For the last time in 2010, it’s time for the weekly NHL Power Rankings. For the first time this season, a Canadian team tops the rankings and it’s probably obvious who it is. Meanwhile, ahead of the Winter Classic on Saturday (or maybe Sunday depending on the weather), the two teams are heading ever so slightly in opposite directions in the Power Rankings.
#1 Vancouver Canucks (LW #3)
They may not be the hottest team in the league right now but they are the best over the last ten. They’re doing this on the power of the best goal differential in the Western Conference at +27 and thanks to the third lowest goals against in the Conference. Amazingly, though, Luongo isn’t blowing his backup out of the water. Cory Schneider’s GAA is only 0.06 higher than Bobby Lu. At least when Luongo falters in the playoffs again, they can fall back on Luongo’s backup who is paid 1/6 of the big man’s salary.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers (Last Week #1)
A thought occurred to me in the run up to Saturday’s Winter Classic. A team in each Winter Classic has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 18 months after playing the game. In 2008, the Pens played Buffalo and won the Cup in 2009. In 2009, the Blackhawks lost to the Wings but won the Cup in 2010. The Flyers and Bruins played in the 2010 Stanley Cup and history would say they’re poised to win the Cup in 2011. Considering where I have the Flyers in the Power Rankings, I’d say that history bodes well for Philadelphia fans. I bet Caps fans are happy with my digging here.
#3 Pittsburgh Penguins (LW #2)
The hockey media is a bunch of closed minded fools. They’re busy trying to figure out whether Crosby or Gretzky is the greatest hockey player of all time but forget the key point that basketball, football, baseball and even motorsports media all remember: They play in different eras. There is no definite way to determine who is the best of all-time, no matter what stats and record books say. Sure we could debate Crosby and Gretzky but don’t forget the likes of Howe, Orr, Espo and Lemieux while you’re at it.
#4 Detroit Red Wings (LW #4)
The Wings fall down the Power Rankings for the second straight week. It’s kinda understandable when their MVP and one of the league’s more underrated players in Pavel Datsyuk is out for a month with a broken wrist. I love how I say that a point-per-game player is underrated but it’s true. I don’t think many people would rank Datsyuk among the game’s elite players but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a forward with a more complete game than him.
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning (LW #9)
I hate Tampa right now. They’re screwing up my rule of thumb of how goal differential is supposed to help indicate how good a team actually is. Yet, here are the Lightning leading the Southeast Division ahead of the Capitals (though that’s largely thanks to their epic losing streak). Somehow, the Lightning are 11 games above 0.500% despite having a -4 goal differential. Anybody care to guess if it’ll be Ellis or Smith going to the minors when Nabakov gets signed?
#6 Dallas Stars (LW #5)
I don’t really know how but the Stars are still hanging around the top of the Western Conference. Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft are not what one would consider one of the best one-two punches in goal but they’re sure playing like one of the league’s better pairs. Both have GAAs below 2.50 and save percentages above 0.920. I know Leafs fans sure wouldn’t expect that Raycroft is the one putting up better stats out of that pair after the fun they had with him as starter. I just realized that I’m pretty sure that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli hasn’t lost a trade with Toronto in his tenure.
#7 Los Angeles Kings (LW #18)
Look who’s back. The Kings are finally refinding their early season form. The fact that they’re the league’s best team in the shootout sure hasn’t hurt their season. They’re the only team in the league that is undefeated having been in four or more shootouts. By the end of the season, that may just hurt them in a tiebreaker. The Pacific Division has closed up quite considerably over the last few weeks to the point where you couldn’t pick between the Sharks, Stars and Kings for the division crown right now. But at least Los Angeles is back in the picture which is a damn sight more than we thought of them even last week.
#8 San Jose Sharks (LW #12)
The Jaws theme might be appropriate here. I think the Sharks on the prowl and are slowly but surely closing in on the of the Pacific Division lead. But I think I was wrong in blaming Niemi and Nittimaki for the team’s slow start. They’re on pace for 228 goals against which is only 13 higher than last year. However, they’re on pace for only 241 goals for which is 23 short of last season. Those projections make for a goal differential of +13, down from a +49 last year. I haven’t given up on the Sharks yet but they’re not the world beating team (in the regular season, at least) this year.
#9 Chicago Blackhawks (LW #14)
I hate to admit it but I think commenter Cam from last week’s Power Rankings may have been onto something. He’s right that the Hawks are starting to come together and play better hockey. I don’t think he was right about it being the defense that’s coming together because I don’t think it ever went away. I’m looking in goal for the reason for Chicago’s recent success. Marty Turco has been playing below average this season and it’s hurt the team. Corey Crawford has risen from backup to starter with some solid play between the pipes. He’s doing even better than the Hawks offence need him to in order to win games. Crawford is the man that this team will live and die with.
#10 Atlanta Thrashers (LW #7)
I saw an old quote by Jeremy Roenick about Dustin Byfuglien switching to defense that was something to the effect of that JR would undress him left, right and centre. In Canada, we don’t get many Thrashers games to watch unless you want to shell out $35 a month for NHL’s Centre Ice package. However, there is one neat little stat in Byfuglien’s favour. The Thrashers were +6 in goal differential as a team after Tuesday’s games. Byfuglien was a +8 in plus/minus. Granted, he’s been an offensive powerhouse on the blueline but having a plus/minus better than your team shows that you’re doing something right.
#11 Washington Capitals (LW #13)
The Caps have finally figured out how to win again. Fortunately for the fans, NBC, HBO and the NHL, they’ve figured it out in the run up to the Winter Classic. How dull would it have been to see Sid on a 15+ game winning streak against Ovi on a 12+ game losing streak while being scoreless for his last 10 games. He was scoreless for his last eight before Sunday, actually. At least we might have a competitive game if the weather holds up… Though, apparently that’s questionable.
#12 Colorado Avalanche (LW #6)
After Tuesday’s games, the Avs were tied with the Pens for most goals for in the league. The difference between the two teams has been goaltending. Having played two more games, the Pens have allowed 28 fewer goals than Colorado. Last year, Craig Anderson was a star in his first season as a starter after serving as a backup in Florida. This year, injuries have hampered him and dropped his save percentage 17 points and seen his GAA increase 0.57. Don’t look to Peter Budaj for relief, though. His GAA is up 0.41 and save percentage is down 20 points. If Colorado wants to contend this year, they need to solve their problems between the pipes.
#13 Boston Bruins (LW #16)
The Northeast Division is looking like this season’s Southeast. While the SE has three team in the playoff picture, the NE has two and both would be in the bottom half of the conference standings without the division winner ranking. Boston’s 44 points would be good for 5th based on games played as the Rangers and Thrashers also have 44 points. The Habs have 42 points but aren’t in any danger of falling out of the playoffs because they’ve got six points on the Hurricanes. Man, it’s not just the Northeast. The whole damn Eastern Conference is weak this season.
#14 St. Louis Blues (LW #21)
Is it time to lay to rest the myth that rookies can’t quarterback NFL teams right out of the draft. Sam Bradford was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Rams despite missing most of his final year in college with a shoulder injury. And now, the Rams have gone from 1-15 to 7-8 with one week to go and a playoffs spot with a win over Seattle on Sunday. In recent years, we’ve seen rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez lead their teams to the playoffs. That all being said, no matter what rookies have done in the past, $30 million guaranteed for a player that could become Ryan Leaf still isn’t smart thing money.
#15 New York Rangers (LW #10)
I don’t understand why celebrities willingly endorse weight loss food clubs. You have Kirstie Alley endorsing Jenny Craig along with Jason Alexander and Nicole Sullivan. Weight Watchers has the support of Jennifer Hudson, Jenny McCarthy and the Duchess of York. Hell, NutriSystem has Marie Osmond, Chris Berman and Dan Marino. How desperate must you be to take money and make televised appearances on behalf of a weight-loss program. There’s at least some dignity to endorsing those workout shoes but your bank account must be getting low to go for this.
#16 Montreal Canadiens (LW #11)
And the first trade for a playoff run goes to the Habs. They traded a couple of picks for James “Sean Avery can suck a dick” Wisniewski. It makes sense for Montreal and the Isles. New York isn’t going to get ahead with Wisniewski because they’re completely screwed no matter what. The Habs, on the other hand, needed Wisniewski because they’re lacking a power play quarterback and some secondary scoring from the blueline. The grit can’t hurt either for a team of midgets like the Canadiens.
#17 Anaheim Ducks (LW #15)
Ouch! That about sums up getting a puck to the face like Ryan Getzlaf did against the Coyotes. I’m sure Jackie was a bit panicked seeing one of the Ducks’ Big Three go down like that but it probably isn’t that bad. With a puck to the forehead, the only real concern is a concussion. The forehead has some of the thinnest skin on the body and is pretty easy to bust open all things considered. If he had taken the puck to the cheek, he probably wouldn’t have bled as much. I guess Ducks fans can take some solace in my uninformed anatomy lesson.
#18 Minnesota Wild (LW #20)
Can we finally put the dongslinger saga and his career to rest? NFL commissioner Roger Goodell fined Brett Favre as a result of his not cooperating fully with the league investigation. I would hope that would be that. Granted, you can’t call this a legitimate punishment. Sterger’s people practically blackmailed the league into doing something lest they be forced to sue everyone in sight. The question now become whether or not a fine is enough for Sterger and her people. After all, it’s not like she’s going to have a career in the media after this. A lawsuit is looking more and more like her only viable option to make ends meet.
#19 Nashville Predators (LW #8)
Here’s something you don’t hear everyday. Jordin Tootoo is voluntarily entering the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. The only other players that entered the program that I can think of off-hand were Theo Fleury and Sean Avery but I don’t think either signed up voluntarily. What I find odd is that no one is reporting why he signed up. Most other athletes have something reported but like most times a player is out of action in the NHL, Tootoo reason for entering the program was left undisclosed.
#20 Phoenix Coyotes (LW #17)
Here’s your hockey still doesn’t work in the desert fact of the day: Average attendance at Coyotes games at Jobing.com Arena is 10,282 out of a total capacity of about 17,125. In Quebec City, the QMJHL’s Ramparts are filling 10,692 seats of 15,176 at Colisee Pepsi. Yes, a junior team is out drawing an NHL team. Even on percentage basis, the Ramparts win 70.5% to 60%. Say what you will about ticket prices, the fact remains that a junior team should not be selling more tickets than a top level team. I guess I should qualify that by saying a top flight team in a proper hockey market which Phoenix definitely isn’t.
#21 Columbus Blue Jackets (LW #25)
It’s never dull if you’re a CBJ fan. Okay, it’s probably never exciting but there’s actually an interesting story from the stands of a recent Columbus home game. Fans in section 109 say that ref Paul Devorski made a crying/whining gesture at fans who complained that he missed a call. When they wouldn’t lay off him, Devorski flipped them off. The league is investigating but I think they should do two things to Devorski. First, they should give him $10,000 for deservedly taunting the fans. Then they should fine him $10,000 for flipping them off.
#22 Florida Panthers (LW #22)
The Panthers are trying something new for their fans in the month of January. They’re offering complete refunds to fans who aren’t happy with the team’s product. That doesn’t mean that they can demand a refund after a loss. Otherwise, Leafs fans would be demanding that MLSE give this a go. They have to be completely dissatisfied with the whole experience at the rink to be eligible for a refund. This is actually a smart move by the Panthers. It encourages folks to get out to the rink and if they hate it, they can get a refund. Seems like a decent deal to me.
#23 Ottawa Senators (LW #27)
I put them up here in the Power Rankings, then I find out that Spezza is out indefinitely with the shoulder injury that kept him out earlier this season. I don’t like the guy but he’s their biggest offensive spark even if Alfredsson is their most consistent offensive player. The Sens probably should have traded the guy before the season when he made his rumoured trade demand. After all, with him, the Sens are 5th last in the league in goals for. They couldn’t be that much worse without Spezza.
#24 Carolina Hurricanes (LW #19)
Lost in all the hype over a World Junior Hockey Championship where Canada comes in a decided underdog is the Spengler Cup where Canada is a perennial favourite. While I could go on about the team of European league players they’ve put together to compete against the European clubs participating, there’s one man involved in this that stands above the rest. And that’s play-by-play man Paul Romanuk. He was the voice of hockey for me when I grew up. It’s a shame he left (or was let go by) TSN because Gord Miller isn’t even half the broadcaster that Romanuk is. At least we get him back one week a year.
#25 Buffalo Sabres (LW #23)
So the Sabres have been thrown out of the HSBC Arena since Christmas for the annual IIHF Under-20 Hockey Championship which is colloquially known as the World Junior Hockey Championship (or #WJC on Twitter). They had a surplus of home games played before this so the long road trip was coming. The only problem is that Buffalo is coming down from their early December high point and now is the worst time for them to hit the road. At least it’s not as big a road trip as the one Vancouver went on last year for the Olympics.
#26 Calgary Flames (LW #26)
It looks like someone in Calgary reads my Power Rankings. After repeatedly noting the complete tailspin that the Flames have put themselves in, GM Darryl Sutter resigned. Now, I’m not taking credit for it but I will say that he picked his coach (Brent) and that wasn’t helping things so he was on the chopping block. Jay Feaster comes in as acting GM but there isn’t much he can do because there’s no cap space to work with. And all his quality trade bait has no movement clauses. Hell, he’s only got three guys to move as rentals (Tanguay, Staios and Babchuk) and I can’t see any of them in demand at the deadline. Feaster may be the new GM but his only act will be to ride the season out.
#27 Toronto Maple Leafs (LW #28)
Things seem to be looking up for the Make Believes. Okay, they’re looking up in the Power Rankings but they’re still in danger of sending a #1 overall pick to Boston thanks to the Kessel trade. Anyway, most things Leaf off ice look bad. After the Leafs demolished the Devils on Sunday, the state of New Jersey got revenge by closing the highway the Leafs team bus was on for four hours. Sure, the weather forced the highway closure but it’s seems like an appropriate microcosm of the Leafs season for them to get stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.
#28 Edmonton Oilers (LW #24)
Like I said on Twitter, the NHL and IIHF are consistent when it comes to major penalties. They’ll penalize the result of a hit rather than the hit itself. It took officials forever to penalize Zack Kassian for a hit to the head instead of calling it when it happened. Clearly, the refs penalized Kassian for knocking the Czech player out of the game. The replay clearly shows that Kassian hit the guy in the chest and rode up slightly into his chin. The head definitely wasn’t the principal point of contact which is what the hit to the head rule outlaws. Of course, rules don’t matter in reputation calls against a grit player.
#29 New York Islanders (LW #29)
Sunday saw a massive snowstorm slam the East Coast of the US. While the NFL postponed a game between Philly and Minnesota before a snowflake fell, the NHL denied a request by the Isles to postpone their game. The result was a game attended by a reported 3,136 people which is about one-third of the average attendance on Long Island this season. While I don’t care about the Isles in the slightest, I’d rather not give Charles Wang another excuse to move the team. And it’s worth noting that without the pressure of fan expectations, the Isles kicked the Habs’ asses.
#30 New Jersey Devils (LW #30)
When you lose to the Leafs badly and then your $100 million loses a fight to a Leafs thug, you know things are getting kinda desperate. Granted, it wasn’t exactly going well before losing to the Make Me Laughs. They’ve slumped their way to four points behind the Islanders with two more games played than the Isles. The good news for the Devils is that the first-round pick they lose from the Kovalchuk saga can be forfeited any time over the next four years so they won’t lose the #1 pick that they’ve earned this year. Now that would be a hell of a penalty.