Monday, October 17, 2022

Five struggling teams I’m not worried about (yet), plus way-too-early power rankings

The weekend rankings are back, and it’s too early.

That’s the caveat we throw out every year, and will have to remember for at least the first few weeks. If I don’t mention it right up front, I know some of you will make sure to do it for me. It gets late early in the NHL, but not this early. We get it.

For the record, I strongly considered starting the rankings last Monday, when the season had technically started but only two games had been played across the entire league. I was talked out of it, and that was probably the right call. Just remember, if you think it’s too early this week, it could have been worse.

The other thing we always do in the first column of a season is to remind you what this is all about. We’ll be doing a top and bottom five every week, but they’re a little bit different from other rankings you might see. We’re looking long-term here – trying to predict the five teams that are most likely to win a Stanley Cup, and the five that are most likely to finish dead last. We are not just trying to capture a snapshot of who’s playing well right now, or who had the best or worst week, or who beat who last night. That means we try very hard not to overreact to short-term trends, and we lean on preseason expectations at least as much as results in the very early going. It’s a different vibe, and if you’re into the instant gratification of seeing your favorite team shoot to the top of the rankings after a good week, it may not be for you.

I’m adding a new twist to this year’s column: A bonus top five ranking that will be on any topic I feel like. This week, we’re going to try to calm some nerves.

Top five teams I’m not panicking about just yet

Sometimes a bad first week is just that – one week, the kind of short slump even the best teams go through a few times a year. Sometimes it ends up meaning much more.

Remember last year, when the Habs went from the Cup final to starting 0-3-0 and we weren’t completely sure what to make of it? That turned out to be a surprisingly bad team revealing itself early. While it does happen that way sometimes, I don’t think any of these five teams have to be worried yet. We’ll start with the easiest team to believe in and get tougher as we go.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Should losses to the Rangers and Penguins have us counting out the 2020 and 2021 champs? Put it this way, this won’t be the last time they show up in this column.

4. Ottawa Senators – With a ton of well-deserved optimism in the fan base and a recent history of miserable starts, the Sens may be one of the teams that can least afford to stumble out of the gate. Dropping their first two is disappointing for sure, and the schedule is nasty for the next few weeks. But let’s at least give them a home game before we start any “here we go again” narratives.

3. Washington Capitals – A loss to the Habs on Saturday would have caused concern, but they got the job done, even if it wasn’t an especially emphatic win. The Caps are everyone’s pick to be the Eastern playoff team that holds the door open for one of the rebuilds to make a run, and maybe they do play that role. For now, one out of three isn't bad.

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