stud centre in Columbus, but what about the guy they have right now? Rookie Kent Johnson is figuring it out with nine points in his past 10 games.

32. Chicago Blackhawks (24-44-6): Farewell to two franchise icons; Patrick Kane was traded and, hopefully, Jonathan Toews will return for a game or two before the season concludes to wave goodbye.

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