NHL Power Rankings: Chicago Remains the Cup Favorites

After a great shootout win over Pittsburgh on Sunday, Toews and Kane look poised for the looming postseason.

As the trade deadline and another stadium series approaches, things are really heating up around the NHL. Which teams are rising and falling? Did Chicago's big win over Pittsburgh in the Windy City prove that they're hands-down the best team in the NHL?

As usual, the NHL power rankings are reflective purely on our nERD metric, which tells us the number of goals a team would be expected to win or lose by against an average squad on neutral ice. If you’re looking for a simple ranking of the hottest teams, look elsewhere -- we have the big picture on our minds.

Let's get at it.

Bottom of the Barrel

30. Buffalo Sabres (nERD -1.47, Last Week: 30)
29. Edmonton Oilers (nERD -0.97, Last Week: 29)
28. Arizona Coyotes (nERD -0.92, Last Week: 28)

It appears that the Oilers and Coyotes are actually trying to win hockey games, but in Buffalo, tank mode is in full affect.

The Sabres don't appear to have any qualms about putting a team on the ice that features no quality. As if we hadn’t figured out Buffalo’s motives already, they dealt for the troubled and injured Evander Kane midweek, sending two competent NHL assets to Winnipeg in Tyler Myers and Drew Stafford.

I wrote last week that, for a tanking team, acquiring Kane made a lot of sense considering that what better way to continue to be awful than by gaining a player who will be out of the rest of the year.

The first time we see Kane in a Sabres’ sweater, it could be on Connor McDavid’s left wing.

How Low Can You Go?

27. Florida Panthers (nERD -0.46, Last Week: 27)
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (nERD -0.39, Last Week: 26)
25. New Jersey Devils (nERD -0.38, Last Week: 24)
24. Carolina Hurricanes (nERD -0.34, Last Week: 25)

Florida sits just four points back of Boston for the East’s final playoff berth, but yet still receives no love from nERD.

The Panthers currently sit behind three teams that will probably be sellers at the trade deadline and enter the McDavid sweepstakes. Columbus and Carolina both look punchless, and New Jersey has lost four straight.

For the Panthers, much of their issues come down to consistency. And by this I mean winning the games they're expected to win. Just in February alone, Florida has beaten the Islanders, Kings, and Ducks, who are all regarded as good teams. But the Panthers also dropped two close games with Minnesota and Dallas.

A five-game road trip starts tonight against the woeful Maple Leafs, but it only goes uphill from there with dates with in Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Chicago all to follow.

Which Way are you Going?

23. Toronto Maple Leafs (nERD -0.24, Last Week: 23)
22. Philadelphia Flyers (nERD -0.17, Last Week: 22)
21. Ottawa Senators (nERD -0.14, Last Week: 21)

Toronto has made it clear which way they're going (I’ll give you a hint, it's the opposite of up). You don’t need numbers to assess the Leafs woes -- they play unmotivated and uninspired hockey on a nightly basis. Sorry, Leaf fans.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, is the trendy pick to catch Boston for the eighth seed. Led by Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers depth at looks to be the difference maker, but can they overcome lackluster blue-line play and shaky netminding?

nERD attempts to show us how good teams actually are, and this is where Philly comes up short. Only the awful squads in Columbus, Toronto, and Buffalo have given up more goals than Philly’s 162 in the East. The Flyers come in respectably at -11 on goal differential, but 13th out of 16th in goals against is a killer for a team with playoff aspirations.

No position is streakier than an NHL goaltender, and with Steve Mason still sidelined a couple of more weeks, maybe Ray Emery or Rob Zepp can give the Flyers some hot play between the pipes.

Trouble Out West

20. Colorado Avalanche (nERD 0.04, Last Week: 20)
19. Dallas Stars (nERD -0.02, Last Week: 19)
18. San Jose Sharks (nERD 0.02, Last Week: 14)

Dallas’ fleeting playoff hopes were more than likely extinguished when Tyler Seguin was victimized by an extremely dirty hit from Dmitry Kulikov. You know how defensive backs aim low at Rob Gronkowski’s knees? That’s basically what happened to Seguin on Friday night. Classless.

Colorado and San Jose find themselves in a different situation than Dallas, but a similar situation to one another with their inconsistent play.

Patrick Roy has surely tried every motivational tactic in the book, but nothing has seemed to break Colorado from the fog they have played in all season. The Avs next four come against LA, Chicago, Tampa, and Nashville. Good luck.

For the Sharks, it seems like as soon as the EPIX cameras turned on to document their path to the Stadium Series all went downhill. Playoff contenders one night and moribund the next, the Sharks have to find their inner resolve if they intend to hold off the defending champion Kings for a playoff spot.

The bright spot, even through this slump, has been Joe Pavelski, who leads the team with 52 points including 31 goals. Have I mentioned that I’m already excited for Team USA in the World Championships?

The Fringe

17. Minnesota Wild (nERD 0.06, Last Week: 18)
16. Winnipeg Jets (nERD 0.10, Last Week: 15)
15. Vancouver Canucks (nERD 0.11, Last Week: 16)
14. Boston Bruins (nERD 0.12, Last Week: 12)
13. Los Angeles Kings (nERD 0.12, Last Week: 17)

Here come the Kings. LA still shows that when the lights come on, they can bring it with the best of them. Those EPIX cameras that seem to be troubling the Sharks have had the opposite effect in Hollywood, as the Kings are the hottest team in hockey.

Boston, meanwhile, has been struggling since holding the "hottest team in hockey" title just two weeks ago. All the happiness and optimism has quickly evaporated for Claude Julien as the Bruins look primed to be picked off for the East’s eight seed.

Winnipeg’s spot may look the safest at 70 points. The problem for the plucky Jets is the extremely difficult division they share with three of nERD’s top four. The Jets added by subtracting Kane and are hoping Tyler Myers finds his former Calder form.

Avoiding the Late Season Slump

12. Calgary Flames (nERD 0.16, Last Week: 13)
11. Detroit Red Wings (nERD 0.18, Last Week: 10)
10. Anaheim Ducks (nERD 0.21, Last Week: 8)

Detroit has a really good team -- that’s quite easy to determine looking at their roster -- but do they have one guy who (at this stage of his career) can put the Wings on his back and carry them?

Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist are both having stellar seasons and may both surpass 30 goals for the season, but Mike Babcock needs one of them to take the leap to the next level. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will always be this team’s metronome, but one of their young guns needs to carry the postseason load.

Calgary and Anaheim are currently both still hanging on out West despite a myriad of issues. The Ducks issues may appear less pressing since they sit at 77 points, but they surely miss goalie Frederik Andersen.

The Flames continue to rack up points against the teams who count most: those chasing their playoff spot. If it ended today, Calgary would be in, but only three points separate the Flames, Sharks, and Kings in a tight Pacific race.

The Chasers

9. New York Islanders (nERD 0.26, Last Week: 11)
8. Washington Capitals (nERD 0.31, Last Week: 9)
7. Montreal Canadiens (nERD 0.38, Last Week: 6)
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (nERD 0.41, Last Week: 7)
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (nERD 0.44, Last Week: 5)

Wow, the East looks top-heavy. Vegas will give you decent odds on any of these teams to win the Cup, but nERD has them just behind four real contenders.

The Isles and Habs are both peaking high right now, despite Jaroslav Halak laying a bitter of a stinker against the Rangers last night. Carey Price looks like he is back to his Olympic and playoff form at the perfect time too. Don’t sleep on Max Pacioretty to challenge the big boys atop the scoring race either.

Pittsburgh and Tampa are both struggling, but are still right in the thick of things. Sidney Crosby is probably still kicking himself for losing that defensive faceoff to Jonathan Toews in Chicago Sunday afternoon, which led to the Hawks only goal.

Crosby atoned somewhat by scoring in the shootout (the Pens eventually lost), but he of all people knows that the smallest of mistakes can turn games. Mike Johnston needs to figure things out between Crosby and Evgeni Malkin before it's too late.

Final Four

4. Nashville Predators (nERD 0.59, Last Week: 3)
3. New York Rangers (nERD 0.62, Last Week: 4)
2. St. Louis Blues (nERD 0.71, Last Week: 2)
1. Chicago Blackhawks (nERD 0.74, Last Week: 1)

So, nERD at this point has basically identified four contenders for Lord Stanley’s Cup, with the Blackhawks still pacing the field.

Chicago continues to show that they have the big game ability despite occasionally showing some complacency. I watch a lot of hockey (just ask my wife), and I jumped out of my seat when Patrick Kane showed up Marc-Andre Fleury in the shootout Sunday afternoon.

With Kane’s brash playing style and Toews well-documented leadership, the Hawks have the intangibles. But what do the statistics tell us?

A lot of it starts with their goal record: 172 Goals For (third in the West), 131 Goals Against (first in the West), and a +41 Goal Differential (league’s best).

The stats back it up, and the Hawks certainly pass the eye test with Kane leading the scoring race, Toews providing steady leadership, and a deep supporting cast that handles the rest.

For the present, Chicago it is.