Tuesday, April 10, 2012

2011/12 Final NHL Power Rankings

With the regular season over, now is time for my final NHL power rankings. Monday I participated in an office playoff pool draft (8 teams), and walked out with Malkin, J.Staal, Kovalchuck, Zetterberg, Parise, Kreijci, Filpulla, Pietrangelo, McDonagh, Doughty, White, and Howard. The only 1/2 seed not represented on my team is the Canucks, but since we work in Greater Vancouver, there was a premium on Canucks players. Henrik Sedin was the first pick overall. I began announcing my #2 pick Evgeni Malkin about 0.5 seconds later. The playoffs start Wednesday, and these are my final regular season rankings.

1. Vancouver Canucks (last rank #4): Coasting into the President's trophy with mediocre play has to be considered at least somewhat of an accomplishment, fleeting though it may be without post-season success. This team needs a healthy Daniel Sedin to have a chance at winning that elusive trophy, and Ryan Kesler needs to start putting the puck in the net. Vancouver should be doing everything it can to pump Luongo's tires.  You can argue that Schneider gives the team a better chance to win, but if he ends up playing that means humpty dumpty fell off the wall again.Will all the King's horses and all the King's men be willing to put humpty together again when there is a fresh, talented, new replacement waiting to sit on that wall?

2. St. Louis Blues (last rank #1): Historically the two seed does very well in the 1st round, but I shied away from Blues players in my playoff pool because San Jose makes me nervous. I did take Pietrangelo in 1 of my 4 defense spots, but that was all that I was willing to invest in the Blues post-season. In fact most people at the draft table stayed away from both St.Louis and San Jose, which is telling.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank #3): If they had a full season from Crosby and Letang, rest assured this team would have finished the season ranked #1. With those players in the line-up, this is the best team in hockey, and odds on Stanley Cup favourite. They will have a tough road ahead of them to make it out of the east, but they are the favourite in any series. Odds are they'll have to beat Philly, Boston, Rangers to go all the way; but that being said, my first two picks were Penguins. I even Tweeted a joke about having Morgan Freeman narrate my picks.

4. Boston Bruins (last rank #8): After sputtering for much of the 2nd half, the defending champs got their shit together the last few weeks. It is ironic that they should be playing Washington after Tim Thomas White House snub earlier in the season, which created a media storm that has yet to subside. That being said, there was little to no confidence in Washington at our draft table.

5. NY Rangers (last rank #2): The Rangers faded slightly down the stretch, but are still heavy favourites against Ottawa. Ranger players went for a premium in my playoff draft, so I only ended up with Ryan McDonagh; but would have liked to own more. The biggest question mark with this team is whether or not this is a winning defense. I'll believe it when I see it.

6. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank #5): If they can beat Pittsburgh, there is hope, and the team won the season series. This promises to be a great series regardless of who wins, but the injury to Bryzgalov and lack of depth on the blueline decrease their probability of an extended run. Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell will get their points in the 1st round, win or lose.

7. Nashville Predators (last rank #6): Predator players were flying off the draft board early and often in my office playoff pool, which was how I backed in to 3 Red Wings in the late rounds. Getting home ice advantage does make them the favourite, but a 7 game series against Detroit will be no cakewalk. Nashville finished the season with the league's best power play (thanks in no small part to Shea Weber), they have one of the league's best goaltenders, and made the most significant deals leading up to the trade deadline. Can a team with two Kostitsyn brothers make it to the finals? We shall see...

8. Detroit Red Wings (last rank #7): If their play the last two weeks were a true indicator of their possible playoff performance, the outlook is bleak. However Detroit has a tendency to rest players down the stretch and have proven capable of turning it up a gear in the spring. They were less than a minute away from playing the Phoenix Coyotes in the 1st round until Pavel Datsyuk scored a game trying goal. The team seemed very happy to score the goal, where as this Red Wings fan at home cursed at his television. Perhaps the chance at home ice advantage outweighed meeting an inferior opponent in the opening round on the road. Instead, they play the better team, on the road. Funny how that works out.

9. New Jersey Devils (last rank #10): Personally I don't see the Jose Theodore led Florida Panthers beating the Devils, Kovalchuck and Parise have been lighting the league on fire (34 goals in 34 games since the All-star break) and Brodeur has been playing much better. Their likely 2nd round opponent would be New York,  and the Devils match-up very well against the Rangers. TSN's Jamie McLennan thinks this team could sneak into the conference finals.

10. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank #13): With Toews Chicago should have no trouble handling the Coyotes, but without him it won't be easy. Thankfully for the Blackhawks, Corey Crawford started playing good hockey again down the stretch. The Duncan Keith vacation suspension was probably more of a positive than a negative, given the workload he's had to endure the last few seasons. With Toews or without, I'm taking the Blackhawks in round 1.

11. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank #15): Of the 8 goalies chosen in my office pool, Mike Smith was not among them, neither were many of his teammates. This team will have its hands full with Chicago, especially with a healthy Jon Toews. Ray Whitney has been the run away scoring leader on this team since the All-star break, which doesn't exactly translate into post-season success. If Smith can continue his hot streak, they have a chance. He was 20-5-3 since with a 1.91 GAA and .941 SVPCT over his last 29 GP.

12. San Jose Sharks (last rank #19): They got hot at the right time and moved into a playoff spot, now set to face St.Louis in round 1. Blues fans should be nervous, as should Shark fans. This team will lean heavily on Boyle and Burns, and will require Antti Niemi to be at the top of his game. Goals will be difficult to come by against St.Louis, so the Sharks need to keep the puck out of their net to advance.

13. Los Angeles Kings (last rank #14): Anything short of a playoff spot would have been considered a catastrophic failure for a team billed as a contender when the season began. Kopitar was their best player down the stretch, Jeff Carter is going to play, Quick could win the Vezina, Dustin Brown lit it up after trade rumours surfaced; but Vancouver is not an easy team to beat. That being said, this stats geek drafted zero Canucks and Drew Doughty.

14. Washington Capitals (last rank #12): This was a playoff team who deserved to be in the playoffs. It is telling that Ovechkin was not drafted until the 8th round of my playoff pool draft. Backstrom, Semin, and Green all went undrafted. There was not much confidence at the draft table that the Caps could beat the Bruins, nor should there have been. The season was a step backwards, but if you knew before the season that Backstrom and Green would miss half of the schedule, this is probably around where you would have projected them to finish.

15. Ottawa Senators (last rank #11): They managed to fall into the 8th seed in the last two weeks, and will face the Rangers instead of the Bruins. Tough to tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but we'll find out soon enough. One thing Ottawa can do better than New York is score; although that advantage is offset by strength of goaltending. If Craig Anderson can stand on his head, the Senators might just have a chance.

16. Buffalo Sabres (last rank #21): The best team to miss the playoffs, the Sabres had an incredible run post  All-star break, thanks in no small part to Ryan Miller and Tyler Ennis. They have a solid core and should remain competitive for years to come; but their success is heavily dependent on Miller's goaltending, and he's no spring chicken at age 32. It remains to be seen if he can sustain this level of play throughout his mid-30s. Miller has a lot in common with Luongo (minus perhaps the bipolar disorder) but the difference between franchises is that one has Cory Schneider, the other does not.

17. Dallas Stars (last rank #9): This team appeared playoff bound, with some pundits predicting them to be a darkhorse, and then suddenly when it mattered most they fell flat on their faces and outside the playoff picture. If you are a Stars fan, there are reasons to be optimistic about a mediocre future that may or may not include the city of Dallas.

18. Florida Panthers (last rank #18): By my estimation the worst team to make the playoffs, which was part of my motivation for drafting Kovalchuck and Parise in my office pool. This franchise has been an abject failure, and they are unlikely to have a long term future in Florida. They'd be far better off in Quebec City. Jose Theodore ain't what he used to be and is unlikely to carry this team very far into the post-season.

19. Calgary Flames (last rank #17):  The Flames have not made the playoffs since acquiring Jay Bouwmeester 3 years ago, but they always win enough games to keep them out of the draft lottery. It is a classic example of not being good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to engage in a legit rebuild. J-Bow has two streaks going, most active career games played without playing in the playoffs, and the active consecutive games played streak. There are zero playoff games in his ironman streak. What does that say?

20. Colorado Avalanche (last rank #16): Nice run at the end of a roller coaster season, and I'm giving Gabriel Landeskog the Calder Trophy. The team has a solid foundation in place, and could have all pieces to push them over the top. Expect this team to get better as it gets older. That being said, this season was a major step backwards for Matt Duchene, and a step forward for the rest of the roster. After returning from injury, Duchene had 4 PTS in 19 GP and needs to rebound next season for this franchise to take the next step. On the bright side, Duchene had this big step backwards right before the expiry of his rookie contract. This GM will be very busy re-signing RFAs (9) in the offseason. They also have 6 UFAs. They're gonna have a lot of salary flexibility to play with.

21. Winnipeg Jets (last rank #20): They overachieved thanks to the home ice advantage provided to them by Winnipeg fans. For the season I give Jets fans an A+, and the Jets team a C-. For a more detailed post-mortem of the Jets, click here.

22. Montreal Canadiens (last rank #24): They have the young pieces in place to be competitive within the next 2 years, it just remains to be seen if they can pull it all together. Can Patrick Roy be glue that binds the loose parts into a finely tuned machine? Stranger things have happened, but this franchise is burdened by the terrible contracts of Andrei Markov and Scott Gomez. Rene Bourque had 5 PTS in 33 GP in Montreal and was a -17 in those games. That is atrocious.

23. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank #23): This season cannot be viewed as anything but a major disappointment and step backwards with significant regressions from Perry, Getzlaf, Ryan, and Fowler. The team was far better in the 2nd half when Jonas Hiller started stopping pucks again, but that wasn't close to enough to make up for the abysmal start.

24. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank #22): It was what it was. They were a legit #1 goaltender away from being a contender, and it didn't happen. Stamkos and Purcell were great down the stretch, but that was offset by weak production on the blueline. If Steve Yzerman was a candidate for top GM in the league last season, this season has to be considered a black eye for the man steering the ship.

25. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank #25): Eric Staal salvaged an otherwise lost season, but sadly this team had no secondary scoring. It is difficult to predict the immediate future of the franchise; can Jeff Skinner rebound? Can the young players take the next step? If I had to bet right now, the smart money says this team misses the playoffs again next season.

26. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank #26): Brian Burke issued his now annual public apology to Leaf fans today, which seems to be a speech that I've heard before. Not sure that Burke will be GM of the Leafs in one year's time if next season produces the same result. On the bright side, Toronto has a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, albeit with a shallow pool of talent. Oh well, better luck next year...

27. Edmonton Oilers (last rank #27): Like the Islanders, there are reasons to be optimistic, but the Oilers need a stud defenseman and a franchise goaltender. Devin Dubnyk played shockingly well to close the season, and could very well turn out to be the goalie of the future. I'm not ready to make the proclamation just yet, but it is possible. This season was a giant step backwards for Magnus Paajarvi, who might not be who we thought he could be.

28. Minnesota Wild (last rank #29): Will Dr Jeckyl or Mr Hyde show up next season? A beautiful start followed by a magnificent collapse, has clouded the future of the franchise. Heatley and Setoguchi produced most of their mediocre offense, which is not a recipe for long term success. Lack of production from the blueline is the biggest obstacle this roster must overcome if they are to sustain any momentum going forward.

29. NY Islanders (last rank #28): There are reasons to be optimistic if you are an Islanders fan, minus a franchise goaltender. That Rick DiPietro contract is casting a large dark cloud over the rest of the roster. Next season they will either be a bubble team or fail miserably again. At best, they are a 50/50 team to make the playoffs in 2013, but Tavares is going to be the real deal.

30. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank #30): Jack Johnson is now the #1 defenseman on this roster, which shouldn't change anytime soon. It is questionable whether Jack can handle the heavy lifting required of him to get this team into the playoffs anytime soon, much less win a series. My outlook on the next 3 years of Blue Jackets hockey is 0 playoff games. I'm calling it now.

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