NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?


NHL Power Rankings: How will the West be won?

By JoeHaggerty

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 Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Morning skate: Does everyone owe Don Sweeney an apology?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while amazed that another Major League Baseball season is right around the corner.  

*In the best news that I’ve heard over the last 24 hours, FOH (Friend of Haggs) Eddie Olczyk announced on the air that he is cancer-free after a waging a battle against the disease over the course of this season. Great stuff, Edzo!

*CBC takes a look at the potential playoff scenarios coming together in the next couple of weeks with the Bruins and Maple Leafs seemingly on a collision course to face each other in the first round. That’s been apparent since about January.

*Interesting conversation at about whether or not everybody owes Bruins general manager Don Sweeney an apology after the way the Bruins have developed this season. I’m with Wysh that the Bruins stumbled and made some bad moves out of the gate, but it’s clear that their overall long term plan was a sound one that’s now playing out. So no apologies for Sweeney, but certainly appreciation for the good job he’s doing running the Black and Gold.

*Clayton Keller talks about his Calder Trophy candidacy that’s kind of faded in the second half of the year, and his first full season in Arizona.

*The frustrated Detroit Red Wings are out of playoff contention for a second straight year as they sit amidst a crossroads for a once great organization.

*For something completely different: An oral history of the amazing Outsiders movie done by Francis Ford Coppola that was basically a Who’s Who of young stars in Hollywood from the early 1980’s.

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Hagg Bag: It just feels like it’s the Bruins' year

With 10 games remaining in the season, the Bruins have clinched a playoff berth with plenty of room to spare and get healthy for the postseason. It remains to be seen if all of Boston’s banged up players can sufficiently heal up for a Stanley Cup playoff run that’s set to begin three weeks from now, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins still have any chance whatsoever to pass the Tampa Bay Lightning for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

So with the Bruins in the home stretch, it felt like an opportune time to crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag and answer some questions. As always these are real tweets using the #HaggBag hash tag, real emails to my email address and real messages to my NBCS Facebook Page. Now, onto the bag:

What a surprise this year. They've been so much fun to watch. Kudos to [Don] Sweeney and [Bruce] Cassidy.

--Ross Mullin (@scoopsdad)

JH: Yeah, and Cam Neely too. You’ve got to give the Bruins management group credit for taking their lumps when they missed the playoffs a couple of years in a row, learning from their missteps early on in that transition process and then really focusing on the things that qualify as their strengths be it drafting or development.

The Bruins have been a ridiculous 39-10-4 since the middle the middle of November and really have been the NHL’s best team since that point with no consistently discernible weakness. They’re top-10 in just about every major category and top-5 in the NHL in both offense and defense, and the mix of proven, battle-hardened veterans and energetic, dynamic young players is exactly how you’d want it on this roster. Really when you think about it, the Bruins have hit it right on just about everything this season from leaving roster spots open in camp for Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk, to benching Tuukka Rask back in November, and all the way to picking up Rick Nash, Brian Gionta, Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden at the deadline and signing Ryan Donato late in the season. Everything has worked for Sweeney and Cassidy, and that’s one of those things that make you start thinking something special is happening when you witness it firsthand for a while.

One thing that you can’t really quantify is the mental toughness and heart the team consistently shows as well. Coming from three goals down in the third period in Carolina, or shutting down the East’s best team while missing your two best defensive players…the last few weeks have just been a window of what we’ve seen all season from a team that’s surprised at every turn with how ready they are to compete already this year. It all adds up to an “aura of greatness” that you start to sense about this year’s team. Not “greatness” in the sense that they’re the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, but “greatness” in the sense that they are capable of something great this season.

It just feels like it’s their year with the way everything has gone right for them amidst a sea of adversity and injuries, doesn’t it?


Hey Joe how are u? I'm a listener of The Big Jab Radio station... Got a question: What do u think is going to happen with McQuaid are they going to keep him or would u say he could possibly be on the way out the door?

--Brandon Knight

JH: It’s never easy parting with a Stanley Cup winner or a gritty, tough competitor like Adam McQuaid that always selflessly stands up for his teammates, so you don’t come at this question with a very easy answer in your head. As long as McQuaid is in Boston, he’ll always be a warrior in the defensive zone and a player that you want on the ice for his sheer toughness alone.

That being said the Bruins are going to need to start paying their young players after next season, and they are going to need salary space in order to do just that. It might not make it vital that McQuaid is moved this summer, but it might be a situation where the Bruins will be it might be a situation where the Bruins will be pushed into moving on from him in free agency a year from now. That being said, McQuaid spent a fair portion of this season as a healthy scratch and was left unprotected in last summer’s expansion draft.

So if the right deal that made sense came along for the Bruins this summer, they would certainly think about it. That being said, they also don’t have a ton of organizational depth on the right side of their defense beyond Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and McQuaid. So if they traded McQuaid they’d still have to spend money to go out and get a replacement for him that could play at the NHL level as well, and he certainly wouldn’t bring some of the intangibles to the table that a guy nick-named Darth Quaider already does for the Bruins. So I wouldn’t be so quick to move him with just a year to go on his contract.

Any idea what the @AHLBruins Star Wars jerseys are going to be for this Friday? If anyone knows it would be you

RossDaLostCauze @RossOliveira1

JH: I don’t know and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to make it down to Providence for the Force-filled festivities, unfortunately. Now if the P-Bruins want to send along some cool photos or a video of their Star Wars sweaters for this weekend, I’d be happy to promote it for them. I’m just glad they’re finally joining the party with all these other minor league organizations that have enjoyed majorly successful events by holding these Star Wars and superhero nights. They’re great for business and the team usually makes a lot of dough for a worthy charity by raffling off whatever Star Wars jerseys they wear during the game. I think this would be my all-time favorite Star Wars hockey jersey worn by the Fort Wayne Komets, and yes I do own one of them.


Joe, seems like everyone minus Bjork will be back for playoffs. What do you think the lines will look like when we cross that bridge?

--Dan (@dan_baraniuk)

JH: Good health will be a good problem to have for the Bruins and a major problem for anybody that they play. I think the B’s are going to be a handful for anybody, but I do also think the first round vs. the Maple Leafs might be the toughest matchup for them as well. As far as what the lines might look like, here it goes:





The fourth line is a tough one to handicap because the Bruins could go in a number of different situations, and this would push Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller and Tommy Wingels to the bench as healthy scratches. Would Bruce Cassidy do that to his fourth line after they’ve been so good, tough and effective all season? Will Ryan Donato continue to play well enough to push his way into a top-6 spot jumping straight from Harvard? It’s too tough to make the call on these kinds of things with weeks to go until the playoffs, and with more injuries potentially coming as the B’s are still in the 16 games in 31 days stretch during the month of March.

But that’s a rough idea of what it might look like to get the conversation rolling. A lot of the decisions may come down to the team that they’re playing in the playoffs as well, and how the series is playing out for both teams.


Who would you rather have right now out of the three…Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller or Colin Miller?

--Greg Ventura

JH: I’d rather have Bobby Orr. He turned 70 years old the other day, you know. In all seriousness, I’d take Kevan Miller as the guy I’d rather have for right now. I certainly haven’t come anywhere close to giving up on Brandon Carlo as a player that could continue to develop and enjoy a long, very solid NHL career as a top-4 defenseman. Certainly Carlo hasn’t really taken a step forward in second season and life has been difficult for him away from the Zdeno Chara pairing, but he’s still a young 6-foot-5 defenseman with size and strength that can also skate very well. Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees and he’s still just 21 years old. All that being said I’m not very surprised by the 10 goals and 39 points for Colin Miller with Vegas. You could see that talent when he was here in Boston, but he wasn’t going to get big minutes on the right side (5-on-5 or power play-wise) in Boston with Charlie McAvoy coming to town. Let’s wait to see what Colin Miller and Kevan Miller do for their respective teams in the playoffs before we start asking these questions. Also, Carlo doesn’t really enter into this equation as he was exempt from the expansion draft and it didn’t ever come down to picking Carlo over Colin Miller, who are two very different kinds of D-men.

Hey Haggs, Is the Sat morning Hockey Show available as a podcast anywhere?

--Guy Cascio

JH: Yes, and my good buddy and Hockey Show host Ryan Johnston (@RJohnston985) tweets it out from his twitter account within an hour or two after the Hockey Show has ended on Saturdays.

Mr. Haggerty, Do you remember in the shortened 2012-13 season the Bruins were referred to as a “Jekyll and Hyde” team as some nights they played outstanding, yet lost to teams that they should have been beating? Do you think that this current team, despite losing some matchups where they should be coming away with two points, has the potential to make a deep rub and get through the teams in the East like Toronto, Tampa, Pittsburgh, Washington? Some nights I feel that I see greatness, some nights I feel that I see a mediocre team at best. I know the schedule is tough with short back-to-backs. I do like the recent acquisitions to this team

--Charlie McLaughlin

JH: A deep rub? No. A deep run? Yes.

What is with the teams and poor line changes!!! Minor hockey coaches teach line changes when the puck is out of your zone and over the red line!!

--Randy Weiler (@hornytoad17)

JH: I think the easiest answer to this is that stuff happens in games. I don’t think the Bruins are any more prone to a bad line change here or there, than any other of the 30 teams in the NHL. It happens to every team over the course of 82 games, and I think stuff like that can be even more prominent when the schedule gets really dense for a team as it is for the Bruins right now with 21 games in 39 days to close out the season. Is it a coach’s fault if a player screws up the dump-in attempt as the rest of the group goes off the ice for a line change? I don’t think so. These guys are pros and should be able to do something like that.

The delay of game penalties are something I’d look at as more of a reflection on mismanagement coming from the bench, and admittedly the Bruins have had a couple of those as well. But when you look at the way the special teams are coached with this group, how each player is held accountable whether they are a rookie or a veteran and when you look at the development of the B’s young guys, I’m not sure how you could view the coaching as anything but a major strength on this Bruins team. Bruce Cassidy has done a hell of a job, and would be factoring much more prominently into the Jack Adams conversation if Gerard Gallant weren’t taking his expansion Golden Knights team to the playoffs. I think it’s even been enough evidence for the Claude Apologist Crew to finally put away their crybaby soup for good.