1. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 2): Goaltender Semyon Varlamov had the hottest start of any goalie in the league, arguably the early favourite to win the Vezina. Then he was arrested for assault and kidnapping, released from custody to rejoin the team, then put right back in net. I'll trust Patrick Roy to do the right thing for his team. He has more than enough experience with domestic abuse, and I'm sure he has lots of helpful advice for his young goaltender. There is a rumour out there that Steve Downie was traded because he had relations with Varlamov's girlfriend, and that alleged affair is allegedly what prompted the alleged domestic assault. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Matt Duchene, 2) Paul Stastny, 3) the goalies (both of them). Giguere has played 5 games and let in only 5 goals.
2. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 5): Much like last season, the Ducks have started among the elite, earning rave reviews from the pundits who have watched them. Perry and Getzlaf are both going to Sochi and probably belong in the MVP conversation. They already had a crowded goalie situation, now this Frederik Andersen has emerged with 6 GP, 1.41 GAA, .952 SVPCT. Any team out there who needs a goalie is probably calling Anaheim first, since they seem to have 4 NHL ready goaltenders. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Ryan Getzlaf, 2) Corey Perry, 3) the goalies. Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin are a combined +32. This season has also seen improved play from Cam Fowler, who just happens to be on my fantasy team (I own 4 Ducks, so much so that I could call my team Duck Dynasty)
3. St. Louis Blues (last rank 3): The Blues have won 6 of their last 7 games and are looking great, even if only 1 of those wins was against a team currently sitting in a playoff spot. Brian Elliot has started to find his way back into the net and is winning hockey games, but Halak still has to be their man. By my best guess, there is probably a 90% chance that either Chicago or St.Louis will win this division and advance to the conference finals. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Alex Steen, 2) Alex Pietrangelo, 3) David Backes. It is unreal how good Alex Steen has been.
4. San Jose Sharks (last rank 1): The Sharks started their season with 6 straight wins, and now have lost 5 in a row. They haven't won since October 27th. It is deja vu all over again. We have seen this team run hot and cold in the past, and we are seeing the same thing unfold yet again. At the end of the day, when you add up the winning streaks and losing streaks, there is too much production on this roster to keep them out of the playoffs. Expect Logan Couture to be playing on the Canadian Olympic team. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Joe Pavelski, 2) Logan Couture, 3) Tomas Hertl.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 13): The Champs have won 6 of their last 7 games, and are starting to play like Champions again. This is a team that nobody wants to play, even if they have put their jaw dropping winning streaks behind them. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Jonathon Toews, 2) Patrick Sharp, 3) Patrick Kane. It should be noted that Keith and Seabrook are also playing well, and I would like to see both of them on the Canadian Olympic team.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 7): Tampa has quietly won 7 of their last 8 games, including their last 4 in a row, and have climbed to the top of a very tough division. Steve Stamkos is scoring goals at a phenomenal rate. With this kind of offense and better than average goaltending, the Lightning become a scary team. Jesus Christ, if the Lightning are going to be this good, that makes 6 playoff quality teams in the Atlantic division. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Steven Stamkos, 2) Ben Bishop, 3) Martin St.Louis.
7. Boston Bruins (last rank 4): It is entirely possible that we are seeing the beginning of the end of Zdeno Chara. He's not the same guy after all that ice he logged in last season's playoffs. The Bruins are getting mixed performances, going 4-4 in their last 8, and over that time have scored more than 3 goals once (against Florida). But so long as they are tough to score on, they will float near the top of the conference (they have allowed more than 3 goals just once in 16 games, and have allowed less than 3 goals in 11 games). If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Tuukka Rask, 2) Milan Lucic, 3) David Krejci.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 9): They won 4 in a row, then lost 3 in a row, then won 4 in a row, and now have lost 2 in a row. Both their wins and losses seem to come in bunches. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Sidney Crosby, 2) MA Fleury, 3) Chris Kunitz. Former Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin is playing decent, but he's not playing at a MVP level. James Neal is back on the ice, and should help boost Malkin's production once he gets back in game shape. I'm going to estimate an 85% probability that the Pens represent the Metropolis division in the conference finals.
9. Minnesota Wild (last rank 11): They have won 7 of 9 and are once again riding Ryan Suter like a plow horse, but hey if it works, why not? Mike Yeo is probably more worried about his job right now than to concern himself with how much gas Suter has left in the tank for the last 12 years of the contract. If they run him into the ground too soon, there is going to be a lot of dead money on that contract. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Zach Parise, 2) Ryan Suter, 3) Josh Harding. The Wild will make the playoffs, but how far they go depends a lot on the endurance and stamina of their workhorse defenseman.
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 6): Losing Bozak and Bolland is a devastating blow to a high octane offense, mainly because it leaves the team very weak at center. If they can maintain a .500 record without the guys who took 65% of their face-offs, that should be considered a victory. So far they have a losing record in November, and David Clarkson has started to draw criticism in the Toronto media for a lack of production since he rejoined the team (even though you shouldn't set the bar too high for Clarkson offensive production). . If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Phil Kessel, 2) the goalies, 3) James Van Reimsdyk. Both Bernier and Reimer have been fantastic, despite facing a lot of rubber.
11. Quebec Coyotes (last rank 10): The Coyotes are dead last in attendance. If the new owners lose $50M they can sell the team to the highest bidder. They are projected to lose that much money right around the same time as they finish building the new arena in Quebec City. I'm just going to start calling them the Quebec Coyotes now and am demanding that they put a debt clock (or death clock) outside the arena to let us know when they hit the magic number. The team has been playing very well, not that anyone in Phoenix gives a shit. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Keith Yandle, 2) Oliver Ekman-Larsson, 3) Mike Smith.
12. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 14): The Kings are making due in a difficult division, and had a strong 5-1 win over the Canucks on Saturday. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Anze Kopitar, 2) Mike Richards, 3) Drew Doughty. Jon Quick isn't being the best that he can be, but he's also not playing bad. The Kings have not reached their true potential yet this season, but they are getting there. Tyler Toffoli has 5 PTS in 3 GP since being recalled from the minors, which makes up for the struggling Jarret Stoll, who missed Saturday's game with an undisclosed upper body injury.
13. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 8): Something is not right in Montreal. I do truly believe that Michel Therien is one of the worst coaches in the NHL and only got the job because they wanted a francophone. They are starting to show signs of weakening, despite the excellent play of the Gallagher-Galchenyuk-Eller line (who have slowed down after a red hot start). Desharnais and Rene Bourque are not playing to their full potential under Therien. Maybe they don't like playing for an asshole coach. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) PK Subban, 2) Carey Price, 3) Tomas Plekanec.
14. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 15): It would be helpful if they could get production from somebody not named Datsyuk or Zetterberg (or to a lesser extent Alfredsson). Getting Darren Helm back in the line-up is great, as he is a very important role player. Like the Pens, the Wings have been very streaky. They won 4 in a row, then lost 4 in a row, then won 3 in a row, and have now lost 3 in a row. Fortunately they have been good at pushing their losses to overtime, so they are getting enough loser points to stay above the playoff line. Otherwise, it has only been an impressive season for a select few of their players. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Pavel Datsyuk, 2) Henrik Zetterberg, 3) Niklas Kronwall.
15. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 12): Brad Richardson and Mike Santorelli have greatly exceeded everyone's expectations. They are getting strong goaltending from Luongo, and haven't appeared to miss a beat since trading Schneider. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Henrik Sedin, 2) Ryan Kesler, 3) Daniel Sedin. Clearly the Sedin twins are still among the league's best players, and so is Kesler. If they keep getting this kind of high end production from their best forwards and opportunistic scoring from depth forwards, the Canucks should comfortably make the playoffs. Or maybe we'll see what happens when Kesler gets injured.
16. Ottawa Senators (last rank 19): Goalie Craig Anderson is injured again (expected back soon), but where last season he was the early Vezina favourite when he went down, so far this season he has a 3.14 GAA and is playing worse than Robin Lehner (2.38 GAA). The Sens might be a better team without Anderson. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Bobby Ryan, 2) Robin Lehner, 3) Erik Karlsson. An honourable mention also has to go to Kyle Turris, who is producing more than a point per game through 6 weeks. Ryan, Turris, and Clarke MacArthur are a combined +34. It's the rest of the forwards that are the problem.
17. Washington Capitals (last rank 23): Once again the Capitals started out slow and have begun to pick up steam. They are stone cold assassins on the power play, but struggle 5 on 5. They are a darkhorse threat to win any given game with their high end talent, but seem to have no problem losing games to non-playoff teams. They are a bit of an enigma, but staying out of the penalty box is one way to beat them. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Alex Ovechkin, 2) Nicklas Backstrom, 3) Mikhail Grabovski.
18. New York Rangers (last rank 29): Looks like the Rangers are finally starting to climb out of the cellar, now that they are actually getting some home games. The bad start might have been due to playing the first month on the road. They have now won 6 of their last 7 games, despite still missing some big names to injury. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Brad Richards, 2) Derek Stepan, 3) Ryan McDonagh. Henrik Lundqvist, a key cornerstone of this team has finally started to stabilize. They need Nash back, but Zuccarello, Kreider, and Hagelin have been pulling up the slack the last 2 weeks.
19. Dallas Stars (last rank 24): They just had a 3 game winning streak snapped by the Chicago Blackhawks, and still find themselves 6 points out of a playoff spot. They need sustainable winning if they are going to shoot up into the playoffs, and they need Kari Lehtonen to stay healthy. Should their goalie miss any significant chunk of time this season, they are done. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Jamie Benn, 2) Tyler Seguin, 3) Kari Lehtonen. Rookie sensation Alex Chiasson (my pre-season Calder pick) has started to cool down, but Benn and Seguin are effectively carrying the load. Erik Cole is an embarrassment, and I'm sure that trade had to be at least 30% of the reason that Joe Nieuwendyk got fired.
20. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 22): I watched Chicago decisively whip their asses on Wednesday night, where the Jets got owned; however they picked up an impressive win Sunday against San Jose. Al Montoya had started to playing well, before he got decimated by the champs. Since then, Pavelec has won 2 in a row. I have Claude Noel in the "next coach to get fired" pool, though there are problems with this roster that are not the coach's fault. Noel might have bought himself a little time with the win over San Jose. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Bryan Little, 2) Andrew Ladd, 3) Dustin Byfuglien. I'm not sure why, but it looks like Evander Kane is slowly getting a little bit worse every week. He ranked as the 2nd best skater in week 2, and is now ranked 53rd in week 6.
21. New Jersey Devils (last rank 25): They might have lost their first 7 games in a row, but clearly they aren't that bad (nor are they any good). They are 5-5 over their last 10 games. Over his last 4 starts, Martin Brodeur has given up 2 goals, with back to back shutouts. Clearly Marty isn't planning to fade to black, he wants to keep playing and winning. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) the goalies, 2) Jaromir Jagr, 3) Marek Zidlicky. Damien Brunner has dropped nearly 100 spots in the player rankings every 2 weeks. He started off quickly scoring a few goals, but he's fading fast.
22. Nashville Predators (last rank 20): The Predators are 3-4 since Pekka Rinne's last start, and it hasn't been pretty. This doesn't have the feel of a playoff team, so they may want to give Rinne extra time to make sure he heals, and hopefully struggle while he's out to get a top draft pick. I'm not so sure when this team is ready to be competitive, but clearly 2012 was their year to make a run in the playoffs. They might have been a prospective team of destiny back then before losing Suter, but now their destiny is bleak. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) David Legwand, 2) Patric Hornqvist, 3) Shea Weber.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 21): Where have you gone Alex Semin, millions of dollars turn their lonely eyes to you. He got that fat long term contract, now I think we are starting to see shades of the unpopular teammate in Washington. For the first time in a few years, he's not playing with an expiring contract, he got paid. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Jeff Skinner , 2) Eric Staal, 3) Nathan Gerbe. Since the injury to Cam Ward, replacement Justin Peters has been decent (.915 SVPCT 2.51 GAA), putting up better numbers than Ward in the same number of games. Speaking of disappointing long term contracts, what the *bleep* has happened to Jordan Staal? 4 PTS in 17 GP for $6M? I'm not sure, but Kirk Muller might be a good pick-up in the "next coach to be fired" pool.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 17): Perhaps Sergei Bobrovsky has not been in Vezina form, but that doesn't mean you start Curtis McIllheney between the pipes (even with a .931 SVPCT and 1.97 GAA). Maybe you want to send a message to your number one guy, but McIllheney sucks and does not give you a better chance to win. Don't get cute. Play the defending goalie of the year. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Brandon Dubinsky, 2) James Wisniewski, 3) Ryan Johansen. They need more from Gaborik, Anisimov, and Letestu if they are going to get to where they need to be.
26. Calgary Flames (last rank 16): Since Karri Ramo has returned to the NHL, he has been as shitty as the goalie he was when he left the NHL, if anything shittier. Joey MacDonald was sent to the minors, and early returns from Reto Berra have been mixed. None of their 3 goalies has a SVPCT over .900 or a GAA below 3.15. They might all suck. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Jiri Hudler, 2) Sean Monahan, 3) Mike Cammalleri. Hudler has 19 PTS in 17 GP, which is 8 more PTS than the Flames second leading scorer. They have struggled without Giordano, and currently have Dennis Wideman carrying the load to the tune of 27.5 minutes per game.
27. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 26): Who loses their job first, replacement coach Craig Berube or long-time general manager Paul Holmgren. Clearly something is wrong. This team should not be this bad. It's really hard to pick 3 stars for this bunch of losers, but if I had to pick 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Steve Mason, 2) Brayden Schenn, 3) Vincent LeCavalier. It took 5 weeks for Claude Giroux to get his 1st goal, but at least now he has it. He may have played himself off of Canada's Olympic team, but still has a month to earn a roster spot. I did consider the idea of putting Ray Emery as the 3rd star as a joke, I just don't think that joke is very funny (like when Philly picked Emery as the 3rd star when he played like shit then beat-up Braden Holtby)
28. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 27): This team really sucks. Nail Yakupov is perilously close to the "Alexandre Daigle zone", where he can be exciting for flashes, but generally is not a very effective player. But don't you worry, about a thing, because every little thing is gonna be alright; Ilya Bryzgalov is coming to town. The Universe is big and our galaxy is so small. The world has it's problems, and those problems are small compared to our galaxy. Don't worry, be happy. We shall see if the philosopher poet inspires better play from his teammates in front of him. There are rumours that Eberle might be traded to Philly, but I'll believe that when I see it. Then again, Eberle has a fat new contract, and might not be worth the price for a team like Edmonton. The smart money says Yakupov is gone over Eberle, but Nail still has a relatively small entry level salary. If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter, it would be: 1) Jordan Eberle, 2) Mark Arcobello, 3) David Perron. There is a good chance that Justin Schultz was overrated early, as he looks to be drifting into the "Andy Delmore zone".
29. Florida Panthers (last rank 28): They have the worst goal differential in the NHL on a per game basis; with both trouble scoring and trouble stopping goals. They have lost 12 of their last 13 games. Their problem goes far beyond the coaching staff, which has recently been replaced. If the new owner is demanding winning and is willing to fire front office officials, Dale Tallon won't have a job much longer. This team sucks. They should be the worst team in the league (which only speaks to how brutal Buffalo is). If I had to pick their 3 stars for the 1st quarter of this crappy team, it would be: 1) Tomas Fleischmann, 2) Marcel Goc, 3) the owner.
30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): Connor McDavid "the next one" is playing just an hour down the road in Erie. If the Sabres can continue to be the worst team in the league through to next season, there will be a big prize waiting in the draft lottery. Perhaps the best thing to do if they want to take a run at Connor McDavid is to let Darcy Regier keep his job as GM. We already know he sucks at building a winner, so let him sink the ship, then fire him the day he drafts McDavid. If I had to pick 3 stars for the 1st quarter of this steaming piece of shit, it would be: 1) Moulson/Vanek, 2) Cody Hodgson, 3) the mascot. Moulson has been producing at the same rate as Vanek, so just interchange the roster spot for team MVP. The team sucks, the goalies haven't been playing much better. Miller has a 3.40 GAA.