Monday, October 7, 2019

Weekend power rankings: It’s way too early but we’re doing this anyway

Welcome back to the Weekend Power Rankings. I hope you all had a great summer and came back well-rested and ready to debate some NHL rankings. Grab a seat and get comfortable, and we’ll get started by … OK, I see a lot of hands waving out there. Is there a question you’d like to ask?

Why yes, it is way too early for this. Thanks for pointing that out.

It’s admittedly kind of silly to be doing power rankings when the season is less than a week old and some teams have only played one game. That’s part of the fun. The first few days of the season are chaos, and there are always plenty of results that, in hindsight, mean absolutely nothing. Last year, the Bruins lost their first game 7-0, then came within a win of the Stanley Cup. The year before that, the Blackhawks flexed on everyone by crushing the defending champs 10-1, then missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade while finishing dead last in their division. October likes to lie to us.

In fact, it can be tempting to say that we should just ignore all of it. But that’s not quite right, because even in the very earliest days of a season, certain truths are starting to emerge. For example, the first two weeks of last year suggested that the Knights were bad and the Ducks were good, which was wrong. But it also told us that the Panthers and Coyotes could be in trouble and that the Hurricanes might finally be for real. There’s always a little bit of signal buried in all the noise. We just have to find it.

But first, an important reminder about what exactly these rankings are trying to do. Unlike most power rankings you might read, the idea here is not to capture a snapshot of who’s playing well right now. Instead, we’re looking at the big picture and trying to predict who’s ultimately going to win the Stanley Cup, and which teams will finish in the running for dead last. If your favorite team beat the Lightning last week, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean they automatically move past them in the rankings. The question here isn’t “Who had the best week?” or even “Who would be the favorite if the playoffs started right now?” We’re thinking long term.

For our purposes this week, that long-term view means a few things. We won’t see the sort of wild swings you might see from other rankings, where a surprise hot start can vault a team straight to the top of the list. This week’s rankings will look an awful lot like the preseason projections since a few games shouldn’t change our views of the top (and bottom) teams all that much.

While you won’t see any overreactions, that doesn’t mean no reactions at all, because even with only a few games to work with, we already know a little bit more about the 2019-20 season than we did a week ago. Let’s get started on trying to figure this out.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer of keg stands and fountain pool parties.

Goal of the week honors goes to Blake Coleman, who turned a rough night into a spot on the highlight reels.

That also gives us a chance to talk about the Jets, who roared back to win that game. It always feels a little bit silly to try to spin October games as must-wins or crucial moments or whatever, but with the Jets losing again last night and narrowly avoiding a winless start that we’d all overreact to, Friday’s turnaround did feel a bit like the sort of thing we look back on months later as being important.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-0-1, +5 true goals differential*) – Regular readers will know that last year’s rankings fought a season-long battle over the Atlantic Division heavyweights and whether it made sense to include three teams from the same division as elite Cup contenders when only two could even make the second round. You may be wondering if I managed to solve that problem over the offseason. The answer: No, I did not. Sorry. I had all summer to think of it.

Anyway, through three games the Leafs have looked a lot like what we all expected: A ridiculously talented offensive force that can blow opponents out of the water with skill but will also occasionally cost themselves points by forgetting how to play defense. Saturday’s third-period collapse against the Canadiens was maybe somewhat understandable – the old tired team traveling to play a rested one trap – but it was still comical. Let’s all point and laugh at Kasperi Kapanen’s brain cramp:

4. St. Louis Blues (1-0-1, even) – Here’s a fun fact: The 2019 champs never appeared in the top five of last year’s rankings, but did show up in the bottom five on a few occasions. OK, maybe that’s less “fun” and more “embarrassing.”

Or is it? After all, as we’ve all heard a hundred times by now, the Blues were in dead last in January. And even after their excellent second half, they were hardly considered sure-thing contenders; heading into the playoffs, the oddsmakers had them tied with two other teams for the sixth-best Cup chances, so in that sense, they weren’t a top-five team at any point during the season. The system worked!

Did that sound convincing? I’m not sure it did. Anyways, the Blues are the defending champs, so I’ll work them into the top five this week despite needing a third-period comeback against Dallas to avoid a winless start.

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