NHL Power Rankings: Of Mumps and Mandela

An outbreak of mumps in Pittsburgh and an awkward interview in Toronto make for an interesting week. Did anyone best Chicago in our ranks?

Sidney Crosby is under the weather, and apparently Nelson Mandela was a great man both on and off the ice, according to Jonathan Bernier that is. As for the power rankings, there are mo changes for the top three, but Anaheim states its case in a daunting Western Conference.

Nothing To See Here

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.07, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -1.03, Last Week: 29)
28. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.66, Last Week: 28)
27. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.61, Last Week: 27)

The futility and overall ineptitude of this bunch continues to reign supreme. Just when it looked like Columbus was primed to join them, the Blue Jackets went on a nice little run to pull away from the bottom four.

The only slight exception to this narrative is the Sabres who appear to have flipped the tanking discussion that plagued their early season struggles. Buffalo has won three in a row, and although they still hold the bottom spot in the overall nERD rankings, they have seen their figure improve quite a bit, as Edmonton looks likely to take the number 30 spot next week.

The Oilers are easily the worst team in hockey, their troubles stemming from poor drafting of late. If Edmonton hasn’t already started printing Connor McDavid jerseys, it won’t be much longer now. In truth, all four of these teams should have their top scouts firmly planted in Ontario to scout the unattached players there competing for a spot on Canada’s World Junior Team.

Opposite Directions

26. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.56, Last Week: 25)
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.40, Last Week: 26)
24. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.32, Last Week: 24)
23. Dallas Stars (nERD -0.26, Last Week: 22)

Though the movement in the rankings has only been slight, the Blue Jackets and Stars are two teams clearly going in opposite directions. Columbus has now won six in a row, and Dallas is really looking like a one-man operation with Tyler Seguin leading the way.

Dallas, who has only won 11 games this year, relies on Seguin for basically all of its offense. The fourth-year player leads the league in points and goals, with four of those goals coming as game winners. His 118 shots are double everyone else on the Stars’ roster, except Jamie Benn, their only other All-Star quality player. The Stars’ nERD has dropped for consecutive weeks despite the positive impact of a truly world class player.

Columbus on the other hand doesn’t have the advantage of a world-beating goal scorer, but the Blue Jackets have really dug in and played better hockey recently. Two weeks ago, they look destined to add the injured McDavid to the already injury-ridden roster. Now, in the crapshoot Metropolitan Division, they have clawed their way back almost even with Philadelphia and New Jersey on points and only six off the New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets are still a low-scoring, penalty-killing-challenged team, but a big shootout win over Pittsburgh has this team trending up.

First Casualty

22. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD -0.17, Last Week: 23)
21. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.15, Last Week: 21)
20. Colorado (nERD -0.14, Last Week: 20)

It’s not Patrick Roy or Craig Berube (I say Roy is safe for one more year and Berube is closer to the bubble), but Paul MacClean who is the first coaching casualty of this NHL season.

With the league’s lowest payroll, I don’t know what they expected in Ottawa. The Senators are light on talent and frankly have been for a few years now. Their nERD sits at -0.15 indicating that against league average opposition Ottawa would figure to be the underdog. By making a coaching change, the Senators brass must think they have some outside shot at the playoffs. If not why even bother changing the status quo?

Not to beat a dead horse, but there are two world-class talents in the next draft -- Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel -- so if you’re Ottawa and you’re stuck in the no man’s land of not quite a playoff team but not quite a bottom-three team, why bother trying to improve? Sure, it’s a tough sell on the fanbase to wave the white flag and head towards the top lottery odds, but that’s how the system is set for bad teams to improve. Nobody gets anywhere by being mediocre. You get places in the NHL -- and honestly, in most salary-capped professional sports leagues -- by bottoming out in the right years and hoping that a franchise player falls into your lap.

Good luck, Ottawa.

True Colors?

19. Vancouver Canucks (nERD -0.09, Last Week: 15)
18. Winnipeg Jets (nERD -0.04, Last Week: 16)
17. New York Islanders (nERD 0.00, Last Week: 18)

The Canucks and Islanders were two teams that really surprised us to begin the year. As their win totals inflated, their nERD figure was slow to catch up which drew some negative attention.

Now that these two have started level out back to league average, maybe that’s all they really are: league-average teams who got off to great starts.

The Canucks are on a four-game winless streak, and the Islanders snapped their own winless streak with a big win over the top ranked Blackhawks. Both of these teams figured to still be a year away in their rebuilding project, and early season success can often give a false sense of reality. Both have a great shot to make the playoffs, but anyone who draws them will more than likely be thankful due to the glaring holes of team defense in Vancouver and penalty killing on Long Island.

Oh How The Turntables

16. Washington Capitals (nERD 0.01, Last Week: 19)
15. Calgary Flames (nERD 0.04, Last Week: 13)
14. Detroit Red Wings (nERD 0.15, Last Week: 12)
13. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD 0.18, Last Week: 17)

Remember when Toronto was in crisis after getting demolished by the Predators on November 18th? Since then the Leafs have won nine games and are one of the hottest teams in hockey.

Momentum is a very difficult thing to quantify. But the Leafs are our biggest movers this week in nERD, improving their nERD by 0.18. Pleasing the demanding fans at the Air Canada Centre is never easy, but even they have to like what they are witnessing. Maybe at least a little bit?

The speed of the game and reliance on mercurial goaltenders contribute largely to the swings in form that all teams deal with throughout the long grind of an NHL season. So many fingers were pointed after the loss to Nashville, but through it all Phil Kessel has kept on scoring and creating goal-scoring opportunities. Kessel leads the team in both goals and assists, 15 and 16 respectively, and has quieted some of his detractors telling him not to let the door hit him on the way out.

As high as the Leafs are right now, fans are waiting for them to come crashing down. Their steady goalie rotation of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer is playing well enough to keep them in most games, but all it takes is a Kessel slump and a netminder losing confidence for the Air Canada Centre to flip on this team.

Within Striking Distance

12. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.19, Last Week: 12)
11. Minnesota Wild (nERD 0.24, Last Week: 9)
10. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.26, Last Week: 10)
9. San Jose Sharks (nERD 0.31, Last Week: 8)
8. New York Rangers (nERD 0.31, Last Week: 11)

Despite Minnesota’s starting to slip away, Montreal, Nashville, San Jose, and the New York Rangers are all playing well enough to make a run over the next few weeks at the top five.

Nashville’s Pekka Rinne is the real X-factor, capable of single-handedly carrying a team to postseason glory. I think Carey Price for Montreal has that ability, but he has looked off since suffering an injury in the 2014 postseason.

The other thing to consider is a possible second half regression from outstanding rookie Filip Forsberg who leads all rookies in points. Thankfully, Nashville plays stingy defense to go with their great goaltending because Forsberg has really been their only game-changing presence on offense. His 12 goals and 17 assists lead the team, but if he tails off at all, Nashville could find themselves in trouble.

Neutral is a Gear Too!

7. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.31, Last Week: 7)
6. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.35, Last Week: 5)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.44, Last Week: 4)

The three in this bunch are in desperate need of an upshift: Boston has won only two of nine, LA only four of 11, and Tampa just dropped two to Washington. The Lightning are probably the best of this grouping, and the nERD supports that, but for the Bruins and the Kings, a wakeup call is much needed.

What more can really be said about the Kings’ championship hangover? It has to wear off eventually, right? Thankfully, the form of goalie Jonathan Quick has been top-notch, giving some guidance to the otherwise rudderless Kings.

In Boston, their strength was supposed to be the heralded depth. Perhaps the offseason departure of Johnny Boychuk really messed with this team more than previously thought. Even gaining Zdeno Chara back to their lineup hasn’t propelled this team in the right direction. Their most glaring hole is lack of goal production from their top lines. Boston still doesn’t have a double-digit scorer and sees their offense currently ranked 22nd in the league.

The Final Four

4. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.45, Last Week: 6)
3. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.66, Last Week: 3)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.67, Last Week: 2)
1. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.94, Last Week: 1)

Anaheim made a big push over the past week to join the league’s best, and St. Louis really closed the gap between themselves and the top two.

No Corey Perry, no problems yet for the Ducks, who notched their 21st win.

The mumps outbreak has to be the weirdest story in the NHL this year, well aside from Jonathan Bernier pretending to know who Nelson Mandela was. Sidney Crosby is currently ailing which is bad news for the Pens who face the Lightning next.

In Chicago, there shouldn’t be too much concern after their eight-game winning streak was snapped by the Islanders. From top to bottom, the Hawks still look like the clear Stanley Cup favorites.