Here we are at the end of January, roughly 32 games remaining for most teams, and the picture is begin is beginning to look more clear. A lot can still happen between now and the end of the season, though. Once the February 25 trade deadline passes, the dynamic of some teams might change.
For example, the Los Angeles Kings recently traded defenseman Jake Muzzin to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Losing their second best defenseman will surely impact their ability to pick up some points down the stretch.
The Detroit Red Wings and GM Ken Holland, on the other hand, have signaled that they might like to re-sign their impending free agents and thus would not be very active at the trade deadline. Now by no means does that make them a great team, but if they have a healthy roster through the rest of the year they could pick up more points than some of their competitors, dropping them to a worse spot in the draft.
Now for the good stuff, let’s take a look at this month’s power rankings.
5. New Jersey Devils (Previous: Unranked) – One of the surprise teams from last season has dropped back to reality and will earn another high draft pick to help rebuild the team along with Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier. Speaking of Hall, his injury doesn’t bode well for the team right now. Any team would surely miss a point per game player. Down the stretch, New Jersey may field offers on Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle, or Drew Stafford, their group of unrestricted free agents after the season. Boyle may have a particularly high value given his size and playoff experience.
4. Detroit Red Wings (Previous: Unranked) – The Red Wings have been such an interesting story this season. The expectations outside of the organization were definitely low, but for the brief period where everyone on the team was healthy, they were actually playing decent hockey. Fans who wanted the high draft pick were getting worried. More injuries helped the cause, and dropped the team back down in the standings to where they sit now, near the basement. Dealing players like Gustav Nyquist and All-Star goaltender Jimmy Howard would certainly do a lot to help their case for Jack Hughes.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (Previous: 3) – On the heels of a two game winning streak, the Blackhawks still don’t look like a team to go on a serious run anytime soon. Through 51 games played, they have the fewest wins of any team in the league with 18. Patrick Kane hasn’t been human, picking up 71 points in 50 games played, but one man can only do so much. The future of this team could be scary as their stars continue to age. They need goaltending help with Corey Crawford’s career in jeopardy, and they need scoring help.
2. Los Angeles Kings (Previous: 1) – Speaking of teams with an aging core, the Kings are right there with the Blackhawks. Older players such as Ilya Kovalchuk, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Dion Phaneuf are all on contract for another couple years and perhaps only Brown is performing up to what is expected. Even captain Anze Kopitar is having an awful season, well below his pace from last year. Look for the Kings to try to trade Carl Hagelin before the deadline and continue to underperform the rest of the year.
1. Ottawa Senators (Previous: Unranked) – The Senators definitely peaked early in the season. They were a surprise team on the bubble for a wild card spot and were carried by Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Thomas Chabot. Unfortunately for the Senators, Matt Duchene is one reason why this season could get even worse. Not only is he an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but when the Senators traded for him, they gave up their 2019 first round draft pick in the process. If things get uglier, the top prize for the NHL’s worst teams could end up going to the Colorado Avalanche. How could things get uglier you ask? Well, the teams two leading point and goal scorers could be traded within a month if a contract extension isn’t figured out. On the bright side, at least those trades would yield some to prospects or first round picks.
Honorable Mention: The Edmonton Oilers are crashing…and hard. They lost three straight heading into the All-Star break, and have dropped 12 of their past 17 games dating back to December 16. The Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers are both on win streaks, but each team has performed poorly enough at times this season to quickly drop back down.