NHL Power Rankings: Can Anyone Match the Penguins?

Sidney Crosby has his Penguins playing like the top team in the NHL, but do the numbers agree?

Top prospect Connor McDavid breaks his hand in an on-ice fight and the Penguins get thumped in Madison Square Garden? What an important night for hockey, and now an even better time to revisit numberFire’s power rankings, which are based solely on analytics.

Connor McDavid, Anyone?

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.39)
29. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.89)
28. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -0.78)

The race for the number-one pick in the NHL Draft is on among these three teams. Recent news out of Ontario is that projected top pick Connor McDavid is going to miss significant time after breaking his hand in an on-ice fight (don’t judge the kid, like you never did anything stupid when you were 17). This news should not dissuade these three from thinking about future lineups featuring the Canadian phenom.

Thankfully for Edmonton, they appear to have hit it big with recent number top draft picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, who are second and third in points on the team, respectively. Nail Yakupov needs to play with more consistency and improve his two-way play to avoid being an on-ice liability.

The biggest problem in Edmonton as winter approaches is across the blue line. All their promising draft picks have been spent on forwards, and now they seem stretched thin at the back. Andrew Ference and Keith Aulie are the only Edmonton defenders with a positive plus-minus, making journeyman goalie Viktor Fasth’s life very difficult.

It’s November, But Who are We Exactly?

27. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.46)
26. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.37)
25. New York Islanders (nERD -0.28)
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.24)

This grouping is really struggling to find a real identity. Carolina has the most to be optimistic about after opening up November in a strong way, and I predict their nERD (mathematical projection of goal differential against an average opponent on neutral ice) will be on the rise in future weeks.

The weekend gets rough with a trip to Boston Saturday followed by a home matchup against San Jose. With five wins already in November, albeit against weaker opposition, these two games against two of the better teams in the league will test the strength of a now healthy Carolina team. The focus needs to be securing points whether through the shootout or outright wins. Next week, this team might just know who they are.

Playoff Hopefuls

23. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD -0.24)
22. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.17)
21. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.16)
20. Calgary Flames (nERD -0.13)

If the NHL playoffs started today, all these teams would make it except New Jersey. For Calgary, the great equalizer is goalie Jonas Hiller, who makes them the most likely to hold on for a playoff spot.

Hiller has been phenomenal and benefits from a much improved defense in front of him. Signing Hiller to a two-year, $9 million contract in the offseason looks like a steal. With a save percentage of .925 and a 71% winning percentage in net, Hiller appears to be a steal of the offseason.

Much praise has also been heaped on captain Mark Giordano, with a team leading 19 points - not too shabby for a defenseman. Giordano currently ranks third in our rest-of-season fantasy rankings among defensemen, and whether in fantasy or real life, Calgary’s captain appears to be the real deal through this early season.

Wait, Shouldn’t we be Higher?

19. Vancouver Canucks (nERD -0.12)
18. Winnipeg Jets (nERD -0.07)
17. Detroit Red Wings (nERD -0.04)

A serious argument can be made that Vancouver should be in the top 10, so let’s dive into this number 19 ranking to really understand why the Canucks are ranked so low.

The team just survived a three game California road trip with a 2-1 record, and despite getting drilled in LA for the middle game, looked pretty impressive. Diving into their numbers does tell a slightly different story, however. Goaltending is always the great equalizer, and is evident in their one-goal wins against San Jose and Anaheim. Because nERD rankings are based solely on goal differential, it does not overate goalie Ryan Miller’s excellent start to the season. This is not to say that our ranking is flawed; it just even equally values goal scoring with goals conceded. Miller is a stellar 11-2 in net this season, but the team’s issue is outside of their productive top line, where will the goals come from?

If Vancouver is able to develop to get consistent production form lines two and three, a higher nERD ranking will follow. Miller will keep them in games they have no business winning, which is a main reason for their surprising start. Here at numberFIre, we aren’t quite believers in Vancouver yet, but if these results continue, we may soon change our tune.

Teams that Could Make a Run

16. Washington Capitals (nERD -0.01)
15. Dallas Stars (nERD 0.01)
14. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.02)
13. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD 0.04)

Nashville has been really good, and you don’t need me to tell you that because their record is among the league’s best. This team could do serious damage come playoff time.

Their nERD has just cracked positive territory, and their playoff chances now stand above 50% based on our algorithms. They could close out November easily in the top 10, as their only two games of difficulty are at St. Louis and home with LA. If they can go 6-2 in that eight game stretch, Nashville will have proved that they are for real.

What has changed is that James Neal has added some much needed offensive fire power to a typically stagnant Nashville attack. Neal boasts a team leading eight goals and remains a viable fantasy option despite no longer playing on Sidney Crosby’s right wing.

Hit or Miss

12. Colorado Avalanche (nERD 0.05)
11. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.12)
10. New York Rangers (nERD 0.16)
9. Minnesota Wild (nERD 0.23)

There's an inconsistent grouping here, and all for different reasons that could merit a separate article. But instead, we'll focus solely on the Rangers, who looked like they were going to get trounced by the red hot Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night. The trouncing, however, was reversed, as New York dominated from opening faceoff en route to 5-0 win.

The Rangers were coming off back-to-back defeats by terrible Toronto and Edmonton, and hopes for this game must have been low among the fan base. Somehow, Rick Nash remembered he was one of the top 10 highest paid players in the league, and it was a great time for him to start acting like it.

Nash helped end the Penguins seven-game winning streak by scoring a goal and assisting on two others. The inconsistent play of Nash epitomizes the Rangers who absolutely need his offensive firepower if they hope to return to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The View from the Top

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.40)
7. San Joe Sharks (nERD 0.42)
6. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.49)
5. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.57)

The Kings are certainly the class of this grouping - that is, when they play to their full potential. If they want to bring the heat, they are as close to unstoppable as possible. The problem is consistency in a long regular season that follows a championship, and LA is not the first team to suffer from this conundrum.

Jonathan Quick remains among the NHL’s best on a nightly basis at goaltender, and the Kings balanced attack can be a nightmare for teams who cannot match their depth. Anze Kopitar finally broke his pointless streak in the team’s comprehensive drubbing of Vancouver. Something tells me the Kings will really get going sometime around the trade deadline and make another deep playoff run.

Potential Juggernauts (Key Word: Potential)

4. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.64)
3. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.68)
2. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.70)

Here we have a group that is as talented as anyone, but collectively struggling to put it all together on the ice. Boston has been an enigma all season: they opened up terribly and then lost captain Zdeno Chara to injury, which resulted in everyone predicting a rebuilding year in Beantown. Except they are 5-1 since Chara’s injury.

4-0 in November and holding a five game winning streak, Boston travels to the Great White North this week to play both Toronto and archrival Montreal. A win in the Bell Centre would cement the hot Bruins as finally proving they are worth this lofty ranking.

As recently as two weeks ago, I was lamenting how badly they were going to miss Tyler Seguin this season, especially in the future as their roster aged. Now, Boston’s big guns are starting to wake up, putting the Seguin regrets on the back burner. Losing in Montreal will open them up for criticism, especially from a fan base that does not handle losing to the Habs particularly well.

They Are Who We Thought They Were

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.74)

Sure, they got hammered by the Rangers, but really? The Penguins have the two best players in the NHL and can hang five goals of their own on anyone, any night.