NHL: The Weekend Update: Leafs Rebuild, Devils Surge, Blackhawks Streak

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By: Rossy Pasternak

Here on SportsNak, we will be doing weekly updated power rankings, with features about three teams each week. The season is nearing the All-Star break, and the buyers and sellers are becoming more clear. These rankings are not only based on the standings, but also the level of team play. All stats are taken from NHL.com. (GD stands for goal differential, the difference between goals scored and goals against)

The Bottom Feeders (30-21):

30. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-25-4, 38 pts, -30 GD)

29. Buffalo Sabres (18-23-4, 40 pts, -17 GD)

28. Toronto Maple Leafs (16-20-7, 39 pts, -14 GD)

27. Edmonton Oilers (18-23-5, 41 pts, -23 GD)

26. Calgary Flames (20-20-3, 43 pts, -15 GD)

25. Winnipeg Jets (21-21-3, 45 pts, -11 GD)

24. Anaheim Ducks (19-18-7, 45 pts, -17 GD)

23. Carolina Hurricanes (20-19-8, 48 pts, -18 GD)

22. Colorado Avalanche (22-21-3, 47 pts, E GD)

21. Nashville Predators (20-17-8, 48 pts, -7 GD)

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Credit: (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Mike Babcock effect has been felt in Leafs Nation so far this season, but yet the Leafs are still near the bottom of the standings. In my opinion, what the Leafs are doing right now is the proper way to rebuild and rebrand a franchise. Last season, the Leafs were seen in the public as a franchise amidst turmoil, with a team that didn’t put 100% effort into winning games. Brendan Shanahan made the move to hire Babcock in the offseason to make sure the Leafs play the right brand of hockey, giving 100% even while losing the majority of their games. Everyone knows about tanking thanks to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes, and many expected the Leafs to tank this season. Instead of pathetic effort after pathetic effort, the Leafs are playing well in mostly every game so far this season, and making their coach proud. While teams like Buffalo and Arizona pulled off full tank-jobs last season, the Leafs are playing to win.

The main benefit of playing to win even with a bad team is that the core players currently on the team can teach the future top picks how to play like a winner. As seen in Edmonton, when you play to lose, you create a culture of losing that follows even when the talent is there. In Philadelphia, the 76ers are a perfect example of the losing culture continuing down the road. Even with a plethora of top picks, both the 76ers and Oilers are struggling to find success. With the route the Leafs are taking, they will have players around who know how to win and how to lead. That is going to be great for the development of the young players coming through the system.

Although Leafs fans are, and should be, excited about the way the effort the Leafs are showing this season, they have to understand that this is not a quick fix. There will probably be a couple of more seasons where fans will have to tolerate being at the bottom of the standings. However, there are positive signs, such as the development of Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, as well as the play of top pick Mitch Marner with the London Knights of the OHL. The Leafs are in the beginning stages of this rebuild, but things are looking good so far.

The Middle of the Pack (20-11):

20. Ottawa Senators (21-18-6, 48 pts, -13 GD)

19. Vancouver Canucks (19-17-10, 48 pts, -16 GD)

18. Philadelphia Flyers (20-15-8, 48 pts, -16 GD)

17. New Jersey Devils (22-19-5, 49 pts, -9 GD)

16. Pittsburgh Penguins (21-16-7, 49 pts, E GD)

15. San Jose Sharks (23-18-2, 48 pts, +7 GD)

14. Montreal Canadiens (23-19-4, 50 pts, +10 GD)

13. Boston Bruins (23-16-5, 51 pts, +17 GD)

12. Arizona Coyotes (22-17-5, 49 pts, -11 GD)

11. Minnesota Wild (22-15-8, 52 pts, +7 GD)

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Credit: (Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils have enjoyed a surprisingly successful season, led by the stellar play of goaltender Corey Schneider. At the beginning of the season, I had the Devils as one of the teams that would be in the race for Auston Matthews. Instead, Schneider has been playing at a Vezina calibre rate, and the Devils are right in the middle of a heated playoff race. As of this writing, they are 4 points out of a divisional spot, and just one point out of a wild-card position. The Devils have leaned on Mike Cammalleri, Kyle Palmieri, and Lee Stepniak for a lot of their scoring. Those three players, none stars, are contributing way more than expected. Plamieri has already topped his season-high points total, Stepniak is four points away, and Cammalleri is playing like he did in his prime with the Kings and Flames, almost 9 seasons ago. The defence group led by former top 5 pick Adam Larsson has been good enough to support these surprise contributors, but haven’t been anything special. When it comes down to it, this team relies on Schneider to win them most games. He has a 2.03 GAA and a.929 Sv%, good for a 19-14-5 record. No goalie other than Braden Holtby of the Capitals has both a better save percentage and goals against average than Schneider, with a 1.99 GAA, and a .931 Sv%, very small margins. If Holtby wasn’t having such an outstanding season, with a record of 29-5-2 to go along with those stellar stats, we would be talking about Schneider as the best goaltender in the league. In fact, since Schneider’s trade to the Devils from Vancouver, he has actually been a top-5 goaltender. Of goalies who have started at least 60 games, Schneider has the 3rd best save percentage, and the best goals against average. Those stats just go to show, Corey Schneider is one of the best goalies in the NHL.

The Best of the Best (10-1):

10. Detroit Red Wings (23-14-8, 54 pts, -5 GD)

9. New York Rangers (24-16-5, 53 pts, +9 GD)

8. New York Islanders (24-15-6, 54 pts, +11 GD)

7. Tampa Bay Lighting (24-17-4, 52 pts, +12 GD)

6. St. Louis Blues (26-15-7, 59 pts, E GD)

5. Dallas Stars (29-12-5, 63 pts, +30 GD)

4. Los Angeles Kings (28-13-3, 59 pts, +19 GD)

3. Florida Panthers (26-14-5, 57 pts, +18 GD)

2. Chicago Blackhawks (31-13-4, 66 pts, +30 GD)

1. Washington Capitals (34-8-3, 71 pts, +52 GD)

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Credit: Rob Grabowski, USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another 10 game win streak to talk about on the Weekend Update. Patrick Kane, the dynamic winger for the Blackhawks, leads the way in points with an almost absurd 69 through 48 games. Rookie linemate Artemi Panarin is second on the team with a rookie-leading 43 points, which is also good for 8th in the NHL. Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Jonathan Toews are doing their jobs in both ends of the ice, totalling 31, 29, and 35 points respectively, while also doing an outstanding job in their own end. Add all of this to the outstanding goaltending of the much criticized Corey Crawford, who has put up a .929 Sv% this season, and the Blackhawks’ stars are producing at every position. Make no mistake however, this success is not only due to the star power in Chicago, but also the outstanding depth on the team. How Stan Bowman has managed to continually re-tool this team around Kane, Toews, Seabrook, Keith, and Marian Hossa is legendary. Three Stanley Cup wins in the past six years, and after each of them, a gutting of the roster due to cap constraints. Bowman will soon join his father Scotty in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and will be joined by many of his stars soon enough.

That concludes this week’s rankings. Check back next Saturday for the updated rankings and stories.

Do you agree, or disagree with our picks? Comment below!

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