Monday, August 3, 2020

Weekend power rankings: Yes, a playoff edition. Yes, based on one game.

I wouldn’t normally do this.

A weekend power ranking in the playoffs, I mean. It never really made sense. The whole idea behind the weekly rankings is to try to crack the puzzle of separating the contenders from the also-rans and then, the hopeless bottom-feeders. By the time the regular season ends, we pretty much have our answers. The bottom of the standings are set, and while we don’t know who’ll win the Cup, we’ve at least narrowed the field down the 16 playoff-worthy teams. And once the first round starts, a lot of what we think we know gets exposed, so you may as well just enjoy the ride.

So yeah, normally this would make no sense. But as you may have noticed, normal went out the window a long time ago. I don’t usually spend a long weekend in August nailed to my couch watching postseason hockey, but I just did that, and you probably did too. And I’m pretty pumped about it, so screw normal, let’s welcome the NHL back with a weekend power ranking.

If you’re new to this feature, it typically runs every week during the regular season and has an impeccable track record of accuracy. It also usually comes with a disclaimer about how we’re trying to predict the future, not necessarily react to the past, and one or two games shouldn’t be enough to cause wild swings in the rankings. But in the playoffs, or whatever we’re calling this week, well … swing away, right? If there was ever a time to overreact to one game, it turns out that it’s August.

The NHL just served up a weekend featuring upsets, highlights, multiple penalty shots, a few scraps, big injuries, several questionable hits and one suspension. We have one game to work with, it feels good to be back, let’s do this.

Road to the Cup

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

Let’s start with a spoiler that probably won’t spoil much: My top five are all teams that are in the round robin. That only makes sense – they’ve all got a guaranteed ticket to the next round, while the play-in teams have to fight it out for their opportunity. Also, they’re the best teams, at least in theory, although that may not end up mattering much.

By the way, we all agree that the round robin is a screwed-up way to determine seeding, right? I get that you want the games to matter so that everyone isn’t just going through the motions in glorified exhibitions, but we kind of just rendered the whole regular season meaningless. The right way to do it would have been to have the three round-robin games count towards the points the teams already had, so the Flyers could pass the Capitals without it being possible for the Stars to make up 12 points on the Blues in a week. Sorry Bruins, enjoy being the first Presidents’ Trophy winners in NHL history to be a four-seed.

5. Philadelphia Flyers – Beating a good Bruins team in a semi-meaningful game isn’t enough to move them past Boston on my list of contenders, but it does earn them a top-five spot, at least until teams like Caps and Stars get to play. I was leaning towards putting the Knights in this spot, but I’ll wait until I see more of them. Well, more of them in a game, I mean, since I think I’ve seen that iPhone ad roughly 400 times already.

4. St. Louis Blues – They didn’t look great last night, but let’s look on the bright side: They played a bad game against an excellent opponent and were still 0.1 seconds away from earning at least a point. That’s the sign of a good team. Well, that and the whole “defending champions” thing.

3. Boston Bruins – At this point, we don’t know what’s going on with Tuukka Rask, but the indications are that it’s not serious. That’s good; seeing him get into a game would be better. The Bruins still have a week before worrying about Round 1, and while they’d probably like a higher seed than a lower one, I’m not sure it matters all that much to them. It sure didn’t look like it did yesterday.

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