Welcome back, hockey fans, to another week of NHL Power Rankings! It’s getting close to the final countdown as the playoff races, previewed in last week’s recap, heat up even more. One team in a race for the wild card spot is the Calgary Flames, who have struggled to adjust this season and find themselves on the outside looking in. And as we hit the last month after previewing the playoff races, lets take a quick look at the race to the bottom for the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.
The Carolina Hurricanes have just found their playoff run this season getting significantly more difficult. This week, they learned that Andrei Svechnikov, their third leading scorer with 55 points in 64 games, will miss the remainder of the season and playoffs. He suffered a knee injury last weekend and underwent season-ending surgery through the week. The Hurricanes are a deep team, but losing a top-line forward is a huge blow.
After selling off a few of their best players at the trade deadline, the direction in Nashville was clear. It is time for a rebuild and a new beginning. But apparently the players did not get the memo. So far in the month of March, the Predators are 5-2-2 and have clawed their way back into playoff contention. They have taken advantage of a struggling Winnipeg Jets team to find themselves just four points back of the second wild card spot. With three games in hand over the Jets. It is a very real possibility that Nashville could still sneak into the playoffs.
The Pittsburgh Penguins picked a bad time to go cold. Sitting on three straight losses after last week, they now have just a one point lead on their playoff spot. In their four games last week, the Penguins ended with nine goals for and 18 goals against. So both sides of their game are struggling. One key player who has been in a rough patch is goaltender Tristan Jarry. Over his last five starts, he is 1-3-1 with an .852 SV%. Even if the Penguins’ offense returns to normal this week, their starter needs to be better or else Casey DeSmith might get the bulk of the starts down the stretch.
The Downfall of the Calgary Flames
In 2021-22, the Calgary Flames took the Pacific Division by storm. They won the division by a comfortable margin, they had an unreal offense led by career seasons from their best players, and they had an absurd goal differential due to an incredible season from Jacob Markstrom.
But this season has been nothing short of a struggle. It’s been documented before that the new faces, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, were potentially having trouble adjusting. But after nearly an entire season’s worth of time to adjust to a new team, they still haven’t really found their footing. And the team around them has fallen well short of last season’s performance.
The Flames scored an average of 3.55 goals last season, a number which has dropped to 3.13 goals per game in 2022-23. Accounting for the lineup changes at forward, considering that Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Elias Lindholm were all having career seasons in some aspect, and the replacements not putting up comparable numbers, the drop makes sense.
There is a similar discrepancy on the defensive side of things as well. This is odd, considering the team has been coached by Darryl Sutter, who is a defensive-leaning coach. One easy target is Markstrom. In 2021-22, he had amazing numbers with a .922 SV% and 26.1 goals saved above average. That has not carried over to this season, as he has an .891 SV% with -16.6 goals saved above average.
It will be an interesting period of time for the Flames into this offseason as they are now locked in long-term on huge contracts for a few players who have not fit in as well as expected. Does this put Sutter on the coaching hot seat to bring in someone who might match the team’s build? Do they tough it out and see if anything changes next season? Or could they flip these players so soon after signing them and try a new lineup?
A Look at the Connor Bedard Sweepstakes
The NHL Draft Lottery will be held on May 8th, 2023 to decide the final draft order and, ultimately, who will get to draft Bedard. The tankathon of this season has shown us some of the worst rosters ever iced by an NHL team as some organizations embrace the full-on rebuild and want to start from the ground-up, hopefully with one of the most hyped prospects of the last two decades.
Heading into the last month of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been comfortably in last place in the league for a long while now, giving them the highest odds at winning the lottery. Even if they don’t win, one of the 12 picks they have in this draft should turn into something.
The San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks, and Anaheim Ducks are in a close battle for the next few spots. The Sharks and Blackhawks are looking for the centrepiece of their rebuilds and would want to build around Bedard, while the Ducks have most of their rebuild done and just need some final pieces to push them back into competition.
The Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers are having expectedly bad seasons, but are just a bit too good to have high odds of winning the lottery.
While an interesting case is the Arizona Coyotes, who had been hovering in the bottom few teams for most of the season until they hit a couple of hot streaks, including a four game win streak amongst a 7-3-0 stretch, that have pushed them a few spots up the standings. Much to the likely chagrin of the Coyotes’ front office.
That wraps things up for this week’s NHL Power Rankings recap! Where do you want Bedard to land at the draft? Drop a comment down below!
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