1. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 2): MVP: Patrick Kane, LVP: None, UH: Corey Crawford. This is the best team in the NHL right now. Who needs Luongo when you have Crawford? Kane is a man on fire. Hossa hasn't missed a beat. It was hard to pick a least valuable player on this team, as they just might be the best in the league. If they were ever a bidder in the Luongo sweepstakes, they are not anymore.
2. New Jersey Devils (last rank 8): MVP: David Clarkson, LVP: Jacob Josefson, UH: Andy Greene. The biggest surprise on this team has been it's continued success without Zach Parise, but they keep on keeping on. Clarkson is playing like a man possessed, and a man who is going to get paid this summer. They've got Ilya Kovalchuck playing half the game, but he can handle it. If it's even possible to earn that giant pay cheque, he's doing it.
3. Boston Bruins (last rank 5): MVP: Tuukka Rask, LVP: Greg Campbell and Chris Kelly, UH: Nathan Horton. This is a good hockey team. The Rask Experiment is working much better this time around, as the Toronto Maple Leafs have helped the Bruins build a solid nucleus of young talent. It's great to see Nathan Horton back contributing in the NHL.
4. San Jose Sharks (last rank 1): MVP: Patrick Marleau, LVP: Adam Burish, UH: Anti Niemi. The Sharks are finally starting to slip. Marleau might want to consider sharing some of that deer antler spray with his teammates. They will make the playoffs, possibly win a series, but it is highly unlikely this team will win the Stanley Cup.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 3): MVP: Steve Stamkos, LVP: Ryan Malone, UH: Cory Conacher. This line-up boasts as much firepower as any team in the league. They score goals. Strengthening up the blueline and acquiring a half way decent goaltender has made all the difference. Martin St.Louis continues to play great hockey, while Vincent LeCavalier came into this season on a mission.
6. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 9): MVP: Teemu Selanne, LVP: Corey Perry, UH: Daniel Winnik. The Ducks are playing like a top team in the NHL, but no thanks to former NHL MVP Corey Perry. I always said that Winnik was just a Saku Koivu away from being an elite player in this league. Okay, I never said that, but you get the point. Viktor Fasth has come out of nowhere to supplant Jonas Hiller as the #1 goalie. They have won enough games that they can make the playoffs playing .500 hockey the rest of the way, and with the scoring being spread out, that looks all the more likely.
7. Ottawa Senators (last rank 7): MVP: Erik Karlsson, LVP: Jakob Silfverberg, UH: Craig Anderson and Kyle Turris. You can start engraving Erik Karlsson's name on the Norris Trophy again soon enough. Losing Jason Spezza hurts big time. We'll see how long Craig Anderson can sustain super-human goaltending status. Kyle Turris is turning out to be a very good player, but clearly the long term success of this team depends on the health of Spezza.
8. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 18): MVP: Alex Edler, LVP: Jason Garrison, UH: Zack Kassian and Mason Raymond. Vancouver fans are falling in love with Kassian, who has fallen considerably since being taken off the Sedin line. Jordan Schroeder is not Martin St.Louis, despite what you might hear on Vancouver sportstalk radio. Well done Luongo. Mason Raymond is playing far above the player who was taken to salary cut down arbitration. They do benefit greatly from being a decent team in the NHL's weakest division, lock them in now for a playoff spot.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 17): MVP: Sidney Crosby, LVP: Tyler Kennedy, UH: Chris Kunitz. The Pens have been "streaky" this season, but they have the two best players in the world. When they are playing waiver claim Zack Boychuck on the Malkin line, that is a clear indication that this team has depth issues. That Pens-Flyers series last spring was the most entertaining hockey I've watched in a long time. Clearly Jordan Staal was valuable to this team and Sutter is not nearly as good.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 16): MVP: Matt Frattin, LVP: Clarke MacArthur, UH: Nazem Kadri. One word, truculence. They lead the league in hits and fights. Matt Frattin did not even make the team out of training camp, but he has been their best player. Kadri has likely played his last game in the AHL and has to be a pleasant surprise for Leaf Nation. If they had Roberto Luongo, you could easily lock them down to a playoff spot. James Reimer has been playing well, but he just suffered a leg injury. They need a healthy and productive Reimer to make the playoffs. James Van Reimsdyk is looking really good lately, one "American college guy" Burkie was smart to acquire.
11. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 6): MVP: Carey Price and Andrei Markov, LVP: Colby Armstrong, UH: Raphael Diaz. The Habs are slowly coming back down to earth, but it's fair to say that Markov and Price have been outstanding. The two rookie sensations Galchenyuk and Gallegher have been playing well and certainly brighten up the future of the franchise. It was interesting how the team seemed unhappy to have PK Subban back in the line-up. I'm not sure that the Habs had lofty expectations of Colby Armstrong, but he has sucked, at least on the stat sheet. Nice guy though.
12. New York Rangers (last rank 15): MVP: Rick Nash, LVP: Chris Kreider, UH: Marc Staal. It is entirely possible that Chris Kreider was entirely over-rated in last year's playoffs. He's still young and there will be growing pains, but he hasn't been the superman that was advertised. This is a team that will make the playoffs, and make some noise in May. Their slow start has surprised a lot of people, but they are slowly regaining their form.
13. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 14): MVP: Henrik Zetterberg, LVP: most of the defense corps, UH: Damien Brunner. This team would likely rank 30th out of 30 without Zetterberg and Datsyuk. They have yet to replace Lidstrom, Rafalski, or Stuart with anywhere near equal talent, but they are winning hockey games. Just imagine if they had a healthy Carlo Colaiacovo (and I say that with all due sarcasm). Somebody needs to start trying to convince Lidstrom to come back for one more season, and one more Olympics, then retire. Come on Nick. Sochi. Think about it (disclosure: I am a Red Wings fan).
14. St. Louis Blues (last rank 4): MVP: Alex Pietrangelo, LVP: Jaden Schwartz, UH: Alex Steen. The Blues currently find themselves in a tailspin after losing goaltender Jaroslav Halak, as Brian Elliot has not been able to adequately fill the void in his absence. They are getting balanced scoring, but suddenly that air tight Hitchcockian defensive system is not working. I heard Jeremy Roenick on the radio yesterday say that he would not want to be anywhere near Ken Hitchcock right now. True that. This is when playing for Hitchcock becomes a negative experience.
15. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 23): MVP: Jeff Skinner, LVP: Jussi Jokinen, UH: Jiri Tlusty. The Canes have under-achieved early this young season, but things are starting to look up. Jussi Jokinen belongs on a milk cartoon, since the addition of Jordan Staal seems to have rendered him useless, vanishing from the score sheet; 1 assist in 11 games for this 65 point player in 2010. Eric Staal is back. Last season was just a hiccup. This is not a team you want to face in a playoff series.
16. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 11): MVP: Sam Gagner, LVP: Ryan Smyth, UH: Sam Gagner. Despite his frequent inclusion in trade rumours and all the talent on this roster, Sam Gagner is leading the team in scoring and is their early MVP. This might be a year too soon for the young Oilers roster to get it together and have success in the playoffs. If they can't be more responsible defensively, they might not even make the playoffs. I would certainly have bet that they would be a playoff team before the season, but now I'm having doubts.
17. Dallas Stars (last rank 24): MVP: Jamie Benn, LVP: Trevor Daley, UH: Jaromir Jagr. Ever since he signed that new contract, Jamie Benn has been the Stars best player, as the team immediately began to climb the standings. My accusations that Dallas was intentionally tanking this season to get a top pick in the draft may have been unfounded and out of line. There's a decent chance that they will make the playoffs, at least compete for a spot. Alex Goligoski also playing well.
18. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank 20): MVP: Radim Vrbata, LVP: Steve Sullivan, UH: Mikkel Boedker. They need Mike Smith to play out of this world if they are going to recapture the magic of last season. You gotta think that the reason Shane Doan wanted ownership stability guarantees before re-signing with Phoenix was because he doesn't want to move to Quebec City? He can't be happy right now, but that's his reward for buying the snake oil. He should have known better and signed with a stable franchise.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 27): MVP: Claude Giroux, LVP: Nicklas Grossman, UH: Matt Read. Suprisingly enough, Ilya Bryzgalov has not been Philly's problem, and after a horrid start they have started playing better hockey. There is too much talent on this roster for them not to turn it around and make the playoffs. In a shortened season, the margin of error is considerably smaller. Claude Giroux is one of the 5 best players on the planet, and one has to believe that this team can get their shit together.
20. Nashville Predators (last rank 26): MVP: Pekka Rinne, LVP: Sergei Kostitsyn, UH: Colin Wilson. This team is not as good as last season, but they still have a great goaltender and can win any given night with a pathetic offense. Was Ryan Suter more important to Shea Weber than we all realized? Has he lost some of his fire after signing that lifetime contract this summer? I'll say this much, Shea is not going to win the Norris trophy this season. I doubt he'll even be nominated.
21. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 12): MVP: Tobias Enstrom, LVP: Alex Ponikarovsky, UH: Bryan Little. Tough to say if this is a playoff team. They will probably be in the race until mid April, then fall just short. My initial reaction was "show me a team with Tobias Enstrom as their leading scorer at the 1/4 marker, and I'll show you a team that sucks", but I'm not prepared to write them off. Ondrej Pavalec has been brutal, as I have long said that he will never be the starting goalie on Stanley Cup winning team.
22. NY Islanders (last rank 10): MVP: John Tavares, LVP: Kyle Okposo, UH: Evgeni Nabakov. When you think about it, forcing people who don't want to come to the Island to report to the team is a sound strategy for such a shitty destination. Lubomir Visnovsky should fit right in with his new team, because I'm sure most of those guys weren't happy when the Islanders acquired them. They need a spark, they are starting to slip. DiPietro looks terrible, Nabokov is a free agent at the end of the season, and Tim Thomas may or may not play again.
23. Minnesota Wild (last rank 13): MVP: Zach Parise, LVP: Mikael Granlund, UH: Tom Gilbert. Right now Parise is carrying the team on his shoulders, but that it not enough to make up for a shallow defense, even if Tom Gilbert has come out of gate playing great. Granlund has not been the explosive force that some people predicted before the season. Clearly he's no Tarasenko.
24. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 22): MVP: Matt Duchene, LVP: David Jones, UH: John Mitchell. Despite having a solid core of quality young players, this team is not very good. It continues to baffle me that they would pay $4M to David Jones, then get cheap in the O'Reilly negotiations. Jones is not earning his paycheque, and it's incredible that they convinced Matt Duchene to sign for less. Just because Duchene rolled over and gave the team a sweetheart deal, doesn't mean O'Reilly has to do the same, as this team is nowhere near the salary cap.
25. Calgary Flames (last rank 25): MVP: Alex Tanguay, LVP: Mark Giordano, UH: Lee Stempniak. They are who we thought they were; not very good; but if I know the Flames, I know they will fight until the bitter end rather than sell their top assets and do a legitimate rebuild. It is time to trade Jarome Iginla, and get whatever they can for the corpse of Mike Cammalleri. The injury to Kiprusoff makes him more difficult to move.
26. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 21): MVP: Thomas Vanek, LVP: Tyler Myers, UH: Cody Hodgson. At the 1/4 mark of the season, Thomas Vanek is playing like a Hart Trophy candidate. The problem for the Sabres is after that magical 1st line, the production starts to get very shallow, very fast. Myers has been terrible, with 1 point and a -9 through 11 games. Bottom line, this team probably won't make the playoffs, but at least Hodgson and Vanek have been fun to watch.
27. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 19): MVP: Anze Kopitar, LVP: Jarret Stoll, UH: Kyle Clifford. This might be the best bad team in the NHL. None of them are having a strong season. You'd like to think that the defending champion will get their shit together and go on a run, but that might be easier said than done. If they do stay in the basement, the Columbus Blue Jackets have their 1st pick in a rich draft.
28. Washington Capitals (last rank 29): MVP: Mike Ribeiro, LVP: Marcus Johansson, UH: Troy Brouwer. Many had higher expectations of the Caps than what they have done thus far this season. Marcus Johansson is currently the worst player on the team with 1 point and a -7 in 9 games. Ovechkin has been okay, but certainly not the player they're paying for. This team desperately needs a goaltender, as the combo of Holtby and Neuvirth have failed to deliver.
29. Florida Panthers (last rank 30): MVP: Tomas Fleischmann, LVP: Filip Kuba, UH: Tomas Fleischmann. If Tom Fleischmann is your best player, you have problems. This is mostly the same team who made the playoffs last season, but they are starting to play more like the team we originally expected them to be, and that is not good.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 28): MVP: Fedor Tyutin, LVP: Nick Foligno, UH: Mark Letestu. You show me a team where Fedor Tyutin is the leading scorer 1/4 of the way into the season, and I'll show you a team that sucks. They suck. Scott Howsen just got fired, and the only surprise is that he kept his job as long as he did.