The 2018-19 NHL season is rapidly approaching the mid-way mark. Stanley Cup favourites have differentiated themselves from the rest of the league, the foggy playoff picture has cleared up more and more with each passing game, and all the same, anything can happen by the end of the regular season.
Now is a good a time as any to start getting a sense of how teams have fared over the first third of the season. Of course, the standings tell one story, but other sources like NHL power rankings can reveal more insight.
How have different power rankings compared the 31 teams across the league up until now? I tried my hand at creating a set of data visualisations that show how teams have moved up and down with respect to several power rankings. I will be exploring The Win Column’s very own Power Rankings, but will also look at TSN’s 7-Eleven Power Rankings and the NHL’s Fantasy Team Power Rankings.
The Win Column NHL Power Rankings breakdown
Let’s start things off with The Win Column’s Power Rankings. As of December 11, there have been nine editions of TWC’s rankings, which have seen plenty of movement to the delight of some fans and dismay of others.
TWC rankings are made without any personal biases, and instead use a weighted model with standard and advanced statistical categories to rank the teams. The model rewards teams with strong possession metrics and winning percentages, and conversely punishes teams without.
I made line charts to plot each team’s week-to-week ranking, and sorted by the latest week from the best team to the worst team. Lines are colour-coded by team colour, and I’ve included an additional visual component where line thicknesses are related to each team’s point totals up to and including all games ending Sunday December 9.
The Tampa Bay Lightning led the league with 47 points, where as the Chicago Blackhawks (and Los Angeles Kings) were at the very bottom with 23 points each. I wanted the team with the most points to have a line width that was approximately four times thicker than that of the team with the least points, which should provide enough visual differentiation across all 31 teams.
Without further ado, let’s see how the teams have fared within their own divisions thus far.
The Pacific Division
The Pacific Division has been remarked as the worst division in the league. Even with the recent surges from the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers, the division is still terrible on a whole.
There are only three Pacific teams with positive goal differentials. The Calgary Flames lead the way with a +22, followed by the Golden Knights at a distant +5 and San Jose Sharks at +1. The current second seed—the Anaheim Ducks—are somehow -13.
- The Flames were sunk early on in the season due to Mike Smith‘s horrendous start, but they’ve strung together wins and have seen a boost in possession and goaltending.
- The Golden Knights saw great goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury for much of the season, and now are being boosted by wins as well as league-best possession metrics.
- The Sharks will probably be fine in the grand scheme of things. Martin Jones has not looked like himself, and Erik Karlsson is still getting used to wearing teal. Until they sort themselves out, they’re gonna fall further in the rankings as other teams turn on the heat.
- The Oilers has seen a turnaround in play ever since the arrival of Ken Hitchcock. Whether Hitchcock was the right coach to bring on remains to be answered, but a recent string of wins have the Oilers back in the playoff race.
- The Arizona Coyotes started off slowly, had a large streak of really excellent play, and then were pummelled with injury woes. The latest injury to Antti Raanta leaves them with the biggest hole as he’ll likely be out of the remainder of the season. Hopefully Darcy Kuemper will bring a bit of balance back to their team.
- The Ducks have heavily benefitted from John Gibson‘s superhuman goaltending. They’ve spent most of the season at or near the bottom of the TWC rankings, and that’s largely due to their league-worst possession. For all the times they’ve seemed to defy the odds, Gibson takes credit more often than not.
- At the bottom of the Pacific lies the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks recently snapped a brutal losing streak, but have bright spots in the play of Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Bo Horvat.
- The Los Angels Kings, on the other hand, don’t have much going for them at all. Boasting one of the oldest rosters in the league, it’ll take a miracle for the Kings to be in the playoff picture at all, though they’ve done it before in the past.
The Central Division
The Central Division is undoubtedly better than the Pacific. The chances of the Central sending five teams to the playoffs far surpasses their Western Conference counterpart.
The powerhouses have been identified. Predators have been dominant for much of the season, the Jets are rounding into form, and Colorado’s elite top line has won them more games than not.
- The Predators are one of the best teams in the league. Despite their recent injuries, they’re still playing excellent hockey and continue to lead the Central. Pekka Rinne, at 36 years old, will definitely get some Vezina votes by the season’s end.
- Despite a poor start, the Jets have gotten better as the season’s went on. Connor Hellebuyck has been inconsistent, but good offensive play including one of the league’s best powerplays contributes to their slow but certain ascension.
- The Avalanche easily have the absolute best first line in the league right now. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog are dynamite on the ice and are former two are running away with the best offensive duo title.
- The Minnesota Wild have been mind-boggling. Devan Dubnyk was good to start the season, but has went through one of his worst stretches of play as of late. They’re a good team at creating high-danger chances, but are at or below average otherwise.
- Coming in extremely average are the Dallas Stars. The prolonged injury to John Klingberg has left a big gap to fill (and Miro Heiskanen has done his best). Goaltending has been a good, but in terms of driving play, the Stars have yet to see sustained dominance.
- A major surprise to many, the St. Louis Blues have been terrible. They made good additions in the off-season, but the team has not been good at all. They’ve been stuck near the bottom of the rankings, and the firing of Mike Yeo didn’t help them much.
- The absolute worst team by the measure of TWC rankings, the Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Despite average possession metrics, their goaltending and win percentage has heavily sunk them. Corey Crawford‘s return from injury has been less than spectacular.
The Metropolitan Division
Probably the most confusing division so far, the Metropolitan has been quite average on the whole. No Metropolitan team has stood out as contender, and they also don’t have any teams in the basement. A handful of teams have seen average play, which largely contributes to why there is the bottle-neck in the middle of the league.
There is strong argument that the playoff spots for the Metropolitan are the least established. A small winning or losing streak can easily change the playoff picture in this division.
- Consistently one of the best possession teams in the league, the Carolina Hurricanes top the Metropolitan. They’ve sustained a level of play that has simply not been seen in the league before. However, they need to start converting their on-ice dominance into wins.
- The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the most average team in the entire league. All of their possession metrics float practically at break-even. Tacked with slightly below average goaltending as Sergei Bobrovsky continues to work on his play, the Blue Jackets would be a strong candidate to see their season hinge on a coin toss.
- Off to a unusually poor start, the Pittsburgh Penguins have not had a lot of things go right for them this season. However, they’ve been good with possession and have seen average goaltending. The lack of wins sinks them, but they are trending up.
- One of the biggest question marks, the Washington Capitals have been ranked poorly all season despite leading the Metropolitan. Why? Below-average goaltending from Braden Holtby combined with the inability to limit high-danger chances have kept them from rising higher.
- The New York Islanders entered the season playing without John Tavares. They are doing alright: they have not had possession metrics on their side, but they have gotten better goaltending. They’re finding ways to win more often than not, which keeps the Islanders afloat.
- Goaltending woes galore! The Philadelphia Flyers have had the worst goaltending in the league, and have seen five different goaltenders between the pipes already. Injuries have not been kind and no single goaltender has stepped up. Their possession, however, has been strong enough to keep them from being in the basement.
- Starting off the season atop the rankings, the New Jersey Devils have heavily fallen. Boosted only by high-danger scoring chances, the rest of their play has gotten significantly worse as the season has gone on. Taylor Hall‘s still the team MVP, but many players have yet to find their groove.
- Openly in their rebuild, the New York Rangers find themselves doing far better than anyone would have expected; however, it’s still really not that great. They aren’t above water in any possession metric, and their goaltending has been sub-par as well.
The Atlantic Division
Home of the #1 and #2 teams, the Atlantic Division boasts the best in the league, but is also plagued by mediocre teams. The race between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs will be one of the best stories this season.
On top of that, there’s a secondary race between the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins. One team is elated to be getting wins while the other is probably upset they haven’t gotten enough.
- The Lightning top the league by a large margin. They have a six point lead over second place, and have thoroughly dominated play. They’re doing just fine with their average goaltending as they’ve found many, many ways to score.
- Coming in as the second best team, the Maple Leafs will look to make a splash. The return of Auston Matthews and William Nylander give them more depth, and they hardly struggled in their absence. Frederik Andersen has been stellar as well, solidifying their team.
- The Montreal Canadiens have surprised. Truth be told they’ve often dominated possession, and Carey Price has actually been below-average. They’ve found ways to win despite their #1 goaltender having issues, and have generated shots and scoring chances at an impressive rate.
- Going from a 10-game win streak to a five-game losing streak, the Sabres came crashing down. They have been below-average in every possession metric. Strong goaltending and their win percentage keeps them high, but they’ll have to snap out of their current rut if they want to change their trend.
- The Bruins have become an average team with the absence of Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, but they’ve gotten excellent goaltending from Jaroslav Halak. On top of that, Tuukka Rask has rounded into form, meaning the Bruins might have the best tandem in the league right now.
- The Florida Panthers took a huge hit when Vincent Trocheck went out with an ankle fracture. However, they’re still doing well enough with possession, while goaltending is well below par, ultimately costing them wins.
- The year started abysmally for the Detroit Red Wings, and it hasn’t gotten much better for them. They’ve made a slow climb from being last but their possession metrics have been near the bottom of the league all season long, keeping them low in the rankings.
- The Ottawa Senators are well underwater in every metric. They have the lowest shot attempts in the league, and don’t have much positives going for them. Outside of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene (currently injured), and Thomas Chabot, there haven’t been many bright spots for the team.
To enjoy one more look at the league on a whole, the charts are combined into one highly chaotic graph. There’s only so much to dissect in this view, but it’s interesting to see from a high level which teams have met or exceeded expectations, and which teams have dropped off a bit too far to have a meaningful season anymore.
Which teams surprise you the most? Are there other power rankings that you would like to see visualised? Let us know in the comments or at @wincolumnblog.
Data for TWC Power Rankings courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.