Jump to content

NHL Power Rankings: As ‘Sun Belt’ teams battle for No. 1, everyone else hits the beach

Recommended Posts


And then there were four.

Four very good teams. Four teams with a strong chance of winning it all. Four teams with elite players worth caring about. Four teams with deep lineups that are Stanley Cup caliber. Four teams that can score and defend.

As far as conference finalists go this is about as complete and competitive a group of four as we’ve seen in a while, a wide-open quartet that should make for two intriguing and entertaining series.

All four teams are Sun Belt teams? Who cares. That’s a good thing for this league and good for the growth of the game overall — especially when the four teams are this good.

This week is pretty straightforward: some words about the four remaining teams and some parting thoughts for the four teams that were just eliminated. The rest get photos from a local(ish) beach, because how dare these True Hockey Markets also have sunshine and sand?

1. Florida Panthers

Last Week: 2
Up 1-0 against Carolina
Sean rank: 1
Dom rank: 1

It took almost 140 minutes — nearly seven full periods — but the Panthers finally prevailed and who else but Matthew Tkachuk. And how else but in overtime on the road. Florida is now 7-1 on the road with four of those wins coming in overtime. The Panthers are really starting to feel like a team of destiny.

There was a time when it didn’t look like that would happen. It looked like all the Panthers would amount to was wasted potential. It looked like that for almost the entire season when the team just struggled to get its act together. Even in these playoffs it seemed like they would be one of the first teams out after falling 3-1 to the Bruins after four games. Florida is 8-1 since, finally living up to the hype.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround, but it’s not a surprising one. This is a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and added a borderline top-five player to that roster. This is a team that was still dominant when actually healthy, something that was few and far between this season. This is a team whose underlying numbers were still excellent even if their record didn’t match up.

Now — this is a team that’s three wins away from a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.

2. Dallas Stars

Last Week: 4
Tied 0-0 against Vegas
Sean rank: 2
Dom rank: 2

Talking about TV ratings is exhausting and largely pointless. Unless you’re a media reporter or an ESPN executive, it shouldn’t matter all that much to you. But while we’re here, we will say this: The Dallas Stars just played in the most-watched Western Conference playoff game, period, since 2016. You’ve got to go back to a BlackhawksBlues game that aired on NBC to find one that drew more eyeballs than the 2.75 million (on average) that watched Game 7 of Stars-Kraken. That’s a good thing.

It’s also in line with what Saad Yousuf says may be the franchise’s biggest moment since its 1999 Cup win; now, unlike the Stars’ run in 2020, people can actually attend games and public watch parties. Bars are packed. Games aren’t taking place midday on the USA Network. There’s tangible momentum, and that’s a good thing.

On the ice, one of the most interesting elements of the Western Conference final is the goalie matchup. You’d think the Stars have the edge, rolling Jake Oettinger out there against Adin Hill, and they probably do. Oettinger looked like himself in the Game 7 win over Seattle. But it’s worth noting that, in the series up to that point, he’d been terrible, posting an .865 save percentage and zero games with a positive GSAx for an ugly -8.25 overall. His talent is undeniable, but he’ll have to be better.

3. Vegas Golden Knights

Last Week: 5
Tied 0-0 against Dallas
Sean rank: 3
Dom rank: 3

Before Vegas played a single game of hockey, owner Bill Foley had a goal: In six years the Golden Knights would be Stanley Cup champions. They’re not there yet, but there aren’t many teams that have been put in a better position to get there since this team’s inception than Vegas. Some teams haven’t made the conference finals in decades — this is the fourth trip in six years for Vegas.

The final step is always the hardest though and Vegas is hoping this year’s trip to the conference finals ends better than the last two, both of which were losses. One of them was to the very team the Golden Knights are facing this year. Can Vegas get revenge?

That depends on the team’s quest for star power since and whether it’ll be enough. It won’t be easy — this Stars team is better than the Stars team the Golden Knights faced three years ago. Dallas has much more firepower and that should make this matchup closer. But this Vegas team is also different after the additions of Jack Eichel and Alex Pietrangelo.

If Vegas is going to win this one, those guys have to be the difference. So far so good on the Eichel front as he’s put up a Conn Smythe-worthy performance. Pietrangelo has been great too. But the guys across the aisle — Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen — have been even better, and that’s the challenge here. Vegas has the depth to win, but the Golden Knights have learned through plenty of playoff heartbreak that stars decide series. Revenge against the Stars will depend on the stars from Vegas shining.

4. Carolina Hurricanes

Last Week: 1
Down 1-0 against Florida
Sean rank: 4
Dom rank: 4

Entertaining as marathon games are, there’s also an element of dread in watching them. After all, someone is gonna lose. That’s how it works. The physical toll is one thing, but only one team has to contend with that along with the lack of a payoff. Ice baths hurt a little less after a win. So … good luck to the Hurricanes, is what we’re saying.

The other thing about Game 1, from Carolina’s perspective: It was the kind of loss that lots of folks (obnoxiously, relentlessly) assumed we’d see more of from them, particularly after Andrei Svechnikov’s injury. The Hurricanes had a strong process as always, totaling 7.22 total expected goals, but couldn’t close the deal. A lot of that was because of Sergei Bobrovsky and bad luck, but still — when you hear about a lack of pop at the top of the lineup, particularly on the power play, that’s what we’re talking about.

Flip side? It was a single goal, a single bounce and a single game … just a really long one. Having Rod Brind’Amour around at times like this seems like a good thing, and the Hurricanes haven’t lost consecutive games yet in the postseason.

5. Edmonton Oilers

Last Week: 3
Lost 4-2 against Vegas
Sean rank: 5
Dom rank: 5

When Daniel Nugent-Bowman sifted through the rubble after Edmonton’s elimination by the Golden Knights, he landed on two chief causes: Stuart Skinner’s goaltending and a vanishing act by the team’s top six in that series.

That sounds about right. Eight goals on 39 shots across two games isn’t good enough for Skinner. Offensively, only Connor McDavid produced anything of note in that span. It’s also a tough break, because those are the two elements that put Edmonton in a good spot in the first place. Their season would’ve been DOA had Skinner not emerged as a legitimate starting goalie. From a production standpoint, it was fair to rely heavily on McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane and Zach Hyman.

For a variety of reasons, though, that didn’t work out. It’s a rough bit of irony, too, given how up to the task the supporting cast seemed to be this season — they were good enough, in fact, to make certain people write crazy things.

6. Seattle Kraken

Last Week: 6
Lost 4-3 against Dallas
Sean rank: 6
Dom rank: 7

Eight months ago it would’ve been hard to picture the Seattle Kraken just one game away from a berth in the conference finals. Hell, it would’ve been difficult to picture them simply making the playoffs, but they managed to do that with ease. What’s more — they showed they weren’t just happy to be there, ousting the defending champions in a gutsy seven-game victory. By every stretch, this season was a huge success.

The question now is where do the Kraken go from here? How do they build on this season and go deeper?

It feels like the answer to that question is getting a Star Player with a capital S. Seattle went surprisingly far with its all-out depth approach like Vegas did in Year 1, but the hockey world runs through star players. Vince Dunn might be that already, Matty Beniers will be that one day if he isn’t already and Shane Wright has potential to get there too. But the Kraken need more.

That was apparent against Colorado whenever Nathan MacKinnon was on the ice and the effect was even larger against Dallas. Seattle earned only 40.5 percent of the expected goals at five-on-five, getting demolished in particular by the Stars top line. Roope Hintz had 75 percent of the expected goals in the series while outscoring Seattle 7-4.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

Last Week: 7
Lost 4-1 against Florida
Sean rank: 7
Dom rank: 6

There has been a lot of ink spilled already on what was another disappointing Leafs season. Toronto was crushed by the weight of its own expectations in what is the beginning of the end for the Leafs as we know themNow what?

Major change is likely coming — this team can’t possibly run it back again after seven straight seasons of failure. What that change will be is anyone’s guess, but it feels like the biggest one has to be the team’s mentality. Too often in this era the Leafs have entered a series thinking “how do we stop Player X or Player Y on the other team” or “how do we handle this team’s stylistic tendency.” That’s a reasonable worry in the team’s first few series when they were underdogs, but it feels like this team has kept up that underdog mentality ever since. Even as favorites, Toronto struggles to play to its identity and push its own agenda.

That’s especially apparent with the team’s star players where far too much emphasis is placed on play without the puck and playing it safe with it. The lack of dynamic punch is apparent and when the rest of the team is also built with defense in mind, goals become almost impossible to come by. It leads to a supposed offensive juggernaut scoring two or fewer goals in six straight games with their best scorers held off the scoresheet completely.

The Leafs are a good team and should continue to be a good team, but their playoff struggles are not an easy fix. Not when the problem comes from within.

8. New Jersey Devils

Last Week: 8
Lost 4-1 against Carolina
Sean rank: 8
Dom rank: 8

It’s tough to imagine any team having more deserved optimism after a five-game playoff loss. For one, it would’ve been easy for the Devils to turtle after the start of their series against the Hurricanes. Good season, boys. Doesn’t seem this one will work out, though. That’s certainly not what happened. The pushback was clear, even though it didn’t amount to much.

Beyond that, though, what’s not to like?  Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt are both RFAs, but history is always on the team’s side there. It’s tough to look at the roster and not find a player who, in one way or another, leveled up. Jack Hughes went into superstar mode. Nico Hischier showed off his Selke creds by shutting down Mika Zibanejad. Dawson Mercer, John Marino, Dougie Hamilton — all are core players and all became better versions of themselves during the 2022-23 season. There’s plenty to like.

All they need is for Akira Schmid to follow a similar path next season. Or Vitek Vanecek. Or … someone. Anyone.

9. Boston Bruins

Last Week: 9
Lost series with Florida 4-3
Sean rank: 9
Dom rank: 8

10. Colorado Avalanche

Last Week: 10
Lost series with Seattle 4-3
Sean rank: 8
Dom rank: 9

11. Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Week: 11
Lost series with Toronto 4-2
Sean rank: 11
Dom rank: 11

12. New York Rangers

Last Week: 12
Lost series with New Jersey 4-3
Sean rank: 13
Dom rank: 12

13. Los Angeles Kings

Last Week: 13
Lost series with Edmonton 4-2
Sean rank: 12
Dom rank: 13

Just walk to the west.

14. Minnesota Wild

Last Week: 14
Lost series with Dallas 4-2
Sean rank: 14
Dom rank: 14

Pick a lake, any lake.

15. New York Islanders

Last Week: 15
Lost series with Carolina 4-2
Sean rank: 15
Dom rank: 15

16. Winnipeg Jets

Last Week: 16
Lost series with Vegas 4-1
Sean rank: 16
Dom rank: 16

17. Buffalo Sabres

Last Week: 17
Record: 42-33-7
Sean rank: 17
Dom rank: 17

18. Ottawa Senators

Last Week: 18
Record: 39-35-8
Sean rank: 18
Dom rank: 18

19. Calgary Flames

Last Week: 19
Record: 38-27-17
Sean rank: 19
Dom rank: 19

20. Pittsburgh Penguins

Last Week: 20
Record: 40-31-11
Sean rank: 20
Dom rank: 20

Just drive to Deep Creek or something.

21. Vancouver Canucks

Last Week: 21
Record: 38-37-7
Sean rank: 21
Dom rank: 21

22. Detroit Red Wings

Last Week: 22
Record: 35-37-10
Sean rank: 22
Dom rank: 22

23. St. Louis Blues

Last Week: 23
Record: 37-38-7
Sean rank: 23
Dom rank: 23

24. Nashville Predators

Last Week: 24
Record: 42-32-8
Sean rank: 24
Dom rank: 24

25. Montreal Canadiens

Last Week: 25
Record: 31-45-6
Sean rank: 25
Dom rank: 25

26. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Week: 26
Record: 25-48-9 
Sean rank: 27
Dom rank: 26

People there seem to like Alum Creek.

27. Washington Capitals

Last Week: 27
Record: 35-37-10
Sean rank: 26
Dom rank: 29

Good luck with the Chesapeake Bay bridge.

28. Philadelphia Flyers

Last Week: 28
Record: 31-38-13
Sean rank: 28
Dom rank: 28

We’re not trying to wade into the “which Jersey Shore beach town is best” debate. Just pick one.

29. Arizona Coyotes

Last Week: 29
Record: 28-40-14
Sean rank: 30
Dom rank: 27

30. Anaheim Ducks

Last Week: 30
Record: 23-47-12 
Sean rank: 29
Dom rank: 30

31. San Jose Sharks

Last Week: 31
Record: 22-44-16
Sean rank: 31
Dom rank: 31

32. Chicago Blackhawks

Last Week: 32
Record: 26-49-7 
Sean rank: 32
Dom rank: 32

Walk to the east.


“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

7 hours ago, thinwhiteduke said:


Idiot kills threads with 100 feet scroll posts

Aren't you the whiny little bitch that cries about a paywall??

Go fuck yourself, crybaby.

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

24 minutes ago, thinwhiteduke said:

Typical narcissist. Simple minded, childish black and white thinking with no nuance.

Both are bad, you moron

Gosh, you make stupid people look smart. That's a real skill, idiot

“There he goes. One of God's own prototypes.

A high-powered mutant of some kind, never even considered for mass production.

Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...