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The Oil Rig Canadian NHL Power Rankings 2022–23: Three teams currently hold playoff spots

There are theories about how much the current landscape of the NHL allows Canadian teams to succeed. Whether it’s related to currency, not trade lists, bad management, or bad luck, there is no shortage of theories and thoughts as to why it’s been roughly 30 years since the Montreal Canadiens last brought the Stanley Cup home to it’s alleged home country.

As far as this season goes, three of the seven Canadian teams currently hold playoff spots, with one more being thoroughly in the race. At most, an optimist would say five Canadian teams still have a shot at the postseason. With a long way to go in the season yet, only time will tell how many Canadian teams make it, and how far those that do might go.

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Sure, the now-injured Auston Matthews is having something of a down season, but fellow star forward William Nylander has more than picked up the slack. The “big four” has never been the question, rather whether or not GM Kyle Dubas could build an adequate team around them. Though he has earned more than his share of criticism, Dubas has proved the doubters wrong, building off of last season, the strongest team the Toronto Maple Leafs have had in more than 50 years.

With an embarrassment of depth on the blueline, including the ascendant Timothy Liljegren, the Leafs have been able to withstand long injuries to their top defenders, Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie, without so much as a hiccup. The deep blueline, as well as the team’s general defensive prowess, has made the job a lot more manageable for Dubas’ biggest gamble, the all new goalie tandem.

Instead of swinging for the fences on UFAs coming off of career seasons, Dubas got fantastic deals on goalies with some historical pedigree in less than ideal circumstances. Both Ilya Samsonov and Matt Murray have, predictably perhaps, looked their best behind a stronger defensive effort. For now, the Leafs biggest issue would be their prospective playoff path. It should be smooth sailing until then.

2. Edmonton Oilers

There have been some easier spots on the schedule, but the Edmonton Oilers are much deserving of this ranking. Having spent the last month or so dominating the flow of play, the Oilers now find themselves trending towards being a top ten team in controlling possession and scoring chances. With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman legitimately threatening for 100 points, and Evander Kane returning from injury, the Oilers have too much talent to dominate possession and let it go to waste. Simply put, even approaching a top possession team makes the Oilers a true contender.

Yes, the start of the season had its disappointments. With Jack Campbell struggling off the top of the year, and the defensive performance of the team as a whole following suit, concerns that the Oilers were the same middling team once again were festering. With Campbell’s improved play the Oilers have a true tandem in net, aided by the return of the tactful precision and purpose fans we’re expecting under coach Jay Woodcroft. Recent call ups on the blueline, Philip Broberg and Vincent Desharnais, have been fantastic, but the play of the team as a whole has become elite.

The Pacific Division crown itself is in play for the Oilers, and their year to year improvement under GM Ken Holland has continued. Though the Colorado Avalanche look to have regained their playoff footing, barring a huge deadline addition the Oilers might well find themselves the class of the Western Conference with their current trajectory.

3. Winnipeg Jets

Lots of words that begin with “r” get thrown out when describing hockey teams—in Winnipeg the word might be refuelled, if not refreshed. After a coaching (and captaincy) change, the Winnipeg Jets have vastly improved their underlying flow of play metrics, culminating in the strongest team they have had in a few years.

Connor Hellebuyck has been his usual self, Josh Morrissey is a legitimate Norris trophy candidate, and some youth up front has shown some promise as the team has more than managed the absence of one of its top options, Nikolaj Ehlers, headlined by Cole Perfetti. Now, with Ehlers back in the fold, the Jets should be near full strength.

Still, the Jets might lack some play-driving defencemen. Much of their success comes from shooting and saving talent as opposed to controlling play. With quality players like Kyle Connor up front, and one of the world’s best goalies, the Jets would be a tough opponent in any playoff series.

4. Calgary Flames

It’s been a bit of a step back for the Calgary Flames, who cruised through the 2021–22 regular season. While the possession and scoring chance control has held up reasonably well, the turnover up front is still underway. Losing the trio of Brady Tkachuk, Johnny Gaudreau, and Sean Monahan has clearly had some ill effects. With the coaching stylings of Darryl Sutter and one of the league’s stronger bluelines represent a hearty start, the Flames have lacked some scoring punch despite the additions of Nazem Kadri and Jonathan Huberdeau.

That said, the reason for optimism and frustration among Flames fans might be one and the same. With a strong prospects pool home to many forwards that might well be NHL ready, as evidenced by the strength of the AHL affiliate Calgary Wranglers, the answer to the Flames struggles might well be right under their noses. There has been a perceived reluctance to turn to those internal options, but as the playoff race unfolds the Flames chances are flickering.

5. Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators had an aggressive offseason, stockpiling an influx of talent that lead to some raised expectations. Though the top half of the roster is quite strong, the Sens are lacking in a few key areas that have kept them out of the playoffs to this point.

Despite being outgunned in a competitive Eastern Conference the Senators have had a number of key performances. Naturally Thomas Chabot is logging huge minutes on the back end, with the recently extended Artem Zub as a strong partner, but Jake Sanderson appears to be a rising talent on the back end. There is a lot of promise rising through the ranks on the blueline, but for now the Sens appear to be a piece or two short, especially on the right side.

Meanwhile, up front Tim Stutzle has continued his progression. Though it might not be until next season that he is held up as a breakout star, his level of play is right on that doorstep already. Naturally, Josh Norris missing so much of the season has not helped their cause, but with a host of youngsters from Shane Pinto to Ridly Greig stepping into the lineup the Senators’ forward group is the team’s bright spot.

While some were quite critical of replacing Filip Gustavsson with Cam Talbot, Talbot and Anton Forsberg have done well enough while the talented Mads Sogaard makes his way up the ranks. Regardless, an addition on the back end and improved team defence would lessen the burden on the goalies.

In all, the Senators are a good team that will be hard pressed to make the playoffs this season. The trajectory has been uneven, but decidedly upwards.

6. Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens were expected to be in the bottom tier of the league, firmly rebuilding under new GM Kent Hughes. Despite the poor record, there has been a ton of reason for Habs fans to be positive about how the season has unfolded. In fact, some fans are worried that the team is winning too much, citing the potential prize of Connor Bedard.

While acquiring a talent like Bedard would be a huge win for any franchise, and there is some merit to “tanking” as a concept, the draft lottery system changes the equation. Is it worth it to throw away progression for the current roster for a slightly better chance at winning a lottery? Oilers fans know more than most that lottery wins do not guarantee team success, and those who traded away any semblance of competence for a chance to win the Connor McDavid lottery (read Buffalo, Arizona) have had little success since scorching their rosters years ago. Far greater to the Habs Bedard chances than the slight percentage between seeding is the fact that the Habs own the Florida Panthers’ unprotected first rounder, where the Panthers missing the playoffs would give the Habs a nice combined percentage.

On the ice, coach Martin St. Louis has helped the Habs get a lot out of their young players. Kirby Dach has proved to be an amazing reclamation project. Rookies, Kaiden Guhle and Arber Xhekaj, have been bright spots on the blueline. Though first-overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky has not looked ready for full time NHL action (a year of development seems like it would have been a better call, honestly the recent string of teams throwing top picks into the NHL right after their draft year, regardless of how ready they are is concerning, perhaps worthy of its own article) there is little doubt that the Habs have a lot of young talent.

Is it worth it to ruin the progress that Sam Montembeault, for example, is showing to hopefully secure an extra 1-2% chance at Bedard? Or is it more valuable to create a positive environment where all the young players can succeed and let the chips fall where they may?

7. Vancouver Canucks

From ownership on down, it has been an unmitigated disaster for the Vancouver Canucks. In a word, dysfunction. Not much has gone well for the team, but it doesn’t make much sense to blame the shortcomings on the coaching, as they have.

Though there is some legitimate talent on the roster, from Elias Pettersson to Quinn Hughes to Thatcher Demko, the clear weakness of the roster is the blueline. Behind Hughes there is little going on the Canucks back end. Management has at least taken a few flyers on young NHLers in recent years, as Ethan Bear, Riley Stillman, and Travis Dermott are reasonable gambles, but there is not nearly enough infrastructure for nickel and dime reclamation projects to save the day. The large contracts of veterans Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Tyler Myers don’t provide a lot of support or cap wiggle room.

By this logic, even the franchise altering talent of Connor Bedard might do little to sort out the mess that the Canucks find themselves mired in. Management has already stated their desire to prioritise acquiring young NHLers instead of draft picks, meaning any young defencemen who have fallen out of favour with their current teams should be primary targets for the Canucks.

The northern showdown

Now heading into February and approaching the All-Star break, all seven Canadians teams have just over 30 games left to play. Furthermore the trade deadline is just around the corner. What big moves could potentially occur so we could see more Canadian teams in the playoffs?

This concludes out power rankings for this month, be sure to tune in for the next one!

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

Gregory Babinski

twitter: @axiomsofice

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