Through an algorithm known as “surveying a select number of our staff”, we determined the following power rankings. Over the next six days, we’ll be counting down the worst teams all the way to the best teams heading into the 2016-17 season.
These are the basement dwellers. The teams with damn near no shot at playoff glory this season. The teams with fans who already know way too much about the upcoming draft. The teams who are worrying about down the road (hopefully). These are teams 30-26 on the NHLN power rankings.
30. Vancouver Canucks
By Jackson MacDonald (@Johnny_Perogy)
Last Year’s Stats:
5v5 GF%: 44.6% (28th)
5v5 CF%: 47.2% (27th)
5v5 PDO: 99.4(23rd)
GF: 186 (29th)
GA: 239 (23rd)
Final Standings: 75 points (28th overall, 6th Pacific)
Hot off a 101-point campaign in 2014-15, the Canucks were a prime candidate for regression coming into last season and lived down to expectations. The Canucks had perhaps the most disappointing season imaginable, finishing third-to-last overall and still managing to drop 2 spots in the draft.
The Canucks actually had a decent offseason, adding Loui Eriksson in free agency and Erik Gudbranson via trade. While they likely overpaid for both players, each should help the team significantly next season. They also rolled the dice on a pair of successful European players in Philip Larsen and Anton Rodin, and re-signed the majority of their RFAs. They lost Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata in free agency, as well as depth pieces like Matt Bartkowski, Ronalds Kenins, Brandon Prust, Linden Vey, and Yannick Weber.
Reasons For Optimism:
Between the Sedin Twins, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, and the goaltending tandem of Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks are still a good bet to ice an above-average first line, an above-average first pair, and get at least league-average goaltending. Youngsters Bo Horvat , Ben Hutton, and Sven Baertschi have an additional year of experience under their belts and should help mitigate the team’s lack of depth, provided the team doesn’t run into injury trouble. The additions of Rodin, Eriksson, and Gudbranson should help the team grind out a few more wins than they did last season, and the Canucks have a bevy of young players looking to make the leap into the NHL. It’s undeniable that Vancouver improved over the offseason…
Reasons For Negativity:
…but so did their competition. Arizona added Alex Goligoski. The Flames addressed their biggest flaw by signing Brian Elliott. Edmonton will have added Jesse Puljujarvi, Milan Lucic, and a healthy Connor McDavid next season, and each of the Californian teams are still expected to contend for the Pacific Division title. The only team in the Pacific that got worse this offseason was Anaheim, but they’ve still got enough pieces to keep them competitive over the next season or two.
The Canucks may have high-end talent at the top of their roster, but things get more uncertain towards the middle and downright dicey at the bottom. The Canucks have about 4 or 5 players fighting for a spot on the bottom pairing right now and none look like decent bets to keep their heads above water in 2016-17. If the Canucks catch the injury bug, and their depth players are thrust into roles they are ill-suited for, it’s not inconceivable that they could finish dead last, and by a large margin.
Youth. The Canucks have a number of players right now that are largely unknown commodities at the NHL level. Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi finished the season on a hot streak, but it remains to be seen whether they can provide offence on a consistent basis. Markus Granlund, Emerson Etem, and Brendan Gaunce were all highly-touted prospects at one time or another that haven’t quite put it together in the NHL, but have the tools to be successful at this level. On defence, Ben Hutton looks like the real deal, and any of Larsen, Pedan, Tryamkin, or recent standout Troy Stecher could surprise and provide some additional skill or physicality on the back end. The biggest wild card will be Anton Rodin, who had such a dominant season in the SHL that he was voted MVP in spite of being sidelined by an injury in mid-January. Rodin’s most recent season stacks up very well against players like Carl Soderberg, Mats Zuccarello, and Jakob Silfverberg, and if the Canucks can get that level of production out of Rodin that will be a significant boon to their hopes of qualifying for the postseason.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs
By Dan Carter
Last year’s stats:
5v5 GF%: 42.86% (30th)
5v5 CF%: 51.34 (13th)
5v5 PDO: 98.29 (30th)
GF: 192 (28th)
GA: 240 (24th)
Final Standings: 69 points (30th overall, 8th Atlantic)
Last year was the most promising last place finish of franchise history and perhaps even sports history. The Leafs finished last and were able to secure the first overall pick, the first time since Wendel Clark (1985). The on ice performance was indicative of a 30th place team but they were rarely blown out like seasons past, they just lacked the talent to take over games and lost narrowly. Mike Babcock’s influence on the team was obvious and should be awarded the team’s MVP for the year, a 5v5 corsi% gain of 4.91 is exceptional (46.43 to 51.34).
The Leafs’ offseason has to be seen as successful, despite contrary beliefs. The first half of last year they struggled with goal tending and addressed that issue by acquiring Frederik Andersen from the Ducks and promptly giving him an extension (5 year 5mil AAV). Following this, the free agent signing of Matt Martin (4 years 2.5mil AAV) will help the growth of the rookies heading into the lineup without being a burden similar to Colton Orr or Frazer McLaren. He is a quality low event player that Mike Babcock will love. Roman Polak was brought back as a 7D and as a player familiar with the system (1 year 2.25mil AAV) and Jhonas Enroth was signed to backup Andersen (1 year 750k AAV).
The Leafs draft was solid, Auston Matthews will be quality player for years to come and the rest of the picks will be interesting to follow (especially Keaton Middleton, hopefully time will prove Mark Hunter’s brilliance there).
To address a weakness on the right side of the defence Nikita Zaitsev was signed from the KHL, he has been a solid top pair defender in the KHL and internationally for Russia and looks to have great potential for the Leafs.
Nazem Kadri (6 years, $4.5mil AAV) and Morgan Rielly (6 years, $5mil AAV) were extended to very team friendly contracts to lock down most of the core. Extensions were also handed out to Justin Holl, Garret Sparks, Josh Leivo, Connor Carrick, Frank Corrado, Peter Holland and Martin Marincin.
The Leafs were busy with departures also, losing Jonathan Bernier (trade to Anaheim), TJ Brennan, Scott Harrington, Stuart Percy, Mark Arcobello, Brad Boyes, Michael Grabner and PA Parenteau (all unsigned).
Reasons for optimism:
The rookie group that will make a splash this year will be amazing to watch and is teams rarely have the ability to ice this many talented rookies in the same year. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Nikita Zaitsev will all dress for the first time, full seasons from William Nylander, Connor Carrick and JVR is enough for optimism. If Andersen can provide league average goaltending and Mike Babcock can continue to work his magic this will be a solid team that could push for playoffs (there I said it).
Reasons for negativity:
The optimism is purely reliant on rookies matching expectations and hoping that the team can get a save. Last year the Leafs would have needed 94 points to make the playoffs, that is 25 points more than they had, that is unrealistic. They are a young team that will make mistakes and will need to learn from these and most likely improve on last year but not enough (they most likely won’t make the playoffs).
Mike Babcock has won in Toronto, albeit with an amazing Team Canada. He is the best coach on the planet and we will see how great he is this year. The increase in possession last year was a tremendous feat and if those systems can stay in place and improve this will be a very good hockey team. To maximise the effect of the rookies, calculated deployment of the lines and line combinations will be required.
Special teams will get a booster this year with the key additions mentioned above, they will need to convert more consistently on the powerplay compared to last year (27th 15.4%). The penalty kill will need to be revitalised after losing key minute loggers in Michael Grabner and Daniel Winnik (13th 81.6%).
28. Columbus Blue Jackets
By Jeremy Crowe (@307x)
Last years’ stats:
5v5 GF%: 48.2 (22nd)
5v5 CF%: 48.0 (21st)
5v5 PDO: 99.79 (15th)
GF: 219 (17th)
GA: 252 (29th)
Final Standings: 76 points (27th overall, 8th Metro)
To say that the Blue Jackets failed to meet expectations in 2015/16 would be an understatement. The team’s 0-7 start lead to the hiring of John Tortorella to “fix” things. While the team actually managed to win a game here and there after that, they never showed any real consistent, sustainable improvement. Almost every player expected to be a major contributor underperformed, with the only standouts being Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner, who combined to score over 40% of the team’s total goals for the season. All in all, it was a season which gave Blue Jackets fans flashbacks to even darker times.
The Blue Jackets needed to improve on both their awful defense and middle-of-the-pack offense in the off-season, but had very little flexibility to do so. No major roster player had an expiring contract, and thanks to pretty much everyone on the team rightly or wrongly getting extended at $4m or more, the Jackets are hugging the cap quite tightly.
Instead, the team offered addition by subtraction, as broken down defender Fedor Tyutin and long-time roster drain (and noted fan favourite) Jared Boll were bought out. Otherwise, the roster remained stagnant, with depth centre Sam Gagner being the only outside addition.
The rest of the roster turnover will be internal, as highly-touted defender Zach Werenski, and exciting young forwards Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand are currently fighting to take the final two opening night roster slots.
It’s another campaign of, “hopefully the team stays healthy and Sergei Bobrovsky is really really good”, just as it has been for the last few seasons.
Reasons for optimism:
Well, hopefully the team stays healthy and Sergei Bobrovsky is really really good? The Russian netminder is still young enough where he could rebound from back to back poor seasons, so long as his groin doesn’t explode. He was mostly great at the World Cup, so cautious optimism is the mood right now.
A full season of Seth Jones should be a delight. Jones and defense partner Ryan Murray played some big minutes for Team North America in the World Cup and didn’t look out of place at all. The tandem was usually the first over the boards on the penalty kill for the Millennials, especially in the latter two games. If they can stabilize the defense and hold their own against top competition, it should help limit the goals against to a respectable number.
Um… Nick Foligno will probably score more than 12 goals and 37 points this year?
2015 1st round pick Zach Werenski has looked very good in his pre-season action. The expectations on him are already pretty astronomical, but he lived up to the early hype with his play in the Calder Cup play-offs last season. Werenski is an exciting all-offense blueliner with great speed and reasonable-but-unrefined defensive acumen. He’s likely to get a shot at quarterbacking the powerplay, too. Which leads me to…
Reasons for negativity:
…Werenski is likely to be paired with a wrong-sided Jack Johnson to start the year in order for him to have a “mentor”. Or, if that doesn’t work, he’ll skate with … uh… Dalton Prout? So, yeah, y’know, take those expectations and temper them a bit.
If Bobrovsky gets injured, the team is banking on Curtis McElhinney and rookies Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg to carry the load. That’s a tall task, no matter how well Korpisalo looked last season, or how well Forsberg played in the AHL play-offs.
The team is returning at least 18 roster players from last season’s 27th place team. 18! Maybe they were “better” than a 27th place team last year, and it was just Bad Luck that got ‘em, but it’s going to be a very, very difficult task to take essentially the same roster and boost 11 spots and 20+ points in the standings. Barring drastic roster changes, an entirely new system that everyone can suddenly excel at, or some sort of major step forward by almost everyone on the team not named Saad, Jenner or Atkinson, this is easily a bottom ten team in 2016/17, and maybe a bottom five team.
Can Sergei Bobrovsky “Be the Bob” again?
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) April 20, 2014
Bobrovsky had a stretch in November of 2015 that had CBJ fans recalling his Vezina season performance. Unfortunately, that stretch was surrounded by the months before and after November, which were hampered by multiple injuries and largely sub-replacement level numbers. A 29th ranked defense is not entirely on a goaltender, but having a goalie to mask the futility of the team in front of him can go a long way.
If Bobrovsky can stay healthy, if he can play 55-60 games, and if he can Be The Bob, the Jackets could be laughing their way to a bunch of narrow wins that they probably lose otherwise.
But if Bobrovsky falters, if those valleys outnumber those peaks, if he gets hurt, if even a Vezina-style season can’t overcome the mediocre team assembled in front of him, it’s going to be a tough year in Columbus once again.
27. Arizona Coyotes
By Megan Kim (@meggo1532)
Last year’s stats:
5v5 GF%: 49.1 (18th)
5v5 CF%: 46.8 (28th)
5v5 PDO: 100.8 (6th)
GF: 208 (24th)
GA: 244 (28th)
Final Standings: 78 points (24th overall, 4th Pacific)
It wasn’t exactly #TankNation for the Coyotes in 2015-16, but they weren’t quite knocking on the door of the playoffs, either. A surprisingly good start gave way to the results we all expected, and the 78 points they finished with were met with shrugs and “Eh, that’s about right,” from most fans and pundits.
Very good rookie seasons from Max Domi and Anthony Duclair even made the Coyotes enjoyable to watch on occasion, which hasn’t been true for a bit.
The most important thing that happened during the Coyotes’ offseason was the front office shakeup that saw longtime GM Don Maloney fired and the then-26 year-old John Chayka hired in his place. The other most important thing that happened this offseason was related to that Chayka hiring, as he had a big day at the draft. Chayka snagged skilled forward Clayton Keller with Arizona’s first round pick. He then took on Pavel Datsyuk’s contract with the Coyotes’ ample cap space in order to receive Detroit’s first round pick, which he turned into Jakob Chychrun.
The Datsyuk contract wasn’t the only one Chayka took on — he also sent a 2017 third round pick and a 2018 conditional pick to the Panthers in return for Dave Bolland(‘s contract) and prospect Lawson Crouse.
With a mind for the upcoming prospects on the team, Chayka bought out Antoine Vermette — a good sign for, say, strong two-way center and 2015 third overall pick Dylan Strome.
Chayka also added some veterans to the team, most notably dependable defenseman Alex Goligoski. Other veteran signings include Jamie McGinn, Radim Vrbata, and Luke Schenn.
Reasons for optimism:
The future is very, very bright, as the Coyotes have one of the best prospect pipelines in the league. Some of the young players challenging for a spot on this year’s roster include: the aforementioned Strome, Chychrun, and Crouse, as well as Christian Dvorak. All four have a legitimate shot at seeing some NHL games this season, particularly Strome.
Max Domi and Anthony Duclair will look to build upon their strong rookie seasons, and marquee defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson is always one to watch, and the addition of Alex Goligoski adds some stability to the blue line.
Reasons for negativity:
All that being said… Although the Coyotes have all the potential of becoming a legitimate powerhouse in the league, they’re still a few years away from that. They’re in the process of building a very solid team, and there are bound to be growing pains.
This will probably be another growing pain year. The playoff teams out of the Pacific tend to be steady as clockwork, and with the Central Division as strong as it is, it’s likely that the three California teams will be the ones headed to the postseason (again).
There are some very good, young offensive talents on this team. Domi, Duclair, and the generally underrated Tobias Rieder all showed flashes of brilliance last year (Duclair’s speed in particular is a delight to see).
Provided he sticks around, Strome has the talent and ability to make an immediate impact on this team, and he’ll be eager to show what he can do, especially after making it all the way to the last day of training camp last year before being sent back to juniors. (Not that it’s productive to make awards predictions before the puck drops on the 2016-17 season, but Strome’s a solid dark horse pick for the Calder.)
If nothing else, the Coyotes’ young guns (Coyote pups?) will keep things interesting in the desert this year. And hey — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel here, and it’s just around the corner.
26. Buffalo Sabres
By Dan Carter
5v5 GF%: 44.81 (27th),
5v5 CF%: 47.49 (24th)
5v5 PDO: 99.08 (26th)
GF: 201 (26th)
GA: 222 (16th)
Final Standings: 81 points (23rd overall, 7th Atlantic)
Buffalo took a great leap forward last season but still left everyone wanting more, which was undeserved. After registering only 51 points in the ‘not-tanking tank’ they were able to have a 30-point swing in just one season. Head coach Dan Bylsma was able to take a league-worst corsi% team (37.53) and turn them into a more respectable team. Ryan O’Reilly was the reliable two-way centre he was supposed to be, while Jack Eichel showed he belongs in the NHL and posted very good first season numbers.
The major acquisition for the Sabres was the free agent signing of Kyle Okposo (7 years, $6mil AAV). This really legitimizes the Sabres top 6 as one of the better 6 forwards in the league, the term may be longer than expected but he will provide a quality scorer to line up next to one of the younger centre.
The Sabres had a good draft, Alex Nylander with some seasoning could be a very competent winger. The picks in the earlier rounds were very good also, picking speedy skilled players in today’s game is a great move.
After the Okposo trade, there was minor tinkering of the roster, some minor signings, a bottom pair D swap with Florida but nothing that will change the dynamic in Buffalo. The elephant in the room is the contract status of Rasmus Ristolainen who is still an RFA (this may change before publishing), locking him up long term will be a priority for the Sabres.
Reasons for optimism:
This is a young group that has a couple of seasons under their belt and proved last year that this team is improving quickly. The Florida teams look like a lock for the playoffs and the final spot (or more) is certainly wide open for a number of teams if the forwards have chemistry and the defence continue to improve this could be a strong team.
Reasons for negativity:
There has been one word that has been absent this whole article which is critical to their success. Last year in the market a first for Robin Lehner seemed a little high but that was the going rate for a goalie. He posted good numbers despite getting shelled early and then went down with an injury if a full year of Robin Lehner maintains his play they look good, but that is a big if.
Since the Ryan Miller trade, there has been a sense that any time a goalie starts playing well they get traded. This year moving forward they have Lehner whom they hope will be a number 1 and signed Anders Nilsson as an interesting backup option (in Edmonton he had a 3.14 GAA, 67/69 goalies with at least 10 games played and .901 SV% 64/69 goalies). If this tandem can give the Sabres league average goaltending, Dan Bylsma can continue the upward trend in possession this is a team with some very good pieces to make an impact.