NHL Power Rankings: We Know Who's Who Out West, East Still in Question

Tom SchreierCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2013

NHL Power Rankings: We Know Who's Who Out West, East Still in Question

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    If I had to guess, I would tell you that the top eight teams in the Western Conference right now will make the playoffs. In my mind, Chicago, Anaheim, Minnesota, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose will all be around at the end of the regular season; the question is, where will they be seeded?

    Chicago and Anaheim should win their divisions and be the one and two seeds, respectively. Minnesota and Vancouver will battle for the three seed and there is a good chance that they face each other as the three and six seeds.

    St. Louis and Detroit are not as good as Chicago, but are both worthy of making the playoffs. Same goes for San Jose and Los Angeles; they are not going to wrestle the division title away from Anaheim, but they both are capable of vying with the Wings and Blues for a four, five or six seed.

    I do not think Phoenix and Nashville have enough scoring to make the playoffs and are a clear No. 4 in their division. Having said that, if one or both of those teams make the postseason, they will be a dangerous wild card because of the way they play.

    Edmonton and Colorado are too young still. They’ve got a lot of talent, but I’m not sure they’ve blossomed quite yet. Columbus has shown signs of life this year, but they are probably better off staying out of the playoffs and grabbing a potential superstar in the lottery anyway.

    Dallas is a tough one for me. They have a lot of functioning parts and are too old to be considered a “potential playoff team in the future” a la the Oilers or Avs. This could be another tough one for hockey fans in the Big D.

    And we all know that Calgary is too old at this point.

    In the Eastern Conference, I see three juggernauts: Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. We all know that the former two are capable of winning it all, they both have won the Stanley Cup recently, but there is some question as to how the Habs could go from the outhouse to the penthouse over the course of one season.

    Hey, it’s hockey. Crazy stuff happens.

    It’s also insane to think that the playoffs will go on without the Rangers, Flyers and Lightning, three hyper-talented teams that are really underachieving this year, but it could happen. My guess is that one or two of those teams make it, but someone will get left out.

    Carolina should be a playoff team this year and rightfully so; they retained their best players in the offseason and went out and got Jordan Staal, but what about Winnipeg? They looked like the Eastern Conference’s version of the Avs and Oilers, but the combination of a bad division and good chemistry has put them in the playoff picture.

    Not sure if they can keep it up, though.

    New Jersey looked great at the beginning of the year, but have struggled recently. They could relinquish their spot to an Atlantic Division rival—the Rangers, Flyers or even, gasp, Islanders—if they are not careful.

    I’ve bought into Toronto; this should be the year they make the postseason. They can beat playoff teams, but not the elite teams in the east and that’s good enough to get in. It’s a similar situation in Ottawa, although the Sens might be the better team right now.

    In short, I think we have a good idea of who is going to make the playoffs in the west, but we’re going to see some change in the east between now and the end of the regular season.

30. Florida Panthers

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    Last week: 30

    Record: 7-16-6 (1-7-2)

    That 4-1 win over Winnipeg seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

29. Nashville Predators

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    Last week: 25

    Record: 11-12-6 (3-6-1)

    Those wins over Edmonton and Dallas were incredible (combined score: 10-0), but this team has otherwise struggled this month.

    If only the Preds could score like that every night…their anemic offense is really hurting them. 

28. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Last week: 29

    Record: 12-15-1 (3-7-0)

    Something is really wrong in Tampa. This is an extremely talented team that can’t seem to figure it out defensively.

    That win over Carolina is encouraging and they’ll have to use that as a booster if Tampa wants to get back into the playoff race.

27. Buffalo Sabres

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    Last week: 27

    Record: 10-15-4 (4-3-3)

    I like that win over the Rangers, but the Blueshirts aren’t as good as they should be and it’s the only strong win Buffalo has had all month.

    This team is supposed to be a lot better than they’re playing right now…

26. Dallas Stars

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    Last week: 20

    Record: 12-12-3 (4-4-2)

    Oh Dallas…you’re breaking the hearts of your fans.

    The fallout of the Tom Hicks bankruptcy has pretty much emptied out the American Airlines Center on hockey nights, something that is hard to believe given how popular this team was at the turn of the century.

    There are loyal fans that still show up with their black unis and bright eyes, but it just looks like another “almost there” season for the hard-luck Stars.

25. Colorado Avalanche

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    Last week: 12

    Record: 10-13-4 (3-5-2)

    Losing to the Oilers and Wild (twice) by a combined score of 15-7 after beating Chicago and San Jose? That’s tough to stomach.

    This team is on the verge of being really good, but I don’t see it happening this year.

24. Edmonton Oilers

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    Last week: 26

    Record: 11-11-6 (4-4-2)

    The Oilers have sent their team on an emotional roller coaster recently. Here’s how the last six games have gone…

    3-0 loss in Detroit: “The Red Wings are always good.”

    6-0 loss in Nashville: “Okay, we’re just bad.”

    6-5 win in Chicago: “Wait what!?!”

    4-0 win in Denver after Colorado beats the previously undefeated Hawks: “We’re sooo sick! The Diaper Dandies are all grown up! Playoffs here we come!”

    3-2 loss to Detroit in OT: “The Red Wings are always good.”

    3-2 win over Nashville: “Wait, how did we lose to this team 6-0 only 10 days ago? What gives with this team?”

23. Calgary Flames

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    Last week: 28

    Record: 11-11-4 (5-4-1)

    It’s funny to think that this team has beaten Vancouver and Detroit this month given where they are in the standings.

    To be fair, the Wings have been hot and cold and the Canucks are not the team they once were, but you have to give credit where credit is due.

    No, I don’t think Calgary is a playoff team, but they aren’t quite dead yet.

22. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Last week: 18

    Record: 13-15-1 (5-5-0)

    It has to be frustrating to a Flyers fan to see their team lose to the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins in three consecutive games and then get whomped in New Jersey 5-2.

    They’ll get another crack at Pittsburgh, New York and Boston before the month is over, though, and I’m sure they won’t go down without a fight.

21. Phoenix Coyotes

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    Last week: 14

    Record: 13-11-4 (5-4-1)

    The bottom line is that this team does not have enough offense to compete in an improved Western Conference.

    In the same week that they hang five goals on the Kings, St. Louis and Columbus blank them.

    They get two more games against the Kings, this time it will be in SoCal though and I’m not sure they’ll fare as well down there.

    If this team makes the playoffs, they’ll be expected to upset the best in the west, but that’s a big "if" right now.

20. New Jersey Devils

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    Last week: 24

    Record: 13-10-6 (3-5-2)

    You should never, ever count the Devils out, but it’s hard to buy into them now.

    They started the month off by losing to Buffalo, Toronto and Tampa and lost to Carolina 6-3. Things are looking a little better, but after a convincing win over Philly, they let the Flyers hang around and lost to them in a shootout.

    New Jersey is in the playoff picture right now, but they can’t give the Flyers or Rangers any hope.

    They get the Rangers on Tuesday.

19. Vancouver Canucks

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    Last week: 23

    Record: 13-8-6 (3-5-2)

    The Canucks are in serious jeopardy of relinquishing their hold over the Northwest Division. They have one impressive win this month, a 5-2 victory against Los Angeles.

    That matchup Monday against Minnesota suddenly looks pretty important.

18. San Jose Sharks

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    Last week: 22

    Record: 12-9-6 (4-3-3)

    The Sharks have lost five of their last six games. Granted, they beat LA 4-3 in one of those games, but otherwise they’ve been struggling.

    Worse yet, they started the first game of a five-game road trip with a 5-2 loss to those very same Kings…

17. Washington Capitals

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    Last week: 21

    Record: 12-15-1 (5-5-0)

    Washington has shown a little life this month, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make a serious playoff push. The wins over Winnipeg, Boston (OT) and Carolina are nice, but the Caps also were run over by the Islanders, Rangers, Bruins and the aforementioned Canes earlier in the month.

    This team has really fallen from grace. You think they’re missing old Bruce and his foul language right now?

16. New York Islanders

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    Last week: 17

    Record: 13-12-3 (5-3-2)

    The Islanders have asserted their dominance over the Southeast Division—nothing new for an East Coast team—and even have an impressive win over the Habs this month.

    That 6-1 loss in Pittsburgh and the OT loss to the struggling Rangers indicate they might not be ready for the big time just yet, though.

15. New York Rangers

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    Last week: 11

    Record: 13-12-2 (5-5-0)

    I’m really not sure how a team this talented loses to Ottawa, Buffalo and Winnipeg.

    They’ve got to take care of business next week when they face Carolina, New Jersey, Florida and Washington. They should win all four of those contests.

14. Detroit Red Wings

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    Last week: 15

    Record: 14-10-5 (5-3-2)

    Wow…I never thought I’d see the day when the Red Wings lose to Calgary and Columbus twice.

    Then they go to Vancouver and whale on the Canucks?

    The Elderly Men of the Winged Wheel are awfully unpredictable this season.

13. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Last week: 14

    Record: 11-12-6 (6-0-4)

    You better believe it: The Columbus Blue Jackets have beaten Vancouver and Detroit (twice) as well as taking Chicago to overtime and a shootout in separate contests.

    Maybe, just maybe, they’ll make the playoffs for the second time in franchise history this year. It’ll be a reach, but this club could easily win five of the seven remaining games in March: vs. Nashville, vs. Calgary, at Nashville, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, at Calgary and vs. Anaheim.

    Beating Vancouver and Anaheim might be a stretch, but the other games are very winnable.

    I’m calling 5-1-1 to finish the month.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Last week: 9

    Record: 15-12-2 (4-4-2)

    The Leafs are on a five-game losing streak, but all of those games were played against potential division winners: Boston, Pittsburgh (twice) and Winnipeg (twice).

    As I said in the intro, they are a playoff team, but they cannot beat the best clubs in the Eastern Conference.

11. Carolina Hurricanes

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    Last week: 8

    Record: 15-11-1 (6-4-0)

    Just when you think the Canes are going to run away with the pitiful Southeast Division, they lose to Washington and Tampa Bay at home.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Caps and Bolts are underachieving big time, but…well they are underachieving big time.

    Those two games add up to one big missed opportunity.

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    Last week: 16

    Record: 15-12-2 (6-3-1)

    Are the Jets for real?

    Wins over the Lightning, Rangers and Leafs (twice) indicate they are a playoff team, although I’m not sure they’re much more than that right now.

9. Los Angeles Kings

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    Last week: 6

    Record: 15-10-5 (6-4-0)

    The Kings got redemption over the Sharks once San Jose came down to LA, but those losses to Phoenix and Dallas before that are really hard to justify.

    Make no doubt about it, the Kings are playing better, but they can’t be losing to teams like the Coyotes and Stars.

8. Ottawa Senators

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    Last week: 10

    Record: 15-8-6 (4-2-4)

    The Senators have been good in their last five games: They beat the Rangers, took Boston and Montreal to a shootout, beat Buffalo in OT and Winnipeg in regulation.

    They are probably not as good as the best teams in the east, but they should be considered part of the playoff picture right now.

7. St. Louis Blues

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    Last week: 13

    Record: 16-10-2 (6-4-0)

    The Blues ran into some bumps on the road, but now that they are back home they are looking a little more like themselves.

    Here’s the good news: They’ve won all three games they’ve played at home, including a win over mighty Anaheim.

    Here’s the bad news: They have to go on the road again next week.

    Thankfully, two of those three away games come against Edmonton and Calgary.

6. Minnesota Wild

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    Last week: 7

    Record: 15-10-2 (7-3-0)

    The Wild are firing on all cylinders now.

    They beat up a Colorado club that just beat the Blackhawks and have taken care of everyone except Chicago and Anaheim (twice) this month.

    The playoffs will likely go through those two teams, however, and the Wild will have to learn how to beat them if they’re going to go on a postseason run this year.

5. Boston Bruins

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    Last week: 1

    Record: 19-5-4 (7-1-2)

    Pittsburgh has this team’s number, but otherwise the Bruins look like they could beat any team in the Eastern Conference.

    That March 27 contest against Montreal on NBC Sports Net is going to tell us a lot about who runs the Northeast Conference. Boston lost the last contest.

4. Montreal Canadiens

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    Last week: 2

    Record: 19-5-4 (7-1-2)

    The Canadiens have been phenomenal on the road this year although, to be fair, outside of that Boston game, they have not faced the cream of the crop in the east—and that Islanders loss was bad—but it’s always hard to win away from home and Montreal has done it.

    Talk about an incredible one-year turnaround, eh?

3. Anaheim Ducks

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    Last week: 2

    Record: 20-3-4 (7-0-3)

    Anaheim was on a five-game tear until they lost to St. Louis in overtime on Sunday.

    That should be no cause for concern: The Blues should make the playoffs and, hey, it was the third game on a three-game road trip.

    The Ducks are still a force to be reckoned with.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Last week: 5

    Record: 23-2-3 (8-2-0)

    I know they were road games, but there’s nothing like seeing Columbus and Dallas on the schedule after two tough losses to Colorado and Edmonton.

    The Jackets have been playing well recently and put up a good fight, but the Hawks took out their frustrations on the Stars. In order to illustrate what Chicago did to Dallas, I refer you to Quan Chi’s fatality in Mortal Kombat 9.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Last week: 4

    Record: 22-8-0 (9-1-0)

    Umm…this team has yet to lose in March.

    Let’s just say that they are pretty good.