NHL Power Rankings – 1-31 poll, plus every team’s best decision this season

The 2019-20 NHL season will take a pause this week as the league descends upon St. Louis for All-Star Weekend, a celebration of the league’s best. For this week’s edition of the Power Rankings, we identified the best decision each team has made since the end of the 2018-19 season.

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.

Note: Standings point pace is as of the games of Jan. 22.

1. Washington Capitals

Previous ranking: 2
Standings point pace: 119

GM Brian McLellan has been revamping the fourth line since last season when they signed Nic Dowd. But the additions of Brendan Leipsic ($700,000) and Garnet Hathaway ($1.5 million) rounded it out, giving the Caps one of the best fourth lines in the league.

2. St. Louis Blues

Previous ranking: 1
Standings point pace: 114

Giving Craig Berube an extension this summer was wise. Chief has pushed the right buttons, from making sure his veteran group stayed motivated after winning a Stanley Cup to quelling panic after star forward Vladimir Tarasenko went down in October with a long-term injury.

3. Boston Bruins

Previous ranking: 3
Standings point pace: 113

The Bruins put 35-year-old David Backes on waivers last week, and he should report to the AHL after the break. It wasn’t easy considering Backes is expensive ($6 million per season) and well-liked, but it’s the right call because he simply wasn’t making an impact.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

Previous ranking: 4
Standings point pace: 110

GM Jim Rutherford acquired defenseman John Marino from the Oilers for a sixth-round pick. That’s probably the steal of the year. The 22-year-old has thrived on Pittsburgh’s blue line, becoming one of the most consistent rookies in the league this season.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Previous ranking: 5
Standings point pace: 106

The best decision for new GM Julien BriseBois has been to show patience. He let coach Jon Cooper and his mostly veteran group ride out a rocky start because the Lightning have realized something important: All that matters is peaking at the right time.

6. Colorado Avalanche

Previous ranking: 8
Standings point pace: 104

Trading away Tyson Barrie wasn’t easy, but it turned out well. Cale Makar has shown he can handle top minutes, plus the return included Nazem Kadri, which gives the Avs scoring depth they sorely needed the past few seasons.

7. New York Islanders

Previous ranking: 6
Standings point pace: 105

On one hand, the Islanders were smart not to spend a ton of money on forwards this offseason, because their defensive system and goaltending have been good enough to win. On the other hand, New York really could use some scoring depth.

8. Carolina Hurricanes

Previous ranking: 9
Standings point pace: 100

Is it possible the Canes’ best move came this past month? Carolina let 38-year-old Justin Williams rest for the first half of the season, then welcomed back their former captain just when it needed a spark. Brilliant.

9. Dallas Stars

Previous ranking: 7
Standings point pace: 99

The best thing the Stars did was give Denis Gurianov a full-time role. Two seasons ago, he was scratched from the AHL Calder Cup finals. Last season, he scored only one goal in 21 games. Now he has 11 goals through 43 games and is playing as if he’s here to stay.

10. Florida Panthers

Previous ranking: 17
Standings point pace: 102

When the Panthers signed Noel Acciari in free agency (for three years, $5 million), they eyed him as a defensive depth forward. But the 27-year-old has been on a goal-scoring binge. He’s on pace for 30 goals, far surpassing his previous career high of 10.

11. Columbus Blue Jackets

Previous ranking: 19
Standings point pace: 100

The Blue Jackets said goodbye to Sergei Bobrovsky and promoted from within. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins have exceeded expectations — as the Blue Jackets, shockingly, are in the playoff hunt — making GM Jarmo Kekalainen look quite smart.

12. Vancouver Canucks

Previous ranking: 12
Standings point pace: 97

The Canucks traded for J.T. Miller on the second day of the 2019 NHL draft. Miller, who has spent time with the Rangers and Lightning, has been playing like the best version of himself in Vancouver, with 17 goals and 46 points through 49 games (on pace for career bests).

13. Edmonton Oilers

Previous ranking: 15
Standings point pace: 95

James Neal’s production has dried up a bit after his red-hot start (only 12 points in his past 26 games). But acquiring the winger — in exchange for the far less productive Milan Lucic — was a good move by Oilers management this summer.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs

Previous ranking: 11
Standings point pace: 95

Firing Mike Babcock when they did seems to be the right move. Sheldon Keefe has freed the Maple Leafs in their offensive zone, and they play a much more dangerous style that fits the personnel better.

15. Philadelphia Flyers

Previous ranking: 16
Standings point pace: 98

Philadelphia fans were ecstatic last season when their long-awaited goalie of the future finally arrived. But the Flyers were smart to ease in Carter Hart as the full-time starter this season, sharing some early starts with Brian Elliott, which set him up for success.

16. Arizona Coyotes

Previous ranking: 10
Standings point pace: 92

We’ve talked about the big offensive splashes the Coyotes have made this season, acquiring both Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall in trades. But Arizona’s leading scorer is 23-year-old Conor Garland. The team was smart to give him a full-time role this season.

17. Calgary Flames

Previous ranking: 14
Standings point pace: 93

The Flames turned to David Rittich as their go-to goaltender this season, and that has worked out great. He’ll be at All-Star Weekend — as an injury replacement — after an impressive first half that includes a .913 save percentage.

18. Vegas Golden Knights

Previous ranking: 13
Standings point pace: 90

Cutting ties with Gerard Gallant was a shocking move, considering how effective he was in the first two seasons and how the Golden Knights suffered bad puck luck the first half of the season. But snatching up Peter DeBoer before anyone else did was kind of genius.

19. Winnipeg Jets

Previous ranking: 18
Standings point pace: 87

The Jets held it together with their hodgepodge of depth, though it’s starting to unravel. The stars have performed, though, and the Jets were smart to give Patrik Laine a first-line promotion to stoke his confidence. The Finn is a much more complete player this season.

20. Nashville Predators

Previous ranking: 20
Standings point pace: 89

Nashville’s best move was inking Matt Duchene to be their second-line center. And if John Hynes can reach Kyle Turris in a way that Peter Laviolette couldn’t, the Predators should be able to turn around from their rough first half.

21. Chicago Blackhawks

Previous ranking: 25
Standings point pace: 87

Signing little-known Czech forward Dominik Kubalik last May to a one-year, $925,000 contract looks genius. The 24-year-old (whose rights were acquired from the Kings last season) is a dark horse Calder Trophy candidate, with 21 goals through 49 games.

22. New York Rangers

Previous ranking: 21
Standings point pace: 85

Calling up Igor Shesterkin seems like a good call, even though carrying three goalies is not optimal. But the best decision of the season, unequivocally, was signing Artemi Panarin this summer. He has proved to be a rock star in New York.

23. Montreal Canadiens

Previous ranking: 22
Standings point pace: 84

The Habs were in desperation mode when they took a flier on Ilya Kovalchuk. It was a prudent, low-risk move. Now Montreal is in position to deal Kovalchuk, potentially, and recoup some future value.

24. Buffalo Sabres

Previous ranking: 23
Standings point pace: 85

Even if the Sabres are a long shot to make the playoffs, hiring Ralph Kruger was the right call. Buffalo once again has an identity, and the defensive structure is much more sound. The Sabres have also improved at 5-on-5 (where they had a minus-31 goal differential last season).

25. Minnesota Wild

Previous ranking: 24
Standings point pace: 85

Honestly, the best decision for Wild GM Bill Guerin might be flying to Moscow in November to meet with the team’s top prospect, KHL forward Kirill Kaprizov. Minnesota looks woefully mediocre, but convincing Kaprizov to come over next season would be a game-changer.

26. San Jose Sharks

Previous ranking: 26
Standings point pace: 75

You could say convincing Erik Karlsson to sign with the Sharks long term was San Jose’s best move, but his contract prevented the team from keeping some key players around, one of the (many) reasons it’s a sinking ship this season.

27. Anaheim Ducks

Previous ranking: 30
Standings point pace: 73

Anaheim is a team in transition, but it decided Jakob Silfverberg should be part of it, giving him a five-year, $26.25 million extension in May. It has worked out. Silfverberg is on a career-best scoring pace and is one of the few Ducks performing well this season.

28. Ottawa Senators

Previous ranking: 29
Standings point pace: 72

No doubt a bright spot for the Senators this season has been Anthony Duclair, who signed another prove-it deal this summer (one year, $1.65 million). He’s now an All-Star with 21 goals through 47 games and is poised for a more lucrative deal this summer.

29. New Jersey Devils

Previous ranking: 27
Standings point pace: 70

30. Los Angeles Kings

Previous ranking: 28
Standings point pace: 67

The Kings’ best move so far was cutting ties with Ilya Kovalchuk; it was an expensive mistake, but there was no reason to hold on to the 36-year-old any longer because it simply wasn’t working. Now they need to move more veterans to fully turn it over to the young guys next season.

31. Detroit Red Wings

Previous ranking: 31
Standings point pace: 45

Tanking is probably the Red Wings’ best move this season considering the dearth of talent on their roster. Other than that, picking up 2014 first-round pick Robby Fabbri wasn’t bad. He has 10 goals and 13 assists in 33 games for Detroit.

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