With just three weeks to go until the Olympic break, teams are putting together a sprinting kick before the majority of players will get the next three weeks off while the elite head to Russia. For some teams it will be a time to rest and reevaluate where they sit in the standings, and for pretty much every team in the East it will be about selling out for wins to remain in a wide open playoff picture.
Only Buffalo and Florida should be in “wait until next year” mode at this point, but there’s a few more in the West. Dallas and Phoenix are at a crossroads where they need to start winning games, or there will be a few more teams added to the “sellers” list for the trade deadline. In fact, it might only be another loss or two for Dallas before names like Ray Whitney and Vern Fiddler start getting tossed around as potential trading chips.
Clearly it’s not yet too late in the power rankings season and time will tell with a lot of these teams, but here are the rankings:
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OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
30. Edmonton Oilers (15-31-6, last week: 30) – Five losses in a row for the Oilers despite shaking the very foundation of the team by spinning of Devin Dubnyk. On second thought, maybe the Oil needs to make a bigger move.
29. Buffalo Sabres (13-28-7, last week: 28) – Four loses in a row for the Sabres after Ted Nolan and Pat Lafontaine have lost that new team smell.
28. Calgary Flames (16-27-7, last week: 29) – So what does it say about Calgary’s truculence that they couldn’t win Fight Night against the Vancouver Canucks? Brian Burke doesn’t approve.
27. Dallas Stars (22-20-8, last week: 23) – You want to know how to kiss your season goodbye? Try going 2-8 after Jan. 1 without any veteran leadership to pull the team out of the tailspin. Nice half-season, Dallas. Better luck next year.
26. Florida Panthers (20-23-7, last week: 26) – The Panthers have taken points in seven of their last 10, and Tim Thomas has been really, really good. It will be interesting to see if he ends up in a new spot by the trade deadline.
25. New York Islanders (21-24-7, last week: 24) – The Isles are dead last in the Metro Division and just five points out of a wild card playoff spot. This is why the trade chatter is so stagnant.
24. Winnipeg Jets (23-23-5, last week: 27) – Paul Maurice has sparked an improved effort and end result from the Jets players. That’s really just a stunning indictment on the team quitting on Claude Noel in my eyes.
23. Nashville Predators (22-22-7, last week: 25) – The Predators are a .500 team in pretty much every sense of the word, and that won’t get you to the playoffs in the Western Conference.
22. New Jersey Devils (21-19-11, last week: 21) – The Devils have picked up points in seven of their last eight games, and continue to skulk around the bubble of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (20-19-9, last week: 22) – It’s Anton Khudobin’s world now, dawg.
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HANGIN' IN THERE
20. Phoenix Coyotes (23-17-9, last week: 17) – The Coyotes are 4-7-3 in their last 14 games, and have a couple of decent wins against the Canucks and Wild to show for themselves. Barely sticking in the playoff picture.
19. Ottawa Senators (22-9-9, last week: 18) – The Senators will be buyers at the trade deadline, according to their GM Bryan Murray, so there’s another team that won’t be dealing players to teams with needs.
18. Washington Capitals (22-20-8, last week: 17) – The Caps have two wins in their last 10 games, and have lost six straight games. But they’re still in it by virtue of the NHL’s worst division.
17. Detroit Red Wings (21-18-10, last week: 14) – The Wings dropped a one-sided game to the Blues, and have more tough sledding with Chicago and Montreal this week.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-20-4, last week: 20) – The Blue Jackets have won seven in a row, and have been on fire since Nathan Horton returned to the lineup. How about that?
15. Philadelphia Flyers (25-19-6, last week: 16) – The Flyers took three of four points in a big Metro Division showdown with the Isles in a home-and-home series, and will try Steve Mason as their new answer at goaltender. The carousel spins round and round.
14. Toronto Maple Leafs (26-20-5, last week: 19) – Five wins in a row for the Leafs has their angst-ridden fans once again breathing a sigh of relief. This should be a playoff team barring an unforeseen disaster.
13. Vancouver Canucks (26-16-9, last week: 11) – Just two wins in their last 10 games, but John Tortorella appears to have jolted his Canucks team awake after they teamed with Calgary for master-goon theatre last weekend.
12. Montreal Canadiens (27-17-5, last week: 9) – The Habs are firmly in a playoff spot, but they’re having trouble moving any further upward. P.K. Subban and Carey Price are holding things together.
11. Minnesota Wild (27-20-5, last week 12) – Josh Harding is the best story in the NHL this season, but Darcy Kuemper has survived Minny’s bacon with Harding out of the lineup right now.
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10. New York Rangers (27-22-3, last week: 15) – The Blueshirts were hitting their stride with three wins in a row including a Metro Division contender/pretender win over the Washington Capitals last weekend. But they blew what looked like a sure win over the Islanders.
9. Los Angeles Kings (29-16-6, last week: 10) – A home-and-home with the Ducks this week – including the outdoor game at Dodger Stadium – will really give us a lot of info about where the Kings are headed.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-16-5, last week: 7) – The Bolts are pushing the Bruins in the Atlantic Division, but the real push won’t happen until some dude named Stamkos comes back.
7. Colorado Avalanche (31-12-5, last week: 8) – The Avs have won four in a row, and Semyon Varlamov is back to dominating after his brief brush with the US legal system.
6. Boston Bruins (31-15-3, last week: 5) – The Bruins seem to have their groove back, but it’s up to them to finish strong in their seven games prior to the Olympic break. Losing Zdeno Chara for a couple of games right before the break certainly won’t help in the short term.
5. San Jose Sharks (32-12-6, last week: 6) – A four game-winning streak for a Sharks team that’s really riding the roller coaster this season. That they’re doing it without Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
4. St. Louis Blues (33-11-5, last week: 2) – Losses to the Kings, Ducks, and a blowout loss to the Devils drop the Blues down the list a bit.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins (34-13-2, last week: 4) – The view at the top of the Eastern Conference is pretty nice in Pittsburgh. They’ve earned it with plenty of hard-nosed work prior to the Olympic break.
2. Anaheim Ducks (37-10-5, last week: 1) – The Ducks might be a tad tired as alluded to by Ryan Getzlaf after the loss to the Blackhawks, but they’re still one of the teams to beat after Jonas Hiller’s unbeaten streak was snapped.
1. Chicago Blackhawks (32-8-11, last week: 3) – Two wins in a row over the Ducks and Bruins vault Chicago back into the top spot. The road to the Cup Final goes through the Windy City.