Monday, March 2, 2020

Weekend rankings: Sorting through trades, streaks and one major injury

We’re not going to waste any time with a long preamble on this week’s rankings, because this is one of my favorite weeks of the year.

Most seasons, things start to stabilize around December and January, and by February, it’s mostly the same teams that keep showing up in roughly the same spots and there isn’t always all that much new to say. But then the trade deadline arrives and things get shaken up. We’ve had about 30 trades since the last set of rankings, and while they weren’t all blockbusters, that should be enough action to move the needle.

So we’d expect to see some changes in this week’s rankings. But even without the trades, this has been a wild week. We’ve got some teams surging, including the top of the Central. We’ve got some teams flatlining, including the top of the Metro. And on Saturday, we found out about a big injury that could have implications for the rest of the regular season and beyond.

There’s a lot to get to, and we might need to work in a few more teams than usual. So let’s skip the usual intro essay and head straight to the rankings.

Road to the Cup

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

The March edition of The Athletic’s collective power rankings came out over the weekend, and you can find them here. As a reminder, in the case of any discrepancy between my rankings and everyone else’s, you should assume that mine are right.

5. Colorado Avalanche (39-18-7, +49 true goals differential*) – They just keep rolling along, even if they’re not gaining any ground on the Blues or all that much on the Stars. The difference between finishing second in the division and facing Dallas or finishing first and playing somebody like Calgary or Winnipeg feels huge, so there may not be room for two Central teams down the stretch. But for now, we can make it work.

I’m still surprised that the Avs had such a quiet deadline given all their cap space, and I’m on board with the theory that Joe Sakic was eying Chris Kreider and didn’t have time to work a significant Plan B when the Rangers decided not to move him. This is one of those situations where the right answer only becomes apparent in hindsight, so we’ll see if Sakic deserves criticism for not being more aggressive or applause for not disrupting a winning room.

4. Vegas Golden Knights (36-23-8, +13) – Well, that didn’t take long. One week after they were getting close, the Knights kick the door down on the top five by running their win streak to eight while making what may have been the biggest addition of the deadline.

The streak ended last night at the hands of the Kings, but it means that Vegas has opened up a little bit of breathing room on top of the Pacific. It’s only a little, and they’ve still got a ways to go to close this out, but with the Canucks and Oilers battling injuries and inconsistency, this now feels very much like the Knights’ division to lose. Which is what we all figured it would be if they could ever get their entire lineup clicking the way it should; they’re pretty much there now.

I liked the Robin Lehner trade, although I’m not as ready to call it a home run as some are. That’s not a knock on Lehner, who’s been excellent for a few years now. Rather, I’m not sure that this will play out as easily as others seem to think. To hear some of the reactions, the Knights will either see Fleury snap back to his previous Cup-caliber form, or they switch over to Lehner and don’t miss a beat. I’m not sure it’s that simple, and we’ve seen teams turn this kind of thing into a Buridan’s ass scenario. But it’s still better to have a tough choice than no choice at all, so the Knights are in better shape this week than last. And that’s enough to move them back onto our list for the first time since the third week of the season.

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