NHL Power Rankings: Statement time

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NHL Power Rankings: Statement time

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

The final three weeks of the NHL season have arrived, and its time for teams to start making statements about their entrance into the playoffs.

Some, like the Bruins, aren't exactly finishing strong. The B's have lost six of seven and succumbed to the rigors of an NHL schedule that saw them play 12 of their last 16 games on the road. They're left to hope that a little home cooking is the salve for all that ails them.

Meanwhile, teams like the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks are playing their best hockey of the season and pushing for higher playoff seeding, though injuries to Alex Ovechkin and Logan Couture have hurt their postseason arguments, depending on their severity.

Then there are the Penguins, who have no Sidney Crosby, no Evgeni Malkin and no have no Matt Cooke after his suspension for the rest of the regular season and playoffs. They play with heart and they play with grit, but Pittsburgh is looking more and more like a first-round victim for some lucky team.

As time goes the playoff picture is clearing up, which is either a good or bad thing for a handful of teams depending on their fortunes as the Stanley Cup tourney looms on the horizon.

Without further ado, here are this weeks power rankings:

1. Vancouver Canucks (47-17-9, last week: 1) Doesnt look like Vancouver will be giving this position up, but the tragic Manny Malhotra injury is going to hurt this team in the playoffs.

2. Philadelphia Flyers (44-19-8, last week: 3) A big week with the Caps and Penguins both on tap will give the Flyers a chance to really solidify themselves as top dog in the East.

3. Detroit Red Wings (43-21-9, last week: 4) The Wings are coasting into second place in the East, but seem to be having a hard time with the Nashville Predators. Hope that doesnt mean Pekka Rinne nightmares in the playoffs for Motown. Then itll time to turn to the Tigers.

4. Washington Capitals (42-21-10, last week: 2) The Caps went on a big run, and now Alexander Ovechkin is being rested with a minor ailment until the playoffs. Okay, then.

5. San Jose Sharks (42-23-8, last week: 6) Antti Niemi has started 28 straight games and the Sharks have notched a power-play goal in seven straight games. San Jose is playing its best hockey of the season.

6. Phoenix Coyotes (39-24-11, last week: 12) The Coyotes are pushing the Sharks in the division, and playing well down the stretch. The people of Winnipeg are salivating.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-23-8, last week: 5) The Penguins have battled to remain in the upper echelon of Eastern Conference teams, but the Matt Cooke slap might just be the final blow for a team on the edge.

8. Boston Bruins (38-22-9, last week: 7) The Bs have lost six out of seven games, and need to pull things together in every facet of the game. There was literally nothing good about their recent stretch, and Tim Thomas has been very human since the All-Star break.

9. Montreal Canadiens (40-26-7, last week: 10) The Habs are gaining steam and seem to have rallied around the Max Pacioretty incident. Theres no way to underplay how big Thursday nights game in Boston is for both teams.

10. Chicago Blackhawks (39-25-8, last week: 11) The Blackhawks are no longer fighting for their playoff lives, but dont have that Stanley Cup feel to them.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (39-22-11, last week: 8) Two wins in their last 10 games are a sign of a young team starting to lose some of their playoff nerve. The Bolts are pretty soft when it comes to playoff hockey.
12. Los Angeles Kings (41-26-6, last week: 9) The Kings have worn their purple-and-gold jerseys for the fourth and final time this season. For that I am about to go in mourning, but the team is still holding strong in the middle of the playoff pack.

13. Anaheim Ducks (40-27-5, last week: 17) Dan Ellis and Ray Emery are a feel-good story for the Ducks, but can they keep it going with Emerys bionic hip? This guy has some doubts.

14. Nashville Predators (38-25-10, last week: 16) The Predators have won five out of six games and shown a lot of heart in the process. Barry Trotz has Nashville ready to play its unlikely playoff song yet again this season.

15. New York Rangers (39-30-4, last week: 19) Four wins in a row for a team that all of the sudden looks like its smelling the playoffs. The way the Rags came back and responded to Cookes hatchet-man act last weekend was inspired.

16. Dallas Stars (38-25-9, last week: 14) The Stars go head-to-head with the Ducks and Predators this week in great late-season games against teams that theyre battling against for playoff position. The Stars have been wildly unpredictable in the second half.

17. Buffalo Sabres (35-28-9, last week: 13) The Sabres gave away a point to the red-hot Preds last weekend, but theyre still making a strong playoff push in the East. The Sabres are in good position and theres plenty of motivation with new ownership.

18. Calgary Flames (37-27-11, last week: 18) Withsevengames left and sitting on the outside of the playoffs, the Flames have to get extremely hot. No, that wasnt a play on words.

19. Carolina Hurricanes (33-29-10, last week: 22) The Hurricanes have hit a bit of a wall and Eric Staal hasnt scored a goal in six straight games. Looks like the young Canes arent elevating their game.

20. New Jersey Devils (34-34-4, last week: 15) The Devils streak has cooled ever so slightly, and big games with the Bruins, Penguins and Sabres loom this week. Make or break time for a team that cant stumble at all.

21. Toronto Maple Leafs (32-31-10, last week: 21) Toronto matched i poitsnt total from a season ago (74) after beating the Bruins last weekend, and sit only four points behind the Sabres for a playoff spot. The Leafs would be a great story if they can sneak through the playoff back door.

22. Atlanta Thrashers (30-30-12, last week: 23) The Thrash got crunched by the Sabres and appear to be fading from playoff view after a decent run. Looks like Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart arent going to be difference-makers.

23. Minnesota Wild (35-30-8, last week: 20) The Wild are 0-5-1 in their last six games, and coach Todd Richards said his team wasnt professional in an 8-1 shellacking at the hands of the Canadiens. Ouch.

24. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-29-10, last week: 24) The Blue Jackets have lost five in a row at home and Rick Nashs line was a combined minus-5 in a shutout loss to the Devils last weekend. The season cant end fast enough for the B.J.s.

25. St. Louis Blues (32-31-9, last week: 25) The Blues have already started planning for next seasons payroll. Thats all that needs to be known there.

26. Florida Panthers (29-33-10, last week: 26) Ten straight years with no playoffs. That is Panthers hockey.
27. New York Islanders (28-33-12, last week: 27) Good rebound for Rick DiPietro getting a shootout win last weekend in his first start after Brent Johnson basically broke his face.

28. Ottawa Senators (27-36-9, last week: 29) The Senators hope theyve solved their goaltending problem by signing Craig Anderson to a four-year contract. Theyre really hoping.

29. Colorado Avalanche (27-36-8, last week: 28) The Avs snapped a 10-game losing streak and finally gave goalie Brian Elliott a victory. What a horrible trade in the short term for Colorado.

30. Edmonton Oilers (23-39-10, last week: 30) Looks like the Oilers will be getting themselves another young superstar in the draft. Theyd better hope its a defenseman this time around.

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

Bruins may be getting cold feet on Trouba offer sheet

Bruins may be getting cold feet on Trouba offer sheet

The Bruins are still mulling the idea of a massive offer sheet for Winnipeg Jets restricted free agent defenseman Jacob Trouba, but they’re having second, and third thoughts about the bold move according to a league source.

While a seven year, $49 million offer sheet could net them the 22-year-old Trouba with a high ceiling as a possible No. 1 defenseman, there would also be massive costs in assets, and in the kind of major stink it would cause around the league. The Bruins would have a manageable $7 million cap hit for Trouba if they did indeed fire off seven year, $49 million offer sheet to the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder on Friday morning, and they would potentially fill in a big piece of their blue line puzzle for years to come.

But the Black and Gold would also surrender four first round picks given that they don’t have the draft picks to offer anything less than a contract with an AAV (Average Annual Value) of $9.3 million after shortsighted trades sent their 2017 second round pick (for Lee Stempniak) and 2017 third round pick (for Zac Rinaldo) to other teams. Wrinkles within the offer sheet language in the CBA would turn a seven year, $49 million contract into a $9.8 AAV for draft pick compensation purposes, but that doesn’t make it any easier for the Black and Gold.

Perhaps the one thing Bruins GM Don Sweeney didn’t anticipate, however, is the bad blood that poaching an RFA would create across a league where all 30 GMs apparently play by the unwritten NHL Commandment that “thou dost not offer sheet to anybody.”

If the Bruins indeed followed through with the massive offer sheet for a player that finished with six goals and 21 points last season, then the Bruins would live in fear that it could be open season on their own restricted free agents for the foreseeable future. There’s little doubt Winnipeg, and perhaps others, would come sniffing around 20-year-old right wing David Pastrnak when his contract is up next summer, and so on down the line with Boston’s next wave of talented young players coming through the pipeline.

There’s also the simple fact that opinions are very mixed on the ultimate NHL ceiling for Trouba given the possible investment involved. One Western Conference scout thought he was on track to become a No. 1 defenseman, and could be worth all of the assets involved in preparing an offer for a player like Trouba.

“He has elite skating, and has the shot to go with it. He’s built for the new age of mobile defenders that dominate through the neutral zone,” said the scout. “[The physicality] is there, but guys don’t punish anymore because you can push and pin. They defend with their sticks and feet. Upon zone entry is when they lay the body, and he checks all those boxes.”

One other NHL executive wasn’t so sure, and harbored some doubts about whether Trouba could be “The Man” for a blueline crew that had Stanley Cup aspirations.

“The physical tools alone allow him to be big minute guy, but his overall hockey sense could prevent him from being a top D-man,” said the exec.

That seems to be the knock on Trouba: he turns the puck over under pressure, and his decision-making while moving the puck hasn’t really improved from a rookie year as a 19-year-old where he posted 10 goals and 29 points. But the tools, the impressive body of work since entering the NHL as a teenager and the cachet of being a lottery pick keep all NHL observers ever-optimistic that a young player like Trouba will eventually figure it out.

There’s also the very real scenario that the Bruins don’t have the trade assets to get a young defenseman like Trouba given that the Edmonton Oilers had to surrender Taylor Hall in a one-for-one deal to get Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils. They have to hope they can build up some kind of trade package that could net them Kevin Shattenkirk or Cam Fowler, or hope that Jason Demers somehow picks Boston as his free agent destination.

That’s barring the offer sheet from the Bruins for Trouba, which is still being discussed by the Bruins even as it becomes less of a possibility for Don Sweeney heading into the July 1 opening of the free agent market. That’s because throwing an offer sheet at Trouba might be the only way the Bruins can land a young, potential No. 1 defenseman this summer that can give them the building block to compete for the next decade, and that’s something for Sweeney, Neely and everybody else on Causeway Street to seriously debate over the next two days.