NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?

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NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

Its been a crazy season of hockey in the Western Conference, and that continues right into the final two months of the season.

The Canucks and Red Wings are clearly the crme of the Western Conference standings as both squads have been unfazed by a significant number of injuries. But the rest of the conference is overwhelmed by the kind of parity that gives the top 11 teams some kind of notion that they could be playoff-worthy, and has kept many Western Conference teams from selling off their wares with playoff aspirations still living and breathing.

Only five points separated the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference from the No. 11 team (Chicago) still scrapping for the postseason after cruising to a Stanley Cup championship last season. What does that mean for the NHL?

It means there are going to be some epic games down the stretch in the Western Conference, and some desperate hockey by teams clinging to playoff dreams over the next few weeks particularly for a Bruins team playing a lot of Western Conference opponents over the next three weeks.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (38-13-9, last week: 1) Its looking more and more like this is simply Vancouvers year. Daniel Sedin is leading the NHL in scoring, the Canucks lead the NHL by a wide margin with a plus-60 goal differential and the team is starting to get some of its injured defensemen back in the next few weeks.

2. Philadelphia Flyers (39-15-5, last week: 2) The Flyers are deep at forward and defense, theyre dominating in their division and theyve proven to be road warriors this season. Not much to prove during the regular season, but their goaltending headed into the playoffs is S-U-S-P-E-C-T.
3. Detroit Red Wings (37-16-6, last week: 3) Detroit has won five in a row and the mojo has definitely returned to Motown. The resurgence of Todd Bertuzzi for the Wings is one of the best stories in the NHL this season, and the Wings look like theyll be a beast in the playoffs.

4. Phoenix Coyotes (32-19-9, last week: 8) The Coyotes have won seven games in a row and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 190 of 201 shots during that span the basic reason beyond the Desert Dogs recent rise up the standings.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-18-7, last week: 4) The Bolts have lost four of six and look like theyre headed back down on the NHL roller coaster ride. Steve Yzerman went out and grabbed Eric Brewer in what continues to be an active winter for the new Tampa GM. Something tells me hes not the answer.
6. San Jose Sharks (33-21-6, last week: 14) Antti Niemi has stepped up for the Sharks and tossed three shutouts in the last eight games while Antero Nittymaki gathers rust on the shelf due to injury. The improved goaltending and renewed effort has made the Sharks finally appear like themselves after a sluggish first half.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (36-19-5, last week: 6) Life without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby isnt a slice of pie, but at least theyve added James Neal to the mix from Dallas. Its all about Sid the Kid and when he can potentially return at this point for Pittsburgh.

8. Boston Bruins (33-19-7, last week: 7) The Bruins finally landed a prize named Kaberle theyve been yearning for over the last three years, and he could make all the difference in the world for the Black and Gold power play.
9. Calgary Flames (31-22-8, last week: 17) The Flames are the hottest thing in hockey since Christmas-time, and have become a stunning turnaround story. The Heritage Classic was symbolic of whats going on with Jarome Iginla and the Flames in Western Canada, and its pretty special.

10. Washington Capitals (31-19-10, last week: 11) The Capitals are looking to make some moves, but havent found a partner quite yet after moving their big Tomas Fleischmann chip earlier this season. It sounds so strange to hear the Caps badly in need a playmaking center.

11. Nashville Predators (31-20-8, last week: 12) Good to see Mr. Underwood had three points in his first four games with the Preds, and Jordin Tootoo has returned from an alcoholsubstance abuse program stint. Things are looking up in Nashville.

12. Los Angeles Kings (32-23-4, last week: 15) The long and winding road trip is finally over for the Kings as the Grammys finally unlocked the Staples Center. Now the Kings dont play outside the state of California until March 9. Time for them to make up some ground.

13. Montreal Canadiens (31-22-7, last week: 10) Should the Habs take it as a danger sign that they made no moves while the Bruins got much better in three trades, and then mailed things in against the Flames at the Heritage Classic? I would if I were them.

14. Dallas Stars (31-22-6, last week: 9) Two wins in their last 12 games, Brad Richards looks like he has a concussion, and the Stars just dumped James Neal and Matti Niskanen on Pittsburgh. Things are looking perilous in the Lone Star State.

15. Minnesota Wild (31-22-6, last week: 13) The Wild are tip-toeing all over the playoff bubble, and now theyve lost heart and soul player Mikko Koivu for the next few weeks. Not so Wild anymore, are they?

16. Anaheim Ducks (32-24-4, last week: 17) Scary stuff for the Ducks as All-Star goaltender Jonas Hiller is sidelined with dizziness and lightheadedness. He looked like he was going to carry them to a playoff spot before his problems cropped up for a second time. Too bad.

17. Chicago Blackhawks (31-23-6, last week: 18) So Blackhawks scorer Patrick Kane likes to party, eh? And this is news and surprising to anyone because . . .
18. New York Rangers (31-26-4, last week: 18) The Blueshirts have lost Marian Gaborik to a concussion, and have no idea when he actually suffered the injury. Perhaps it was from the John Tortorella browbeating he took earlier this season. It all sounds problematic to me.
19. Carolina Hurricanes (28-24-8, last week: 19) The Hurricanes should be down on bended knee thanking the hockey gods that theyre in the Eastern Conference. Because otherwise theyd be little more than a whimpering tropical storm with no city to torment.

20. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-23-6, last week: 20) Matt Calvert, Antoine Vermette, Derek MacKenzie and Anton Stralman all scored in the BJs win over the Blackhawks last week. Who are these guys?

21. St. Louis Blues (27-22-9, last week: 22) Itll be interesting to see how Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk shake things up for the Blues. They looked so good early in the season, but havent been that team for a long, long time.

22. New Jersey Devils (25-30-4, last week: 25) The Devils are 15-1-2 in the last 18 games. Could they possibly sneak into the playoffs if they continue this way over the next two months?
23. Buffalo Sabres (27-25-6, last week: 24) Buffalo emptied the tank to simply make a cameo in the playoff picture, and then dropped three straight after all that hard work. Just not going to happen this season in Buff.

24. Atlanta Thrashers (25-25-10, last week: 21) The Thrashers have made their big move to acquire Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler. Not sure thats enough to spark Atlanta, but they needed to do something. A record of 1-6-1 in February just isnt going to get it done.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs (25-27-7, last week: 27) Give Brian Burke credit for accumulating some draft picks over the last few weeks after giving their own away for a one-dimensional scorer. Did that sound like a backhanded compliment? Because it was totally supposed to.

26. New York Islanders (23-30-7, last week: 29) The Hockey Team Behaving Badly has earned the honor of having the NHL watch them like hawks for the rest of the season. So they have that going for them.

27. Florida Panthers (25-27-7, last week: 26) Dennis Wideman is one power play goal away from setting the franchise record in Florida this season. Didnt see that one coming.
28. Colorado Avalanche (25-27-7, last week: 23) The Avs have dropped 10 games in a row, and gave up a couple of young, talented assets to secure themselves a primo defenseman in Erik Johnson. Wait until next year in Denver.

29. Edmonton Oilers (19-32-8, last week: 29) Taylor Hall is still showing moments of brilliance like his hat trick against the Thrashers, but the Oil really need to start putting things together down the stretch as a statement for next year.

30. Ottawa Senators (19-31-9, last week: 30) Last one out in Ottawa turn out the lights because it looks youll be seeing the Binghamton crew at Scotiabank Place for the rest of the season.

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

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.