NHL Power Rankings: Lightning's surge lifts them to top spot, Islanders continue to slide
Who (or what) has been the No. 1 star for each team heading into the All-Star break?
It's time for another installment of the CBS Sports NHL Power Rankings — the final edition before the league hits its annual All-Star break, which marks the unofficial end of the season's first "half."
A bunch of the league's best will cash in on an impressive start to the year and head to St. Louis for the All-Star festivities this weekend, and it will be a well-deserved honor for plenty of those players. But the All-Star rosters sometimes don't reflect the true stars for each team heading into the break, and so that will be the focus of this week's rankings.
As we go through the league's 31 teams, we ask a simple question: Who, or what, is the No. 1 star for that club through the first portion of this season?
In some cases, it's a guy who can actually be found on the All-Star roster. In other cases, it's a different guy who may have gotten snubbed. But in some instances, it's not a player. Maybe it's a coach. Maybe it's an executive. Or maybe it's not even a person at all. Let's get crazy!
To kick off this week's list, we have the Tampa Bay Lightning, who reach the top spot for the first time this season thanks to an incredible stretch of play that has reminded us of the type of dominance they showcased last season.
|The long game. After a brutal choke in the playoffs last year, people said the Lightning were bit by not playing many truly meaningful games in the final months of the regular season. Their ugly start to this season will likely prevent them from coasting into the playoffs, even if they're well on their way to a monster second half. Very smart!||1||29-15-4|
|Resilience. Pretty much every significant player on the Penguins has spent a chunk of time on the injured list this year, including Sidney Crosby for a few months. Matt Murray has also been pretty bad. And yet… here they are! It's impressive and rather hard to believe they've had so much success while facing so many hurdles.||1||31-14-5|
|David Perron. It looked like the Blues were gonna be in big trouble when their already not-overly-impressive offense suffered the loss of its best forward, Vladimir Tarasenko, for several months. But St. Louis has gotten some strong offensive contributions in order to help soften the blow of Tarasenko's absence, and Perron has stepped up. He's got 21 goals at the break and in on pace for a career year at a very key time.||2||30-11-8|
|The vets. The easiest guy to single out would be John Carlson, who's having an incredibly productive year on the blue line, but the fact of the matter is that pretty much every piece of the Capitals' core is having a strong year. Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Tom Wilson have all been doing what's asked of them and it's led to a strong, consistent first half from a Washington team that seems to have the talent and the established team chemistry to make another special run this year.||—||33-11-5|
|David Pastrnak. I mean, it's got to be, right? The Bruins top line has carried a ton of weight this year and Pastrnak has been incredible. His 37 goals lead the league and put him just one shy of his previous career high (38, last season) so he's the easy choice here.||—||29-10-12|
|Noel Acciari. With all due respect to Jonathan Huberdeau, who has been unbelievable this year, and Aleksander Barkov (also expectedly great), it's hard not to look at Noel Acciari and think "what the hell is going on here?" He may not have as complete a resume as Huberdeau and Barkov, but he's given the Panthers 18 goals through 45 games (previous career-high total was 10) while eating tons of PK time. All this while making $1.67 million on the cap.||1||28-16-5|
|The youth. The Canucks have been done a very good job of establishing some young organizational pillars over the past few years (Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, etc) and they've found enough success in a rollercoaster first half to feel pretty good about direction in which they're headed. Quinn Hughes has been the stud they've needed on the blue line and could win the Calder.||4||27-18-4|
|The goaltending. Dallas has the league's highest collective save percentage thanks to the strong, steady play of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. The Stars' defensive structure has been solid as well, but you wonder how much trouble this team would be in if the goaltending wasn't top-notch. The play between the pipes has allowed Dallas to thrive despite one of the league's least productive offenses.||2||27-17-4|
|Nathan MacKinnon. As much as I'd love to give Cale Makar some shine for his awesome rookie campaign so far, MacKinnon has just been a freak. He's got 72 points through he first 39 games and found success even as he lost Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog to injury earlier in the year. He's the second-best player on earth.||1||28-15-6|
|Barry Trotz. Once again, here we are looking at the Islanders' roster and wondering how the heck they've been this competitive so far. The easiest answer is Trotz's defensive system getting the most out of what he's been given. That being said, the Isles have begun to slide lately and they're just not getting enough scoring out of an offense that relies on a few players to do too much work.||2||29-15-5|
|Elvis Merzlikins. It's straight-up Elvismania in Columbus these days thanks to how good the rookie goaltender has been since the new year. After losing his first eight starts and posting a save percentage under .900 to start the year, Merzlikins is 8-2-0 with a .955 save percentage since Dec. 31. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jackets have surged back into contention behind his strong play in net. Is it sustainable? Who knows! But they're having fun and he's quickly rising to star status.||5||27-16-8|
|Cap space. The Flames don't have a ton of it but they've made some room and they're going to need to add offensive help at the deadline. Considering their struggles this year, it's easy to forget this team finished tied for second in scoring last season. But it's clear that they're going to need to use some of that money to fix their offensive woes, especially when the Pacific is still up for grabs.||—||26-19-5|
|Robin Lehner. Patrick Kane is an easy choice here because of his offensive contributions to a team that's needed his offensive help and leadership, but let's go in a different direction. Lehner has been exactly what the Blackhawks were hoping for when they signed him in the offseason; he's provided insurance and great play in net, even behind a defense that is far worse than the one he had on Long Island last year. He made a bet on himself this summer and that bet is paying off in Chicago.||7||24-21-6|
|Dougie Hamilton. The Canes have several candidates (including Andrei Svechnikov, who is having a breakout year and bringing the lacrosse goal to the NHL) but we must take this time to memorialize. Dougie was having an incredible first half in Carolina and looked like he was on his way to being a serious Norris candidate before breaking his leg last week, and now Carolina is going to have to find a way to replace the contributions of their best defenseman in the second half.||1||29-18-3|
|Pete DeBoer. Who would've thought?! After a shaky (but not overly terrible) first half, the former Sharks coach gets to take over a very talented team that's still positioned to make a run this year. Plus, on top of that, he takes the job from a guy who called him a "clown" last year. Oh man, if that doesn't make you feel like an All-Star, nothing will.||1||25-20-7|
|Sheldon Keefe. He hasn't totally fixed the Maple Leafs' issues since taking over for Mike Babcock, but this season in Toronto has definitely been a tale of two parts. Keefe has taken the chains off some of his players, so to speak, and the Leafs have gotten back to looking pretty dangerous under his leadership. They always had the talent, they just need to utilize it correctly – and Keefe is doing a better job of that.||7||25-17-7|
|Goaltending. The Coyotes boast one of the league's best goalie tandems with Darcy Kuemper and Antii Raanta and it's been a big part of what success they've had this year. Darcy Kuemper was playing like a Vezina candidate but he got hurt in December, and Raanta has looked solid…but he also is struggling to stay healthy. This is a team that over-relies on goaltending to bail out a lack of offense, so it's not much of a surprise that they've taken a slide since watching their netminding situation take a hit. They'll need the Al-Star form to pick back up soon.||2||26-20-5|
|Connor McDavid & Leon Draisaitl. What? You expected something else?||1||26-18-5|
|Wells Fargo Center. My two biggest questions surrounding the Flyers heading down the stretch is whether they can play up to competition consistently and whether they can start winning games on the road. They've been great in their own building this year (16-4-4) but much less impressive on the road (10-13-2) and they're going to need to tighten things up away from home if they want to finish on the right side of the bubble in a tough Metro division.||2||27-17-6|
|Those Winter Classic uniforms. Very few things have gone right for the Predators this year but there are a few positives. Roman Josi looks good and they own the Devils' second-round pick this season, so that's something. However, the biggest win of the season for Nashville was their Winter Classic branding. The uniform was miles better than what they normally wear and the throwback WC logos should definitely move into regular rotation ASAP.||2||22-18-7|
|The 2021 Winter Classic. It's been a frustrating up-and-down first half for the Wild and there's not a lot to feel great about heading down the stretch, but at least they FINALLY got their Winter Classic. Take the victories where you can get them, I guess.||—||23-21-6|
|Artemi Panarin. Don't let the Rangers' lack of team success take away from what Panarin has done in his first year in the Big Apple. He's got 26 goals and 68 points in 47 games and has been on the ice for 54 percent of their goals at five-on-five this season. The Rangers' goal differential with him on the ice is plus-26, while their goal differential with him off the ice is minus-25.||—||23-21-4|
|Phillip Danault. Shea Weber is having a very good season and is the Habs' only actual All-Star, but Danault is just as deserving, if not more. The 26-year-old is second on the team in points (12-24-36) and is having a legitimate Selke-worthy season for a Montreal team that's been plagued by plenty of issues. Danault has a team-best 60.2 percent goal share at five-on-five, leads all Habs forwards in PK time and has won the fourth-most face-offs in the league this season.||2||22-21-7|
|Jack Eichel. There was a stretch this season where Eichel was the best player in the world, single-handedly trying to drag the Sabres into relevance. He's cooled off a bit but is still inarguably Buffalo's brightest light. It's unfortunate that the Sabres haven't been able to put it together around him.||—||22-20-7|
|Connor Hellebuyck. The only reason that Winnipeg was able to hang around in the first half despite some brutal defense was because Hellebuyck was playing on another level. It reminded me of what we've seen from John Gibson and the Ducks in the past, and neither of those instances seemed to be sustainable. The Jets eventually dropped in the standings once Hellebuyck began to come back down to earth, and that's probably because they're giving up the league's largest percentage of high-danger chances against (61 percent).||2||25-22-4|
|The PK. Not much has gone right for the Sharks this season but they do have the league's top-ranked penalty kill heading into the break. And that's about where the positives end.||1||21-25-4|
|Kyle Palmieri. The actual All-Star roster says Nico Hischier is the guy, but Palmieri has a few more points and could be traded out of New Jersey in the next month. We'll chalk that up as a win for Palmieri.||1||17-24-7|
|Boomers. If anyone needed proof that young people cannot be trusted, just look at the Anaheim Ducks and how that youth movement is going this year.||1||19-24-5|
|Sean Walker. If you want to say Anze Kopitar, I'm fine with that. The veteran center is having a nice season despite his rather unfortunate surroundings. But considering I didn't really even know who Sean Walker was coming into this year and now he's the Kings' best defenseman, well, I think that's pretty good reason to give him the nod.||1||18-27-5|
|The front office. They might suck but at least they have their first-round pick this year!||—||17-23-8|
|Oh god, please don't make me choose something.||—||12-35-4|