NHL Power Rankings: Who needs to step up for each playoff team? (2024)

The first round is almost finished, and it’s difficult to recall a more predictable opening salvo for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pretty much every favorite has already punched its ticket to the second round or looks close to doing so — although of course the Leafs and Bruins are going to Game 7.

But just because pretty much everything has gone according to plan doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of potential improvement for each team. Even a perfectly played series has room for nitpicking, and that is exactly where The Rankings Boys are at their best.

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That’s the story for this week: one player from each remaining team who needs to step it up for Round 2 (or what’s left of Round 1).

As for the eliminated teams: a classic postmortem of where it all went wrong.

1. Carolina Hurricanes

Last week: 1
Sean’s ranking: 1
Dom’s ranking: 1

Jaccob Slavin

Picking a Hurricane for this spot wasn’t easy, given how their series against the Islanders played out, but it’s fair to say that Slavin in particular wasn’t at his best. With Slavin and partner Brent Burns on the ice, New York carried nearly 60 percent of the expected-goal share and out-chanced the Hurricanes 37-30. That wasn’t a common occurrence for other player combinations.

It’s worth noting that Carolina still won on goals, 3-1, in Slavin’s minutes, and that both Slavin and Burns have track records that make the Islanders series less of a concern, but they’ll need to be better against the Rangers.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Last week: 7
Sean’s ranking: 2
Dom’s ranking: 3

Jonathan Drouin

There was no more impressive team in the opening round than Colorado. Every player delivered, and that includes Alexandar Georgiev, who posted a .933 save percentage after getting shelled in Game 1. Can we quibble with Sean Walker having zero points, or the top line looking meh by expected goals? Sure, but both would still be fairly silly quibbles. The Avalanche flipped the switch and scored more than five goals a game against a Jets team that was supposed to have a strong defense in front of the league’s best goalie. Colorado made them look like an AHL team — it wasn’t close.

Colorado’s first round? No notes.

So who needs to step up here? The only logical conclusion is Drouin, who missed the first round. It’s not so much that he needs to step up, just that when he does step in, he needs to be ready to go full-throttle to match the rest of the roster. The Avalanche have elevated their game to a championship-caliber level, one that Drouin has the potential to accentuate further if he can match the energy. That might be a big ask, coming back from injury, but he’ll need to do it against a Dallas or Vegas team that will offer up a much bigger challenge than Winnipeg.

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3. Florida Panthers

Last week: 2
Sean’s ranking: 3
Dom’s ranking: 4

Aaron Ekblad?

Matthew Tkachuk had nine points in five games against the Lightning. Carter Verhaeghe was scoring huge goals on the regular. Aleksander Barkov mixed in his first career two-goal playoff game. Florida’s best players, generally speaking, have been their best players. That’s a good sign.

Ekblad, though, could show a bit more; he put up the worst expected-goal share among the Panthers’ blueliners (42 percent) in the first round. Sergei Bobrovsky helped make the point moot, but we’ve come to expect more from Ekblad as a five-on-five player, whether or not he’s producing points.

NHL Power Rankings: Who needs to step up for each playoff team? (1)

Darnell Nurse struggled against the Kings. (Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

4. Edmonton Oilers

Last week: 6
Sean’s ranking: 5
Dom’s ranking: 2

Every defenseman not named Evan Bouchard or Mattias Ekholm

Take your pick. We’ll focus on the second pair of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci, whom the Kings managed to dominate, apparently, in every conceivable metric.

While Nurse and Ceci were on the ice at five-on-five, the Oilers were outscored 4-2, outshot 54-37, out-attempted 110-72 and they lost on expected goals, 3.3 to 2.1. Given how soundly Edmonton beat Los Angeles in all of those areas, Nurse and Ceci’s performance gets even more impressive.

Bouchard’s emergence as a true No. 1 defenseman and Ekholm’s continued rock-steady play make the second pair less of a pressing issue against mid-grade offensive teams such as the Kings. The rest of the West, though, is filled with second and third lines that will take advantage, unless something changes.

5. Dallas Stars, up 3-2 on Vegas

Last week:9
Sean’s ranking: 4
Dom’s ranking: 5

Roope Hintz

Hintz really started to make a name for himself in this league in the playoffs. After putting up just 22 points in 58 games as a rookie, the speedy center scored five goals and eight points in 13 games during that 2019 postseason for Dallas. While it took a couple more seasons for Hintz to reach his current level, his reputation as a playoff performer was already part of his lore. Last spring, he added to that by leading the Stars with 24 points in 19 games, six more than Jason Robertson.

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Hintz usually delivers, but in this series, he’s been unfortunately quiet. Through five games, he has just a single point and has been outscored 4-2 at five-on-five. His scoring-chance numbers are strong, sure, but he’s not getting the results we expect.

The good news? It hasn’t mattered for the Stars and they’re up 3-2 anyway. That sets up Hintz to help propel the team over the first-round finish line. But if the Stars do blow this series lead without Hintz making an impact, he’ll have to shoulder a lot of the blame for what went wrong. And if they do hold on, he’ll need to make a massive leap to match up against Nathan MacKinnon and company in the next round.

6. New York Rangers

Last week: 4
Sean’s ranking: 6
Dom’s ranking: 6

K’Andre Miller

When a team sweeps another team after winning the Presidents’ Trophy, it’s really hard to find faults throughout the roster.

For the Rangers, it’s more about what comes next. The difference between Washington and Carolina is massive, and that means they’ll need more to get by.

That probably starts with Miller, New York’s primary shutdown option on the back end. He’s in a tough spot, playing difficult minutes next to a less-experienced Braden Schneider, but earning just 41 percent of the expected goals, a team low, is not a great sign. However difficult the minutes were against Washington (not very!), they’re about to get a whole lot more difficult against the Hurricanes.

Miller has it in him to be a difference-making top-pair defenseman, but this is now his third straight playoff getting crushed at five-on-five. That needs to change against Carolina.

7. Vancouver Canucks, up 3-2 on Nashville

Last week: 10
Sean’s ranking: 7
Dom’s ranking: 7

Elias Pettersson

It’s a testament to the Canucks that they’re winning their series while getting so little from Pettersson. In five games, he’s managed just a pair of secondary assists. With him on the ice at five-on-five, the Canucks have been outshot 25-16, outscored 3-0 and hold an expected goal share of less than 47 percent.

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The power play, where Pettersson and the Canucks do plenty of their damage, has been even worse, scoring twice on 13 attempts and generating an abysmal four goals per 60. Anaheim was last in that category in the regular season with 6.42.

It’s not that Pettersson is generating opportunities and getting unlucky, either. He’s been credited with seven total shots and has a hair over one expected goal. The bright side is that Game 5 was his best yet; the Canucks controlled shots 7-3 with him on the ice at five-on-five, and he finished with their third-best Game Score (0.90). Vancouver may need that trend to continue to finish off the Predators — and they’ll certainly need more if they want to stick around any longer.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs, tied 3-3 with Boston

Last week: 11
Sean’s ranking: 8
Dom’s ranking: 8

Timothy Liljegren

After Game 4, it would’ve been extremely easy to choose Mitch Marner, and to some, that might still be the answer, given that he has only three points in six games. But at the very least, he stepped up in Games 5 and 6 with Auston Matthews out. That, and he’s been in Selke Trophy form for much of the series — that means something in a series that’s been razor-thin.

The current best answer might just be Liljegren who has already sat in the press box once in this series and has often looked like everything the coaching staff feared in the past. He’s been the Leafs’ worst five-on-five defender in the most sheltered role, and too often looks overmatched without the puck.

Liljegren’s presence as a puck-mover is sorely needed on a Leafs blue line that’s lacking in that department, but he’s been shaky there, too. Usually, he adds enough there to make up for weaker defense, but that hasn’t been the case against Boston. The Leafs don’t have an elite No. 1 defenseman, and for that reason they depend heavily on limiting weak links from one-to-six. Liljegren needs to hold up his end of the deal for Game 7.

9. Boston Bruins, tied 3-3 with Toronto

Last week: 5
Sean’s ranking: 9
Dom’s ranking: 9

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David Pastrnak

Boston’s best and most electric player has shown flashes of dominance against the Leafs, but that’s all they’ve been — flashes. In six games, he has four points, which is a paltry sum for a player of his ilk, who is there to take over games with his singular offensive ability. In this series, he’s mostly been neutralized. Pastrnak has been good, but not great.

That would be more acceptable if he won his minutes at five-on-five and that might be why he’s struggled to produce. At five-on-five, the Bruins have been outscored 4-2 with Pastrnak on the ice and have earned 48 percent of the expected goals — with the latter number being heavily influenced by a solid Game 6 performance.

Pastrnak lives for the big pressure moments and has had some fantastic playoff outings in the past. It’s what’s made his first six games against the Leafs feel underwhelming. But he’ll have one more shot at redemption on Saturday.

10. Vegas Golden Knights, down 3-2 to Dallas

Last week: 3
Sean’s ranking: 10
Dom’s ranking: 10

Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo deserves the honors if only for taking one of the dumbest penalties of the postseason.

Pietrangelo with the biggest bozo penalty of the playoffs so far pic.twitter.com/c75q54UEzP

— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 2, 2024

Naturally, Jason Robertson scored on the ensuing power play to put Dallas up 3-2. It was the last goal of the game, and it’s conceivable that Vegas will lose the series as a result. So, yes, giving Tyler Seguin a nosebleed … probably not worth it.

Pietrangelo’s overall performance hasn’t been great, either. Vegas’ expected goal share with him on the ice is under 40 percent, and they’ve been outscored 4-2. Some better play from their No. 1 defenseman, and no more game-deciding freakouts, would be nice.

11. Nashville Predators, down 3-2 to Vancouver

Last week: 13
Sean’s ranking: 11
Dom’s ranking: 11

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Tommy Novak

Offense has been difficult to come by for both teams in this series, but we still expected a bit more out of Novak. During the season, he wasn’t trusted much by coach Andrew Brunette — his line was the team’s most sheltered — and it seems that trend has continued into the postseason. Only Mark Jankowski has averaged fewer minutes than Novak in this series, with both seeing the ice for only 10 to 11 minutes.

At least Jankowski has made due in his time, with two points in five games. Novak has put up doughnuts on the scoresheet, joining Cole Smith and Michael McCarron as the only Predators forwards without a point. That’s not ideal for a player who was fourth on the team in points this season, scoring at a 52-point pace.

With only 39 percent of the expected goals — a result of manufacturing very little offense — the process hasn’t looked very sound, either. Nashville’s top players have delivered as expected, but if guys such as Novak can’t provide the depth scoring necessary, it’s hard to imagine the Predators making the full comeback.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning, eliminated

Last week: 15
Sean’s ranking: 12
Dom’s ranking: 12

Most of Tampa Bay’s optimism should revolve around GM Julien BriseBois’ dedication to wringing every last moment out of their contention window. It certainly shouldn’t linger on how the Lightning actually played in the first round against the Panthers. Woof.

Only five Lightning skaters scored against the Panthers. None of them were Nikita Kucherov, who managed just three five-on-five assists and seven points overall. If he wins the Hart Trophy, he’ll deserve it, and the acceptance speech will be … interesting.

It’s worth noting that BriseBois, after the series, said Nick Perbix and Erik Cernak both sprained their AC joints during the series. That would explain some of Tampa Bay’s blue-line issues, but not all of them. Also, Steven Stamkos may have played his last game with the franchise. Hard times.

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13. Los Angeles Kings, eliminated

Last week: 12
Sean’s ranking: 13
Dom’s ranking: 13

The sting of losing to the same team in the first round for the third straight year is already tough to swallow. That the gap between the two teams only seems to be growing each year — from 4-3 to 4-2 to 4-1 — is gut-wrenching.

Where do the Kings even go from here?

That’s a serious question facing an organization that seemed to rush through a rebuild to get to a point at which they could compete while Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty were still top-tier players. But compete and contend are two widely different terms that encapsulate just how stuck the Kings might currently be. They don’t have a whole lot of young emerging talent to show from that tear-down, and Kopitar and Doughty can only be expected to become less effective with each passing season.

It’s not enough to just be a playoff team, but that’s all the Kings managed to build.

Of course, this might be a different conversation if Pierre-Luc Dubois wasn’t half the player he’s being paid to be — if that. Then again, would the series outcome be any different if he was? Was the difference between Edmonton and Los Angeles this year simply one peak Dubois?

Probably not, and perhaps that’s the biggest indictment of where the Kings are, relative to the top of the West. They struck out swinging going for the grand slam they didn’t need to begin with.

The Kings are in a very unenviable spot going forward, and look destined to complete the cycle next year against the Oilers.

14. Winnipeg Jets, eliminated

Last week: 8
Sean’s ranking: 14
Dom’s ranking: 15

In the run-up to what felt like a premium first-round series, even folks who believed in the Jets’ chances seemed to be realistic about their shortcomings. Winnipeg could take care of business, the logic went, but it’d be because of strong defensive play throughout the lineup and golaie Connor Hellebuyck — not because their high-end skaters matched up with Colorado’s.

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Five games later, the Jets’ season is over, and basically nothing worked. They lost on star power, sure, but also on goaltending and defensive play. No team allowed more expected goals per 60 at five-on-five, or overall. No team was scored on more frequently. If the Jets can’t rely on a combo of sound defensive process and an elite goaltender during the playoffs — and both elements certainly seemed to be broken against Colorado — what exactly is left? What, in other words, are they supposed to be good at?

It’s a valid question without an easy answer, and the result — for now — is a transitional summer, as Murat Ates wrote.

15. New York Islanders, eliminated

Last week: 16
Sean’s ranking: 15
Dom’s ranking: 14

It’s fitting that in a roller-coaster season, there were two instances in this series when the Islanders suffered a gut punch in the same span of time it takes to rocket down from the top of one. This ride surely was a lot less fun. In Game 2, it took nine seconds for a 3-2 Islanders lead to turn into a 4-3 deficit. In Game 5, it took eight seconds for a 3-3 tie game to look completely out of reach at 5-3.

Just 17 seconds stood between what we expected (an uncompetitive series) and what could’ve been more interesting.

Sometimes, the difference between two teams manifests slowly. Sometimes, it reveals itself in the blink of an eye. For the Islanders, both were true against the class of the East. Call two of those goals bad bounces if you want, but the Hurricanes still carried the run of play for the majority of the series and got what they deserved at the end. Actual goals: 19-12. Expected goals: 19-14.

With a full season of Patrick Roy at the helm and with some offseason tweaks, maybe the Islanders will get closer to the East’s best next season. It’s not an insurmountable gulf, but it’s clear that after not coming close against Carolina’s B-game, the Islanders havea difficult road ahead of them.

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16. Washington Capitals, eliminated

Last week: 14
Sean’s ranking: 16
Dom’s ranking: 16

Bless the Caps, who deserve credit for making it into the postseason at all. They put up more of a fight against the Rangers than the series length would suggest, holding New York to the fewest expected goals/60 of the first round (2.0).

There’s more to hockey than that, though. Scoring, for example. And goaltending. And special teams. Washington fell short across the board. None of that, really, should’ve been a surprise, though Charlie Lindgren’s play probably qualifies as a disappointment. An .862 save percentage and nearly four goals allowed above expected is a major step down from the play he brought throughout the regular season, and was even further from the level he needed to hit to give the Caps a realistic shot at advancing.

What’s next? Probably another season in limbo, hopefully with enough goals from Alex Ovechkin, timely goaltending from whomever and solid coaching from Spencer Carbery to make things interesting once more. It’s a tough ask.

(Top photo of Elias Pettersson: Derek Cain / Getty Images)

NHL Power Rankings: Who needs to step up for each playoff team? (2024)

FAQs

How does NHL playoff rankings work? ›

For each conference, the top three teams from each division are guaranteed placement in the postseason, with the winners of the divisions getting the top two seeds for the playoffs. The last two spots go to the teams with the two best records out of the rest of the field, meaning they can come from the same division.

Who is predicted to win the Stanley Cup in 2024? ›

The 2024 Stanley Cup Final is arguably a battle between the best team in the sport against the best player in the sport — and the odds reflect that. Ahead of the seven-game series between the Florida Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers, the Eastern Conference champions are slight favorites to hoist Lord Stanley at -130.

How are standings determined in NHL? ›

Hockey - NHL Current: Teams receive 2 points for a win, 1 for a tie, and 1 for an overtime loss. Teams are ordered by points, then wins, then losses (ascending), then by games played (ascending), and then goal differential.

Who was the worst team in the NHL last year? ›

The Anaheim Ducks had the worst record by a team in 2022-23, with a record of 23-47-12.
TEAMRECW
Anaheim Ducks23-47-1223
Chicago Blackhawks26-49-726
Columbus Blue Jackets25-48-925
San Jose Sharks22-44-1622
24 more rows

How do the NHL playoffs work for dummies? ›

The playoffs have 4 rounds. Each round is a best-of-seven series. This means up to seven games are played until one team wins 4 of the games. The first three rounds decide which team from each conference will move on to the last round.

How are teams chosen for the NHL playoffs? ›

The four-round, best-of-seven tournament is held after the NHL's regular season. Eight teams from each of the league's two conferences qualify for the playoffs based on regular season points totals. The final round is commonly known as the Stanley Cup Finals, which matches the two conference champions.

Why is Washington in the playoffs and not Detroit? ›

Detroit and Washington each finished with 91 points, but the Capitals earned the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with the tiebreaker (36-27 in regulation wins).

What teams are in the NHL playoffs 2024 bracket? ›

  • (1) Florida Panthers vs. ( 2) Edmonton Oilers.
  • (1) New York Rangers vs. ( 1) Florida Panthers.
  • (1) Dallas Stars vs. ( 2) Edmonton Oilers.
  • (1) New York Rangers vs. ( 2) Carolina Hurricanes.
  • (1) Florida Panthers vs. ( 2) Boston Bruins.
  • (1) Dallas Stars vs. ( 3) Colorado Avalanche.
  • (1) Vancouver Canucks vs. ( 2) Edmonton Oilers.
4 days ago

Why is Washington ahead of Detroit in standings? ›

However, Washington holds the advantage due to having more regular-season wins than Detroit. The Pittsburgh Penguins are also in contention for the final playoff spot, trailing behind the Capitals and Red Wings with one point less.

What is the least popular NHL team? ›

The least popular teams in the NHL are mainly the expansion teams situated in the sun-belt of the southern US states; the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Coyotes are prime examples. Interestingly the New York Islanders a team with x4 Stanley Cups and based in the Northern states rank remarkably low at 28th.

Who was the worst NHL player? ›

Mikkelson is known for posting the worst plus/minus rating in single-season NHL history at -82 for the Washington Capitals in 1974–75.

What is the least successful NHL team of all time? ›

Being the most recently established team in the NHL, the Seattle Kraken have the fewest games played among active NHL franchises (246), as well as the fewest wins (107), losses (112), overtime losses (27), and points (241).

How are playoff positions determined? ›

The first four playoff spots in each conference are awarded to the teams that finish with the best record in each division (North, South, East and West). The remaining six spots (three from the AFC and three from the NFC) are given to the teams with the best record who did not win their division.

How do you read hockey rankings? ›

Game Standings

"GP" is the number of games played. "W" tells you how many of those games were won. "L" stands for how many games were lost in regulation time, and "OTL" or "OL" tells you how many games were lost in overtime or in a shootout. "T" is the number of games that ended in a tie.

How does NHL determine stars of the game? ›

Media representatives of the home team choose the three stars, who are usually the top point scorers or outstanding goaltenders from either team.

Who is in the Stanley Cup playoffs 2024 bracket? ›

Contents
  • 3.1 Eastern Conference first round. 3.1.1 (A1) Florida Panthers vs. ( WC1) Tampa Bay Lightning. 3.1.2 (A2) Boston Bruins vs. ( A3) Toronto Maple Leafs. ...
  • 3.2 Western Conference first round. 3.2.1 (C1) Dallas Stars vs. ( WC2) Vegas Golden Knights. 3.2.2 (C2) Winnipeg Jets vs. ( C3) Colorado Avalanche.

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