This week's Power Rankings focus on the hopes and aspirations of teams in 2020, on the ice and off the ice.
How we rank: The ESPN hockey editorial staff submits selections ranking teams 1-31, and those results are tabulated to the list featured here. Teams are rated through Tuesday night's games, taking into account overall record, recent success and other factors such as injuries. The previous ranking for each team is its spot in last week's edition.
Previous ranking: 1
That Nicklas Backstrom and his agent, Nicklas Backstrom, will be able to work out an amicable contract extension that keeps him with the Capitals ... but maybe not for eight more seasons.
Previous ranking: 2
That GM Don Sweeney is aggressive, since the Bruins have all but one of their 2020 draft picks, salary-cap room can be finessed and there will be second-line wingers available at the trade deadline.
Previous ranking: 5
That backup Pavel Francouz (9-2-1), who is 16th in goals saved above average per 60 minutes (0.369), continues to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the season among netminders.
Previous ranking: 4
That the Blues can continue to excel without Vladimir Tarasenko, who played in only 10 games this season before dislocating his shoulder. If and when the star winger returns, expect that 3.06 goals per game average to improve.
Previous ranking: 3
That denial of their elite status as a regular-season team is a dwindling sentiment. The Islanders are fourth in the league in points percentage (.653) going back to the start of 2018-19, thanks to their NHL-best 2.38 goals-against average in that span.
Previous ranking: 6
That they can remain a puck possession monster in the new year. The Canes are the best 5-on-5 team in shot attempt percentage (54.77) in the NHL, one of the reasons why Carolina is fifth in goals-against average this season (2.62).
Previous ranking: 12
That Tristan Jarry keeps this up, after he wasn't traded. Oh, there were opportunities, as plenty of teams could use goaltending help. With Matt Murray having the season he's having, it turns out one of those teams was the Penguins. And Jarry has a .940 save percentage and a 1.85 goals-against average in 15 games.
Previous ranking: 9
That ownership and management believe in this group. The Taylor Hall trade followed the Phil Kessel trade in the Coyotes aggressively trying to improve their offense. If the opportunity presents itself at the deadline, and the cap space works, one assumes owner Alex Meruelo will greenlight more aggressive plays -- although it's unclear if he'll fire up the private jet for them like he did for Hall.
Previous ranking: 8
That goalie Connor Hellebuyck continues to have the season he's having, with a .692 quality starts percentage and 11.6 goals saved above average.
10. Dallas Stars
Previous ranking: 11
That the shocking coaching change, in which Jim Montgomery was fired for "unprofessional conduct," may not derail their campaign under interim coach Rick Bowness. In a small sample, the defense still looks stout.
Previous ranking: 14
That the worst could be behind them. The Knights are 8-2-1 in their past 11 games, and have averaged 3.18 goals per game during that stretch.
Previous ranking: 7
That Carter Hart can start every home game if necessary. Why not? Hart is 9-1-2 with a .944 save percentage and a 1.57 goals-against average. On the road, he ... isn't.
13. Edmonton Oilers
Previous ranking: 10
That no matter what happens this season, GM Ken Holland is going to have 10 unrestricted free agents off his books this summer. Combine that with their four RFAs, and that's close to $24 million in cap flexibility.
14. Florida Panthers
Previous ranking: 13
That Sergei Bobrovsky is finally starting to look like Sergei Bobrovsky again. He's just 3-3-0 in December, but with a .953 save percentage and a 1.69 goals-against average.
15. Calgary Flames
Previous ranking: 16
That Geoff Ward not only turns out to be the right person to turn to after the resignation of Bill Peters, but that he coaches well enough to shed the interim tag.
16. Buffalo Sabres
Previous ranking: 15
That Jack Eichel has taken the leap and landed firmly into elite status. As our Dimitri Filipovic noted: "The Buffalo Sabres have scored 40 goals in the 380 minutes Jack Eichel has been on the ice. The Buffalo Sabres have scored 16 goals in the other 650 minutes he's been on the bench."
Previous ranking: 19
That on top of improved 5-on-5 play and an uptick in the standings, the Leafs can take solace that their coach and their general manager are very much on the same page. You know, for a change.
Previous ranking: 18
That there's very little chance the Lightning will face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Yes, there are several ways in which to interpret this.
Previous ranking: 20
That 2020 is one year later than 2019, which means Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling will all be a little bit more experienced, hence a little bit better, hence a smaller target for criticism from Claude Julien.
Previous ranking: 21
That Pekka Rinne (.894) and Juuse Saros (.899) are going to end up much better than their current stats, because it's inconceivable the Predators have a team save percentage of .892 after it was .914 last season.
Previous ranking: 17
That maybe, just maybe, the core will stay healthy. The Canucks have played 35 games. So have Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
22. Minnesota Wild
Previous ranking: 24
That the Wild have 28 games left to play at home this season. That's where they're 9-1-3, the best home record in the Western Conference.
23. New York Rangers
Previous ranking: 22
That next summer might officially mark the end of the rebuild. After adding Jacob Trouba and Artemi Panarin last summer, they'll have another $16 million-plus in cap space to play with in 2020.
24. San Jose Sharks
Previous ranking: 23
That Bob Boughner has vowed to get the Sharks back to their identity as an attacking, pressuring offensive team. While they may no longer have the horses, they're certainly going to try.
Previous ranking: 26
That Matt Duchene didn't re-sign, which means that the Ottawa Senators do not get the Blue Jackets' first-round pick, which at the moment would seem rather important for Columbus.
26. Anaheim Ducks
Previous ranking: 25
That Jakob Silfverberg is proving his worth. He signed a five-year extension in March, and currently has his best goals (0.35) and points (0.71) per game averages of this career.
Previous ranking: 27
That Brent Seabrook's contract expiration date is now four years away.
Previous ranking: 29
That the Kings have "one of the best and deepest prospect pools in the entire NHL," according to ESPN's Chris Peters, and it's a year closer to maturation.
29. Ottawa Senators
Previous ranking: 28
That they either have something special in Anthony Duclair, who has 19 goals, or have a player they can sell high on later this season.
Previous ranking: 30
That Mackenzie Blackwood now has a .948 save percentage since the coaching change. Now, if only the Devils could find another goalie to pair with him ...
Previous ranking: 31
That the season ends on April 4.
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