Wednesday, April 16, 2014

NHL 2014 Final Regular Season Power Rankings

The 2013/14 NHL season is almost over, and it is time for final power rankings of 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 Thursday April 10. 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 1): They are the best team in the NHL and how far they go in the playoffs depends greatly on the stamina of Zdeno Chara. They will face the Red Wings in the first round, which for as good as Detroit has looked in recent weeks, should not scare Bruins fans (despite the Bruins going 1-3 against Detroit this season). Detroit doesn't have the muscle to match the physicality of the Bruins, but perhaps their puck possession game can give Boston problems.

2. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 3): They finished as the best in the West, which affords them the right to play Dallas, avoiding San Jose and LA until round 2. This team has risen to the top on the backs of Perry, Getzlaf, and whatever goaltender they happen to play any given day. Their dynamic duo is a handful, with a respectful supporting cast that can contribute goals when needed. They should not have a problem beating Dallas

3. St. Louis Blues (last rank 2): The Blues had some struggles in April that have set them on a collision course with Chicago in the first round of the playoffs. The Blues have suffered through a pandemic of injuries (Backes, Oshie, Sobotka, and Berglund are all questionable for round 1) but only needed a win on the last game of the season to secure a better first round match-up. The Blues won the season series 3-2, but this playoff match could come down to who is the healthiest.

4. San Jose Sharks (last rank 6): With a first round match-up against the Kings, the road to the Stanley Cup is going to be a perilous journey for the Sharks, who welcome rookie phenom Tomas Hertl back to the ice after a long absence. If they manage to beat the Kings, they'll likely have to face Anaheim in round 2. They'll likely have to beat a top contender in every round the playoffs to get the finals, which is no easy path to follow.

5. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 7): I would love to see any and all preseason predictions from around the hockey Universe to see is anybody predicted the Avs to finish as the 5th best NHL team this season. They won a very difficult division, thanks largely to Chicago and St.Louis struggling down the home stretch, especially with injuries. I'm not sure how the Avs managed to pull this off. It's possible that Patrick Roy sold his soul Devil in exchange for one great season, but the only problem with that theory is that I'm not sure Patrick had a soul to sell...

6. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 5): The season ended without either of their best forwards, Kane and Toews, and as such they slid out of the elite tier. Both are said to be ready (if not healthy) for the playoffs, but will be in tough against the Blues. This match will feature 2 of the best bluelines in hockey, with Duncan Keith being my favourite to win the Norris Trophy. It could be a quick post-season for the Hawks, which may not be a bad thing. No modern roster can handle going to the finals every year.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 4): Letang is back, just in time to give the Pens a big boost heading into the playoffs where they will face the Columbus Blue Jackets. Expect the Pens to throttle the BJs, where Bobrovsky has struggled this season against the Mighty Pens offense. Pittsburgh swept the season series 5-0, where they outscored the BJs 16-7. Malkin will be back, but all eyes will be on MA Fleury, to see if he can mentally keep his shit together if he lets in a bad goal.

8Los Angeles Kings (last rank 8): They just aren't the same team without Drew Doughty. If he's back and even remotely healthy for the playoffs, the Kings are dangerous. If he's hurt, they're *bleeped*. The good people at TSN just told me that the Kings are the best Corsi team, so that has to make them the darlings of the hockey analytics community. I say this team's fate is directly tied to the left shoulder of their best defenseman, who is questionable for game 1. (Note: Doughty is probably a big reason why LA ranked so high in goal differential and CORSI).

9. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 13): Don't expect much from the Lightning in the playoffs, unless you get confirmation of a healthy Ben Bishop. He is the whole key to this team's success, especially after losing their heart and soul Marty St.Louis. It's true that Anders Lindback has played well as his replacement, and that Latvian goalie who nearly made Canadians everywhere collectively shit their pants during the Olympics is always sitting there as an option. Still, for me the edge goes to Montreal.

10. New York Rangers (last rank 11): The Rangers are always a team that can win any given playoff series, and now they are under a new regime. They have the talent in all the right places to have success in the playoffs, but they are going to have to beat a very resilient Flyers team before they can make a run.

11. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 14): They are now Canada's team, the only Canadian team to make the playoffs in 2014 (a fact you can expect repeated about 10,000,000 more times before they are eliminated). After the Olympics, I am a Carey Price believer.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 10): It's awesome that they finally made the playoffs again, but this was the worst match-up they could have hoped for. Unless Bobrovsky bucks his trend against the Pens and dominates this series, the BJs have a 0% chance. It's entirely possible that goalie Bob shows up and does his thing, but damned that Pens team is scary, more so now that they got their number 1 goalie back in the line-up.

13. Minnesota Wild (last rank 12): It is difficult to predict what this team will do in goal for the playoffs (or at least the 1 or 2 rounds they play); unless we are to believe that Ilya Bryzgalov has won the job. It pains me to pick Colorado in this series, but I have to, mostly on goaltending. I'm not confident that Bryzgalov can shut down a high octane Avs offense.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 16): The Flyers went 3-5 in April, and haven't exactly been "hot" heading into the post-season. Claude Giroux is a beast on a team with several key contributing players. The weakness is that the goaltending hasn't been as good as it will need to be to beat the Rangers, which will be a tough first round match for Philly.

15. Dallas Stars (last rank 9): The Stars went 5-2 in April to beat out the Coyotes for the last Western playoff spot. They have some holes, the biggest being sometimes erratic goaltending and a very young line-up. They have run hot and cold as much as any team, putting together multiple winning and losing streaks. Alex Goligoski only got better as the season wore on, which may be no small comfort given what they gave up to get him.

16Detroit Red Wings (last rank 19): The kids are alright. Even better than alright, the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins carried the Red Wings into their 23rd consecutive playoff appearance, mostly without their most important players Datsyuk and Zetterberg. As a Red Wings fan it has been a pleasure to watch Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. As exciting as it has been to watch them grow, I give them little to no chance against the Big Bad Bruins. It's too bad they had to draw the NHL's best team in round one.

17. New Jersey Devils (last rank 15): My pick as the best team to miss the playoffs, this team really missed Ilya Kovalchuck; and if not for the great performances by goaltender Cory Schneider and the ageless Jaromir Jagr, they could easily have finished dead last. Zajac got better as the season progressed, but probably not enough to knock him off the worst contracts in the NHL list.

18. Washington Capitals (last rank 21): It looks like Adam Oates is best suited to be a special teams assistant coach, a man who is brilliant at running power plays, but struggles to find a winning formula at even strength. Recent statements by Alex Ovechkin suggest that their captain is ready for a new coach; he said something about being lost in oblivion. It sounds like Oates is a lame duck coach, but we'll see what happens. I'm starting to think that Ovine just might a legitimate "coach killer".

19. Quebec City Coyotes (last rank 17): I would love to know how much money the woeful Phoenix franchise lost this season. How close are they to the $40M out clause? We know that they finished dead last in NHL attendance, and by quite a lot. All those media pundits who said their ownership was now "stabilized", could you now come out and tell us how much money they sunk down the rabbit hole? Please. Tell us how much money they have lost.

20. Nashville Predators (last rank 25): Of all the seasons that Barry Trotz could be let go, this was not the year, as he managed to get this team close to a playoff spot despite missing their franchise goaltender for such a large chunk of the season. He was not fired, his contract merely expired and was not renewed, the only coach this franchise has ever had. Craig Poile has done a good job building this team, acquiring young talent to replace aging veterans; it should not be too long before the Predators are good again. I still think they'd be better off in Hamilton.

21. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 20): This had to be a difficult year for Jets fans, a team that has so much potential but struggles to put together consecutive wins. The team caught fire when Paul Maurice took over as head coach, so we will see what he can do over a full season. I have been saying for years that Ondrej Pavelec is not consistent enough to be a reliable number one goaltender in the NHL, and I feel vindicated. I would say "no team will ever win the Stanley Cup with Pavelec as its starting goaltender for the whole playoffs", but maybe I should say "no team will ever make the playoffs with Pavelec as its number one"?

22. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 22): Somehow I don't the team's owner was thinking about competing for a lottery draft pick when they traded to add Jordan Staal and signed Alex Semin to a long term contract. This team was supposed to be a contender. Yes Cam Ward has struggled to stay healthy, but this year at least Anton Khudobin has played very well as his replacement. I'm not sure where to rank this team next season, except that they won't be ranked in first place.

23. Ottawa Senators (last rank 24): I'd like to know what happened to all that Paul MacLean coach of the year mojo that the man was oozing last season. Whatever miracle he performed to get the Sens into the playoffs last season did not work this time around. It's also possible that the loss of Daniel Alfredsson was more than this team could bare, at least in terms of a leadership void. Having Alf in that dressing room probably made it easier for the coach to get things done.

24. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 18): The fall from grace happened hard and fast, and it began right around the time Randy Carlisle said his goaltending was just "okay". Considering that James Reimer deserved a Lion's share of the credit for last season's playoff spot, it was unfair for the coach to take a shot at him. Coaches when dealing with their goaltenders should be in the business of pumping tires, and that's it. David Clarkson was also a bust on the first year of an expensive contract. For that kind of money, you expect a 20-30 goal scorer, not a 5 goal scorer. That's about a million dollars per goal they got this season. That's not enough.

25. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 23): Much like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canucks suffered an epic collapse in the 2nd half of the season and fell from a comfortable playoff spot into the abyss, costing the GM his job. The difference between the 2 Canadian collapses, is that the Canucks started earlier and last longer. Their fate was decided the moment that John Tortorella stupidly decided to chase Calgary coach Bob Hartley into the visitors dressing room, like he was auditioning for the next Jack-Ass movie (sorry if that was a low blow to the good people over at Jack-Ass). Mike Gillis made more bad moves than good moves and deserved to be fired, the big question is will his replacement blow up the roster, or attempt to mold the core into a contender? The most pleasant surprise for this team in their dying days has been the play of Zack Kassian, who may yet become the scoring power forward he was projected to be.

26. Calgary Flames (last rank 26): The Flames have played remarkably well to close out the season, but it came very close to costing them a top 5 pick in the draft. Yes we were all impressed how hard they played for Bob Hartley, but it nearly hurt their rebuilding process. Oh well, they will get another high draft pick and have some excellent young assets in place to start being good again once they acquire a franchise goaltender.

27. NY Islanders (last rank 27): The Islanders have the option to keep their first draft pick, or defer sending their top pick to Buffalo until next season. Since it is a top 5 pick, take the pick. I don't care if Connor McDavid is available next year, they should take the top 5 pick and hope to do far better next season.

28. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 28): This was not a good year for Dallas Eakin, who proved to be in over his head as a rookie NHL coach. His shoot from the hip, loudmouth, brute honesty schtick did more to hurt his team than it did to help them. Obviously firing the coach does not accomplish anything, since they have fired their coach damned near every year, lacking any continuity at the most important leadership position. Give him one more year to it work, and if shit show continues, kick him to the curb.

29. Florida Panthers (last rank 29): The Panthers are ready to take a step forward, which many people thought had happened 2 years ago. They still have a few bad contracts to purge, but have been stunningly competitive at times this year, while stunningly bad all the rest of the time.
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30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): They finished the season with just 3 wins in their last 22 games, which really really sucks. The Sabres have some quality prospects, but they are unlikely to make a significant positive impact by next season. They easily have to be the most probable destination for Connor McDavid.

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