There's just one week to go in the regular season, so by this point the league standings tell a pretty coherent story - but they don't necessarily tell the entire story. The Hockey East standings don't factor in the 12 nonconference games each team has played, nor does it factor in strength of schedule, or subjective factors like who's coming down the stretch looking like a team better than its record might indicate (sup, Northeastern).
For that reason, we're taking another crack at Hockey East power rankings, serving as our panel's take on where the teams stand going in to the final weekend.
As a reminder, our panel consists of BCI's four hockey writers - Joe Gravellese, Grant Salzano, Laura Berestecki and Arthur Bailin - along with noted BU alum Shep Hayes of the Eastern Bias podcast.
To the results...
1. Boston College - 23-4-5, 14-1-5 HEA - 60 poll points
At this point, BC is a unanimous choice for #1 in our rankings, though unanimous #1 shouldn't be confused for slam dunk, way ahead of the field. 4 of 5 voters have Providence in 2nd and most would say the teams are pretty darn close. But BC just barely has the edge, thanks to a slightly higher Pairwise position, the impressive two game weekend against PC in January once the Eagles were back at full strength, and the Eagles' current long unbeaten run.
2. Providence College - 23-5-4, 14-3-3 HEA - 54 poll points
A near-unanimous choice at #2, Providence seems to be on a collision course with BC to set up what could be an epic clash either in the Hockey East tournament or NCAA tournament. The two teams are neck and neck in the Hockey East standings and in terms of overall record; they are also 1-1-1 head to head. PC made its boldest statement in a while with an impressive sweep of Notre Dame last weekend, including a thrilling comeback win Friday after being down 2-0 in the third period. PC seems to be cranking up their game at the right time.
3. Boston University - 18-9-5, 11-5-4 HEA - 50 poll points
BU may be battling neck and neck for 4th and a bye in the league standings, but our panel clearly thinks of them as being right there with the top 2, though a hair behind. They were unlucky to only take 3 points against UNH last weekend; a late Wildcats goal at the Whitt on Friday earned them a tie despite BU outshooting them 40-22. BU continues to have been impressive in 2016; their only losses this calendar year are to BC (twice in three matchups) and UML (once out of two games).
4. Notre Dame - 18-7-7, 14-4-2 HEA - 43 poll points
The question of who's better between Notre Dame and Lowell is the first point where we see real discord among the panel, with a split in opinions. The Irish have a strong claim to a high spot given that they're in 3rd in the league standings and go in to the final weekend with a chance to still win the regular season title. But their sweep at the hands of Providence led some to reevaluate ND's performance relative to their schedule; ND is now 1-4-1 against the other elite teams in the conference, with 2 more games to come against BU this weekend. Those games will help define how people feel about the Irish going in to the playoffs.
5. UMass Lowell - 20-7-5, 11-5-4 HEA - 42 poll points
The fact that UML is battling for a first round bye spot really says more about how stout the entire top 5 is right now rather than saying anything negative about Lowell. UML is a solid team and some of our voters even feel like they're up with the top 3 rather than down below ND. But someone had to shuffle to the bottom of this pack and it ended up being Lowell, whose results dating back to December have been a tad hit or miss (compared to BC, Providence and BU who seem to have barely lost except to one another).
If you're looking to make a strong case for Lowell, it's this: they have a solid 3-2-2 record against the other top 5 teams. They also have a chance to make a big statement this weekend against BC. And unlike last year, unless weird things happen with conference tournaments, we think Lowell will end up on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble.
6. Northeastern - 14-13-5, 8-8-4 HEA, 35 poll points
Northeastern's only loss in 2016? The Beanpot opener against BU, naturally. The Huskies are 0-5-3 against the five elite teams in Hockey East, but have pretty firmly established themselves as the best of the rest of the pack. At the start of the season, people pretty firmly felt that Northeastern had the talent to be in the 5/6 range in Hockey East, it just took them half the season to start looking like it. NU will be a popular sleeper pick in the conference tournament. I don't expect them to go on the road and beat one of the NCAA tournament teams 2 of 3 in the quarterfinals but I do expect them to make life miserable for whoever they run to at that stage. Unless they choke in the octofinals again.
7. UNH - 10-16-6, 4-10-6 HEA, 28 poll points
Northeastern has established themselves as #6, so it's at this point now that you get in to "take your pick" territory. The thought with putting UNH at #7 is that their high end scoring talent, with Andrew Potarulski and Tyler Kelleher #1 and #2 in the league in scoring, will make them a potentially tougher out in the playoffs than some of the other teams around them. If only they could keep the puck out of their own net.
8. Vermont - 12-18-3, 6-11-3 HEA, 23 poll points
Vermont is sort of the opposite story of UNH right now. Against BC they played pretty solid team defense and did a lot of things right, but they lack a guy like a Kelleher or a Potarulski who can finish off some of the chances they create. They won't be an easy out in the tournament but it's hard to see them pulling off another big upset like they did last year. Of course, they could be on a collision course with BC again depending on how the weekend shakes out.
9. Merrimack - 9-16-7, 3-10-7 HEA, 19 poll points
That's a lot of ties. That's about as much as we have to say about the Warriors right now.
10. UConn - 9-19-4, 4-12-4 HEA, 16 poll points
In fashion befitting what we've come to expect out of the Huskies in their two seasons in Hockey East, UConn is the "bottom 7" team with the best success against the top 5, with a 3-4-1 mark against the top teams. Yes, 3 of UConn's 4 wins in league play this year have come against the top 5 teams. That says a lot about UConn's season. It also tells you why the top teams would probably rather see someone else pop up on their schedule in the quarterfinals.
11. Maine - 8-20-6, 5-13-2 HEA, 14 poll points
If you want to feel some kinship and know that the type of commentary found in the comments section at BCI is a sentiment felt by lots of fans in lots of places, just check out the Maine thread on USCHO this week after Red Gendron's contract extension was announced.
12. UMass - 8-20-4, 4-14-4 HEA, 5 poll points
UMass Hockey = BC Basketball