Joe Haggerty's NHL Power Rankings: Central Division soaring
The trade deadline is over, and the rosters are loaded for bear across the NHL.
The big winner, of course, is the Washington Capitals as the best team that secured the best available player on the board in All-Star defenseman and future big ticket free agent Kevin Shattenkirk. They beat out the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers to get him thereby keeping Metro Division supremacy theirs, but they also paid a heavy price in a first- and second-round pick in addition to the prospect/roster player involved.
It makes perfect sense for them given how many free agents (12 including Karl Alzner, TJ Oshie, Brett Connolly, Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams and RFAs in Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov) the Capitals will have following this season, and the last hurrah for this particular group given the salary cap constraints every team faces in the NHL.
The Penguins named puck-moving, power play specialist Mark Street, who is a pretty good consolation prize for the defending champs, and gives them another offensive D-man should Kris Letang continue to be banged up moving forward. The Rangers got Detroit D-man Brendan Smith in the Metro Division derby sweepstakes as well, but we’re going to give them a third-place finish this time around until they go out and spend for Shattenkirk on July 1 to improve their standing next season and beyond.
Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s power rankings:
1. Washington Capitals (44-13-7, previous ranking: 1)
The Capitals could have slogged through the dog days of the season, but instead they’ve posted a 9-2-1 record and went out and snagged Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline. That’s called going for it, son.
2. Minnesota Wild (42-15-6, PR: 3)
Mikael Granlund has really emerged as the top dog for the Minnesota Wild as they’ve pushed their way to the top of the Central Division, and look like they’ll be a handful in the playoffs.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (42-18-5, PR: 6)
The Blackhawks have ripped off seven wins in a row, and have won 13 out of 14 games since the beginning of February as they push the Wild for Central Division supremacy. It should be a great fight to the finish.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (40-16-8, PR: 2)
Sidney Crosby said he believes that the Penguins can win back-to-back Stanley Cups, and they certainly have as good a chance as anybody this season ... aside from coming out of the NHL’s toughest division in the playoffs.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (41-17-6, PR: 5)
Another week, another sequence with John Tortorella challenging somebody to a fight. He should be fun now that it looks like his team will be back in the playoffs.
6. San Jose Sharks (38-19-7, PR: 7)
It’s amazing when you think about Brent Burns leading the Sharks in goals and points from the defenseman position this season. He is really a unique force of nature in hockey.
7. Montreal Canadiens (37-21-8, PR 10)
The Canadiens seem to have shaken off the doldrums and won five in a row under Claude Julien while stocking up the cupboard full of rats, tough guys and difficult people to play against at the trade deadline. It should make for an interesting postseason.
8. New York Rangers (41-22-2, PR: 4)
The Rangers have one regulation win in their last seven games and feel like they’re fading to the wild card spot. That might not be the worst thing in the world for the Blueshirts come playoff time.
9. Ottawa Senators (35-22-6, PR: 9)
Craig Anderson is 6-2-0 since returning to the Ottawa Senators, and the Sens are rolling with tight, one-goal wins as the order of the day under Guy Boucher. It feels like the Sens are in a pretty good spot, but they’ve got three big games vs. the Bruins down the stretch.
10. Calgary Flames (36-26-4, PR: 16)
The Flames have won seven games in a row as they make their playoff push, and Brian Elliott has become the No. 1 goaltender that Calgary always envisioned him to be. Things are looking up in Cow town.
11. Edmonton Oilers (35-22-8, PR: 12)
Cam Talbot has played in 21 of the last 23 games for the Oilers dating back to Jan. 10 and continues to help steer the ship toward the playoffs for the Oilers. The Oil didn’t go after a backup goalie at the deadline, so that’s exactly how it will continue for Edmonton as well.
12. Anaheim Ducks (33-22-10, PR: 8)
The Ducks are 5-7-1 since the beginning of February, and are just treading water as other teams in the Western Conference are making a strong push upward. It’s time for the Ducks to start snapping out of it a little bit.
13. Boston Bruins (34-25-6, PR: 15)
The Bruins have won eight out of their ten games under Bruce Cassidy and they’re beginning to open up a bit of a playoff cushion. This feels like the new normal in Boston after so much disappointment down the stretch in each of the last two seasons.
14. Nashville Predators (32-24-9, previous ranking: 13)
Back-to-back losses to the Canadiens and Blackhawks give the Predators a little dose of reality on their station in life, but they look squarely like a playoff team at this point.
15. New York Islanders (30-23-11, PR: 11)
The Isles are 13-6-3 since Doug Weight took over as coach and they’re knocking heavily on the door for the playoffs at this point. Their best hope is somehow earning the spot that will gain them entry into the Atlantic Division playoff bracket for much beyond that, however.
16. St. Louis Blues (32-27-5, PR: 14)
It’s tough times for the Blues with reality perhaps setting in a bit as Kevin Shattenkirk was traded away. The message is clear that this isn’t viewed as “the year” for a Blues hockey club that’s on the bubble.
17. Los Angeles Kings (31-28-6, PR: 20)
The return of Jon Quick and the trade for Ben Bishop have brought some stability back to the Kings, so now is the time for them to make their move if it’s going to happen.
18. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-22-14, PR: 18)
The Leafs did a good job of getting a gritty third line guy in Brian Boyle at the deadline, but they’re showing their youth while dropping five games in a row this late in the season.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (30-26-8, PR: 21)
The Andrei Vasilevskiy Era has officially begun in Tampa Bay, so we’ll see if it’s enough to spark the Lightning into a late season surge for a playoff spot. Once again Steve Yzerman was in the middle of everything at the trade deadline, so the Bolts had that going for them as well.
20. Florida Panthers (29-24-11, PR: 17)
Losses in five out of six games and Roberto Luongo is banged up for the Panthers as well. There might just be too much for Florida to try and overcome at this point.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (30-26-8, PR: 19)
The Flyers are 5-6-2 in 13 games since the beginning of February and were guarded buyers at the deadline with Valtteri Filppula. They’ve invested in Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth between the pipes, though, so it’s hard to see them getting markedly better than they are now.
22. Winnipeg Jets (30-30-6, PR: 26)
Paul Maurice getting a little feisty and painting Mike Babcock as a coach playing the Youth Card in Toronto while Winnipeg doesn’t get that luxury. That’s probably because Winnipeg is a team that should be in the playoffs, and their coach is feeling a little bit of the heat.
23. Buffalo Sabres (27-27-12, PR: 22)
The 1-4-2 record in the last seven games is the Sabres limping toward the finish line while giving up way too many goals with substandard D-men and shaky goaltending. That’s no way to go through life in the NHL.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (26-26-10, PR: 23)
The Hurricanes have games in hand on everybody, but it’s tough to gain ground when losing nine games in their last 11 tries while the head coach is publicly blasting his goaltenders. It doesn’t feel like there’s a big push from this group, does it?
25. Vancouver Canucks (28-30-7, PR: 25)
The Canucks had been hanging around on the edge of the playoff conversation this season, but the mumps was the final nail in the coffin that took them out. What a way to go.
26. New Jersey Devils (25-28-12, PR: 24)
The Devils have lost seven in a row and are in the death throes of their season. Clearly they need more than Taylor Hall, Cory Schneider and the merry band of hopefuls playing for this team right now. The team was well-coached, but the talent just isn’t there right now.
27. Detroit Red Wings (25-27-11, PR: 27)
Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith and Thomas Vanek were dealt away ahead of the deadline in an admission that the reloading plan hasn’t worked in Detroit, and that perhaps it’s time to embrace the pain in Hockeytown a little bit.
28. Dallas Stars (26-29-10, PR: 28)
The question for the Dallas Stars now is whether Lindy Ruff is the right man for this group of players, or not, after a big step backward for a talented Dallas group this season. Jamie Benn has done some heavy lifting this month, but it really hasn’t seemed to matter.
29. Arizona Coyotes (23-35-7, PR: 29)
Why didn’t the Coyotes trade Radim Vrbata again? John Chayka had an opportunity to really build up the war chest of prospects and draft picks, but it feels like he only did the job halfway through.
30. Colorado Avalanche (17-44-3, PR: 30)
A microcosm of the Colorado season: The sight of an Avalanche player all alone on a shorthanded breakaway, who then inexplicably dished to a player behind him rather than taking a shot at the net. What the hell was that?