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Who’s good, who’s bad and who’s faking in the NHL now?

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An update on the reality of the league standings at the point in the season everyone claims the future is certain.

Edmonton Oilers v Tampa Bay Lightning
How is your season going, Connor?
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The early returns on which team is good, bad or faking it showed a lot of teams who weren’t what they seemed. With around 22 games in for everyone, there should be more certainty. Everyone claims you have to be in a playoff spot (or close to one) by False Thanksgiving to be there in the spring, but that’s not an absolute.

Eastern Conference

Good

Tampa Bay (1st in conference): Everything works as intended in Tampa, and they likely can weather this injury to their starting goalie with few problems. The only thing wrong with the Lightning is their tepid power play. Don’t tell them.

Toronto (2nd): They are good at everything to varying degrees. Tampa is better at five-on-five, but the Leafs are better at special teams. Barring catastrophic injuries these two teams should battle for first to the bitter end.

Columbus (4th): They’re a lot like Tampa only with early goalie failures and a worse power play.

Boston (5th): They are just barely in the good camp by my reckoning, which you might be shocked by if you think shot share matters most. But Boston does nothing much with their five-on-five dominance, and their power play is also mysteriously mediocre. The “one line and then nobody” system seems to be failing them a little. Meanwhile their backup goalie is saving their early season while their starter is bad. Their injuries might put them in trouble, but a surge in play from the other nine forwards might make them their old selves.

Faking being Good

Washington (8th): So about the Barry Trotz contract the Capitals wouldn’t renew... The Capitals are in this section because I don’t have a faking being average category. They aren’t doing anything well so far this year except riding their talented shooters up out of the basement and right into a playoff spot, mostly on the strength of the power play. I don’t count them out yet, but they need to hurry up on the playing legitimately well thing to avoid being overtaken by another Metro team.

Bad

New York Rangers (7th): They have to be wondering when the rest of the Metro starts winning games, so they can drop to lottery position where they should be. They have nothing going for them but some luck on the power play. The only question about this team is if they’re worse than the Islanders, and I’d say maybe. They looked better early on, but it’s all blown away now.

New York Islanders (10th): They are shooting percentage and nothing else. They’re better defensively than they were last year, and they’re getting a little bit of goaltending goodness, but their shot share is horrible, and it’s horrible because their offensive pace rivals the Senators. They will crash hard. If you don’t believe me, let me name their 5 forwards shooting over 20%: Tom Kuhnhackl, Valtteri Filppula, Brock Nelson, Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas.

Detroit (11th): They’re trying very hard not to be bad, but they are really bad. They should be able to trade Jimmy Howard to some goalie hungry team and get a better draft pick. I can think of one team that should have pulled the trigger on that deal weeks ago.

Ottawa (12th): If there weren’t three Metro teams below them in the standings, this would be more obvious, but they are very bad.

Philadelphia (15th): The Flyers are tough to figure out. They’re okay in shot share, but need to be better. But any benefit of that minimal quality is being annihilated by their bad goaltending and poor shooting. I still think the problem here is behind the bench as well as in the net.

Faking being Bad

Carolina (9th): I don’t think this team is great despite the offensive pace, but I don’t think they’re terrible either. With even some small shooting luck improvement, the league’s top Corsi team can start scoring goals to outpace their goals against. The meme that their goaltending is the only problem is totally wrong. Their defensive execution is terrible. They have the fourth lowest expected save percentage in the NHL. So, consider that in all your fantasy trades despite their win over the Leafs.

New Jersey (13th): Oh, Devils. What are you doing? They have been partly sunk by bad goaltending, but their basic game is so much better than every Metro team ahead of them (barring Carolina), that a rebound of some kind seems inevitable. While they’re waiting, they should fix their power play.

Florida (16th): They just don’t score goals and their goaltending was shaky early, but they should at least challenge Buffalo, Boston and Montréal for their place in the Atlantic.

Pittsburgh (15th): When is it too late to recover? Maybe Pittsburgh is going to find out. They’re just Florida only more so. Their goal differential isn’t even that bad, but they have bad team goaltending and not enough goals going in, even though they aren’t playing badly.

Legitimately Average

Buffalo (4th): If they weren’t struggling to perform at five-on-five, I’d call them good. They have everything else on track for the first time in a decade, but the shot share is just meh. They are a long way from the horror they used to be, but they aren’t good yet. Unlike most teams, they could see real improvement from rookies getting better in-season. So they might be good by next week or next month.

Montréal (6th): They’re borderline fakers for me now. They have terrible goaltending, some decent five-on-five play, yet all their scoring is coming off of shooting percentages. Some of that is real, but not enough of it. They’re in transition, though, so like Buffalo, they can improve at the player level.


As of today, Carolina and all below in the standings are out of a playoff spot. So who out of that group can beat the odds on the “in by False Thanksgiving” meme? Carolina, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. But all of them need to hurry, and Carolina has the best chance.

Who will they kick out? The New York Rangers.

And that’s the problem for the Metro’s early poor performers. The muddy middle of the Atlantic has done very well, and vaulting them for a Wild Card spot will be very tough. Boston seems the weakest team there at the moment, but that can change, and then Montréal might be the one to beat.


Western Conference

Good

Nashville (1st in Conference): There isn’t anything wrong with this team that I can find.

Minnesota (2nd): The Wild are trying to be a defensive team with good systems that succeeds. So far, so good, but there’s weakness here that isn’t there in some other western teams.

Calgary (3rd): Their five-on-five is great, they just need some consistency from their goalies, which they might get. A little shooting luck, and they’d be...oh, wait, this is the Pacific, they’re already first in their division. Carry on.

San Jose (6th): They are the Hurricanes of the west, only they’ve got an easier division to fight through their bad percentages in. They are already looking good after a slow start.

Faking being good

Winnipeg (4th): They look good in goal differential, but they’ve been very mediocre at five-on-five execution, shot quality and defensive execution.

Colorado (5th): One forward line and a big shooting percentage. They are more likely than not going to ride that into the playoffs, but this is not a competitive team.

Bad

Anaheim (8th): A truly terrible team in all ways not John Gibson related. Seeing them play was illuminating, and it’s not just systems bringing them to ruin.

Vancouver (9th): Remember when they led the Pacific?

Chicago (11th): They weren’t bad only because of the coach, but he wasn’t innocent. I’m not sure how you fix the contract mess, but this team is actually worse than they look.

Arizona (13th): Maybe some year when everyone says they’ll break out they really will, but it’s not this year so far. I thought they were faking, but I was wrong. I think they are legitimately bad. A little improvement in shooting and they could be in the playoffs though, but like others they need to hurry.

St. Louis (14th): At some point, Vladimir Tarasenko has to answer for his contract. For right now, the whole team is legitimately bad.

Los Angeles (15th): Their only bright spot is Cal Petersen.

Faking being bad

Vegas (12th): This isn’t regression, it’s a cruel joke. Okay, the goaltending being iffy is not a shock, but at some point they will score some goals. But is it too late?

Legitimately Average

Dallas (7th): They are unlucky and not very good, yet good enough in the Central to have a positive goal differential. More shooting luck could vault them out of the Wild Card spot and into real contention, but the foundation here is very weak.

Edmonton (10th): Last time I called the Oilers bad. Now they look like a team with a fairly poor roster that is underperforming their ability and is also unlucky. What they’ll be after a few weeks of the new coach is anyone’s guess, but anyone thinking the Oilers are all the GM’s fault is missing a few things. They’re just mostly the GM’s fault.


Can Vegas claw their way into a playoff spot? Easily. They’re only two points behind Anaheim. So is Edmonton; and Arizona is only three back. Not even the Blues are out of it quite yet.

The way the Leafs went through California like a knife through butter and then had to work really hard against Columbus and Carolina, I think the west might be more legitimately average than they look measured only against each other.