February 2021 NHL Power Rankings
Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens have been one of the NHL’s most pleasant surprises in the early goings of the 2021 season. (Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)

Welcome to Vendetta’s first installment of NHL power rankings. With a solid two and a half weeks of the season under our belt, it’s time to take a look around the league. While you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October January, you can sure lose it. Some teams are well on their way to doing just that, but a few are emerging as true contenders. Most are in the league’s mushy middle, which figures to be as tight as ever during this unique season.

Myself, Gavin Daly, and Emma Brown have all taken a good, hard look at what each team has offered so far and developed our rankings. I’m a Flyers fan, Gavin roots for the Avalanche, and Emma is an Islanders fan, so we have a fairly diverse mix for our group. I myself use a pretty robust spread sheet to guide my decisions. I also factor in injuries, roster talent, and the eye test (it’s not all about the numbers, of course) in my evaluations.

My rankings are a hybrid of short-term evaluation and long-term outlook. Just because a team I’m not high on is off to a good start doesn’t mean they’ll be at the very top of my rankings, but they won’t be at the very bottom, either. Likewise, I’ll give a team I think is good the benefit of the doubt for now, even if they’re not playing great.

(All team statistics are accurate as of the end of play on January 30. Player stats and records are accurate as of the end of play on January 31.)

31. Ottawa Senators (1-7-1)

Andrew: 31, Gavin: 31, Emma: 30

Andrew – No one expected the Senators to be good this year, but I was at least hoping to see some progress. So far, it’s been fleeting. Their big offseason additions Evgenii Dadonov (2 points) and Matt Murray (.857 save percentage) have been major busts so far. And how bad is that Colin White extension looking with the 24-year old becoming a frequent healthy scratch?

Gavin – Look, we all knew the Senators would be bad. I just hoped they’d at least be better than Detroit. It could still happen, but with a 1-7-1 record to start the season, it’s looking bleak. There are some positives for the Senators though, as Tim Stuetzle looks like a superstar in the short game time he’s got.

30. Detroit Red Wings (2-6-2)

Andrew: 28, Gavin: 30, Emma: 29

Andrew – You basically copy and paste what I wrote for Ottawa. The Red Wings aren’t supposed to be good, but they should be a little bit better than last year’s historically awful squad. Bobby Ryan has been a pleasant surprise early on, and Dylan Larkin looks ready to be a leader. He just, you know, needs some more good players to lead.

Is this bad? It seems bad. Fun fact: October 29th, 2019 was my 18th birthday.

Gavin – Congratulations Detroit, you’re not at the bottom! You won! End the season now! I don’t think I have anything else to say.

29. San Jose Sharks (3-5-0)

Andrew: 26, Gavin: 29, Emma: 26

Andrew – The Sharks seem to have become shells of their former glory over the last two seasons. Erik Karlsson has had a brutal start to the year. Their goaltending is as bad as everyone expected. There’s enough talent here for me to not write them off yet, but if this trend continues, how long until Doug Wilson gets the ax?

Gavin – With a 3-5-0 the Sharks are two away from .500, which is baffling. They have superstars like Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns, but their depth is just not good enough. Then there’s the goaltender conundrum. Both are bad, it’s just a matter of finding which one is worse.

28. Chicago Blackhawks (3-4-3)

Andrew: 27, Gavin: 28, Emma: 25

Andrew – The goaltending here isn’t as awful as most expected, thanks to a red-hot start for 25-year old rookie Kevin Lankinen. However, their five-on-five play has been a mess, particularly on defense. The Hawks are allowing the second most shots on goal per game in the league, and they’re in the bottom half in goals against and PK% as a result. With Jonathan Toews’ status still unknown, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better here.

Gavin – I should hate the Blackhawks. A regular Central Division rival of the Avalanche that have caused us problems over the years while also being successful. Truth be told though I don’t mind them, mainly because they are not good right now. If only they’d stop playing that annoying goal song now.

27. Anaheim Ducks (3-5-2)

Andrew: 30, Gavin: 25, Emma: 21

Andrew – Wow, this team is bad. The Ducks have made scoring goals as easy as advanced calculus this season. Anaheim is scoring a putrid 1.67 goals per game, sputtering out a 4.8% power-play, both of which are dead last in the league. John Gibson is keeping them afloat (4.2 goals saved above average, 6th in NHL), but the Ducks rebuild is failing to make any progress right now.

Gavin – As long as John Gibson stays, the Ducks will be fine and might even finish in the last playoff place in the Honda West Division. I don’t know how helpful that would be for the future of this hockey club.

26. Los Angeles Kings (3-3-2)

Andrew: 29, Gavin: 26, Emma: 20

Andrew – Strong special teams aside, the Kings are what we thought they were. The rebuild is starting to bear fruit, but inexperience and bloated contracts will hold them back this season. Surprisingly, the Kings were on the best teams at driving play last season (4th in Corsi, 8th in Expected Goals% at 5-on-5), but have regressed to middle of the pack.

Gavin – The Kings have a .500 points percentage and I’m not quite sure how! They’ve looked bad and got off to a 0-1-2 record but have since gone 3-2-0 including wins over the Avalanche and Blues. Like the Ducks, if Jonathan Quick can stay fit and return to form they have a chance, but that’s probably not what is needed for the long-term future of the club.

25. New York Rangers (2-4-2)

Andrew: 25, Gavin: 18, Emma: 31

Andrew – A lot of people were picking the Rangers a dark horse contender in the East this year, but I saw them as still a year away from contending. Alex Georgiev and Igor Shesterykin have sub .900 save percentages, and Mika Zibanejad has been held to two points so far. Things have gotten so bad that Tony DeAngelo has become a full on cancer and was exiled to waivers. I think they’ll improve as the season goes on, but this is a rough start.

Gavin – The New York Rangers with Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere are 2-4-2 with a .375 points percentage. That means only Detroit and Ottawa have lower percentages. So why do I have them so high? Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere… the cream always rises to the top sooner or later.

24. Arizona Coyotes (3-4-1)

Andrew: 20, Gavin: 23, Emma: 28

Andrew – I was expecting (and kind of hoping) the Coyotes to bomb this season and u-turn right back onto team tank. However, Arizona has actually been off to a respectable start this season, and it’s not just the result of incredible goaltending. The Yotes are a top-10 team in Corsi (shot attempts%) and expected goals. Their best players are actually producing. If the Coyotes keep this up, they could be a serious challenger to Minnesota for the last playoff spot in the Pacific.

Gavin – Another candidate for that fourth Honda West Division spot, but again, do they want it? Someone has to make it through and if Darcy Kuemper plays like he did during last season’s playoffs there’s every chance the Coyotes make it.

23. New York Islanders (3-4-2)

Andrew: 23, Gavin: 17, Emma: 24

Andrew – The Islanders have been a weird team to me for the last few years. Their defense doesn’t look good on paper (losing Devon Toews really stings), but they continue to play better than the sum of their parts. Their forward core looks pretty good on paper, but everyone not named Mat Barzal just can’t score goals. That leaves the Islanders tied for 29th in goals per game and 23rd in shots per game. New York proved last year they’re a very difficult team to eliminate from the playoffs, but getting there is no guarantee.

Gavin – It’s been a disappointing start for the Islanders as they have gone 3-4-2. It doesn’t help when your players are injuring their goaltender before games, either. They have too much talent to continue struggling, but the turnaround needs to start soon.

T-21. Nashville Predators (4-4-0)

Andrew: 14, Gavin: 21, Emma: 27

Andrew – Nashville has been a very good 5-on-5 team so far this season, ranking just outside the top-10 in Corsi and xG%. However, horrid special teams (26th PP, worst PK) and a nightmare start for Pekka Rinne (.869 SV%) are holding them back.

Gavin – If the divisions hadn’t changed I think I would pick Nashville to get a playoff place. Unfortunately, they have Dallas, Carolina, Tampa, Columbus, and a hot Panthers team to deal with, so it’s not looking likely. To stand any chance they need depth scoring, and right now three points in eight games is not good enough for the likes of Matt Duchene.

T-21. New Jersey Devils (4-3-2)

Andrew: 22, Gavin: 27, Emma: 13

Andrew – Most expected the Devils to lay over and die in the competitive East division, but the team has put up quite a fight so far. Even with the so far brilliant MacKenzie Blackwood (and others) out with COVID concerns, the Devils are hanging tough. A historically good start from rookie defenseman Ty Smith is certainly helping.

Gavin – As I write this, I’m watching the Devils vs. Sabres on a Sunday morning. I can’t help but think the Devils look good, but then I remember it’s the Sabres. Maybe I should swap their positions? If Jack Hughes keeps producing (8 points in 9 games), I might have to.

20. Edmonton Oilers (5-6-0)

Andrew: 24, Gavin: 15, Emma: 22

Andrew – The Oilers are such a frustrating team. One night, they’re playing historically well and look unstoppable. The next, they can’t skate their way out of a paper bag. It’s the same story once again; their goaltending and depth need to be better for the team to improve.

Gavin – I know I should have the Oilers higher. They have McDavid and Draisaitl! They also have a below .500 points percentage with a 5-6-0 record. I picked the Oilers to win this division, but right now they are not looking anywhere close to the force they could be (unless McDavid decides to take on the opposition like he did against the Maple Leafs on Saturday night).

19. Calgary Flames (3-3-1)

Andrew: 17, Gavin: 20, Emma: 23

Andrew – Surprising early exits in the last two playoffs have something feeling off in Calgary. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Elias Lindholm are off to strong starts. Same goes for Vancouver imports Chris Tanev and Jacob Markstrom. The Flames have been a solid team across the board, but just haven’t gotten the results yet. I’m actually a bit higher on them now then I was a few weeks ago despite the pedestrian record.

Gavin – Sam Bennett wants out of Calgary and I don’t blame him –it’s a dumpster fire right now. A 3-3-1 start to the season has been overshadowed by Matthew Tkachuk wanting to fight everyone and Johnny Gaudreau posting nine points in seven games. That will end once the bright lights of the playoffs arrive for Johnny Hockey.

18. Buffalo Sabres (4-4-2)

Andrew: 19, Gavin: 24, Emma: 15

Andrew – In another world division (namely the old Atlantic), I might’ve had Buffalo pegged for a playoff spot. The Sabres have shrugged off a 1-3-0 start nicely. Linus Ullmark is making me look smart and Rasmus Ristolainen hasn’t been an analytical whipping boy so far. But I can’t understand Ralph Krueger barely playing Jeff Skinner in the top-six for the life of me.

Gavin – Jack Eichel, Taylor Hall, Victor Olofsson, and Rasmus Dahlin. The Sabres have a decent starting point to be better. The problem is after those four the drop off is pretty steep. For that reason, I believe the playoff drought will continue and Hall will be off in the summer if not before.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets (4-3-3)

Andrew: 21, Gavin: 19, Emma: 12

Andrew – Columbus had no choice but to cut bait with Pierre-Luc Dubois, but it’s hard to argue with the return they got for their disgruntled star: another disgruntled star in Patrik Laine. I’m a little concerned how he’ll fit under the notoriously tough John Tortorella. But he could be the offensive powerhouse this team has needed since Artemi Panarin left.

Gavin – The Blue Jackets have started well with a 4-3-3 record, but I just don’t see them coming out of this division. Hence why I have them so low. They are three to four games ahead of the likes of the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes which could be telling once all equal.

16. Minnesota Wild (6-4-0)

Andrew: 16, Gavin: 22, Emma: 11

Andrew – I still don’t think the Wild are a particularly dangerous team, but they’ve had a solid start to 2021. Joel Eriksson Ek (9 points) is stepping up in the absence of a true number one center. Cam Talbot is off to a solid start with his new team. Kirill Kaprizov has shown a knack for the clutch and is already a Calder front-runner. There are legitimate reasons to be excited about the Wild for the first time in a long time.

Gavin – Does Minnesota want to make the playoffs? Is that what’s best for the hockey club going forward? I’m not sure it is, but giving who else is in the Honda West Division, they may do so as the fourth seed. I’m okay with that as the longer the Wild suck, the better.

T-14th. Winnipeg Jets (5-3-0)

Andrew: 13, Gavin: 14, Emma: 14

Andrew – Despite a mortal start to the year for Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets are off to a solid start. Their defense is still one of the league’s weakest, but the offense has been making for them in spades. I’m not sure if that’s a successful formula long-term, but it’s working for them right now.

Gavin – It will be interesting to see how the acquisition of Pierre-Luc Dubois affects the Jets. Laine was inconsistent at the best of times but was a completely different player compared to what they are getting in Dubois. It will also be interesting to see what happens with Paul Statsny after returning via trade in the offseason believing he would be the second-line center. As long as Connor Hellebuyck stays healthy, I’m picking the Jets to make the playoffs.

T-14. Vancouver Canucks (6-5-0)

Andrew: 18, Gavin: 16, Emma: 7

Andrew – Things were very close to reaching rock bottom here. A 2-5-0 start to the year was bad. Nightmare performances early from Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes were worse. Thankfully, the Canucks took advantage of three straight matchups with the Senators, outscoring Ottawa 16-3. The Canucks have their swagger back from now, but I’m still skeptical of their depth.

Gavin – It seems like I’m saying consistency a lot, but that’s ultimately what it will come down to in a shortened season. The Canucks have the second-best (yes, second best) young offensive defenseman in the league with Quinn Hughes. They have looked more solid in recent games; however, 17 goals allowed in three games against the Canadiens is proof they need some defense.

13. Dallas Stars (4-1-1)

Andrew: 12, Gavin: 11, Emma: 17

Andrew – The Stars haven’t exactly been playing great, being outshot and out-chanced pretty heavily so far. That being said, it’s a smaller sample size than most and they are the defending best of the West, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, you can’t really argue with the results: Dallas is 2nd in goals for and against per game. And remember, they’re still without 2020 Vezina finalist Ben Bishop and their 1C Tyler Seguin.

Gavin – If it feels like Dallas has only just started playing, then you are correct. The Stars missed the first nine days of the season due to COVID protocol but when they did start, boy did they lay a beating on the Predators. A 4-1-1 to start the season puts them at a .750 points percentage but again it’s too small a sample size to garner if this is sustainable.

12. Florida Panthers (5-0-1)

Andrew: 11, Gavin: 10, Emma: 18

Andrew – I almost picked Florida to make the playoffs but chickened out at the last minute due to a general lack of faith in the organization. The Panthers have been playing very well so far, and it shows in the win column. New comers Patric Hornqvist and Carter Verhaege have made the most of their opportunities. Sergei Bobrovsky starting slow is a major concern; Florida will need him to return to Columbus form to sustain this success.

Gavin – They’ve only played five games but who would’ve thought they’d be 5-0-1? Not me that’s who! It’s nice to see one team play in front of a full house though as the Panthers allowing all their fans back in. All five of them (sorry I’ll get my coat).

11. Carolina Hurricanes (5-1-0)

Andrew: 2, Gavin: 12, Emma: 19

Andrew – The Canes have been analytical darlings for a while, but it’s hard to ignore how dominant their start to the season has been. Carolina is top-10 in shots per game, power-play, and penalty kill. They’re allowing the fewest shots and goals in the league. They have the highest expected goals for% at 5-on-5. Their deep goalie tandem of James Reimer and (the unfortunately injured) Petr Mrazek has produced the best save percentage in the league. There’s no stopping the Caniacs right now.

Gavin – A 5-1-0 record at the time of writing is a small sample size but there is something about the Hurricanes the last few years that is appealing. They have a good young forward core in Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho and in a weaker Discover Central Division should have enough to make the postseason.

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-1)

Andrew: 8, Gavin: 13, Emma: 10

Andrew – The Penguins looked unimpressive in two sloppy losses in Philly to start the year. But they’re 5-1-1 since then and have good underlying numbers, suggesting the foundation is still fine. They need more from Evgeni Malkin (4 points), but I’m not that concerned with their short-term status.

Gavin – As long as you have Sidney Crosby you are going for it. I wonder if that had anything to do with Jim Rutherford’s decision to leave his position as general manager? 5-3-1 to start the season isn’t good enough for the Penguins and you wonder if the rebuild is beginning.

9. St. Louis Blues (6-2-1)

Andrew: 10, Gavin: 9, Emma: 9

Andrew – The Blues are producing plenty of offense this year, with Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou leading the way (10 points each). For now, it seems like they’re missing Alex Pietrangelo quite a bit, as team defense has been a struggle. So naturally, the solution seems to be trading Vince Dunn, one of their best young defenseman who could probably help out if he received more minutes.

Gavin – The Blues biggest problem this year will be goaltending. Ville Husso is not a capable backup as shown during his only outing so far this season, letting in six against the Los Angeles Kings. Jordan Binnington has been hot and cold, too, letting in four before getting pulled in an 8-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

8. Philadelphia Flyers (7-2-1)

Andrew: 15, Gavin: 6, Emma: 4

Andrew – Well, this has been an… interesting start to the season. On one hand, the Flyers are 3rd in the NHL and off to their best start since 2002-03. They’re scoring a lot of goals (8th in the NHL, and 11th in PP%) and getting a lot of saves (.910 team save%, 10th). They’ve done most of this with defending Selke winner Sean Couturier on the shelf. Quality top-four defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere and Phil Myers have also missed time.

Here’s the problem; the Flyers should probably be closer to 2-7-1 based on how they’ve played so far. Philadelphia has been badly outplayed in almost every single game. Only the Dallas Stars average fewer shots per game than Philly, and at least they’re fourth in shots allowed. The Flyers are 29th in that department, leading only Chicago and Vancouver. They are dead last in the NHL in Expected Goals% at 5-on-5. Watching them has been more of a chore than a treat so far this season.

Granted, they’ve taken some steps forward in their last few games, although they’ve taken some drastic measures to help do so. I’m probably over-accounting for bias with my ranking and I think the Flyers will be fine long-term, but I have to penalize their poor on-ice results so far.

Gavin – Have you checked out Andrew’s game recaps? How is he not working for the Flyers yet!?!

Andrew – Agreed, Gavin, thank you! Please continue.

Gavin – As for the team, a 7-2-1 start to the season sees them roughly where most expected them to be. The question now is can they overtake the Capitals and get home-ice advantage for the playoffs?

7. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1-1)

Andrew: 1, Gavin: 3, Emma: 16

Andrew – No concerns for me here. Even without Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay is still a dynamic and deep team. Steven Stamkos is back to full health and it’s a treat to see. Andrei Vasilevskiy is an early Vezina contender. No team is averaging more shots per game than Tampa’s 34, a sign that the Lightning as dangerous as ever.

Gavin – Another team who haven’t played the full fixture of games, but have looked impressive in their limited outings. With a 4-1-1 record, the current Stanley Cup champions are taking up where they left off. Being third in the Discover Central Division should only be temporary.

6. Montreal Canadiens (5-1-2)

Andrew: 6, Gavin: 8, Emma: 3

Andrew – The Canadiens were the biggest pleasant surprise of the bubble, upsetting the Penguins and giving the Flyers all they could handle. Their young centers Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Nick Suzuki have picked up where they left off. The fact they’re playing so well when Carey Price has been so meh (.898 SV%, -.99 goals saved above average) is encouraging; the Habs have been too dependent on their net-minder for a while. Assuming Price eventually finds his game, of course.

Gavin – Okay, I admittedly probably have the Canadiens far too high here, but damn have they not been fun to watch! A 5-1-2 record sees them sit second in the Scotia North Division and the rise of Nick Suzuki continues. The forward has seven points in eight games but trails teammates Jonathan Drouin (8 points) and Tyler Toffoli (9 points).

5. Toronto Maple Leafs (7-2-1)

Andrew: 9, Gavin: 5, Emma: 2

Andrew – It’s only ten games and a lot can change, but so far, the Maple Leafs are what we thought they were: a dynamic offensive team that might have problems keeping the puck out of the net. Frederik Andersen is off to his typical rough start (he’s had a save percentage above .901 in the first month of the season in four of his five years in Toronto).

Thankfully, he’s receiving plenty of run support thanks to strong starts for the core four. Offseason additions Wayne Simmonds and TJ Brodie have had fairly strong starts in the blue and white, as was Joe Thornton before an injury sidelined the 41-year old.

Gavin – Relax Scott, this is only temporary. The Maple Leafs have started well (7-2-1), but we all know consistency is key for Sheldon Keefe’s team and nine games just aren’t a big enough sample size. Mitchell Marner has started brightly with 14 points in ten games, and he’ll need to continue that if Toronto plans on a cup run.

T-3. Boston Bruins (5-1-2)

Andrew: 3, Gavin: 7, Emma: 5

Andrew – Even with David Pastrnak only getting ready to start his season, the Bruins have been playing very well. What seemed like a depleted blue-line has actually been one of the league’s strongest; they’re allowing the fourth fewest goals per game, in large part due to allowing the second fewest shots per game and having the league’s second-best penalty kill. Once their 5-on-5 offense gets going, the Bruins figure to be scary good once again.

Gavin – It’s hard to imagine this team is the same as the one that lost 1-0 to the New York Islanders, but they are getting David Pastrnak back and that could be the flip of the switch they needed. The Bruins are 4-0-1 in their last five including a 6-1 demolition of the Flyers. Consistency will be key and getting Pasta back could help that.

T-3. Colorado Avalanche (6-3-1)

Andrew: 5, Gavin: 4, Emma: 6

Andrew – The Avs got off to a somewhat pedestrian start, but their underlying numbers suggested everything was fine. The last few games have backed that assertion up. Nathan MacKinnon looks like his typical Hart contender self, as Colorado’s offense has found their stride (top-10 in power-play, goals and shots for per game).

Gavin – The Avalanche went 3-3-0 in their first six games and you would think the world had ended from the social media reaction. They’ve since gone 3-0-1 and look like the Cup contenders everyone had them pegged as. Injuries could become a problem though as they are currently without goaltender Pavel Francouz, defensemen Devon Toews and Erik Johnson, and forwards Matt Calvert and Pierre-Édouard Bellemare. Luckily, Mikko Rantanen is a man possessed.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (5-1-1)

Andrew – Vegas was my pre-season pick to win the President’s Trophy, and so far, so good. COVID concerns have cancelled their last few games, but when the Golden Knights have played, they’ve been great. Mark Stone is on fire (4th in the NHL in points per game, min. 4 GP) and Alex Pietrangelo is settling in nicely. The only surprise is Marc-Andre Fleury starting strong while Robin Lehner has struggled a little, a total 180 from the bubble. Maybe that creates a tense starter debate as the season progresses, but that’s nitpicking for now.

Gavin – Without cancellation of some of their games, it’s quite possible Vegas could have been number one, too. With a 5-1-1 record, the Golden Knights started the season strong and were taking control of the Honda West Division. It will be interesting to see how this stoppage affects their momentum if at all.

1. Washington Capitals (6-0-3)

Andrew: 7, Gavin: 1, Emma: 1

Andrew – Despite being one of two teams without a regulation loss (Florida; 5-0-1), I’m not as sold on the Caps as my colleagues. Yes, they’ve performed fairly well without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Samsonov due to COVID violations in the last few games. But the process hasn’t been perfect. Needing to comeback from 3-0 down against what’s so far looked like fairly flat Islanders team. Blowing a 3-0 lead to Boston. Being heavily outshot and out-chanced most nights. I’m less concerned that the Caps could fall of a cliff than I was at the start of the season, but I’m not ready to call them a front-of-the-pack contender yet.

Gavin – There’s no doubt their players (or at least some of them) are idiots, but they are elite playing idiots. With a .833 points percentage through the first nine games, the Capitals have ridden the loss of key players while remaining on top in the MassMutual East division. With Alexander Ovechkin returning from quarantine, they have their captain and talisman back and should only become stronger as a result.

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