PHT Power Rankings: NHL’s best coaching jobs this season

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There is not a single aspect of the NHL that is more difficult to evaluate and analyze than coaching.

Want to know how difficult it is and how bad we tend to be at it?

Just look at the past, oh let’s say, 10 Jack Adams Award winners and see how many of them are still with the team they won it with, or how many of them were fired within a year or two of winning it. It is stunning how many of them are gone within two years.

Either they forgot how to coach in that time since winning, or we picked the wrong winners.

The coach of the year usually goes to a coach whose team exceeded expectations and snuck into the playoffs, likely on the back of a superhuman performance by a goalie that carried the team. Pick a Coach of the Year winner and then take a look at how the starting goalie performed throughout the season. There is going to be a fairly strong correlation.

This season the coach of the year award has seemingly been a one-horse race involving New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz, only lately getting a little bit of pressure from Rick Tocchet in Arizona.

Given the circumstances around those two teams it is understandable.

But have those two coaches actually been the best coaches in the league this year and done the best job? Maybe, but maybe not.

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take a look at the eight best coaching jobs in the NHL this season, and there are a couple of names at the top you might not be thinking of at the moment. We are not looking for the coach that has benefitted the most from a goalie, or a coach whose teams marginally exceeded expectations.

We are looking for the coaches that have done the best job in the NHL.

You probably will not like it, but hear us out.

1. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues. When the Blues fired Mike Yeo in mid-November they looked like a team that was going nowhere. They had been shutout in three of their previous four games, had only won seven of their first 19, and just had absolutely nothing going for them. They were completely mediocre across the board, and in some cases, completely stunk. Offensively, defensively, goaltending. All of it. It was a dreadful looking team that seemed doomed to a forgettable, wasted season.

Enter Berube and new starting goalie Jordan Binnington.

The easy thing here is to assume that Binnington’s play is key factor driving the Blues’ turnaround, and to a point, he is. He has helped fix what was a black hole in net and is putting together an incredible rookie season. But it’s not just him, and this can not be emphasized enough.

There is real improvement within the rest of the team since the coaching change.

First, some numbers looking at Mike Yeo’s final 53 games behind the Blues’ bench and Berube’s first 53 games.

The overall possession numbers are better. The shot attempt numbers dropped significantly. Their ability to control scoring chances improved. All of that together, plus a solidified goaltending position, has dramatically improved the record.

If you look at the numbers in the context of this season alone the numbers are even more striking.

That is real, team-wide improvement that isn’t just related to the goaltending change.

Keep in mind that Berube also did not have Alex Pietrangelo for 10 games in December and spent two months without David Perron, one of the team’s leading scorers, from mid-January until mid-March. He is also coaching without Vladimir Tarasenko at the moment.

They are simply a totally different team under Berube, and not be a small amount, either.

2. Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins. This is not the NHL’s deepest roster, and we already know this. We already know this because we have been saying “what about their depth?” for two seasons now.

Keep that in mind and then consider how many games some of their top players — the players that have to carry the most weight for this team because they do not have a ton of depth — have missed this season.

Patrice Bergeron has missed 15 games.
David Pastrnak has missed 15 games.
Charlie McAvoy has missed 26 games.
Jake DeBrusk has missed 13 games.
Zdeno Chara is 41 years old and has missed 18 games.
Torey Krug has missed 12 games.

There are more, but these are the big ones.

It would stand to reason that a team that was already thin on depth, and playing in a division with two of the best teams in the league, might struggle a bit.

Not even close. Entering Monday the Bruins have the NHL’s third best record, are a top-five possession team, and probably already giving Toronto Maple Leafs fans nightmares about their inevitable first-round playoff matchup. Cassidy is not getting enough credit for the job he has done this season. Not by a long shot.

3. Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning. Cooper is the coach that simply can not win the coach of the year award because his team is too good, which is just plain dumb. As if it’s easy to just win 55 of your first 72 games no matter how much talent you have at your disposal.

He didn’t have his starting goalie for a month and went 12-3-0 with Louis Domingue playing every game (and not playing all that well, I might add) during that stretch. Insane.

We have tried to turn the MVP into an award that a player can’t win if their team is too good (they don’t need you!) or not good enough (they lost with you they can lose without you!) and only seems to go to the best player on a mediocre team that sneaks into the playoffs as first-round cannon fodder for a Stanley Cup contender.

The Jack Adams Award has become the exact same thing. We only give it to the coach of a team that was bad the year before and then barely made the playoffs, whether it was the coaching that got them there or not.

Here is a secret: Great teams can have great coaches, too. The Lightning are a great team with a great coach.

4. Pete DeBoer, San Jose Sharks. Like Cooper, another coach that probably won’t get enough credit because of the talent on his team.

Here is the argument for him: The Sharks have the second-worst team save percentage in the NHL at .893. That is an appallingly abysmal number. It is such a fantastically bad performance by the duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell that this team has no business being anywhere near the top of its division and the top of the Western Conference standings.

They are the only team in the NHL that currently occupies a playoff spot and sits lower than 20th in team save percentage.

Here is where the other teams ranked 20th or lower (in order) sit in the league-wide standings.

19th
21st
26th
29th
30th
31st
17th
23rd
22nd
28th
4th (this is the Sharks)
20th

Goaltending this bad is supposed to be impossible to win with. I know the Sharks have a lot of talent, but they’re not the only team in this tier with a talent on their roster, and goaltending has sunk all of them.

Oh, and the Sharks have also been without Erik Karlsson for a significant chunk of the season. And they are still steamrolling teams and one point back of the top spot in the Western Conference … with no goaltending to speak of.

DeBoer is like … the bizarro Jack Adams winner. Instead of being a coach whose team has climbed to the top of the standings on the back of his goalie he has climbed to the top in spite of his goalies.

5. Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes. If I were a betting man I would say that if the Coyotes make the playoffs that Tocchet is going to win the coach of the year award, and probably by a wide margin. This is what Jack Adams Award votes live for. The Coyotes were the worst team in the Western Conference a year ago, have missed the playoffs six years in a row, and have been absolutely decimated by injuries all season, crippling what was already a thin roster. Heck, even losing just starting goalie Antti Raanta could have been enough to ruin their season, even without all of the others.

But here they are, holding a playoff position in mid-March and seemingly in the driver’s seat to take a Wild Card spot. Darcy Kuemper deserves the bulk of the credit for that, but the injury situation has definitely been a huge hurdle, and it would have been really easy for this team to just pack it in and self destruct. They haven’t, and the coaching staff deserves credit for that.

[Related: Coyotes’ GM on dealing with injuries, Tocchet’s influence]

6. Barry Trotz, New York Islanders. Trotz deserves a ton of credit for taking over what looked to be a sinking ship of a franchise at the start of the season and, quite frankly, not allowing it to completely sink.

They missed the playoffs a year ago, lost their best player to free agency, entered the season with three of their top-four returning forwards in contract years, and there really wasn’t any reason for anyone to believe in this team. So far, they have proved a lot of people wrong and made a pretty stunning turn around to go from one of the worst defensive teams of the modern era to what is, currently, the best defensive team in the league when it comes to preventing goals.

That is worth a lot.

But this goes back to what we talked about up at the top. How much of that is the coaching of Trotz, and how much of that is the result of the Islanders’ two goalies producing the league’s best save percentage? And if that is the result of coaching, how much of that is Trotz and how much of it is the work of goalie coaches Piero Greco and Mitch Korn? I am not saying that Trotz hasn’t had a positive influence on the team, because he almost certainly has. He is a great coach and his resume in the league speaks to that. I just don’t know that he or the Islanders would be having this kind of season without stunning play of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

They are the true difference-makers this season.

7. Bill Peters, Calgary Flames. In most years Peters would be the type of coach that would be a slam-dunk Jack Adams winner. A first-year coach, taking over a non-playoff team a year ago, and driving them to the top of the Conference standings. But with teams like the Islanders and Coyotes exceeding expectations, Berube helping to turn around the Blues, the Hurricanes becoming relevant again, he just seems like he is going to be lost in the shuffle. It is unfortunate because his team has been legitimately good, and I almost wonder if this is what the Hurricanes would have looked like the past few years with a couple of more finishers and some decent goaltending on their roster.

8. Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes. There is definitely a different vibe around this team, and not just because of the storm surge celebrations that are driving some people mad.

It just finally feels like everything is starting to click for a team that always had promising young talent but could never really put it together.

The thing about the Hurricanes’ climb up the standings is there’s not really much difference in their actual performance from an analytics standpoint.

They have always been one of the best possession teams in the league, and they still are.

They have always been one of the best shot suppression teams in the league, and they still are.

The two things that always sunk them were goaltending and not enough forwards that could actually finish. The big change this season is that Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney came out of nowhere to give them competent goaltending they needed to actually look like the good defensive team they have always been, and they found a couple of forwards with real finishing ability in prized rookie Andrei Svechnikov and Nino Neiderreiter, who they stole from the Minnesota Wild.

Brind’Amour has done a great job, but even with all of the losing in recent years there was still a strong foundation in place. They just needed the right move or two to bring it all together.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Capitals playing like champs again

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The Washington Capitals didn’t make the biggest moves ahead of the NHL trade deadline, but they may have made the right moves.

Adding Nick Jensen and Carl Hagelin helped shore up what has been at times a shaky defensive team this season and has helped propel them back to the top of the Metropolitan Division with what is, as of Monday, a four-point lead over the New York Islanders.

They have not lost since the trade deadline, are on a seven-game winning streak, and have won nine of their past 10 games overall.

It is not just the winning that is encouraging for the Capitals this time of year that matters, it is also the way they are winning.

They are dominating.

In six games since the trade deadline the Capitals are rolling along with a 58.1 Corsi percentage (tops in the NHL), have controlled more than 56 percent of the scoring chances at even-strength (also tops in the NHL), and have outscored teams by a 24-10 margin. No, they have not really played a collection of the league’s strongest teams since then, but you can only play the team that is lined up across from you and if you are a true contender you are supposed to dominate the lower-tier teams. The Capitals have been doing all of that and more.

With the superstar talent they still have throughout the lineup playing the way it is (Alex Ovechkin might score 55 goals as a 33-year-old!), a goalie that is capable of getting hot and carrying the team at any time, and the necessary tweaks made at the trade deadline they are going to have a real shot to make another run at the Stanley Cup.

They make the top-four in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else fit?

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — Not even sure they have played their best hockey as of late and they are still 13-2-0 over their past 15 games entering the week. The numbers around this team, and their top player Nikita Kucherov, are just comical.

2. Boston Bruins — Depth was always a concern, and it seemed like it was going to be a big issue as even more injuries started to mount, but they just keep on winning, collecting points, and very quietly have the second best record in the NHL. Maybe Bruce Cassidy should be in that coach of the year discussion, too?

3. San Jose Sharks — Even without Erik Karlsson or above average goaltending they just keep on rolling. This is going to be a scary team if Martin Jones is even average for them in the playoffs.

[Related: Erik Karlsson expects to be ready for playoffs]

4. Washington Capitals — Do not count them out.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — The NHL’s playoff format has been the same for several years now, and every year a couple of top-five teams meet in the first or second round and one of them gets sent home earlier than maybe they otherwise deserve. Is it ideal? No. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Has there been any kind of a huge push to change it? A little but, but nothing fierce enough to make it happen. But if Toronto gets bounced in the first round to Boston again? Oh man, you can be sure there will be a lot more noise about it.

6. Calgary Flames — The Sharks and the Flames might be the two best teams in the Western Conference and they might have the shakiest goaltending situation of any team that makes the playoffs.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins — Sidney Crosby has played his way back into the MVP discussion. He is probably not going to win it over Kucherov, but he should at least be a finalist with the way he has dominated this season. Especially over the past few weeks.

8. Winnipeg Jets — Been saying this for a while now, but the play on the ice does not seem to match the record. This team has more to offer.

9. New York Islanders — Everything about the way they have actually played this season has pointed to an eventual regression.  Not saying it is definitely happening now, but only four wins in their previous 10 games is not ideal, especially at this time of year.

10. Carolina Hurricanes — They are not even a lock to make the playoffs, but you have to love the way they are playing right now with a 22-7-1 record since Dec. 31. They are young, fast, fun, and could prove to be a real headache … if they get in.

11. St. Louis Blues — Jordan Binnington has been a season saver, but the injury situation is becoming worrisome, especially with Vladimir Tarasenko now sidelined.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — Mark Stone has been a huge addition but they will only go as far as Marc-Andre Fleury will allow them to go. His boom-or-bust season makes them a total wild card in the West.

[Related: Fleury’s boom-or-bust season makes Golden Knights total wild card]

13. Nashville Predators — As of Monday they have not won a game in regulation or overtime since Feb. 21. Their only three wins during that stretch all came in a shootout. Not exactly the sign of a team that is playing great, and kind of underwhelming (at least for now) after their big trade deadline additions.

14. Minnesota Wild — A truly bizarre season in Minnesota. It would be an amazing story if they ended up making the playoffs after going into a sellers mode at the trade deadline. Before their ugly loss to Florida over the weekend (the second half of a back-to-back) they had collected at least a point in eight consecutive games.

15. Arizona Coyotes — If this team ends up making the playoffs it might be enough for Rick Tocchet to take the Jack Adams Award away from Barry Trotz.

16. Dallas Stars — Ben Bishop is quietly putting together a pretty dominant season for the Stars with a .930 save percentage, good enough for second best in the league just behind Andrei Vasilevskiy.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — I had high expectations for this team after the trade deadline but, as of now, things have not gone according to plan. At all. Their remaining schedule is also pretty tough with a couple of sets of back-to-backs, three games against Boston and then two more against the Predators.

18. Montreal Canadiens — The Canadiens have had some brutal late-season collapses in recent years, and with only five wins in their past 14 games it is worth wondering if it might be happening again.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Their record under Scott Gordon has been good, but I’m not sure how much that has to do with him and how much of it has to do with the goaltending situation finally getting secured with Carter Hart.

[Related: Has Scott Gordon done enough to keep Flyers’ Job?]

20. Colorado Avalanche — Losing Gabriel Landeskog might be the breaking point for a team that has badly faded after a great start to the season.

21. Buffalo Sabres — I know you can’t just take away a 10-game winning streak, but that streak was always a fluke and their entire season outside of that has simply been more of the same old Sabres.

22. Chicago Blackhawks — They still have the forwards to compete, but the defense is as bad as we have seen in the NHL in more than a decade.

23. Edmonton Oilers — They did win four games in a row, but three of those wins came against Ottawa, Buffalo, and Vancouver. They are in the process of not only wasting what will probably be a 110-point season from Connor McDavid, but what might be a 50-goal season from Leon Draisaitl. Truly stunning numbers.

24. Anaheim Ducks — Hopefully getting a chance to see his team from behind the bench will tell Bob Murray just how mediocre the whole thing has become and get him to make the necessary changes this summer.

25. Florida Panthers — They have had 22 games (pretty much one third of their schedule) go to overtime or a shootout this season, which is just an insane number. That is really no way to be a competitive team on a consistent basis with so many of your games basically coming down to a coin flip.

26. New York Rangers — They only have two wins since Feb. 20, both of them coming against a Devils team that can barely put a full roster on the ice right now.

27. Vancouver Canucks — Remember when the Canucks seemed to be “ahead of schedule” in their rebuild? They might win 33 or 34 games this season instead of the 30 or 31 they have been winning the past few years, and they still have the fewest wins in the NHL since the start of the 2015-16 season (excluding Vegas, who is only in its second season). Even worse, they are once again in a position where their odds of landing the top pick in the draft are not all that high.

28. New Jersey Devils — Injuries and trades have just decimated this roster to the point where it barely resembles an NHL team right now.

29. Detroit Red Wings — Probably the best thing that has happened over the past few weeks is getting their first glimpse at first-round draft pick Filip Zadina, who scored his first NHL goal. His development will play a big role in where this rebuild goes.

30. Los Angeles Kings — There can be no shortcuts or quick fixes here, they need a massive overhaul this offseason because this roster as currently constructed does not really have anything going for it.

31. Ottawa Senators — All of this losing is a big win for the Avalanche, who own their 2019 first-round draft pick.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Best under-the-radar performances

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we dig beyond the superstars to find some of the most under-the-radar individual performances around the NHL.

Players that are maybe exceeding their previous expectations or just not getting enough attention for the type of season they are having.

Among the group is a former top-five pick that has taken advantage of a fresh start, one of the league’s most consistently overlooked goal-scorers, and a couple of career backup goalies that have had to step in to starting roles and help their teams.

To the rankings!

1. Elias Lindholm, Calgary Flames — In only 65 games this season he has already shattered — completely shattered … obliterated … destroyed — every major career high. Before this season he had scored more than 11 goals in a season just twice in five years and never scored more than 17. Entering Monday, he already has 26 goals. Before this season he had never recorded more than 45 points in a season, and had topped 40 just twice. Entering Monday, he already has 72 points and is a top-10 scorer in the league. The fresh start in Calgary, the opportunity to play with top-tier offensive talents, and an increased role has completely jumpstarted a career that had been, for lack of a better word, a bit underwhelming until this season. He is one of the driving forces behind the Flames’ incredible rise to the top of the Western Conference standings and has been lost in the shadows of Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Giordano, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk.

2. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets — Everything about Atkinson’s career to this point is under-the-radar. He is currently on track for what could be his second top-10 finish in the goal-scoring race, and if you go back to the start of the 2015-16 season he is one of the top-15 players in the league in goals-per-game during that stretch. Columbus’ roster is going to look very, very, very different next season after what is likely to be a free agency purge, but Atkinson is still going to be there as one of the organizational building blocks along with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

3. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens — If you are not a Canadiens fan you probably know him as an annoying pest that you absolutely hate every single time you have to watch him play. He is all of that every night, every shift, every game. He is also an outstanding hockey player who is one goal away from his second consecutive 30-goal season and one of the Habs’ top players. He is Montreal’s best possession-driving forward and for a few years now whatever line he has been on has always been the team’s best and most productive. He doesn’t get a lot of attention for his skill as a player, but he should. There’s a lot of Brad Marchand in him — that is both a good thing and a bad thing — and his career seems to be following a similar trajectory in terms of when his big breakout offensively is happening.

4. Darcy Kuemper, Arizona Coyotes — Yes, the West stinks and that is a big reason why the Coyotes, with their current record, are still so alive in the race. But even with that it is an impressive feat that they are still in it given the injury situation this team has dealt with this season. It is bordering on absurd and somehow keeps getting worse. One of the biggest injuries was the one suffered by starting goalie Antti Raanta that pretty much robbed him of the entire season. That has opened the door for Kuemper to slide in and, for all intents and purposes, save the Coyotes’ season. They got him for Tobias Rieder and Scott Wedgewood a little more than one year ago in a deal that didn’t really move the needle for anybody. This season it is paying off in a huge way.

[Related: Coyotes’ hot streak starts in goal and goes from there]

5. Curtis McElhinney, Carolina Hurricanes — After years of disastrous goaltending, a revolving door of hopeful fixes that all fizzled out, and what seemed to be a positional curse the Hurricanes are finally getting solid play in net thanks to the arrival of … Curtis McElhinney?! Who would have ever guess that a 35-year-old career backup would step in and help solidify a position that has been one of the league’s most franchise-destroying blackholes for the better part of a decade. But here we are. There are a lot of reasons for the Hurricanes’ improvement this year, from Sebastien Aho’s continued development into a star, to the major addition of Nino Niederreiter mid-season. But as we have seen from this team in the past none of that would have mattered if the goaltending was still among the worst in the league.

6. Casey Cizikas, New York Islanders –– Before this season Cizikas was your classic bottom-six energy player who was tasked with playing hard, rattling some cages, and just trying to do a lot of the “little things.” He never scored more than nine goals in a season and was never thought of as any kind of an offensive weapon. His season, though, is a microcosm of everything that is happening on Long Island right now — everything is going right. Entering play on Monday Cizikas is third on the team with 18 goals in only 58 games. That is more goals than Mathew Barzal, Anthony Beauvillier, Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle. On a per-game basis, the only player on the team that is having a better goal-scoring season than him is Anders Lee. We have to point out that his success this season is almost entirely driving by a 20.8 percent shooting percentage that is almost certainly going to return to reality next season (he is an 11 percent shooter for his career) but everything is clicking for him right now and it is a huge part of the Islanders’ incredible story.

7. Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins — The 2017-18 season was a disastrous one for Halak with the Islanders, but joining the Bruins seems to have jumpstarted his career. Together he and Tuukka Rask have formed what is arguably the best goaltending tandem in the league this season and Halak has been especially important because he was able step up and fill in for Rask earlier this season when he was struggling and had to step away from the team for a bit for personal reasons. When he is at his best we have seen Halak take a team pretty far in the playoffs, and so far this season he has played at that level. He and Rask are a big reason why the Bruins should be such a feared team going into the postseason.

8. Alex Tuch, Vegas Golden Knights — Tuch was one of Vegas’ under-the-radar steals in the expansion draft when they got him and Erik Haula from the Minnesota Wild in return for not selecting one of the Wild’s defenders. After a promising rookie season in Vegas, Tuch’s game has elevated even more this season to the point where he has been perhaps their most productive forward this season, even ahead of Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty, and William Karlsson.

9. Carl Soderberg, Colorado Avalanche — The Avalanche have been, for the most part, a one-line team this season. Their offense has been dominated by Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog with little help from anyone else on the roster. There is one exception to that, however — Carl Soderberg. The veteran forward recoded has already recorded the first 20-goal season of his career this year, and he did it during his age 33 season, something that no other player in NHL history has ever done. The Avalanche are still lacking in depth, but Soderberg has been one of the few bright spots after the top line this season.

10. Erik Gustafsson, Chicago Blackhawks — The Blackhawks defense has taken a lot of hits over the years due to the departure of key players and the decline of several returning players. Their surprising standout this season has been Gustafsson who has emerged out of nowhere to be one of the most productive blue-liners in the league with 13 goals, 35 assists, and 48 total points in his first 63 games. Overall it has been a disappointing year for a Blackhawks team that seems headed for its second straight non-playoff season, but this has been one of the positive developments along the way.

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.

PHT Power Rankings: Post NHL trade deadline edition

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After weeks and months of speculation, rumors, scout watching, and hypothetical dreamland trades the NHL trade deadline has officially come and gone.

Who ended up making themselves better? Who ended up making themselves worse? Will any of this matter come playoff time and what sort of impact can it possibly have on the race for a playoff spot and the Stanley Cup?

We take a look at all of that and more in this week’s PHT Power Rankings as we look at the league after the dust has settled on the trading season.

To the rankings!

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They did nothing, and that is fine. They needed nothing. If it is not broken, do not break it.

2. Nashville Predators — David Poile makes more blockbusters than anybody these days, and he always tends to make his team better as a result. He did that again this season with the Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds moves. Granlund in particular looks like a home run.

3. San Jose Sharks — Gustav Nyquist makes an absurdly deep team even deeper. Still can not help but wonder if they traded for the wrong Red Wing, though. Maybe if they score five goals per game the goaltending will not matter.

4. Boston Bruins — Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson add some nice depth to a team that badly needed it. Not enough is made of the fact they enter the week with the third best points percentage in the NHL.

[Related: Trade reunites Johansson with his buddy Marchand]

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — They made their big trade last month to get Jake Muzzin. The best addition for them would be William Nylander returning to form.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets — I find this entire situation fascinating. Never before have I seen a fringe playoff team go all in on trying to win right now. Given the contract situations of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, I can’t say I blame them. This is your best shot, go all in. Having said that, there is a solid chance this all backfires horribly because they are probably still not a Stanley Cup team even with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and the rest of their additions. They also have only two draft picks right now in 2019. They also are not a lock for the playoffs. I admire the tightrope walk without a net. This feels like a make-or-break season for Jarmo Kekalainen’s reputation as a general manager.

7. Washington Capitals — Nick Jensen wasn’t the biggest name to move but I think he is just what the Capitals needed to improve what has been, at times, a leaky defense. Carl Hagelin may not be the player he was when he was frustrating Capitals fans as an opposing player seemingly every postseason, but he is still a tremendous defensive player that will also help. They got what they needed.

8. Calgary Flames — Like the Sharks I still question the goaltending. Unlike the Sharks they didn’t make another meaningful move anywhere (sorry, Oscar Fantenberg) else while everybody around them did.

9. New York Islanders — I actually kind of like that they stood pat even as the other top teams in the East got better around them. This was never supposed to be a contending year for the Islanders, it is all a bonus at this point, and this team as it is has gotten them this far, see where it can take them.

10. St. Louis Blues — Their best addition came in the form of a goalie who could stop a few pucks. They have been a different team ever since.

11. Winnipeg Jets — They didn’t get Mark Stone but they did get something that they needed in Kevin Hayes. That center depth was looking sketchy. The other thing they need is for Patrik Laine to start filling the net again … and he just might be ready to do that.

12. Vegas Golden Knights — Mark Stone is a star, and maybe getting away from Ottawa will make the rest of the league take notice. He drives possession, he scores goals, he is a huge addition for a fringe contender in a wide open Western Conference.

13. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been a huge addition and hey, look at this, now Jordan Staal is back. He may not be a huge driver of the offense but he is still an outstanding two-way player that will make a surging team even better.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are now making a run at a playoff spot with Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson making up one third of their defense.

[Related: Constant roster shuffling makes Penguins look directionless]

15. Colorado Avalanche — After watching their season take a cliff dive for a solid two months in the middle of the season they have now earned at least a point in nine of their past 11 games to stay in the hunt. Maybe Derick Brassard will be a better trade deadline acquisition for them than he was for Pittsburgh a year. Scoring in his debut game already puts him off to a better start.

16. Dallas Stars — Adding Mats Zuccarello, watching him make a huge impact in his first game, and then watching him leave that game with an injury that is going to sideline him for at least four weeks is a perfect representation of the absurdity that has been the 2018-19 Dallas Stars.

17. Minnesota Wild — It is something of a minor miracle this team is still lurking around a playoff spot. Their captain is done for the season and they traded two of their best players in Granlund and Nino Niederreiter Victor Rask and Kevin Fiala. That is a lot to overcome to earn a playoff spot, but the Western Conference this season is dumb enough to allow it to happen.

18. Florida Panthers — They are 11-5-0 in their past 16 games and for the second year in a row are playing really well in the second half. For the second year in a row it will not matter because the first half was so bad. The positive: They have positioned themselves for a serious run at any free agent (or free agents) they want in the summer.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — Their season has definitely taken on a more optimistic look lately, but the subtraction of Simmonds and the injury to Carter Hart is definitely a bit of a downer at the moment.

20. Montreal Canadiens — Losing six out of eight games has put them on the edge of the playoffs. Do they have enough to outlast one of Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Carolina?

21. Arizona Coyotes — There really was not a reason for them to be active at the trade deadline. There really was not anything to sell, there was no need to buy, they have probably overachieved given the ridiculous injury situation.

22. Buffalo Sabres — Brandon Montour is a decent enough addition, and maybe he looks better away from the mess that is the Ducks, but he is not really someone that is going to move the needle for this team. They still have two first-round picks even after trading one for him.

23. Chicago Blackhawks — The combination of a seven-game winning streak driven by a spike in shooting percentage and a weak Western Conference created the illusion of a team that might still be able to make the playoffs. Did that stop them from shopping some veteran players that maybe it’s time to move on from?

24. Vancouver Canucks — Dumping Gudbranson for Tanner Pearson might be addition by subtraction on the blue line and saves them a little salary cap space over the next two years.

25. New York Rangers — They did what they needed to, but man, how could you not feel bad for Henrik Lundqvist when watching him talk about the trade of Zuccarello? He has given so much to that organization and now it seems like he knows he will never get to win a championship with it.

26. New Jersey Devils — Hey, good for Cory Schneider for finishing the season strong. He has had a miserable couple of years and looks to have some confidence back now.

27. Anaheim Ducks — Hopefully getting some time behind the bench will give Bob Murray the information he needs to start tearing this thing down and starting over.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Gustav Nyquist’s no-trade clause probably limited what the Red Wings could do with him, but I’m a little surprised they didn’t try to sell more. They have collected a lot of draft picks the past few years but it seems like there was a missed opportunity for more here.

29. Edmonton Oilers — The trade deadline came and went with little fanfare and the stench of the previous regime’s roster moves still lingers throughout the organization. Yuck.

30. Los Angeles Kings — As of Tuesday they are riding an eight-game losing streak and they really didn’t really do much to look ahead to the future. The offseason could be active. It should be, anyway.

31. Ottawa Senators — Remember the scene in “Pulp Fiction” when John Travolta’s character walks into the Wallace household and is looking around, all confused, trying to figure out where everything is? I imagine that is what is going on in Bobby Ryan‘s head right now.

MORE: Winners and losers of the NHL trade deadline

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.

PHT Power Rankings: The unexpected rise of the Islanders

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Expectations were understandably low for the New York Islanders at the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. They were coming off of a non-playoff year, had just lost their best player to free agency, spent the offseason filling the roster with fourth-liners and depth players, and three of their returning best forwards (Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson) were all entering the final year of their contracts making their future with the team up in the air (and they still are).

Add to that the fact they were an historically bad defensive team a year ago and were entering the season with a couple of question marks in net in Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss.

On paper this team looked more likely to be competing for the top pick in the draft than the top spot in the Metropolitan Division. Here we are now in mid-February and the Islanders are in first place in the Metro with a five-point lead (with a game in hand still) on the defending Stanley Cup champions and are one point better than the Toronto Maple Leafs team that signed John Tavares away from them.

There are reasons to wonder how long this run can last beyond this season — or even throughout the rest of this season — especially given the contract situations with Eberle, Lee, and Nelson, and that is to say nothing of any possible regression from the performance of the goalies. But for right now they are here at the top of the league, they are almost certainly going to the playoffs, and they are probably one of the most improbable success stories in recent NHL memory.

Heck, if you go back over the past decade or more they might be the second most improbably success story behind last year’s expansion Vegas Golden Knights that made a run to the Stanley Cup Final in their debut season.

There have been a lot of teams that have experienced rapid turnarounds in one year. Last year’s Colorado Avalanche went from the worst record in the league to the playoffs. The 2016-17 Ottawa Senators went on an unexpected run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. That season’s Edmonton Oilers also made their first playoff appearance in a decade and were a Game 7 away from being in the Western Conference Final.

But none of those teams were facing a situation quite like this year’s Islanders where they were not only bad, but also lost their best player.

None of this should be working. But that is kind of the beauty and unpredictably that the NHL can provide.

The very nature of hockey lends itself more to these type of stories than almost any other sport because of the role luck can play, or how much a goaltending performance can alter the trajectory of a team or a season. The Islanders have had a lot of that go their way this season, and when you add in a top-tier coaching addition behind the bench you have the perfect recipe for an unexpected rise to the top of the league.

We can poke at their success all we want and look for flaws and wait for the bottom to fall out (and I definitely have this season), but for right now they have one of the best records in the league, are still white-hot over the past few weeks, and are giving their fans something to be legitimately happy about for the first time in years.

They crack the top-three in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

Where does everyone else in the league fit this week?

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — There is just no knocking the Lightning out of this spot. They enter the week riding yet another five-game winning streak, have shut out their past two opponents, and have a forward in Nikita Kucherov who is having a Lemieux or Gretzky type of season offensively. They are 15 points ahead of the next closest team in the standings. Just give them the Presidents’ Trophy now.

2. San Jose Sharks — They still went 6-3-0 without Erik Karlsson and now he is back healthy. Still think they are a solid goalie away from being an absolute force of a team.

The Strong Contenders

3. New York Islanders — This has got to be one of the more memorable and satisfying seasons Islanders fans have had since … well … the 80s?

4. Boston Bruins — There are still serious concerns about the scoring depth on this team because one line will not take you very far … but the results are there right now, and they keep climbing the standings.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs — Frederik Andersen is still the unsung hero of this team. His ability to play almost every night and at a well above league average level is huge for a team that isn’t great defensively. Just like last year, though, I worry about that workload during the regular season having a negative impact when the playoffs roll around. That is a grind of a season.

6. Calgary Flames — They hit what was one of their first real rough patches of the season recently by losing five out of six including four in a row. Snapped out of that, however, with an impressive win in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

7. Winnipeg Jets — I feel like this is a team where the results are not matching the process behind them right now. But the results are still kind of good.

The Middle Of The Pack Teams

8. St. Louis Blues — A 10-game winning streak and a 16-4-1 record since the start of the new year has rocketed them up the Western Conference standings, into a solid playoff position, and with still three games in hand on the Predators could even find themselves with a shot — a long shot, yes, but still a shot — to maybe steal home ice advantage in the first round.

9. Columbus Blue Jackets — What a maddening team. They win four in a row, then lose five in a row, then win four in a row, they might trade their best player, they might be in the market to add Matt Duchene. Chaos. All of it. But when they play at their best they can be really, really, really good.

10. Nashville Predators — They’ve set an incredibly high bar for themselves over the past two years that their record of 34-22-5 entering Monday, and their recent play, seems like a little less than what it should be. They are still great. Just seems like there is more there waiting to come out.

11. Carolina Hurricanes — This bunch of jerks is 16-5-1 in its past 22 games and playing like one of the best teams in the league. And it still may not be enough to secure a playoff. How you start a season matters.

[Related: Hurricanes keep winning, celebrating like bunch of jerks]

12. Washington Capitals — They are just like the 2017-18 version of the Capitals. A really good team that is capable of going on an incredible hot streak where they can be almost unbeatable. The key this year will be if they go on one of those runs at the right time again.

13. Montreal Canadiens — On paper the roster does not look to be anything special, but they are well coached, have strong underlying numbers to suggest their success this year is not a fluke, and they have a goalie that can change a game on any night.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins — Evgeni Malkin is starting to get on a roll. That is exactly what the Penguins need right now.

15. Philadelphia Flyers — The playoffs will not happen this season, but Carter Hart might be the most important player to enter the organization in a long, long, long time. His debut this season is probably good enough to change the short-term direction of the franchise.

16. Vegas Golden Knights — With only five wins — and only three in regulation — over their past 14 games entering the week this might be one of the longest slumps in the brief existence of the Golden Knights.

17. Dallas Stars — The offense is still revolving around only four or five players and a bunch of hopes and prayers that somebody else does something. They might make the playoffs because Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are great and because the rest of the teams immediately around them mostly stink.

[Related: After CEO criticism, Seguin leading Stars’ turnaround]

18. Chicago Blackhawks — They are making a late season push, and the West might just be bad enough to give them a shot they probably wouldn’t otherwise have.

19. Florida Panthers — They have been decent lately, but the real intrigue around this team is what they do over the next week, presumably in a quest to go after the big fish in free agency this summer.

20. New York Rangers — They have been very competitive lately, probably to the detriment of their lottery chances, but I suspect once the trade deadline comes and goes this roster will probably look a lot different and the winning will probably slow down a bit.

21. Minnesota Wild — Bruce Boudreau has never coached a full season in the NHL and missed the playoffs (he spent the 2011-12 season split between Washington and Anaheim and missed the playoffs that season). He is in danger of experiencing that this season, even if he is confident in his team’s chances.

[Related: Boudreau confident about Wild’s chances to earn playoff spot]

22. Buffalo Sabres — I realize you can’t take away a 10-game winning streak, but there were a lot of smoke and mirrors behind that success and outside of those 10 games where they won a bunch of one-goal games in overtime and shootouts they have been the same old Sabres.

23. Vancouver Canucks — They are definitely on the right track and have some great young cornerstone pieces to build around, but they are still not a great — or even very good — team yet. 

The Lose For Hughes Teams

24. Arizona Coyotes — A terribly unlucky season on the injury front. Can not question the effort of the players, though. They have been competitive and a thorn in the side of opponents all year.

25. Colorado Avalanche — Simply put, they have been awful for more than two full months now.

26. New Jersey Devils — One positive to come out of this lost season is the development of Nico Hischier. He has been good.

27. Los Angeles Kings — Is Ilya Kovalchuk really done or is he just stuck on the worst possible team for offense? Maybe a little of column A and a little of column B? I would be interested to find out at the trade deadline, and I am sure the Kings would like to be rid of that contract.

28. Detroit Red Wings — Work those phones, Ken. Sell! Sell! Sell!

29. Ottawa Senators — By this time next week the roster could be unrecognizable. Even more than it already is.

30. Anaheim Ducks — Winning two out of three is progress, I guess?

31. Edmonton Oilers — They actually have a worse points percentage under Ken Hitchcock than they did under Todd McLellan. Goodness gracious what a mess.

MORE: PHT’s 2019 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.