Haggerty: NHL power rankings

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Haggerty: NHL power rankings

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

The clock is striking midnight for a lot of the Cinderella teams. While the Maple Leafs, Flames and Blackhawks are all clinging strongly to their playoff hopes, teams like the Thrashers and Devils have succumbed to the harsh reality of mediocrity in the NHL.

The Devils built themselves too big a hole to climb out of, and the Thrashers simply didnt have enough firepower, experience and defense depth to push the team over the top into the playoffs.

The Leafs are the most interesting study given how pathetic they were halfway through the year and how closely theyre nipping at the heels of teams like the Rangers and Sabres and Brian Burke has already expressed the requisite pride for his scrappy hockey club. Given the desperation theyve been playing with, the Sabres, Leafs or Hurricanes should all be looked at as most dangerous should they somehow sneak into the playoff tournament. Should be interesting to watch.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (52-18-9, last week: 1): The Canucks are ready to buck the odds and attempt to become only the eighth team in the last 29 years to win both the Presidents Trophy and Stanley Cup in the same season.

2. Washington Capitals (46-22-11, last week: 3) Thirty goals and 81 points in an off season for Alex Ovechkin. Not too shabby for Ovie or for the Capitals.

3. Detroit Red Wings (46-23-10, last week: 4) The Wings have qualified for the playoffs in 20 consecutive seasons the longest running current streak in any of the four major sports. That is organizational excellence at its finest.

4. Philadelphia Flyers (46-22-11, last week: 2) The Flyers are 6-7-5 since Feb. 24 and have gone into an extended malaise as the top dogs in the East. Its difficult to turn the switch back on for anyone, and that may hurt the Flyers badly once the postseason hits.

5. San Jose Sharks (46-23-9, last week: 6) Joe Thornton is three points away from 1,000 in his NHL career, which will mean exactly nothing once the playoffs start for the Sharks.

6. Boston Bruins (44-23-11, last week: 7) The Bruins are as ready for the playoffs as theyre ever going to be. Nathan Horton has shown a good combination of offense and nastiness for the last month.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-8, last week: 5) No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin and 336 man games lost to injury, but the Penguins keep on trucking. Its impressive, but itd be shocking if theres much left in the tank come playoffs.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning (44-24-11, last week: 11) The Bolts are putting together a winning streak to end the season, and cap off their first playoff campaign since 2007.

9. Los Angeles Kings (45-27-6, last week: 8) Its going to be awfully difficult to replace Anze Kopitar, who put up 73 points in 75 games before he broke his ankle.

10. Phoenix Coyotes (42-25-12, last week: 10) The Desert Dogs are getting a brief late-season respite, and will end their regular season with a big home-and-home series against the Sharks. Phoenix continues to be a team flying under everyones radar.

11. Nashville Predators (42-26-11, last week: 9) Barry Trotz is all-mighty and all-powerful. That is all.

12. Chicago Blackhawks (42-28-8, last week: 14) The Blackhawks look like theyre in for the postseason, but theyve never truly pushed past the Stanley Cup hangover. Difficult to see a long run from the Hawks this spring.

13. Anaheim Ducks (44-30-5, last week: 13) Corey Perry is on fire with 15 goals in the month of March, and is looking to be the first Anaheim player to lead the league in goals since Teemu Selanne in 1998-99. The Ray Emery comeback has really save the team.

14. Buffalo Sabres (40-29-10, last week: 15) The Sabres lost Ryan Miller to injury at the worst possible time, but not even that has slowed their momentum as they finish in incredibly strong fashion.

15. Montreal Canadiens (42-30-7, last week: 18) Breaks my heart to see the Montreal fans all over Scott Gomez. Really, it does.

16. New York Rangers (42-32-5, last week: 12) The Rangers are hanging around and came away with a huge win over the Flyers. They missed the playoffs by a shootout loss last season, and are hoping to avoid that fate this time around.

17. Dallas Stars (39-28-11, last week: 16) The Stars are 0-3-3 in their last six games and all of their offensive players have slumped at the exact same time. Looks like the bubble is bursting.

18. Calgary Flames (40-29-11, last week: 17) Jarome Iginla became the 77th player in NHL history to crack 1,000 career points while willing his team to a vital victory. Calgary may miss the playoffs, but it wont be Iginlas fault.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (38-30-11, last week: 20) It might not be the 'Canes' year after they couldnt pull out a pivotal game at home against the Sabres team just ahead of them. Carolina is a little green for the playoffs.

20. Toronto Maple Leafs (37-32-10, last week: 19) Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Phil Kessel could all be 30-goal scorers for the Leafs this season. They have the building blocks in place for the future even if they fall short this year.

21. Atlanta Thrashers (33-33-12, last week: 21) Zach Bogosian showed exactly why the Thrashers are so down on him with a pair of unforgivable turnovers in the game against the Bruins that led to their playoff elimination.

22. New Jersey Devils (36-37-5, last week: 23) Too little and too late for the Devils to make the playoffs, but at least they rebounded after a brutal first half. One positive: it appears Zach Parise is again healthy.

23. St. Louis Blues (36-33-10, last week: 22) The only question worth asking in St. Louis: what the heck got into T.J. Oshie?

24. Minnesota Wild (37-34-8, last week: 24) Good to see the Wild are going to get plenty of time to make preparations for this summers NHL draft in the Twin Cities.

25. Columbus Blue Jackets (34-32-13, last week: 25) The Mathieu Garon Era might be over with the B.J.s after letting up a pair of softies to the Blues before getting yanked this weekend.

26. Ottawa Senators (30-39-10, last week: 28) The Senators have played demonstrably better since getting kids involved, and got a coup with the singing of Stephane Da Costa.

27. New York Islanders (30-37-12, last week: 26) The End cant came soon enough to the Garth Snow Era. What an abomination hes been on Long Island.

28. Colorado Avalanche (29-41-8, last week: 29) The Avalanche havent won in regulation since Feb. 22, and now it appears Adam Foote and Paul Stastny are out for the season. Can they just forfeit?

29. Edmonton Oilers (24-43-11, last week: 30) A ragtag group of Oilers managed to take down the mighty Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend. Kind of a big deal for a team without hope this season.

30. Florida Panthers (29-38-12, last week: 27) Someday well talk about hockey in southern Florida, and laugh knowingly at the absurdity of it. Were not there yet, though.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that we’d be offering our first round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold. 

Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

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Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

CHICAGO – Well, the Bruins are certainly opening themselves up for a little second-guessing.

The B’s were trying to move their first-round pick, but ultimately made the selection in Finnish D-man Urho Vaakenainen, who is described by scouts as a classic stay-at-home defenseman type without much offensive upside.

MORE - Report: Bruins among several teams interested in Wild's Scandella

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Vaakenainen had a goal in six games for Team Finland at a disappointing World Junior tournament, and didn’t post anything eye-catching while playing for JYP of SM-Liiga where he appeared in 41 games, tallying two goals and four assists along with a plus/minus rating of plus-five. He spent the 2015-16 season with Blues of SM-Liiga, scoring a goal and five assists in 25 games.

Some scouting reports cast him as strictly a stay-at-home D-man with limited offensive skills while other scouting reports give him a little more credit for his two-way game and smooth puck-moving abilities without any big holes in his game.

“Has an uncanny ability to get his stick in shooting and passing lanes. Just don’t expect offense,” said Sportsnet anchor and prospect aficionado Jeff Marek leading up to the draft in one of his mock drafts. “He won’t be out there late in a game to tie it up, but you’ll love him out there protecting a lead.”

Vaakenainen said he was surprised to be taken by the Bruins given that he had just one conversation with them at the NHL Scouting Combine, and hadn’t really talked to any Bruins scouts throughout the hockey season. On the plus side, Vaakenainen said he models his game after Nashville defenseman Roman Josi and prides himself on his skating, his passing and shooting and his ability to play the two-way game.

“I think I’m a great skater…good with the puck,” said Vaakenainen. “I have a great first pass. I’m a complete package and a two-way defenseman, steady guy. My expectation was to go in the first round. I wasn’t expecting to go Boston, but the first round was my expectation. I met them at the combine, but that was it. That was the only meeting in person.”

Clearly, it remains to be seen how a young, raw prospect like Vaakenainen develops over time and there were plenty of mock drafts and scouting services that him getting selected in the first round. Still, once in a while it wouldn’t kill the Bruins to go with a player holding larger upside like Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen or dynamic, undersized winger Kailer Yamamoto.