The 2013/14 NHL season is now 4 weeks old, and the standings are slowly starting to settle into their true form. I do expect the Avalanche to collapse eventually, but they are 10-1. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you look at their defense, but somehow someway Patrick Roy is off to a red hot start in his NHL coaching career. *BLEEP*!!! I hate that guy. The rankings are on a "per game" basis, so there is no reward for playing more games than another team, I use a formula based on points per game (shootout wins not included), and goal differential. I make several references to player rankings, which are my own rankings viewable on this site.
1. San Jose Sharks (last rank 1): The Sharks easily have the most potent offense in the league one month into the season. Anti Niemi thus far is having a Vezina calibre season, with Couture, Pavelski, and Marleau (all statistically top 10 players) playing like they deserve the Hart. Will the bubble burst? Right now they are the best team in the National Hockey League. They have scored 48 goals and given up 20 in 12 games. Even if they regress, you're probably looking at a top 10 team here, no matter what.
2. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 3): Cinderella is burning it up on the dance floor, turning heads, it's 10 o'clock and the party is rocking. We'll see what happens when the clock strikes midnight. Patrick Roy has to rank among the most arrogant hockey players of all-time, but it's possible that blind unwavering belief in himself is rubbing off on his players. He has to be the early favourite for Coach of the Year, provided Cinderella can sustain even close to this level of success; where I expect them to start to suck sooner rather than later.
3. St. Louis Blues (last rank 2): Alex Steen and David Backes are leading this team from the front, with a strong supporting cast. They can score goals and are tough to score on. The Los Angeles Kings might be their playoff kryptonite, but they are unquestionably one of the best teams in the league (at least when they get sufficient goaltending). They should try to trade Brian Elliot and double down on Halak, both contracts expiring this season, both pending UFA's. Infact, I'm not sure why they haven't done this already. Jake Allen is ready to be a back-up in the NHL. Elliot has failed twice in a row in the playoffs when Halak was injured. Do it.
4. Boston Bruins (last rank 6): It's a little bit ironic that John Scott injured Loui Eriksson with a dirty hit, considering that Scott only got that job because Lucic ran crybaby goalie Ryan Miller (in my opinion goalies should be fair game if they want to leave the crease to play the puck, but I digress). The Bruins are very tough to score on, and Lucic may be having the best season of his career. Tukka Rask is officially one of the best goaltenders in the league, better even than Bernier or Reimer (and I make that comparison because Rask was a Leaf draft pick).
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 7): Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf cashed in last season with rich contract extensions, and so far so good, they are earning every penny. Silfverberg has been fantastic as a cheap replacement for Bobby Ryan, but now he's out for a month, costing the Ducks a valuable source of offense. Mathieu Perreault is producing as one of the top 100 players in the NHL, but don't expect that to last. Aside from that, Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm (the freak on the exercise bike at the combine) are a combined +21.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 5): They are the 6th best team in the NHL and their prized free agent acquisition David Clarkson has only just returned (he didn't get any points, but logged 21 minutes of ice in a victory over the Penguins). All Maple Leaf fans should make a pilgrimage to Leaf Plaza and pay homage to the team that Burke built. Hindsight being 20/20, Brian Burke built a strong roster and got fired before it had the chance to blossom. I'm starting to believe some of the conspiracy theories that his firing had nothing to do with job performance, and more his rowdy behavior with the media (the new bosses are media conglomerates).
7. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 12): Was Ben Bishop the missing link? The Lightning have had serious goaltending issues since Dwayne Roloson got old, and it looks like perhaps maybe they have found the solution. Filpulla is out to a great start, far better than his last season with Detroit, where he frequently had the opportunity to play with Datsyuk and Zetterberg and was a big disappointment. The fresh start has energized him. If Tampa is good, then all of a sudden this division looks like the new toughest division in the NHL.
8. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 8): PK Subban is about to become a very rich man. Just imagine what a bargain 5 years at $5M would look like right now (it would rank as one of the best bargains in hockey). Marc Bergevin looked great for the minuscule deal he pressured PK into accepting, but he's going to end up costing the franchise a lot of money. PK might win the Norris again this season. Carey Price is off to another great start, hopefully he can sustain this success. He's playing for Team Canada. Gallagher and Galchenyuk have slowed down, and David Desharnais has 1 assist in 11 GP. They need more from that guy, but they keep winning hockey games.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4): If they were a top 5 team without James Neal and Kris Letang, how scary are they going to be once they get healthy? Ironically, the previous sentence was written on Thursday, and since then Letang has played 2 games, both losses to the Leafs and Islanders. Did Letang come back and make the team worse? They gave up 8 goals in those 2 games. Come on man! Don't make me look bad Kris Letang. I wrote what I wrote, and instead of deleting it, I'm standing by that sentence. Letang makes this a better team. Okay Kris, don't prove me wrong. You're about to get paid.
10. Phoenix Coyotes (last rank 14): It's sad to hear the pundits who are praising the long term stability of the Coyotes, sold in large part with borrowed money, when the odds are good that we'll be right back to where we started when the loans come due. Don't give them false hope. The franchise is doomed to failure. Boooo Coyotes. That's my "professional" opinion.
11. Minnesota Wild (last rank 11): Dany Heatley might be getting paid like a top 20 player, but sadly he ranks 347th in my latest player rankings. The Wild have had injury issues in goal, but are still managing to win hockey games. In their last six games they lost 3 in a row, and since have won 3 in a row. I'm not quite sure what this team is, but I do know that they have a number of hefty contracts on that roster. They will probably make the playoffs, but don't count on them to win a round.
12. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 20): Did David Booth get benched because he's a hunter and Torts is an animal lover, or because he sucks? Booth needs to grow a Duck Dynasty beard. The Canucks have done well on their current road trip, which might have something to do with playing struggling teams on the east coast (beating Philly, Islanders, Buffalo, Devils), but they did get a big win against St.Louis on Friday. Ryan Kesler has climbed 150 spots in the player rankings over the last 2 weeks, and Henrik Sedin is currently among the 10 best players in the league.
13. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 10): Expect the Hawks to float around this level until the Stanley Cup hangover diminishes and the team goes on a run. Remember that undefeated streak to start last season, a season that ended with a Stanley Cup victory. They have given up 11 goals against in the last 2 games, both loses to Tampa and Minnesota. Thus far Hossa and Sharp are producing less than expected, but as I like to say, the cream will eventually rise to the top. They are a better team than where they are performing.
14. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 21): This team should be better than this, but they are slowly improving. Anze Kopitar recently ended a goalless drought. Jonathon Quick hasn't been playing like that Conn Smythe Trophy winner, but still has a winning record. They are among the teams currently capable of winning the Stanley Cup, whether or not they can reach their full potential again remains to be seen. They have won 4 of their last 5 games and are quickly climbing the ladder.
15. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 13): Thank heavens that the Kronwall injury did not last long, because that is one player that the Red Wings cannot afford to lose. Stephen Weiss and his 2 PTS in 12 GP, however, are expendable. As a Red Wings fan, I'd almost like to see Weiss get injured so Gustav Nyqvist could get a damned roster spot. Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincey (the replacements for Nick Lidstrom) are a combined -17 with 1 point, which is brutal. They need a lot more from those guys.
16. Calgary Flames (last rank 9): If the cream eventually rises to the top, so too does the shit sink to the bottom. They have proven capable of scoring goals, but keeping the puck out of their own net is a problem. If you put Mika Kiprusoff in his prime on this roster, they just might be able to sustain their early strong start and make the playoffs. Sadly MacDonald and Ramo are limited at the NHL level. Enjoy it while it lasts Flames fans, this terd will eventually sink to the bottom of the toilet bowl.
17. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 17): The Blue Jackets played last season in one of the NHL's toughest divisions, and now find themselves in the easiest; except that they aren't playing any better. Dubinsky, Gaborik and Johansen have started strong, and James Wisniewski is also putting up points. They have won 3 of their last 4 games as Bobrovsky has improved his play. They will challenge for a playoff spot.
18. NY Islanders (last rank 15): If they can tighten up their defense, this is a really good team. Inability to keep the puck out of their net is the biggest thing holding this team back from taking the next step. They have the ability to win some tough games and to lose some easy games. Until they can consistently beat inferior teams, don't count on much from the Islanders. Sunday night it was announced that they traded Matt Moulson, a 1st round pick and a 2nd round pick for Tomas Vanek. Moulson has been having a better season than Vanek, but we'll see how long that lasts without John Tavares feeding him pucks. Both players are UFA, so Buffalo gets two quality draft picks for a rental in a lost season.
19. Ottawa Senators (last rank 19): Things are looking better for the Sens, who went into Detroit and spanked Daniel Alfredsson. They should be able to build from that victory, which had to be a huge confidence boost. Alfredsson said that he left for a better chance to win, so soundly defeating his new team is making a statement. A smart coach would squeeze every last drop of milk from that cow. That being said, they have lost 2 in a row since beating Alf, so their coach of the year hasn't gotten the mileage expected from such a significant victory.
20. Nashville Predators (last rank 23): Pekka Rinne is going to be out for the next month after hip surgery, which will provide an interesting challenge for the Preds. In game 1 without Rinne, they got pounded by St. Louis. Things could get very dark in Nashville this month. Lots of pundits have been praising the play of Seth Jones early this season, who has been logging big minutes. He's not Ryan Suter just yet, but what is clear is that he is a stud defenseman who is NHL ready.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 16): Oh, oh, Cam Ward is injured again. Rewind to last season when an injury took Ward out, the team collapsed. If history has taught us anything, it's that hard times are about fall on Carolina. Jordan Staal's 10 year $60M contract is starting to look like a terrible idea. Last season J.Staal finished 70th in my rankings, and now after 1 month he is currently ranked 216th. You want more than just a good faceoff guy for $6M, they need a few goals. What happened to that very productive Jiri Tlusty? He was my 40th ranked player last season, and now sits at 319th. They need more from that guy.
22. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 22): The seat that coach Claude Noel is sitting on is slowly getting hotter. This team should be better than this. They have lost 4 of 5 in a city where they expect to be competitive. That's not good enough, but it's tough to figure out where the problem is. I know at least one amateur scout who thought Scheifele would win the Calder, not score 1 goal in 13 GP. Granted, this same scout loved Nino Neiderreiter for that awesome rookie season when he scored 1 point in 63 GP.
23. Washington Capitals (last rank 28): Whatever you want to say about the Caps, Alex Ovechkin is scoring goals, on pace for 75. The team has been quietly struggling, though it's not like anyone has noticed with Ovie scoring goals. The Caps are struggling despite Ovechkin producing. Take that for what it's worth. Erat was a mistake. They should have held on to F.Forsberg. In their last 5 they have beaten Columbus, Edmonton, Winnipeg, losing to the Rangers and Calgary. None of those 5 teams are in the top half of the rankings.
24. Dallas Stars (last rank 18): Keeping the puck out of their net seems to be too heavy a burden for this young offensively gifted roster. Alex Chiasson will challenge for Rookie of the Year. They should be a good team in the near future, but are going through some growing pains at the moment. They have gotten younger, and have quality young pieces. It won't be too long before this will be a good time, I'm just not sure that happens in 2013. Two of their best defensemen Gonchar and Goligoski are a combined -16 with 1 point.
25. New Jersey Devils (last rank 25): Show me a team where Marek Zidlicky is the leading scorer, and I'll show you a team that sucks. Zajac is a precious waste of money. On Saturday they had a huge win against the Boston Bruins, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a good team. That once heralded checking line of S.Gionta, Carter, and Bernier that helped them get to the Stanley Cup finals is a combined -18 with 1 goal. That's not what they need from those guys. The one thing you can't accuse them of is tanking the season, because they have no 1st round pick.
26. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 27): His coach once called Claude Giroux the best player in the league. Realistically right now, I have him ranked as the 188th best player in the league, and that's not going to get it done for this team. Kimmo Timonen is done, but somebody needs to tell that to Kimmo. The inability to score goals is the biggest flaw that's plaguing the Flyers. Tye McGinn is their 2nd leading goal scorer. Show me a team where Tye McGinn is 2nd in goals, and I'll show you a team that sucks.
27. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 26): The Oilers suck. They play like a glorified junior team at the NHL level. There, now Dallas Eakins has something to post on the dressing room bulletin board to motivate his players, because clearly he has failed miserably to adequately motivate the Oilers early this NHL season. He's not a great motivator, and needs help. They have lost their last 3 games since beating Montreal, so whatever punch Eakins got from the Eller comments sure didn't last long (and he looked like a jack-ass celebrating Lars Eller doing his job for him, the job he's struggling with). How much would it cost to hire Tony Robbins for 82 pre-game speeches? Tony Robbins might do more for this team than Ryan N-Hopkins.
28. Florida Panthers (last rank 24): The kids are alright, some of the veterans however, are not. Upshall + Kopecky + Gomez + Matthias = 46 GP, 9 PTS, -10. I'm going to say right now that Barkov might be one of the 5 best Finnish hockey players of all time. It's rare for 18 year old Fins to go direct to the NHL, then again as a 17 year old in the Finnish Elite League, he had one of the highest scoring seasons ever (certainly among future NHLers). Huberdeau is experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump, playing below the level he did last season. Before the Panthers can become a competitive team, they need to shed some of the dead money left over from that Dale Tallon spending spree of 2011.
29. New York Rangers (last rank 30): Well, at least Brad Richards is not the problem, he is the best player on this team and the lone bright spot on the roster. Missing Hagelin, Callahan, and Nash is going to hurt, which begs the question: would the real Chris Kreider please stand up? What's wrong with him that he got stuck playing in the AHL to start the season? Wasn't this kid supposed to be a big deal? Saturday against Detroit he played over 18 minutes and had 3 shots, no points. They have called him up and are giving him minutes, let's see if he's got anything or if he was mostly hype. Also perhaps it should be noted that the Rangers have yet to play a game at home.
30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 29): They suck. The General Manager has to go. Lindy Ruff wasn't the problem. Trading Vanek for Moulson is not going to make this team better, but getting the 2 draft picks for a player almost certain to leave via free agency will be good long term (a few years from now). They should clean house, but there is no way that the architect of this steaming pile of shit should be the cleaner.