Our power rankings generate much debate every Monday, so I figured why not bring it to the next level?
Ranking the NHL's six divisions was a good idea on the surface but not an easy task, as I found out. I reached out to a few NHL GMs, asked them to be as objective as possible, and interestingly, none of them submitted the same list.
That tells you there's a pretty good debate here.
But having looked at all the evidence through Thursday night's games and bouncing around some of the thoughts from the GMs in question, I bring you ESPN.com's Division Power Rankings:
"It’s a coin toss," one NHL GM said when asked about judging the Central from the Pacific as the top division. In the end, having two of the three past Cup champions from the division was the tiebreaking decision. At one point this season, all five Central teams were sitting in a playoff spot before the Blue Jackets bowed out. The Red Wings once again are serious Cup contenders; the Predators are always underrated and are one of the hottest teams in the league right now; the Blackhawks have had their issues, but they're the defending Cup champs; and the injury-ravaged Blues are knocking at the playoff door, just two points out as of Friday morning. The Jackets are fading after a promising start, but they're no pushovers.
Pacific Division (Dallas, Phoenix, Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose)
The Pacific was the top choice among some GMs I contacted. Fact is, it's the division in the NHL that has the most legitimate chance of seeing all five of its teams make the playoffs. Imagine the Kings and Sharks pulling up the rear in this division right now! Both were deemed Cup contenders before the season, but are struggling right now. Surely it can't last. The Stars and Ducks have surprised and the Coyotes are doing their thing again. No easy games in this division.
Atlantic Division (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, N.Y. Rangers, N.Y. Islanders, New Jersey)
Debated long and hard between the Atlantic and the Southeast for the third spot. On the one hand, the Isles and Devils bring down the quality of this division (although the Isles have been better of late). On the flip side, the Flyers and Penguins might just be the best two teams in the conference. The Rangers have been a terrific surprise; Thursday's 1-0 win over mighty Vancouver is their latest accomplishment. One Western Conference GM said you just can't ignore how much quality the Flyers and Penguins bring to this division, so that puts the Atlantic above the Southeast.
Southeast Division (Tampa Bay, Washington, Atlanta, Carolina, Florida)
This division is no longer the butt of anyone's jokes. There's some serious hockey being played in this group. You could conceivably see four of the five teams make the playoffs. The Caps once again are Cup contenders, the Lightning are the surprise divisional leaders, the Thrashers had a super start before fading a bit of late, the Hurricanes have come on and the Panthers, while last in the group, still have an outside shot at a playoff spot.
The Canucks are the NHL's top team right now and a cynic might say it's because they get to beat up on the rest of these divisional teams. They are indeed 11-1-0 against the Northwest and 9-5-4 against the other two Western divisions combined. Still, you can't blame the Canucks for what other teams in their division are doing. The Avs should be better but injuries have hit them hard. They may still make the playoffs. The Wild have played better in January but do you really feel they'll beat out the Kings and Sharks for a playoff spot? It's been a tough go in Alberta. The Oilers are rebuilding, while the Flames should be.
Boston has the talent to be a contender and is beginning to show it again now. But it's been an up-and-down season for the Bruins. Picture a divisional title race between the Bruins and Habs that goes right down to the wire and the runner-up ... misses the playoffs. Could happen. The Sabres, Leafs and Senators have been hospitable to the rest of the league this season. Where would Montreal be without playing in this division? The Canadiens are 10-3-0 versus Northeast teams and 14-14-3 against the rest of the league.