Monday, January 30, 2023

Weekend rankings: You are now a Sabres fan. Plus Rangers, Canucks and more

We are all Sabres fan now.

Yes, you too. I realize they may not be your original team, but this year there’s a very good chance that your team is tanking. That’s a valid strategy, absolutely, but you’re under no obligation to donate a few hours of your time to watching it play out night after night. You tank fans are entitled to a temporary hall pass.

And even if your team is good this year, or at least trying to be, the Sabres are hard to resist. I’ve never been on board with the whole “second favorite team” deal, but there are occasional exceptions. This might be getting into that zone. Even if you’re not rooting for the Sabres with your whole hockey fan heart, you can at least send them a few good vibes.

Why? Here’s why.

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Grab Bag: Bruce Boudreau vs. Jim Rutherford, secret NHL trade deadline plans and more

In the Friday Grab Bag:
- My spies report on teams' top secret trade plans
- An obscure player who was kind of trade for a Hall-of-Famer
- January comedy stars
- An important proposal for the month before the deadline
- And a YouTube breakdown of Bruce Boudreau's first career goal

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

NHL99: Ray Bourque had to be in our top 10 — here are 77 reasons why

Is it possible to be recognized as one of the ten best players of the modern era and still be underrated?

I think it is. And I think you could argue that the concept applies to Ray Bourque, a player who dominated the NHL for two decades and is my pick as the second-best defenseman of all-time, and yet still doesn’t seem to get enough respect among this generation of fans.

How do I help fix that, now that our countdown has reached Bourque? I suppose I could wax eloquently, or track down some former teammates who witnessed his greatness up close, or find a few signature plays to break down. But you know what? We’re 90 picks into this project, and I don’t feel like doing subtle. Instead, I’m breaking out the firehose.

With apologies to Paul Coffey and Victor Hedman, Ray Bourque was the most famous #77 in NHL history. So today, you’re getting 77 facts about him. If you kids out there aren’t on board by the end, then I’ve done all I can. And for the rest of us, it’s a chance to remember some of the greatest stats, moments and oddities from one of the most dominant careers we’ve ever seen.

1. Ray Bourque was born December 28, 1960, which means he shares a birthday with fellow Hall-of-Famers Harry Howell and Terry Sawchuk. That’s really neither here not there, but I think it’s neat. Keep your head up, Mario and St. Patrick.

2. Bourque was good in junior. That’s weird to write, because it was probably the last time for about 20 years that you could stop at “good” with this guy.

3. He had 93 points for the QMJHL’s Verdun Black Hawks in 1978-79, in a season in which he was just 17 on opening night. Those were big numbers, but in that era of the Q, they weren’t jaw-dropping. He was 56 points back of forward Normand Aubin for the team lead, and trailed Michel Leblanc among league defensemen. He was only a few points ahead of Kevin Lowe.

4. All of which is to say: He was a very good prospect, but hardly a can’t-miss. And when the NHL draft rolled around, Bourque watched fellow defensemen Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg and Keith Brown go ahead of him.

5. Yes, Keith Brown. Look, scouting is harder than it looks.

6. By the way, this was the infamous “double cohort” draft which saw the NHL lower the age threshold by a year, resulting in what’s often considered the best class ever. Bourque would go on to rank second in the draft in games played and points, trailing third-rounder Mark Messier in both categories.

7. If you’re a Bruins fan who got to enjoy the Ray Bourque era, you can thank a man named Ron Grahame.

8. Well, you should actually thank Harry Sinden, who was the guy who traded Grahame to the Los Angeles Kings on the eve of the 1978-79 season. The Kings had been a decent team for years, but weren’t breaking through in the playoffs, and Grahame was a young goalie who’d just posted very solid numbers in his first year in Boston. The Kings needed a replacement for Rogie Vachon, so they made the deal.

9. In hindsight, it was a bad move for L.A., but this was no Sam Pollock situation where a dumb team traded away a pick that was obviously going to be high. The Kings put up 80 points with Grahame, comfortably making the playoffs. In a 16-team league, that translated to the 8th overall pick, and in 1979 that meant a chance to draft Bourque.

10. Grahame won 23 games in three seasons with the Kings, so… let’s call the trade even.

11. Wait, hold on. All this early-career stuff is nice and all, but did Sean just casually slip in a “second-best defenseman ever?” reference up above in that intro? Yes, I did, and now that you’ve settled into this piece, there’s something we need to talk about.

12. OK, look – I love Nicklas Lidstrom. He was an absolute stud. If you’re a fan of his, you may have noticed that he hasn’t appeared yet in this Top 100, so you’ve got a sense of how highly regarded he was by our voters. There isn’t a reasonable hockey fan alive who wouldn’t trade just about any player their favorite team has ever had for a career of Nicklas Lidstrom locking down the blueline. An undisputed legend.

13. BUT! At some point in the last decade or so, it feels like hockey fans decided that “Nicklas Lidstrom is the second-best defenseman ever” was settled science. If anything, the controversial part of that statement might be “second”, because there are fans out there who’d put him ahead of Bobby Orr, too. (Those fans are wrong, but let’s roll with it.)

14. Is Lidstrom number two? Maybe! You could absolutely make that argument. But it is an argument, and anyone who claims otherwise is doing it because they don’t understand just how good Ray Bourque really was. He was right there with Lidstrom, and yes, he might have been even better.

15. The purpose of this piece is not to diminish Lidstrom in any way, or any other great defenseman that may be in that Orr conversation. But I still can’t help but feel like there’s a generation out there that doesn’t appreciate what Ray Bourque did for over two decades. So to borrow a turn of phrase from another legendary Bruin, we’re going to use this as an opportunity to pump his tires.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Puck Soup: Tanks for nothing

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Gary Bettman swears that nobody is tanking
- The Canucks finally fire Bruce Boudreau. Now what?
- Updating our all-star tiers
- What's happening with the Yzerplan in Detroit?
- Oilers up, Islanders down
- Barry Trotz media tour, and more...

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>> Listen on Spotify

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

What’s the best cap team you can build for 2025-26 using today's contracts?

Back in 2019, my readers wanted me to build the best possible cap-compliant roster I could assemble using existing contracts. That’s not an especially unique idea, and it’s not even all that challenging if you load up on entry-level contracts. So we added a twist: We were trying to look three years into the future, to the 2021-22 season. That meant we had to rely on long-term contracts, with no entry-level deals or other short-term bargains.

You can find that post here, and I eventually revisited it to see how it turned out. In short: I scored big with guys like Nathan MacKinnon, Elias Lindholm and Aleksander Barkov. I also whiffed on John Gibson over Connor Hellbuyck, and somehow Paul Byron ended up on the team.

All in all, I did OK. But I want another shot. So today, I’m giving myself one, as we revisit the concept in an updated attempt to build for the future. We don’t know what the cap will be in 2025-26, and the pandemic era made it tougher to guess. But we do have Elliotte Friedman’s report from a few months ago that the league was projecting $92 million, so we’ll go with that.

As a refresher, here are the ground rules:

  • We’re focused on the 2025-26 season here, meaning every contract we pick has to stretch at least that far. Extensions that are signed but haven’t kicked in yet are fine, but otherwise we can't use anyone whose current contract expires before then. Boston fans keep telling me that pending UFA David Pastrnak will take another hometown discount, and I’d never doubt them, but until that happens he can’t be on our roster.
  • We want the best team possible in 2025-26, not today, meaning we’re projecting ahead and age will be an important factor.
  • We don’t care about real dollars, only cap hit.
  • We need 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies. We don’t need to have any spares, although we can add some at the end if we have room, which we absolutely will not. We’ll try to balance centers and wingers and defensemen playing on their proper side, but we won’t obsess over it. After all, these guys have three years to adjust to new positions if we need them to.
  • We’re assuming everyone will be healthy in three years, with the exception of guys like Shea Weber who are already LTIR-retired.

There are 171 players with deals that run through 2026, ranging from Nathan MacKinnon’s $12.6 million cap hit to Paul Cotter’s $775,000. One of those players is better than the other. One is also more likely to end up on our roster, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s get started, building from the net out as all good teams do.


This was the toughest position last time, and it’s not much easier this time around. There are only 14 goalies in the league with deals that run through 2025-26, and one of them is Carey Price. Among the others, it’s a hard pass on names like Elvis Merzlikins, Philipp Grubauer, Jack Campbell and Sergei Bobrovsky. I won’t fall for John Gibson this time. And at a lofty $9.5 million, I don’t think we’ll be able to afford Andrei Vasilevskiy.

That leaves seven candidates for two spots, and here’s where things look a little brighter than they did a few years ago. This time, there are actually a handful of reasonably priced options, including apparent all-star Stuart Skinner at $2.6 million and Pyotr Kochetkov at just $2 million. There’s also two solid young options in Spencer Knight at $4.5 million, and Thatcher Demko at $5 million.

A few months ago, this would have felt like a slam dunk: Demko would be our starter. But he’s been awful this year, which makes me a little nervous. Knight hasn’t been much better, but at 24 in 2025-26 he should just be entering his prime. Of course, he may already have turned out to be a bust. I’m not sure I trust Skinner, and Kochetkov is in the AHL right now and could be yet another fake Hurricanes goalie that they bail on before the rest of us figure it out.

Even with all those reasonable doubts, I can’t talk myself into a more expensive option like Jordan Binnington or a 35-year-old Jacob Markstrom. So I’ll roll the dice on a cheap-ish combo that will free up money elsewhere. Give me Thatcher Demko and Pyotr Kochetkov as my duo.

Cap space spent so far: A tidy $7 million on two players, leaving us with $85 million for our 18 skaters, an average of $4.7 million each.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

Weekend rankings: The Bruce Boudreau debacle gets a fittingly pathetic final chapter

No bonus top five this week because I’m cranky. Instead, I’m going to ask you to let me vent for a bit.

I’m a bit of an NHL history buff. You may have picked up on that based on roughly half the columns I post here. I also wrote a book on the subject. I’m not an expert, but I feel like I know my stuff.

I’ve never seen anything like this Bruce Boudreau story.

Never. And I lived through the era of Harold Ballard, an owner so mean and awful that he once asked Roger Neilson to wear a paper bag over his head. Neilson told him to get stuffed, and Ballard backed down, because even the worst of the worst are still capable of realizing when they've gone too far.

The Canucks went too far. Way too far. Their treatment of Boudreau over the last few months went from comical to bizarre to outright cruel, which is where it’s been for weeks now. Yesterday’s announcement of the inevitable was just one last act in a bad farce. The way this was handled makes Gerard Gallant’s infamous taxi look like a stretch limo.

Look, coaches get fired. It’s never pleasant, but it happens, to almost everyone, and it’s part of the game. You could absolutely make the case that Boudreau deserved a pink slip based on how this season went, or at least that the coach taking the fall for a flawed roster would be standard operating procedure in plenty of places around the league. That’s fine. Maybe Rick Tocchet will be the better fit.

But there’s no reason to do it like this. None. We’ve known the coaching change was coming. We knew who’d be replacing him. The exact date it would happen leaked out a while ago. And yet the team still sent Boudreau out there, night after night, as dead coach walking. Just fire him! If Tocchet can’t take the job right away because of TV commitments or whatever, then let Mike Yeo run the bench for a few games on an interim basis. There’s no reason to let a respected coach with over 600 career wins who almost saved your season last year twist in the wind like this. No reason to have Jim Rutherford periodically show up to kick him when he’s down. No reason to send him out there for what everyone knew would be his final games, then watch him have to clarify to the media that he hadn’t actually been fired yet.

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Friday, January 20, 2023

Should your team make a deadline blockuster? Yes, and here’s why

Will your team make a blockbuster between now and this year’s deadline? I don’t mean a minor addition, or even a traditional pick-for-rental for move. I’m talking big and bold, the sort of move that makes fans around the league stop what they’re doing and stare at a screen with jaws drop and eyes bulging. Creative, gutsy, confident. Will you team do something like that?

Of course not. Your team is run by an NHL GM, the most timid and risk averse creatures in all of pro sports. Your team will tinker at best, or maybe just mumble about running out of time and not wanting to disrupt the room.

But should your team pull off a blockbuster? Yes! Or at least, you could make the case. In fact, that’s what we’re going to do today.

We’ve got 32 teams, and 32 reasons for their GMs to swing for the fences. We’ll have some overlap, some unique situations and some cases that are tougher than others. Let’s run through this one-by-one and see if we can convince anyone to get out of their comfort zone and make the big move.

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Thursday, January 19, 2023

The Athletic Hockey Show: Where does Stamkos rank?

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Steven Stamkos joins the 500 club -- where does he fit among the all-time greats?
- Fun with the adjusted goals list
- Connor McDavid arrives on the NHL99 list
- Jesse Granger ranks the goalie masks
- Me and Ian make a Cowboys/49ers bet
- Big game superstitions and lots more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Puck Soup: Canucks in chaos

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- What the hell is happening in Vancouver?
- A few new extensions, but no David Pastrnak yet
- Seattle looks like a contender... maybe
- Ivan Provorov sends an anti-LGBT message
- The Avalanche could miss the playoffs
- Jack Adams candidates, and lots more...

>> Listen on The Athletic
>> Subscribe on iTunes
>> Listen on Spotify

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Who wins, a team of coaches who coached their own team or those that never did?

NHL teams love hiring former players as coaches. You could argue that makes perfect sense, since nobody is better suited to understand the details of the game than somebody who spent years learning it up close. You could also argue that this is just more evidence of hockey’s old boys club, with the same names recycling through the league because their buddies keep hiring them. Whichever side you’re on, you could certainly find a few coaching stints that would support your view.

Today, we’re going to try a different angle, with a pair of rosters made up of modern-era NHL stars who became coaches. Who you got: Guys who went on to coach one of their former teams, or guys who coached elsewhere?

I kind of love this concept, because in theory it shouldn’t be close. We’re talking about an era with more than 20 franchises, so even if the average star suits up for a few teams in their career, the odds are solidly stacked against the “own team” side. The numbers are just overwhelmingly against them. But of course, we know it won’t work out that way, because star players always seem to wind up coaching the same team they played for.

Or do they? It’s not universal, and you can probably already think of one star who’s going to wind up on the “other teams” squad that could tilt the balance. I’m genuinely curious how this will turn out.

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Monday, January 16, 2023

Weekend rankings: A tipping point for the Avalanche… and maybe the Kraken?

OK, now I’m worried.

Anyone who has followed this column over the last few months knows the drill when it comes to the Colorado Avalanche. These are the long-term rankings, it’s about who’s positioned for a Stanley Cup, and we don’t overreact to an unexpected win or loss here and there. The standings matter, but they’re not all that matters. The Avs are the most talented team in the league, they’ll get healthy, and they’ll be fine.

You guys… I’m starting to wonder about whether they’ll be fine.

And no, this isn’t just about the Blackhawks game. Bad teams beat good teams all the time, and even historically bad teams beat championship-caliber teams at least occasionally. As I’ve preached all year, one result doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. This goes deeper than that, as Peter described on Friday. They’ve been awful since the holidays, including losses to Chicago, Arizona and Florida.

Now, Dom. We start worrying now. And we’ll use the bonus top five to outline a few reasons why.

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Saturday, January 14, 2023

NHL99: Don’t diminish Marcel Dionne with a pointless Stanley Cup asterisk

Ernie Banks. Dan Marino. Charles Barkley. Don Mattingly. Patrick Ewing. Barry Sanders.


As a sports fan, what do you think of when you hear those names?

I’d like to think that your mind floods with memories of amazing moments, historic achievements, highlight reels, records and milestones. If you were lucky enough to see at least a few of them play with your own eyes, I hope those are the moments that leap to mind. If they’re simply names from the past for you, then maybe you’re conjuring up old highlights, or better yet, stories that older sports fans in your life have passed down to you. I’d like to think that.

But I know there’s a good chance you’re thinking of something else, something that unites those names. You’re thinking about a dreaded qualifier that gets pinned to an otherwise unquestioned superstar’s career like a scarlet letter: They never won the big one.

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Friday, January 13, 2023

Prediction contest update: You're not doing great, but it could be worse

We’ve hit the midway mark of the season, which means this as good a time as any to check in our prediction contest. How’s everybody doing? The answer: Not great! But alos, not terrible… so far.

If you’ve been missing out on the fun, the prediction contest is annual exercise that offers up a list of seemingly easy questions. Who’ll make the playoffs, who won’t get fired, who’ll be in the Hart race, that sort of thing. You can offer up to five answers, with more points up for grabs the further oyu go, but the catch is that you take a zero on the question if you get even one wrong.

The contest debuted for the 2020-21 season, and you all did poorly. Then came last year’s version, and it was carnage. Out of 1,583 entries, only one even managed to get a 50% grade. This thing is tougher than it looks. Which, of course, is the whole point.

This year’s contest can be found here; a summary of the over 2,100 entries is here. Midway through the season, how’s it going? Let’s find out.

#1. Name up to five teams that will make the playoffs.

By this time last year, a majority of you were in big trouble with the Islanders, and almost everyone was at least a little nervous over the Golden Knights. Neither team made it, meaning the failure rate on the question ended up close to 99%.

It could be even worse this year.

That’s because almost every single entry includes the Avalanche, who are currently just barely holding down a wildcard spot by points percentage. That’s maybe not quite as scary as it seems, since they’ve had a ton of injuries to deal with. Readers of the weekly rankings know that I’m not especially worried about Colorado, and I’d bet that not many of us actually think they’re in real danger of missing the postseason. Then again, we all felt the same way about the Golden Knights last year, right up until the door slammed shut. Weird stuff happens.

Beyond the Avs, over 900 of you had the Flames and/or the Oilers, and there may not be room for both. Florida needs a second-half miracle, and if they don’t get it they’ll take out over 500 entries. And condolences to the one entry that picked the Ducks, it's not looking great for you.

#2. Name up to five teams that will not make the playoffs.

This one’s going a little bit better, as the Connor Bedard tank sweepstakes have mostly led to all the expected bottom-dwellers being as bad as advertised. Your top five answers – Arizona, Chicago, Montreal, Philadelphia and San Jose – all look safe. We do hit a snag on the next most common response, as over 650 of you had Seattle missing out. Another 500 listed Buffalo, who could still make it interesting.

If you avoided those two danger picks, you should be OK unless you’re one of the 50 or so who had New Jersey or Winnipeg. Otherwise, there are points in play here.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Puck Soup: Ryan goes to Arizona

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- Ryan reports on his trip to Arizona
- The NHL hits the halfway mark, and we name the three biggest surprises
- We tier the all-stars
- The Oilers on the brink
- The tank index
- Plus more...

>> Listen on The Athletic
>> Subscribe on iTunes
>> Listen on Spotify

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Flyers up, Ducks down, Panthers added in the midseason edition of the Tank Index

It’s January. Do you know where your team’s tank is?

You should, because we’re about to hit the halfway point of the season, and it’s time to get serious about losing with our second Tank Index of the season. This is normally a gimmick that I break out once a year, but this upcoming draft class is so top-heavy that we needed multiple check-ins along the way.

Our first came back in November, with the surprisingly awful Ducks and Blue Jackets leading the way. Since then, we’ve seen teams move up and down the standings. But far more importantly, we’ve just seen a World Juniors where Connor Bedard went absolute cheat code on the rest of the world. If anything, the urgency should be even higher now. Spoiler alert: For at least a few teams, it absolutely is.

As always, this entire exercise takes place in a fictional alternate universe where tanking exists, because Gary Bettman has assured us that it doesn’t in this one and he wouldn’t lie to us. We’re scoring teams based on four criteria:

Season so far: How are they doing so far? A team will have less motivation to really commit to a tank if the absolute bottom is already out of reach. The worse the record, the better the score.

Seller potential: Who has the potential to get worse quickly by trading useful contributors? The key here is having useful players that others teams might actually want.

Goaltending problems: The most volatile position in hockey is also the key to a tank. One hot goalie can ruin the plan, while a few lousy ones can make it look easy.

Motivation: Maybe the most important factor of all, especially this year. Sure, you want a high draft pick, but how far are you willing to go? If you’re a GM, are you risking you job? If you’re the owner, will it impact your bottom line? Will the media be calling for heads? What about the fan base?

Four scores, each out of ten, and then we add it all up

Last time, we looked at a dozen teams that felt like tanking contenders, which feels like a good cutoff. This time around, the Predators and Sabres have played well enough to escape consideration, at least temporarily. That means that two new teams have joined the list, and one of them has some unique circumstances attached. We’ll get to those guys first.

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Monday, January 9, 2023

Weekend rankings: Giving the Central their due, the fading Wings, and more

We’re crossing the halfway mark this week, which means we can officially and mercifully put “it’s too early” to bed. There’s still plenty of time for twists and turns, and history tells us that we’ll see at least a few teams collapse or surge. But we’ve seen enough that we can start digging through the numbers without the constant disclaimers about how none of it actually matters.

For example: Let’s look at some records by division and conference.

We don’t tend to spend a lot of time digging into those numbers. And rightly so: We’re dealing with small samples, so there’s definitely a ton of noise, and it’s easy to overreact. But there can still be some interesting stuff in there, so let’s use this week’s bonus top five to see what we can find.

Top five division/conference record oddities that may or may not mean something

5. Golden Knights – They’ve been great against the Central and Atlantic, at a combined 18-4-0. They’re an OK 4-3-0 against the Metro. But against their own division, they’re a losing team – just 5-6-2 in the Pacific.

If it holds up: Maybe we shouldn’t be so sure that this is the Knights’ division to run away with.

4. Penguins – At first glance, their 20-13-6 record looks solid enough. But they’re a combined 13-13-6 against the Metro, Atlantic and Pacific, and a perfect 7-0-0 against the Central. Three of those wins have come against the tanking Hawks and Coyotes, although they’ve also beaten the Stars, Wild and Jets.

If it holds up: They’ll be rooting for the Central in the Western Conference final, because they’re only 3-6-0 against the Pacific.

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Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Athletic Hockey Show: Rev up the tanks

On this week's episode of The Athletic Hockey Show:
- Connor Bedard is unstoppable, and soon the tank wars will be too
- Could the Canucks join the race?
- I remember a once-common type of trade that today's GM are too scared to try
- Leetch vs. Chelios, who do you want at their peak?
- I get to tell my Craig Berube jersey story again
- Plus WJC, outdoor games, NHL99 and more...

The Athletic Hockey Show runs most days of the week during the season, with Ian and I hosting every Thursday. There are two versions of each episode available:
- An ad-free version for subscribers that you can find here
- An ad-supported version you can get for free wherever you normally find your podcasts (like Apple or Spotify)

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Puck Soup: Episode 300

On this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We celebrate a milestone with a special guest named Greg
- Notes on the Winter Classic
- Alexander Ovechkin takes a photo with your mom
- Joe Pavelski's extension
- Some WJC talk
- Name Pat Falloon
- And more...

>> Listen on The Athletic
>> Subscribe on iTunes
>> Listen on Spotify

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Weekend rankings: A shakeup in the Top 5, Oiler questions, and a Panthers mess

Welcome back. We didn’t have a weekend rankings column last week, because there was no weekend to rank. But a two-week break represents an opportunity, and I’m going to take it. This week, I’m shaking up the top five.

How big a shake up? Well, not completely enormous, if we’re being honest. After all, this is still the long-term rankings, so even two weeks shouldn’t be enough to entirely scramble things. But we’re going to be adding a new team that’s been knocking on the door for a while now, knock out a pair of teams who've been regulars, welcome one contender back, and nudge another one down further than they've been all year.

We’ll get to all of that down below. But first, let’s mention five teams that you might be expecting to see in this week’s top five, and why you won’t.

Top five teams that aren’t in the top five (but maybe should be)

5. Washington Capitals – I’ll admit that I at least thought about it. The standings say not to bother – they actually went into the weekend in sixth in the Metro by points percentage – but they’ve been hot lately and are getting healthy. Is 11 wins in their last 13, including an absolute stomping of the Habs on Saturday, enough to call them a Cup contender? Not yet. But at the very least, there’s more to pay attention to here than Alexander Ovechkin’s record chase.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning – They have the fifth best winning percentage in the league, and if the playoffs started today they’d be on the road for round one. That would scare me more for other teams than this one.

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