Early-Season Report Card Grades for Every NHL Team

Franklin Steele@SteeleOnIceFeatured Columnist IIIDecember 17, 2021

Early-Season Report Card Grades for Every NHL Team

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    The temptation to galaxy brain something like report cards for all 32 NHL teams is tempting. There are multiple ways for an exercise such as this to be approached, and plenty of variables to consider.

    For instance, how heavily should we regard offseason expectations when grading out a squad? Should the Anaheim Ducks automatically get an A+ simply because they're outperforming what we thought they'd be over the summer? And on the flip side, should every slow-starting Stanley Cup contender get slapped with a D or F grade?

    That doesn't seem in line with the spirit of the ol' report card, however. In school, these are simply a way for parents and guardians to know how their kids have been performing up to the arbitrary cut-off represented by semesters or trimesters. That's it. Expectations aren't—or shouldn't be, at least—considered.

    So that's what we're going to do here.

    Our line in the sand, then, are games played through December 16. Roughly the middle of the third month of the NHL season. A few weeks past American Thanksgiving, which is generally considered to be the first time it's safe to start looking at which teams are for real and which ones are not.

    We'll think about the big picture where it makes sense, but a majority of these grades are going to be made in a vacuum that's looking at 2021-22 only. We are also ditching the pluses and minuses. Plus/minus is a terrible stat, and as such, we're getting rid of them on our grading scale. Solid letter grades only; we're committing here.

Anaheim Ducks: A

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    If we were considering offseason projections in our grades, the Anaheim Ducks would break the scale. We'd need to invent a new letter that comes before "A" to describe just what this team has done in 2021-22.

    No one viewed the Ducks as a potential playoff team prior to October. Most season previews, such as this one from Fear The Fin, suggested the most intriguing part of their campaign would be the development of young players such as Trevor Zegras.

    Well, they certainly got that part of their prediction right. Zegras is the kind of player that fans pay hard-earned money to see, and he's been making some highlight plays recently.

    Ryan Getzlaf suddenly appears ageless, while Troy Terry is the most out-of-nowhere point-per-game player in recent memory. It's unclear exactly how for real the Ducks are, but they have nearly an 80 percent chance to make the playoffs, according to MoneyPuck.com.

    The right players are coming along and making big plays, and it seems like postseason hockey will be returning to the Honda Center sooner than expected.

Arizona Coyotes: F

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    The Arizona Coyotes are akin to the troublemaker who sits in the back of class and cracks jokes without realizing their own ineptitude is the punchline. This organization has to get itself together at some point, right?

    Their divorce with Glendale gets uglier with each passing week, with the Coyotes recently having to pay $1.3 million in back taxes to prevent the city from locking them out of their home arena on December 20. 

    NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has reiterated that the league isn't interested in relocating the Coyotes, which is good news for a fanbase that can't seem to catch a break. It was almost enough to get us to bump them to a D.


    However, no team in the NHL has a worse points percentage than Arizona. We can't bump the Coyotes up just because they aren't getting kicked out of their arena (yet) and Shayne Gostisbehere has been a successful reclamation project.

Boston Bruins: B

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    It almost seems too easy to give the Boston Bruins a B. They aren't quite lacking enough to give them our first C, but they're a ways off from securing an A as well.

    The Bruins haven't been skating up to their potential, but we aren't looking at that too closely here. Instead, we see a squad with the best top line in pro hockey (when healthy) jockeying for a wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

    Boston would prefer to be in the driver's seat of the Atlantic Division, but that was always going to be a huge ask for this team. The Bruins will have to take contending with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins for those wild-card spots and see what happens.

    There's a quality club in there somewhere, though. At least one that should be able to hold off upstarts in Detroit and Columbus when it comes to crunch time for a postseason slot. And who knows what happens when Tuukka Rask makes his season debut, presumably settling things down in Boston's crease.

    The Bruins could use some more scoring from Taylor Hall and the middle-six group as well. The forward has only five goals through 25 games this season. If they get going, the Bruins will look like a different team down the stretch.

Buffalo Sabres: F

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    The Buffalo Sabres were one of the NHL's most fun stories in October. They roared out of the gates to a 5-1-1 start that had some pundits wondering if this group of also-rans could put together a respectable season.

    Yeah, not so much.

    The Sabres haven't won back-to-back games since October 28, and they continue to sport one of the worst points percentages in the league. Thank goodness for the Coyotes and Ottawa Senators, who always seem to be there to keep the Sabres company in their misery.

    At least they finally moved on from Jack Eichel and did the best they could in terms of getting a solid return. B/R's Adam Herman gave the Sabres a C+ for landing Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs and a 2022 first-round pick, writing: "There's virtually no scenario in which trading a 25-year-old franchise center under a long-term contract is a good idea, but Buffalo's hand was forced."

    Until the Sabres start winning games consistently, there's no reason to consider handing them anything other than an F.

Calgary Flames: A

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    Is it too early to give Darryl Sutter the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach for 2021-22? After winning it last year, Rod Brind'Amour might be the front-runner again, but there's no way you can overlook what Sutter has done with the Calgary Flames.

    A year ago, the Flames won only three more games than the Senators and two more than the Coyotes—two of our benchmarks when it comes to what perennial "F" teams look like. They've discovered their identity under Sutter, though, and they've become one of the toughest outs in the NHL.

    You might be able to outscore the Flames, but they aren't getting outworked very often. If ever.

    Johnny Gaudreau looks like his old self again, Matthew Tkachuk continues to evolve into a high-end power forward and Jacob Markstrom has five shutouts in 21 games played. 

    The Flames are playing postseason hockey to win regular-season games, and they could surprise everyone and win the wide-open Pacific Division. Especially if they figure out how to win at home, where they're 4-3-4 this season.

    That seems like the kind of problem that will sort itself out in time. No team should want to face the Flames in the first round of the postseason.

Carolina Hurricanes: A

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    If the NHL has a student who appears poised for valedictorian status, it's the Carolina Hurricanes. They have some stiff competition from a few Florida teams, the Colorado Avalanche and apparently the Minnesota Wild.

    The Hurricanes have consistently been the class of the NHL throughout 2021-22, and barring injuries, it's tough to imagine a scenario in which they begin to slow down. They have a plus-27 goal differential and the best points percentage in the league, along with a borderline top-10 power play and second-best penalty kill.

    Carolina doesn't seem capable of missing when it makes moves, even if some of them, like signing Tony DeAngelo and letting Dougie Hamilton walk this summer, weren't favored at the time. However, sitting at the top of the class isn't a popularity contest, and the Hurricanes appear set to battle it out for the Metropolitan Division banner.

    If only someone would tell the Washington Capitals that their Stanley Cup window was supposed to have slammed shut by now.

    It's tough to find any holes on this roster, and the Hurricanes have one of the most efficient payrolls in the sport. From their front office down to the fourth-liners, every cog in this organization seems to be doing what it needs to do to succeed.

Chicago Blackhawks: F

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    The Chicago Blackhawks' most significant development was the emergence of Kyle Beach's sexual assault allegations against former Chicago video coach Brad Aldrich and subsequent off-ice fallout.

    This organization was the antithesis of everything that we thought made the NHL special, and it has thankfully led to leaders around hockey examining the often-toxic culture that surrounds the sport.

    The Blackhawks have also been a dumpster fire out on the ice, careening inconsistently through their schedule for the seventh-worst points percentage in the NHL. When they decided to go all-in on one more run with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane at the center over the summer, this wasn't the result they had in mind.

    Chicago is entering the later stages of December with less than an 8 percent chance to make the playoffs.

    It's now a matter of when, not if, the Blackhawks begin to rebuild. They have veterans like Kane, Toews and Marc-Andre Fleury who would likely garner a ton of attention if they were made available.

Colorado Avalanche: B

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    If we did these grades at the end of December instead of now, the Colorado Avalanche likely would have played themselves into an A. They scored seven goals in three consecutive games before handing the Florida Panthers a 3-2 loss and appear to be trending up after going 4-5-1 in their first 10 contests.

    They currently have a top-10 points percentage while they try to get a healthy team out on the ice for more than a game or two at a time. Based on how things have been going, that doesn't seem likely anytime soon.

    The Avalanche are an offense-first juggernaut that appeared poised to run roughshod over the NHL during the offseason. Despite all of their injury issues, it'd take a pretty monumental collapse for the Avs to miss the postseason.

    Colorado has somehow managed to hang tough at the top of the Central Division. That should strike fear into the hearts of any squad trying to make it to the Stanley Cup Final out of the West in 2021-22.

    Even when missing a third of their roster, the Avalanche continue to find ways to win games.

Columbus Blue Jackets: C

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    If you're a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, you have to be happy with how 2021-22 has gone for the team so far.

    Zach Werenski has adjusted well to being a minute-munching, all-situations defenseman, and getting him under contract until 2028 was big for a franchise that has struggled to hang onto homegrown stars.

    Cole Sillinger has been better than any 18-year-old rookie center has any right to be, the last player from the 2021 draft who has stuck with his NHL team. And when he's been out on the ice, Patrik Laine has been engaging at a high level.

    Still, this is a middling squad that is about as deserving of a C as any team in the league. The Blue Jackets are 19th in points percentage and sport a minus-one goal differential through 27 games played.

    The Blue Jackets have struggled to pick up wins on the road, but they're still hanging around in the Eastern Conference wild-card picture. It remains unclear whether have enough in the tank to overtake the Penguins as they get healthy or the Bruins once Rask returns, but they are far from out of the running.

    That has to be considered a victory as Columbus started a hard reboot over the summer when it traded Seth Jones away. It's going so well that we might even be able to call this rebuild a reload.

Dallas Stars: C

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    Few teams have bounced between being in the B and D territory more than the Dallas Stars. That's why they wound up earning a C.

    The league average for wins is 13, and the Stars have 13 victories. The league average for points is 30, and Dallas has 28. The average points percentage is .555, and the Stars have a .538. The only thing that isn't aggressively average about this team is its play on special teams.

    The Stars have the fourth-best power play, clicking nearly 27 percent of the time. Their penalty kill negates opportunities 81.3 percent of the time, which ranks 11th overall.

    That power play has masked a mediocre expected goals for percentage, and it's unclear whether Dallas is trending in the right direction or not. After winning seven straight games, the Stars have dropped their last four. They're also dealing with an illness that seems to be making its way through the roster.

    The Stars will need to score more to contend for a playoff spot, but it's unclear where those goals will come from. All of this screams middle-of-the-road squad, which is why the Stars earned a C.

Detroit Red Wings: C

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    The Detroit Red Wings aren't outplaying preseason expectations as much as the Ducks are, but things seem to be turning around in Hockeytown.

    Over the past few seasons, Detroit had the tendency to let one or two goals against or losses snowball. For instance, after starting last season 2-2, things went off the rails. The Red Wings went 3-11-3 across their next 17 games, including an ugly eight-game losing streak, that effectively nuked their season. 

    It might sound silly, but the Red Wings being able to stop slides at three or four games matters as they evolve and gain experience. Things couldn't be going much better for their rookies, either. 

    Lucas Raymond, the fourth overall pick in 2020, would probably win the Calder Trophy if the season ended today. And if he didn't, Moritz Seider could become the third defenseman to win the award in the last decade.

    The Red Wings haven't been in playoff contention in mid-December over the last few seasons, so they have to be pleased internally. But they still have some work to do before joining the As and Bs of the NHL.

Edmonton Oilers: D

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    The Edmonton Oilers continue to figure out new ways to squander the gift that is Connor McDavid.

    McDavid is unquestionably the best forward in the NHL, capable of doing things with the puck that no one else can do. You can almost see the game evolving and changing around him as he continues to shift the way he attacks opposing defenses.

    However, it doesn't appear as though the supporting cast around him is strong enough. They've dropped their last six games, including five straight home games.

    It's tough to find many positives about this team right now. Yes, the Oilers have two of the top point-getters in the league, but does it matter if they're on the fringes of the wild-card race by this time in January?

    Another week or two of playing like this could have Edmonton in line for some major shakeups this offseason. Some changes may already be in order, too.

    As Jonathan Willis of The Athletic recently wrote, the Oilers' fourth line is getting caved in on a nightly basis. Edmonton won't get anywhere near the Stanley Cup Final if that keeps happening.

    It probably isn't time to panic in terms of landing a playoff spot, but is that enough for a team that has won only one postseason round since 2007? Probably not.

Florida Panthers: A

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    Based on their points percentage, 2021-22 has largely gone according to plan for the Florida Panthers. They entered the season as one of the Stanley Cup favorites, and they appeared to be on the verge of something special.

    While they were the first team to get to 40 points, they took an unexpected path to get there.

    The Panthers were unbeaten through their first seven games, coming off the blocks as one of the top squads in the NHL. Then the Kyle Beach story came into focus, as did Joel Quenneville's role in what transpired during his time in Chicago. He resigned as a result.

    Despite that abrupt change at head coach, the Panthers have continued to play at a high level. They've also had to contend with a lingering injury to No. 1 center Aleksander Barkov, but they've still managed one of the best records in the league.

    Their injuries haven't been as bad as Colorado's, but if the Panthers get healthy, they could be in line for a real run come playoff time. They continue to get the most out of every player on the roster, which makes them quite dangerous.

Los Angeles Kings: C

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    The Los Angeles Kings could go either way in the playoff hunt, and their C grade reflects that. However, their internal roster assessment was spot on when they decided to add Phillip Danault and Alexander Edler as free agents and trade for Viktor Arvidsson.

    General manager Rob Blake deserves a stick tap for those savvy moves.

    While the Kings appear to have taken a step forward after going 21-28-7 last year, they still aren't anything above average on most nights. They have been getting some outstanding goaltending from Jonathan Quick, though, which has been fun to see.

    That has thrown the transition to Cal Petersen as the Kings' No. 1 goalie into disarray, which isn't a long-term positive. They're hanging around the bottom of the Pacific Division, and they have some stiff competition to make the postseason as a wild card.

    No matter what happens in the playoff chase, 2021-22 is far from a lost season for the Kings. They have an outstanding prospect pool, and their next wave of talent will be here soon.

Minnesota Wild: A

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    It sometimes takes new general managers years to leave their thumbprint on a team. That hasn't been the case for Bill Guerin and the Minnesota Wild.

    When he signed on in 2019, he envisioned an entertaining, high-octane offensive powerhouse. That vision has already turned into a reality, and only the Avalanche have a more potent attack than the Wild do.

    They're averaging 3.68 goals per game despite a so-so power play, as Sarah McLellan of the Star Tribune recently wrote about. They're also in the NHL's top 10 for average shots per 60 minutes.

    Gone are the days of the Wild grinding out boring 2-1 wins on the back of a lockdown defensive scheme and steady goaltending. This is a new era in Minnesota, and it's being ushered in by electric talents such as Kirill Kaprizov and Mats Zuccarello.

    And if there was a breakout player of the year award in the NHL, it'd be hard to deny Ryan Hartman the trophy. He's been sensational in Minnesota, scoring 13 goals in 28 games while skating on a line with Kaprizov and Zuccarello.

    Head coach Dean Evason should get some love for the Jack Adams Award, too? He was a finalist last season and could very well win it this year. 

Montreal Canadiens: F

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    Frustration is starting to mount for the Montreal Canadiens. 

    After the Habs lost 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, defenseman Jeff Petry vented while speaking with reporters:

    "It's frustrating. It's the same things over and over. We're not playing as a team, we're not playing as a group. It's like you're searching to find where people are. It seems like there's no structure out there."

    "...there are times when you're scratching your head. "It feels like everyone knows where they should be, but they're not going to those places. We're not making it easier for anyone on the ice except for the other team."

    The loss to the Penguins was Montreal's seventh straight. They have the second-worst points percentage and have four fewer wins than the expansion Seattle Kraken.

    We knew that the Habs probably weren't as good as their surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final last season would suggest. It's shocking that they've been this ineffective, though.

    Plenty of other teams are dealing with injuries and are still winning as well, so that isn't an excuse for Montreal. They moved on from Marc Bergevin as general manager, and they have at least three women on their list of candidates to replace him, according to Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin of The Athletic.

    We'd love to see this long-overdue kind of hiring come to fruition, but it won't save 2021-22 for the Habs. 

Nashville Predators: B

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    It's usually an oversimplification to say a goalie is dragging his team to the playoffs. That isn't the case for Juuse Saros, who turned the Nashville Predators' season around last year and is keeping them in the hunt for a postseason berth again this year.

    The Preds are starting to get some attention around the league, shooting up from 16th last week to 12th this week in B/R's power rankings. They may be overachieving, but it doesn't matter if they continue to pile up points.

    The Central Division is wide open, with Colorado failing to run away with the top spot. That has Nashville only four points back of the Wild for the No. 1 seed and climbing, winners of their last five.

    Saros deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Predators in games with his 8.8 GSAA, but the defense has been solid, too. The Preds are allowing only 29.7 shots against per game, the fifth-best mark in the league.

    And if the NHL had a bounce-back player of the year award, Matt Duchene would be a front-runner. He seemed washed after a disappointing six goals in 34 games last season, but he's skating at a nearly point-per-game level for Nashville in 2021-22.

New Jersey Devils: D

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    It wouldn't feel right to give the New Jersey Devils an F even though they have the eighth-worst points percentage in the NHL. They'd likely be the worst squad in the Metropolitan Division if it weren't for the New York Islanders.

    Still, they are an improvement over the 19-30-7 club we saw last season, which deserves a little bit of credit. 

    The Dougie Hamilton signing has worked out well for New Jersey. So much so that Shayna Goldman of The Athletic recently concluded that he should make Team Canada if NHL players go to the Olympics in Beijing.

    Leading scorer Jesper Bratt continues to build off of his solid outing from last season. And Dawson Mercer got some early-season attention as a possible Calder Trophy finalist before Seider, Raymond and Zegras took the race over. 

    But after a 7-3-2 start that seemed promising, the Devils have slid back to their familiar spot toward the bottom of the rankings. They haven't lost more than three games in a row yet, though, which is an improvement over 2021-22, when they did so four separate times. 

New York Islanders: F

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    The New York Islanders were a popular pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2021-22. Several NHL.com scribes picked them to win the trophy, and B/R's Abbey Mastracco had them slated to win the Metropolitan Division.

    It's easy to see why people were so bullish on the Isles, but they've failed to even come close to playing at that level.

    They played their first 13 games on the road while the UBS Arena was being finished, so we could forgive their sluggish 5-6-2 start. Then they arrived at home in New York and promptly went 0-4-1 during their first homestand, enduring an 11-game winless streak in the process.

    MoneyPuck.com gives the Islanders less than a 13 percent chance to even make the playoffs, let alone earn a championship parade. Ilya Sorokin has been outstanding and appears to be the real deal, but not much else has gone right for them.

    Only the Coyotes score less frequently than the Islanders, which is staggering considering their amount of talent.

New York Rangers: A

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    Back in October, we wrote the following about the New York Rangers' offseason moves: "It's stoutness for the sake of it, and ironically, in getting tougher, the Rangers made it even tougher on themselves to make the playoffs at all."

    Not all takes age well, and we'll take this one on the chin like a right hook from Ryan Reaves. Because the Rangers are tied for the fourth-best points percentage in the NHL.

    Not many pundits outside of New York predicted that they'd be competing with the likes of the Maple Leafs and Lightning for the top spot in the league, but here we are.

    The Rangers might lean too heavily on Igor Shesterkin to secure points, but he's been playing like a potential Vezina Trophy finalist. His 14.2 GSAA is good for third in the NHL, and when he's healthy, the Rangers have a chance to win every night.

    A middling offense that scores only 2.86 goals per game could hold the Rangers back, but there are solutions available to general manager Chris Drury. Like, say, trading for Patrick Kane.

Ottawa Senators: F

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    Winning five of six is par for the course for strong NHL teams. For the Ottawa Senators, it's cause for celebration.

    They're in the midst of a streak where they've managed to beat some of the league's best squads, but that hardly seems reason enough to take the 2021-22 edition of this squad seriously.

    Even after that hot streak, the Senators still have the NHL's third-worst points percentage. They're giving up a league-high 3.65 goals per game, their minus-20 goal differential is the seventh-worst mark overall, and they average fewer shots than all but five teams.

    Their supposed No. 1 goalie, Matt Murray, cleared waivers and is now plying his trade in the AHL. Pundits such as The Hockey News' Ryan Kennedy and Matt Larkin are even wondering if the 27-year-old has a future as an NHL player.

    General manager Pierre Dorion put it lightly recently when he stated that "a lot of the players on this team have underperformed this year. The players have to step up. I think the coaching staff has to step up, the general manager and the management perhaps need to step up. We all have to be better."

    But yeah, the rebuild is totally over in Ottawa.

Philadelphia Flyers: D

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    A few weeks ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were playing poorly enough that it cost coaches Alain Vigneault and Michel Therrien their jobs. They were in the midst of an eight-game losing streak, had started the season 8-10-4, and were sitting in second-to-last place in the Metropolitan Division.

    They've since climbed to third-to-last place in the Metro, but that has more to do with the Devils going 2-7-1 in their last 10 than anything the Flyers have done right. Still, they deserve a bit of credit for moving on from Vigneault and for not promoting Therrien to that post.

    It's unclear if Mike Yeo is the long-term solution behind the bench in Philadelphia. Some folks, such as Eric Duhatschek of The Athletic, don't believe he is.

    The Flyers are in desperate need of an identity, and while they might not get it from Yeo beyond this season, they have won three straight after dropping their first two following Vigneault's dismissal. Granted, two of those wins came against the Devils and Coyotes, so take this modest streak with a grain of salt.

Pittsburgh Penguins: B

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    Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin clearly didn't get the memo that the NHL belongs to the likes of Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews now. 

    The Pittsburgh Penguins have generally been more offensively oriented. When you roster the likes of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you have to be an attack-oriented team.

    Head coach Mike Sullivan isn't one of the best in the business for no reason, though. He retooled the Penguins' identity as they opened the campaign with neither Crosby nor Malkin available, and the rest of the roster deserves a lot of credit for buying into this workmanlike mentality.

    Only the Hurricanes and Flames prevent shots better than the Penguins, and their penalty kill has been nothing short of sensational. They've killed a league-best 92.7 of the power plays they've faced this season.

    Tristan Jarry has been incredible in goal, too. His 14.8 GSAA is good for second in the league, and his quality start percentage of .773 is tied for first.

    Jarry has been the picture of consistency, and the Penguins appear to be on the way up.

San Jose Sharks: C

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    The San Jose Sharks would get a better grade if we were weighing actual performance against preseason perception. Most analysts believed they would be among the league's bottom-feeders, with more in common with the likes of New Jersey and Ottawa than some middle-of-the-pack squads.

    But thus far, they've outperformed expectations. 

    Hot goaltending can be the difference-maker for a so-so team, and that's what San Jose has been getting from James Reimer. Only four goalies sport a better GSAA than his 11.6.

    The veteran arguably hasn't played this well since 2012-13, when he rocked an 11.6 GSAA through 33 games played for the Maple Leafs.

    Erik Karlsson also seems to be more like his old self this season. He's inside of the top 20 scorers among all defensemen with 18 points, and he's on track to break 50 for the first time since 2017-18. 

Seattle Kraken: C

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    If the Seattle Kraken had three or four more years under their belts and looked like this, they wouldn't be getting an average grade. All things considered, though, the NHL's newest team has been fine.

    If the Kraken were getting the caliber of goaltending that they're paying Phillip Grubauer and Chris Driedger for, they would be better than 10-16-3.

    This season, 64 goalies have appeared in at least five games. None of them have a worse GSAA than Grubauer, who carries an atrocious minus-17 through 23 appearances. Driedger has been marginally better, sitting 42nd on the same list with a minus-2.5 in seven games.

    The Kraken are paying this duo nearly $10 million combined, and they haven't even been close to replacement level, let alone being the backbone this squad was built around. Seattle has the second-stingiest defense in the league in terms of average shots allowed (28.3), so the blue line is doing its job.

    If Grubauer finds his game—and that looks like a big if at this point—then maybe we could see what Seattle is all about. 

St. Louis Blues: A

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    Here's a staggering factoid from Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch following the St. Louis Blues' 4-1 home win over the Stars: "The Blues dressed seven players Tuesday who began the year in the minor leagues. Two others were in their first games back from the COVID list."

    As various teams around the NHL struggle with their injuries, the Blues just keep on winning games. They have lost only once in regulation across their last 10 outings, and it seems like no matter who is stepping into a roster spot, it's working. 

    The Blues have the 10th-best points percentage despite their ravaged lineup, which speaks volumes about what head coach Craig Berube has been able to do. When he gets them to play simple, north-south hockey, they've been a tough out.

    They're the second-best team in the Central Division, possess a plus-20 goal differential and could be dangerous come playoff time if they get healthy.

Tampa Bay Lightning: A

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    We aren't grading on a curve here, so yes, the Tampa Bay Lightning deserve an A.

    They started the season off sluggish, going 2-3-1 in their first six while getting outscored 26 to 16 across those games. They've since found their footing in the Atlantic Division, and they're now only looking up at the Panthers and Maple Leafs.

    The Lightning haven't lost two games in a row since Oct. 23 and appear to be the team we thought they were during the offseason. That they've managed to do this without Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point and after losing their entire third line during the offseason and trading away Tyler Johnson is downright scary.

    Steven Stamkos looks like he's in his mid-20s again, tales of Victor Hedman's demise were way off base, and Andrei Vasilevskiy sits sixth with a GSAA of 9.9. These players have helped pushed Tampa toward dynasty status, and another deep postseason run seems to be in the cards for the NHL's model franchise.

    The Lightning will continue to be a threat and will have one of the NHL's deepest rosters if they ever get healthy.

Toronto Maple Leafs: A

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    Even if the Toronto Maple Leafs were unbeaten up to this point, someone, somewhere in that market would find a reason to despair. It makes sense, given the organization's seemingly perpetual shortcomings come playoff time, but we aren't looking to the future with these grades.

    We're looking at each team's body of work up to this point, and so far, the Maple Leafs have been one of the five or six best teams in the NHL since the end of October. Four of the team's eight regulation losses came in their first seven games, and they've gone 18-4-1 since.

    That tear has them sitting in third place in the Atlantic (when looking at points percentage instead of raw points), and their stars have been getting it done for them over the last six weeks. That's good news for a team that is as top-heavy as the Maple Leafs are.

    Auston Matthews, in particular, has been dominating games since only scoring once in his first six games. Remember when that was newsworthy? He's since nosed his way toward the top of the scoring race, lightning the lamp 19 times in his last 21 contests.

    Oh, and Jack Campbell has been arguably the best netminder in the league. His 17.2 GSAA is tops in the NHL, and he's been lights-out behind a fantastic Toronto scoring attack. Sadly, he won't be able to compete for Team USA in the 2022 Winter Olympics, as he reportedly wasn't on America's long list.

Vancouver Canucks: D

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    It's tempting to give the Vancouver Canucks a C based on how well they've played since firing head coach Travis Green and replacing him with Bruce Boudreau in early December. They've won six straight under his watch, and they appear to be a completely different team than they were in October.

    When the season opened, it didn't seem like the Canucks were having fun out on the ice. Green isn't a bad coach, and he'll land on his feet, but it was clear that his time in Vancouver was over.

    Enter the more laid-back and offensive-minded Boudreau, who Kyle Grimard of TheHockeyWriters.com recently described as a "perfect fit."

    The Canucks haven't lost since the coaching change, and while that will eventually change, their recent 7-1-0 run has them only four points out of the last wild-card spot in the West. They've played more games than both the Predators and Oilers, but they are up to nearly a 20 percent chance to make the postseason, per MoneyPuck.com.

    However, the Canucks are still in the league's bottom 10 in terms of points percentage. They have a lot of ground to make up after their horrid start, and their D grade reflects that.

Vegas Golden Knights: B

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    Ellen Schmidt/Associated Press

    Who will have the league's strongest roster when healthy: the Lightning, Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights? The answer is up for debate, but whichever team you choose could very well be the Stanley Cup favorite.

    The Golden Knights acquired Jack Eichel from the Sabres in early November without giving up any major pieces of their roster. It's unclear how the salary cap will shake out for Vegas, though.

    Jason Chen of The Hockey News worked out the numbers, and if the Golden Knights iced their optimal roster, they'd be more than $7 million over the cap. That's an issue for another day, though.

    In the meantime, the Golden Knights are almost smack dab in the middle of the NHL in terms of points percentage. They may be one of the league's slumbering giants as games start to ramp up down the stretch.

    They have the fourth-highest goals scored per game on average, and they've managed that while skaters like Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty missed significant time. But their top line is rounding into form now that they're both back, and once Eichel is able to play, this will be a remarkably talented roster.

Washington Capitals: A

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    The 2021-22 season looked like it could feature a changing of the guard. Teams like the Hurricanes, Panthers and Avalanche seemed poised to emerge as the next wave of potential Stanley Cup contenders while the old guard like the Washington Capitals started to fade.

    While those teams have all had varying degrees of success so far this year, the Capitals have yet to fade. 

    The Alex Ovechkin show this season has been even more entertaining than usual. He's second in the league and goals and recently overtook the top spot on the points list. That's bonkers for a 36-year-old who plays as physically as he does.

    The supporting cast around him has been better than anticipated as well. Evgeny Kuznetsov is second on the team with 30 points in 28 games and has been fantastic alongside Ovechkin while Nicklas Backstrom worked his way back from a hip injury.

    Now that the veteran is back, the Capitals have a dynamite one-two punch down the middle and are fifth in average goals scored per game. They could climb even higher offensively with Backstrom now back in the fold.

Winnipeg Jets: D

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    The Winnipeg Jets clocked in at 16th in B/R's latest power rankings, and that seems like a safe place to slot them at this juncture.

    The Jets are 17th in points percentage, and fans are starting to get frustrated with the squad's lack of production. Kyle Connor continues to score goals, but little else has gone right for a Jets team that aspired to greater things in 2021-22.

    It isn't time to panic, as they're only one point back from the Oilers in the wild-card race. Still, the Jets have been remarkably inconsistent, dropping games to teams like the Coyotes and Senators.

    The next few weeks could go a long way toward deciding what the future of this franchise looks like.

    Murat Ates of The Athletic also wonders whether Winnipeg can get over the hump with Mark Scheifele as its No. 1 center. Times are tough for the Jets, and it's unclear whether they have the skill needed to turn their season around.

    All statistics and records current as of Wednesday, Dec. 15.