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NHL Power Rankings: Who is playing their way out of postseason early?

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NHL Power Rankings: Who is playing their way out of postseason early?

With December here, it’s time to give last rites to some of the teams that have already played their way out of the playoffs this season.

Mathematically, of course, every team is still alive, but realistically any team that hopes to be in the postseason can’t fall more than a handful of points out of the playoff picture this late into the regular season. The Buffalo Sabres are already 13 points out of a playoff spot in the East, and have been an uninspired mess since the very first few days of the season.

The Flyers are eight points out of a playoff spot after losing their 10th game in a row on Saturday afternoon, and have five teams in front of them in the playoff pole position. That’s pretty much a wrap already for the Broad Street Bullies.

In the West it’s only Arizona that has already played their way out of the postseason while 12 points outside the playoffs. That’s nothing new for the Coyotes fans out there, of course. But if trade rumor hounds want to start looking to the places where rumors are going to come from, right now it’s the Sabres, Flyers and Coyotes that are already closing in on “wait until next year” time with teams that dropped like a stone right out of the gate.  

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (15-2-2, rank last week: 1) – The Bolts are on a bit of a mini-skid with four losses in their last seven games, but they still have quality wins over San Jose and Chicago during that stretch. They are the class of the Atlantic Division.

2. Winnipeg Jets (16-6-4, rank last week: 3) – How about those Winnipeg Jets? They continue to win and keep their fine standing in the Western Conference, and look like that potential is finally turning into actual results on the ice. It is a crazy amount of young talent on that team when you look at the roster.

3. Nashville Predators (16-7-3, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are winning and Viktor Arvidsson is dishing the ring for postgame wedding engagements in Nashville. It sounds like the Preds are over that little Stanley Cup Final hangover from the beginning of the season.

4. Los Angeles Kings (16-8-3, rank last week: 6) – Everybody was talking about Drew Doughty’s contract and his NHL future over the last couple of weeks, and with good reason. He continues to dominate while playing 27 minutes of ice time per game.

5.   St. Louis Blues (17-8-2, rank last week: 2) – The Blues have lost three in a row for the first time all season, and fell short against fellow Western Conference hopefuls in Los Angeles, Minnesota and Anaheim. It’s still been a very good season for the Blues thus far, but this has been a down note lately.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-9-1, rank last week: 7) – The Blue Jackets have won eight of their last 10 games and won six in a row during that stretch. Many of those wins were one-goal games as Sergei Bobrovsky continues to refuse to turn over his badge (inside joke for the Jay and Dan fans up in Canada).

7.  Toronto Maple Leafs (17-10-1, rank last week: 4) – The Leafs are 9-3-1 in their last 13 games and continue to stay within striking distance of the Lightning. No pun intended. Okay, maybe it was.    

8.  New Jersey Devils (15-7-4, rank last week: 5) – The Devils are still heavily in the mix for the playoffs after a surprising first couple of months to the season, but it’s going to take a while for the stink to come off a 5-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes this weekend. Ouch.

9. New York Islanders (15-8-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have cranked out 39 goals in their last nine games and continue to push upward in the Metro Division with some pretty impressive numbers across the board. It looks like Doug Weight behind the bench has been very good for that team.   

10. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-10-3, rank last week: 8) – Boy, this Tristan Jarry has come out of nowhere and been exactly what the Penguins needed while ripping off four wins in a row. Matt Murray better be careful that he doesn’t get Mark-Andre Fleury-ed.

11. Vegas Golden Knights (15-9-1, rank last week: 9) – I don’t think anybody foresaw William Karlsson as the leading goal-scorer for Vegas, or that the Golden Knights would be in a playoff position two months into the season. Welp, so much for all those know-it-all talking heads.

12. Dallas Stars (15-10-1, rank last week: 25) – The Stars have racked up four wins in a row and started to get the defensive side of things under control a bit. There’s still a long way to go, but maybe Ken Hitchcock’s message is starting to sink in.

13. San Jose Sharks (14-9-2, rank last week: 13) – One goal in 25 games for Brent Burns after he scored 56 goals over the previous two seasons, and won the Norris Trophy last season. How the heck does that even happen?

14. Washington Capitals (15-11-1, rank last week: 18) – Five wins in their last seven games, and they’ve done a good job of cracking down defensively after giving up six goals in back-to-back losses to Nashville and Colorado. They are in a playoff spot, but just barely right now.

15. New York Rangers (14-10-2, rank last week: 23) – The Rangers have won each of their last five Henrik Lundqvist starts, and King Henrik has only given up six goals over that time span. That’s exactly what the Blueshirts needed to kick them back into gear, but they’re still on the outside looking in for the playoffs.

16. Vancouver Canucks (13-10-4, rank last week: 19) – The Canucks are hanging around, and it looks like Anders Nilsson is pushing for more playing time between the pipes behind a group of talented, young players.

17. Minnesota Wild (13-10-3, rank last week: 15) – The Wild really feel like an also-ran in the Western Conference right now, and perhaps that’s accentuated even more by how average Devan Dubnyk has been this season. If he’s not superhuman then neither are the Wild.

18. Montreal Canadiens (13-12-3, rank last week: 26) – The Habs usher Carey Price back into the proceedings, and they all of a sudden rip off five wins in a row while upping their goal-producing gusto as well. Price’s importance to that Habs team is nothing short of amazing.

19.  Boston Bruins (12-8-4, rank last week: 24) – The Bruins have won six of seven games, and they’re finally healthy for the first time all season. It’s going to be a different kind of challenge to keep everybody happy once roles get changed with good health, but it’s a big development that Tuukka Rask is finally on track.

20.  Calgary Flames (14-11-1, rank last week: 17) – A whopping 36 points in 26 games for Johnny Gaudreau is something special, but the Flames as a team are scrapping just to try to get into the playoff picture.

21. Chicago Blackhawks (12-9-5, rank last week: 16) – Did you hear the one about the Chicago Blackhawks playing in another outdoor hockey game? Yeah, me too.

22. Ottawa Senators (9-9-6, rank last week: 12) – Matt Duchene has one goal and a minus-9 in his first 10 games as a member of the Senators, which has to be pretty disappointing given the investment they made to get him.

23. Carolina Hurricanes (11-9-5, rank last week: 17) – Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho are the two leading scorers for the Hurricanes, so there’s reason for excitement with the young players. But once again the Canes are rounding up the rear in the Metro Division.

24. Anaheim Ducks (11-11-5, rank last week: 22) – The Anaheim Ducks are trying to bolster their offense by adding Adam Henrique, but the jury is out on how well it’s going to end up working for a team scoring 2.6 goals per game.  

25. Detroit Red Wings (10-12-5, rank last week: 14) – The Red Wings have lost seven in a row, and are in serious danger of dropping completely out of the playoff picture in early December. There are trying times for Jeff Blashill.  

26. Colorado Avalanche (12-10-2, rank last week: 20) – Harvard’s Alexander Kerfoot is turning out to be a pretty good signing for the Avs with eight goals and 18 points in 24 games this season. Avs have been okay this season, so at least there’s that.

27. Philadelphia Flyers (8-11-7, rank last week: 27) – The Flyers have lost 10 games in a row while completely nose-diving to the bottom of the Metro Division. Cue the whispers about Dave Hakstol being in jeopardy and everybody being on the trade block.

28. Edmonton Oilers (11-14-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers were already struggling and now they’ve lost Cam Talbot to injury as well. It just looks more and more like this is going to be a lost year for the Oil given how bad things are right now.

29. Florida Panthers (10-13-3, rank last week: 29) – The Panthers are 28th in goals against, 29th in power play success rate and 30th in the penalty kill this season. That is exactly why they’re circling the drain in the East.

30. Buffalo Sabres (6-17-4, rank last week: 30) – The Sabres have lost another four games in a row, and things are absolutely miserable in Big Buff Land. It’s only a matter of time until Evander Kane gets dealt somewhere.

31. Arizona Coyotes (7-18-4, rank last week: 31) – Second-to-last in offense, and dead least in defense in the NHL. At least they’ve got Clayton Keller, but he’s cooled off a bit while racking up a whopping minus-17 mark in 29 games.   

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Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

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Morning Skate: Donato's stock rising with each Olympic victory

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while Team USA continues its uphill journey toward an Olympic medal.

*Ryan Donato potted a couple more goals in a decisive win for Team USA over Slovakia in elimination play and has been one of the top American hockey players at the PyeongChang Winter Games in South Korea. Donato showed a little bit of everything in the performance with a sniper shot off a loose puck, another goal off the rush and he played through a nasty hit up high that appeared to bloody his nose. It’s no exaggeration at this point to say that Team USA goes as Donato goes after he’s secured two-goal performances in each of their victories.

Even better, Donato did it after a surprise visit from his old man, former Bruins player and current Harvard coach Ted Donato, after it was up in the air whether he’d be able to get away to South Korea to watch his son play. From a Bruins perspective, it’s all good things watching Donato score and lead the Americans on a large, global stage while his prospect profile grows with each play that he makes. It’s clear he’s going to sign with the Bruins and go pro shortly after the Olympics, with the only question being whether it makes a quick detour back to Harvard to finish up his college season prior to signing with the Black and Gold.

What’s less clear is the immediate future for Donato, 21. He continues to show high hockey IQ and a scorer’s toughness that’s allowed him to basically be a goal-per-game performer for the Crimson this season. Those will serve him well in the pros. But it would be unrealistic to think that Donato can jump right in and play for the Bruins at this late point in the season. It’s far more likely that he instead spends some development time in Providence after finally inking his entry-level deal.

The Bruins may have to burn off the first year of the entry-level deal when they sign Donato as has become customary with many of the college prospects, but it would be in his best interest to gain experience in Providence rather than sitting and watching as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson did last season. That experience has done him little good as he’s spent this season in Providence working up to being ready for his shot in the NHL.

What Donato could do for this year’s Bruins team is something else, however. His mere presence as a prospect about to join the pro ranks would allow the Bruins to part with one of their young players on the wing in a deadline deal trade. Anders Bjork would be the NHL-ready prospect most likely to move if the B’s had to give up one of their best and brightest in a big deadline move.

Bjork has speed and skill in large amounts and showed it in flashes when he was in Boston earlier this season, but the Bruins are dealing with a massive surplus of skilled wingers and left-shot defensemen in their prospect ranks right now. You can’t play them all in the NHL and Donato’s presence could and should allow Don Sweeney to deal one of them away ahead of Monday afternoon’s deadline.   

*Petr Mrazek is officially now in the playoff chase and also the newest goalie hope in Philly after getting traded to the Flyers from the Red Wings.

*Mat Barzal has overcome any bitterness about his previous experiences in pro hockey to become a Calder Trophy favorite with the Islanders.

*Interesting look at a typical practice with the struggling Montreal Canadiens from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Arpon Basu, who sees meaning in the mundane daily ritual.

*Larry Brooks seems to be dreaming of a lottery pick for the New York Rangers, who have not had one at the very top in a long, long time.

*Women’s Olympic Hockey will be expanding from eight to 10 teams for the next Winter Games, which is great news.

*For something completely different: Kurt Cobain would have been 51 today. Wow, that makes me feel wicked old.


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Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Bruins trade for defenseman Nick Holden from Rangers

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was active and out ahead of the pack with the NHL trade deadline looming next week and he’s made his first move. The Bruins have sent defenseman prospect Robbie O’Gara and a 2018 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for left-shot defenseman Nick Holden, who fills one of the big needs that the Black and Gold had entering this month.

Holden, 30, has been a solid player for the Rangers and Avalanche the past couple of seasons with career highs of 11 goals, 24 points and a plus-13 rating last season to go along with 20:38 of ice time per game for the Blueshirts. Holden has been a little less effective this season with three goals, 12 points and a minus-3 in 55 games for the Rangers, but he’s been a solid top-four, two-way D-man for the past few seasons.

This kind of move gives the Bruins exactly the kind of depth they were looking for on the left side of their back end and adds somebody else on the left side who can play penalty kill and shutdown-type roles behind Zdeno Chara. It also would seem to preclude them from being in the mix for any potential blockbuster for Rangers D-man Ryan McDonagh, but that’s a good thing given that the Bruins didn’t give up anything from their NHL roster to make this deal.

One interesting thing about Holden is that he can play either on the left or right side as a left shot D-man, so it adds flexibility to Boston's back end while also potentially opening up some of their other, younger D-men for corresponding trades if that's the direction Sweeney wants to go. 

O’Gara, 24, is a solid, stay-at-home prospect for the Bruins who's played in 11 games in Boston the past two seasons, but wasn’t the kind of battle-hardened veteran that the B’s were looking for in a playoff run. It also gives O’Gara, from Massapequa, New York, the chance to play for one of the teams he grew up watching and rewards a prospect who has done absolutely everything the B’s have asked of him since he was drafted in the fifth round in 2011.

Presumably, this move will allow Holden to slot in on a pairing with Charlie McAvoy and gives the Bruins the possibility of reuniting Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo as a shutdown pairing that enjoyed all kinds of success holding down other team’s top offensive players. It gives Bruce Cassidy the versatility to mix and match those four D-men to find the best combos and it should drop Torey Krug down to the bottom pairing where he’s probably best suited as an undersized power play maestro.

The bottom line is this gives the Bruins some back-end depth if injuries hit them hard as they did toward the end of last season. It also addresses a big need without giving up anything from an NHL roster that’s vying for the President’s Trophy. The price was a reasonable one for a player the caliber of Holden and could actually be much less than some other GMs pay for D-men closer to the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Sweeney deserves some credit for being an early bird and a tone-setter when it came to making this deal.   

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