NHL Mid-Season Grades

by Thomas Isbister

The mid-season point of the NHL season is upon us, and the trade deadline is now just a month away. Teams have decisions to make soon and it is unclear who will have the budget to buy this year. It could make for a very boring trade deadline. Here is how every team stacks up through 28 games.

32 – Buffalo Sabres, F

Having one of the worst losing streaks in NHL history in a 56 game season is impressive. Since being ruled out for the “foreseeable future,” Jack Eichel has potentially played his last game as a Buffalo Sabre, and head coach Ralph Krueger should be out the door very soon. Buffalo is not having a good time right now, and won’t for a while.

31 – Seattle Kraken, n/a

They won’t play a game until next season, and that’s deserving enough to be ranked ahead of the dumpster fire that is the Buffalo Sabres.

30 – Detroit Red Wings, C+

Detroit is far from being a playoff contender, but the signs are encouraging for this young squad who has lots of assets to sell at the deadline.

29 – New Jersey Devils, B-

Most of the assets available to sell at the deadline have played themselves into being cheaper assets. Palmieri and Gusev could both be on the move soon and it’s a shame their value has tanked more than the Devils have this season. At least Jack Hughes has been fantastic.

28 – Ottawa Senators, B+

The kids have been great, especially Tim Stutzle, and fans are having fun with the self-proclaimed “Ottawa Sickos” mentality. At least on the ice they have looked competitive against every team not named the Edmonton Oilers.

27 – Anaheim Ducks, C

This team is heading for the bottom real fast. Selling Rickard Rakell will help them get there, as long as they bring down the asking price for him in what is clearly a buyers market.

26 – Dallas Stars, C-

Dallas has had a rough start to the season with all the postponements due to Covid and the weather. They overachieved last year by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals but are significantly underachieving this year with the condensed schedule.

25 – Nashville Predators, D

Nashville is heading for a rebuild very soon. Being so far out of a playoff spot might mean their run as a contender has finally closed. Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund and Mattias Ekholm will all make significant upgrades for contending teams.

24 – San Jose Sharks, C+

Despite having a bounce-back year, it has still been a frustrating one for the Sharks. The one positive note has been the production of Evander Kane, who might have his contract voided in the summer. The tandem of Martin Jones and Devan Dubnyk has not worked one bit.

23 – New York Rangers, B-

They’ve stagnated in a year where they should’ve taken a giant step. Constantly plagued by internal issues and set-backs, the only true bright spot has been Chris Kreider who leads them with 14 goals in 27 games.

22 – Arizona Coyotes, B-

If Arizona is going to have a shot at the playoffs, they will need to prove to management that this team can make an impact. Even then, they don’t have many assets that can be added in a trade.

21 – Los Angeles Kings, B

Ups and downs is the story of the Kings season so far. After riding a six-game win streak a month ago, they’ve only one-two games since and have a difficult stretch before the deadline. For a team that exceeded expectations, they should be able to recoup some nice assets at the deadline.

20 – Columbus Blue Jackets, C-

After a surprising 2020 playoffs, it has all come apart for them this year. Their franchise centre has left and in return, a high-power winger comes in who the coach won’t play. If the rumours are to be believed, John Tortorella will be behind someone else’s bench next year, and it will be for the better.

19 – Vancouver Canucks, C+

They started slow and have recovered lately. The Canucks are still within striking distance but with the slow start, it seems they are too far out and the teams ahead of them are just better. Second to last in the Canadian Division is all but set for them. It’s time to sell.

18 – Calgary Flames, B

A very disinterested team has come alive since Darryl Sutter has taken over behind the bench. This might be the last true year this core has together and one more run at it only makes sense, even if all signs point towards blowing it up in the off-season. With the Flames needing to push someone out of a playoff spot to make it, it will be very interesting to see who they can overtake.

17 – Philadelphia Flyers, B

Most people were very high on this team at the start of the year after their run in the bubble. They’ve fallen hard from first in the division to fifth, and getting Carter Hart back on track will be pivotal to their success in the second half.

16 – Boston Bruins, C+

Consistently inconsistent. It was clear after the departure of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara that Boston’s window with that core had closed. They remain competitive but their scoring has fallen to 27th in the league, which is cause for major concern and only addressable through trade.

15 – Chicago Blackhawks, B+

In a year where everyone expected them to finish last, they are somehow in the middle of the league. Patrick Kane should absolutely be in the Hart conversation and is third in league scoring. Kevin Lankinen has shown up out of thin air and has been lights out for Chicago. Kicking and screaming, somehow Chicago should remain competitive for the rest of the year.

14 – St. Louis Blues, A-

They’ve battled injuries all season and have remained in a playoff spot. Expect the Blues to be able to make another run in the playoffs, especially if newly signed Jordan Binnington can find his 2019 form.

13 – Montreal Canadians, B+

The so-called “Juggernaut” has regressed back to where the analytics suggest they should be. GM Marc Bergevin saw an opportunity to make a run at the playoffs last offseason and it’s looking like they need to be very careful with Calgary approaching fast on their heels .

12 – Colorado Avalanche, A-

Colorado has faced a lot of adversity so far, mostly due to injuries and not being able to get a save in key moments. Cale Makar should be up for the Norris and Mikko Rantanen has been unbelievably good all year. They sit just a few points back of Vegas for first in the West and should make a decent run with whatever upgrades they make at the deadline.

11 – Minnesota Wild, A

An incredibly exciting team, led by rookie winger Kirill Kaprizov who has the Calder trophy locked up. Kaapo Kahkonen has been red-hot this year as well. Is this run sustainable all year? Probably not, but in the meantime, the Minnesota Wild are a fun team to watch.

10 – Edmonton Oilers, B+

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are running away with the top spots in the league scoring race, mostly in-part to beating up on the Ottawa Senators. Finally, the depth has shown up and the defence has been better than expected. The only real question marks are on the net and how the Oilers hold up when they face top teams like the Maple Leafs, who held them to one goal in three straight.

9 – Winnipeg Jets, A-

Winnipeg’s MVP is in net. Connor Hellebuyck would be running away with the Venza if it weren’t for Andrei Vasilevskiy. The top six forward group has gotten into the conversation for best in the NHL, led by start centre Mark Scheifle and inherit for most underrated player in the league, Nikolaj Ehlers.

8 – Pittsburgh Penguins, B+

With Sidney Crosby on the roster, the Penguins will forever be in win-now mode. Although he is on pace for his lowest points-per-game average of his career, the real issues have been with Evgeni Malkin’s production, and now his injury which will keep him out for the next few weeks.

7 – Vegas Golden Knights, A

Vegas got lucky when no one wanted to take Marc-Andre Fleury in the offseason, now he is their MVP. The best goaltending tandem in the league will carry this team through the playoffs. If Alex Pietrangelo can stay healthy, Vegas is going to continue being a force.

6 – Toronto Maple Leafs, A-

Don’t let recent goaltending woes distract from how well the Leafs are playing. Still first in the Canadian division, and Auston Matthews is leading the NHL , Mitch Marner is fourth in league scoring and the veterans have been better than expected. For once the team has been strong in their own end, despite the struggles in net. A big add at the deadline is on the horizon for them.

5 – Washington Capitals, A

Quietly in the race for tops in the NHL, led by perennially underrated centre, Nicklas Backstrom, who is having his best season in a decade. With all the parts coming back together, the core of the Capitals are primed to make another run at a cup.

4 – Tampa Bay Lightning, A+

In a year where all goaltending numbers took a step back, Andrei Vasilevskiy somehow stepped up his game and leads the league in Goals Saved Above Expected with 13.55, a whole five goals more than the next best, Kevin Lankinen. With Kucherov coming back, Tampa Bay has a legitimate shot at repeating, although little room to add at the deadline.

3 – Carolina Hurricanes, A

Vincent Trocheck and Sebastian Aho have become the dynamic duo at centre that no one expected. The always fun Hurricanes find themselves second in a race for the Central division lead that will continue for the rest of the year. As always the question for them will be who is the starter come playoff time, now with Alex Nedeljkovic appearing on the scene, the Canes have three solid goaltenders to ride the rest of the way.

2 – New York Islanders, A+

The not-so-fun New York Islanders refuse to give up what works for them. After leading the team with 12 goals, captain Anders Lee is done for the year which will be a big loss. Lucky for the Islanders, their identity is strong and it will be a ‘next man up’ mentality. Expect Lou Lamoriello to add a big forward at the deadline to help bolster the offense.

1 – Florida Panthers, A

After continuously disappointing everyone who believed in them, the Florida Panthers are a legitimate force in the NHL. Barkov should be up for the Selke and Ekblad for Norris, Coach Quenville for Jack Adams, and honorable mention to Jonathan Huberdeau for being the best player on this team through the first half. They finally look like the team everyone has expected them to be, behind goaltender… Chris Driedger.

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