Cullen: Reflecting on 2013-14 NHL Power Rankings

Scott Cullen
4/17/2014 2:29:25 PM
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Each year I look back at the TSN.ca NHL Power Rankings, comparing the preseason to end-of-season results and see what kind of factors contributed to unanticipated results. Injuries, goaltending and unexpected individual performances, both good and bad, tend to play the largest role.

It's important to note that the pre-season rankings are not predictions, because they are based on current value of the team, with the understanding that there will be factors throughout the season (trades, injuries, unexpected performances -- both good and bad) that affect results. But if a team has a dramatically different ranking at the end of the season, compared to the beginning, there ought to be some reasons that are evident for that change.

Basically, what happened that wasn't necessarily expected in training camp?

Here are some of the reasons for differences in rankings between rankings in September, 2013 and those in mid-April, 2014.

Pre-Season Rank: 15
Final Rank: 7
Average Rank: 7.16
What's the Difference?: Shooting percentage is the biggie, as the Ducks scored on a league-best 10.7% of their 5-on-5 score-close shots this season, more than 2.0% better than any other team, so they scored more than I expected. Sure, Getzlaf and Perry are going to be varying degrees of great year after year, but this year, Nick Bonino, Mathieu Perreault and Patrick Maroon, among others, had more productive seasons than forecasted.

Pre-Season Rank:4
Final Rank: 1
Average Rank: 5.64
What's the Difference?: The Bruins have a stable core, so it's no surprise that they finished at or near the top of the rankings, but they rose to the very top because players like RW Reilly Smith and C Carl Soderberg exceeded expectations and then, when D Dennis Seidenberg suffered a season-ending injury, the Bruins' defence handled the loss, despite Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller each having less than 50 games of NHL experience coming into the season.

Pre-Season Rank: 29
Final Rank: 30
Average Rank: 29.84
What's the Difference?: Not much, only that the Sabres had G Ryan Miller and LW Thomas Vanek on the roster at the start of the season. Once they were moved, which was inevitable, the Sabres were practically assured of finishing 30th in the rankings.

Pre-Season Rank: 28
Final Rank: 21
Average Rank: 23.56
What's the Difference?: Strangely enough, the Flames reversed the previous season's results (forecasted for 21st and finished 28th), exceeding expectations even though they didn't get much by way of goaltending, which would be a common way for many teams to surpass the preseason forecast. In the Flames' case, they got a Norris-calibre season out of Mark Giordano, and T.J. Brodie continued to improve as his partner. That was probably the biggest factor in the Flames being more competitive, but a number of players -- Mikael Backlund, Sean Monahan, Joe Colborne, Paul Byron -- exceeded expectations.

Pre-Season Rank: 22
Final Rank: 22
Average Rank: 22.44
What's the Difference?: Not much, ultimately. Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty hit a market correction after their percentage-driven ride in 2013, but some 'Canes countered that. Jeff Skinner scored 33 goals, and D Andrej Sekera was a revelation after coming over from Buffalo. Stellar play from G Anton Khudobin also offset a tough year for Cam Ward.

Pre-Season Rank: 1
Final Rank: 2
Average Rank: 3.96
What's the Difference?: It's awfully difficult to take No. 1 from wire to wire, and the Blackhawks had some ups and downs during the year but, in the grand scheme, they are who we thought they were. Some a little better (Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Ben Smith), some a little worse (Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell) but the final product remains a Cup contender.

Pre-Season Rank: 26
Final Rank: 6
Average Rank: 6.48
What's the Difference?: Start with G Semyon Varlamov, who was nearly 37 goals better than he was last season, and their rag-tag defence had some solid performances. Erik Johnson started living up to his billing, Tyson Barrie eventually got a chance to play and bargain additions Nick Holden and Andre Benoit were productive enough too. The forwards remain the strength of the team, but if not for Varlamov's goaltending, the rest likely wouldn't have much mattered, considering that the Avalanche were still a bottom-feeding possession team.

Pre-Season Rank: 18
Final Rank: 14
Average Rank: 17.44
What's the Difference?: The emergence of No. 1 centre Ryan Johansen stands out the most, but the Blue Jackets aren't too far off where they were expected to be. Their preseason ranking, minus an injured Nathan Horton, had them on the fringe of a playoff spot and their final ranking, also without Horton, was for a team that made the playoffs by three points.

Pre-Season Rank: 19
Final Rank: 10
Average Rank: 15.80
What's the Difference?: It wasn't an utter shock that Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn worked well together, but Seguin breaking through for an 84-point season raised the proverbial bar for the Stars. The rest of the lineup might be underwhelming, but 17 goals from Ryan Garbutt? 14 from Antoine Roussel? Those contributions helped in the final analysis too, because the Stars don't have a clear division of lines behind their top unit.

Pre-Season Rank: 7
Final Rank: 16
Average Rank: 17.88
What's the Difference?: Well, going without Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for large chunks of the year was the big difference throughout the season, and while it was somewhat offset by the emergence of so many young players -- Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco etc. -- G Jimmy Howard didn't play to the level that he has in recent seasons either, so the Wings went from being a contender in the preseason to a team just sneaking into the playoffs by season's end.

Pre-Season Rank: 24
Final Rank: 28
Average Rank: 26.60
What's the Difference?: Their defence was as bad as expected, but if there was one reason that the Oilers ended up being even worse than forecasted is that, coming into the season, the expectation was that Devan Dubnyk would be able to provide at least average goaltending, as he had previously. That didn't quite happen. They at least addressed the issue, eventually, by acquiring Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth.

Pre-Season Rank: 30
Final Rank: 29
Average Rank: 28.48
What's the Difference?: A team that had an 18-year-old No. 1 centre and a 39-year-old starting goaltender lived down to expectations (though not specifically the fault of those two). The Panthers may have received more than expected from D Tom Gilbert and rookie C Nick Bjugstad, but that's offset by a 9-goal season from second-year LW Jonathan Huberdeau.

Pre-Season Rank: 3
Final Rank: 8
Average Rank: 7.84
What's the Difference?: Still a very good team, but had trouble scoring at times, as Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown all scored below their previous norms. Adding Marian Gaborik at the deadline helps somewhat, but Gaborik's numbers didn't take off until he got to L.A., where he finished the year with 16 points in the last 16 games.

Pre-Season Rank: 11
Final Rank: 13
Average Rank: 13.20
What's the Difference?: It was quite a roller-coaster for the Wild to end up just a couple spots behind the starting point. They reached as high as No. 4, thanks to G Josh Harding's incredible start to the year, but sunk as low as 25 when injuries took Harding, Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu out of the lineup, and had been climbing with Darcy Kuemper in goal, but dipped a little late in the year once Ilya Bryzgalov was next on that goaltending conveyor belt.

Pre-Season Rank: 10
Final Rank: 11
Average Rank: 10.60
What's the Difference?: There weren't as many highs and lows for the Habs, as G Carey Price limited their downside this season (particularly compared to last season) and the lineup brought both good and bad. Adding Thomas Vanek to Max Pacioretty on the top line sure helped, but a lot of the secondary sources of offence didn't have great years. Whether it was Lars Eller, Alexander Galchenyuk, Daniel Briere or Rene Bourque, there were enough Habs regulars that didn't produce as much as hoped.

Pre-Season Rank: 27
Final Rank: 18
Average Rank: 19.60
What's the Difference?: With a strong finish to the year, the Predators actually did much better than expected, despite goaltending being a problem all year, as Pekka Rinne got hurt and, even once he returned to action, Rinne wasn't up to his usual standards. By season's end, Craig Smith, Ryan Ellis and Nick Spaling were some Predators that fared better than anticipated, while newcomer Calle Jarnkrok quickly made up for the departure of his trade counterpart, David Legwand.

Pre-Season Rank: 20
Final Rank: 15
Average Rank: 20.56
What's the Difference?: Better than their place in the standings, as they were undone by an awful shootout record, the Devils did have some positives, including a great year for RW Jaromir Jagr, along with some potential exhibited by rookie defencemen Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas, who weren't on the roster to start the year. The other positive, that could have tilted even more, based on playing time, was that G Cory Schneider did ultimately play more than Martin Brodeur. Their ranking might have been even better had Schneider played 55 games instead of 45.

Pre-Season Rank: 17
Final Rank: 27
Average Rank: 25.04
What's the Difference?: All the positivity of the Islanders' 2013 playoff berth went away quickly, but at the start of the year, the Islanders were optimistic enough to trade for Thomas Vanek, sacrificing Matt Moulson and a first-round pick in the process. RW Kyle Okposo was a surprise leading scorer but, by season's end, his linemates, John Tavares and Vanek, were out of the lineup due to injury and trade, respectively. That left a lot of young players to audition for roles in the future.

Pre-Season Rank: 14
Final Rank: 9
Average Rank: 15.84
What's the Difference?: Even though he didn't do much after arriving from Tampa Bay, the addition of Martin St. Louis did raise the Rangers' ranking late in the year, but there were others that helped htem exceed expectations. RW Mats Zuccarello led the team in scoring, and LW Benoit Pouliot provided useful forward depth, while backup G Cam Talbot was a pleasant surprise in 21 games (backup goalie not really a factor for a playoff team's ranking, but still noteworthy).

Pre-Season Rank: 6
Final Rank: 25
Average Rank: 20.64
What's the Difference?: Just as the Avalanche were the big surprise, the Senators were the big disappointment. Just as Colorado benefitted from great goaltending, the Senators struggled because both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner regressed hard after both were phenomenal in 2013. Between the pair, they were nearly 36 goals worse than the year before, using Hockey Reference's Goals Saved Above Average.

Expectations were so much higher for the Senators this season because D Erik Karlsson and C Jason Spezza, who had both missed much of the previous season, were returning to the lineup and a couple of healthy stars would figure to make a team better.

What's especially remarkable about the fall was that it overshadowed what was a breakout year for C Kyle Turris, who played on a very effective line with new Senators wingers Clarke MacArthur and Bobby Ryan.

Pre-Season Rank: 13
Final Rank: 12
Average Rank: 20.28
What's the Difference?: Dug a hole early, and were ranked in the bottom third for the first half of the season, before eventually moving into a ranking more in line with expectations. Hoped for more from C Vincent Lecavalier, but got more from G Steve Mason than they had a reasonable right to expect, and now enter the playoffs as an underdog, though a lively one at that.

Pre-Season Rank: 25
Final Rank: 19
Average Rank: 13.72
What's the Difference?: Cruised way above expectations for the first half of the year, but faded, as C Mike Ribeiro had a disappointing year and scoring in general got leaner as the season went on and injuries to C Martin Hanzal and G Mike Smith late in the year pretty much sealed their fate.

Pre-Season Rank: 2
Final Rank: 4
Average Rank: 5.92
What's the Difference?: Injuries -- a lot of injuries -- kept the Penguins ranked lower than their starting and finishing point, but they go into the playoffs with Evgeni Malkin back to anchor the second line and Paul Martin and Kris Letang returned late in the year to upgrade the defence.

Pre-Season Rank: 5
Final Rank: 5
Average Rank: 2.04
What's the Difference?: The team that held down the No.1 ranking more than any other, 10 times on top, were on their way to exceeding expectations before a late-season swoon prompted by injuries and a rough patch for G Ryan Miller.

Pre-Season Rank: 9
Final Rank: 3
Average Rank: 3.64
What's the Difference?: While it's no surprise that the Sharks are a contender, there were enough players that exceeded preseason forecasts. Joe Pavelski, Tommy Wingels, Jason Demers and James Sheppard were better than they had been previously, while rookies Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto were also useful contributors (and Hertl returned from injury late in the season), so they go from being ranked as a good team to being ranked as a Cup contender.

Pre-Season Rank: 21
Final Rank: 17
Average Rank: 13.16
What's the Difference?: For good chunks of the season, the Lightning exceeded their forecast, thanks to G Ben Bishop, who is currently hurt, which has dropped Tampa Bay closer to that preseason expectation level. Rookies are ranked conservatively coming into the season, so it figured that the Lightning would exceed expectations with LW Ondrej Palat, C Tyler Johnson, D Radko Gudas, LW J.T. Brown and RW Nikita Kucherov among those playing regular roles. Palat and Johnson, in particular, contributed much more than anticipated.

Pre-Season Rank: 16
Final Rank: 26
Average Rank: 17.32
What's the Difference?: It's not as if the Maple Leafs didn't get some better-than-expected performances -- C Tyler Bozak, LW Mason Raymond and G Jonathan Bernier were all better-than-advertised -- but there was expected regression from LW Joffrey Lupul and C Nazem Kadri and a complete bust year from free agent signee RW David Clarkson. The Leafs were as high as No. 6 a month into the season, before crashing, the first time, and rebounded as high as 15 in the second half of the season before their late-season plummet left them notably worse than forecasted.

Pre-Season Rank: 12
Final Rank: 24
Average Rank: 14.32
What's the Difference?: Through the first half of the season, the Canucks were consistently ahead of their forecasted ranking, but injuries (Alexander Edler, Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, Roberto Luongo all out at times in January) started to add up, the results got much worse and it led the Canucks to trade Luongo to Florida, leaving them with lesser options in goal.

Pre-Season Rank: 8
Final Rank: 20
Average Rank: 17.56
What's the Difference?: Held okay for a while, but a couple of months into the season, they ran into goaltending problems (though that seemed to be fixed by acquiring Jaroslav Halak) and while there were some nice years from the supporting cast -- RW Joel Ward and LW Jason Chimera stand out -- the Capitals got very little goal production from Marcus Johansson and Martin Erat, leaving them just short of a playoff berth.

Pre-Season Rank: 23
Final Rank: 23
Average Rank: 18.94
What's the Difference?: Apparently, not much, since they ended where they started. Have a decent core and the addition of rookies C Mark Scheifele and D Jacob Trouba lifted the Jets for a time, but, in the end, G Ondrej Pavelec delivering a .901 save percentage was enough to bring them back into the bottom third of the rankings.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Tyson Barrie and Semyon Varlamov (Photo: Canadian Press)


(Photo: Canadian Press)
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