NHL Power Rankings: Chicago Blackhawks Still on Top

A showdown between Chicago and St. Louis sheds some light on who the Cup favorite should be.

In the past few days, Chicago has taken care of business against St. Louis, still leaving us scratching our heads about their focus. The Rangers suffered a huge loss that can’t quite be calculated just yet numerically. And a rough-up in Winnipeg could start a flurry of moves across the NHL.

As usual, the rankings are reflective purely on 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, looks elsewhere because we have the big picture on our minds. The Cup is the only thing that matters.

Hapless, but Not Hopeless

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.47, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -1.00, Last Week: 29)
28. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.90, Last Week: 28)

Buffalo actually won two games since this column was last published, including a big win over the Canadiens. Unfortunately for the Sabres’ players, last place is still theirs, as Edmonton has also shown a little more aptitude for winning over recent weeks.

Something tells me that the Oilers are going to give serious consideration to shutting down the reinjured Taylor Hall for the remainder of the season. Hall is back on the shelf after he aggravated his problematic ankle. Edmonton has aspirations of obtaining another top draft pick, so there is no need to rush Hall back and damage his long-term future and confidence.

Arizona is another team that looks primed to bottom out any minute. New management and new ownership are eager to commence with the rebuilding project in the desert. Mike Smith, who has been awful this year, may be on the move, and skaters Antoine Vermette and Chris Stewart might not be far behind.

A Full Eastern Conference Smorgasbord

27. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.50, Last Week: 27)
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.36, Last Week: 26)
25. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.36, Last Week: 25)
24. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.33, Last Week: 24)
23. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD -0.22, Last Week: 23)
22. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD -0.15, Last Week: 22)
21. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.12, Last Week: 20)

Yes, I’m aware I lumped seven teams into one grouping which will make this paragraph a little longer, but bear with me!

A few of these teams are really hard to differentiate between, and we looked last week at how nERD considers the Flyers the best bet to run down the Capitals or Bruins. Carolina and Toronto stand out as two teams going the other way when compared to Philly and Florida.

New Jersey and Ottawa also both look like sellers at the trade deadline. The Devils have the quality veteran forwards that teams crave for the playoffs (like the Rangers last year with Martin St. Louis), which signals the potential end of Jaromir Jagr’s stay in Newark. Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Dainius Zubrus could also find themselves on the move as the contenders line up to acquire skilled labor on the cheap.

Philly is still receiving quite a bit of nERD love as explored last week, but a look at point totals show the Panthers in the ninth spot. Can Florida really make a playoff push?

The Panthers sit three points ahead of the Flyers and just six points off the eighth-place Bruins. My love for Aaron Ekblad is well documented, but what else is powering the Panthers but still holding them down in the power rankings?

Goalie Roberto Luongo has a lot to do with Florida’s success this season, and some of his contributions are hard to quantify. Still, the Panthers are a lousy -18 in goal differential, which is definitely reflected in their nERD.

Florida also leads the Eastern Conference in two of the more fluky categories that help explain their position: 11 overtime contests and 12 shootouts.

Just like Philly, Florida really needs to get hot and get some help from Washington, Boston, or the New York Rangers to make the playoffs.

Movers and Shakers

20. Colorado Avalanche (nERD -0.07, Last Week: 19)
19. Dallas Stars (nERD -0.04, Last Week: 18)
18. Minnesota Wild (nERD 0.01, Last Week: 21)
17. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.03, Last Week: 17)

The Wild were the biggest movers this week, as they powered themselves to the positive side of zero in nERD and gained three spots in the rankings.

Minnesota only sees three points separating themselves from the playoffs and are currently riding a six game winning streak. Coach Mike Yeo has finally has to like what he is seeing from a team that had high expectations to open the season.

Devan Dubnyk, who was recently named NHL Player of the Week, has a lot to do with the Wild’s recent success. Nothing can quite mind the gap like a hot goalie, and with many of their games starting to turn into do-or-die contests, the Wild may have found their hot hand at the perfect time.

Dubnyk has posted a gaudy 17-6-2 record for the season and has been between the pipes for all six of his team’s wins since the All-Star Break and was named first star in five of those tilts.

With the Kings seemingly stuck in neutral, maybe the Wild will be the ones to run down the Canucks for the final Western Conference playoff spot.

If It Ended Today...

16. Vancouver Canucks (nERD 0.07, Last Week: 16)
15. Winnipeg Jets (nERD 0.09, Last Week: 13)
14. San Jose Sharks (nERD 0.09, Last Week: 15)
13. Calgary Flames (nERD 0.13, Last Week: 14)

These four West Conference teams would make the playoffs if they started today, but none should really feel all that great about their foothold.

Although the Canucks have the fewest points, the news out of Winnipeg last week cast a disturbing shadow over one of the feel good stories in the NHL. The Jets announced they were effectively shutting down Evander Kane for the remainder of the season. What happened next got weird.

Kane, the ultra talented former top pick, has battled injuries this season but the final straw may have been his attitude and mental state after showing up for a game in a track suit as opposed to the mandated suit and tie.

In the short term, Winnipeg now finds itself clinging to the number seven seed for the playoffs without one of its better wingers. Long term, remember all those teams looking to sell at the trade deadline? What better way to make sure you keep trending down than to acquire a very talented 23-year old who won’t be playing the rest of the year and appears on his way out of town anyway?

Kane will peak more than a few teams willing to take a chance on this headstrong talent, and the Jets may benefit twice by both dumping their headache and gaining an asset that can help them maintain a playoff spot.

Still No Love for the Islanders?

12. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.21, Last Week: 11)
11. New York Islanders (nERD 0.26, Last Week: 8)
10. Detroit Red Wings (nERD 0.28, Last Week: 12)
9. Washington Capitals (nERD 0.30, Last Week: 10)

Boston, Detroit, and Washington all look likely to make the big dance but are seeded eighth, fourth, and sixth, respectively. The Islanders would be able to open up play in Brooklyn next year by at least raising a Metropolitan Division Champion banner if the season ended today, but they still struggle in our power rankings and dropped three spots this week.

Just when it looked like the Islanders were finally getting the nERD love they deserved, the algorithm flipped a switch. A closer look tells the story.

Last week, the Isles played four games and split them at two and two (one was a shootout victory over the Flyers and the other win was a squeaker over an atrocious Buffalo outfit in full tank mode). Also during this stretch, the Islanders dropped a second game to the Bruins since the All-Star Break and were beat by a talented Panthers team.

While Uniondale won’t exactly be in crisis mode yet, the Islanders aren’t quite playing up to the full potential of what could be the holder of the number two seed in the playoffs.

Potential Division Winners

8. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.30, Last Week: 9)
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.36, Last Week: 7)
6. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.39, Last Week: 6)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.47, Last Week: 5)

Granted, it is not much of an argument for Anaheim given how mediocre the rest of the Pacific has been, but for Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Tampa Bay, expect a dogfight to the finish line.

The Pens and Isles keep trading the top spot in the Metropolitan back and forth, and we know which one nERD prefers. For Pittsburgh, it mainly comes down to focusing their occasionally anemic attack. David Perron was a good pickup (although I think any pond hockey player could put up decent stats skating alongside Sidney Crosby).

The gap from Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the rest of their forwards in terms of points is alarming. Thankfully, Marc-Andre Fleury has played well in the Steel City or things could be worse.

As for the Atlantic Division we should see an interesting race to the end. Detroit, Montreal, and Tampa Bay are all separated by two points, and nERD likes the Lightning significantly more to hang onto that spot.

Wait, What?

4. New York Rangers (nERD 0.51, Last Week: 4)

The Rangers are the one strange aberration on this week’s list. They would comfortably have the seventh seed if the playoffs started today, but what about that merits the fourth overall ranking, especially since they are now gearing up for a playoff push without Henrik Lundqvist?

Over the past week, the Rangers beat the Bruins and narrowly lost to the Predators and Stars, so all-in-all, it wasn't a bad enough week for them to plummet in the standings. However, a four-game road trip capped off with a game in Uniondale against the Islanders awaits in this brave, new, Lundqvist-less world for the New York Rangers.

The Usual Suspects

3. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.55, Last Week: 3)
2. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.67, Last Week: 2)
1. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.76, Last Week: 1)

Well, that was a letdown. I was really anticipating writing this week about how the surging Blues had finally knocked the coasting Blackhawks off the top perch. Not so fast.

Chicago continues to show that they can turn it on and off with a statement win in St. Louis on Sunday followed by a loss Monday night to Arizona. St. Louis added an equally frustrating 7-1 defeat to Columbus to go with the loss to Chicago.

Maybe resurgent Nashville will have more to give these two next time out with Pekka Rinne manning the crease again. A statement win for the Preds against Tampa Bay tonight could start their nERD on an upward tick to match their point total.