Saturday, February 13, 2021

Weekend rankings: A season without surprises, fixing the lottery and more

question we might have to start pondering, because so far this season hasn’t been all that surprising. Sure, there have been individual results that caught us off guard, like the Senators beating the Habs, the Wings beating the Hurricanes or the Ducks shutting out the Golden Knights. And there have been plenty of individual stories that have shocked us, like the front office changes in Pittsburgh or how quickly the Pierre-Luc Dubois situation fell apart in Columbus.

But in the big picture, a look at the standings reveals … pretty much what we all expected?

Yost’s tweet is a few days old now so some of the standings have shifted a bit, but yeah, they’re still not far off from what most of us were expecting. Maybe you thought the Penguins would have a spot locked down, or that the Oilers would be running just a little bit better. But there aren’t any current playoff teams that would have felt shocking in December, and unless you had the Canucks as one of your contenders or were that one writer here who thought the Predators were winning the Cup, none of the consensus favorites are spiraling.

Yet. There’s still plenty of time for things to take a turn, and history tells us that it will for at least a few teams. And it’s not like a little bit of predictability is necessarily a bad thing, especially in a league where everything was starting to feel random in recent years. But for now, at least, the hockey gods are playing it straight.

Maybe we should have seen it coming; the most unpredictable way an NHL season could play out would be for everything to go according to expectations. Or maybe we’re just being lulled into a false sense of security before the really wild twists and turns.

We’ll see. For now, let’s get to the rankings, where there are new teams debuting in both the top and bottom five.

Road to the Cup

The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first team in history to win a Stanley Cup in July.

Last week’s decision to move the Habs into the top five didn’t age well, as they didn’t look good while dropping two of three. That opened a door for the Maple Leafs, who almost got last week’s spot and were the favorites heading into the weekend after beating Montreal on Wednesday. But the Leafs looked flat in losing Saturday’s rematch, so we’ll pencil them in as sixth for another week.

That means we’ve got a spot available for a team we haven’t mentioned much this year. Let’s fix that right now …

5. Carolina Hurricanes (9-3-0, +7 true goals differential*) – The Hurricanes are tricky, because they’ve spent the last few years having a good record while smart people insisted that they were a secret powerhouse. Dom’s model has them neck-and-neck with the Lightning; this one thinks they’re the best team in the league. I’m not quite as high on them, but I’m not smart, so Carolina fans can feel pretty good here. That includes you, Gilbert.

For now, I think they’re better than the Panthers, even as I’m a little worried about all those shootout wins inflating their record just a bit and the Petr Mrazek injury has season-derailing potential. He’s reportedly nearing a return, but any setbacks will move the needle. In the meantime, let’s see what they do with Alex Galchenyuk and Cedric Paquette.

4. Colorado Avalanche (7-4-1, +13) – We all had them near the top of our Cup contenders lists, they’ve been pretty good, and I’m certainly not going to panic over a loss to the Knights coming off a nearly two-week layoff. Still, can we acknowledge that the Avalanche season so far has been, let’s say, underwhelming? I’ve still got them in the top five because I think they’ve got as much talent as anyone in the league, but at some point you’d like to see a little bit more. Three more this week against Vegas will give them their chance to deliver it.

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