Saturday, February 24 2024

The NHL season doesn’t have an official quarter mark, but most teams have played approximately 20 games which means we’re right about there.

Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror, and the playoff race is already starting to take shape as fans of teams with rough records at this point have reason to be concerned. On the flip side, if you support a squad that’s rolling, you can feel fairly confident they’re on the right path.

Quinn Hughes and the Vancouver Canucks have obliterated expectations in the early going. (Ethan Cairns/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Quinn Hughes and the Vancouver Canucks have obliterated expectations in the early going. (Ethan Cairns/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Below you’ll find our letter grades for the performance of all 32 teams so far this season.

It’s tough to heap too much praise on a club with a 9-13-0 record, but the Ducks have made massive strides from 2022-23 when they produced a minus-129 goal differential and won just 23 games.

Anaheim has gotten impressive contributions from rookies like Pavel Mintyukov and Leo Carlsson while Mason McTavish has broken out in his second full NHL season.

This squad isn’t good, but it isn’t a disaster, and it’s been able to make progress while its biggest offensive threats from last season — Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras — have combined for just 15 points in 34 games.

The Coyotes have lost more games than they’ve won, but they have a positive goal differential and remain on the periphery of the Western Conference playoff race.

Blue-chip rookie Logan hasn’t broken out yet, but he looks like the real deal and a preseason trade for defenseman Sean Durzi has paid immediate dividends. Arizona’s shooting percentage is a touch inflated (11.6%) and it’s gotten above-average goaltending as well so there’s room for negative regression, but respectability has been elusive in the desert and these Coyotes seem to have found it.

Boston deserves plenty of credit for watching its top two centers retire in the offseason and still getting out to a 14-4-3 start. Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle have stepped up while David Pastrňák continues to give the Bruins an elite first option offensively.

Much of the team’s success can be attributed to goaltending, but Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman are both impressive talents, and this squad’s quality defensive play makes life easy on them.

The Sabres entered 2023-24 with rising expectations after narrowly missing out on the playoffs last season, but they’ve fallen flat in just about every way. The team has been below-average at scoring and goal suppression while posting mediocre possession numbers across the board.

Buffalo’s record of 10-10-2 isn’t great, but not abysmal — and it wouldn’t take too much to get them back into the playoff race. The Sabres just haven’t done much to suggest they have that push in them.

The Flames are essentially the team they were last year. The underlying metrics are solid but a combination of iffy goaltending and uninspired finishing has led to unimpressive results.

It’s tough to win many games when you don’t have anyone with more than six goals at this point in the season and your netminders are combining for an .895 save %. Calgary appears to be on the road to an in-season fire sale with a number of notable pending UFAs on the roster.

The Hurricanes’ 13-8-0 record is OK, but their goal differential of +2 is poor for a team that’s been an Eastern Conference powerhouse for years.

Carolina’s possession numbers remain elite and the offense has been fine scoring 3.33 goals per game. The issue for the Hurricanes has been keeping the puck out of their net. Re-signing Frederik Andersen and Anti Raanta in free agency hasn’t panned out well as the former is on LTIR with a blood-clotting issue and the latter has been dismal.

Chances are a team that’s been extremely competent defensively in the past will do a better job down the stretch and the Hurricanes will get a few more saves. This isn’t a team to bet against.

The Blackhawks have not played good hockey or posted a strong record, but it’s hard to grade them too harshly because it would’ve been unreasonable to expect more.

Connor Bedard has generally met expectations in the early going, which is all that really matters for this squad. The mysterious Corey Perry incident could end up painting the team’s season in a different light depending on how it pans out, but there are too many unknowns there for it to affect this grade.

Colorado is doing just about all you could ask of them with the best record and winning percentage in the Central Division despite getting unimpressive goaltending from Alexandar Georgiev.

Nathan MacKinnon is also suffering through a bit of a shooting slump, but the team’s other scorers are picking up the slack. While Quinn Hughes is deservedly getting plenty of attention for his red-hot start, Cale Makar has only one fewer point than him as he continues to cement his place as one of the NHL’s best skaters.

The Blue Jackets are a mess, plain and simple. From the preseason split with Mike Babcock to new coach Pascal Vincent benching his highest-profile players, this team has been chaotic for months while producing poor on-ice results.

Columbus has some legitimately strong young talent, and Adam Fantilli looks like a guy who could help change the Blue Jackets’ fortunes long-term, but it seems like it will take a while to get this ship pointed in the right direction.

The Stars have been worse than the Avalanche more or less across the board so far, but beyond that it’s tough to criticize their work.

Dallas is an excellent goal-suppression squad thanks to its elite penalty kill and the work of Jake Oettinger — and there’s room for improvement on offense as Jason Robertson hasn’t reached his 2022-23 standard yet.

This club hasn’t been a factor in the Atlantic Division in years, but they’ve made their presence felt so far. Not only have the Red Wings posted a surprisingly strong record, they also managed to bring Patrick Kane into the mix for an intriguing in-season boost.

Detroit has benefitted from hot shooting early, and its goaltending situation invites skepticism — but adding Alex DeBrincat has made the Red Wings more explosive.

If you were a widespread favorite to win the Stanley Cup and you start the season 8-12-1, this is the score you get.

The Oilers have shown more life recently as Connor McDavid seems to have hit his stride, and the mediocrity in the Western Conference gives them a lane to reach the playoffs. But based on their body of work so far, this group deserves a failing grade.

The Panthers have followed up their surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final with a solid start to 2023-24.

Florida does an excellent job of controlling the play and limiting dangerous opportunities against, and their physicality gets under other teams’ skin. This club hasn’t been dominant by any means, but they look poised to improve on their 2022-23 regular season and will be a tough squad to deal with in the playoffs.

There’s a strong case to be made that this is the best team in the NHL. They have the second-best goal differential in the league (+29) and their point percentage of .725 trails only the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins.

Los Angeles is at the top of the NHL in expected goal rate (57.96%) and high-danger chance percentage (59.94%) at 5v5, with a league-best penalty kill (89.4%) that prevents them from losing the special teams battle.

The biggest question about Los Angeles entering the season was goaltending, but Cam Talbot has been outstanding for the Kings.

If you get your coach fired before December rolls around, you’re getting a failing grade.

Minnesota has held its own in terms of 5v5 possession numbers, but the Wild’s disastrous goaltending and special teams have done them in. The team’s biggest issue is keeping pucks out, but some of its top offensive players — like Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy — have also underperformed.

Montreal’s .476 points percentage is an improvement over last season (.415) but it hasn’t taken a profound step forward. Mike Matheson‘s offensive breakout from 2022-23 appears to be real, some of the young defenseman are keeping their head above water in significant roles, and Alex Newhook has had his moments.

Despite those positives, the team remains a ways a way from contention. Losing Kirby Dach early in the season hurt the Canadiens’ chances of producing a surprising record and evaluating its top talent in 2023-24. Significant improvement from Juraj Slafkovsky would be the easiest way for this campaign to go down as a success.

The Predators have won more games than they’ve lost so far, and that’s enough to earn them a B+ after missing the postseason in 2022-23 — and keep them firmly in the mix for a playoff spot this time around. Nashville has been a competent 5v5 team, but a poor penalty kill and middling power play has had them losing the special teams battle consistently.

On the plus side, free agents Ryan O’Reilly and Gustav Nyquist have exceeded expectations and Filip Forsberg has been outstanding. This team might have a run in them if Juuse Saros can shake off a sluggish start and get hot.

The Devils’ record doesn’t match their talent, but there’s no reason to believe this team won’t get itself sorted. Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier have missed a total of 16 games and New Jersey’s goaltending has been suspect in the early going.

If they get healthy and receive some improved play between the pipes the Devils should be a Stanley Cup contender. This team’s power play is exceptional (36.8%) and with the talent in the building, goal scoring shouldn’t be an issue.

The Islanders have been extremely reliant on overtime and shootout losses to stay afloat in the standings with just eight wins in their first 21 games. Firepower continues to be an issue for this group and Bo Horvat doesn’t seem to be changing the complexion of this team’s attack.

New York always has stellar goaltending to fall back on, which gives the team a reasonable floor — but its ceiling isn’t impressive. Although the team’s play isn’t too far below preseason expectations, those expectations were modest.

New York Rangers: A

We can’t give the the Rangers an A+ like the Kings got because they aren’t nearly as dominant at 5v5, but this group has begun the season on a heater.

The combination of New York’s strong defensive play and goaltending and its potent power play has proven to be quite the recipe for success. While the Rangers’ young duo of Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko haven’t taken massive strides, Artemi Panarin is off to a sizzling start, earning some early Hart-Trophy buzz.

This team has played fewer times than many of its rivals, but it’s tough to give them too much credit for the games in hand when they’re running a .471 points percentage.

Ottawa has a neutral goal differential and a top-10 offense by goals per game, but the Senators have also experienced defensive struggles and their special teams have been unimpressive — leading to continued discussion about head coach D.J. Smith’s job security.

This might seem like a lofty grade for a team with an 11-10-1 record, but the Flyers were expected to be a bottom-feeder entering 2023-24 and they’ve played remarkably well.

Philadelphia lacks offensive firepower, but they play a responsible, disciplined defensive game and control the play well at 5v5. If the Flyers are able to improve slightly on their dismal power-play success rate (9.9%) they might be able to stay in a playoff race they were projected to be miles away from.

The Penguins have a healthy goal differential (+10) and they have looked solid at 5v5, but a point-per-game pace isn’t good enough for this group. Part of the issue is that Pittsburgh’s power play has been dismal (12.1%) despite the top-end talent the team has at its disposal.

No one would be surprised if this team improved as the season carried on, but the results haven’t been there for the oldest team in the NHL.

The Sharks were expected to be bad and they are bad. In most cases that would warrant something like a ‘C’. However, the extent of their misery needs to be acknowledge.

San Jose is currently scoring 1.64 goals per game while allowing four. That’s next-level awful. If you’re on pace for a goal differential of minus-231, you get an “F.”

After a surprising 100-point campaign in 2022-23, the Kraken were widely expected to take a step back, but this has been a leap. Seattle has won just over a third of its games (34.8%), and its trademark balanced offense isn’t delivering.

Matthew Beniers is also enduring a sophomore slump while the team’s goaltending duo is off to a rough start.

This team shockingly eliminated the Avalanche in last season’s playoffs and now it would be a significant surprise if they even reached the postseason.

The Blues don’t have a positive goal differential or inspiring underlying metrics, but they are hanging around in a wide-open Western Conference playoff race.

Based on the team’s record (11-9-1) a decent grade is warranted because St. Louis is coming of a rough 2022-23, and 2023-24 wasn’t expected to be much different. There’s a good chance this squad falters as the season goes on, but it’s tough to argue with a credible beginning to their campaign.

This is one of the toughest teams to grade. Early in the year the squad was not playing well, but fill-in goaltender Jonas Johansson helped keep them afloat. More recently the team’s play improved but Johansson faltered.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is finally back between the pipes, and if he can give the Lightning top-notch goaltending, Tampa Bay isn’t a team to sleep on. This squad’s power play is electric and Nikita Kucherov is playing like it’s 2019 again.

Toronto Maple Leafs: C

The Maple Leafs are on a 102.5-point pace, which is only mildly disappointing relative to expectations — but they haven’t looked convincing. Toronto is underwater by most 5v5 possession metrics, leaving a strong power play to haul the squad to a neutral goal differential.

While this team’s offense is a good bet to light the lamp consistently, its blue line has been hobbled by injuries — and never looked like a strength out of the gate. The biggest bright spot for the Maple Leafs has been the play of William Nylander, who is on his way to a hefty payday.

Vancouver Canucks: A+

You can poke holes in the Canucks’ success, but we’ve got to give full marks to a club that looked like a fringe playoff team entering the season posting the NHL’s best goal differential (+34) so far.

Thatcher Demko will probably cool off a bit — as will the team’s shooting — but Vancouver’s best skaters have been nothing short of outstanding, starting with Quinn Hughes leading the way.

The Golden Knights have come out of the gate doing exactly what worked in the 2022-23 playoffs. Vegas makes life easy on its goaltenders with sound defensive play and rolls out multiple lines that are dangerous on the counter-attack.

This squad has slowed down a touch after an incredible start to the season, and injuries to the blue line are a valid worry — but the Golden Knights remain one of the Western Conference’s most dangerous teams.

The Capitals have won more than half of their games, which wouldn’t have been a fair expectation entering the season, but they’ve done so in a way that makes them hard to believe in.

Not only does Washington have a negative goal differential, the Capitals have also been consistently outshot and out-chanced at 5v5. They project to get a little more from their power play in the months ahead, but this isn’t a good squad.

When the Jets extended Connor Hellebuyck and Mark Scheifele prior to the season it was unclear if they were wise to double down on an aging core. So far this season, the Jets look like a legitimate playoff team.

This group has been solid enough at 5v5 to a survive below-average production on both the power-play and penalty kill and Hellebuyck getting off to a shaky start. If the Jets can get their special teams sorted they’ll really be on to something.

Source: Yahoo Sports

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