Rich 10 NHL Rankings (Mar. 29 – Apr. 4, 2021)

A new month is quickly coming upon us, and no, this is not an early April Fools’ Day joke, either. 

With April approaching in t-minus 72 hours, you know what that means. Yes, trade deadline season is just around the corner, and while this avenue will not be crossed for another two weeks, teams must really crack down, look themselves in the mirror and decide whether they are true contenders or glorified pretenders. 

While other teams might have questions about their postseason probabilities, one thing is for certain – the teams in this power ranking installment will certainly vie for a postseason bid. How they rank in this new installment, though, might be a topic for debate, but please don’t shoot the messenger (or in this case, writer). 

At the edge of the crease: Winnipeg Jets (21-12-2, 44 points)

Previous ranking: N/A

Record over past week: 3-1-0

Blake Wheeler might not be the youngest or flashiest skater on Winnipeg’s roster, but that does not (and should not), discount the production the 34-year-old has put together this season. Through 35 games played this season, Wheeler has amassed 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists). Sure, this is not completely earth-shattering, nor is Wheeler’s 48 projected points (16 goals, 32 assists) should he continue at the pace he is at. However, as one of the premier veterans on the roster, every point and intangible factor will go a long way toward Winnipeg’s postseason possibilities. Wheeler and the Jets will continue their regular season grind this week with a road bout against Calgary before heading back Bell MTS Place to begin a four-game homestand (two each against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks). 

10. Minnesota Wild (21-10-1, 43 points) 

Previous ranking: +1

Record over past week: 3-0-0

Minnesota needed a big rebound week. Luckily for Wild fans out there, the team cashed in with one. Although none of their contests were blowout victories (they won 2-1, 3-2 and 2-0 in their three games played this past week), they proved something to the critics – Minnesota has the roster balance to hold on and win close games, and they also have enough strength on their roster to capitalize on the games they need to (two of their wins this past week came against the rebuilding Anaheim Ducks, while the other came against the struggling St. Louis Blues). It is a simple formula, really. If you can win close games and defeat the weaker competition, you will go very, very far. 

9. Pittsburgh Penguins (22-11-2, 46 points) 

Previous ranking: 10

Record over past week: 3-0-0

Even through the adversity, Pittsburgh is still winning games. With their current three-game winning streak, the Penguins overtook their division rival in the Boston Bruins and now sit in third among all MassMutual East Division teams. Leading the roster in goals this past week was Bryan Rust, who scored all three of his goals against the stingy New York Islanders on Mar. 27. The hat trick was Rust’s fourth of his career and his first since Mar. 3, 2020 against the Ottawa Senators. In fact, the regular season hat trick against the Islanders was the first a Pittsburgh skater scored against the franchise since Mar. 10, 2013 (Chris Kunitz scored three in the 6-1 victory). In other words, it has been a hot minute. 

8. Florida Panthers (22-9-4, 48 points)

Previous ranking: 5

Record over past week: 2-2-0

After starting off the week by getting swept in two games against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Panthers bounced back and swept the Dallas Stars in a pair. Florida’s big news this past week did not come from their two-game road sweep in the Big D, but in the significant leg injury defenseman Aaron Ekblad sustained during the second period of Sunday’s matchup. Panther skaters and fans alike will hold their breath as they await the news on their star defender. 

7. Toronto Maple Leafs (22-10-2, 46 points) 

Previous ranking: 8

Record over past week: 2-0-0

Sports 101 – the usual stars will make their usual highlight reel plays. Toronto’s star surplus definitely does not veer away from this rule (watch this if you need proof), but even still, the team’s supporting players need to be given some credit. In particular, how about Justin Holl? The second pair blueliner currently maintains the fourth-best plus-minus (+/-) on the team when compared to all other Toronto defensemen (+6). Although the majority of Holl’s importance comes on the defensive side of the puck, a little bit of offensive production does not hurt, either. After all, the 29-year-old picked up the second game-winning goal of his career this past week. Not bad for a role player who had to grind his way through the system. 

6. New York Islanders (22-9-4, 48 points) 

Previous ranking: 6

Record over past week: 2-1-0

There is a reason New York locked up Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a six-year, $30 million contract extension almost the moment after they acquired him from Ottawa during last season’s trade deadline. In three games played over the past week, Pageau led the team in points (five). The 2021 campaign, however, has seen the 28-year-old take it to new levels, as his 56.6 Faceoff Win Percentage (FOW%) and 19.0 Shooting Percentage (S%) are currently career-highs. While many a critic might call the contract an overpay, Pageau has definitely solidified himself as a top-six forward who can play both sides of the ice.

5. Colorado Avalanche (21-8-4, 46 points) 

Previous ranking: 4

Record over past week: 2-0-2

Colorado’s roster activity has been nothing short of busy. For one, Colorado bolstered their goaltending support by trading for Buffalo’s Jonas Johansson on Mar. 20. Rookie defenseman Bowen Byram, however, is likely to sit out for an extended period of time after the 19-year-old was checked by forward Keegan Kolesar during Thursday’s 5-1 victory against the Vegas Golden Knights. Colorado will continue their roster shuffle this week when they take on the Ducks (Mar. 29), Arizona Coyotes (Mar. 31) and Blues (April 2 and 3). 

4. Carolina Hurricanes (23-7-3, 49 points) 

Previous ranking: 7

Record over past week: 3-0-0

If you are a fan of Points Percentage (P%), then you are more than likely a fan of Carolina – heading into this week’s slate of NHL action, Carolina ranks first in P% (.742). Now, they have not played the most games up to this point (their 33 games played currently ranks in the bottom half among all NHL teams), but this is a moot point, because the games Carolina has played in have been nothing short of spectacular. Exhibit A? Their Mar. 27 game against Tampa Bay. Although Carolina quickly fell behind by two goals less than six minutes into the first period, they quickly outscored Tampa Bay, 4-1, the rest of the way. 22-year-old forward Martin Necas was a factor in all four of Carolina’s goals (two goals, two assists). Carolina’s youth is here, and it definitely showed off against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. 

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (24-8-2, 50 points) 

Previous ranking: 1

Record over past week: 1-2-0 

Blowing two two-goal leads in back-to-back games this past week (Mar. 25 and 27 against Dallas and Carolina, respectively) means a drop was expected in this ranking installment. And, well, here we are. Regardless of whether they cash in with wins or is on the wrong end of a couple gut-wrenching losses, the book on how Tampa Bay wins hockey games remains the same. Their depth on all sides of the ice is very, very deep, and that alone will keep them in the upper echelon of all NHL clubs. Tampa Bay will begin a four-game homestand this week against the Columbus Blue Jackets (two games) and Detroit Red Wings (two games). Barring anything drastic, I am willing to wager that Tampa Bay will find the win column again. I just have a feeling.

2. Vegas Golden Knights (23-8-1, 47 points) 

Previous ranking: 2

Record over past week: 2-1-0

The honor to sit atop the Honda West Division was contested for at Ball Arena this past Saturday, and although Colorado shot out to a 2-1 lead through one period of play, William Carrier tied it up less than four minutes into the second period after the Vegas forward tipped in the puck via a Shea Theodore wrister. Max Pacioretty then finished the Avalanche off in overtime after the 32-year-old winger shoveled the puck into the net after the initial shot on the rush rebounded off the near post. Pacioretty’s game-winning goal was his 53rd since the start of the 2013-14 season, second in the entire NHL (someone by the name of Alex Ovechkin ranks first with 57 game-winning goals). In case it needed to be said, this team tends to step up in clutch moments. As Dr. Ian Malcom would say – “well, there it is.” 

1. Washington Capitals (23-7-4, 50 points) 

Previous ranking: 3

Record over past week: 3-0-0

A three-game win streak vaults Washington to the top spot in this ranking installment. Playing the New Jersey Devils for a pair, followed by a bout against the New York Rangers, will definitely get a hot streak going, and hot streak the Capitals have most definitely been on. In their three games against the two teams this past week, Washington scored 13 goals. Seven of those goals came from the sticks of Alex Ovechkin (four) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (three). This production, combined with goaltender Ilya Samsonov tallying his first shutout of the season this past week (Mar. 26 against the Devils), should give head coach Peter Laviolette a lot to look forward to as the season grinds through its final half. 

Leave a Reply