It seemed like deja vu when the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals squared off once again in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Those deep issues that Washington had suffered in the playoffs ever since Alex Ovechkin entered the NHL scene were back into question as NHL fans wondered if the Caps would ever get over the hump.
Thanks to an Evgeny Kuznetsov stunner in overtime, the Capitals ended that horrid curse and never looked back.
Even the Vegas Golden Knights were out of answers in the Stanley Cup Finals, as Lars Eller put in a rebound for what would be the go-ahead and final goal of the 2017-2018 season. Washington needed just five games against Vegas to lock up their first Stanley Cup championship in 43 years, and Ovechkin fittingly won the Conn Smythe.
Here are the final NHL Power Rankings of 2017-2018, including a look at what some teams need to do during a busy offseason to get back into the playoffs.
1. Washington Capitals
For the third straight season, a Metropolitan Division team clinched the Stanley Cup on the road, but this is different because the winners entered unchartered territory. Of all the players on the Caps, defenseman Brooks Orpik was the only player who had won the Stanley Cup in the past (and yes, he did it with Pittsburgh). Alex Ovechkin, who has just about every international and personal accomplishment in his Hall of Fame résumé, will get the most attention for receiving the Cup, but there are plenty of other noteworthy names, too. Remember Nicklas Backstrom has been one of the most consistent assisters in the league for about a decade, while Braden Holtby had an astounding GAA of 2.16 in 23 games and an NHL-record 16 wins. Even Pittsburgh fans have to bow down to a Capitals team that, even when it seems like it is all about the Great Eight, needed all of the teamwork possible to scrape into the history books. It was the first championship in the United States capital since the Washington Redskins won Super Bowl 26 in 1992.
Unfortunately, the Caps will have to move on without Barry Trotz, who resigned following the championship.
2. Vegas Golden Knights
This is sobering. All of the crazy memories that came with the greatest inaugural season in sports history could stop the screeching halt that Vegas hit in the Stanley Cup Finals. After winning four straight to dispose Winnipeg, the same thing happened to them against Washington. They certainly made some amazing stories, but they suffered the same fate as 29 other teams and go into the offseason with no Stanley Cups. Now comes the toughest part of the offseason: proving to the NHL that this season was no fluke and the team is here to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture. That will start with Marc-Andre Fleury building off of a dream season/playoffs and Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and William Karlsson turning into the leaders of the new squad.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
After injuries derailed last season, Tampa Bay returned to their dominant ways this season. With the help of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and first-time All-Star Brayden Point, the Lightning finished with the top offense in the league. Although he scuffled at the end of the season, Andrei Vasilevskiy still led the Eastern Conference, and tied the NHL lead, with 44 wins. That was not enough to stop a Capitals team that was as desperate as anyone to grab a Stanley Cup, but Tampa Bay has already been listed to have the best odds at hoisting the Cup next year. It would be a surprise if they were not in the playoffs in 2019.
4. Winnipeg Jets
It was only a matter of time before the Jets put the “Win” in Winnipeg. Not only did they win their first playoff game and series in franchise history, but they also opened plenty of eyes by knocking out the Western Conference champions from last year…on the road! Like Tampa Bay, the Jets could not slow down the runaway train in their conference, either. The inaugural season magic in Las Vegas was too much for a team that demolished their rebuilding process, especially with the help of Connor Hellebuyck. While dealing with the Predators might be a challenge, it would not be surprising if the Jets were just as competitive next year.
5. Nashville Predators
The Predators had the luxury of taking home the Presidents Trophy and having the Vezina Trophy winner (Pekka Rinne), but they will have to wait for their first Stanley Cup. To make things worse, the team that gift-wrapped them Filip Forsberg happens to be the same team living in the championship glory this summer. Nashville may have won the trade, but they probably would like that trophy a little more. Look for Viktor Arvidsson and Kevin Fiala to continue their journey toward the offense’s elite after helping a formerly mediocre offense rise to the Top 10 this year.
6. Boston Bruins
Another team that had their sights on the Stanley Cup failed to get past the second round, but at least they had the bragging rights in their lone Original Six playoff series. There were plenty of notable stories this season. Patrice Bergeron got hot late in the season and into the playoffs, while the Bruins got an extra jolt from their rookies, including Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen. Jake DeBrusk, another rookie, scored what would be the game-winning goal to knock out Toronto in Game 7 of the first round, and he finished with five goals in the series.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
This is unchartered territory. Pittsburgh went into the second round of the playoffs with eyes on another Stanley Cup. Suddenly, their dominance over the Capitals reversed course, and everyone at PPG Paints Arena was stunned. This is probably not too devastating because the Pens had won the last two Stanley Cups and are not likely going to decline as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continue to play at elite levels. The biggest concerns, however, are whether the Pens will still have Phil Kessel and whether Matt Murray can avoid the injury bug.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
They made progress in that making the playoffs was no challenge. Now the young team needs to take the next step in finding playoff success. With being a large market with a highly respected coach and plenty of young talent, building a Stanley Cup contender is certainly a possibility. Regardless of what happens, however, the optimism among Toronto fans to break the curse might be difficult.
9. San Jose Sharks
After becoming the second Pacific Division team to fall victim to Vegas, the Sharks need to continue their transition toward getting younger. They made that step this week, when they traded for Mike Hoffman and shipped him to Florida for three 2018 draft picks. They also extended Evander Kane after he proved that he can be a reliable player on and off the ice. That deadline trade still has plenty of risk factors, but it is starting to look more promising by the minute.
10. Colorado Avalanche
Keep in mind that the Avalanche really had nothing to lose in their final regular season game. They had already gone from historically awful to playoff contending in one season, and just missing the playoffs would not have been the end of the world. Yet they officially stunned the hockey world in eliminating the Blues and taking the final playoff spot. While they were knocked out in five games in the first round, they looked incredible in their lone victory against the Predators on home ice, and Nathan MacKinnon has certainly lived up to his first overall pick expectations. Lots of reasons to be optimistic in Denver.
11. Philadelphia Flyers
Trading for Petr Mrazek was not a bad idea considering the team’s weakness in goal, but it did nothing to get them past the first round of the playoffs. After dream seasons from Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers have the difficult task of finding more talent to build around them. Wayne Simmonds has been rumored to be in trade talks, and trading the multi-faceted winger should get a sizable return. It would also make sense to give Alex Lyon more playing time after he dominated the AHL playoffs with Lehigh Valley.
12. Anaheim Ducks
Washington ended their curse, and it was significantly larger than Anaheim’s. The Ducks, however, have had their chances in the past 10 years to no avail. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are still reliable parts of the team, but Anaheim needs to find the next wave of prospects to keep the team competitive in the future. Unfortunately, there are not many elite prospects in the system because of the team’s position in the draft boards, so it may require trading current players away. As long as Rickard Rakell is off limits, the Ducks should start looking for suitors.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets
Can Columbus maintain their recent regular success and, more importantly, make noise in the playoffs? Well, they may have to do it without Artemi Panarin. He has stalled talks regarding an extension, so the Jackets may consider trading him to avoid losing him in free agency in 2019. With no dominant offensive threat at the moment, not having Panarin may put some extra pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky and the defense. Pierre-Luc Dubois had an incredible rookie campaign with 48 points, and the former third pick should be on watch for an even bigger year.
14. Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar fell short in the Hart Trophy results, but he did earn the Selke Trophy. It is no mystery that Kopitar willed the Kings back into the playoffs this season. He should have more support next year with Jeff Carter likely playing more games next year. The looming concern with the two-time Stanley Cup champions in the decade is whether age will be a factor. Both Carter and Jonathan Quick are well into their 30’s now, so the Kings will have to figure out how to reload their prospect list without missing a beat in the playoff race. That is much harder than perceived.
15. New Jersey Devils
The expectation is that teams that get the first overall pick are not expected to be playoff contenders the very next year. Yet it happened for the second straight season. Nico Hischier fared very well, but Taylor Hall went from unfortunate top pick to Hart Trophy winner. I guess he REALLY did not enjoy the stigma of being the bringer of top overall picks. Now he has to avoid a falloff, which could possibly hurt New Jersey’s playoff chances next year.
16. Minnesota Wild
Who are the Wild? Are they the team that Eric Staal can carry to the promised land? Or are they like Zach Parise, a star who has yet to live up to expectations with his second team? After years of making the playoffs and fading in the first round, Minnesota is the definition of a middling franchise. There is no telling what direction the team could go, but another lack of progress would not look good.
17. St. Louis Blues
The Blues took a huge step back this year. The playoffs have been expected for a long time, and this year broke that trend. The most frustrating part of this year has to be Jake Allen. He is as good as any other goaltender on his good days, but he was bad enough to fall into a platoon with Carter Hutton this season. If Allen wants to be relied upon to be a starter for a playoff team, then he will have to prove it in October. The Blues expect to win often, and missing the postseason for two straight seasons would be a disaster.
18. Florida Panthers
Florida always gets the tag for most potential, but now the results need to come. The Panthers still have plenty of young talent, and they recently gave away three picks for Mike Hoffman. Their mission is simple. They need to make the playoffs as soon as possible so that their current core has a reason to stay put.
19. Dallas Stars
The tiers of talent in Dallas are obvious. This year, Alexander Radulov joined Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg at the elite level, while Radek Faksa, Mattias Janmark, and Devin Shore cemented themselves in the second tier. Despite a decent year from Ben Bishop, the Stars faded late in the season, but Miro Heiskanen should make the defense much more formidable next season. Dallas should be one of the likelier non-playoff teams to contend next year.
20. Calgary Flames
It is not hard to figure out where the Flames went wrong. They took a chance in trades for Mike Smith and Travis Hamonic, and they now have no high draft picks despite missing the playoffs. While pulling off a big trade is still possible, it may be impossible to give teams what they want for the best talent (like Erik Karlsson) without making another crazy risk. They should at least try to sign John Tavares and give their goalie prospects and deeper look in September. They are not too far away from returning to the playoffs, so a tweak or two should do the trick.
21. Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina is the bigger version of Florida in that they own the longest active playoff drought. The solution? How about the second overall pick in the NHL Draft? That will certainly make things interesting for a team that already has plenty of young talent. After that, the Hurricanes need Scott Darling to play like he did backing up Corey Crawford in Chicago because he did not meet expectations last year.
22. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers will likely be one of the most volatile teams in the NHL moving forward. As long as Connor McDavid continues to rack up the points, the team has a chance at glory. This year, however, shows how poor the team truly is. Is Cam Talbot the answer? Is anybody reliable beyond McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins? Can the Oilers find some more draft success after years of mixed results? No other team can say they can either be like Washington or Ottawa next year.
23. New York Rangers
The Rangers were one of the most aggressive sellers last year, with J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh both going to Tampa Bay. Getting Vladislav Namestnikov has the making of a true gift because he was having an impressive campaign with the Lightning. Add of future additions of Lias Andersson and whoever ends up being the ninth overall pick in the draft, and the new core of players in Manhattan might not be far away. The Rangers desperately need to look for a permanent replacement for Henrik Lundqvist. His years in the NHL are numbered.
24. New York Islanders
We all know the elephant in the room. Will John Tavares stay or go? Lou Lamoriello has certainly been aggressive in trying to keep the captain in Brooklyn, but there is still no clear idea of whether the new GM has impacted JT’s thinking. Even if he does not stay, the Islanders have a young core of players who are expected to take the lead by storm, including Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal, Joshua Ho-Sang, and Keifer Bellows, along with the 11th and 12th picks of this year’s draft. If New York wants to return to the playoffs, however, then they will need to improve the defense immensely. It is horrible.
25. Chicago Blackhawks
Humpty Dumpty has some company because the Blackhawks had a great fall. They finished dead last in the Central Division, and it was not close. While getting the eighth pick in the NHL Draft should help the team smooth things over in the 2020s, there is no telling whether the current core can provide many wins moving forward. The problem here is whether the front office could actually trade Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane for a representable return.
26. Detroit Red Wings
The rebuild is definitely moving forward now. After 25 straight years of playoff hockey, Detroit has now been absent for two straight seasons. Anthony Mantha broke out this season, and there are several candidates that could do the same thing next year, including Russian winger Evgeny Svechnikov. Also expect the Wings to take full advantage of the draft following their deadline trades of Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar.
27. Buffalo Sabres
How did the worst team in the NHL jump up to 27? By winning the draft lottery in a year when the top pick is obvious. The defense is horrendous, but adding Rasmus Dahlin should plug up some of those holes rather quickly. Even with the rise in the rankings, the offense is still anemic after Jack Eichel. Unless Buffalo finds the same holy grail that Toronto and New Jersey reached (ie Eichel winning the Hart Trophy), the offense is likely going to hold them back in 2019.
28. Arizona Coyotes
Arizona has been a talent toilet bowl for some time. It showed this past year, when recent rising star Max Domi was held to nine goals in 2017-2018. There is reason for hope, however, as the Coyotes shipped Domi to Montreal for Alex Galchenyuk, another young player with lots of upside. If Antti Raanta can build off of an outstanding second half to the season, when he rose to second in the NHL with a 0.930 save percentage (0.945 after the All-Star break), then the Yotes could put up a legitimate fight in the Western Conference.
29. Vancouver Canucks
Another year, another undesirable draft pick. This time, Vancouver fell to seventh. If there is one bright spot, it is that the Sedin twins are now retired. Although they did a lot for the Canucks over 20 years, their retirements really open the door for future development. With Olli Juolevi and Elias Pettersson likely getting close to reaching the NHL, this is a roster that could really blossom by the end of this decade. That still should not be enough to contend in 2019.
30. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal has the luxury of having a high lottery pick, but that will not save them in 2018-2019. The only way this team recovers in one year would be if the offense did a 180 and Carey Price returns to his old ways. Trading Alex Galchenyuk to Arizona for Max Domi was a significant risk because Domi’s scoring potential has yet to be fully unleashed. If that trade does end up as a loss, then we have a battle between Canadian rivals for what could be the top pick in the 2019 draft.
31. Ottawa Senators
On paper, this team does not appear to be the worst team in the NHL. That is why trusting paper is not always a good idea. This team is the definition of a dumpster fire. The Senators traded for Matt Duchene and quickly realized their mistake (even though he was decent). Kyle Turris became a critical part of the roaring Predators offense, and the Avalanche reloaded and accelerated their rebuilding process. Meanwhile, Ottawa could not stop losing. The rift between Erik Karlsson‘s and Mike Hoffman‘s significant others just might be the beginning of losing more top players following Ottawa’s trade with San Jose. Add on the fact that the Sens have an owner threatening to move the team and do not have a top three pick when they had a solid chance, and things are looking brutal in the Canadian capital. Somebody call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police!