Who’s on Top – November’s NHL Rankings

My version of Scott Cullen’s TSN “Power Rankings”. Like Cullen’s item, it isn’t meant to indicate the top team in the standings, but rather the team(s) I feel are most equipped to make a serious playoff run. (Although the two will naturally tend to overlap).


Written Monday, October 31st


This month: 1  |  Last Month: 1

Current Record: 6-4-0

After a 1-3 start to the season, the Sharks have come on strong, winning 5 straight games. (Thogh they lost tonight). The losing streak itself was a bit deceptive, as the Sharks essentially lost all 3 games by only one goal (lost 4-2 to St. Louis with an empty netter). Joe Pavelski is getting a big opportunity centering the top line between Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. He’s responded in kind, leading the team with 11 points (7G, 4A). As a whole, the Sharks’ top-6 (which also includes Clowe, Couture, and Havlat) is the best in the league, and their defence – led by veteran Dan Boyle and newcomer Brent Burns – is also very well balanced. Throw in solid goaltending from Antti Niemi, and this team is ready to challenge for its first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

*Cullen ranked them 12th initially, but has since moved them up to 1st

Key Injuries: None


This month: 2  |  Last Month: 2

Current Record: 7-2-0

The Caps began the season in dominant fashion, winning their first 7 out of the gate, and outscoring their competition 30-14. The streak was highlighted by a 7-1 win over Detroit – a team that was unbeaten to that point. The team has since come down to earth, losing to both Edmonton and Vancouver on their western road trip. Regardless, the Caps are a force to be reckoned with, and should win the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team during the regular season. They’re also a good bet to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Key Injuries: (D) Mike Green (DTD)


This month: 3  |  Last Month: 4

Current Record: 6-3-2

The Kings’ success thus far has rested on their goaltending and defensive play, as they’ve allowed only 22 goals in 11 games thus far. Jonathan Quick has been particularly good, setting a franchise record with 3 straight shutouts. While the offensive output has been underwhelming thus far, scoring shouldn’t be a concern, as Kopitar, Richards, Williams, Gagne, Doughty, and others bring plenty of talent to the ice. A young team, the Kings are still in the maturation process, but the early returns look good.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 4  |  Last Month: 5

Current Record: 7-2-2

Chicago has been good so far, getting offence from all the usual suspects – Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Toews – as well as the league’s best “3rd line” centre, Dave Bolland. They’re also 4th in the league in shots per game (33.6), and have been particularly good at even strength. The one weakness thus far has been the powerplay, which currently sits at 27th in the league at 10.5%. But like LA, it shouldn’t take that group long to improve those numbers.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 5  |  Last Month: 3

Current Record: 6-4-0

The Sabres have all kinds of talent, but haven’t been able to put it together thus far. The line of Vanek-Adam-Pominville has been on fire – particularly the Austrian sniper (Vanek), who has 8 goals through 10 games, and is among the NHL’s scoring leaders with 15 points. Unfortunately secondary scoring has been minimal thus far, as talented players like Derek Roy and Ville Leino have performed well below expectations, and Tyler Ennis was also disappointing before hurting his ankle.  Furthermore, young defensive stud Tyler Myers has been unimpressive so far, possibly suffering from the increased defensive responsibility of playing on the top shut-down pairing with Robyn Regehr. Ryan Miller was great early in the year, but has faltered a bit in the last few games. Overall, the Sabres can play a lot better, but it may take some time before new recruits like Leino, Ehrhoff, and Regehr gel with their new club.

Key Injuries: (F) Tyler Ennis (week-to-week)


This month: 6  |  Last Month: 8

Current Record: 8-3-2

The Pens have been impressive so far, winning 8 games despite missing players like Malkin, Kennedy, Orpik, and Michalek for many of those games, and Sidney Crosby for all 13. Dan Bylsma is an early candidate for coach of the year, as he’s introduced a stifling, defensive style of play which allows the Penguins to pile up wins even without their biggest stars. James Neal has filled in admirably, scoring 9 goals to date, and Kris Letang has been an absolute rock on defence, with 11 points in as many games, and playing huge minutes – over 26 per game. Injuries will be a constant worry for the Pens though, as Malkin has already taken games off to rest his surgically repaired knee, and Crosby’s status remains an unknown. As solid as the Pens have been, they won’t go far in the playoffs unless Sid and Geno are both healthy.

Key Injuries: (F) Sidney Crosby (indefinitely), (D) Zbenyk Michalek (3-5 weeks), (F) Tyler Kennedy (indefinitely)


This month: 7  |  Last Month: 7

Current Record: 5-5-1

The Canucks haven’t been great out of the gate, but they also haven’t been as bad as their record indicates. They’re 3rd in the league in shots, showing their territorial advantage in play. The main problem has been their inability to keep the puck out of the net, highlighted by Roberto Luongo’s 3.54 goals-against-average and .869 save percentage. Accordingly, Canucks fans have continued their abuse of Luongo – a trend which dates as far back as the 2009 playoffs, and really intensified during the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. Luongo is a notoriously slow starter, so his play should improve as the season bears on, but the stage is set for a goaltending controversy. Many people believe that back-up Cory Schneider is a better long-term option for the team, but he is likely the odd-man out, as Luongo’s 12-year contract (11 remaining) is virtually untradeable.

Key Injuries: (F) Mason Raymond (out indefinitely)


This month: 8  |  Last Month: 6

Current Record: 3-7-0

Here’s what I wrote in October:

“On paper, the Bruins are still a great team. But after a gruelling cup run and a shortened summer, I think some of the veterans will be hobbled by lingering injuries. The seemingly small departures of Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi may also sting, as both veterans really stepped up their play in the playoffs. They’ll certainly be tough to beat come playoffs, but I can’t see them getting back to the finals this year.”

Perhaps that assessment was too optimistic. The Bruins certainly haven’t been a great team thus far, as they’ve struggled to score goals (only 22 through 10 games), and haven’t been able to take the tight games they’re accustomed to winning. With only 1 goal in 7 games, David Krejci’s offence has been notably absent, though he may not be 100% as he missed 3 games earlier this month with a leg injury. The Bruins will certainly play better as the year goes on, but for now, the Stanley Cup hangover is in full swing in Beantown.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 9  |  Last Month: 9

Current Record: 5-4-0

The Wings looked great early, winning their first 5 games, before getting blown out in Washington, 7-1. Since then they’ve lost 4 straight, and looked very different from the team that started the year. The offence has been poor, as the wings have scored just 23 goals, and no Red Wing has more than 7 points. The powerplay is 18th in the league, showing that the Wings might miss Brian Rafalski, who retired unexpectedly in June. The Wings should regain their composure soon, but there’s no reason to believe that the current group is any better than last year’s team, which lost in the 2nd round.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 10  |  Last Month: 13

Current Record: 6-4-1

The Flyers have been pretty good so far, with strong performances from the top line of Scott Hartnell, Claude Giroux, and Jaromir “moves like” Jagr, as well as Danny Briere. Giroux is quickly becoming one of the league’s best players, and is tied for second in league scoring with 15 points. The issue thus far has been consistency. Ilya Bryzgalov was very good to start the year, but has been subpar in recent games, and admitted to having “zero confidence right now.” The Flyers also played markedly worse upon losing Chris Pronger to an eye injury, showing their dependence on the 37-year-old defender whose health has been in decline over the last couple of years. And while the Flyers have been pleasantly surprised by the play of rookies like Couturier and Read, young players aren’t accustomed to the NHL schedule, and may get worn down as the season goes on. Same goes for 39-year-old Jagr.

Key Injuries: (D) Chris Pronger (week-to-week)


This month: 11  |  Last Month: 23

Current Record: 8-3-0

The Stars have obliterated everyone’s expectations thus far, getting huge performances from young superstar Jamie Benn, the oft underrated Loui Eriksson, and savy veteran Mike Ribeiro. But the single biggest reason for their record is goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Once a highly touted goaltender in Atlanta, Lehtonen has found his game over the past two years in Dallas, and currently boasts a record of 8-1, with a 1.75 G.A.A and .947 save %. Those Thomas-like numbers aren’t going to last, but if Lehtonen can continue to play at a high level, Dallas could make a serious playoff push this season.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 12  |  Last Month: 17

Current Record 7-3-1

No matter the situation, the Leafs seem to have found a way to win so far this season. The main reason is offence, as they currently sit 3rd in the league in goals per game. The driving force has been Phil Kessel, who leads the league in scoring with 18 points in 11 games. Dion Phaneuf has also been good, with 11 points in as many games, a +7 rating. The injury to goaltender James Reimer is a big concern, as Jonas Gustavsson hasn’t proven much thus far in his NHL career – but to be fair to Gustavsson, he’s never had a good team in front of him. Like Dallas, the goaltending will have to be good to keep up this pace, since the offence will probably tail off a bit as the season goes on.

Key Injuries: (G) James Reimer (indefinitely), (F) Colby Armstrong (indefinitely)


This month: 13  |  Last Month: 10

Current Record: 5-4-2

Like Boston, I’ll just re-quote October, since I think it applies:

“Although Tampa Bay was one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals, don’t bank on a repeat performance. Outside the elite forward group of Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier, this team is pretty average. The defence is average, and 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson can’t play as well over 82 games as he did in short spurts last post-season. The Bolts will be a good team, but they won’t be around come the later playoff rounds.”

Roloson has been bad so far, with Mathieu Garon outplaying him by a wide margin. (3.63 G.A.A vs. 2.43). The defence is also poor, giving up over 32 shots per game thus far, tied for 24th in the league. The big guns of Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, etc are firing as expected, but the rest of the team just isn’t very good.

Key Injuries: (D) Matthias Ohlund (indefinitely)


This month: 14  |  Last Month: 12

Current Record: 5-5-1

The Ducks continue to be the Western Conference’s version of Tampa Bay: beyond Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, and Selanne, this team has extremely poor depth. So far it’s hurting them, as they’re averaging only 2 goals per game. Selanne is the only player around a point-per-game, while no forward after Bobby Ryan has more than 3 points. Meanwhile goaltender Jonas Hiller has played well in his return from vertigo, but isn’t up to last season’s level just yet. The Ducks should play better as Getzlaf and Perry pick up their play, but this team needs more balance if they ever hope to become a contender again.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 15  |  Last Month: 11

Current Record: 4-3-3

Re-using old material again: “The blueline, which was thin coming into the season, was struck a devastating blow when news broke of Marc Staal’s post-concussion symptoms. With their #1 defenceman out of the line-up, the Rangers have a young, rag-tag group of defencemen, which should give Lundqvist more than he can handle.”

The Rangers’ defensive shortcomings have certainly been their biggest issue, as they’ve given up over 32 shots per game, 5th last in the league. The other issue has been the slow start for Richards and Gaborik, though the two have started to establish some chemistry in the last two games. With Staal out, and no help on the way, the Rangers will struggle to play up to their potential, but they should improve as the season goes on.

Key Injuries: (D) Marc Staal (indefinitely)


This month: 16  |  Last Month: 19

Current Record: 5-4-2

Nashville struggled out of the gate, but have really picked up their play since forwards Mike Fisher and Martin Erat returned from injury. The Preds play the same defensive style of play that teams have grown accustomed to, and are a tough opponent on any given night, particularly with Vezina Trophy runner-up Pekka Rinne standing guard in goal.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 17  |  Last Month: 27

Current Record: 7-2-2

As impressive as The Nuge has been playing between Hall and Eberle, the Oilers are in this position for one reason: goaltending. Khabibulin and Dubnyk have been playing out of their minds, and while that’s been refreshing after a few years of goaltending troubles, it isn’t sustainable. The Oilers are already missing their best defencemen Ryan Whitney, and the abundance of exuberant youth on the club will ensure that a healthy number of scoring changes will be going both ways. The Oilers are incredibly exciting to watch, and have a bright future, but they will not maintain their current record as the season goes on.

Key Injuries: (D) Ryan Whitney (3 weeks), (F) Ales Hemsky (indefinitely)


This month: 18  |  Last Month: 26

Current Record: 7-4-0

Colorado has been another surprise in the West, but their 7-4 record is deceptive, as 3 of those wins have come in the shootout. Furthermore, the bulk of the goals have come from the powerplay, which is 2nd best in the league – a trend which is less sustainable than good even-strength play. In feel good stories, Gabriel Landeskog has been the second best rookie in the league thus far (after the Nuge), and has contributed both offensively and defensively, with 7 points and significant minutes on the penalty kill. And Defenceman Kyle Quincey is an early candidate for comeback player of the year, with 8 points thus far after only 1 point in 21 games last season.

Key Injuries: (F) Peter Mueller (indefinitely)


This month: 19  |  Last Month: 14

Current Record: 5-6-0

The Blues have been two different teams depending on who’s in goal. One goaltender is 4-1, with a 1.67 G.A.A and .952 save %, while the other is 1-5 with a 3.58 G.A.A and .843 save %. The odd thing is that the better stats belong to second-stringer Brian Elliot, while starter Jaroslav Halak sports the ugly ones. Elliot had a miserable year last season split between Ottawa and Colorado, but has thrived in the low-pressure environment of St. Louis. But Halak, after a phenomenal start in 2010, has looked average of worse for most of the last 50 games, dating back to last November. The Blues are also missing a lot of scoring with Perron and McDonald both out with concussions – likely a factor in their league-worst powerplay, which has scored only 8.3% of the time. It’s left to talented young guys like Chris Stewart, T.J Oshie, and Patrik Berglund to pick up the slack.

Key Injuries: (F) David Perron (indefinitely), (F) Andy McDonald (indefinitely)


This month: 20  |  Last Month: 15

Current Record: 4-4-1

New Jersey has struggled a bit so far, winning only 2 games in regulation and the other 2 in the shootout. They’ve struggled to generate offence, particularly on their 28th ranked powerplay, which is firing at just 10.3%. Martin Brodeur was also ineffective at the beginning of the year before getting hurt, but Johan Hedberg played well in Brodeur’s absence. It will be interesting to see how Brodeur’s return impacts the Devils, as his level of play has clearly dropped in the last couple of years.

Key Injuries: Travis Zajac (Out indefinitely)


This month: 21  |  Last Month: 16

Current Record: 4-3-3

The Wild haven’t been as good as I expected them to be, but they haven’t been bad either. Just like Gaborik and Richards in New York, Koivu and Heatley haven’t established much chemistry yet. That will need to change in a hurry, or the Wild will get left behind in the always competitive Western Conference.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 22  |  Last Month: 18

Current Record: 4-5-2

The Canadians suffered early based on injuries to top sniper Mike Cammalleri as well as defencemen Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek. But since the firing (scapegoating) of assistant coach Perry Pearn last week, the Habs have won 3 straight. The return of Cammalleri was probably as big a factor, but coaching changes have a proven history of producing short-term results. The team will be in a dog fight all year for that last playoff spot, and it’s unclear at this point whether they have enough horses to get there.

Key Injuries: (D) Andrei Markov (indefinitely), (D) Chris Campoli (indefnitely), (F) Scott Gomez (indefinitely)


Current Record: 5-3-2

This month: 23  |  Last Month: 25

The Coyotes have defied the odds over the last few years, assembling a no-name cast (in Nashvillian form) and playing a defensive style of hockey under the tutelage of Head Coach Dave Tippett. So far the early returns are good, but as teams like Vancouver, Anaheim, Detroit, San Jose, and others improve their play, Phoenix should find itself on the outside of the playoff picture.

Key Absences: (F) Kyle Turris (contract hold-out)


This month: 24  |  Last Month: 21

Current Record: 4-4-3

The formula isn’t too complicated in Carolina, where Cam Ward is being counted on to save the day almost every game. Excellent he is, but Superman he is not. Naturally, the Hurricanes’ season has been marked by inconsistency, with shutout wins over Chicago preceded closely by losses to the Jets where they gave up 5 goals. (Ward sat for the 5-goal game). The Hurricanes aren’t that bad overall, but they aren’t that good either.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 25  |  Last Month: 30

Current Record: 7-5-0

Figure this one out: the Senators started the year 1-5, stinking up every arena they graced as they were outscored 30-16. Then came the standard players-only meeting, and suddenly the team has won 6 straight, and seems able to mount a comeback at will. Jason Spezza has played like an MVP candidate, with 10 points in the last 6 games, and 15 on the season. However, at some point the magic will run out – the offence will drop just a bit, and the woeful defence will be exposed as it was earlier in the year. This team might not be as bad as they looked at the start, but they won’t be around for the playoffs either.

Key Injuries: None


Current Record: 4-4-1

This month: 26  |  Last Month: 22

I almost feel bad for the Flames, because they just have so little going for them. They don’t have a good offence, and they don’t have a shut-down defence. Most of their wins have come from great performances by Miikka Kiprusoff, and those are becoming rarer by the year. The Flames aren’t really a bad team, but they just don’t have a major strength like all the playoff-worthy teams ahead of them.

Key Injuries: None


Current Record: 4-6-1

This month: 27  |  Last Month: 24

The Jets are a lot like the Flames, in that they aren’t particularly good offensively or defensively. They create scoring chances, but aren’t able to finish them. They’ve had some good goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, but at no point have they looked adept defensively. Most of their games are competitive, but they don’t seem to have the skill and experience required to post the long winning streaks that are required of playoff teams.

Key Injuries: (D) Tobias Enstrom (indefinitely)


This month: 28  |  Last Month: 29

Current Record: 6-4-1

The Panthers have been on a nice run so far this year, and are currently sitting in 6th place in the Eastern Conference. Now this may not be as set in stone as birth, death, and taxes, but I’d be willing to bet that Florida is not in 6th, or 7th, or 8th place by April. Their goaltending is poor, their defence is poor, and their offence is below average. My guess is they’ll be amongst the 5 worst teams in the league by season’s end.

Key Injuries: None


Current Record: 3-4-2

This month: 29  |  Last Month: 28

John Tavares has willed his team (and linemates) to a few solid performances, but unfortunately this team is too much of a one-man show. Excluding his linemates and stud powerplay d-man Mark Streit, the highest scoring Islander has only 3 points. What’s worse is that the goaltending has actual been quite good so far – a trend which is not likely to continue. There are some good young players on Long Island, but it might take a little longer for the results to follow.

Key Injuries: None


This month: 30  |  Last Month: 20

Current Record: 2-9-1

The Jackets have been far and away the worst team in the league thus far. That being said, I don’t think they’ll continue to post these absurdly poor numbers. James Wisniewski’s 8 game suspension hurt the team a lot – it’s not coincidence that they won their first game of the season when he returned to the line-up. Unfortunately Jeff Carter went down just before Wisniewski returned, so the Jackets really haven’t been at full-strength at any point this season. The playoffs are probably a long-shot at this point, but the Jackets should be a far more competitive team if they ever get healthy.

Key Injuries: (F) Jeff Carter (indefinitely), (F) Kristian Huselius (indefinitely)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *