NHL Power Rankings: Things we learned about each team this season

Colby Armstrong joins Evanka Osmak on Sportsnet Central to look ahead to the NHL playoffs and answers burning questions including what he thinks will be the most intriguing playoff race, who has the best shot to make a Stanley Cup run, and more.

We know who the eight playoff teams will be in the East. In the West, depending on your perspective, there are nine to 11 teams still in the race. One bad run can mean the end of your season now if you’re on the bubble, or the loss of home-ice advantage if you’re further in.

But, for the most part, we’ve seen everyone’s peaks and valleys this season — the best and worst of what each of the 32 franchises can be. Over 82 games, the cream rises, and the worst sag. There is no hiding from what your record says about you at the end of the season.

And so, with a little over two weeks to go in the regular season, these power rankings are dedicated to something we learned about each team this season. Did they meet expectations or fall short? Was there a breakout star or an underwhelming performer, and what would that mean for plans going forward?

As always, teams are ordered by how good we see them, with some weight towards recent play.

1. Colorado Avalanche

Though the Avs have been eliminated in the second playoff round three years in a row, we knew they were going to be a force this season. We knew they’d add at the deadline, we knew they’d be able to score and defend, and entertain. But, I think we’ve learned this season that Colorado is the team to beat in 2022. Consider that the one team that can still catch them for the Presidents’ Trophy — Florida — hasn’t won any playoff round since 1996 and plays from behind more often than most would feel comfortable with. Behind Florida are the Hurricanes, eight points back of Colorado with one more game played. Then it’s the Rangers with their troubling underlying numbers, and Maple Leafs, who have Round 1 failures of their own overhead. In the West, Colorado’s top challenger has been Calgary, 13 points behind and all the way back from missing the playoffs completely last season. Of all these top teams, the Avs have the best recent track record and given they’ve been on an upward trend for a few years now, they are a great pick to finally break through and reach their potential.

2. Florida Panthers

The Panthers rose up as one of the most exciting teams in the league this season. If offence is what you want, this is the team for you. Averaging 4.14 goals per game right now, Florida has a chance to be the first team since the 1995-96 Penguins to average more than four goals of offence over a full season. Scoring in the NHL is up in 2021-22 to levels not seen in 26 years, and it’s been rising as the season has gone along. What makes the Panthers an entertaining watch isn’t just the amount of goals they score either, but how they get them. Florida has a .650 winning percentage in games they trail after the first period, and a .440 winning percentage in games they trail after two periods — both of those are best marks in recorded league history. They’re never out of it. Next up: we’re about to learn whether or not being that loose defensively can translate to playoff success.

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3. Carolina Hurricanes

The biggest missing piece for this team in recent seasons was a difference-making goalie, so when they finally got a solid performance in net from 25-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic last season and then decided to move away from him anyway, the front office took a lot of flak. Well, we learned they probably made the right call. Instead of getting involved in RFA extension talks or dealing with arbitration for Nedeljkovic, they traded him to Detroit for peanuts and then turned around and signed Frederik Andersen off the market for $4.5 million. There’s a $1.5 million difference in how the two will be paid this year and next, but a wide gulf between their on-ice performances. While Andersen is top six in goals saved above average, Nedeljkovic ranks 67th out of 70 qualifying goalies.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

If this isn’t the Leafs team to win its first playoff round since 2004, I’m not sure this core will ever do it. This is the best blue line the team has had under Kyle Dubas and Jack Campbell, while not playing as well as he did in the opening months, should be good enough to not lose them games. When you have as much talent as the Leafs do, eventually you’ll break through with a win (think San Jose, Washington as the disappointing teams of years past). We won’t truly learn everything about this team until the playoffs, but their result in the first round especially will inform us on where they really stand.

5. Calgary Flames

We’re definitely learning that Darryl Sutter, an old-school player and coach, still has what it takes to get the most out of a team from behind the bench. While he gained something of a reputation as a defensive, slow-them-down coach from his time winning a couple Cups with the Kings (and, frankly, his personality), the fact is that Sutter embraces transitional play and that lends itself to quickness and generating offence, too. The Flames are sixth in goals per game this season. Sutter may win the Jack Adams for the first time and it would be well-deserved. The game has changed, but Sutter has not been left behind.

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6. New York Rangers

We learned that Igor Shesterkin is as advertised. Maybe even better than advertised. The 26-year-old was a fourth-round pick of New York’s in 2014 and as he earned accolades and posted outstanding numbers in Russia in the following years, it became clear he had the potential to be something special. As we know, goalie growth isn’t always a given (Carter Hart has struggled to be a difference-maker within Philadelphia’s tire fire; Mackenzie Blackwood has fallen off a cliff) so it wasn’t a guarantee that Shesterkin would hit, let alone post such historic numbers and be in position to run away with the Vezina in his first full, 82-game NHL season. The .934 save percentage he currently has is one of the 10 best ever in NHL history and his 39.26 Goals Saved Above Average is more than 10 better than No. 2 in the league, Darcy Kuemper.

7. St. Louis Blues

A goaltending controversy can pop up out of almost nowhere, as the Blues have taught us this season. Jordan Binnington himself came out of the left field in 2019 to help turn St. Louis’ season around and lead them all the way to a Stanley Cup. But now, in the first of a six-year contract paying him $6 million, Binnington lost control of his crease due to a combination of his poor play, and excellence from Ville Husso. The controversy itself isn’t in who will start Game 1 — barring injury Husso appears in the clear for that task now. The controversy is more about how quickly the Blues could turn away from Husso amid post-season turbulence, and how to handle the situation from here. Binnington has that term on his deal, whereas Husso could walk as a UFA.

8. Minnesota Wild

Some teams get put into a corner, caught up or locked into historical expectations. The Flyers have to be big, mean and physical; the Rangers have to buy any talent they can; the Maple Leafs have to disappoint in the playoffs (I kid, I kid…). The Wild were one of those teams, too, thought of as boring or defensive, and not a team you’d schedule to watch unless you’re a fan. Even though Jacques Lemaire hasn’t coached the Wild since 2009, his reputation has lingered. We got a taste of how things could be different last season with Kirill Kaprizov winning the Calder and running away with the team scoring lead. This season has been even better with Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Fiala, Ryan Hartman and Joel Eriksson Ek all having career-best seasons on offence, and then Matthew Boldy piling up points upon his late arrival. The Wild are fourth in the league by offence and seventh by points percentage — they are fun to watch finally.

9. Boston Bruins

While on one hand we’ve learned that the window isn’t quite shut yet on the Bruins — still a veteran team that’s tough on defence — it’s hard to not get the sense that the end may be drawing near. Tuukka Rask tried to make his return, but that lasted all of four games before he retired again. Patrice Bergeron is having another monster season that could lead to a Selke, but he’s a year-by-year player now — the moment he retires (or maybe, doubtfully, leaves) — Boston will suddenly be challenged at the centre position after also losing David Krejci after last season. It’s not that the Bruins would necessarily bottom out without Bergeron, but that would be a big hit. Brad Marchand is signed another three seasons, but he’ll be 34 in May so his performance will decline at some point you’d think. It’s very possible we’re seeing the final stages of Boston’s run as a true contender with this core.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning

The regular season isn’t going to be what measures the Lightning, but still, after back-to-back championships and with a fourth-place finish in the division possible (a wild card spot) there is some question if this Tampa team might just be out of gas after so much playoff hockey in such unusual circumstances two years in a row. Unlike in the days of dynasties, these Lightning aren’t head and shoulders better than many teams in the age of parity. But…while we knew Andrei Vasilevskiy was the best goalie in the world right now, this season is really driving home that he’s their most important player and, perhaps, the scariest player in the league. For every thought that the Lightning are beatable this time, there’s a “ya but Vasilevskiy could just carry them through” background to it. All the contending teams in the league have great first lines, or great D pairs. None have a goalie as established or proven as Vasilevskiy. He’s the boogeyman.

11. Edmonton Oilers

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Sometimes you just need to be patient with a skilled, but struggling team. The Oilers hit a low point in December-January when they lost seven in a row, got just two points out of it, and allowed 33 goals against. Panic over the goalies, team defence and depth followed and on Jan. 22, after a 6-0 loss at home to Florida, the Oilers were sixth in the Pacific Division. Since then, Mike Smith has managed to come back into a tandem with Mikko Koskinen to settle things for the time being. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have torn up the league and Evander Kane was added and contributed 29 points in 35 games. The Oilers have the NHL’s fourth-best points percentage since that bad run ended, which is much closer to what they were the two seasons prior. This Oilers team has its trouble spots for sure, but given their recent regular season track record and the undeniable talent on the team, we should have known they were never as bad as their record indicated over those few weeks of struggle.

12. Washington Capitals

It’s going to be possible for Alex Ovechkin to break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record as early as 2024, but we should all have an eye on 2025. Four goals away from his ninth 50-goal season (which would tie him with Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most ever), if Ovechkin finishes right on that benchmark he’d start next season 114 away from tying the record. If the rise in goals we’re seeing this season is the start of something sustainable, perhaps it’s possible for a healthy Ovechkin to post another couple 50-plus, and maybe even get to 60 again. It would take a couple of great seasons to do it in two years, but Ovechkin is still going strong. More likely, it would seem early 2024-25 is our target area for history to be made.

13. Nashville Predators

Last year the Predators were tracking towards sell mode at the deadline and then Juuse Saros came in and pretty much single-handedly dragged the group back into the playoffs. He continues to be a huge reason why this year’s team is in the race again and with an inside track to a wild card berth — Saros should be a Vezina finalist. On top of that, though, this year’s Predators team has been buoyed by some surprising and out-of-nowhere contributions. At 30 years old, Matt Duchene has 38 goals and 75 points, both career bests when it was looking like he’d never return value on his $8 million AAV again. Similarly, Ryan Johansen (also making $8 million) is having one of his better seasons at 29, and it’s the first time since 2014-15 he’s scored 20 goals. Both of those players were invested in as important pieces of this team, but had not delivered in quite some time. That they are now again contributing has been no small thing to the Predators — and both performances were completely unpredictable.

14. Dallas Stars

Jason Robertson exploded into the NHL last season with 45 points in 51 games and getting a Calder nod. If you didn’t think he was a league star after that, this season has definitely shown him to be a special talent. For a team that has so struggled to score — and made it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final with a 26th-ranked offence — having Robertson (second-round pick in 2017) emerge as such a dangerous producer was such an important development. He’s tied for 16th in the league in goals and has 68 points in 65 games. With Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski, Robertson helps make up one of the best lines in the NHL this season and the only one producing regular offence in Dallas. Without them, the Stars — who have the 20th ranked offence anyway — wouldn’t be close to the playoff race.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins

While Auston Matthews is breaking Leafs records, Leon Draisaitl puts up another 50-goal, 50-assist season, Connor McDavid rides toward another Art Ross and others such as Jonathan Huberdeau, Kirill Kaprizov, Johnny Gaudreau and Mitch Marner pull headlines for their star contributions, there is Sidney Crosby, quietly putting together another bit of greatness. His 1.24 points per game is 15th-best in the league and when he’s on the ice, the Penguins score over 55 per cent of goals at 5-on-5. The Penguins are a roughly .500 team in the 13 games he’s missed, and he’s helped carry them through a November and December without Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. He hit the career 1,400-point milestone this week and while the 34-year-old won’t likely earn enough MVP votes to finish in the top three, we’re being reminded all over again about how he can still post a 100-point pace and lead a good team into the playoffs.

16. Vancouver Canucks

You can’t be quick to re-tool things. Under new management the Canucks are bound to make some changes and somehow improving that blue line will be one of the primary concerns. Surely someone of consequence will have to be dealt — Brock Boeser, Conor Garland and J.T. Miller were the most talked about names at the deadline — to bring back a return that will actually have an impact. And, some corners felt it better to move on that change quicker, given the mathematical near-inevitability of missing the playoffs. But this is a critical time for the Canucks, and trading for the sake of change is not reason enough. These trades need to be wins.

17. Vegas Golden Knights

Any trade is possible. No, really. When Jack Eichel trade rumours kicked up last summer we talked about all kinds of possibilities where he could go: Calgary, Minnesota, Los Angeles, Anaheim…the list went on. And then there was Vegas, sort of helicoptering over all the speculation as “the team that is always in on superstar players” and also “the team with absolutely no cap space left.” When the regular season started again, it made it even harder to see how Vegas could make it happen, and yet, we all expected it to happen deep down, didn’t we? But injuries hit the Golden Knights hard all season and LTIR made such an acquisition possible. What it means for next year’s Golden Knights roster is a conversation for another day. But if you’re a motivated enough buyer, Vegas proved there are ways to get things done around the cap.

18. Los Angeles Kings

Whether or not the Kings hang on to make a playoff spot, we’ve learned that they’re ahead of schedule here. Having Jonathan Quick bounce back in net helped some — especially with Cal Petersen struggling more than he had — but the timely coming together of veterans like Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, with the long-time leaders like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, and new faces Quinton Byfield and Sean Durzi, lifted the Kings into the race again.

19. New York Islanders

This may actually be the one team we didn’t learn anything about this season. Do we really think the Islanders are properly evaluated as a team that will miss the playoffs by nearly 20 points? They didn’t play their first home game until their new arena opened seven weeks into the season, and they battled a COVID outbreak for a few weeks — first having to play without enough players sidelined, and then finally being shut down for a week. That was all within the first two months of the season. Ilya Sorokin is second in the league by save percentage, fourth by GAA; Noah Dobson has broken through; Adam Pelech was getting some Team Canada consideration. Since Jan. 1, the Islanders have a better points percentage than the eighth-seeded Capitals. There will be some level of off-season changeover and reaction from the front office to missing the playoffs for sure, but this Isles season needs to be viewed in context and with the knowledge they faced some unique challenges others didn’t that contributed to a very slow start.

20. Winnipeg Jets

Last season, the Jets finished third in the North and then swept their way through the Edmonton Oilers. At that point, they looked like Canada’s best team. But, in Game 1 against the Canadiens, the Jets lost and Mark Scheifele lost it — his controversial end-of-game charge against Jake Evans led to a four-game suspension. That was the end of his season as the Jets themselves were swept aside by Montreal. This season has shown that Scheifele hit was a turning point for the franchise. They haven’t been the same since. Inconsistency has plagued their season. Head coach Paul Maurice shockingly stepped aside from the position in December and they’re 20th in the league by points percentage since. Scheifele’s two-way commitment has been questioned, the team defence has crumbled, and Connor Hellebuyck hasn’t been able to overcome that. Blake Wheeler had some questions about age-related decline before a scoring spree — but he’ll be 36 in August. The trade deadline approach was tepid and neither took the side of buyer or seller. This feels like it’s going to be an important off-season for Cheveldayoff and Co., to figure out what needs to be done to return this team to where it was.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets

We’re learning there is a lot to figure out in net and, in less of a surprise, on the blue line defensively, too. These Blue Jackets have allowed 272 goals against this season, which is just shy of the team record 276 — and there have been some bad Blue Jackets teams along the way. Columbus allows the most shots against per game, fourth-most scoring chances against per game, and the third-most goals against per game. Their blue line was re-tooled last off-season and skewed a bit younger and less experienced, so that was always going to be a challenge. But in net, Joonas Korpisalo has struggled even more than some expected and Elvis Merzlikins, in his first shot at being a heavy-workload No. 1, has struggled with consistency. He has a career-worst (over three years) .904 save percentage, and ranks 50th out of 70 goalies in goals saved above average. He’ll start a brand new five-year contract next season and might be just fine as the team develops — his first two NHL seasons were very strong. But the position is at least a bit more of a question mark now than before, and Columbus may have to find a veteran backup in the summer.

22. Buffalo Sabres

Dare we say we’re learning that this team is finally taking some meaningful steps forward? Yes, it’s late in the season and there isn’t really much on the line for the team — that takes some pressure off. The March 10 game against Vegas might be a turning point, though, when Sabres fans were able to air their grievances with Jack Eichel for the first time since The Trade. Buffalo won that game 3-1 and have a .618 points percentage since — 14th in the league. It would be a lot to predict playoffs next season, but when you see Tage Thompson roar at a point per game pace for a while, Jeff Skinner find a goal-scoring touch again, catch a glimpse of an improving Rasmus Dahlin and the arrival of another No. 1 pick in Owen Power for the beginnings of what could be one heck of a defence core, it’s hard not to start getting (cautiously) excited again.

23. Anaheim Ducks

There are a lot of fun teams to watch around the NHL, from Minnesota to Florida, Colorado to Calgary. And though the Ducks lost a lot of games in the second half here and fell way off the playoff race they were once in, they can strike with an eye-popping highlight at any moment. As this team matures and fills out around the young stars who are already contributing, the Ducks will turn into one of those exciting and competitive teams in no time.

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24. Ottawa Senators

The Senators are well out of it again, a bottom feeder in the East, but there should be some fortifying confidence coming out of the season that things are generally on track with the on-ice rebuild. Drake Batherson, signed through 2026-27 for less than $5 million, was having a wild breakout season interrupted by Aaron Dell’s foolish play and he may wind up being one of the NHL’s top values in coming seasons. Josh Norris has followed an excellent rookie season in the one-off North Division with a 30-goal campaign. If Brady Tkachuk can score a few more here, the Sens could have a couple under-23 players hit that mark. There’s Thomas Chabot, Tim Stutzle stepping up, and Jake Sanderson still to arrive. Anton Forsberg has been a nice surprise in net. Playoffs next season will be a challenge still, but you can see it starting to come together now and we’re learning the Sens may be OK in time.

25. San Jose Sharks

This will be the third year in a row that the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs, but they don’t look like a team that’s rebuilding and would be OK with that result. They already have a number of expensive veterans signed for long term and so, when Tomas Hertl was a pending UFA this season, it seemed likely they’d explore trading him for futures. It would save salary, add futures and generally start moving the team in a new direction. But then we learned that’s just not how this team will operate. The Sharks signed Hertl instead, locking him in for another eight years and $8.137 million in salary, which will expire when Hertl is 36.

26. Detroit Red Wings

Long ago we all learned to never underestimate Steve Yzerman, or doubt his and his team’s player evaluation. The rebuild is not complete and it’s still a long climb from their current standings placement, but the pieces are starting to come into place. This season we’re seeing Moritz Seider announce himself as one of the top Calder Trophy candidates, and maybe even the favourite for the award. Three years ago, he was the sixth overall pick in the draft and the second defenceman taken, which was regarded as something of a reach at the time and had some wondering why Yzerman didn’t trade down to make the pick. In Sam Cosentino’s last draft rankings before that day, Seider came in 24th and in his mock draft, Seider went to the Habs at 15th. But already Seider plays with the confidence and physical game of a veteran and while the Wings passed on the likes of Dylan Cozens, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, Matthew Boldy and Vasily Podkolzin in 2019, we’re learning that Yzerman had the jump on us.

27. New Jersey Devils

Don’t. Call. Elite. Prospects. Busts. Too. Early. Jack Hughes had 21 points in 61 games as a rookie, with just seven goals, and wasn’t a Calder Trophy finalist. With some of the recent explosive rookie seasons we had seen from other top picks, that led to some level of panic, or demanded some hot takeaway that maybe he was too small…or something. But give up on an elite 18-year-old still growing into his frame at your own risk. Hughes showed signs of development last season and although the 31 points he posted in 56 games didn’t jump off the page, his underlying numbers indicated a breakout in 2021-22 was very possible. He answered. With 56 points in 49 games and, notably, a huge uptick in goals to 26, Hughes finally broke out and started to deliver on his promise as a No. 1 overall pick. Next season should be even better and, if healthy, 100 points cannot be ruled out.

28. Seattle Kraken

The Kraken are going to finish pretty much the opposite way the Golden Knights did in their inaugural season: One was a Stanley Cup finalist, the other may wind up as the worst team in the league. Unlike Vegas, the Kraken are stockpiling draft picks they can use on the floor or in trade, and keeping cap space flexible. For the flak they took about their expansion draft approach, perhaps their longer view will wind up paying off. But Seattle didn’t need to be this bad right away. Season long, they have the league’s sixth-best expected goals against rate, and fifth-best scoring chances against rate at 5-on-5. And their team save percentage? A .902, second-worst in the league. One of the salaries they did commit to was Philipp Grubauer’s $5.9 million through 2026-27 and he’s going to wind up with the worst season of his career, with the 70th-ranked (out of 70) Goals Saved Above Average in the NHL. Even league average netminding probably saves this team nearly 50 goals against on the season and would completely change their outlook. We’ve learned here all over again the power and influence of the goaltending position.

29. Chicago Blackhawks

Pssst: The rebuild hasn’t even started yet. We’re learning that rougher roads are ahead. When Patrick Kane’s name popped up in trade rumours around the deadline and Jonathan Toews described the outlook there as “pretty discouraging” it strikes you that some pretty monumental changes could still be coming here in the next year (both of those players have just one more year left on their deals). Former GM Stan Bowman tried to accelerate things with the Seth Jones trade, but the Blackhawks took a step back this season and it’ll be a long road back.

30. Philadelphia Flyers

Last season wasn’t close to good enough for the Flyers, sixth in the East and 13 points out of the playoffs. So GM Chuck Fletcher took to the trade market to try and change some of that over. The answer wasn’t to blow it up to a rebuild because the year before, in the 2020 bubble, Philadelphia was one win away from Round 3. However, they’re far worse this season, last in the Metro, and so we learned that the Flyers are fundamentally broken and in need of something more “in case of emergency, pull cord.”

31. Montreal Canadiens

Go all-in when you can, because you never know what’s around the next corner — that’s what these Habs have taught us. From Stanley Cup Final to a finalist for the No. 1 overall draft pick in one season, Montreal took a heck of a turn in 2021-22 and it wasn’t because they lost a ton of the roster to free agency (though they did lose some pieces there). Carey Price, their MVP, was injured and hasn’t played yet this season. Shea Weber, their most important blueliner, fought through injuries himself last season to such a degree that it’s doubtful he’ll continue his career now. Former GM Marc Bergevin thought he had a team that could win, pushed in some chips, took some risk, and it largely paid off — though not in a championship. It was a memorable ride in ideal circumstances. If you feel you have the pieces that will translate to playoff success, throw caution to the wind and go for it.

32. Arizona Coyotes

In the next three drafts the Coyotes hold 10 (2022), 10 (2023), and 12 (2024) picks and 13 of those will come in the first two rounds. They won’t be trying to win for a while it seems, but we also learned that off the ice there are some potentially major complications. The team is planning to move into Arizona State’s arena, which will seat a maximum capacity of 5,000 and potentially less than that for NHL action. But that hinges on a new arena deal coming on the horizon in Tempe, and the jury is still out on that one. So, as painful as the on-ice outlook is for the Coyotes right now, we learned this season that even more off-ice drama is developing.

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