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NHL Power Rankings: The Panthers are not going away

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Let’s hop in our time machine and go back one month when the Florida Panthers were just starting to string together a couple of wins.

That little surge, combined with the fact that they still had a ton of games in hand on every team in the Eastern Conference, sparked a bit of a conversation that maybe they could still make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference.

So I looked into a bit and concluded that, while not totally out of it, it may have been a case of too little, too late (then I went and doubled down on it a few days later).

It seems I may have underestimated their chances.

All the Panthers have done since then is go 9-2-0, win six in a row, and climb to within a single point of a Wild Card spot entering play on Monday.

Let’s take a look at that race now, and notice not only the games played column, but also the fact the Panthers have more regulation/overtime wins than every team they are competing with, which would be very important for potential tiebreaker situations.

So maybe I was wrong.

This doesn’t mean they are going to make the playoffs (again, games in hand are not necessarily wins in hand) and they still have to maintain at least a similar pace the rest of the way (and probably get some help), but I was definitely wrong to underestimate their chances because they are still very much in it.

Their hot streak helps them make a big leap in the Power Rankings this week.

We also have a new team in the top spot as well as a new team in the basement.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Nashville Predators — They have the best points percentage in the NHL, they enter the week having won eight games in a row, they just added Ryan Hartman and Mike Fisher to a team that was already loaded. Find a better team in the NHL right now. You can not.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning — They didn’t get Erik Karlsson, but Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller are two pretty big additions to a team that is already as good as it gets on paper (and on the ice). Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are crushing everybody right now.

3. Boston Bruins — That 8-4 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was pretty impressive. Even more impressive: They did it without Patrice Bergeron.

4. Winnipeg Jets — One of the best offensive teams in the league managed to get a little more powerful after adding Paul Stastny without giving up anything off of its roster.

5. Vegas Golden Knights — They hit a little bit of a rough patch recently and lost their hold on the top spot in the Western Conference, but they are still running away with the Pacific Division crown.

The rest of the contenders

6. Toronto Maple Leafs — They are 13-3-2 in their past 18 games and are currently without their best player, Auston Matthews. Scary deep offense and a fun team to watch. As long as Frederik Andersen keeps doing what he is doing (maybe rest him a bit?) they will be a tough team to knock out.

7. Philadelphia Flyers — How will the goaltending hold up is a question that always gets asked regarding the Philadelphia Flyers. It is still true this season. Elite skill players up front and a lot of good young talent on this roster. This team has been on a roll for the better part of the past three months.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins — Without a healthy Matt Murray in net they are in trouble. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith are not going to get them through a playoff series the way Marc-Andre Fleury did in relief a year ago.

9. Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin is closing in on 600 career goals, another 50-goal season, another goal-scoring crown. He very well could be the greatest goal scorer of all time. Tell me why I am wrong.

10. Minnesota Wild — I think, just like the Capitals just ahead of them, they are probably a little worse than their record might indicate, but you can not change the results that already happened. And hey, Eric Staal is incredible again.

All of these teams seem the same

11. Florida Panthers — Aleksander Barkov is one of the best two-way players in hockey.

12. San Jose Sharks — It is a little surprising they are as high up in the standings as they are. Neither goaltender has been great (nor have they been bad; they have  just been pretty good), their top players are not having great seasons offensively, and Joe Thornton has already missed more than a quarter of the season. Yet here they are, second place in the Pacific Division, on their way to the playoffs (probably).

13. Dallas Stars — John Klingberg should be getting more consideration for the Norris Trophy. He is having a stellar season for the suddenly defensive Stars.

14. New Jersey Devils — It is the Taylor Hall show in New Jersey. He is, quite literally, carrying the team to a playoff spot. They should send the Edmonton Oilers a big thank you card.

15. Anaheim Ducks — The two-headed monster of John Gibson and Ryan Miller has been nothing short of sensational in net for the Ducks this season. They have matching .925 save percentages and played a big role in keeping the team afloat while they dealt with injury after injury earlier this season.

16. Los Angeles Kings — Sometimes they look like a force. Sometimes they look boring and dull. This is what they are. A mediocre, middle of the pack team that has a good system in place but just lacks talent beyond its top four or five players.

17. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon is having one of the best offensive seasons of the past 10 years. Even though he has been around for a while it is important to keep in mind he is still only 22 years old.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets — Overall they have been a disappointment this season. One player that has not been a disappointment, however, is Artemi Panarin. Electrifying every time he has the puck.

19. Calgary Flames — Since Mike Smith went out of the lineup they are just 3-6-1 and falling back in the playoff race.

20. Carolina Hurricanes — With only two wins in their past nine games they are hanging on by a thread in the playoff race.

21. St. Louis Blues — The Blues are falling apart. They are losing games, they traded one of their top players at the deadline, they lost two more players to injury on Monday.

Lottery time

22. New York Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist won back-to-back games where he had to make 50 saves. This is the 2017-18 New York Rangers in a nutshell.

23. Detroit Red Wings — Sometimes I look at their team page on CapFriendly and wonder how in the world they will get better in the coming seasons.

24. Chicago Blackhawks — They have only won four of their past 16 games. The only reason I do not have them lower is because so many teams below them have been even worse.

25. Arizona Coyotes — Hey, give them some credit, they have gone on a bit of a roll here recently with an 8-2-1 mark in their past 11 games. Young team gaining some confidence? Just a blip on the radar at the end of the season that doesn’t really mean anything? That is all still yet to be determined, but they definitely have played better recently.

26. Vancouver Canucks — Brock Boeser will not win the rookie of the year (Mathew Barzal has that locked up, let’s be honest) but he is still the one thing on the Canucks worth watching right now.

27. Buffalo Sabres — They might actually be the worst team in the NHL, but they have won managed to win three of their past five games, including games against the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. So points for that.

28. Ottawa Senators — The good news is Senators fans get a few more weeks to watch Erik Karlsson before he gets traded this summer. So at least they have that going for them.

29. Montreal Canadiens — They have three wins in their past 11 games. Two of them came against an Islanders team that is circling the drain. The other came against a Rangers team that was in the process of trading most of its roster.

30. Edmonton Oilers — Milan Lucic has one point — an assist — in his past 17 games. That is an ugly, ugly, ugly contract.

31. New York Islanders — Are they actually *the worst* team in the NHL?

No, they are not. But my goodness are they tough to watch right now and deserve to be in the basement this week. Stick with me here for a second: They have lost six in a row. They have only won four of their past 16 games. They have given up 50 shots in a game four times during that stretch (only one other team in the NHL has given up more than 50 shots in a game more than twice all season) and Doug Weight seems to be, I don’t know, totally out to lunch behind the bench.

After Saturday’s loss in Pittsburgh he called out rookie Mathew Barzal by name for staying on the ice too long during a power play in overtime (even though he had called a timeout just before that power play started, presumably to give his top players a rest so they could be on the ice for that power play). When asked about another 50-shot debacle he wrote it off as being no big deal because of where the shots were coming from and referenced a 5 p.m. ET start time after playing at 7 the night before and called it a “good effort by the guys.” The reality is had it not been for rookie goalie Christopher Gibson, making his first start of the season, standing on his head for most of the game they would have been obliterated on the scoreboard. The only two goals the Islanders scored that day were because the other team’s goalie literally fell on his butt while a weak shot was sliding toward the net and then later because an opposing defender accidentally kicked the puck in his own net.

It was not a good effort.

Plus, it just makes me mad they have wasted such great offensive seasons from John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle.

Worst team overall? No. A deserving spot in the basement this week for the way the past few weeks — and the season as a whole — have gone? Yes.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Trade Deadline: Winners and losers

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We are trying something a little different with this week’s version of the PHT Power Rankings.

Instead of ranking each team on its current play or spot in the standings, we are looking at their performance in the days and weeks leading up to the NHL trade deadline.

Consider this your winners and losers post because, well, rushing to judgements on trades is one of the most entertaining aspect of trades.

Again, I can not stress enough these power rankings are not a reflection of play on the ice or where they stand based on their performance this season. This is strictly ranking teams based on their roster moves leading up to the NHL trade deadline. 

To the rankings!

The winners

 1. Tampa Bay Lightning — The transformation into the New York Rangers is nearly complete after swinging another massive trade with the blue shirts. They added to an already loaded team by getting Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller without having to give up Mikhail Sergachev or Brayden Point. Vladislav Namestnikov is a good player, but what is the gap between him and Miller? Miller has also not spent most of the season riding shotgun next to Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

2. Winnipeg Jets — Hoo boy. An already loaded offense that is among the best in the league picks up Paul Stastny. They went years without doing anything of significance in terms of roster transactions them came out of nowhere on trade deadline day to say “yeah, we think this is our year.” Good move.

3. New Jersey Devils — This was a vintage Ray Shero trade deadline performance, swapping some draft picks and a mid-tier prospect for a couple of rentals. But they are good rentals! By adding Michael Grabner they add another speedy winger to a team that already has Taylor Hall and Miles Wood, and Patrick Maroon is scoring at a 25-goal pace again.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets — Thomas Vanek does one thing well at this point in his career: He can produce on the power play. The Blue Jackets have an awful power play. Ian Cole and Mark Letestu (also a pretty good power play option) are also nice additions for relatively little cost.

5. San Jose Sharks — I don’t think I would want Evander Kane on my team (too many headaches and problems and questions off the ice and he’s only okay but not great on it is a bad combination) but he was one of the top rentals available and they did not have to give up a lot to get him. So I guess that makes them a winner.

You paid a lot, but it might be worth it

6. Pittsburgh Penguins — Ian Cole will leave a bit of a hole on defense (especially when that hole is being filled by Matt Hunwick), and Filip Gustavsson is a really good goalie prospect, and they trade first-round picks like they are burning a hole in their pocket, but with Derick Brassard now in the mix after the three-team trade they might have an even better quartet of centers than they did the past two seasons.

7. Nashville Predators — They paid a steep price to get Ryan Hartman, but he is a pretty good player, he is still young, he is still under team control for a while, and even though he will be due for a raise after this season as a restricted free agent the Predators absolutely have the salary cap space to afford him. A really good depth player for a Stanley Cup contender, which the Predators will be for the foreseeable future.

8. Vegas Golden Knights — Their inclusion in the Brassard trade with the Penguins and Ottawa Senators was a little weird, but I admire their apparent strong push to land Erik Karlsson. The big question is should a first-year team that still needs to build an organization from the ground up trade so many draft picks for Tomas Tatar? It is a legitimate question, but Tatar adds another scoring option to a team that already has a deep, well-rounded group of forwards and the best record in the league (based on points percentage). I will allow it.

9. Boston Bruins — Given the price of rentals they paid a pretty steep one for Rick Nash, but he’s still a really good two-way player that can help in all three phases of the game. I am not sure what Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels will do for them, but Nash is a good pickup for a team that has a legitimate shot to win it all.

The Sellers that did well

10. Chicago Blackhawks — Hartman could have been someone that was around for a while, but if his value is a first-round draft pick and a decent prospect you would be crazy not to cash that in when you have the chance. They did a nice job replenishing the draft pick cupboard by picking up four picks over the next two years.

11. New York Rangers — They turned Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T. Miller, and Nick Holden into six draft picks (including two first-round picks and a second-round pick that could become another first) and eight other players. That is a lot of assets coming into the organization. The key questions though are whether or not any of those eight players are high upside players that can be a part of a rebuild, and what they do with those draft picks. That’s a lot of first-round picks, but they could all be really late first-rounders which don’t really carry a ton of value.

12. Detroit Red Wings — Not getting anything for Mike Green is a little tough but that may have been out of their control. His health was a concern, he had a big say in where he could go, and there just may not have been a huge market. They did add a ton of draft picks for Tatar and Petr Mrazek. They now have eight picks in the first four rounds of the 2018 draft and another six in the first round rounds of the 2019 draft. They have to rebuild sooner or later and they now have a ton of draft pick currency.

You didn’t hurt yourself

13. Philadelphia Flyers — They added Petr Mrazek, mostly out of desperation, and did nothing else of note other than claiming Johnny Oduya on waivers. That’s okay. The Flyers are a really good team that is playing extremely well over the past three months and has a lot of young talent. No need to mess with it right now. Their window is just opening.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs — Tomas Plekanec is a nice depth addition to a team that could use a responsible, veteran forward in its bottom-six.

15. Washington Capitals — They didn’t make the big trade they have been accustomed to making in recent seasons and instead went for a couple of depth moves on defense. Not the worst case scenario. They may not be as good as their record and you don’t want to do something crazy in a season where you are probably more than one player away. You don’t want to trade Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat. Again.

16. Los Angeles Kings — Dion Phaneuf is a fraction of what he used to be but he will probably give them a little more value than Marian Gaborik would have, and Tobias Rieder adds a little bit of speed and upside to a lineup that was lacking in both of those things.

17. Montreal Canadiens — Their standing here is mostly do to the fact that they did not trade Max Pacioretty at a point where his value is so low. They really didn’t do much of significance. Maybe Mike Reilly can be okay? Basically I am just giving Marc Bergevin credit for not doing something that would hurt the team.

18. Florida Panthers — Frank Vatrano is a pretty decent buy-low gamble. Maybe a fresh start and a change of scenery where he can play a bigger role helps him realize some of that potential.

19. Arizona Coyotes — They sold Rieder at what might be a lowpoint, which isn’t ideal, but they did end up with a pretty good goaltending option in Darcy Kuemper.

The incompletes

20. Calgary Flames — Does Nick Shore for a seventh-round draft pick do much for you? No? Good. It shouldn’t. They did add Chris Stewart on waivers so I guess that is something.

21. Carolina Hurricanes — Every year we are told this could be the year Jeff Skinner gets traded, then he never gets traded. That is actually a good thing for the Hurricanes because Jeff Skinner is really good. Their only move was a minor league deal to send Josh Jooris to Pittsburgh for Greg McKegg.

22. Colorado Avalanche — They traded Chris Bigras for Ryan Graves. I have nothing else to add.

23. Dallas Stars — They did nothing. Nothing to see here.

24. Minnesota Wild — They lost Stewart on waivers and traded Reilly for a draft pick. Nashville and Winnipeg loaded up in their division in an arms race. At the moment, they would have to get through those two teams in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Oof.

What is happening here?

25. Ottawa Senators — They deserve their own category because I really do not know where to put them. They did pretty well for Brassard by getting a first-round pick and a really good goalie prospect, and they were able to flip Cole for another pick and prospect as an extension of that trade tree, but there are still a ton of questions here. The Karlsson situation remains unresolved and it is hard to imagine his value increasing at the draft when the team trading for him is guaranteed even less time with him. The rest of the team remains in place. Maybe you have not noticed but the rest of the team kind of stinks at the moment.

The losers

26. New York Islanders — You have John Tavares, Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee all having great seasons. You have an offense that can score goals at a level few teams can match. You had all season to do something to fix the shortcomings on defense and in net. You traded Jason Chimera for a younger version of Jason Chimera, and also traded a draft pick for a defenseman that was available on waivers a couple of months ago. Something tells me those Snow Must Go chants will not be going away anytime soon at the Barclays Center.

27. Edmonton Oilers — Maroon is a 20-25 goal forward, carries a relatively decent salary cap hit for the rest of this season, and all Edmonton has to show for him is a mid-level prospect and a third-round draft pick two drafts from now. Their trade deadline consisted of them trading Maroon, Letestu, and Brandon Davidson for Pontus Aberg, J.D. Dudek and two draft picks in 2019.

Actually, this might be the most damning statement of all when it comes to the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers.

28. St. Louis Blues — One point out of a playoff spot and they trade one of their top scorers for futures. That six-game losing streak where the offense has disappeared is not sitting well with the front office it would seem.

29. Buffalo Sabres — Evander Kane was supposed to be one of the top rentals available and their return does not even guarantee them a first-round draft pick. They also got a 24-year-old “prospect” and a mid-round draft pick. Not sure if that says more about the Sabres front office or Evander Kane.

30. Vancouver Canucks — Jim Benning said he would have preferred a draft pick in the trade for Thomas Vanek but there just wasn’t an opportunity to get that. There were 18 draft picks that exchanged hands across the league on Monday alone. A team in the bottom-five in the standings re-signed Erik Gudbranson, traded Vanek for a marginal prospect and a player that is actually older than Vanek, and did nothing else.

31. Anaheim Ducks — They traded for a 38-year-old forward (Chimera) that has two goals and 11 total points in 58 games this season and signed a 35-year-old forward (Chris Kelly) that has seven goals and seven assists in 93 NHL games since the start of the 2015-16 season and managed zero goals and only two assists in 15 games in the AHL this season, presumably because he had a couple of good games in the Olympics against non-NHL talent.

MORE: PHT’s 2018 Trade Deadline Tracker.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Oilers trade Brandon Davidson to Islanders

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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Peter Chiarelli.

The first two times he has made a trade with New York Islanders general manager Garth Snow he has, well, let us just say he has not done well.

There was the trade that sent two draft picks to the Islanders for Griffin Reinhart. Those two draft picks turned into Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. Reinhart is no longer in the Oilers organization and only played 29 games for the team.

Then this past summer he traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome. So far this season Eberle has 21 goals and 44 total points  for the Islanders while Strome, who has topped 40 points in a season just once in his career, has just nine goals and 15 assists for the Oilers.

There is no way this trade can turn out to be that bad. Right? Right?!

Let us take a look at it.

The trade: The Edmonton Oilers traded defenseman Brandon Davidson to the New York Islanders in exchange for a 2019 third-round draft pick.

Why the Islanders are making this trade: Have you seen their defense? Have you seen the way they play defensively? They are DESPERATE. They have an offense that can score with the best teams in the NHL. They are getting amazing years out of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle. They are fourth in the NHL in goals for. They are 31st in goals against. There are only 31 teams in the league. They need to find somebody — anybody! — that can help them prevent goals. Is Davidson a game-changer? Not at all. He is probably at best a bottom-pairing defenseman. But he is something.

The Islanders enter play on Saturday one point out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Why the Oilers are making this trade: They are going nowhere and looking to unload anyone they can. Davidson is in the final year of his contract and will be a restricted free agent this season and would probably get a bit of a raise over his $1.4 million salary cap hit this season. That is something the Oilers simply can not afford given their salary cap situation. A third-round draft pick in 2019 isn’t a huge score, but it is something.

Davidson was originally drafted by the Oilers in 2010 and remained with the organization until he was traded to Montreal in February of 2017 for David Desharnais.

He played with the Canadiens until a few weeks ago when he was placed on waivers and claimed by the Oilers.

Who won the trade? The Islanders are, again, desperate for defense and picked up a warm body for very little price. The Oilers got a draft pick for somebody that was not even on their roster a few weeks ago and did not cost anything for them to originally acquire.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Anders Lee stands up for Islanders GM in light of ‘Snow Must Go’

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Many New York Islanders fans agree with the sentiment “(Garth) Snow Must Go,” but that doesn’t mean it’s unanimous.

In response to the successful Go Fund Me drive to put up billboard(s) calling for Snow’s firing near Barclays Center, Islanders forward Anders Lee had an interesting reaction.

He took to Twitter not just to express his disagreement with “Snow Must Go,” but to ask people to donate to a different charity than his “Kancer Jam II” campaign, with the event coming on Feb. 19.

A portion of that statement reads:

” … (Snow) had the faith to draft me in 2009, and I wouldn’t be here today without his support, so I do not feel right accepting the donation. I appreciate the gesture from our fans and their efforts to support the Kancer Jam Foundation but ask that they use this money to support another fund that can benefit from this donation.”

As of this writing, Lee’s Crowd Rise drive is at $12,131, with 56 people donating. It seems like a fantastic campaign, and even in this unusual way, it would be great if it got more attention through all of this.

Looking at the Go Fund Me for the “Snow Must Go” billboards, they’re no longer accepting donations after hitting $5,980. They’re also giving additional money to the American Cancer Society, and issued a response to Lee in an update. Here’s the most relevant portion of that response:

Secondly, we recently received word via Twitter that Anders Lee will be declining any donation toward his Kancer Jam. While we are disappointed, we respect his decision, and love Anders as a New York Islander.

Without a choice in the matter, we have therefore decided to donate any excess donations to the American Cancer Society. While we understand this was not the initial advertised charity, we hope Islanders fans will understand.

Again, this is an atypical situation on top of another odd situation, as it seems reasonable for their to be a scenario in which Islanders fans could express a belief about Snow needing to go while also helping to raise money to combat cancer. Whatever happens regarding Snow’s employment status, the Islanders’ playoff hopes, and John Tavares‘ future with the franchise, let’s hope that this brings more donations to some great causes. Whether that’s the the American Cancer Society, Lee’s specific efforts, or ideally a combination of the two, that’s fantastic.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

A deeper look at Islanders’ decision to bench Barzal

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How does a player go from having his third five-point night of the season on Friday to being benched late in a close game on Sunday? Well, just ask the New York Islanders.

Mathew Barzal, who has 16 goals and 59 points in 57 games this season, was sat down late in New York’s 3-2 loss to the Calgary Flames because he “was playing a little bit soft, not soft, but slow. A big part of my game is just playing down low and battles and winning that kind of stuff. So I wasn’t doing that [Sunday],” Barzal told Newsday.

Over 82 games, every player is bound to have a rough night, so it’s hard to blame the 20-year-old, especially after he registered five assists in an overtime win over Detroit just two days before the benching.

But who is head coach Doug Weight really punishing here? Sure, Barzal is affected by the decision, but how about the rest of the team? The Isles are far from locked into a playoff spot (they’re currently one point behind the Devils and Hurricanes for Wild Card spots) and not having Barzal on the ice late in a one-goal game is a questionable decision. The Islanders will need every point they can down the stretch, so missing out on two points on home ice is huge.

“It’s who’s going to score for us,” Weight said. “So (Barzal) just threw the puck away three times on the last power play, and we had meetings between periods showing him what’s going on and what we have to exploit.

“So that’s not a teaching tool. That’s not a young guy, we’re going to really teach him a lesson; he’s going to be a pro for 20 years.”

Sure, Weight had capable offensive threats like John Tavares, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Josh Bailey at his disposal when his team was down one goal with 1:05 remaining, so it’s not like they had to throw someone with no offensive pedigree out there. Still, sending a message to one your top two players in that situation is a little bizarre.

The rookie still played a respectable 17:44 at even-strength and he got almost five minutes of power play time, but when the chips were down, he wasn’t on the ice. He had just one shift in the last 6:40 of the game (score was tied 2-2 during most of that stretch) and he didn’t get back on the ice when his team went down 3-2.

By comparison, Brock Nelson, who had a hat trick on Friday night, got three shifts in the last 5:32 of the game. This isn’t meant as a shot to Nelson because he’s been very productive of late, but he finished the night with a minus-1 rating and no shots on goal.

Weight’s team might have multiple offensive weapons, but not many players in the league can change a game in a split-second like Barzal.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.