Tuesday April 6th, 2010

NOTE: These are the final REGULAR SEASON rankings although at the time of their writing, there was still a week to go before the playoffs. For an updated Playoff Teams Only ranking, click here.

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by recent play, taking into account expectations versus achievement, quality of opponents, injuries, hot or cold streaks, lucky bounces, bad breaks, official malfeasance, travel schedule, and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses of any color were worn during the establishment of these rankings.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

Biggest climb: Ducks (22 to 15)

Biggest fall: Thrashers (16 to 24)

NHL Power Rankings
1Washington Capitals
Last Week: 2
Maybe that Olympic snub was the best thing that happened to Mike Green. I won't go as far as the TV commentators who suggest he's emerged as the Norris Trophy favorite, but even a long-time detractor can't overlook the clear strides the offensive dynamo has made in his defensive zone work since the break. He's making better decisions with his positioning and physical play, exactly what the Caps need if they hope to stage a serious Cup run. Last week: 2-0-1
 
2Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
They didn't look sharp in back-to-back losses over the weekend and saw their string of eight straight division titles snapped. But hey, they're in the playoffs for the 19th straight season -- the longest current streak in all four major sports -- and that was in doubt less than a month ago. Jimmy Howard will be the go-to guy. Chris Osgood was ineffective in Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Flyers. Last week: 2-1-1
 
3Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 3
Phoenix Coyotes (48-25-6)
Road losses in Calgary and Vancouver put the kibosh on any realistic chance they had of catching San Jose for the division (and conference) title and emphasized the stick that keeps getting jammed in their spokes: their pop-gun power play. The current 0-15 skid illustrates the need to do more than simply launch a lot of rubber. A little something from Shane Doan (goalless since Jan. 31) might help. Last week: 1-2
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 5
With 15 goals-against in their last three -- including an eight-is-enough meltdown in L.A. -- it's pretty clear they have defensive shortcomings...and that was before puck-moving, minute-munching Christian Ehrhoff went down in Sunday's division-clinching win over the Wild with a suspected knee injury. They could tighten their own-zone coverage, but simply can't replace Ehrhoff, whose test results are expected shortly. Last week: 3-1
 
5San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 4
San Jose Sharks (48-20-11)
Just when it looked like they had their game back in order, they flame out against the Stars, struggle to get past the Wild and stage a failed rally in Colorado. Joe Thornton was back against the Avs, but Evgeni Nabokov (pulled in Dallas) and Dan Boyle (post-Olympic fatigue?) look like they could use a night off. With just three games left, and a Western title to seal, they'll have to work through their malaise on the ice. Last week: 1-1-1
 
6Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 10
So what do you think meant more to the restless denizens of the United Center: seeing them clinch their first division title since 1993 or winning three straight while allowing just three goals? Considering the fits caused by their defensive effort of late, bet on the latter. Splitting Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and shifting forward Dustin Byfuglien to the top pair has helped return the group to its pre-Olympic dominance. Last week: 3-1
 
7Nashville Predators
Last Week: 8
The quiet excellence of Barry Trotz seemingly dooms him to also-ran status in the Jack Adams balloting, but he enhanced his legacy with yet another milestone last week when he became just the sixth man to coach 900 games with one franchise. That consistency continues to pay off as they punched their playoff ticket with a 4-3 shootout win over the Red Wings. Last week: 3-1
 
8Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 7
Buffalo Sabres (43-25-10)
Losses to the Habs and Leafs meant two blown chances to clinch the Northeast, but lost momentum may be more troubling. After winning seven of eight, they looked a little too laid back. "We didn't compete," said captain Craig Rivet. "We look like a team that's just going through the paces right now." Might help correct their course if they get Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly back. Both could be available this weekend. Last week: 2-2
 
9New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 6
Schizophrenic play since the break (8-6-3) hasn't just prevented them from taking control of the Atlantic. It's crushed Martin Brodeur's chances of setting a new career high for wins. His record of 48 is secure, but with 42 wins and the likelihood of four starts this week, he could top the 44 games he won back in 2007-08. Guess he's not quite ready for the Old Goalies' Home just yet. Last week: 1-0-2
 
10Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 9
The defending champs have yet to really regain the form that powered last spring's magical run, but the pieces may finally be coming together. Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin shuffled off IR and chipped in with pair of power play goals in a 4-3 win over Atlanta. Bill Guerin amped the energy with fights in consecutive games. Pascal Dupuis is passing chemistry class with Sidney Crosby. Now if they could just snap a seven-game streak of allowing the first goal. That's the sort of habit that has a way of quickly burying a team in a playoff series. Last week: 1-1-1
 
11Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 11
They've yet to decide on their goalie of the future, but look to be set for the present. Jaroslav Halak made a convincing case to be their go-to guy come playoff time with shutouts of the Flyers and Sabres. The effort earned him recognition as the NHL's First Star of the Week. Surprisingly, he now stands third in the league's season-long Three Stars contest, trailing only Alex Ovechkin and Crosby. Last week: 2-1
 
12Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 13
Calgary's loss to Chicago on Sunday clinched their first playoff berth since 2002 , but the best news may have been the play of Jon Quick in Saturday's loss to the Ducks. The embattled goalie flashed his pre-Olympic form in his return, making 32 stops and allowing just one goal before giving up the winner in the shootout. He still needs just one win to become the first Kings' netminder to record 40 in a season. Last week: 2-1-1
 
13Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 12
Ottawa Senators (43-31-5)
Cory Clouston was steaming after Saturday's no-show against the Isles, but the letdown was to be expected after they extended their win streak to six games and clinched a playoff berth with Thursday's SO victory over the Canes. Brian Elliott raised eyebrows with a rough night. He's been excellent of late but his propensity for the occasional meltdown hasn't gone unnoticed. He has a lot to prove, starting next week. Last week: 2-1
 
14Calgary Flames
Last Week: 17
Calgary Flames (40-30-9)
That thrilling 2-1 victory in Friday's must-win game in Colorado felt pretty hollow by Monday morning. Just two days after answering the gut check, they weren't up to the challenge of Chicago in a 4-1 loss highlighted by another Jarome Iginla vanishing act (one goal in his last 12). With just three games left, and trailing the Avs by a pair, they need help to sneak into eighth. Last week: 2-1
 
15Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
Anaheim Ducks (38-31-9)
An 8-2-1 mark in their last 11 allowed them to keep mathematical eligibility into the last week. More important, it may have saved jobs, including those of coach Randy Carlyle, who's been on and off the hot seat the past two years, and Curtis McElhinney. The backup backstop is 4-0-1 in relief of Jonas Hiller, helping Anaheim shave seven points off their playoff deficit in the last three weeks. Last week: 3-0-1
 
16Boston Bruins
Last Week: 14
Boston Bruins (36-30-12)
If they're to hold a playoff spot, it's Tuukka's time to shine. They can't score (five goals in their last four games) and will be hard-pressed to defend their own zone with as many as three blueline regulars (Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Stuart, Andrew Ference) sidelined. The onus for stealing as many points as possible in their final four starts will fall on Rask, who leads the NHL in GAA (1.96) and save percentage (.931). Last week: 2-2
 
17St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (38-31-9)
They've taken four of five, including four straight at home, to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Any realistic chance went out the window with Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Preds. Tough to swallow blowing a 2-0 lead, especially when two mistakes by Barret Jackman turned the tide. There's a growing sense that the veteran blueliner may need a change of scenery after the season. Last week: 2-1
 
18Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 15
It seems like forever since they could go to bed on clean, dry sheets, but John-Michael Liles' OT goal vs. San Jose on Sunday salvaged two points from another third-period meltdown, put them back on track to grab eighth in the West, and made their loss to Calgary almost meaningless in the grand scheme. They still have questions about their mental toughness. Losing hot-hand Peter Mueller to a concussion sure hurts. Last week: 1-2
 
19New York Rangers
Last Week: 24
New York Rangers (36-32-10)
The way they stumbled into their current six-game trip seemed like all they really needed to pack was a shovel so they could finish burying themselves. So how's this for a twist? They've gone 4-0-1 on the swing, keeping them within two points of eighth. Huge win Saturday vs. Florida, the first time in 27 chances this season they've won when trailing after two periods. Last week: 3-0
 
20New York Islanders
Last Week: 25
What do you make of a late-season push that's seen them win four of five and seven of 11? A no-pressure finish or signs of a young team starting to put the pieces together? Won't really know until next season, but going out on a high beats the alternative. John Tavares is leading the way with six points and a +7 in his last four. His 22-27-49 totals compare favorably to the 23-23-46 Steven Stamkos put up last season as a rookie. Last week: 2-1
 
21Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 19
It would have been nice for Phil Kessel to show up in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the B's, if only to improve the optics on that lottery pick that's going to Boston in June. Still, by hitting the 30-goal mark, he's proven the wisdom of Brian Burke's bold decision. The GM continued his "draft, schmaft" instant rebuild, inking 6-5, 215-pound collegian Brady Irwin. Last week: 1-1-1
 
22Dallas Stars
Last Week: 21
Dallas Stars (35-30-14)
Plenty of reasons why theu fell short of a playoff spot for a second straight year, but it's tough to overlook their failure to win as many as three games in a row. Their seventh attempt to hit that sad little milestone was derailed by Saturday's 2-1 loss in St. Louis, a contest that featured the sort of sloppy defensive play that's been their downfall all season. Last week: 2-2
 
23Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 20
Tough to match Steven Stamkos' breakthrough, but Brandon Sutter's progress as a sophomore has been almost as sensational. After scoring once in 50 games as a rookie, he has 19 this season, but his all-around game has Canes fans giddy at his prospects. He's played tough but smart, earning just one minor penalty, prompting a scout to compare him to Jere Lehtinen. "It's his effort and his understanding," the scout said. "They're both off the charts." Last week: 2-1-1
 
24Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 16
They were livid after a late third period holding call on Jim Slater led to an OT win for the Pens, but when a team wins just two of seven down the stretch, it needs to look in the mirror, not at the ref. They coughed up two points in a flat loss Monday to the Canes, gave up the go-ahead goal in the third to the Caps on Thursday, then blew three one-goal leads in Pittsburgh. Those are the calling cards of a tenth-place team. Last week: 1-2-1
 
25Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 23
Two items that make sense in context: they've dropped seven of their last nine and signed Sebastien Caron, who became their seventh netminder to dress. A team with any kind of handle on its goaltending situation wouldn't find itself in these messes. It's a fair bet that GM Paul Holmgren will be looking for a new gig if this team misses the playoffs. It'll all come down to a home-and-home with the Rangers this weekend. Last week: 1-2
 
26Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 26
Minnesota Wild (37-35-7)
They saved their worst for last: a pair of embarrassing losses to the Hawks and Canucks that officially marked April 11 as locker clean-out day. When they come back next fall, look for an upgrade in team toughness. Not to single out James Sheppard from this sorry bunch, but the image of him chatting with Kevin Bieksa moments after Nik Backstrom had been leveled symbolizes one of this club's most glaring weaknesses. Last week: 1-2-1
 
27Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 27
I expressed doubts about Antoine Vermette being the solution to their clear need for a scoring center after he was acquired late last season. Fair to say I'm due for sizable helping of crow. He had both goals in Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Caps, giving him a career-high 27 this season and 78 points in 97 games since joining the Jackets. Not exactly elite, but solid second-line numbers. Someone wanna pass me the salt? Last week: 1-2
 
28Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
Florida Panthers (31-35-12)
With their season on the line, they dropped five of six, ensuring they'll miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season. That ignominious skid ties the all-time futility mark set by the Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils from 1979-1987. Include the lockout season and it's been 10 since they've been in the postseason...a mark they now own all by themselves. Last week: 1-2-1
 
29Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 30
Not much left to play for beyond draft position. What's surprising is that Martin St. Louis actually said as much after Saturday's humiliating 5-0 loss to the Rangers. "Sometimes when you're not going to make the playoffs, you're better off just finishing last," he suggested. "At least you're going to get a great draft pick." He's only saying what Bolts fans are thinking after the franchise ensured its third-straight playoff DNQ. Last week: 1-2
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (24-46-8)
If there was any question that they were the worst team in hockey, they removed all doubt with Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Red Wings. It sealed their 30th-place finish and ensured they'll get either Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin this summer. Here's hoping they also add some blueline help. Their defensive effort against Dallas on Friday was the worst I've seen all season. Last week: 0-2-1

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