NHL Power Rankings: The Blackhawks Are Still the Best

After another week of play, no team is better than the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago continued their recent dominance with a big statement win over the Predators to keep themselves soundly atop the NHL power rankings. Colorado is finally seeing their nERD catch up to their atrocious play this season, as they were the big losers of the week, dropping five five spots to 20th overall.

With nERD as a guideline, let's take a look at the rest of the NHL.

Need More Cowbell

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.19, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -0.96, Last Week: 29)
28. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.69, Last Week: 28)

You’ve been to those games where there’s that one grandma in her Christmas sweater rattling a cowbell for 60 minutes, right? She’s the one fan who, through thick and thin, will always be there, usually in the nose bleed seats. And she will faithfully ring her cowbell to try and will her team to victories.

These three, unchanged from last week, need that cowbell fan and then some. Losses have been the metronome setting the rhythm for very forgettable seasons.

Things look to be the worst in Edmonton, where GM Craig MacTavish had to answer several questions regarding his team’s 11-game losing streak. MacTavish blamed a lack of accountability, but what most present wanted to know was what his plans were regarding their highly invested draft picks who have not led the team out of mire yet. Edmonton spent three consecutive first overall selections on Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov while leaving Tyler Seguin on the table when they selected Hall in 2009.

Consistency has been their biggest problem as all three have shown flashes. Hall draws most of the criticism with every goal Seguin scores, but Nugent-Hopkins compares relatively well statistically with number-two pick Gabriel Landeskog. Yakupov, meanwhile, has shown he can score goals in bunches when in the mood.

I agree with MacTavish in trying to stick it out with what you have. Boston gave up on Seguin too soon and are now paying the price, and that should be the cautionary tale for all Oilers fans looking to clean house.

The Trials and Tribulations of the Metropolitan Division

27. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.50, Last Week: 25)
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.45, Last Week: 27)
25. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.42, Last Week: 26)
24. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.27, Last Week: 24)
23. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD -0.26, Last Week: 23)

This one doesn’t exactly apply to Arizona, but for the other three up-and-down teams in this grouping, how nice it is to play in the weakest of all the divisions.

Aside from the Penguins and the Islanders (who some aren’t quite sold on yet), only nine points separate the third-place Capitals and last-place Hurricanes. Philadelphia, New Jersey, Carolina, and Columbus all have a chance to climb back into contention based on how lackluster this division is.

Somehow, the left-for-dead Blue Jackets are looking the best over the past week, as they ripped off three straight wins. New Jersey now finds itself in an injury crisis, Philadelphia can’t get out of their own way on defense, and Carolina can’t figure out how to get on any semblance of a winning streak.

Tanking may still be on the table for a few of these franchises, but look for one of this grouping to make a playoffs push just based on the other three trending down. The nERD figure indicates that Philly still has the best playoff odds at 44%, and with Jake Voracek and Claude Giroux leading the lines, it may be possible.

The Biggest Loser

22. Dallas Stars (nERD -0.17, Last Week: 21)
21. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.16, Last Week: 22)
20. Colorado Avalanche (nERD -0.08, Last Week: 15)

nERD caught up to the Avs in a rude way this week, dropping them five spots.

As a team with high preseason expectations and expected growth among their young talent, Colorado has been nothing short of a disappointment this season. Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have -9 and -10 plus-minus, respectively, and the Semyon Varlamov injury certainly isn’t helping things in the Mile High City.

Patrick Roy showed in his playing days that he was the emotional leader his team often needed, and if some if these young players can't step up and provide some leadership to right the ship, Roy may have to take on an even bigger role. Landeskog called a players-only meeting over the weekend to address what’s going wrong; hopefully he has the foresight to seek the counsel of both Roy and GM Joe Sakic -- two players who’s legendary careers speak for themselves.

What’s the Deal?

19. Washington Capitals (nERD -0.03, Last Week: 20)
18. New York Islanders (nERD -0.02, Last Week: 18)
17. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD 0.00, Last Week: 16)

Many are starting to ask whether or not the New York Islanders are the real deal and a force to be reckoned with come playoff time. The Isles squandered a first period lead against St. Louis over the weekend, and as a team that has only lost four times in the past month, they sure look good on paper.

The Islanders are also the only team without and overtime loss, which helps add to their win total that now stands at a league-leading 19. On Saturday, it seemed that just the sight of longtime foe Martin Brodeur in net was enough to send the Isles back to earth.

No one player’s stats on the team jumps out you. Jaroslav Halak has been steady in net, but if his above average play slips, it may send this whole team into a tailspin. Just as it must be considered for Philadelphia, New Jersey, Carolina, and Columbus, this division has no elite contender aside from Pittsburgh. If the Isles can keep beating lesser opposition, they may be in good enough shape to make the playoffs from the Metropolitan.

Up and Down

16. Winnipeg Jets (nERD 0.00, Last Week: 17)
15. Vancouver Canucks (nERD 0.01, Last Week: 19)
14. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.09, Last Week: 12)

Two weeks ago, Montreal was looking like close to a sure thing that was just waiting on the real Carey Price to show up and put them over the top. Now, they’ve only won one game out of six and are dealing with a fan base mourning the loss of the legendary Jean Beliveau.

Vancouver, on the other hand, jumped four spots from last week, and now finds a positive nERD figure next to their name. Yes, they dropped two straight quite far from home, but will get a nice homestand after tonight’s game with the Canadiens in what figures to be an emotional affair after the Bell Centre hosted Beliveau’s visitation the past few days.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin are pacing Vancouver with playmaking and assists, but if they can find one more scorer on their roster, they could make a big leap in the new calendar year.

The Fringe

13. Calgary Flames (nERD 0.11, Last Week: 14)
12. Detroit Red Wings (nERD 0.16, Last Week: 13)
11. New York Rangers (nERD 0.18, Last Week: 7)

Is it a bad thing that I secretly (or I guess not so secretly since it’s now on the Internet) like the Flames? Vegas currently has them at 30/1 for the Cup, which is still a great value if you can forget the fact that you could have had them at 75/1 just two months ago.

Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie both rank in the top five in plus-minus, and Giordano is fifth in the league in assists. Defensive statistics are a lot harder to quantify than offense, but using plus-minus alone factored in with their offensive contribution, Calgary has a pair worthy of big minutes come playoff time.

The biggest question mark is goal scoring, as the Flames don’t have an undisputed All-Star leading the attack. Jiri Hudler is currently their top scorer with 11 goals in 27 games, which places him in a tie with several other players who occupy the 19th to 30th positions on the scoring list. Even with maintaining current production on offense, things could be tough for Calgary. But if their vaunted D slips even a bit and their goalie rotation of Karri Ramo and Jonas Hiller shows erratic form on their current road trip, they could start to free fall.

Opportunity Lost

10. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.19, Last Week: 11)
9. Minnesota Wild (nERD 0.22, Last Week: 10)
8. San Jose Sharks (nERD 0.28, Last Week: 9)

Nashville has a chance to make a statement against Chicago on Saturday in the Music City, but the Blackhawks ultimately proved that they are the class of the West. San Jose was presented with similar opportunity to keep building momentum, but saw their four-game winning streak snapped against lowly Edmonton. So what gives going forward?

Nashville’s climb has been steady and well documented in these rankings. Unfortunately, the rest of their December looks quite dicey: a three-game road trip out west, a one-game homestand against the Bruins, three more games away from home, and then finishing the month against Chicago and St. Louis.

One of the Preds' strengths has been their home record, but they are faced with a remaining December schedule that sees three home games with seven contests on the road. If Nashville still finds themselves within a couple points of Chicago and St. Louis by the end of the month, coach Peter Laviolette will know that he has a real contender on his hands.

Up and Down

7. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.36, Last Week: 5)
6. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.41, Last Week: 8)
5. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.45, Last Week: 6)

There’s no doubting the talent on any of these three rosters, but what a tough week they had.

Boston lost three in a row out west. Anaheim had some nice wins, but lost Corey Perry to a knee injury for an undisclosed amount of time. And LA lost to the hapless Flyers.

For Boston and LA, things aren’t getting any easier -- the Bruins have the Blackhawks next, and LA heads out for a five game road trip. Luckily for Boston, they get some rest before facing Chicago, but LA, who hasn’t done well away from home this year, gets five games in seven days punctuated with a matchup in the Bell Centre as the middle game and capped off in St. Louis for the finale.

Obviously, Jonathan Quick won’t be able to play every game, which spells disaster for the Kings because their offense has had a really tough time getting anything going.

The Final Four

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.49, Last Week: 4)
3. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.60, Last Week: 3)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.68, Last Week: 2)
1. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.94, Last Week: 1)

The Blackhawks earned a big win against the Predators to keep them firmly entrenched as our Cup favorite with a rosy 21% probability. Factor that in with their nERD figure of 0.94, and the Hawks look like a real problem. Their nERD indicates that an average team is spotting them almost a whole goal before the game even starts, and it’s easily the highest of our goal differential projections.

Unlike many teams having issues with star players underproducing, it has been just the opposite in the Windy City, as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have been a formidable one-two punch all season. After starting the season slowly, many fans were clamoring for the two to be paired together just as they are on the power play. Coach Joel Quenneville flirted with the idea, but ultimately went against it. Based on the talent Chicago can throw out on a power play unit, they should be ranked higher than 17th in power play scoring. Playing the two together has not resulted in instant offense this season, and Quenneville was right in keeping them on their own lines, especially considering he can mix in so many other talented players.

The Hawks are shining defensively, allowing only two goals a game. Even with goalie Corey Crawford out, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have held down the fort while still providing stellar two-way play. Just as in Calgary, Chicago will be a tough out in the playoffs with Keith and Seabrook playing unlimited minutes, and this time doing it without the heavy strain of representing Team Canada wearing them down. Look for the Blackhawks to continue to roll.