Monday, January 20, 2014

NHL Week 16 Power Rankings 2014

The 2013/14 NHL season is now 16 weeks old, and it is time for my bi-weekly power rankings, as we get closer and closer to the Olympic break. 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 Sunday Jan 19th. My rankings are not a matter of personal preference, I plug the standings into a simple formula and crank out a rankings list.

1. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 2): Blasting the Canucks 9-1 was great, but sadly they followed that up with a loss to Chicago. Most pundits who have seen them play say they are among the league's best, if not the best, much as they were for most of last season (when they quietly kept pace with the Blackhawks). Quack, quack, quack! Don't be surprised if Perry and Getzlaf lead Team Canada in scoring in Sochi. Silverberg is back and producing, Selanne is heating up, Bonino should finish with at least 25 goals, and Hampus Lindholm might have single handedly made the "bike test" the most important event at the combine.

2. St. Louis Blues (last rank 1): The Blues have relinquished the top spot in my Power Rankings for the 1st time since November. They are hard to score on, and they score often, with the best goal differential in the NHL. That being said, they have lost 3 of their last 5 games, and narrowly avoided their worse slump of the season by beating Detroit on Monday. They need to just go with Jaroslav Halak and be done with it. Alex Steen has returned from concussion just in time, as the offense had begun to slow down.

3. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 3): The defending Stanley Cup champions have had a target on their backs all season, and it may be starting to take its toll (despite a big victory over the Bruins on Sunday). They are 4-5 thus far in January, and it's not like this roster will be getting much of a break for the Olympics. Patrick Kane has suddenly gone cold, with just 2 PTS over his last 6 GP. Marian Hossa has carried the mail for this team over that span with 7 PTS.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4): They might as well start engraving Crosby's name on the Hart Trophy. He is the league's MVP, just like he was last year when he lost the award to a broken jaw. The Pens have won 7 of their last 10 games and have been red hot since the middle of November. The best surprise for the Pens this season has been Olli Maatta, who has played some huge minutes and scored some big goals. If they re-did the 2012 draft over again, Maatta would probably go top 10 instead of 22 (and yes, there were people at the time saying he fell way too far in that draft).

5. Boston Bruins (last rank 5): The Bruins are starting to slip, treading water instead of being their normal dominating selves. 5-5 over their last 10 games has the mighty Briuns falling back to the rest of the pack in the East. They only have a 2 point lead over Tampa Bay in the Atlantic division. Krejci and Iginla have dried up in January, as has offensive production from the blueline. They are struggling to score goals, but remain an incredibly difficult team to score on.

6. San Jose Sharks (last rank 6): Truth be told, the Sharks are probably better off having Thornton and Boyle take a vacation instead of competing in a grueling Olympic schedule. 6-2 over their last 8 is good enough to maintain their spot in the rankings (doing so without Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, and Martin Havlat). Joe Pavelski has been making his case for team MVP, as he has almost as many PTS as Marleau and Thorton combined in January.

7. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 7): Just when you think they're starting to fall to their rightful place in the standings, they win 8 of their last 10. Dammit. Their spot in the rankings is based on an unbiased formula, allowing me the freedom to proclaim my disdain for Patrick Roy and his team. I hate that they are this good. If Nathan Mackinnon does not score a single point for the rest of the season, my forecast of his scoring outcome will be exactly accurate.

8Los Angeles Kings (last rank 8): They got pushed around by the Canucks, but still won the game. For a team that plays a rough, physical style, it has to be a bit embarrassing to get pushed around by Vancouver. The Kings are 4-9 over their last 13, which isn't exactly a Stanley Cup winning pace. They have become the toughest team in the NHL to score on, but their goal scoring pace is not sufficient. Their best player has been Jeff Carter, who is scoring at solid pace heading into the Olympics.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 9): It is admirable how well this team has played without Stamkos, who is back skating with the team and getting closer to return. Marty St.Louis scored 4 goals on Saturday, but lost thanks to a Joe Pavelski natural hat trick. St. Louis has been among the league's hottest players in January, and no doubt is trying to get to the top of the list of possible Team Canada injury replacements for the Olympics. The Lightning are getting strong secondary scoring from Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, and Teddy Purcell. Stamkos could be back soon.

10. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 11): This is a team that can just as easily beat a good team as lose to a bad team. They win games they should lose, and lose games they should win. They are 4-4 in January, which is good enough to comfortably maintain their status as a playoff team, but still the team has a few problems. Lars Eller, Michael Bournival, Danny Briere, and Brandon Prust are all struggling to get on the scoreboard, so they don't have nearly the depth of offense they had earlier in the season. Fortunately Carey Price is still playing great hockey.

11. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 10): The big question in Vancouver over the past few weeks has been "when will Mount Tortorella erupt?" He was visibly frustrated as his team had struggled though the new year. They lost to LA in what was said to be a moral victory, which they followed up by getting destroyed by the Mighty Ducks. Then Saturday against Calgary Bob Hartley started his tough guys, and we finally saw a legit Tortorella temper tantrum as he chased Bob Hartley into the Calgary dressing room between periods, leading to a 2 week suspension. With the Canucks being 2-8 in their last 10, it's obvious that Torts was trying to inject some energy into this roster, but he took it way too far. Watch the video of Torts in the Flames tunnel. He's damned near out of control. I used to work at GM Place. He had to walk some distance to get to the Flames tunnel, the teams don't share a tunnel, this was not a chance encounter. What exactly did he think he was going to do? Seriously!

12. New York Rangers (last rank 20): The Rangers are healthy and starting to make some noise in the Eastern conference. 8-3 over their last 11 games is pretty good (giving them a 5 point lead on the top non playoff team). Lundqvist has found his groove, and the team is getting enough offense to win games. Rick Nash and Brad Richards are heating up, just as the rest of the forwards have started to cool down.

13. Minnesota Wild (last rank 16): With Josh Harding "adjusting his medication" and Nick Backstrom playing like shit, in comes Darcy Kuemper to save the day. We'll see how long this goaltending situation lasts when Harding returns, but the new kid is 4-1 with 7 GA in 5 GP. The Wild lost 6 straight games to end December, but now find themselves 7-2 in January, doing so without their top 2 forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu. Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter have been their 2 most productive forwards this month, while Danny Heatly has finally started chipping in (5 PTS in his last 7 GP).

14. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 23): Ever since Bobrovsky returned to the ice, the Blue Jackets have been red hot. They have won 6 in a row, and goalie Bob is starting to show up again on the nightly highlight reel. Since his return Bobrovsky is 5-0 with a 1.74 GAA and a .945 SVPCT. The battle for the wild card spots in the Eastern conference could be a dog fight, even more so with Vezina calibre goaltending in Columbus. Cam Atkinson has been their most productive offensive player this month, followed by James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, and Mark Letestu.

15. Quebec City Coyotes (last rank 12): Which NHL franchise ranks dead last in attendance by over 600 people per game? That's right, Phoenix. Being 3-7 in January, sitting comfortably outside a playoff spot is not going to help this team generate the revenue they need to stay in the desert. They cannot build that new arena in Quebec City fast enough. All this talk about "stable ownership" is a myth. If they keep bleeding money, they are gone, and that will probably be sooner rather than later.

16. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 15): It certainly did not look this way at the beginning of the season, but this is a playoff team as of right now, despite being 5-5 over their last 10 games. They aren't exactly beating top teams these days, preying instead on mid to low level competition (4 PTS up on the top non playoff team). Steve Mason has earned himself a contract extension in net, in what has been a strong season, resurrecting his career. Ironically enough, their leading scorer over their last 7 games is Andrej Meszaros with 9 PTS (recently added to my fantasy team), followed by Wayne Simmonds (8), and Scott Hartnell (7).

17Detroit Red Wings (last rank 14): Is Datsyuk really hurt, or is this just another fishing trip? 4-6 over their last 10 games, they have fallen outside a playoff spot for the 1st time this season (they are tied with Columbus for the last spot, but the Jackets have a game in hand). Missing Datsyuk, Franzen, Alfredsson, Helm, and Ericsson has been a death blow to the Red Wings. Either they get healthy, or Ken Holland needs to figure out how to be a seller at the deadline, something he has never had to do as GM. There is a lot of dead weight on this roster; it would be nice to see some of it shipped out of town for future assets.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 21): Note that shootout wins don't count in my power rankings, hence why the Leafs rank this low (there are no shootouts in the playoffs). The Leafs might be the NHL's best shootout team, which might get them into a playoff spot, but won't help them once playoffs start. They have turned their fortunes around, winning 5 in a row, thanks in large part to the Kessel, JVR, Bozak line catching fire.

19. New Jersey Devils (last rank 18): We have passed the half way mark in the seasons and the Devils find themselves in the thick of a playoff race, just 1 point out of the last wild card. They are just 3-6 over their last 9 games and will need to improve if they are indeed to make the playoffs. Somehow, someway Ryane Clowe has 9 PTS over their last 7 games played, which is nearly double the production of their next highest scorer over that span (Jagr, Henrique, and Ryder each have 5 PTS).

20. Dallas Stars (last rank 13): The Stars can score goals, but they've been having great difficulty preventing the other team from scoring. They are 1-8 in 9 games this month, and have all but guaranteed they won't make the playoffs (they currently sit 9 PTS out of the last spot). Valeri Nichushkin has slowed down again, just as he had started to earn consideration for Rookie of the Year. The goaltending just hasn't been good enough. Kari Lehtonen is the most important player on this team, but he has been far from the most valuable.

21. Ottawa Senators (last rank 19): It looks as though the Ottawa Senators may have finally turned a corner, no thanks to captain Jason Spezza, and a big thanks to the goaltending (which still has room for improvement). 6-3 over their last 9 games, they are fighting their way back towards a playoff spot. Erik Karlsson, Kyle Turris, and Clarke MacArthur have been carrying this team offensively while Bobby Ryan, Spezza, Michalek, and Zibanejad have slowed down considerably. This team needs far more secondary scoring if they are going to make the playoffs.

22. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 22): Cam Ward is injured again as Anton Khudobin takes over the primary duty in goal. The Canes are 5-3 since Khudobin took the #1 job, and are starting to get worthy consideration as a playoff contender. They might make the playoffs, but don't expect them to advance beyond the 1st round. For as disappointing as Jordan Staal and Alex Semin have been this season, Tuomo Ruutu has to win the trophy for most disappointing player on this team (43 GP, 12 PTS, -16). Justin Faulk making Team USA over Keith Yandle might be the biggest joke of the Olympic tournament.

23. Washington Capitals (last rank 17): There is currently a mess in Washington's net, with Grubauer over-taking Holtby as the team's primary gatekeeper. Then suddenly today after a few bad starts, Grubauer was sent to the minors. If they have lost faith in Holtby, they might want to acquire outside help. Although, I'm not sure that I trust George McPhee to make a good trade. The last major deal he made, F.Forsberg for M.Erat was an unmitigated disaster. They are 2-9 over their last 11 games, and I'm starting to think that McPhee could be the next General Manager to be fired.

24. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 24): They finally made the long overdue move of firing Coach Claude Noel. Paul Maurice is a great fit, and already has the Jets flying high, winning 3 in a row, outscoring their opponents 13-5 (all that without Evander Kane, arguably their best player). This teams have the pieces they need, albeit they'll need a more reliable goaltender before they can reach their deserved status. They are currently sitting 10 PTS out of a playoff spot, so making the post-season will be a difficult task; but the Canucks are in a free fall. That's the team they'll need to catch (or Minnesota, who is playing much better).

25. Nashville Predators (last rank 25): Devan Dubnyk will be a below-average replacement for Pekka Rinne, while he continues to heal from injury. At this point the Preds are pretty much out of the playoff race. They'll need to get red hot to even get a sniff. I'm not holding my breath. It's unlikely that Craig Poile even thinks this team is good enough, and might have even brought in Dubnyk with low expectations.

26. NY Islanders (last rank 28): The Islanders have started to win some hockey games, but it is too little too late. 9-3 over their last 12 games is very good, but unlikely to be enough to get close to a playoff spot. John Tavares is red hot and Thomas Vanek has finally started to return dividends. They are making a run, but it will be too little too late unless some of the contenders drop out of contention.

27. Florida Panthers (last rank 26): Word on the street is that the Panthers new owner wants to start spending to the salary cap, which could make for another Dale Tallon ridiculous spending spree. 5-8 over their last 13 pretty much eliminates them from the playoffs. Expect them to sell off whatever assets they can as they continue to build on a solid core of young players.

28. Calgary Flames (last rank 27): They are who we thought they were. We shall see how successful Brian Burke will be at purging Jay Feester's fingerprints from this roster. They are 2-11 in 13 games since Christmas, so it's not like the team has made a dramatic turnaround since Brian Burke took over as General Manager. They will sell assets at the trade deadline and get a very high draft pick.

29. North Pole Oilers (last rank 29): They shipped out Devan Dubnyk and brought in Ben Scrivens while adding Matt Hendricks. This will have little to no positive impact. It was barely a lateral move. They have lost 9 of their last 11 and have a shot at the number #1 overall pick. If you are the GM, you do whatever it takes to get Ekblad, even if it costs them Yakupov.

30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): They are playing noticeably better with new Coach Ted Nolan, but they still suck. 2-5 in January. They will sell assets and get a high draft pick.

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