The 2013/14 NHL season is now 12 weeks old, and it is time for my bi-weekly power rankings. Today is the last day of the Christmas break, as we get very close to the half way mark in the season. The rankings below 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 as of Monday Dec 23th. My rankings are not a matter of personal preference, I plug the standings into a simple formula and crank out a rankings list. Then I write a blurb for each team, this week for each team I will include the player who has most exceeded expectations, and he who has most failed to meet expectations.
1. St. Louis Blues (last rank 1): The Blues have won 6 of their last 10, and are managing to maintain their status as the league's best team. Their goaltending has been decent, but needs to be better for the Blues to win a championship. Even if Elliot plays better in the regular season, he's a playoff choke artist. Jaroslav Halak has to be the man. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Alex Steen (with an honourable mention to Jaden Schwartz) and he who has most disappointed is Patrik Berglund (with an honourable mention to Magnus Paajarvi).
2. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 2): The Hawks are 6-2 in their last 8 GP, and have 7 players with double digit PTS in their last 13 GP. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Duncan Keith and he who has most disappointed is Bryan Bickel (even before the injury). It seems strange to say a recent former Norris Trophy winner is exceeding expectations, but Keith is having a truly phenomenal season, with no Stanley Cup hangover. He will be my mid-season pick for the Norris.
3. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 7): The Ducks have won 9 in a row and are probably the hottest team in the NHL (thanks in large part to Perry and Getzlaf). How many different ways can one describe how awesome those two guys have been? Both are among the top 5 players in the league. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Nick Bonino (with an honourable mention to Cam Fowler and Dustin Penner) and he who has most disappointed is Teemu Selanne (with an honourable mention to Matt Belesky).
4. Boston Bruins (last rank 4): The Bruins are 9-3 over their last 12 games and continue to be one of the league's best teams. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Reilly Smith and he who has most disappointed is Brad Marchand. Smith is their 2nd leading scorer over their last 12 GP, trailing only David Krejci in PTS over that span. When the Seguin trade happened, nobody was talking about Reilly Smith as the prized asset coming back to Boston. That was supposed to be Loui Eriksson, who is out again with his 2nd concussion of the season (despite having never been concussed prior to 2013).
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 6): Take away Malkin and the Pens top 4 defensemen, and they are still a kick ass team that is 8-2 since Malkin went down. Having Sidney Crosby producing at an elite rate can cover a lot of scars. Crosby was the best hockey player in the world for 2013, and should have won Canada's best athlete award instead of a CFL player. which is a bad joke. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Matt Niskanen and he who has most disappointed is Pascal Dupuis, who has taken a nose dive since being a top 30 player last season.
6. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 9): The Kings have gone 9-2 in December without their best goaltender, unless you think Martin Jones is better than Jon Quick. Dr. Jones is 8-1 with a 1.31 GAA and a .953 SVPCT. In the spring, those would be Conn Smythe numbers. That obviously raises the question of whether Quick is overrated based on the quality of the play in front of him, since both Scrivens and Jones have been just as awesome since he's been out. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Dwight King and he who has most disappointed is Matt Frattin.
7. San Jose Sharks (last rank 3): The Sharks have gone 5-6 in December, and have lost rookie sensation Tomas Hertl for the next several weeks. Logan Couture's production has started to dry up, which in part explains the lackluster month. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Tommy Wingels and he who has most disappointed is Matt Irwin. If your 6th defenseman is your most disappointing player, it certainly has not been a disappointing season.
8. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 5): The Avs have gone 4-7 in December, and are slowly becoming who we thought they were. I was never ready to crown their ass. The alleged magic of Patrick Roy is slowly slipping, and those of us who hate the man have to be enjoying the slow decline. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Erik Johnson (with an honourable mention to Andre Benoit) and he who has most disappointed is PA Parenteau. The charges against Simeon Varlamov have been dropped, so at least they will have their best goalie for the whole season (injury notwithstanding).
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 10): It feels like Ben Bishop deserves some kind of trophy (or perhaps a Team USA appearance) for his fantastic play this season, especially since the injury to Stamkos. The Bolts have won 6 of their last 7 GP (in those six wins they allowed 2 or fewer goals against). Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Ben Bishop (with an honourable mention to Tyler Johnson) and he who has most disappointed is Ted Purcell. Martin St.Louis has been a point per game player since the injury to Stamkos, which proves that his productivity is not dependent on their top sniper.
10. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 11): The Canucks have gone 9-2 in December, leapfrogging the Coyotes into a playoff spot with a 5 point cushion. They gained some ground on San Jose, but none on LA or Anaheim. That's life in the Pacific division. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Mike Santorelli and he who has most disappointed is Alex Burrows. Yes Burrows is on his second injury of the season, but even when he was in the line-up, he was not producing at all (3 PTS in 17 GP). An honourable mention for most disappointing is Alex Edler, he's by far a team worst -12 on a team that has scored 13 more goals than it has allowed.
11. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 8): After an impressive stretch of going 9-1 in 10 games, the Habs have followed that up by losing 4 of their last 7 GP; over which time they have scored less than 2 goals in 5 games. The offense has dried up in late December, but because of the futility of the rest of the Atlantic division, they are still comfortably in a playoff spot. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Lars Eller and he who has most disappointed is Danny Briere (with an honourable mention to Douglas Murray, who has been terrible).
12. Quebec City Coyotes (last rank 14): They might be the highest ranked team currently sitting outside of a playoff spot, care of the toughest division in hockey. Pop quiz: Which NHL team is dead last in attendance? That's right, it's still the Coyotes, drawing over 1000 fans less per game than Florida, even though Florida is the most joked about empty arena. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Rob Klinkhammer and he who has most disappointed is Mike Smith.
13. Dallas Stars (last rank 15): The Stars have been playing .500 hockey over their last 10 games, and are another highly ranked team sitting outside of the playoffs. They will need far better than .500 hockey to catch Minnesota or Colorado. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar has finally started to produce, which will help the Stars considerably. However, they will only go as far as Kari Lehtonen can take them. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Brendan Dillon and he who has most disappointed is Ray Whitney.
14. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 12): This has been a very frustrating season for Red Wings fans, and it would be nice if Mike Babcock could start showing more emotion and urgency on a daily basis (Ken Holland too). I'd like to think that the pressure of HBO's 24/7 is dragging the team down, instead of lack of talent on the blueline. Kyle Qunicey is garbage. Brian Lashoff is garbage. Jakub Kindl is garbage. Brendan Smith is not what we hoped he would be, at least not yet. Losing Ericsson for 3-5 weeks will hurt. Ericsson and Kronwall are a combined +18. Quincey, Lashoff, Kindl, and Smith are a combined -32. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Daniel Alfredsson (whose production has been far superior to the Mike Modano experiment)and he who has most disappointed is Stephen Weiss (with an honourable mention to Danny Cleary). Holland should have let Cleary walk, which is what he wanted to do before being allegedly confronted by veteran players.
15. Washington Capitals (last rank 16): The Caps have lost 4 of 6 as they continue to struggle to find their place in the elite tier of teams. Alex Ovechkin may have 30 goals, but he's also a -13 (power play goals don't count as pluses). Ovie might score a lot of goals when he's on the ice, but opposing teams also score a lot of goals when Ovie is on the ice. I've got a feeling that this is as good as the team is going to be in the near future, unlikely they will crack the top 10 this season. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Mikael Grabovski and he who has most disappointed is Martin Erat.
16. Minnesota Wild (last rank 13): The Wild have gone 3-6 over their last 9 games (including losing 3 in a row since Harding took some time off to adjust his medication). The fact that Colorado is also struggling has helped the Wild keep pace, but they are showing cracks in the armour. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Mikael Granlund and he who has most disappointed is Dany Heatley. Nino Neiderreiter started strong, but he has been slowly slipping (which gives him something in common with several other Wild players).
17. New Jersey Devils (last rank 18): They have gone 4-7 in December, which keeps them floating outside a playoff spot (1 point behind Philly and the Rangers). They may sneak into the last spot in the turtle race to make the playoffs in the East, and are closer to that than forfeiting the 1st overall draft pick. They won't finish near last, but they won't win a playoff series either. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Jaromir Jagr and he who has most disappointed is Michael Ryder.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 23): Marian Gaborik finally returned to the roster after a knee injury, scored a goal, then broke his collarbone. Ouch. This is not looking like a season of destiny for the Blue Jackets. Despite these major injuries to their best players, they have managed to maintain a 6-4 record in December and are only sitting 2 PTS out of a playoff spot nearing the half way point of the season (thanks in part to being in the weakest division in the league). They have a shot at the playoffs. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Ryan Johansen and he who has most disappointed is Mark Letestu.
19. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 21): The Flyers are 5-5 over their last 10 GP, but are still tied with the Rangers for the last playoff spot in the division. In week 6 I had Claude Giroux ranked as the 154th best player in the league, and in week 12 he is sitting in 13th place. He's back to elite status in time to earn himself a spot on the Canadian Olympic team. His early season struggles are behind him, and the Flyers will continue to fight for a playoff spot until the last day of the season. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Sean Couturier and he who has most disappointed is Zac Rinaldo.
20. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 17): What on earth happened to the Maple Leafs? After another strong start, they have lost 7 of their last 9 games. Early on the goaltending was stealing games, and the poor team defense has finally caught up with them. Phaneuf has been struggling, Kadri hasn't been the same player he was last season, and Van Reimsdyk has started to dry up. I'm not sure what the coach has to do to turn the team around, but I doubt we'll see it happen on HBO. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Mason Raymond and he who has most disappointed is David Clarkson.
21. New York Rangers (last rank 19): The Rangers have gone 4-7 in December, and can probably credit injuries to key players Callahan and M.Staal for that sub-average play. That being said, many teams have been suffering from more serious injuries and have not taken this big of a step back. It's not like the Rangers have lost a former league MVP and their top 4 defensemen like Pittsburgh. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Mats Zuccarello (with an honourable mention to Chris Kreider) and he who has most disappointed is Michael Del Zotto. As of Christmas, the Rangers are sitting outside of a playoff spot, tied yet behind the Flyers.
22. Ottawa Senators (last rank 24): With a 5-8 record in December, the Sens have not helped themselves in the Turtle race to make the playoffs in the East. Their defense has been giving up more shots and their goaltenders have been giving up more goals. How they are losing is a simple enough formula. They need to do what they did last season, which either they haven't been doing, or it hasn't been working. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Clarke MacArthur and he who has most disappointed is Milan Michalek (with an honourable mention to Cory Conacher and Craig Anderson).
23. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 20): The Canes have lost 6 of their last 7 games, but are still only 2 PTS out of a playoff spot in the feeble Metropolis division. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Andrej Sekera and he who has most disappointed is Jiri Tlusty (with honourable mentions to Jordan Staal and Alex Semin). They might make the playoffs, but if they were in any other division, this would be a lost season for Carolina.
24. Nashville Predators (last rank 25): The Preds have gone 4-7 in December, as their young goalies replacing Pekka Rhinne have begun to falter. They are now far enough out of the playoffs that they would have to win about 15 games in a row to get close, and I don't expect that to happen. This just is not their season. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is David Legwand and he who has most disappointed is Matt Hendricks.
25. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 22): It pains me to say this, but the Jets are not going to make the playoffs. The season is pretty much over. They might want to start looking for a new #1 goalie. The smart move is to fire the front office, make a bunch of moves, develop the youth, have a good draft, and start fresh next season. Going 4-7 in December didn't help. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Michael Frolik and he who has most disappointed is Zach Bogosian.
26. Calgary Flames (last rank 26): The Flames have lost 4 of their last 5 games, and continue to suck. Jay Feester has been fired, and guaranteed the owner wants Brian Burke to take over the GM job (even if Burkie is telling the truth that he doesn't want the job). We'll see what happens. Who are they going to hire that would be a better GM than Burke? Nobody. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Jiri Hudler and he who has most disappointed is Lee Stempniak.
27. Florida Panthers (last rank 28): The Panthers have gone 7-4 in December, but don't bet on them making the playoffs. It's still not enough to make up for how hard they sucked early in the season. If they can sustain this pace of play, all's the power to them. I however expect them to revert to sucking. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Scottie Upshall and he who has most disappointed is Tomas Kopecky.
28. NY Islanders (last rank 29): They have gone 3-14 over they last 17 GP, which says everything you need to know about this season on the Island. Their nose dive started around the time they traded Matt Moulson for Tomas Vanek, and near when that 30 for 30 documentary about Spano was aired. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is Kyle Okposo and he who has most disappointed is Michael Grabner (with an honourable mention to Pierre-Marc Bouchard).
29. North Pole Oilers (last rank 27): They are 2-7 over their last 9 games. Rookie head coach Dallas Eakins is clearly over his head. Fans are starting to throw their jerseys out on the ice in protest (which given the price of a jersey is a very loud statement), and the coach is scolding frustrated fans. It's a toxic situation. It was a mistake giving $6M contracts to Hall, Eberle, and Hopkins, who instead should have received Matt Duchene, Logan Couture, Claude Giroux range bridge contracts. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is David Perron and he who has most disappointed is Nail Yakupov. Hindsight being 20:20, the Oilers stole Perron from St. Louis.
30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): The Sabres are 5-5 in December, as new coach Ted Nolan struggles to turn the team around. This is a flawed roster that Darcy Regher fucked up, and now Nolan has to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. It is a futile exersize, they suck. If they lose Ryan Miller and Matt Mouslon at season's end, they will suck even more. Their player who has most exceeded expectations is nobody and he who has most disappointed could be any one of 10 guys.