NHL

Cullen: Comparing preseason and current NHL rankings

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TSN.ca Talent Blog
2/18/2010 8:10:04 AM
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Now that the Olympic break provides a few weeks to reflect on the NHL season to this point, I'm taking a look at the pre-season Power Rankings, generated at the beginning of September, and comparing them to the last rankings before the break. 

Why are the surprise teams surprises?  Why are others disappointing?

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
1
Pre-Season Ranking: 5
The Reason: As great as the Capitals' stars have been, they are also ranked higher than they were at the start of the season due to strong seasons from complementary types like Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr, while Jeff Schultz has emerged as a sound defensive blueliner.

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
2
Pre-Season Ranking: 4
The Reason: A tad better than their preseason ranking, the Sharks have received strong seasons from Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, but role players like Manny Malhotra, Jed Ortmeyer and Scott Nichol have all had a greater than expected impact.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
3
Pre-Season Ranking: 10
The Reason: Ranked artificially low because of Marian Hossa's shoulder injury, the Blackhawks have been even better than expected, as their entire core has been at least a little better than anticipated, including Brian Campbell, who has rebounded from a tough first season in Chicago and power forward Troy Brouwer has developed nicely.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
4
Pre-Season Ranking: 6
The Reason: The Sedins, especially Henrik, have been even better than expected, lifting the performance of Alex Burrows and the second line, anchored by Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond, has experienced a breakthrough.  Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff has also provided much more than expected after coming over from San Jose in the offseason.

LOS ANGELES KINGS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
5
Pre-Season Ranking: 23
The Reason: It was a matter of time before the Kings' young guns arrived, but they've really come together this season.  Anze Kopitar has taken his game up a notch while skating with Ryan Smyth, who has benefitted from the move in his own right.  Add in super sophs Drew Doughty, Wayne Simmonds and Jonathan Quick -- all making quantum leaps -- and the Kings are up among the Western Conference contenders.

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
6
Pre-Season Ranking: 29
The Reason: Ridiculously shocking that so many young players have maintained their production.  Certainly the goaltending of Craig Anderson has been an upgrade and young forwards like Wojtek Wolski and Chris Stewart have broken through as well.  But, the real story is the rookies: Matt Duchene, T.J. Galiardi, Brandon Yip, Ryan O'Reilly and Ryan Wilson are all making a major difference.

PHOENIX COYOTES
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
7
Pre-Season Ranking: 30
The Reason: Every bit as shocking as the Avalanche, the Coyotes have responded to new head coach Dave Tippett's defensive style.  Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has been the backbone and while there hasn't been a lot of offence, Radim Vrbata has resurrected his NHL career and Scottie Upshall was on his way before suffering a knee injury.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
8
Pre-Season Ranking: 8
The Reason: While not having Paul Martin has hurt the Devils, they didn't have Patrik Elias at the start of the season either and their recent addition of Ilya Kovalchuk should, at least theoretically, make them better. 

BUFFALO SABRES
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
9
Pre-Season Ranking: 19
The Reason: Ryan Miller has been exceptional in the Sabres' goal and rookie defenceman Tyler Myers has been an impact player right from the get-go, which has been more than enough to overcome the disappointment of Thomas Vanek's lack of production.  Veteran Jochen Hecht has also been better this year.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
10
Pre-Season Ranking: 1
The Reason: Evgeni Malkin hasn't been as great as he was last season and, of course, the wingers could be better.  It doesn't seem like the Penguins are that far off their Stanley Cup team and if Malkin is playing at an elite level (rather than very good), they would be much closer to the top.

OTTAWA SENATORS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
11
Pre-Season Ranking: 24
The Reason: Mike Fisher's career season has surely made a difference, as has the work of rookie Peter Regin and improving young winger Nick Foligno.  Mix in a second-half goaltending run from Brian Elliott and the Sens are looking better now than they did in September.

DETROIT RED WINGS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
12
Pre-Season Ranking: 3
The Reason: Injuries, injuries, injuries and the superstars -- Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom, most notably -- have all been a little off.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
13
Pre-Season Ranking: 9
The Reason: While Ray Emery's injuries might normally cause a rankings problem for the Flyers, Michael Leighton has been more than adequate as a replacement.  However, the Flyers defence is thin, with Braydon Coburn struggling and the likes of Oskars Bartulis and Lukas Krajicek taking regular turns.

CALGARY FLAMES
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
14
Pre-Season Ranking: 17
The Reason: My primary concerns about the Flames in the preseason were two-fold: 1) that the Flames didn't have the goal-scoring to compensate for the loss of Michael Cammalleri in free agency and 2) that Miikka Kiprusoff's numbers had declined every year since he arrived in Calgary, a trend that would be disastrous if it continued.  While Kipper's been great, the goal-scoring has been an issue, so the Flames are only a little ahead of the preseason ranking.

ANAHEIM DUCKS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
15
Pre-Season Ranking: 11
The Reason: The decline of Scott Niedermayer's play -- he has the worst 5-on-5 goal differential per 60 minutes of any Ducks defenceman who has played at least 25 games -- combined with mediocre production from Ryan Whitney has the Ducks down a few spots.

BOSTON BRUINS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
16
Pre-Season Ranking: 2
The Reason: Injuries have certainly played a part, but the Bruins' inability to score has posed major problems; they apparently miss Phil Kessel more than they thought they would.  David Krejci started slowly, coming off hip surgery; Milan Lucic was hurt and hasn't been productive when he has played, which hasn't helped Marc Savard and defenceman Dennis Wideman has flopped following his breakout campaign in 2008-2009.

DALLAS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
17
Pre-Season Ranking: 21
The Reason: A little better than expected, thanks to the development of young forwards James Neal and Jamie Benn (and for a good portion of the season to this point, Tom Wandell).  The defence corps hasn't been as productive as needed to rank higher, with Matt Niskanen failing to take the next step in his development.

NEW YORK RANGERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
18
Pre-Season Ranking: 22
The Reason: While Vaclav Prospal has been productive, the Rangers' ranking has also been boosted some by the play of rookie defencemen Matt Gilroy and Michael Del Zotto, while the recent addition of Olli Jokinen has also helped.

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
19
Pre-Season Ranking: 18
The Reason: When healthy, the Canadiens have been better, largely due to strong goaltending from Jaroslav Halak, but the early injury to Andrei Markov, coupled with the current injury situation (Michael Cammalleri, Andrei Kostitsyn and Benoit Pouliot among the injured) has the Habs close to the preseason pick.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
20
Pre-Season Ranking: 20
The Reason: Patric Hornqvist and Marcel Goc have had more impact than expected, but the defence hasn't been as strong as anticipated and goaltender Pekka Rinne hasn't been as outstanding as he was as a rookie last year.

FLORIDA PANTHERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
21
Pre-Season Ranking: 15
The Reason: The middle of the pack ranking wasn't too far off when Nathan Horton got injured several weeks ago and the Panthers' utter inability to score since then has wasted the terrific goaltending they've received from Tomas VokounDavid Booth has returned after missing three months with a concussion, but he's still regaining his form.

ST. LOUIS BLUES
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
22
Pre-Season Ranking: 12
The Reason: Falling back a step after what looked like a breakthrough campaign in 2008-2009, the Blues haven't seen as much improvement from young guns T.J. Oshie, David Perron and, especially, Patrik Berglund, while vets like Brad Boyes and Andy McDonald could have been counted on for more offensive production too.

MINNESOTA WILD
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
23
Pre-Season Ranking: 14
The Reason: A slow start under new coach Todd Richards appears to be turning around some, but Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been out since Game One with a concussion.  Defenceman Brent Burns missed a couple of months and free agent signing Martin Havlat struggled out of the gate, though he's playing well now and the Wild have received surprising production out of Guillaume Latendresse.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
24
Pre-Season Ranking: 27
The Reason: A little better than expected, due to Steven Stamkos' quick ascension to stardom, which has helped both Ryan Malone and Steve Downie, and goaltender Antero Niittymaki has provided a much-needed option to go with Mike Smith.

CAROLINA HURRICANES
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
25
Pre-Season Ranking: 7
The Reason: Early injuries to Eric Staal, Cam Ward and Joe Corvo put the 'Canes behind the eight-ball and, while they've turned things around now, it could very well be too late.  Erik Cole has struggled, and been injured, while the likes of Chad LaRose and Rod Brind'Amour have seen their production tail off significantly.

ATLANTA THRASHERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
26
Pre-Season Ranking: 26
The Reason: Even without Ilya Kovalchuk the Thrashers are meeting their preseason ranking because of strong goaltending from Johan Hedberg, surprising production from ex-Maple Leafs Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina as well as the emergence of blueliner Tobias Enstrom and rookie winger Evander Kane.  Of course, Maxim Afinogenov coming off the scrap heap to be a scorer again helps, too.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
27
Pre-Season Ranking: 13
The Reason: First and foremost, unfortunately, Steve Mason's nosedive following his rookie of the year season has been a major reason for the Blue Jacket's decline, as has the lack of production from centre Derick Brassard, who was a rookie of the year contender when he dislocated his shoulder last season.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
28
Pre-Season Ranking: 28
The Reason: Even with surprising production from the likes of Matt Moulson and the development of Josh Bailey, the Isles are about as expected since Mark Streit hasn't matched his outstanding 2008-2009 campaign and a couple of injuries have decimated a defence corps that could ill-afford to lose any depth.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
29
Pre-Season Ranking: 25
The Reason: The Leafs haven't met the modest expectations of the preseason, at least in part because their two marquee free agent defencemen signings, Francois Beauchemin and Mike Komisarek, have struggled and the current version of the team is lacking some depth up front after their deals with Calgary and Anaheim.

EDMONTON OILERS
Pre-Olympic Ranking:
30
Pre-Season Ranking: 16
The Reason: It's too simple to suggest that injuries alone have contributed to the Oilers' demise, though losing Ales Hemsky, Nikolai Khabibulin and Sheldon Souray has surely affected them.  Even so, defencemen Denis Grebeshkov and Tom Gilbert haven't been as productive and forwards Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan and Andrew Cogliano are among the worst of the underachievers.


Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen
 

Galiardi and Cumiskey celebrate (Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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