It’s more of a ‘Bottom to Top’ but ‘Top to Bottom’ sounds better. This is a monthly feature where I’ll do a dive into each team’s underlying numbers to see if they match up with where they currently sit in the standings.
Three months down, three to go. We’re halfway through the 2016-17 NHL season. At this point, we can stop talking about who’s over and underachieving, because at this point enough time has passed to accurately determine who’s actually good and who’s actually bad.
With that in mind, I’m going to split the league into five categories: Legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, surefire playoff teams who aren’t quite at the top of the class, basement teams who are fighting for last overall, teams in purgatory who aren’t bad enough to tank but won’t compete for a playoff spot, and middling teams who could occupy the last few spots depending on external factors.
The Avs have played their worst hockey of the season over the past month. And that’s impressive because they had been, well, completely awful all season anyways. Since we checked in on them last month, the Avs have just two wins, both in overtime, in 13 games played. This little implosion from very bad to incredibly bad has given them some decent ground in this season’s Race to the Bottom, as the Avs now have a five-point clear on last place in the NHL.
Verdict: Tank city. The Avs record is bad, their underlying numbers are bad, and their roster is bad. Everything adds up.
13-23-6 (7th in Pacific Division), 46.2 CF% (30th), 43.0 GF% (29th), 99.4 PDO (20th)
The other team in this two-headed tank battle is the Arizona Coyotes, who appear to be getting this whole losing damn near every single game thing figured out on year too late. If they had been this terrible last season, they could be ruining Auston Matthews’ career right now. While the Coyotes seemed to be taking a nice step in the right direction in 2015-16 with strong performances from Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, the team hasn’t built on the momentum, and the young core hasn’t given the desert much to get excited about.
Verdict: Tank city. Can they out-tank the Avalanche? Who knows! Stay tuned to see which team can have slightly higher better lottery odds than the other!
16-17-8 (8th in Metropolitan Division), 46.4 CF% (29th), 51.4 GF% (10th), 101.1 PDO (7th)
We’re quickly working our way into the next category — purgatory. With Arizona and Colorado being nearly impossible to catch and Vegas taking the third lotto slot, these teams will have at most a 9.5 per cent chance at picking first overall. The disappointing Islanders kick off the purgatory category, and really are the perfect embodiment of what it represents. They aren’t bad enough to tank (thanks singlehandedly to John Tavares), they’re miles away from being good enough for the playoffs, and their future looks very murky.
Verdict: Purgatory. The Islanders have, within the span of just a few months, taken an exciting team with a great cap situation and turned it into something terrible. And don’t look now, but John Tavares only has one more year left on his contract.
16-17-9 (8th in Atlantic Division), 47.4 CF% (26th), 47.0 GF% (22nd), 99.9 PDO (15th)
The Sabres took a huge step last season, and after an offseason that saw them add a nice offensive weapon in Kyle Okposo, it appeared they were poised to take another. Nobody is scoring, their defence is a catastrophe, and to make matters worse, they’ve struggled with injuries to key players. Tim Murray and Co. are going to have to do some major soul searching this summer, because the Sabres are operating close to the cap ceiling and don’t have many reinforcements down in the farm to help them.
Verdict: Purgatory. The Sabres looked poised to take a step this season but a dreadful blue line and a lack of depth have held them back.
18-19-6 (7th in Atlantic Division), 48.3 CF% (22nd), 48.8 GF% (18th), 99.9 PDO (14th)
Barring some miracle, the playoff streak is going to come to an end this spring. The Red Wings have graced the NHL’s playoffs every single year since 1989, putting together an incredible 25-season run that saw four Stanley Cups and multiple Hall of Fame careers. In a soon-to-be 31 team league with a lot of parity, we probably won’t see a dynasty like this again. But this fall has been on the horizon for quite some time. The Wings haven’t been very good the past few seasons, managing to sneak into the playoffs before being dropped in the first round each time. Now, with other teams in the Eastern Conference coming out of rebuilds, the Wings are getting shoved down. And based on their underlying numbers, it’s where they belong.
Verdict: Purgatory. It was an amazing run, but it’s time to rebuild in Detroit. Unfortunately, that won’t be easy, as the Wings have a massive load of ugly contracts filling up their roster.
17-18-9 (7th in Metropolitan Division), 46.9 CF% (27th), 43.2 GF% (28th), 98.9 PDO (26th)
Despite being in 25th, the Devils are probably the best bet to challenge the Coyotes and Avalanche for that illustrious basement spot. Their record is bad, they’ve been playing worse each month, not even Cory Schneider can keep them above water, and they have some decent assets that can be sold off at the trade deadline. That much can’t be said for the Islanders, Sabres, or Red Wings, who are loaded with long-term deals.
Verdict: Purgatory. The Devils could potentially put themselves in the elite tank conversation, but that’s a lot of ground to make up in not a lot of time.
20-22-4 (6th in Central Division), 49.8 CF% (18th), 45.9 GF% (23rd), 99.1 PDO (22nd)
You could probably call the Jets a team in purgatory since they’re trapped underneath what appears to be a pretty set playoff picture in the Western Conference. But this team shouldn’t be lumped in with that ugly group because their future actually looks bright. The last time I looked at the Jets and their underwhelming record, I cut them some slack because they had played the most games of any team in the league. But even with their relaxed schedule over the past month, they haven’t been able to get the ball rolling.
Verdict: Short-term purgatory. They’re only a few points out of a playoff spot, but with Patrik Laine injured and multiple underachieving teams above them to hop over, this bubble is soon to burst.
18-18-8 (5th in Central Division), 49.6 CF% (19th), 50.7 GF% (13th), 100.1 PDO (12th)
Same goes for the Stars. They fit that vibe of a purgatory team because their odds of making the playoffs are non-existent and they aren’t going to be tanking, but this isn’t a hopeless franchise, either. The Stars taking a step back was pretty predictable when Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers walked last summer and left their blue line a barren wasteland. That said, the Stars still have a load of talent up front and a stupid amount of cap room to fool around with this summer.
Verdict: Short-term purgatory. This team isn’t going anywhere in 2017, but they have the potential for a quick turnaround.
20-20-4 (6th in Atlantic Division), 50.3 CF% (14th), 45.7 GF% (25th), 98.9 PDO (24th)
It’s been a very disappointing season for the Lightning. They came into 2016-17 with virtually the same group of players that took them to the Eastern Conference Final last spring, but they haven’t been able to pull it together. Their underlying numbers suggest they’re slightly better than they’ve been showing, but there are a lot of teams in the East to hurdle before getting into a playoff position, and Steven Stamkos isn’t due back until March at the earliest.
Verdict: Short-term purgatory. With a healthy Stamkos, there’s no reason to believe this team can’t return to where they were the past few seasons.
20-19-5 (6th in Pacific Division), 48.4 CF% (21st), 45.7 GF% (24th), 99.5 PDO (18th)
It isn’t a very good sign when you win six games in a row and it only catapults you into 21st place. That’s where the Vancouver Canucks are right now. Their recent hot streak did nothing to add excitement to their short-term situation, as they’re still outsiders in the Western Conference playoff picture, and it sure as hell didn’t do anything to take away from their long-term outlook.T he Canucks are still a confused organization trying desperately to capitalize on a window that closed many, many years ago, and it’s going to be a long time until they turn it around.
Verdict: Purgatory. It’s awkward because the organization doesn’t realize what everyone else does.
20-16-7 (4th in Central Division), 51.2 CF% (10th), 54.3 GF% (5th), 100.9 PDO (8th)
Now we’re into the bubble teams who could go either way depending on a wealth of internal and external factors. The Predators, you’d think, shouldn’t be in this category. At the beginning of the season, they were expected to be a serious Stanley Cup contender, and while their underlying numbers suggest they could be just that, their results are far from it. They’re in the top third in possession, 16th in goals for, 10th in goals against, and in the middle of the pack in both special teams. But for whatever reason, they aren’t winning games.
Verdict: Bubble team. You expect things to regress back to normal, and if they do, the Preds will be fine. But there’s clearly some reason they aren’t winning, so we can’t call them surefire playoff contenders right now.
20-17-8 (5th in Atlantic Division), 51.5 CF% (7th), 44.1 GF% (27th), 98.4 PDO (27th)
The Panthers are in the same boat as the Predators. They really have no business in this category, as they’re a much better team than they’re currently showing. Their underlying numbers are significantly better than last year’s version of the team that overachieved massively, but their puck luck has been non-existent. You can blame that on the internal shift to analytics, I guess, or you can look at their 7.2 all situations team shooting percentage and accept that it’s going to regress back to normal.
Verdict: Bubble team. The Panthers have struggled with injuries and have had ugly luck this season, but they’re a solid bet to turn it on in the second half.
22-17-4 (5th Pacific Division), 54.6 CF% (2nd), 50.4 GF% (15th), 98.8 PDO (25th)
When looking at their underlying numbers, you’d assume that the Kings are a prime bet to regress back to normal and be, well, good. But we’ve seen this before from the Kings. Their possession numbers are a result of their system, and while it’s proven very effective in shutting the other team down, they’ve traditionally struggled to score goals. That’s been the case this season, as their goal differential is significantly worse than their shot differential and their roster is loaded with players with abnormally bad shooting percentages.
Verdict: Bubble team. I’m getting tired of saying it, but things should balance out for the Kings.
22-15-4 (4th in Atlantic Division), 47.9 (23rd), 48.2 GF% (20th), 99.8 PDO (16th)
Since we talked about a handful of teams who are underachieving, let’s get on one who’s doing the opposite. The Ottawa Senators make no sense. Their underlying numbers are bad. They get guttered more often than not, which is indicative in their 23rd ranked Corsi For percentage. But they also boast the NHL’s 20th goal differential at even strength and their PDO is right in the middle of the pack along with their special teams. So, uh, what?
Verdict: Bubble team. The Senators don’t make much sense, and should regress, but haven’t yet. Who knows. Maybe not all of the magic was used up in that run back in 2014.
20-13-8 (3rd in Atlantic Division), 49.8 CF% (17th), 51.2 GF% (11th), 100.5 PDO (9th)
For most of the season, the Leafs were actually underachieving based on their underlying metrics. They were towards the bottom of the league’s standings despite boasting top-third possession numbers, but over the past few weeks, they’ve turned on the jets and have validated the #TheLeafsAreActuallyGood hashtag with a 8-1-1 stretch that has catapulted them into a playoff spot. Oddly enough, though, is that over that winning span, the Leafs have been consistently outshot, and their overall season possession numbers have dipped into the bottom half of the league.
Verdict: Bubble team. They lose when they play well? They win when they don’t? The Leafs, such as you’d expect for a roster loaded with rookies, are an odd team, and it’s difficult to predict how they’ll finish. But the fact that they’re even in this conversation is great and it shows why their fans should be excited for the future.
(Perry Nelson / USA Today Sports)
23-20-3 (4th in Pacific Division), 50.5 CF% (13th), 48.0 GF% (21st), 99.1 PDO (21st)
The Flames got off to an ugly start this season for a variety of reasons. Johnny Gaudreau taking time to get back into things, a new head coach and system, poor goaltending, and so on. But after the first month, the Flames got red hot (lol) and basically made up for it. Obviously they aren’t as good as the team that won six in a row in December, but they aren’t as bad as the team that lost five of its first six games. They exist somewhere in the middle, like their underlying numbers suggest.
Verdict: Bubble team. The Flames have been up and down this season, but barring some disaster, they should remain evened out and ride their way into one of the West’s wild card spots.
23-20-3 (6th in Metropolitan Division), 52.1 CF% (5th), 48.8 GF% (17th), 98.9 PDO (23rd)
Last time we checked, the Hurricanes looked hopeless. Not only were their results not matching their play (reverse PDO bubble), but they were the forgotten cousin of the Metro Division. The division that boasts the two best teams the league, Washington and Pittsburgh, the score like it’s goddamn 1986 New York Rangers, and two teams who each went on historic winning streaks, so it was easy for a team like the Hurricanes to be forgotten (even though their underlying numbers indicated a sleeping giant). Thanks to a video game level good penalty kill, the Canes are finally living up to what their elite corsi suggests they can be, and with the Flyers falling off a cliff, there’s a chance for them to sneak their way into a playoff spot.
Verdict: Bubble team. We accepted the Hurricanes as underachievers based on their poor goaltending and lack of elite scoring skill, but a recent hot streak has made things interesting.
22-16-5 (3rd in Central Division), 51.3 CF% (9th), 48.7 GF% (19th), 99.4 PDO (19th)
Last summer, the Blues dealt Brian Elliott away and handed Jake Allen the keys to their net. How was he handled it? Not so well. The goalie of the future in St. Louis has had an ugly start to the season, posting a career-low .900 save percentage in all situations. That poor play has been paramount in the Blues’ disappointing season, as the team is surprisingly barely on the cusp of a playoff spot despite boasting impressive underlying numbers and, well, as we know, a damn good roster.
Verdict: Playoff team. You can argue they fit better in the bubble category, but their goaltending has been as bad as it’s going to be and they’ve still posted a record good enough for the playoffs. So it’s hard to imagine the wheels falling off here.
22-17-6 (5th in Metropolitan Division), 51.5 CF% (11th), 44.6 GF% (26th), 98.1 PDO (29th)
The last time we checked in on the Flyers, they were just finishing up on a 10-game winning streak that had them sitting with the fifth best record in the league. Since then, they’ve, uh, well, been terrible. The Flyers have gone full Flyera and have won two of their last 13 games, effectively offsetting what they accomplished during that winning streak. Their ugly PDO, which is the result of ‘awful goaltending’, can be blamed for this cold stretch, but ultimately the problem goes deeper than that. The Flyers and their run-and-gun-fly-high style result in their goalies facing a ridiculous amounts of high danger chances, so this isn’t something we can pin on bad luck or poor goaltending.
Verdict: Bubble team. The Flyers had an amazing stretch, but even then it was hard to imagine a team with this thin of a blue line and minimal scoring depth carrying it on forever.
23-18-5 (2nd in Atlantic Division), 55.2 CF% (1st), 49.7 GF% (16th), 98.1 PDO (28th)
The Bruins have the league’s best corsi for percentage, the third worst PDO, and are in the middle of the pack in goal differential. Everything adds up! But why is the Bruins’ PDO so bad? Tuukka Rask is having a very good season, so it has to be their 7.4 team shooting percentage. Four players (Pastrnak, Backes, Marchand, and Krejci) have scored half of Boston’s goals, and they have a wealth of forwards shooting below their careers averages.
Verdict: Playoff team. The Bruins are already playing well, but their underlying numbers suggest they could be better.
25-16-2 (3rd in Pacific Division), 50.8 CF% (12th), 52.1 GF% (9th), 100.0 PDO (13th)
With the names like Thornton, Burns, Pavelski, and Marleau on their roster, we expect the Sharks to be a high scoring team. That hasn’t been the case this season. The Sharks, oddly enough, have been successful thanks to their ability to shut the other team down. They rank towards the top of the league in shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts against, and that’s reflected in the fact they’ve allowed the fifth fewest goals against in all situations.
Verdict: Playoff team. With an aging core and not much depth, it’s hard to imagine the Sharks doing what they did last spring.
23-15-7 (2nd in Pacific Division), 51.8 CF% (6th), 50.6 GF% (14th), 99.7 PDO (17th)
Edmonton Oilers? Playoff team?! What is it? The 1980s? For the first time in a long, cold, dark, depressing decade in Edmonton, the Oilers look like they’re going back to the big dance. They’re currently second in an underwhelming Pacific Division, and their shot differentials suggest that by the time everything is said and done, they could be in first. Connor McDavid is driving the bus for the most part, but the Oilers’ defence and goaltending are the best we’ve seen in years, and they have a handful of players with abnormally low shooting percentages that could (should) turn things around and provide an extra punch.
Verdict: Playoff team. Barring an injury to either McDavid or Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s playoff drought is going to come to an end this spring.
24-13-8 (1st in Pacific Division), 49.5 CF% (20th), 51.0 GF% (12th), 100.4 PDO (11th)
Such as you’d expect after they brought back Randy Carlyle, the Ducks have seen a decrease in their shot attempt differentials. This has always been a thing with Carlyle’s system, as teams decline in shot volume in order to defend and create more high danger chances. So you’d assume the Ducks are going to regress because they score at a higher rate than their shot totals would suggest, but there’s enough skill on the roster to validate an above average shooting percentage.
Verdict: Playoff team. They probably aren’t contenders anymore, but it’s difficult to imagine the Ducks not in the playoffs.
28-15-1 (4th in Metropolitan Division), 47.7 CF% (25th), 52.7 GF% (7th), 101.4 PDO (5th)
The Rangers were flying high for a while, scoring on, like, every third shot they took. Predictably, that came to an end, but the Rangers are still scoring goals at a high level. Unfortunately, they’re also allowing a lot of goals, as not even Henrik Lundqvist can spare this team from itself. The Rangers blue line is a disaster, and if they’re going to compensate for it come playoff team, they’re going to need that ridiculous shooting percentage to come back to life.
Verdict: Playoff team. It’s impossible to call the Rangers a contender when they need to rely on a high PDO to win games, because high percentages simply don’t continue into the playoffs.
26-11-5 (3rd in Metropolitan Division), 51.4 CF% (8th), 53.8 GF% (6th), 100.4 PDO (10th)
The Penguins were great last season, they won it all, they brought back the same team, they’re great again, and there’s a decent chance they’ll win it all. There hasn’t been a Stanley Cup hangover in Pittsburgh at all. If anything, the Pens are better than they were last season, because this year, they have Sidney Crosby playing like he’s trying to prove that he’s still the best player in the world.
Verdict: Cup Contender. Barring injuries, this team can repeat.
27-13-5 (2nd in Central Division), 50.3 CF% (15th), 52.4 GF% (8th), 101.3 PDO (6th)
Their possession numbers may not be as good as you’d like in a contender, but these are still the Blackhawks. And every time you bet against them, they make you look dumb. Corey Crawford is standing on his head, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin are producing at an elite pace, and Duncan Keith is logging major minutes on the blue line. Once the playoffs roll around and the benches shrink, there are very few teams that can compete with Chicago’s core.
Verdict: Cup contender. They might not be as dominant as before, but it’s hard to see any team in the West stopping them.
27-9-5 (1st in Central Division), 47.8 CF% (24th), 60.5 GF% (2nd), 103.8 PDO (1st)
This is why Bruce Boudreau was last summer’s most important free agent. The Wild, after a so-so start, have been the NHL’s best team. On the back of an excellent season from Devan Dubnyk, the Wild have won 16 of their past 18 games, making it pretty easy to ignore their underwhelming shot differential. This is a frustrating, deceptive team to play against. They’re deep, fast, and play a tight checking game, and have a blue line without glaring weaknesses. They suppressing scoring chances, keep the puck to the outside, and capitalize on the few opportunities that they do manage to get.
Verdict: Playoff team. I won’t call them a contender just yet, but the Wild look like they could be the team to beat in the West. Let’s give it another month though.
27-11-6 (1st in Atlantic Division), 52.5 CF% (3rd), 57.8 GF% (4th), 101.7 PDO (4th)
It’s amazing how much of an impact Carey Price has on the Canadiens. Obviously he boosts the team’s save percentage by being, well, significantly better than any other goalie they’d trot out there. But in doing so, he also instills a confidence in the team that allows them to take more risks offensively. And as a result, the team has much better underlying numbers than they did in 2015-16 when he missed most of the season. Or is that just Shea Weber’s leadership? We’ll never know!
Verdict: Cup Contender. Their roster looks underwhelming, but they’ve been excellent this season and boast the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
28-9-5 (2nd in Metropolitan Division), 52.2 CF% (4th), 63.8 GF% (1st), 103.6 PDO (2nd)
With Columbus, Minnesota, and Philadelphia going on major winning streaks, the Capitals have flown under the radar. But since getting off to kind of a whatever start, the Caps have won 15 of their past 19 games. Like last year, they have deep, deep offensive ability, a steady blue line, and a consistent goalie. Hopefully they can make it happen come playoff time, because this could be their last shot with this group.
Verdict: Cup Contender. The Capitals are about as good a team as you can have in the cap world.
29-9-4 (1st in Metropolitan Division), 50.1 CF% (16th), 58.2 GF% (3rd), 102.3 PDO (3rd)
The Blue Jackets have been the story of this NHL season. They were awful last year, did nothing over the summer, and then, randomly, the coach that was the pit of everyone’s joke rallied this underwhelming roster and pulled off an unthinkable 16-game winning streak. It’s easy to dissect such a thing and say it’s unsustainable because, well, obviously, but this run had a sense of magic to it that makes you wonder whether this is finally the year for a Blue Jackets team that has had virtually nothing go right for them in their 16-year existence.
Verdict: Playoff team. There are a lot of things to like about Columbus, and their winning streak wasn’t some complete fluke, but they aren’t on the same level as the true contenders. But hell, I was wrong about them this season, and I could very well be wrong about them heading into the playoffs, too!