Monday, March 15, 2021

Weekend rankings: What we know and what we don’t at the midway mark

We’re halfway home. Mostly.

It’s kind of hard to pick a midway mark of this weird NHL season, with teams like Dallas and New Jersey still trailing behind in games played due to scheduling disruptions. But we’re close enough, with several teams crossing into their second half over the weekend.

So… do we know anything yet?

I think we do. We can start with the obvious: The Lightning are really good, and will get even better when Nikita Kucherov mysteriously heals just in time for the playoffs. We’re maybe a bit less sure about the Hurricanes and (especially) the Panthers, but those doubts are fading, and at the very least we can all but lock in those three teams for playoff spots, with the last Central spot coming down to the surprising Hawks, the disappointing Stars or (maybe) the fading Blue Jackets.

We know that the Golden Knights are the team to beat in the West, but that the Blues and Avs still loom as serious threats, pretty much the way we all expected. We didn’t necessarily think the Wild would be right there with them, but so far they have been, and we’re getting dangerously close to being able to at least pencil in all of the division’s playoff spots unless the Kings or Coyotes can find another gear.

Up in the North, we know the Maple Leafs are still the favorites, although they stubbornly refuse to pull away and end the suspense, and even if they do it’s not like anyone will be all that scared of facing them in the playoffs given recent history. We’re not sure of much else, although the Jets and Oilers are looking good right now. The Flames are still very much to be determined, although their first two games under Darryl Sutter have been promising.

And in the East… well, I don’t think we know much of anything about the East, at least as far as the playoffs go. Even if we write off the Rangers, we’ve got four spots for five very good teams and that match just doesn’t work for anyone except fans of Team Chaos.

Oh, and we really have no idea which of those divisions are good and which are bad, because we don’t have any cross-over games to go by. So that’s fun.

Things are a little more clear at the bottom of the standings, where Ottawa and Detroit are about as bad as expected and the Sabres might blow past both of them. The Ducks and Devils are done, and the Predators and Canucks probably don’t want to admit they are too. With an unusually high 12 teams at or below .500 right now, the deadline is shaping up to be a crowded market for sellers and a good one for buyers, but we still don’t know how any of that might play out under the current financial mess.

When it comes to individual performances, Kirill Kaprizov is pulling away in the Calder race and a healthy Connor McDavid will win the Art Ross, but most of the other awards are in flux. The Hart is going to be a mess of differing definitions, as always, and there’s still plenty of time for the Norris and Vezina fields to shift. There’s an outside shot that we could see someone hit 100 points or 50 goals in a shortened season, which would be cool, but we really have no idea what the condensed schedule will do to stars down the stretch.

All in all, we don’t know much. But we’re not supposed to, because we’re only halfway home, and it actually feels like we’ve got at least a little bit more clarity than usual around the bottom of the standings this year.

Also, we know that at least a few of this week’s power rankings picks will seem awful in hindsight. But we’re doing them anyways, so let’s get to it…

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