NHL Power Rankings: St. Louis Edges Toward the Top Spot

The Blues are perfect since the All-Star Break. Was that enough to unseat Chicago at the top?

In the numberFire NHL Power Rankings, it's more of the same at both the top and bottom -- but plenty of movers and shakers state their playoff case in between.

The Bruins, Rangers, and Blues are playing some of the best hockey in the league. Could one of them be our new number one?

As usual, the rankings are reflective of our nERD metric, a head-to-head goal differential formula designed to help predict a Stanley Cup champion. If you’re looking for a simple ranking of the hottest teams, look elsewhere because we have the big picture on our minds. The Cup is the only thing that matters.

Gunning for the Top (of the Draft)

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.56)
29. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -0.97)
28. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.93)

There are no new developments among the bottom three in terms of nERD rankings. Finishing last holds extra weight under the current lottery format, in which the bottom finisher is guaranteed either the first or second selection in the NHL Draft. Given that we’ve been talking about Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel for six solid months, you can assume the Sabres buy the hype and aren’t willing to miss out on one of these two can’t-miss players.

The good news (if there is any when you miss out on a potential franchise player) is that TSN’s Bob McKenzie rated this as one of the deepest drafts in recent time just last week in his Midseason Draft Show. Teams outside the top two will be able to draft on need, which will be the plan after McDavid and Eichel are off the board.

Projecting this race going forward, it looks like Buffalo will be unchallenged for the bottom spot, especially in the East, where the eight playoff teams look set but will keep jockeying for positioning.

Chasing 60

27. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.56)
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.48)
25. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.39)
24. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.35)
23. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD -0.23)
22. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD -0.20)

All of these teams are in the Eastern Conference, and all are well off the 60 points of the eighth-seed Washington Capitals.

We can basically rule out Carolina at 20 points back, and Columbus is a stretch at 15 points back. That leaves Florida (9 back), New Jersey (13 back), Toronto (12 back), and Philadelphia (9 back) as the potential challengers should Barry Trotz’s men slip up. Can nERD predict our best bet?

nERD currently projects the Capitals for 98 points and gives them a favorable 90% probability of reaching the playoffs. 98 points last season would have earned the Capitals home ice in the first round of the playoffs; instead they receive the last playoff spot in a better Eastern Conference. nERD obviously gives Philly the best shot (hence why they are ranked the highest), but what about the often-lousy Flyers merits this?

Yes, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek have both been outstanding this season, and both may finish as top-five Hart Finalists, but that doesn’t excuse the team’s atrocious blue line and goaltending. Subtle numerical factors help the Flyers: 140 goals scored which would place them 8th in the conference and a 15-7-3 home ice split which is above average in the East.

If Philly can get their non-quantifiable issues together (i.e. defense and goaltending), statistics point towards Giroux, Voracek, and company challenging Washington or the red-hot Bruins for a playoff spot.

Flirting with 0.00

21. Minnesota Wild (nERD -0.05)
20. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.02)
19. Colorado Avalanche (nERD 0.00)
18. Dallas Stars (nERD 0.02)

Given that 57 points is the current eight seed in the West, three of these four should still have decent playoff hopes (minus Ottawa whose mediocre play keeps earning nERD love).

In terms of Minnesota, Colorado, and Dallas, all had strong visions of the playoffs before the season started, and all three boast fairly strong lineups. The trouble is that, between their disappointing results and better parity, the Western playoff picture is separated by only a small number of points, as five teams have a legitimately good shot at one playoff position.

The Avs need better productions from their young core that played so well last year but that has taken a huge step back this season. If you told Patrick Roy at the beginning of the year that Jarome Iginla would be leading his team in scoring on the first of February, I don’t think he would have liked his chances. The injury troubles of Semyon Varlamov haven’t helped, but there aren’t many excuses for the subpar play of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Matt Duchene.

Dallas can call on Jamie Benn’s strong track record, but the mini slump of Tyler Seguin might be starting to worry those within the Stars organization. Three assists against Winnipeg should reawaken the young goal scorer from a post All-Star Game hangover because, if Dallas hopes to contend, they will need Seguin firing on all cylinders.

In or Out?

17. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.05)
16. Vancouver Canucks (nERD 0.05)
15. San Jose Sharks (nERD 0.11)
14. Calgary Flames (nERD 0.13)
13. Winnipeg Jets (nERD 0.13)

Much has been said about the struggles of the Kings, and that won’t be rehashed here too much. The simple truth is they aren’t playing well as a team, and hopefully the demotion of Mike Richards wakes them up and helps them find their game again.

Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary, and Winnipeg, however, have all played well enough to earn playoff spots if it ended today. On paper, the Avalanche and Stars both look more talented, but strong consistent play and great goaltending can be the difference maker.

While nERD shows Calgary and Winnipeg tied, the Flames currently hold the bragging rights after a strong third period powered them to a 5-2 win Monday night over the Jets.

While not as top heavy as the East, especially in the Pacific Division, the race to the playoffs still may take a few more turns before April. The overachievers will be out to prove they are no fluke and the underachievers need to wake up before it’s too late.

Here Comes Boston

12. Detroit Red Wings (nERD 0.21)
11. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.22)
10. Washington Capitals (nERD 0.26)

If you are looking for a detailed breakdown of the Wings, reference last week, (and for the Caps, reference above) because Claude Julien has waited all season to see hockey like this from the Bruins.

Boston’s much maligned season looks to have taken a turn for the positive, as they are 8-1-1 over their last 10. Six points still separate Boston from Detroit and Montreal, who are tied at 67 points for second and third in the Atlantic Division.

This week will prove big for the Bruins who travel to Madison Square Garden Wednesday night and then return home to host the Islanders and Canadiens over the weekend. If Boston keeps up its run of good form and shuts down three hot teams, it will be safe to say that Boston is back.

Where nERD Remains Indecisive

9. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.27)
8. New York Islanders (nERD 0.33)
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.35)

Anaheim is good, but as we saw last week, some of their points may be a little fluky. nERD concurs.

The Islanders have struggled to gain respect quantitatively all season because of the weight last season carried in the initial nERD rankings (in case you forgot, the Isles were terrible last season).

Pittsburgh opened with high expectations. These things happen when the planet’s best player pulls your sweater on every night. But the team has been slowly declining since late November.

All three will assuredly earn playoff spots, but the real question: are any real Cup contenders?

nERD still favors the Penguins over the Ducks or Islanders, but the stagnant offense in Pittsburgh continues to drag down what once was a solid team.

Where nERD is More Bullish

6. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.36)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.46)
4. New York Rangers (nERD 0.51)

The Rangers may only be the three seed in the Metropolitan, but would you want them in the first round? Outside of arguably Boston, there is no hotter team in the East than the Blueshirts.

As I discussed at Christmas, Rick Nash has really been the catalyst in New York. Last year he was the catalyst for all that went wrong in the Finals, and this year he is a Hart Trophy candidate tied for the league lead in goals. Nash equated his early season success to “puck luck.” Well, whatever it is, New York will need that and then some to match the depth and speed of Tampa and Montreal.

Steven Stamkos and Carey Price remind fans on a nightly basis how good they are for their respective teams. nERD thinks the Rangers are the East’s team to beat. I might agree if Nash and company handle their business in the Garden tomorrow night against the big, bad Bruins.

As You Were

3. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.62)
2. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.82)
1. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.83)

No changes from the last review of the nERD Rankings, but that doesn’t mean nothing happened.

Nashville struggled at first to life without Pekka Rinne, but a big shutout win over Pittsburgh on Sunday is a positive sign. You know Rinne’s season was good when even in his absence all signs point to the Vezina Trophy still being his to lose.

That leaves us with St. Louis and Chicago, and nERD couldn’t be any closer in trying to differentiate between these two. Chicago looks like it is just trying to buy time until April, so what about the Blues?

With apologies to the Bruins and Rangers, the hottest team in the NHL plays in St. Louis, as the Blues are 9-0-1 over their last 10. St. Louis has to adjust to life without Kevin Shattenkirk, while he is sidelined for abdominal surgery, and tonight, Tampa comes to town to pose a tough threat. If St. Louis tops one of the East’s favorites, we could see a new number one next week.