Thursday, March 13, 2014

NHL 2014 Post-Olympic Power Rankings

The 2013/14 NHL season is now 21 weeks old, and it is time for my bi-weekly power rankings, 2 weeks after 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 Thursday March 13. My rankings are not a matter of personal preference, I plug the standings into a simple formula and crank out a rankings list.

1. Boston Bruins (last rank 3): The Bruins have won 7 in a row and have been the league's best team coming out of the Olympic break. They are getting balanced scoring from up and down the line-up while continuing to be a very tough team to score on. The big question before this team if they want to make another run to the finals is how much gas is left in Chara's tank. They ran him into the ground in last year's playoffs, and will be hard pressed repeating that success. Andrej Meszaros is a decent NHL player, but he's not the shutdown guy that Seidenberg was.

2. St. Louis Blues (last rank 1): Adding Ryan Miller in goal may be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Blues playoff woes. They would not theoretically face the LA Kings until the Conference finals, but they will have to make it through Chicago. The last few playoffs, Halak had been hurt and Elliot sucked. They have to hope that Miller will be the difference maker. Adding Steve Ott is also a bonus, although I'm not sure he is much of an upgrade over Chris Stewart, except that he plays center. The Blues are 6-3 since the Olympic break and over that time Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow have combined for zero points.

3. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 2): Count me among the confused as to why the Ducks would trade Penner for a late draft pick when "I-Hop" was having a very strong season and always shows up in the playoffs. Rumour has it they were clearing salary for a bigger acquisition that never materialized, and came out with a big hole to fill. They are 2-4 since the Olympic break, over which time their secondary scoring has been struggling, and they got blown out by Calgary (which we'll pretend never happened). Fortunately Getzlaf and Perry haven't skipped a beat.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4): Losing Paul Martin to injury in Sochi is a tough blow for a team already missing their best defenseman (who may not return this season). They gave up 16 goals in their first 4 games coming out of the Olympic break, but have since stopped the bleeding with a 3 game winning streak. Crosby and Malkin have combined for 18 PTS since returning from Sochi, so whatever was hurting their scoring in Russia stayed in Russia.

5. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 5): The Hawks are 3-3 coming off the break, and ironically enough were 3-3 heading into the break. Toews and Sharp have been carrying the team, while Patrick Kane has been simply okay. Chicago is in the same boat as Boston, two of the best teams who have put a lot of hard miles on the odometer over the last 400 days. Keeping everyone rested and healthy is more important than finishing in 1st place.

6. San Jose Sharks (last rank 7): It is just about time that people start talking about Joe Pavelski in Hart Trophy conversations. The Sharks are 6-2 coming out of the break, and over those games Pavelski has 12 PTS, moving up to #4 in my player rankings (last season he finished 46th in my rankings). Granted he does have a lot of help on a deep team, so declaring him the most singularly valuable to his team's success may be premature. I'm just saying, his name belongs in the conversation.

7. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 6): The Avs are 6-2 since the Olympic break, including 2 wins over Chicago. Over those 8 games, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly have combined for 24 points. This team just won't go away; Cinderella has been partying into the wee hours of the morning, long past midnight. Normally I would say something like "show me a team where Andre Benoit, Tyson Barrie, and Jan Hedja are 3 of the top 4 defensemen, and I'll show you a team that sucks". But somehow Patrick Roy has managed to turn chicken shit into chicken salad, with the help of a very talented young forward group.

8Los Angeles Kings (last rank 11): Whatever affliction that prevented the Kings from scoring goals before the Olympics has been cured. Problem solved, whatever it was. They are 7-0 since the Olympics, over which time they have outscored their opponents 25 to 11. Adding Marian Gaborik can't hurt, unless of course he gets hurt. One thing that I learned by watching the Sochi Games, is that Drew Doughty is among the top 3 defensemen on the planet.

9. Dallas Stars (last rank 14): It is impossible to predict how the Dallas players will respond to losing Rich Peverly, after a scary incident where he pretty much died on the bench and was revived in the dressing room tunnel. Right now, this is a playoff team, and they need to maintain. They added Tim Thomas to relieve Kari Lehtonen's workload down the stretch, and shortly thereafter lost their starting goalie to a serious concussion. Kari is out for the foreseeable future, and so they can thank their lucky stars that they took out that insurance policy a few days earlier.

10. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 12): 5-3 since the Olympics, the Blue Jackets have played their way into a playoff spot since Sochi (with most of their Olympians playing for Russia, who had a very disappointing quarter finals loss to Finland). As irony would have it, Artem Anisimov has been their best forward over this span. Sergei Bobrovsky has caught fire again (giving up just 8 goals in his last 6 games), which bodes well for the Jackets playoff chances.

11. New York Rangers (last rank 10): They are 3-5 since the Olympics, 2-3 with newly acquired Marty St.Louis in the line-up. They aren't exactly catching fire, and they only have a 3 point cushion on a playoff spot (Detroit has 2 games in hand). They need to start winning hockey games if we are going to consider them to be a legitimate contender. There is certainly no shortage of talent on this roster.

12. Minnesota Wild (last rank 13): The Wild are 4-3 since the Olympic break, and have finally started to get healthy (goaltending notwithstanding). Rookie sensation Darcy Kuemper has done a great job keeping his team in a playoff spot in 2014. He is 12-4-3 with a 2.25 GAA and .922 Svpct. I'm not sure they needed Mr Universe Ilya Bryzgalov as a starting goalie, but rather more for spot starts and insurance. Backstrom is out for the year and we can only assume that Josh Harding is experiencing serious medical issues.

13. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 8): I can't be the only one who thinks that Martin St.Louis is a cry baby for demanding to be traded because he was not originally named to the Olympic team. He ostensibly blackmailed Steve Yzerman to name him to the team as a replacement, and still left anyway. No wonder Yzerman looked like a miserable tortured soul every time a camera found him in Sochi, and why he quit as Team Canada's GM moments after they won the gold. This team is 2-6 since the Olympics, 1-3 with Stamkos back in the line-up. If they can't manage to turn things around soon, they could quickly find themselves outside the playoff picture.

14. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 9): The Habs are 3-5 coming out of the break, but have done so without goaltender Carey Price, who was allegedly injured at the Olympics (despite playing until the end of the tournament and never showing any sign of injury). No matter, they are still 6 points up on a playoff spot, and could probably coast into the post-season with Peter Budaj in net. They have Alex Galchenyuk back on the ice (with only 3 points in the last 8 games), and have made themselves a stronger team by adding Thomas Vanek at the deadline for a very reasonable price. That being said, they are 0-3 since adding Vanek.

15. New Jersey Devils (last rank 18): The Devils keep hanging around, and refuse to fall out of the playoff race. Adam Henrique and Patrik Elias have been red hot since the Olympic break, combining for 20 PTS in 7 games, over which span the Devils are 5-2. With the offense clicking and the goaltending continuing its strong play, they will be in the playoff hunt until the dying days of the regular season.

16. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 15): They are 3-3 since the Olympics, and simply playing .500 hockey won't be enough to take the Flyers into the post-season. With so many teams in the hunt, they need more than what they're getting. Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek are doing their jobs, but suddenly the biggest problem in Philly is keeping the puck out of their net (giving up 23 goals in 6 games since Sochi, Steve Mason playing all of those games). If the goaltending continues its collapse, costing the team a playoff spot, it will validate the opinions of many heading into the season (myself included).

17. Quebec City Coyotes (last rank 16): They are 1 point out of a playoff spot, going 4-5 since the Olympic break, and continue to have the worst attendance in the NHL. Making the playoffs and even winning a series could buy the team another season in Phoenix, otherwise they are well on their way to hitting $50M in losses and triggering the out clause of the new ownership. "Stable ownership" my ass. These guys will move the team as soon as they legally can. Take that to the bank.

18. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 17): The Leafs are 3-4 since Sochi, but sit comfortably in a playoff spot. They should not have a problem making the playoffs, thanks in large part to the Kessel, JVR, Bozak line and goalie Jon Bernier. Those 4 players are probably all co-MVPs. In the playoffs however, they will have to tighten up their team defense, as relying on good goaltending alone is seldom enough to go the distance.

19Detroit Red Wings (last rank 20): The Wings sent their best two players to the Olympics, and now both Datsyuk and Zetterberg are out with injuries. I really hope they enjoyed their Olympic experience, because those two guys should never have been there. At least Holland went out and added David Legwand at the deadline to help plug the giant hole. Unfortunately for the Wings trying to extend their lengthy playoff streak, Legwand doesn't play defense, which is where their greatest deficiency lies.

20. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 23): Two weeks out of the Olympic break in the final month of the season, the Jets sit 5 points out of the playoffs. The break seems to have cooled them off from their ridiculous hot streak. Best guess is that they finish just a few points shy of the post-season. In my personal opinion, they need a franchise goaltender, because if you need Andrej Pavelec to carry you to the promised land, he'll probably faint and fall flat on his face.

21. Washington Capitals (last rank 22): The good news for the Caps is that Kuznetsov has finally crossed the pond and signed an NHL contract, though over his first 2 games he has not registered a point. They are 3-5 since the Olympics and currently sit 3 points out of the playoffs with 2 teams on the waiting list ahead of them. Adding Jaroslav Halak to their goaltending ranks at the trade deadline may help, or it may not. They have a chance, but they are going to have to turn things around very quickly if they are going to make the playoffs again.

22. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 19): The Canes are 3-6 coming out of the Olympic break, and it is unlikely that they will make the playoffs. That has to be a huge disappointment for this franchise that has invested a lot of money on its current roster. For a team that boasts two Staals, Semin, Skinner, and Tlusty, they should have had a better season. That Stanley Cup they won in 2006 is quickly becoming but a distant memory.

23. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 21): The Canucks are in a complete nosedive, which started before the Olympics and continued after the break. They shocked the world by suddenly trading Roberto Luongo to Florida, especially since they had already traded their goalie of the future Cory Schneider. Now they are left with Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom in goal, and needless to say that my confidence in this duo is shaky at best. It made a lot of sense to trade Ryan Kesler, especially if he has become disgruntled and wants to leave at the end of his contract in 2015. However the deadline passed and he was still a Canuck, probably because the limited number of teams he was willing to report to made it difficult for Gillis to get market value for his top asset. As luck would have it, Kesler just went down to a knee injury and is going to miss time. That could help the Canucks get a lottery pick in this summer's draft.

24. Ottawa Senators (last rank 24): It is going to be difficult for Ottawa to make the playoffs, even with the addition of Ales Hemsky. I am generally a big Paul MacLean fan, but the coach was unable to get them to play at the level he did last season when they faced more adversity with injuries. The Sens sit 5 points out of the playoffs with 3 teams ahead of them vying for that last wildcard. They will probably need to go 14-3 over their remaining games to crack the post-season, and I'm not enthusiastic about their chances.

25. Nashville Predators (last rank 25): The Preds finally have their best player back on the ice, with Pekka Rinne returning from his hip ailment. Granted, don't start planning the parade route just yet, as they are 1-3 with Rinne in net since his return. They were smart to ship out David Legwand at the trade deadline, boosting their solid core of young talent. It is tough to predict how long this re-building process will last, but with studs like Weber and Rinne on the back end, it shouldn't take too long.

26. Calgary Flames (last rank 27): According to Brian Burke, this team can't spell the word "tank", as they are 4-4 coming out of the Olympic break (including a surprise blowout win against Anaheim). Burke was unable to secure the price he wanted for Mike Camalleri, so decided not to trade the pending UFA. I'm starting to wonder if Brian is any closer to hiring a new GM, a job he has maintained that he doesn't want. Yeah, okay Mr. Burke. I have a sneaky suspicion that he could end up being the longest serving "interim" GM in NHL history. We shall see.

27. NY Islanders (last rank 26): Losing John Tavares for the season was a devastating blow for the Islanders, in what was already a lost season. The worst part is that they traded their 1st round pick to bring in Vanek, which they can defer until next season (which unfortunately is the Connor McDavid draft), and they were not able to get a 1st round pick in return when they shipped Vanek off to Montreal. They have a lot of rookies in the line-up, and have a decent chance of bouncing back stronger next season.

28. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 29): It is so sad to see Ilya Bryzgalov's reign in the North Pole come to an end, but for the Oilers at least they managed to trade Ales Hemsky. I swear Hemsky has been a featured name in trade deadline speculation for the last 6 years. Their goat of the season is easily Nail Yakupov, a player that I would have already traded by now if I were General Manager of the Oilers (though had I been GM, the Oilers never would have drafted him). No matter where the ping pong balls land, these guys need to draft Aaron Eckblad, very bladly....

29. Florida Panthers (last rank 28): LOOOOOUUUUUU!!! The Roberto Luongo era in Florida has resumed, as Lou gets to go back to Florida where nobody cares about hockey or will recognize him at the grocery store. That's a much better place for Lou to be, as he escapes the goalie graveyard in Vancouver. The Panthers are 2-6 since the Olympics, where they lost Barkov and Kopecky to injury. Not that it mattered, this team was not going to make the playoffs anyways.

30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): It is hard to imagine anyone catching the Sabres in the race for last place, especially now that they have shipped Miller out of town. They traded Miller and Ott for a 1st round pick, a prospect, a later pick, and one year of Chris Stewart. That 1st rounder will be near the end of the first round. So if Ott is worth a prospect and a 3rd round pick, then for Miller they got a late 1st and 1 year of Chris Stewart. As of now the Sabres best player is Tyler Ennis, who ranks #187 in my player rankings, with Stewart coming in 2nd at #195.:

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