Tuesday, February 11, 2014

NHL 2014 Pre-Olympic Power Rankings

The 2013/14 NHL season is now 19 weeks old, and it is time for my bi-weekly power rankings, as we have reached 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 the last day before the Olympic break. My rankings are not a matter of personal preference, I plug the standings into a simple formula and crank out a rankings list.

1. St. Louis Blues (last rank 2): The Blues reclaim the number one spot mostly due to poor play by the Mighty Ducks, and they are sending 9 players to the Olympics (Bouwmeester, Pietrangelo, Tarasenko, Halak, Berglund, Steen, Backes, Oshie, Shattenkirk).They are 6-2 over their last 8 games, with half of those games going to a shootout. They're an excellent shootout team (winning 70%), but there are no shootouts in the playoffs. That being said, shootout wins count as ties in my rankings, so they have earned this spot in my power rankings mostly on the strength of goal differential.

2. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 1): The Ducks lost 4 of 6 games heading into the Olympic break with 7 players going to Sochi (Getzlaf, Perry, Selanne, Vatanen, Silverberg, Hiller, Fowler). They have been struggling in the absence of Nick Bonino, who should return after the Olympics. They'll need their secondary scoring to pick up again after the break, as we have seen the team struggle without it.

3. Boston Bruins (last rank 5): The Bruins head into the Olympic break 7-2 over their last 9 games, with 5 players heading to Sochi (Bergeron, Krejci, Rask, Chara, Eriksson). They have been red hot, thanks to great play from Krejci, Lucic, Iginla, and Marchand. It is still my contention that Lucic should have made Team Canada, he is such a feared player with great size and skill. He is the best power forward in the NHL. You need a few on those on every good team.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4): The Pens have won 6 of 10 games heading into the break and are sending 7 players to Sochi (Kunitz, Crosby, Jokinen, Maatta, Malkin, Martin, Orpik). The shocking news is that Kris Letang has suffered a stroke and is expected to be out at least 6 weeks; hopefully he suffers no permanent damage (as strokes can do). He is a big part of their future and they need him healthy to maximize their offensive output.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 3): The Hawks have lost 6 of 9 heading into the break, and if you think they need some time off, they are sending 10 players to Sochi (Sharp, Toews, Keith, Rozsival, Handzus, Hossa, Kruger, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Kane). It's tough to say if the Hawks eased up on the gas peddle heading into the Games. They played until late June, and are now in a compressed schedule with half their team heading into a compressed Olympic tournament. How much will this team have left in the gas tank when the playoffs start?

6. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 7): The Avs are 6-4 in their last 10 heading into the break, with 4 players going to Sochi (Duchene, Landeskog, Varlamov, Stastny). It's possible that Nathan MacKinnon has clinched the Calder Trophy with 10 PTS over the last 2 weeks, and I now have him rated as the 34th best skater in the NHL this season. There is also little doubt that Patrick Roy will be a serious contender for Coach of the year, as much as it pains me to admit it. They have been the biggest surprise in the NHL this season, as they sucked really bad last year (enough to get the first pick).

7. San Jose Sharks (last rank 6): The Sharks have lost 4 of their last 7 (including loses to Edmonton and Calgary) heading into the break, with 4 players going to Sochi (Marleau, Vlasic (ridiculous), Niemi, and Pavelski). It's probably better for the team that Thornton and Boyle are getting some time off in the middle of the season. Infact it would probably be better for them if Marleau got some time off too, instead of going to Sochi with just 2 PTS in his last 7 GP. Pavelski will play for Team USA having scored just 1 point in his last 7 GP. It's a joke that Vlasic made Team Canada, all because he's a left hand shot.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 9): They have been playing .500 hockey over their last 10 games heading into the break, with 5 players going to Sochi (St.Louis, Palat, Gudas, Panik, Salo). Stamkos did everything he could to return to the ice in time for the Olympics, but lucky for Yzerman the doctors took the decision out of his hands. Leg wasn't fully healed, he can't play, end of story. Contrary to popular belief, St. Louis has not been the hottest Canadian player in the league over the last 3 weeks. That honour goes to Claude Giroux, who should be on Team Canada.

9. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 10): The Habs have won 5 of their last 7 games heading into the break, with 6 or 7 players heading to Sochi (Price, Subban, Plekanec, Emelin, Markov, Budaj, and maybe Pacioretty depending on health). PK Subban has cooled off considerably lately, so the Habs have to hope that he find his mojo in Russia. More so they need Galchenyuk to get healthy and for the EGG line to rediscover that magic they had going earlier in the season. Eller has been a huge disappointment over the last 2 months.

10. New York Rangers (last rank 12): This team is red hot, which makes the timing of the break very inconvenient. The Rangers have won 8 of their last 11 heading into the break, sending 7 players to Sochi (Nash, Zuccarello, Hagelin, Lundqvist, Callahan, Stepan, McDonagh). Rick Nash caught fire after being named to Team Canada, but hasn't scored a point over his last 5 games. The Rangers MVP might be Zuccarello, who will be the only NHLer on Team Norway.

11Los Angeles Kings (last rank 8): The Kings have lost 9 of their last 11 heading into the break, sending 6 players to Sochi (Carter, Doughty, Voynov, Kopitar, Brown, Quick). The Kings are having a mighty difficult time scoring goals, but their collapse has been overshadowed in their division if not for the more spectacular collapse by the Canucks. It's bad in LA. Over the last 6 games, Koptiar has 6 PTS, Carter has 4 PTS, while Richards, Williams, Stoll, King, Brown, Clifford, Lewis, Nolan have combined for just 1 point over those same 6 games.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 14): They are probably the best team sitting outside of a playoff spot. The Blue Jackets are 5-5 over their last 10 heading into the break, with 4 players heading to Sochi (Anisimov, Nikitin, Tyutin, Bobrovsky) all of them playing for Russia. Hopefully for the BJs, their Russians bond in Sochi and take that spirit back to Ohio in a few weeks. Their team MVP looks like it will be Ryan Johansen, although the team will only go as far as Sergei Bobrovsky will take them.

13. Minnesota Wild (last rank 13): The Wild have gone 6-4 over their last 10 games heading into the break, with 4 players heading to Sochi (Parise, Suter, Granlund, and Niederreiter). Parise has been excellent since his return from injury (9 PTS in 7 GP), but the Wild still need Mikko Koivu back before they return to full strength. It's difficult to judge what will happen in goal, with Josh Harding not playing since December with a setback in his fight with MS. Darcy Kuemper has been carrying the load, but I'm not sure he can take a team on a playoff run.

14. Dallas Stars (last rank 20): The Stars have won 6 of their last 9 games before the break, squeezing into a playoff spot, with 3 players heading to Sochi (Benn, Lehtonen, and Nichushkin). They can thank the collapse of the Canucks for a playoff spot opening up, but Benn and Seguin also deserve a lot of credit for carrying their offense. They have also been getting better goaltending, which they sorely need. I often say that Kari Lehtonen is their most valuable player, even if he's not their best player.

15. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 16): The Flyers carry a 4 game winning streak into the break with 5 players heading to Sochi (Raffl, Voracek, Timonen, Meszaros, Streit). They should be sending more players to Sochi, but sadly Claude Giroux is going to get some vacation time. There are many reasons that I would have taken Giroux over St.Louis, the biggest being that Claude should be on the next 3+ Team Canadas, where St.Louis is near the end of his career. Marty will be good for team chemistry, but Giroux should be there.

16. Quebec City Coyotes (last rank 15): Heading into the Olympic break, can you guess which team continues to be dead last in NHL attendance (by about 800 people per game)? That's right, the Coyotes. The question is how soon until they are allowed to relocate to Quebec? Seattle just won a Super Bowl, maybe they are finally ready to build a new arena for hockey and basketball? I don't even care to look up their record heading into the break, but Quebec/Seattle will be sending 5 players to Sochi (Smith, Hanzal, Michalek, Korpikoski, E-Larsson).

17. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 18): 7-3 over their last 10 games has the Leafs sitting comfortably in a playoff spot heading into the break, with 3 players going to Sochi (Kessel, JVR, Kulemin). I would still rank them as the 2nd worst team sitting in a playoff spot (behind Detroit), and they are going to have to tighten up their team defense if they are going to win a playoff series. I don't know if you have heard, but Tim Gleason blocks shots (if you did not know that, you have not been listening to Toronto sports talk). Phil Kessel has the most points in the NHL in 2014, and has a comfortable lead over #2. I have Phil ranked as the 11th best player in the NHL this season.

18. New Jersey Devils (last rank 19): The Devils have lost 5 of their last 7 games heading into the break, and will be sending 4 players to Sochi (Elias, Jagr, Zidlicky, Brunner), mostly for Team Czeck. Corey Schneider has taken over the #1 job in New Jersey, and has been playing great in this new year, enough so that Brodeur has been talking about a trade again. Henrique, Zubrus, and Ryder have dried up again, with Jagr continuing to be their best skater, by far.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 22): They have won 6 of their last 9, jumping a few spots heading into the break, with 4 players heading to Sochi (Ruutu, Semin, Sekera, Faulk). Both the Staal brothers have an extended vacation, hopefully they won't be attending any weddings. Anton Khudobin has started the last 17 consecutive games for the Canes (over which time they are 11-6), and this coming despite a decrease in offensive output (their hottest scorer over the last 6 games has been Skinner with 4 PTS).

20Detroit Red Wings (last rank 17): The Red Wings currently own the honour of being my lowest ranked team currently sitting in a playoff spot. They have gone 7-7 without Datsyuk during his latest injury stretch, but he came back just in time to go play for Russia. As a Wings fan, this bothers me. If he was hurt that bad, he shouldn't go. Or were they easing him back super slow to give him some time off before the start of a hectic schedule? The Wings are sending 10 players to Sochi (Datsyuk, Jurco, Tatar, Alfredsson, Nyquist, Zetterberg, Ericsson, Kronwall, Gustavsson, Howard) 6 guys playing for Sweden.

21. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 11): The Canucks have gone 2-8 since the Torterella suspension, so obviously the little stunt did have the "allegedly" desired motivational impact. They will be sending 7 players to Sochi (D.Sedin, Hamhius (makes me puke), Luongo, Edler, Diaz, Weber, Kesler). As a resident of Vancouver I spend a lot of time listening to the local Sportstalk radio station. Canuck Nation is in full blown crisis mode right now. The calls for Gillis head on a spike are getting louder...

22. Washington Capitals (last rank 23): They have won 5 of their last 8 games (after a 7 game losing streak, totalling 10 losses over their last 15 games) and will be sending 5 players to Sochi (Ovechkin, Backstrom, Johansson, Carlson, Erat (makes me puke)). They are among 5 teams in the East who are within 3 PTS of a playoff spot. They are still in the race, but it won't be easy. Can they send Holtby to the minors during the break? If they could, they should. They're going to need that kid to be all that he can be.

23. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 24): When the Jets fired Claude Noel, the outlook on the rest of the season was very bleak, but now they are 9-4 under their new coach and sit 2 points out of a playoff spot heading into the break, sending 4 players to Sochi (Frolik, Pavelec, Jokinen, Wheeler). They will need a healthy Evander Kane to make the playoffs, but if the Canucks and Kings continue to suck, the playoffs will stay wide open in the West.

24. Ottawa Senators (last rank 21): The Sens are 5-5 heading into the break with just 2 players heading to Sochi (Michalek, Karlsson). Tough to say whether this many players with that much time off will help or hurt Ottawa. Bobby Ryan might only have 3 PTS (C.MacArthur just 1) over the last 7 games, but the good news is that Jason Spezza has 10 PTS over that same span. If they can get both their scoring lines going at the same time, look out for the Senators. They currently sit 1 point out of a playoff spot.

25. Nashville Predators (last rank 25): The Preds have only won 4 of their last 10 games heading into the break, but thanks to the Canucks/Kings collapses they are within sniffing distance of a playoff spot. Their whole team (minus Weber and Josi) will get an extended vacation before the final push. The Preds currently sit 4 PTS out of the last playoff spot, so don't be surprised if they are not sellers at the trade deadline, and keep David Legwand. I'm sure if somebody offers them a top prospect for a washed up forward, they'll take it in a heart beat (see Filip Forsberg for Martin Erat).

26. NY Islanders (last rank 26): Just when things were starting to look good for the Islanders, they have suddenly lost 7 of their last 8 games and are all but eliminated from the playoffs. They are sending 3 players to Sochi (Tavares, Grabner, Vanek). They sit 12 points back of the last playoff spot, and have no chance of catching it. Their best move is to trade off expiring assets and build for next season. Bryzgalov might be a nice fit in Long Island next year. Nabokov has to be near the end of his career.

27. Calgary Flames (last rank 28): The Flames have won 6 of their last 8 games (with wins over San Jose and Chicago) heading into the break, and are sending 2 players to Sochi (Berra and Smid). The best they can do down the stretch is play spoiler, but otherwise this is a lost season. Mikael Backlund has been sensational over the last 2 weeks, scoring 8 PTS in their last 6 games. Lee Stempniak is also back from the dead and producing offense.

28. Florida Panthers (last rank 27): They are 2-6 over their last 8 games heading into the break, with 2 players going to Sochi (Barkov and Kopecky). I recently had a weird dream where I met Jacob Markstrom at a hockey rink, and he was a 12 year old kid who had been demoted back to minor hockey. He might be a wiff as an NHL prospect. Barkov is definitely the real deal.

29. North Pole Oilers (last rank 29): The Oilers have won 5 of their last 7 games heading into the break, with 3 players heading to Sochi (Hemsky, Belov, and Marincin). Eberle has been ice cold, but Taylor Hall is scoring points. They're better off to lose hockey games and increase their probability of landing Aaron Eckblad in the draft.

30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): They are 2-11 over their last 13 games, which can't look good on Ted Nolan's resume if he's seeking the head coaching job full-time. The Sabres will be sending 4 players to Sochi (Girgenson, Tallinder, Enroth, Miller). They suck.

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