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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Mary Clarke

NHL February power rankings: Wild Western Conference remains as unpredictable as ever

It wasn’t that long ago that everyone believed that the Edmonton Oilers were dead in the water. Plus, what about the Los Angeles Kings? A team that was once a league-wide darling is now teetering on the cusp of a playoff spot.

And don’t even get me started on the Vancouver Canucks and everything they’ve accomplished this season.

As the NHL’s All-Star break finally begins — and the calendar turns to February — it’s clear this season has not gone the way many expected it to. A big reason for that is thanks to the NHL’s Western Conference, where chaos reigns and 16-game win streaks are somehow the norm now.

Outside of the big names, teams like the Winnipeg Jets and Arizona Coyotes have outperformed expectations, leading to surprise playoff pushes and more competitive games. Others, like the Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild, have disappointed and will have to look inward to find the heart of their problems.

There’s lots of hockey still to be played, but the end is starting to come into sight. The trade deadline is a handful of weeks away and with it brings power shifts and a clearer focus on the playoffs ahead. As the NHL takes a much-needed break from the action, here is how we see things across the league in our February 2024 power rankings.

San Jose Sharks (14-32-4)

Last ranked: 32

The Sharks put together a three-game win streak (!!!) in late January. While that was a nice respite from the misery that has been San Jose’s 2023-24 season, spring can’t get here soon enough for the Sharks.

Chicago Blackhawks (14-34-2)

Last ranked: 31

Connor Bedard’s injury really took the wind out of the Blackhawks already vapid sails. Hopefully we’ll see Bedard back on the ice for Chicago before the trade deadline in early March, because he’s been the most exciting part of this Blackhawks roster by a long shot.

Columbus Blue Jackets (16-24-10)

Last ranked: 30

You have to wonder if Jarmo Kekäläinen’s time as general manager of the Blue Jackets is coming to a swift close. Columbus has continuously underperformed and its biggest offseason moves from last year — hiring Mike Babcock (who was fired 10 weeks later) and trading for Ivan Provorov — look worse and worse by the day.

Ottawa Senators (19-25-2)

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP

Last ranked: 28

Things continue to go from bad to worse for the Senators. A 7-2 loss to the Rangers where the Senators allowed New York to score five straight second period goals might be the apex of their suffering this season. The 2023-24 season has been an extremely disappointing one for the Senators, who will probably see sweeping changes across the board this summer in an attempt to fix their glaring issues.

Anaheim Ducks (17-30-2)

Last ranked: 29

While the Ducks continue to underwhelm in their game-to-game results, the team did get a big win last month in obtaining current college prospect Cutter Gauthier from the Philadelphia Flyers. Anaheim’s future looks bright, especially if they can pick up another top prospect in this year’s draft, but this current iteration of the team remains quite poor.

Montreal Canadiens (20-21-8)

Last ranked: 27

Montreal fans have been getting restless as of late, as the Canadiens’ rebuild hasn’t shown signs of major growth in recent months. Juraj Slafkovsky seems to be finding his footing and Sean Monahan is having a nice season (13 goals and 35 points in 49 games), but things are happening at a slower pace than fans were expecting. The Canadiens might not be living up to expectations this season, but it feels like it’s still a bit too early to panic about the rebuild overall.

Minnesota Wild (21-23-5)

Last ranked: 25

What could have been a promising December turned into a catastrophic January for the Wild, as the team went 5-8-1 over the course of the month, sinking any hope of a positive swing to start 2024. The Wild just haven’t looked right all season long and with the trade deadline looming, you have to wonder if Minnesota will look to sell off some pieces to retool for next season.

Calgary Flames (22-22-5)

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Last ranked: 26

If the Oilers can storm back to make a triumphant return to form, why can’t the Flames? Things looked promising to start January, but Calgary ended the month on a 7-6-0 clip, which just isn’t good enough to get them back in the playoff race. Plus, there’s also the Jonathan Huberdeau elephant in the room, as the forward has just six goals and 26 points in 48 games for the Flames. Connor McDavid he is not.

Buffalo Sabres (22-23-4)

Last ranked: 24

The Sabres are well and truly out of the playoff race. January may not have been as disastrous as December was — with the team going 7-4-0 last month — but it cemented Buffalo’s fall from playoff hopeful to NHL bottom feeder. With Tage Thompson not playing at superhuman levels anymore and their goaltending taking a dip, regression was inevitable, but it’s still disappointing to see.

Washington Capitals (22-18-7)

Last ranked: 19

Is it time to start worrying about Alex Ovechkin in his quest to best Wayne Gretzky’s scoring record? Because I’m starting to worry. Ovechkin has just nine goals in 44 games this year, putting him 63 away from tying Gretzky as the best scorer in the NHL. Ovechkin’s contract runs to the summer of 2026, but with the way he’s slowed down this year, it’s fair to start wondering if he’s just running out of gas. Much like the Capitals, as they too haven’t had much to give this season as the NHL’s third-worst scoring team with 112 goals on the year.

New York Islanders (20-17-12)

AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes

Last ranked: 18

Patrick Roy has his hands full getting the Islanders back into shape after Lane Lambert was fired in January. New York has never been a scoring machine, but their minus-23 goal differential heading into February isn’t going to cut it against their peers fighting for a wild card spot. Given the Islanders’ roster construction flaws in a league where scoring continues to rise, one has to wonder how hot Lou Lamoriello’s general manager seat gets this offseason.

Arizona Coyotes (23-22-3)

Last ranked: 13

After putting themselves in wild card contention, the Coyotes disappointed in January with a 4-8-1 record, dropping them at least five points back. It’s fair to say the Coyotes were playing above their weight for a little while and have regressed back to their true selves, but they’ve made some great strides this year. It seems like Arizona’s promised young core is finally coming together like they had hoped.

St. Louis Blues (26-21-2)

Last ranked: 23

The Blues closed out January with a five-game win streak, enough to put them back in the playoff conversation. All season long, the Blues have struggled with putting out consistent winning performances and now that they’ve strung some victories together, they’ve played closer to their true talent level. Time will tell if the Blues have enough gas to hang with the Western Conference wild card contenders, but January was a good start.

Seattle Kraken (21-19-10)

Last ranked: 22

We may have put the kibosh on the Kraken a bit too soon. Sure, Seattle isn’t playing up to last year’s second-round standard, but they’ve been playing much more inspired hockey for nearly two months now. The Kraken have gone 11-4-1 since December 20, though a recent swoon has them looking a bit shaky once more. Still, the Kraken have put themselves back in playoff contention in a tight Western Conference wild card race with this stretch of play.

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-17-7)

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports ORG

Last ranked: 17

The Penguins are in real danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season, something they haven’t done since the mid 2000s. The most frustrating part is the Penguins stars are playing well, with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continuing to shine in their sunset seasons. Even Tristan Jarry is having an excellent year in net! Outside of the Penguins main stars, however, there’s absolutely no spark and that’s why they sit out of the playoff race as February begins.

New Jersey Devils (24-20-3)

Last ranked: 16

The Devils were only able to string a pair of wins together once during January on the first two games of the month. An inconsistent start to 2024 along with major injuries to Jack Hughes and Dougie Hamilton have the Devils scrambling for answers. Even if the Devils do manage to claw their way into a playoff spot, it’s clear this team isn’t as complete as it was once believed during their run last season.

Los Angeles Kings (22-15-10)

Last ranked: 6

In one fell swoop, the Kings have nearly plummeted out of the Western Conference playoff race with their mind-boggling skid. Since December 28, the Kings have gone 2-8-6, bottoming out completely as they cling to a wild card spot. Goals have been hard to come by during this stretch, as the Kings have been outscored 56-36 over this 16 game span. There’s still time for the Kings to turn the ship around, but a top spot in the West is all but unobtainable now after this slide.

Detroit Red Wings (26-18-5)

Last ranked: 21

Alex Lyon backstopped the Red Wings to the tune of an 8-2-1 record and .926 save percentage in January, vaulting Detroit back into the playoff conversation. After a poor December, the Red Wings righted the ship well in January, putting distance between themselves and their pursuers for the final East wild card spot. The Red Wings have a hot goalie and the upper hand in the standings, which could be enough to push them over the finish line as a playoff contender come spring.

Philadelphia Flyers (25-19-6)

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Last ranked: 12

The Flyers lost five straight ugly games to end January after winning their previous five in a mixed bag of a month. While the Flyers are still holding onto a top-three spot in the Metropolitan Division, the team lost a lot of ground and could slip into a wild card spot if things continue into February. Against a stacked February schedule, John Tortorella’s club has a lot to prove if they want to make it back to the playoffs.

Nashville Predators (26-22-2)

Last ranked: 14

Once again, the Predators enter trade deadline season as a team that should sell its most valuable assets, but likely won’t because of how close they are to a playoff spot. The Predators have good pieces in Juuse Saros, Filip Forsberg, and Roman Josi, but their supporting cast isn’t enough to make them true Stanley Cup contenders. If the Predators continue to trend more positively, Barry Trotz will have quite the decision on his hands in a few weeks time.

Toronto Maple Leafs (25-14-8)

Last ranked: 11

It’s a good sign for the Maple Leafs that Ilya Samsonov has gone 3-1-0 with a .939 save percentage since his return from the AHL. Martin Jones has definitely had a resurgence this season, but it was imperative that the Maple Leafs get their presumed long-term goaltender back on track. I’m still skeptical that the Maple Leafs have the juice to make a long playoff run, but no one can deny the team’s star power. Auston Matthews has another 40-goal season under his belt and could very well get close to 70 before the season is finished.

Tampa Bay Lightning (27-18-5)

Last ranked: 15

Steven Stamkos is a point-per-game player through 47 games this season as the pressure increases on the Lightning to re-sign their captain this offseason. Stamkos’ contract will be a fascinating story to follow as the summer approaches, but the Lightning remain locked in a battle for the third spot in the Atlantic after going 9-3-0 in January. Tampa Bay currently holds a one point lead over the Maple Leafs as February begins.

Winnipeg Jets (30-12-5)

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Last ranked: 9

The end of January was a rough one for the Jets. A 4-1 defeat against the Bruins before losing back-to-back games against the Maple Leafs was a tough way to close out an otherwise stellar month. Winnipeg is right in the thick of the race for first in the Central Division, but they took a tough punch from the Eastern Conference’s best to finish the month.

Vegas Golden Knights (29-15-6)

Last ranked: 8

Since starting the season 20-5-5, the Golden Knights have gone 9-10-1 in their last 20 games. Not a recipe for success in a crowded top of the Western Conference! To be fair to the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Golden Knights have been dealing with some tough injuries to their depth, including to star center Jack Eichel, that have made this rough stretch worse. It’s not the first time the Golden Knights have dealt with the injury bug, but it has definitely hampered their season after a hot start.

Carolina Hurricanes (28-15-5)

Last ranked: 10

Slowly but surely, the Hurricanes have started to look like their usual selves. They now sit within striking distance of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the Rangers for first. Rod Brind’Amour’s squad has already taken advantage of the Flyers early 2024 slide, and if they keep up this consistent play, the Rangers could very well be next.

Edmonton Oilers (29-15-1)

Last ranked: 20

What a difference a month — and an ongoing 16-game winning streak — makes! Yes, we counted out the Oilers too quickly, but given how tragic they looked earlier in the season, could you blame us? Perhaps the biggest shock of all during this run is that Zach Hyman, not Connor McDavid, leads the Oilers with 30 goals. Perhaps this All-Star break comes at a poor time for the Oilers when they’re as hot as can be, but the end result is the same: this incredible stretch has no doubt saved Edmonton’s season.

New York Rangers (30-16-3)

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Last ranked: 1

The Rangers took a bit of a step back in January, ceding ground in the Metropolitan Division and the NHL overall with a 5-7-2 month. New York is still a legitimate playoff contender, but so-so seasons from Adam Fox, Kaapo Kakko, and Igor Shesterkin have sown the seeds of doubt about if they’re a Stanley Cup contender amongst their peers. I have to wonder if general manager Chris Drury will have something cooking at the trade deadline to give this Rangers team a spark.

Dallas Stars (30-13-6)

Last ranked: 4

The Stars continue to be a top-three offense in the NHL, with nine players above 10 goals or more so far this season. Once again, Dallas has struck the perfect balance between new blood — Jason Robertson, Miro Heiskanen, Wyatt Johnston — and old veterans like Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn. They continue to be an exciting team to watch with an incredibly likable group of personalities to boot.

Florida Panthers (31-14-4)

Last ranked: 7

Thanks to the Oilers’ spectacular win streak, the Panthers recent 13-2-2 run hasn’t gotten nearly as much notice but also has done wonders for their standing. And the star of the show in Florida? Sam Reinhart, who already has a career-best 37 goals this season — in a contract year, no less. With each month that passes, the Panthers continue to prove that last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final was no fluke. These guys are legit.

Colorado Avalanche (32-14-3)

Last ranked: 3

Nathan MacKinnon is well on his way to a new career high in points — with 84 points in 49 games this season — after posting 111 just last year. The Avalanche have benefited greatly from MacKinnon’s blistering pace this season, as the team sits first overall in goals (188) as the All-Star break begins. The Avalanche certainly have a dogfight ahead of them to keep the top spot in the Central, but the team is relatively healthy and looks as sharp as ever en route to likely another deep playoff run.

Vancouver Canucks (33-11-5)

Last ranked: 5

Rick Tocchet absolutely has the Jack Adams locked down after what he’s done to this Canucks team. In a year where Vancouver needed to be a playoff team, they’ve looked like Stanley Cup contenders nearly two thirds of the way through the season. In an incredibly tough division with the Oilers and Golden Knights, the Canucks continue to live up to their true potential. A collapse very well could come for Vancouver down the line, but they deserve all the praise that’s been heaped upon them thus far this season.

Boston Bruins (31-9-9)

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Last ranked: 2

Since December 27, the Bruins have been on an absolute heater, going 12-2-3 and showcasing that, once again, reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated. While anything’s possible, it’s hard to imagine this team getting toppled in the first round like they did last season, especially with how Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have played in net this year.

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