1. Washington Capitals (42-13-8)
If the Caps can keep their offense going, they really don’t have much to worry about as far as getting far into the playoffs. It’s the goaltending they must worry about a little bit. Jose Theodore has gotten the job for the most part, but these guys don’t even have a defense and goaltending that ranks in the top half of the NHL.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (42-16-5)
The best team in the Western Conference in my opinion. Certainly the strongest. Offense and goaltending are both getting it done. This team has nothing to worry about at this point. I’m not surprised that they didn’t make any moves in the trade deadline—not they had to…
3. San Jose Sharks (40-14-9)
The only team that they really need to get past at this point is Chicago, who is the only team in the NHL that has a stronger offense and goaltending combination, but by a slim margin.
4. Vancouver Canucks (39-22-2)
After watching Roberto Luongo get the job done in the Olympics, I’m leaning towards the Canucks to be the dark horse in the West. Because of Luongo and Sedin twins, Vancouver might not be the best team at the moment, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they make it to the Western Conference Finals.
5. Los Angeles Kings (38-20-4)
The hottest team in the entire team is showing no signs of stopping their success. Big ups to Terry Murray and his genius mind! Jonathan Quick isn’t so bad, either.
6. Philadelphia Flyers (33-26-3)
The most underrated team in the NHL. This team is much better than their record says they are. But we get to see if it can stay that way with Michael Leighton as their new number one guy.
7. Colorado Avalanche (36-21-6)
I really didn’t think that they would be a top ten team to this point, but these guys aren’t so bad. They traded Wojtek Wolski (which was kind of strange to me) so now it’s time for guys like Chris Stewart, Milan Hejduk, and potential-Rookie-of-the-Year Matt Duchene to step it up just a little bit more offensively.
8. New Jersey Devils (38-21-3)
My dark horse to win the Eastern Conference this year. They have the goaltending down, now they just need to prove to me that they can get it done with Ilya Kovalchuk.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins (37-22-4)
Great job by Ray Shero for bringing in the Maple Leafs best player and making him the Penguins’ third-best player. With Crosby, Malkin, and now Ponikarovsky in the mix, the Penguins are looking like they are now officially ready to defend their Stanley Cup.
10. Buffalo Sabres (33-20-9)
Like the Devils, the Sabres are getting it done with their goaltending, but still need to step it up on the offensive side of the puck if they want to be serious Cup contenders.
11. Phoenix Coyotes (37-22-5)
The most surprising team in the NHL so far (along with the Kings). The addition of Wojtek Wolski was a very smart one. I think he’s their best offensive player already and he hasn’t even played a game in a Coyotes sweater yet. The Coyotes making those seven trades yesterday basically told they the are ready to make a serious playoff run. Big ups to this team!
12. Nashville Predators (34-23-5)
I’m still not very confident in this team as far as contending for anything this year despite them being 11 games over .500. They don’t have the talent like the Capitals, Blackhawks and Sharks do, they are going to have a tough time getting past many teams in the West, and you might as well hand the Blackhawks the Central Division right now because they’re going to win it anyway.
13. Minnesota Wild (31-27-4)
This team is going to have to give Marek Zidlicky some help defensively if they want to make a playoff run.
14. Ottawa Senators (36-24-4)
One of the more surprising teams in the East. Cory Clouston has done a fairly good job with the team. I think it would be cool so see at least win a playoff series.
15. Calgary Flames (30-24-9)
If this team wants to make some sort of run (which I don’t believe they will), they have got to start playing better offensively and give Miikka Kiprusoff some help and play smarter.
16. New York Rangers (29-27-7)
I don’t think the “defense-first” mindset is a very smart one going into the the stretch run towards the playoffs considering they have players like Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Olli Jokinen, and Brandon Dubinsky as their lead offensive guys, but I just want to see them score more.
17. St. Louis Blues (29-25-9)
If they can give Chris Mason more offensive help down the stretch, they can definitely make a decent run towards the playoffs once again.
18. Detroit Red Wings (29-22-13)
Like the Blues, all the Red Wings need to step it up on offense and they will have a little bit of an easier road to the playoffs which I think they should make.
19. Boston Bruins (27-23-11)
I’m absolutely shocked the Bruins are hanging on to the eighth spot in the playoffs considering that this team can’t score worth crap. This team is not going to make the playoffs. They might get close but it’s not going to happen.
20. Montreal Canadiens (30-28-6)
I’m sure Habs’ fans love what I wrote about the Bruins. Even though the Canadiens have had much success over the Bruins this year, I still think the Bruins still have a slim edge over the Habs as far as talent.
21. Atlanta Thrashers (27-24-10)
If the Thrashers can kep it up on the offensive side of the puck, they can make a make a nice playoff run and jump over the Bruins and Canadiens.
22. Anaheim Ducks (30-26-7)
I only put the Ducks ahead of the Stars because of their slight edge over them on the offensive side of the puck.
23. Dallas Stars (28-22-12)
If the Stars’ Final-20-game-stretch run had a theme of “energy and redemption”, you never would’ve known it on Tuesday night. Not a very good way to start March with a 5-1 loss to the arch-rival Kings.
24. Florida Panthers (25-28-10)
The Panthers just ended a streak of 14 straight in which they have scored two or fewer goals. That’s great and all, but very sad at the same time.
25. Carolina Hurricanes (25-30-7)
Is this team seriously only eight points out of a playoff berth? I got to admit…that’s pretty impressive considering the way they played from October to January.
26. Tampa Bay Lightning (26-25-11)
I don’t think this team is going to make the playoffs. They can’t score goals very much and their defense isn’t very good either.
27. New York Islanders (26-29-8)
Even though the Islanders are only five points out of a playoff spot, I still don’t think they can make the playoffs, they play too poorly on both offense and defense.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (25-28-11)
This team isn’t officially out of the playoff picture yet, but they’re getting pretty close.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (19-32-11)
The only team in the East that has absolutely no shot at making the playoffs.
30. Edmonton Oilers (19-38-6)
Like the Leafs, the Oilers are the only team in their conference that has not shot at getting in the playoffs.
Carter’s NHL Award Races:
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player)
1. Alexander Ovechkin (LW, Capitals)
2. Henrik Sedin (C, Canucks)
3. Sidney Crosby (C, Penguins)
4. Ryan Miller (G, Sabres)
5. Nicklas Backstrom (C, Capitals)
6. Joe Thornton (C, Sharks)
7. Steven Stamkos (C, Lightning)
8. Evgeni Nabokov (G, Sharks)
9. Patrick Kane (RW, Blackhawks)
10. Miikka Kiprusoff (G, Flames)
Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman)
1. Mike Green (Capitals)
2. Duncan Keith (Blackhawks)
3. Drew Doughty (Kings)
4. Tomas Kaberle (Maple Leafs)
5. Dan Boyle (Sharks)
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender)
1. Ryan Miller (Sabres)
2. Evgeni Nabokov (Sharks)
3. Miikka Kiprusoff (Flames)
4. Tomas Vokoun (Panthers)
5. Craig Anderson (Avalanche)
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year)
1. Matt Duchene (Avalanche)
2. John Tavares (Islanders)
3. James van Riemsdyk (Flyers)
4. Tyler Myers (Sabres)
5. Niclas Bergfors (Thrashers)
Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year)
1. Bruce Boudreau (Capitals)
2. Joel Quenneville (Blackhawks)
3. Todd McLellan (Sharks)
4. Alain Vigneault (Canucks)
5. Terry Murray (Kings)