Monday, April 5, 2021

Weekend Rankings: Which team has been the league’s most mediocre?

This is the season’s 12th edition of the weekend power rankings, which feels wrong somehow, but I’m not sure in which direction. Are we really almost three months in? I’m pretty sure the season just started. Or maybe it’s been going on forever. One of those two, though.

Either way, this feels like a good time for one of my favorite annual bits: The quest to find the season’s most average team. This is where we step away from arguing about the top five and bottom five and instead look for the one team that’s been the most middle-of-the-pack. Or, as it used to be called before Kirill Kaprizov showed up, the Minnesota Wild Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Being The Minnesota Wild.

Every week, we pick the five best teams and the five worst, and since there tends to be at least a little churn on both lists, we usually end up covering most of the league. This year has been no different, as we end up with some nice round numbers: Ten teams cracking the top five so far, and ten more in the bottom.

On the good side, we’ve had Tampa Bay and Vegas on the list all season long, with Colorado right with them apart from a brief absence. The Hurricanes have been a regular since mid-February. The Capitals and Bruins have both had long stretches representing the East, and the Islanders slipped in a few weeks ago. The Leafs and Habs have both represented the North. And the tenth team to make an appearance was (squints at list) the Flyers. Huh. That one stands out, although in fairness they were ranked fifth just once, and it was way back in week one after they scored 11 goals against the Penguins on the way to a 2-0-0 start. Look, we said that one was too early.

The bottom five has featured Detroit and Ottawa every week. The Ducks have been there most of the time, and the Sabres have been a weekly regular since February. The Kings and Hawks both showed up early before working their way off the list, the Devils and Sharks have had multiple appearances, and the Predators and Canucks have both shown up in the five-spot.

All in all, I think both lists hold up reasonably well, with the exception of that one Philadelphia pick. We’ve also yet to see a team crack both lists, which happens most years, although again the Flyers sure seem to be working on it.

So what about the 11 teams that haven’t shown up on either list? Which ones have come close, and which ones are so stuck-in-the-middle that they barely even register as a candidate?

Let’s start at the top. The Panthers haven’t cracked the top five yet, but they’ve been extremely close on a few occasions, to the point where an extra weekend win here or there might have done the trick. Our old friends in Minnesota have been in the running too. Either team could make the list at some point down the stretch and it wouldn’t be a surprise. We haven’t given the North much love, but the division’s best team will always have at least a claim to a top-five spot, so a strong finish by the Oilers or Jets would put them in the running. And the Penguins have looked strong lately, making a solid case that they should be considered the East’s top team.

At the other end, the team in the most danger of cracking the bottom five these days is the Flames, with the Blue Jackets not far behind. Either could hit the bottom list soon, especially if they weaken the roster by selling at the deadline. The Stars aren’t quite as close, but they could at least make a case with ten more losses than wins.

And that leaves us with three teams who don’t seem all that close cracking either list, fighting it out for “most average” honors. The Blues were hanging around top-five consideration for the first month before flatlining recently; there’s not enough time for them to make a real run at the bottom-five, but those big swings don’t really fit what we’re looking for in an average team. The Rangers got off to a slow start and had a pair of four-game losing streaks in the first month, but have been better since. They’re a classic fake .500 team, good enough to be kind of in the playoff mix but not really a scary matchup for anyone they’d face. I’d say they had a strong case for Most Average, although they lose a few mediocrity points for those beatdowns they put on the Flyers.

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