1. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 1, best contract: Andrew Shaw 1 more yr at $565K): The streak is over, but they remain the best team in hockey. This line-up is loaded with talent, but most of those players are earning fair market value, with the best true bargain being Andrew Shaw. Shaw has become a regular NHLer faster than most 5th round draft picks. Of all the players drafted in 2011, Shaw has played the 5th most games. There are only 2 players from that draft selected outside the first round who are regular NHL hockey players right now, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw. 73% of forwards drafted in the 5th round out of the CHL will not play 50 games in the NHL. How many 5th round CHL forwards will play at least 50 NHL games in the 2 seasons after being drafted? 2%. Yes, NHL entry draft probability theory is a hobby of mine, more like an obsession.
2. Boston Bruins (last rank 2, best contract: Brad Marchand 4 more yrs at $4.5M): The Bruins are the best team in the Easter Conference, with a terrific balance of skill and toughness. Brad Marchand (the little ball of hate) has been scoring at nearly a point per game pace in the first half of the season while only accruing 8 minutes in penalties. He's the kind of guy that every fan loves to hate, but would love to have on their team.
3. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 5, best contract: Francois Beauchemin 2 more yrs at $3.5M): While Leaf fans are unquestionably happy to have Jake Gardiner, it can't be overlooked how well Beauchemin has been playing this season. If Anaheim wanted to trade him, the phone would be ringing off the hook. Ryan Getzlaf has been locked up to a lucrative contract, while Corey Perry remains a pending unrestricted free agent. The Ducks have more than enough cap space to keep both players, provided ownership is willing to spend that much money. They'll have to pay Perry at least as much as they're gonna pay Getzlaf.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4, best contract:Kris Letang 1 more yr at $3.5M): Sidney Crosby is the best hockey player in the world, and if you need proof of this, just look at the production of Chris Kunitz with 17 goals and 36 points in 26 games playing on a line with Sid. Kris Letang's contract has been one of the league's best bargains over the last 3 seasons. He's one of the NHL's best defensemen and is due for a big raise in 2014. James Neal is turning into a superstar, so his $5M annual price tag is looking very fair (though is not quite in the "Tavares zone").
6. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 14, best contract: Dustin Brown 1 more yrs at $3.18M): They're back, and they have resumed playing championship calibre hockey after a dreadful start to the season. Jeff Carter scores goals (17 goals and just 2 assists). Slava Voynov has 6 more points than Drew Doughty. and thus far has been a better player in 2013. They will be even better if and when Willie Mitchell gets back on the ice.
8. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 11, best contract: Justin Faulk 1 more yr at $900K): No Cam Ward, no problem. This team will be very competitive for the next several years, but do need Cam Ward back on the ice to make any run in the playoffs. The Staal brothers are a solid core to build a team around. Jiri Tlusty has begun to produce at a torrid pace in recent weeks, and is proving to be a steal at $1.6M. Alex Semin has been terrific, and perhaps will finally earn himself a long term contract this summer. What this team needs more than anything is a true #1 defenseman.
9. Ottawa Senators (last rank 8, best contract: Kyle Turris 5 more yrs at $3.5M): Any day now they should start losing hockey games. They continue to defy expectations and keep slugging out points. Paul MacLean is looking like the runaway winner for Coach of the Year. Kyle Turris leads the team in scoring (due in large part to injuries), and is locked in for 5 more years at a very fair price.
10. New York Rangers (last rank 18, best contract: Marc Staal 2 more yrs at $3.9M): As goes Rick Nash, so goes the Rangers. Nash's return from a mystery injury has helped push the Rangers back into playoff territory. But they are going to need a healthy visor wearing Marc Staal if they are going to advance very far in the playoffs. Carl Hagelin should get himself a big pay raise this summer. They have to squeeze McDonagh, Stepan, and Hagelin under $9M. Good luck with that. They are a vulnerable target for offer sheets.
11. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 13, best contract: Niklas Kronwall 6 more yrs at $4.75M): If only this team could beat the Columbus Blue Jackets, they would be 16-6-4 instead of 12-9-5. I'm not sure how Ian White has found himself in the "healthy scratch" rotation. White should be one of their best defensemen, not watching from the press box. He has not played well, which is not good for a player in a contract year. The good news for Detroit is that they don't have to face the Blue Jackets again this regular season.
12. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 10, best contract: Kevin Bieksa 3 more yrs at $4.6M): Listening to Vancouver sportstalk radio after the Canucks lost to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday was entertaining to say the least. The sky is falling! The sky is falling! Lots of talk about firing Vigneault, lots of talk about the terrific season Cody Hodgson is having in Buffalo, and plenty of criticism for GM Mike Gillis. When you look at his history of moves, most of them have turned out badly. The best thing he ever did was retain the Sedin twins. Take the Sedins off this team, and they would probably be in last place.We do know that they have a much better team with Kevin Bieksa on the ice.
14. Minnesota Wild (last rank 23, best contract: Devin Setoguchi 1 more yr at $3M): This team has been playing better hockey in recent weeks, and finally look to challenge Vancouver for top spot in a very weak division. This is another team with more bad contracts than good contracts. When I release my annual worst contracts list at the end of the season, there will be at least 2, possibly more Wild players on the list.
15. St. Louis Blues (last rank 12, best contract: Alex Steen 1 more yr at $3.3M): Was last season an anomaly? Are they a President's trophy contender, or a team that has to fight to even make the playoffs? Alex Pietrangelo will command top dollar as a RFA. The Blues would be happy if they can get away with paying less than $6M per season, but if he goes to market, there will be an offer sheet, and it will be very expensive to match.
16. San Jose Sharks (last rank 16, best contract: Logan Couture 1 more yr at $2.87M): The Sharks have settled into their rightful place as the 16th best team in hockey, and finally we can all say "they are who we thought they were". Martin Havlat, Michal Handzus, and Scott Gomez are all dead weight. Brent Burns has no points and is -5 in his 6 games since returning from injury. I would say this team is better without Burns, but their slide started before his return.
17. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank 15, best contract: Keith Yandle 3 more yrs at $5.25M): Oliver Ekman-Larsson is the best player on this team, but he is a pending restricted free agent. He's probably looking at a 7 year, $60M+ offer sheet if the nearly bankrupt Coyotes can't lock him up before July 1st. If there is any reason that Yandle is available (which otherwise makes no sense) it's that the team can't afford to pay them both. Somebody will offer that kid the moon. For this season, they will reap the benefits of having both, which makes up for a lot of the crap they have at the forward position.
18. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 7, best contract: Victor Hedman 4 more yrs at $4M): After a strong start to the season, it seems as though Anders Lindback has gotten worse each week. The Lightning are in a free fall, which is a shame for a team with this much talent. Could Roberto Luongo carry this team into the playoffs if acquired? It's possible, if not plausible.
19. New Jersey Devils (last rank 9, best contract: Andy Greene 2 more yrs at $3M): Much like the Tampa Bay Lightning, this fast starting team has basically fallen off the map. An injury to Martin Brodeur has hurt them dearly, and David Clarkson has returned to Earth. The biggest challenge facing Lou Lamerello is finding the heir to King Marty's throne. It's not Johan Hedberg. Who will be "the next one"? Stay tuned.
20. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 21, best contract: Dustin Byfuglien 3 more yrs at $5.2M): This contract was considered an overpayment when it was originally signed, but they player he has become since leaving Chicago is definitely worth the price of admission. Evander Kane has established himself in the elite tier of players, and Andrew Ladd is having a career year. Ladd's 3 more years at $4.4M is looking like a bargain.
21. Nashville Predators (last rank 20, best contract: Colin Wilson 2 more yrs at $2M): The Predators players should make sure that Pekka Rinne never has to pay for a meal on the road, despite the fact that he's making a ton of money. If you took Rinne off this roster, they would be in dead last in the NHL. Not a good team, but they have a great player where you need it the most.
22. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 26, best contract: Matt Duchene 1 more yr at $3.5M): Don't look now, but the Colorado Avalanche are surging. Ryan O'Reilly is a really good hockey player, but it is Matt Duchene who is taking his game to the next level. Matt needs to fire his agent, because I don't know how the Avs tricked them into this sweetheart deal. He's becoming a superstar. He's making a case that he belongs in Sochi.
23. Washington Capitals (last rank 27, best contract: John Carlson 5 more yrs at $3.97M): Slowly but steadily improving thanks in large part to the steadily improving play of Braden Holtby. Question; which pending UFA has the most points in 2013? Answer; Mike Ribeiro with 28, ahead of Perry, Semin, Elias, Iginla, Ryder, Clarkson. This team leans heavily on John Carlson.
24. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 19, best contract: Claude Giroux 1 more yr at $3.75M): Just when it looks like they might be turning things around, they start to slip again. It's apparent that they miss Chris Pronger terribly. I'd say the Flyers are a Chris Pronger away from being a championship caliber team, sadly Chris Pronger type players are hard to find, and Pronger himself is probably done.
25. NY Islanders (last rank 25, best contract: John Tavares 5 more yrs at $5.5M): This team can be best described as enigmatic. They are 8th in the NHL in goals scored, but also 2nd in the league in goals allowed. They can score, they just can't keep the puck out of their net with any consistency. One thing that we have learned in 2013 is that John Tavares is one of the best players in the NHL (certainly top 10) and that contract might be one of the best bargains in hockey. He's better than Getzlaf, who just got a new $8.25M per year contract.
26. Calgary Flames (last rank 22, best contract: Alex Tanguay 3 more yrs at $3.5M): Denial is not just a river in Egypt. The ownership of this team needs to fire Jay Feester, and bring in a new GM to sell off as many of their overpriced under-performing assets as they can possibly find a buyer for. It is time to rebuild rather than acting like they actually have a chance at winning a championship. Trade Iginla, trade Kiprusoff, trade Bouwmeester, trade everybody. It is a great draft year to do this.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 29, best contract: Nikita Nikitin 1 more yrs at $2.15M): Yes Columbus has been playing much better hockey on a 5 game winning streak, but this is still a team with more bad contracts than good contracts. Choosing a best contract was remarkably difficult. Sergei Bobrovsky was the first star of the week for the entire NHL in week 7. Long have I been a supporter of Sergei Bobrovsky.
29. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 28, best contract: Marcus Foligno 1 more yr at $900K): I feel sorry for that guy on the Puck Podcast who picked Buffalo to win the Stanley Cup. He picked Los Angeles to win last season and made his 2013 prediction with supreme confidence. He has to be embarrassed. This team is embarrassing, except for Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek, and Jason Pominville. Those guys are really good.
30. Florida Panthers (last rank 30, best contract: Drew Shore 2 more yrs at $1.1M): Dale Tallon will not be nominated for Executive of the Year in 2013. No chance. They suck.