Last week, I wrote about how difficult it was to do a top five when there were at least 10 worthy teams, if not more. I complained that “Often, the gap between fifth and sixth is a small one, if it’s even there at all. Sometimes, there isn’t much gap between third or fourth and ninth or tenth.”
The hockey gods apparently read that and said: OK, let’s really screw with this guy.
Last week’s mild confusion feels like the good old days now, because I have absolutely no idea what to do with this week’s top five. Honestly, it feels like all the teams got together and decided to make life difficult for the rankings people. Let’s do a quick summary:
- In the Pacific, the Oilers have been in my top five for a month, but regulation losses to the Kraken and Kings opened the door for the Flames to pass them in the standings as well as in Dom’s projections, while the maybe-better-on-paper Golden Knights continued to spin their wheels. So now it’s Calgary’s division. But then the Flames lost in regulation to Vegas last night, so maybe not.
- The Avalanche finally reached something approaching full power by getting Nathan MacKinnon back, setting them up to justify my ongoing faith that they’re among the best teams in the league despite what their record says. Then they went out an got stomped by the Maple Leafs and somehow even lost to the Senators, and now Cale Makar is hurt, and also they’ve been caught by the red-hot Stars. Meanwhile, an eternally disrespected Minnesota Wild team that didn’t even make my top ten last week continues to beat everyone, including those unstoppable Leafs.
- So right, Toronto. This was the week everyone seemed to grudgingly accept that they were really good, to the point that the Friday rankings guys had them at number one. Then they lost to the Wild, because of course they did, except that it was a shootout so it only kind of counts and they erased a 3-0 deficit on the road against a good team to get there. There was no such comeback last night, as they lost to the Jets by a 6-3 final. Also, they’re the Leafs, and nobody thinks they’ve actually got a long playoff run in them. While all that was going on the Lightning, who I quietly dropped from last week’s top five, were personally offended and took it out on the Flyers last night.
- And those are the three easy divisions. The Metro is a complete mess. I’ve had the Hurricanes in or around the number one slot all season long, but they’ve gone legitimately cold with three straight regulation losses before getting back on track against the Sabres. That’s dropped them down to third in their own division by points percentage, ever-so-slightly behind the Capitals, who were the team I moved up to the top five last week. But both teams are now well behind the Rangers, who’ve won six straight in a streak that’s truly impressive if you don’t look too closely at who they’ve played, but still. Also, their goalie is on the IR now.
Seriously, what am I supposed to do with all of this?
By my count, there are 11 teams with a strong claim to a top-five spot, and all but one of them made the choice more difficult this week than it was last time, either by winning or losing. That one team will be rewarded, but as for the rest of them, there are a few ways I could go here. The first is to remember that these are the long-term rankings where we promise not to overreact to short-term swings, chalk this up as a weird week, and stick with basically the same teams we’ve had faith in all along while we ride this all out and get some clarity. The second is to say screw it, blow it all up and go out on a limb with a new-look rankings that shifts everyone around, dropping some big-name teams in favor of the preseason underdogs.
The third options would be to split the difference in a way that leaves everyone feeling dissatisfied. You’ll never guess which I chose. On to the rankings.
Road to the Cup
The five teams with the best chances of becoming the first franchise in three years to win a Stanley Cup that we have to admit probably counts
OK, first things first: No Pacific teams in the top five this week. No Oilers (for the first time in four weeks), no Flames, no Golden Knights, no Ducks but you knew that part. I’m putting the whole division in timeout until they stop confusing me. Knock it off, guys.