11 days into the 2013 NHL season, and there are a few early surprises. My ranks are based partly on points per game, partly on goal differential. Right now the best team in the NHL is the San Jose Sharks, but it doesn't take rocket appliances to figure that one out (credit Ricky in Trailer Park boys for creating the expression "rocket appliances" in lieu of "rocket science"). It is still early, but clearly I missunderestimated a few teams in my pre-season rankings and need to adjust.
1. San Jose Sharks (pre-season rank 10): I hate to accuse any athlete of taking performance enhancing drugs with no evidence whatsoever, but it would help Patrick Marleau's re-birth make more sense. Maybe Thornton and Marleau found the fountain of youth in the extended off-season? I'm not sure what's going on, but this is the best team in the NHL right now.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (pre-season rank 8): All's well in the windy city. Marian Hossa has returned from his playoff concussion like nothing happened, Corey Crawford has played great in net, and the usual big guns have been at the top of their games. What we are seeing early this young season, is what Chicago can do when all they are firing on all cylinders.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (pre-season rank 22): I'm not sure what is the bigger story, Vinny LeCavalier being born again, Marty St. Louis continuing to dominate, or the emergence of the diminutive Cory Conacher as a NHL sniper. Thus far this team has been an unstoppable offensive juggernaut. Sami Salo has been fantastic, along with Victor Hedman and Teddy Purcell. Stamkos is Stamkos. Unless Lindback completely falls apart, this team will cruise into a top playoff spot.
4. St. Louis Blues (pre-season rank 4): They are who I thought they were, probably even a little bit better. Throw in a special talent like Tarasenko into this young talented roster, and you have a legit contender. Alex Pietrangelo might be an early candidate for the Norris trophy.
5. Boston Bruins (pre-season rank 5): They are who I thought they were, and Tukka Rask has done an excellent job replacing the departed Tim Thomas. There is plenty of buzz that Dougie Hamilton could win rookie of the year, but honestly thus far no single player has stood out for their performance. This team is winning with balanced scoring throughout their line-up. Zdeno Chara continues to be their best player.
6. Montreal Canadiens (pre-season rank 28): Colour me wrong on this team. They have been far better than I ever would have predicted, thanks in large part to Andrei Markov and Raphael Diaz, along with the youthful additions of Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. The signing of PK Subban to a very good contract should in theory only make this team better, but it will be difficult to maintain this standing.
7. Ottawa Senators (pre-season rank 16): Even without Jered Cowan, this team is still very good, and Erik Karlsson is even better. Kyle Turris is starting to show some solid returns and is starting to establish himself as an elite goal scorer. Craig Anderson has been fantastic in goal, hopefully he can avoid cooking accidents this season.
8. New Jersey Devils (pre-season rank 14): They are exceeding my expectations, though their offensive production has been very top heavy. Clarkson, Kovalchuck, and Elias are getting the job done, but it gets pretty thin after that. Marty Brodeur is still a great goalie. Despite losing Parise, they are still winning hockey games.
9. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (pre-season rank 25): I would like to check Daniel Winnik's medicine cabinet for deer antler extract. They have been a strong team ever since Bruce Boudreau took over the coaching duties, so perhaps expectations should have been higher in the pre-season. If you are the Ducks, you can't afford to lose Getzlaf and Perry to free agency, so if they cannot be resigned, they must be sold to the highest bidder.
10. NY Islanders (pre-season rank 29): Playoffs? Through their first 5 GP, 10 players had at least 3 PTS. Michael Grabner has bounced back from an off 2012, Keith Aucoin has a full-time NHL job and is making the most of his opportunity, and John Tavares is quickly becoming one of this league's elite players. They're getting respectable goaltending from Nabokov and balanced production from their entire line-up.
11. Edmonton Oilers (pre-season rank 9): Justin Schultz is proving himself worthy of all the hype last summer, Sam Gagner has rejuvanated his career, while goaltender Devan Dubnyk has been, well, wonky. They do need another veteran defenseman and possibly an exchange between the pipes before this collection of young guns can be considered a legitimate Cup contender.
12. Winnipeg Jets (pre-season rank 27): They are winning hockey games. Evander Kane is playing very good, like he's at least good enough to play in the KHL. I'm not sure if Dustin Byfuglien came to training week in shape, but at least he's putting up numbers early. There are several players who are not producing sufficient offense, which has not negatively affected this team's success. Right now Kane is the team MVP.
13. Minnesota Wild (pre-season rank 18): Right now any success this team has had can be credited to Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Dany Heatley. Ryan Suter has the worst plus/minus on the team, but who is counting? Parise has been nothing short of spectacular early this season. If this team is indeed able to make the playoffs this season, most of the credit will be going to Zach.
14. Detroit Red Wings (pre-season rank 13): The only thing keeping this team slightly above mediocrity is the outstanding play of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg (with honourable mentions to Filppila, Brunner, Kronwall, and Franzen). They are razor thin on the blueline and have been getting strong goaltending by Jimmy Howard. Perhaps they should consider adopting a 4 forwards, 1 defenseman type of system. They desperately need another horse on the blue line. In the meantime, at least it is still entertaining to watch Datsyuk highlights.
15. NY Rangers (pre-season rank 2): This team should be doing better. They got off to a slow start but are gradually picking up steam. Marian Gaborik has been great, Brad Richards and Rick Nash have been good. Del Zotto is very important to this team, and if they are going to climb in the rankings and standings, Henrik Lundqvist needs to start being Henrik Lundqvist.
16. Toronto Maple Leafs (pre-season rank 23): With an elite goaltender this could be a playoff team, but otherwise they look good enough to barely miss the playoffs, but not bad enough to get a top pick. Losing Lupul (again) hurts for sure. The question is does this team want to try to win, or do they need to demolish the team that Burke (and Nonis) built? I'm going out on a limb predicting that Rogers and Bell want to win as soon as possible.
17. Pittsburgh Penguins (pre-season rank 1): My pre-season pick to win the Stanley Cup is not playing like a champion right now. I still believe, though there are lingering doubts about their defense. The D was terrible against the Flyers last year in the playoffs, and they have not added any significant talent to the group, they even unloaded Michalek. Brandon Sutter is a big step back from Jordan Staal. How good would Crosby play if they actually put him on the ice with decent linemates? Tyler Kennedy kinda sucks, and Pascal Dupuis substantially over-achieved last season.
18. Vancouver Canucks (pre-season rank 7): They certainly are not playing like a President's trophy winner, but given the circumstances, it could be far far worse. They continue to own both goaltenders, supposedly waiting for a team to do something with a player before the execute an otherwise agreed upon trade. Luongo has played well to start the season. They should be able to get a decent return for him. Do it.
19. Los Angeles Kings (pre-season rank 3): They're not quite who we thought they were, at least not yet. Look for this rank to gradually improves as the season progresses. I'm sure these guys have been partying pretty hard for a long off-season. Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Dustin Penner have all been considerably disappointing thus far this season.
20. Phoenix Coyotes (pre-season rank 19): Maybe Shane Doan should have signed in Buffalo? It looks like the sale of the team is going to fall through, which he declared necessary for him to return to the desert. Their front line-up is producing offense, but the Mike Smith of last summer is not the same guy. That playoff run was probably a complete fluke. Mikkel Boedker is looking good early.
21. Buffalo Sabres (pre-season rank 20): Thomas Vanek has started the season like a Hart Trophy candidate, and Jason Pominville is coming along for the ride. The rest of the line-up has been unimpressive. They still feel like a team that will fight for a playoff spot, but is highly unlikely to play in the 2nd round of the playoffs.
22. Colorado Avalanche (pre-season rank 17): So let me get this straight, they backed up the Brinks truck to re-sign David Jones, but now they are going to nickel and dime Ryan O'Reilly, who is unquestionably the better player? This team is not very good, and if Gabriel Landeskog misses any significant amount of time, they could be in the Seth Jones lottery.
23. Carolina Hurricanes (pre-season rank 15): I thought they would be better than this. The forwards are playing well, but the defense is weak. Jeff Skinner and the Staal brothers have been doing their jobs.
24. Dallas Stars (pre-season rank 26): With Jamie Benn back on the roster, this team should improve. Though somehow I see this team really really wanting Seth Jones in the draft. If a team has no chance of winning a championship, is it ethically permissible for them to lose intentionally? It's a slippery slope.
25. Calgary Flames (pre-season rank 21): Their reluctance to go through a legitimate rebuild might see their future go down in flames. They have some good players, but have started the season very poorly. When Iginla is gone, Kiprusoff is gone, and everyone else is that much older; this team is going to crash hard. How soon will that happen? They will challenge for the last playoff spot, but won't be playing in the second round.
26. Nashville Predators (pre-season rank 12): Just how much do they miss Ryan Suter? Looks like it could be a lot. Shea Weber's bulging bank account certainly hasn't helped his production, going the first 5 games without a point. Right now this team is struggling to score goals. Everyone's darkhorse team last season might not even be a playoff team in 2013.
27. Philadelphia Flyers (pre-season rank 6): The futility of the Flyers has been one of the biggest stories early this season. Everyone seems to be pointing at the same reason for this bad start, bad defense. Kimmo Timmonen may no longer be what he used to be. They miss Pronger badly.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (pre-season rank 30): Put Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes, and they suck a little bit less. That being said, they will not make the playoffs.
29. Washington Capitals (pre-season rank 11): This has been an ugly start to the season. Marcus Johansson, Alex Ovechkin, and Niklas Backstrom have not been who we thought they were. Ribeiro has been the best player on the team. Neither goaltender reliable. If they want to win, they should be making offers for Luongo.
30. Florida Panthers (pre-season rank 24): They suck.