Gerry Thomas – USA Today Sports
The NHL season is just a little more than halfway through, and the playoff picture is finally shoring up. While the West still has some unanswered questions, the East looks almost settled, and now it is time to look at how these playoff teams stack up. Who is the best team in the NHL right now? Who is the biggest underdog going into the playoffs? What are some flaws for these teams to address at the upcoming trade deadline? Who are the buyers, and who are sellers at the deadline? My fellow sports/hockey writer Nicholas Mullick and I have ranked all 32 teams and provided an evaluation of each team to see where they are at the midseason mark. So, let’s dive into where each team stands going into the playoff push, trade deadline, and the postseason.
32. Arizona Coyotes – The Arizona Coyotes are still paying for the incompetence of John Chayka GM tenure. This is a team that is the definition of the worst place moniker. They are the worst place in regards to their record and where they play now. Now they’re playing at ASU stadium, where it only has around 5,000 seats in the arena. I don’t get why the team is not relocating, as it clearly is not going to work in Arizona. But at least Arizona is purging their talent for the future, starting the first part of the rebuilding process.
While players like Auston Matthews and Matthew Knies have shown that Arizona and hockey can be compatible, poor ownership and management have ruined this team. They either need a new ownership group who can run an NHL team and market it, or they need to relocate for a fresh start. Arizona deserves a hockey team, but this team and ownership group is not worthy of the great people of the state.
31. Seattle Kraken – Having the Vegas Golden Knights Dream season for the Seattle Kraken is now long gone. The Kraken are a normal expansion team that has a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the team. They are not rich in wins, but they are rich in cap space. The Kraken need to be rich in draft capital now, and the only way to do that is be big sellers at the deadline. It was one of my biggest complaints about the expansion draft and what the Kraken needs to do now is get that draft capital. I would not be surprised if the Kraken have a fire sale and have players walk the plank to the other team. See what I did there.
30. Montreal Canadiens – The Habs have leaned into the tank, but Martin Saint Louis has come in as head coach and reinvigorated the team, which is why they are higher than where they sit in the standings. Cole Caulfeild has started scoring again, reminding everyone of the Habs’ promising young pieces in their system. They are also missing their franchise goalie, Carey Price. The tank, the young guys returning to form, and the eventual return of Price give this team reason to hope and reason to play. They also have one of the most talked-about players on the trade bait list, Ben Chiarot. While Chiarot’s underlying numbers are horrific, the David Savard trade last year may fool a contending team into trading for Chiarot to add “grit” or “depth.” Montreal is apparently asking for a first-round pick for Chiarot. That is way too high of a price for a defenseman of his caliber, who is also on an expiring deal. Still, expect them to sell hard at the deadline and probably dupe some contender into overpaying for Chiarot. All I hope is that Carey Price is doing okay with his recovery. Take your time Carey, and I will be excited to see you on the ice when you are ready to return.
29. Buffalo Sabers – Well, at least Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo have revived their careers a bit after their massive amount of regression. This is yet another losing season for the Buffalo Sabers but there is a lot to be hyped about surrounding this team. They got draft capital to utilize in the 2022 NHL Draft with three first-round picks. Plus, the youth on this team has been great as well. Especially Tage Thompson, Owen Power, Jack Quinn, Ramsus Dahlin, and plenty more prospects that are on the way. The future is bright for the Sabers, but the question is, How will the team build further to help with their rebuild during the deadline? Will they sell players for more draft capital at the deadline? It will be interesting to see how the Sabers handle the Trade Deadline.
28. Ottawa Senators – The Sens continue to be a confusing team. They work hard and are by no definition good, but somehow they are the kryptonite for the best teams in the league. They have defeated the Capitals, Flames, Avalanche, and Hurricanes. They even beat the Panthers with an impossible score of 8-2. Sometimes the Sens turn it on and decide to be spoilers; other times, they lose 8-5 to the Coyotes. Their GM announced their rebuild was over to start the season, but that was definitely too hasty. They still have a long way to go, and pieces that are supposed to lift this team-up like Tkachuk have been awful and definitely not performing up to the standards of the C on his chest or his shiny new contract. They should again sell at the deadline, but if they continue to delude themselves into thinking the rebuild is done, they will fail to do that.
27. New Jersey Devils – Nothing to see here unless you want to see prospects that could be something in a few years. Or if the team will finally get out of PK Subban’s awful contract during the trade deadline. This team needs to fix their goaltender situation. If you look at what the Devils did to Mackenzie Blackwood, Yikes. He went from a rising Goaltender prospect to a player that has suffered massive levels of regression due to the rushing of his development. Jonathan Bernier can’t stay healthy, which is a big issue, and Jon Gillies hasn’t impressed either. The Devils are in a tough spot right now, but at least Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt have impressed.
26. Chicago Blackhawks – The Chicago Blackhawks are a definition of what a broken team looks like on the ice. They have not been the same team since the whole Sexual Assault Scandal-hit tainting not only their 2010 season, including their dynasty but the organization/team as a whole. At least Chicago will have a first-round pick to help build up the team, am I right. Oh, wait they don’t have that as their first-round pick is Columbus Blue Jackets property unless it is a Top 2 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Who do they have to show for it? Seth Jones who makes 9 million dollars and is not nearly worth anything close to that. Jones earns more than Cale Makar, the favorite to win the Norris this season. Meanwhile, Jones has looked like a liability this season, and his underlying numbers remain horrible. The advanced stats community was 100% right about him. This team is a complete dumpster fire, and it is time to do what should be done. Blow it all up
25. Philadelphia Flyers – Remember years ago when the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the rising teams in the NHL. Man, time goes by fast, and looking at this team now, they are miles away from what they were years ago. The whole Rasmus Ristolainen deal has not worked out well for the Flyers at all. Especially as Robert Hagg has looked like a great player with the Buffalo Sabers. The Flyers should look to sell pieces during the trade deadline to help the team, but this is a team that has no plan whatsoever. Heck, the Flyers are planning to not have an aggressive rebuild for the team but an aggressive retooling of the team. It is going to be something to watch on what the Flyers do during the trade deadline.
The Flyer’s farm system also doesn’t look great as they have a history of mishandling top prospects like Nolan Patrick instead of properly developing them. Even if get a high draft pick, there is no guarantee that the Flyers can turn that prospect into anything franchise-saving.
24. San Jose Sharks – Out of all the teams in the NHL, the San Jose Sharks are always the wildcard team that enters the trade deadline. Especially when they acquired Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. It makes me upset talking about Karlsson’s decline as he was one of my favorite players when he was a Senator. Injuries have completely derailed him, and for some reason, the San Jose Sharks decided to give him a massive extension. He has been a massive liability for the Sharks. There is still plenty of work that is needed for the Sharks, and I wonder if they will buy or sell during the deadline. They seem like a team that could compete for playoffs, but then there are players who are likely on the trading block Tomas Hertel Especially. Well, at least they got rid of Pete Rose Betting Association inductee Evander Kane from their locker room.
23. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets are a very inconsistent but fun team. Sara Civian once tweeted that it feels like the Blue Jackets are either consistently winning or losing by 7 goals which really captures the vibe of this team. Sometimes they are awful, and their goalie can’t stop a beach ball, and other times they look like they might make a playoff push. They are a strange, strange team who have outperformed expectations. Patrik Laine has been on a hot streak for them, showing why he was the number two pick in 2016. The Blue Jackets might make a push with the Capitals in a slump, but it seems unlikely. They will probably be sellers at the deadline, and they have been linked to the Leafs with Max Domi, whose father was a very popular Maple Leafs Player back when he played. At least they will get two top 10 picks in the 2022 NHL draft thanks to the Seth Jones trade via Chicago, and Rick Nash’s jersey will be the first one retired in their franchise. That is a bright spot.
22. Winnipeg Jets – Let’s face it, the Jets are a disappointment. They looked like a playoff team on paper after the offseason. They added to their blue-line. They have also been getting top-notch performances from Pierre Luc-Dubois. But maybe the rumors of a toxic locker room culture are true because this team cannot figure itself out despite looking at least like a wild card team on paper. The Jets play borderline dirty hockey, can barely defend, and have already changed coaches. So it isn’t a coaching issue, but the answer could either be in the room or in the construction. The locker room is rumored to be divided and toxic, especially reported in regards to top talents and when it came to Patrik Laine, who was traded last season. Either way, whether it is team culture or construction, Connor Hellebuyck, one of the best goaltenders in the league, is hung out to dry night after night and this team is failing. Jets fans have such a passionate fan base which deserves way better. The Jets won’t make the playoffs and should try to get assets at the deadline for Brendan Dillon or Andrew Copp. This team has failed to be anything despite decently high expectations, no matter how you slice it.
21. New York Islanders – If there was a team many fans would label as a disappointment this season, a majority would choose the New York Islanders. I don’t blame them as this team has not been able to win games convincingly and struggled to defeat weaker teams in the Seattle Kraken and Montreal Canadiens at home. This team needs to acquire more speed and shooters. Especially as their offense has looked slow many times this season, and their shooting has been awful. It maybe be, but the Islanders at times look too timid when shooting the puck. Something has to change, and the Islanders should be active during the trade deadline.
20. Anaheim Ducks- The Anaheim Ducks jumped the gun a bit in their rebuild and now they are ahead of schedule. While they probably won’t make the playoffs, they were in a playoff spot for the first half of the season. They have very exciting players like Trevor Zegras, which means good things for them in the coming seasons. Their goaltending situation is also solid with John Gibson in net. That being said, they should be selling at the deadline. Josh Manson is a pending UFA and could be traded for a bounty of assets. They should be shopping him pretty hard at the deadline.
19. Detroit Red Wings- They aren’t playoff-ready yet, but this team might hold the 2022 Calder winner, and they are showing excellent potential. So while they may not show it in the standings on paper, the Red Wings are an upcoming team with tons of skill and a legitimate starter in Nedeljkovic. They may not be a threat yet, but the Atlantic will be a lot more competitive with them in it. I trust Steve Yzerman to help rebuild this team to what it was.
18. Vancouver Canucks – Bruce Boudreau reinvigorated this roster. While they probably aren’t good enough to make the playoffs this year, they have begun to look more like the team who had large-scale success in the 2020 bubble playoffs. Thatcher Demko has saved them from disaster multiple times and is proving himself to be Vancouver’s legitimate franchise-starter. J.T. Miller has also been playing incredibly. Despite their apparent playoff push, the Canucks should be sellers at the deadline, and pretending otherwise is delusional. They are not done with their rebuild yet, and holding onto guys like Miller while his value is so high and when his peak might have passed by the time they are good again is not an intelligent idea. Suppose they can recoup value for pieces like Brock Boeser (a pending RFA), Conor Garland, and Miller. In that case, they should do their best to get that value and cap space to bolster their blue line to make them a more competitive team next season or recoup draft picks and continue their rebuild as their blue line still needs a lot of pieces to be successful.
17. Edmonton Oilers – If this was to describe how the team is run as a whole, this team would be ranked lower. I would rank this team higher but let’s be real, the Oilers are just two transcendent talents in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid plus a goaltender in Artturi Lehkonen. They don’t have much in between except for cancer known as Evander Kane. The Oilers have to make a move at the deadline, especially as they, as of now, are fighting for playoffs. Bringing in a legitimate starter in net or somehow finding a way to build an entire blue line or deep forward group is needed to make this team a real contender. GM Ken Holland has not made any of those moves in the past off-seasons or trade deadlines, so it remains doubtful if he can give this team what it needs. However, if they fail to do anything in the playoffs or even make the playoffs, they will have wasted another year of prime McDavid and Draisaitl
16. Dallas Stars- The Stars have been hot, and the impact of Jason Robertson and Jake Oettinger cannot be overstated. Robertson is coming off back-to-back hattricks, and on a team that is starved for offense, that is huge. Oettinger is also stepping up for the Stars. Good goaltending is crucial for this team since they rely on playing top-notch defense and having lights out goaltending because they can’t usually outscore their problems. They are a playoff bubble team, but if they can trade Klingberg at the deadline for a top-tier offensive talent like Giroux, JT Miller, or Tomas Hertl, they might be able to hold on to their spot. If they get to the playoffs, their style of play lends itself incredibly well to playoff success. So for the Stars, it’s all about getting enough offense to stay in a wild card spot.
15. Los Angeles Kings – Well, now this was a surprising one. I did not think that the Los Angeles Kings would be this far ahead in the team’s rebuild. But I got to give credit where it is due. But you know one player who has been absolutely fantastic for the LA Kings, Adrian Kempe. He has been excellent this season and has been a big reason why the Kings have had an offensive surge. The question is can they keep this up as they are in a very tough division. If they play the way they have, I think they will be in a good spot when it comes to making the playoffs.
14. Washington Capitals- What a slump the Caps have been in, eh? They went from first in the league and being talked about as real threats to being in a wild card spot competing with Columbus. At this point, the only real thing the Capitals should be thinking about is getting Ovechkin to break Gretzky’s goal record. I’m only partially joking, but the Caps need to make big moves at the deadline on a more serious note. They should probably go after a goalie like many teams on this list. Reports state that they have inquired about Fleury multiple times but have been rejected by him every time, so they will probably have to look elsewhere. Still, given the competitive market for goals this deadline, they will likely overpay. However, if they make a run, it will be worth it. Their schedule coming up looks brutal, though, as they face some skilled and physical teams. Facing teams that play both fast and grueling hockey with the Caps’ aging roster and a coach who refuses to play their younger players could cause a lot of trouble. Hopefully, they add at the deadline and figure themselves out.
13. Nashville Predators- Juuse Saros has been the missing link all along for this team. His performance has created the situation for the Preds to excel. They are also getting good performances from Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Josi. That all being said, they could probably stand to add at every position besides goaltending at the deadline. Are they legitimate contenders? It seems unlikely, but strengthening their roster could really help.
12. Vegas Golden Knights-The Golden Knights are only so low on this list because of injury concerns. Even though it said that Mark Stone and Robin Lehner will return to the lineup ahead of the playoffs, there is no guarantee, especially in the case of Lehner, who is rumored to require surgery for recovery. But hey, at least the wait for Jack Eichel is over, and it is true what they say waiting does pay off. I think it would be a good idea to do that with some of the injuries on the Golden Knights team. This team will be incredibly formidable going into the playoffs once their injured player return rested and healed.
11. St Louis Blues- The Blues are having a good year. Ville Husso has stepped up in net and is one of the hottest goalies in the league, making it less of a big deal that Jordan Binnington can’t stop a puck to save his life. The performance of Husso makes Binnington a highly overpaid backup goalie who likes to throw tantrums and make the team take needless penalties. The Blues are a tough team and can score; however, their defense needs more work and can be added to at the deadline.
10. Boston Bruins- The Bruins are chasing the Leafs in the standings but will definitely make the playoffs. However, it looks like the Bruins might finally be on the decline. Their top line continues to perform great, but besides Taylor Hall, who hasn’t been producing much this season, they lack scoring depth. They also lack defensive depth. Despite Tuukka Rask’s retirement, they have been one of the few teams with consistently good goaltending. When it comes to building a deeper team everywhere but in net, they should be big players this deadline.
9. New York Rangers – You know this may be the first time in a long time where a team that makes moves to be more gritty in games and it is actually paying off. But boy, have they been fantastic. Speaking of which is the best description of their goaltending core in Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. Shesterkin is having an MVP caliber season; that is how great he has played. Plus having a strong defense helps but the Rangers need to get more offensive players. I won’t be shocked if they are buyers at the deadline.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins- Never count out Sidney Crosby. But all the platitudes aside, this team is an excellent systems team with outstanding performances from players like Jake Guentzel and Evan Rodrigues. They did well without Crosby earlier this season, and that is incredibly impressive. However, some pieces like Kasperi Kapanen have been disappointing this season, and Tristan Jarry, while starting hot, has fallen to 29th place in the league for save percentage. These past playoffs, Jarry’s shortcomings led to the Pens’ early exit. But he was hot to start the season and has just hit a slump; he will likely be able to bounce back. The Penguins will also be buyers at the deadline this year. They have been linked to a few players, including Captain of the Rival Philadelphia Flyers and possible enemy of Crosby, Giroux, although that trade seems more like a wish than a real option.
7. Minnesota Wild- The Wild have gone from the most boring team in the league to a legitimate threat. Even though they have been on a losing skid lately, they are a top team in the central division and have some underrated pieces on their d-core. Kirill Kaprizov is a top-tier talent on offense and has leveled up this team. They are also a sneakily gritty team, who often play teams with a little bit of dirt. When it comes to the deadline, they could be another team in on Giroux (at this point, it seems like every playoff team is in on Giroux) or on Minnesota native and pending RFA Brock Boeser to add to their scoring depth. The Wild could also be yet another team in the market for a new goalie. Either way, they should look to add at the deadline in either the forward group or in the crease.
6. Calgary Flames- The Calgary Flames have looked unreal. The Toffoli deal brought them more offense, and what an offense it had been. Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau have been incredible, making their top line one of the best in the league. The excellence does not stop at the forward group as their D-core is solid. The Flames play hard-hitting “playoff-style” hockey. The most important factor is their goaltender Jacob Markstrom who has been unbelievable. He steals games for the Flames and has been doing it all season. The Flames came off a seven-game win streak, but it should be noted that many of those teams besides the Leafs and Golden Knights were bottom dwellers. The Flames are one of the best teams in the West. If they get another defenseman going into the playoffs, their odds of surviving the West are pretty great.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs- The Leafs have shown themselves to be contenders and rank top five in the league by points percentage. Auston Matthews leads the league in goals and Mitch Marner leads the league in scoring since January. The top line is on fire, with all three of Michael Bunting, Marner, and Matthews posting four-point nights against the Red Wings. Lately, they haven’t looked as dangerous as their formerly red hot goalie tandem of Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek look tepid to cold now. They are a real cup threat if they get their goaltending figured out and add either a depth forward or top right D at the deadline. That being said, they really should consider adding a new goaltender to take some of the pressure off Campbell or bring up Marlies goalie Joseph Woll since he had a decent stint in the NHL earlier in the season. If they bring up Woll and he does well, they can add a D-man and a forward at the deadline, which could a better move than overpaying for a goalie from outside the organization
4. Florida Panthers- The Florida Panthers are the real deal and, up until lately, were the favorites to win the East. However, the goaltending voodoo hit them this time with their 10 million dollar goalie Sergi Bobrovsky regressing back to the poor performance he has shown in years past. Bobrovsky is the definition of a hot-cold goalie, and recently he has gone from burning hot to lukewarm. Spencer Knight, the backup, is fresh out of college and has posted a season save percentage of .898, which is not great, to say the least. The Panthers are a great team who play a very sustainable and high-scoring style of hockey, but goaltending brings their ranking down to fourth.
3. Carolina Hurricanes- The Hurricanes have looked unreal; however, despite their depth scoring, their forward group is not enough to convince me that they are better than other top teams. Frederick Andersen has been unreal for them, but Andersen’s problem has never been in the regular season. Playoff Fredrick Andersen becomes a liability. Maybe the Canes’ outstanding blue line can prop him up, but with a mental thing like playoff performance, it remains to be seen if he can perform when needed most. If I’m the Canes, I’m targeting more offense and considering some more goaltending assurance if Andersen’s usual playoff performance reappears.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning- The Lightning, despite their offseason losses, still look as formidable as they did during their back-to-back Cup wins. They are another team that doesn’t need to add more at the deadline but will undoubtedly make depth moves. The Lightning continue to stay competitive no matter what, and with the best goalie in the league, I would hate to be the team that faces them in the first round.
1. Colorado Avalanche- The Avalanche are the perfect team on paper. With Darcy Kuemper leading the league in save percentage since December 1st and the depth scoring rolling, it seems unlikely that the Avalanche will need to adjust anything come deadline time. There are rumors that Flyers Captain Claude Giroux wants to be traded to the Avalanche this trade deadline. Honestly, what aging player without a cup wouldn’t want to go to the Avs? They look like a lock to make the Cup final, and their play lately has really proved this pre-season hypothesis might come true. If they can add Giroux, it makes them even more formidable, but it also increases the stakes of this year. The Avalanche have multiple pending UFAs on the roster right now that will need a raise next season. It is now or never for the Avalanche to win a cup with this group. However, they also risk vastly overpaying for Giroux, an aging rental piece. The chemistry and depth scoring is off the charts right now, so they don’t need Giroux. Without a 1st round pick, they might have to give up top-end defensive prospects to get Giroux, and honestly, Giroux is probably not worth it since he isn’t a need. They could definitely stand to add more depth and grit ahead of or at the deadline since the Avs’ problems in the playoffs have been softer than the teams they play, and thus they are incredibly injury prone. However, they shouldn’t hemorrhage valuable assets for players who do not have a high upside or term.