The 2013 NHL season is 1 week away from its end, as a few teams continue to jostle for a playoff position. Chicago retains the top spot and has to enter the playoffs as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup. The main concern for many playoff teams right now is getting healthy, and trying to get their team playing the best hockey possible at the most important point in the season. Some teams are struggling, while others are heating up at exactly the right time.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 1): Jonathon Toews has had a MVP calibre season for the Blackhawks, though his bid for the Hart will be muted by the fantastic play of Patrick Kane. They have been the best team in the league since the first game of the season and sustained an elite level of play throughout the condensed schedule. The goaltenders Crawford and Emery put together a terrific Jennings type season, though their games split likely prohibits Crawford from Vezina contention.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 2): The fact the Penguins have not fallen off their pace since losing Sidney Crosby does throw into question just how singularly valuable Sid is to this team's success. He is the best player in the league and probably the most deserving of the Hart Trophy, but his victory is no longer certain. His team has thrived in his absence, a team that should win the Eastern conference, especially since their Kryptonite (Philadelphia) did not make the playoffs.
3. Boston Bruins (last rank 5): Getting Patrice Bergeron back is huge, as the frenchman may be the most complete player in the NHL. They have an impressive variety of offensive firepower combined with enough toughness and defense to make the Bruins a formidable playoff opponent. Whoever plays this team in the playoffs will have their hands full. There is talk that the team could bench Milan Lucic, which is ridiculous. He is not all that far off his career average pace in a lockout shortened season. The team is near the top of the standings, and other teams hate playing against this monster of a man. Leave well enough alone and let him play it out.
4. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 4): The Habs have been having some trouble in the last week, especially keeping the puck out of their net. Carey Price has played very poorly ever since Alexei Emelin was knocked out of the line-up with a season ending knee injury. If I had a vote on this year's Norris Trophy (which I should), my pick would probably be PK Subban, who has been outstanding since losing that game of chicken with GM Marc Bergevin.
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 3): Getzlaf has had a career year, got paid, and is now probably looking at declining production. It also looks like the sun might have set on the great career of Teemu Selanne with his production falling considerably in this shortened season. He skates well enough to play forever, but 43 might be too old. This team is probably overrated after the season they have had, and are ripe for an upset in the playoffs.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 9): If I can say something nice about the 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs, it is that Nazem Kadri and James Reimer have exceeded my expectations, and have a lot to do with this team's success. Phil Kessel appears to have made an increased commitment to defensive hockey. The team is buying in to the Randy Carslyle system and will ride it into the playoffs. It is unlikely that the Leafs will win a round, but depending who their 1st round opponent is, I suppose anything is possible.
7. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 7): After a slow start, the Kings have rebounded to be who we thought they were. The biggest difference between the team now and the team that won the Stanley Cup last year, is that Jon Quick has not been playing like Superman, and instead has been decidedly mortal. His style of goaltending is both unique and incredibly difficult to play, so it's logical that if he's not 100% physically, there will be performance issues on the ice.
9. Washington Capitals (last rank 15): Alexander the Great is once again playing great hockey. He might have played his way into the Hart Trophy conversation, to which he certainly owes Nicklas Backstrom a thank you card. The dynamic duo have been dynamic again. It may be true that the Capitals have feasted on the SouthLeast division, but they are still playing at a level worthy of the playoffs.
10. Ottawa Senators (last rank 6): If there is one word to describe the 2013 Ottawa Senators, it would be "resilient". They had every reason to roll over and die after losing Spezza and Karlsson, but have fought hard to stay above the playoff line. Now it looks like Karlsson might return in time to play in the post-season, depending how deep Ottawa can go. It should have been a lost season, instead it has been an inspiring season that fans should be thankful for.
11. St. Louis Blues (last rank 11): It looks as though the long playoff drought of Jay Bouwmeester will end this season, falling just short of Olli Jokinen's record of 799 games. They have a very strong defense, and should be a tough team to eliminate from the playoffs, depending on how well Brian Elliot's confidence stands up. We learned last year in the playoffs that if the goaltending collapses, this Blues team is in big trouble (despite having a system that makes it easier for goalies to succeed). David Backes and TJ Oshie are a handful.
12. Minnesota Wild (last rank 8): This season has been a wild ride, pun intended. They have run either hot or cold since day 1, but should find themselves in a playoff position (despite it being closer than it should have been, thanks to only winning 3 of the last 10). The acquisition of Jason Pominville has not yet produced positive results, but there is no question he's an upgrade over Danny Heatley (who is a major buyout candidate this summer).
13. San Jose Sharks (last rank 21): A great start and a strong finish (with much mediocrity in between) has been enough to propel the Sharks into the playoffs in 2013. Once again Joe Thornton has been the team's best player, as rumours of his demise may have been exaggerated. Anti Niemi has been fantastic in goal, enough so to delay the inevitable rebuilding process by another year or two. It's unlikely that they will advance very far this spring/summer, but they could win a series.
14. NY Islanders (last rank 23): What'cha gonna do, when John Tavares runs wild on you? It has been nice to see JT establish himself among the elite players in this league, locking himself up a roster spot in next year's Sochi Olympics. Evgeni Nabokov has exceeded many people's expectations. Throw in a scrappy supporting cast, and you've got yourself a playoff team. This team has been much better since banishing Rick DiPietro to the minors.
15. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 12): The Red Wings are perilously close to missing the playoffs for the first time in a long time, and we'll see if Datsyuk and Zetterberg have enough left in the tank to make a final push. There is virtually no chance that this team will beat the Chicago Blackhawks in a 7 game series, so it may just be better if they lose the rest of their games and improve their draft position. The only regret may be not trading Filpulla or White at the deadline to try and get some extra draft picks.
16. New York Rangers (last rank 17): Rick Nash has been worth the price, Brad Richards has been far below expectations. They are fighting for their playoffs lives and will be right until the end of the season. Right now if they are playing for anything, it is John Torteralla's job, and we'll see how hard they are willing to fight to save their coach. They still miss Marc Staal a great deal.
17. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 24): Everyone's new favourite underdog, who has tasted the 8th playoff spot in the last few days.. Normally I'm against goalies winning the Hart, but if any goaltender has ever deserved the MVP, it is 2013 Sergei Bobrovsky. The Pens have been without Crosby and haven't skipped a beat. Take Bob off the ice for the Blue Jackets, and the decline would be incredible. How crazy would it be if Bobrovsky won the Hart this season? That would not go over well in Philly.
18. Dallas Stars (last rank 16): They managed a nice little 5 game winning streak after unloading several of their best players at the deadline. Alex Chiasson came in and scored 6 goals on his first 13 shots. With a very difficult schedule remaining, it's still looking like too little, too late for the Dallas Stars. However, they are not dead yet, and still have a chance to write their own ticket into the post-season.
19. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank 22): Given their success last year in the playoffs, the 2013 season has to be considered a profound disappointment. Gary Bettman continues to dump loads of money into this blackhole unable to sustain a franchise. Give up, move on. Go to Quebec, Kansas, Portland, Seattle, Vegas, I don't care. Just end it already. This story has jumped the shark, so to speak. At least if they move the team to Vegas, they could potentially lure some Colorado Avalanche players via free agency, or other gambling enthusiasts.
20. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 19): Like Washington, they are the benefactors of playing in a weak division, but they are playing good enough right now to slip into the 8th playoff spot. Pavelec is on one of his hot streaks, so they will slug it out with the New Yorks to bring playoffs to their hockey mad market. A playoff berth would be fantastic for Winnipegers who haven't tasted post-season NHL hockey in 20 years.
21. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 18): After St.Louis and Stamkos, this line-up gets really thin, really fast. There has to be significant pressure on GM Steve Yzerman to try and rebuild while also trying to keep the team as competitive as possible. You can't tank a season with Stamkos and St.Louis on the ice. Will Ben Bishop become the goalie of the future? This roster is one or two moves away from being very dangerous, but that time is not right now.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 25): To be or not to be, that is the question. Tough to say who they have been this season, but playoff team is not in the obituary. Claude Grioux has missed Jaromir Jagr, in addition to not having Hartnell for much of the season; but still remains a top 15 player in the NHL. They will probably be a contender next season, but they need to address the biggest hole in their line-up, the absence of Chris Pronger.
23. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 27): They got close, then the bottom fell completely out and they lost 7 in a row. Their General Manager has been fired and replaced by the regime that Tambellini was supposed to clean up after. They need to trade Yakupov, or Hopinks, or both; and get a guy like Keith Yandle. I'm not convinced that MacTavish and Lowe are the guys to build this dynasty, but their status in the history of the franchise are secure enough to provide job security.
24. New Jersey Devils (last rank 14): It has been a mighty fall from grace for the 2013 Devils, especially after losing Ilya Kovalchuck to injury. David Clarkson started the season as a man on fire, but he has gradually cooled off as the season has progressed. The Travis Zajac contract extension was a terrible idea, certainly at that price. The future looks very bleak for this franchise, especially if they lose Clarkson.
25. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 28): The brightest light for the Sabres this season has been Cody Hodgson, on a team with several disappointments. Vanek started the season on fire, but has cooled among injuries. Pominville is gone, but they did extract a rich price from the Wild in return. It's difficult to say if they are going into a rebuild, since this team was supposed to be a contender. It is only because they have sucked that they have been forced to sell some assets. They might consider themselves winners again next season when they have a new GM.
26. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 13): When Cam Ward went down for the season, this GM should have acquired a new goaltender. Their collapse has been epic as they will have a small chance at the first overall pick in the lottery (with a little luck). There is no question this team saw itself as a playoff team and have to be disappointed in their season, lest they blame it on the injury in goal.
27. Nashville Predators (last rank 20): The fall from grace has been fast and hard. Not only are they missing Ryan Suter badly, but they just can't score goals. The lack of offensive displayed by the Preds this season has been embarrassing, with just 2 players scoring double digit goals (Legwand and Bourque with 11 goals each). Compound this with Pekka Rinne falling from the elite tier of goaltenders (into above average tier), and what you've got is a very disappointing season. Many people looked at this team as a dark horse contender last season, but the Preds have once again slipped into the darkness. We'll see how attendance holds up next season with a team that can't score and can't win.
28. Calgary Flames (last rank 26): It's not a question of if Jay Feaster will be fired, but when. The Flames will not be a playoff team in 2013/14, so it would be logical for the Flames to embrace the rebuild for at least one more season. This guy is not good at his job, and the franchise will pay a price if he's the guy steering the boat through this rebuild.
29. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 29): Vegas Baby!!! The Avs are very excited for the offseason. Some will be travelling to Sin City, some perhaps to the Caribbean, some probably anxious to return to Europe, tough to say. What we know for sure is that this team is sick of playing hockey.
30. Florida Panthers (last rank 30): This was the year of Jon Huberdeau, the one light that shined bright for the Panthers in 2013. In 32 GP, Erik Gudbranson has 4 PTS and is a -22. Brian Campbell is -20. If you were among the people who believed the hype over Dale Tallon last season, it has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you were mistaken, and I question your ability to judge General Managers.