Monday, October 14, 2019

Weekend rankings: The standings don’t make any sense right now and it’s great

Man, the top of the standings look super-weird right now.

The Hurricanes’ monster start is a surprise, but not a jaw-dropping one. Plenty of experts liked the Canes a lot heading into the season, and while they couldn’t stay perfect forever, Saturday’s loss to Columbus shouldn’t do much to diminish a strong start. They didn’t make the top five last week, but their case is stronger this time. I’ll keep you in suspense for another few paragraphs over whether they made the cut, but at this point, I think everyone would agree that they’re a very good team. Seeing them push for first overall is unexpected, maybe, but it doesn’t feel crazy.

But beyond that … whew. The Oilers are 5-0-0. The Sabres are right behind them at 4-0-1. The Ducks are 4-1-0. Those are teams that virtually everyone had missing the playoffs, if not finishing in the bottom five. And they’re all rolling. What’s going on?

We could come up with a simplistic answer to that question for each team – the Ducks might have the best goalie in the league, the Sabres are responding to Ralph Krueger, the Oilers are shooting the light outs and crushing it on the powerplay, etc. But in the bigger picture, the answer is a more straightforward one: This is the modern NHL. Parity reigns. Anything can happen, and over a small enough sample size, it probably will.

We saw this last year in the first round of the playoffs, where just about every series featured either an upset or some crazy turn of events (or both). At the time, I wondered whether or not that level of unpredictability bordering on randomness was actually a good thing. It ended up being one of the most controversial takes I’ve ever had, with many of you agreeing that there was such a thing as too much parity and others making it clear that they thought all the chaos made for fantastic entertainment.

Are we just having the same debate here? No, actually. That’s the beauty of October. It’s pandemonium, sure, but there are still five months to sort it all out. If a great team has one bad week in April and it costs them their season, that sucks. Or it’s great, depending on your perspective. But it matters, a lot. October? Not so much. It matters a little, sure, but there’s a ton of time to get back to equilibrium, whatever that ends up being.

And no, it almost certainly won’t involve all of the Oilers, Sabres and Ducks being the best teams in the league. That’s why they’re not in the top five this week, and probably won’t be any time soon. Maybe they’ll earn their way in eventually, but it could take a while. Or a week. You never really know with October.

But in the meantime, enjoy the chaos. It’s early. This is the fun* part.

(*Fun does not apply to Minnesota Wild fans.)

Road to the Cup

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

Let’s use this spot to do the mandatory “it’s still early” warning, only because if we don’t, then a flood of commenters will take care of it for us. We’re less than two weeks into the season and we’re far from the point where we can know anything for sure.

For example, here’s what the standings looked like on the second Monday morning of last season. The only two teams that hadn’t lost in regulation were the Devils and the Blackhawks; neither made the playoffs. The year’s biggest surprise team, the Islanders, were sitting at a pedestrian 2-2-0. Anaheim was leading the Pacific, while the Blues were last in the Central.

A few teams were trying to tell us something – Carolina was second overall, just like they are today – but if you’d just taken the entire standings page and tossed it into the fireplace, you wouldn’t have missed much.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work with what we have in front of us right now. It’s just your weekly reminder that so far, we don’t have very much to work with.

The good news is we cleared up that whole “too many Atlantic teams in the top five” problem for this week, at least. Let’s get to that.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (5-1-0, +7 true goals differential*) – So yes, the Hurricanes do indeed crack the top five, although based on the feedback from their fans last week I’m guessing this won’t be high enough. A reminder that these rankings aren’t meant as a snapshot of what’s happening right now, but rather who’s most likely to be left standing at the end of the year. That’s why you won’t see teams like the Oilers, Sabres or Ducks here, despite their excellent starts. And it’s why the Hurricanes aren’t leap-frogging preseason favorites like the Lightning based on a few games. In the big picture, they’re not the Cup favorites. Not yet.

But they are very good; this isn’t a case of a team being flattered by their record. They’ve pretty much picked up where they left off in the playoffs (non-Bruins edition), with very good possession numbers, balanced scoring, strong performances from key guys like Dougie Hamilton and sophomore Andrei Svechnikov and goaltending that’s good enough to win with but not so good that you chalk the whole thing up to a temporary hot streak.

They’ve been a complete package so far. They’ve earned this spot, and the way they’re looking, they might keep climbing.

4. Colorado Avalanche (4-0-0, +7) – Our second new entry to the top five, as the rough weeks for the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights clear out a couple of spots. The Avs slide in on the strength of a perfect start that includes an impressive win over the Bruins. Things get interesting now, with a six-game road trip starting tonight in Washington that also includes the Lightning, Blues and Knights. That’s a real tough test, and I’m not moving the Avs any higher than this until they’ve passed it.

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