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Olympic momentum, deadline deals send contenders into the stretch

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 were worn during the creation of these rankings.

NOTE: Since we're coming off the break, the actual order of the teams hasn't changed since the last installment, although "last week's position" refers to where they stood the week before the Games. Consider this more of a post-Olympic, pre-trade deadline refresher.

Want to send me a comment 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.

NHL Power Rankings
1Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
They play 12 of their final 20 games at The Phone Booth. That favorable schedule, along with a 13-point bulge over the Devils, means an Eastern Conference title is all but in the bag. But will this be the lineup that Bruce Boudreau guides into the playoffs? You have to believe a top-four defender, and possibly a battle-tested goalie, would be prudent additions before the deadline.
 
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 3
Trade rumors suggesting that Florida's Tomas Vokoun is being gift-wrapped for the Hawks were all the rage in Vancouver. If Chicago can pull off a deal of that magnitude, it definitely shifts the balance of power in the West.
 
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 4
San Jose Sharks (40-13-9)
Fans hoping the Olympic experience would light a competitive fire under Joe Thornton couldn't have been pleased with his performance in Vancouver. Not that he was bad -- his attention to defensive detail was a quiet but commendable contribution -- but his inability to create the space he needs to do what he does with the puck only served to reinforce his reputation for coming up small in big games.
 
4Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 6
If Drew Doughty wasn't Team Canada's best defender throughout the tournament, he certainly wasn't any worse than No. 2. West Coast fans already understood he was capable of that kind of performance, but his high-profile breakthrough will have a dramatic impact on how he's perceived throughout the rest of the league. The Norris Trophy may be coming sooner than expected...maybe even this spring.
 
5Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 7
Ottawa Senators (36-23-4)
Bryan Murray made his "big" deal before the freeze when he acquired center Matt Cullen from Carolina, but he's still in the market for some blueline depth. Aaron Ward, a local boy with a solid physical game, and a good citizen in the dressing room, might be an ideal fit.
 
6Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 5
Phoenix Coyotes (37-21-5)
With leading goal scorer Scottie Upshall sidelined for the season, theY'll be looking for some offensive sizzle on the trade market. GM Don Maloney is saying all the right things about not giving up valuable assets, but get real: this team desperately needs to make the playoffs. This is one of those cases where long-term pain for short-term gain truly makes sense.
 
7Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 2
Roberto Luongo has now "won something." Ryan Kesler proved his readiness to be an impact player come crunch time. Pavol Demitra (remember him?) demonstrated his potential to contribute down the stretch by topping the Olympic scoring chart. Honestly, does any club come out of the Games feeling better about its chances than the Canucks?
 
8Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
Not that the buzz over Sidney Crosby's legend-making golden goal will subside any time soon, but the Pens have some pressing matters to attend to now that the season's resumed. Adding Jordan Leopold was a curious move -- seems to me that filling the Rob Scuderi-sized hole was more pertinent -- but it probably won't be the last deal that Ray Shero makes before the deadline. A reliable scoring winger should also be on his wish list.
 
9Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 11
Not that Paul Stastny was a disappointment in the Olympics, because he clearly wasn't. Still, his lack of speed was an issue and it pointed to an inevitability for the Avs. It won't be long before Matt Duchene steps up as the No. 1 center and allows Stastny to settle in more comfortably as one of the game's best (if overcompensated) No. 2 pivots.
 
10Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 12
It was initially thought they were comfortable moving forward with Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher after placing Ray Emery on long-term IR. League sources suggest Philly's looking at options. Dwayne Roloson makes the most sense. The Flyers also are believed to be in hot pursuit of defender Dan Hamhuis. The return of Ryan Parent and Danny Syvret might precipitate a trade to add experience to the blueline.
 
11Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 19
Entering the break on a five-game win streak won't alter GM Jim Rutherford's plans to move several aging and expensive vets before the deadline. Ray Whitney, Scott Walker, Joe Corvo and Aaron Ward all are good bets for relocation. Whitney to Pittsburgh and Corvo to Phoenix might make sense for all parties.
 
12Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 9
Buffalo Sabres (33-18-9)
After seeing what tournament MVP Ryan Miller accomplished, isn't it time for Darcy Regier to take the bold step of sacrificing some of the future to take advantage of what could be a glorious present? Miller elevated his game to an elite level at the Games, but he can't do it all by himself. The Sabres' needs are obvious, starting with a right winger who has some grit and more than a little scoring touch.
 
13New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 10
Anyone else wondering what impact being benched in Vancouver will have on Martin Brodeur? The read here is that he'll benefit from the week off (when's he ever had that luxury in New Jersey?) and will come back to work with something to prove. That should benefit a squad that limped into the break (5-10-2). So would an upgrade on the blueline. Look for Lou Lamoriello to test the market for a physical presence.
 
14Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 13
Not that fans needed to be reminded, but Mike Babcock sure knows his way around a bench. From the goalie change to line shakeups to the decision to go all in when the gold medal game went to overtime, it was clear that he was ideally prepared and completely in control of Team Canada. Easy to overlook it right now, but, in time, his will be recognized as a tremendous coaching performance.
 
15Nashville Predators
Last Week: 15
Tough break Sunday as David Freeman stepped down as the team's chairman. The move seemed inevitable after his dispute with the IRS became an issue for the Nashville Sports Authority. It's thought he might resume his role once the tax situation is addressed, but even a short term absence slows the off-ice momentum the team had built over the past few months. On the ice, look for Dan Hamhuis to be moved.
 
16Dallas Stars
Last Week: 20
Dallas Stars (28-21-12)
With Kari Lehtonen ready to step into the breach, the Stars jettisoned good-guy backup Alex Auld. Will Marty Turco be on the next bus out of town? His strong play over his last six starts suggests he could help a contender down the stretch. One player no longer on the block: Steve Ott. The superpest and cult hero agreed to a generous four-year deal for nearly $12 million on Monday.
 
17Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 17
Anaheim Ducks (30-25-7)
If the 11th-place Ducks are going to muscle their way into the playoffs, they must continue being lousy hosts. Riding a franchise-record 11-game home win streak, they play eight of their first nine out of the break at The Pond. Probably wouldn't hurt if GM Bob Murray added some depth to a perilously shallow blueline. They could be looking at a vet like Dennis Seidenberg or Aaron Ward. At the same time, there's a chance James Wisniewski could be moved. The Ducks are concerned about what he might win via arbitration this summer.
 
18Boston Bruins
Last Week: 27
Boston Bruins (27-22-11)
Their draft cupboard is top-heavy with the kind of picks that give them an edge on any other team bidding for deadline talent, so they're expected to do something to bolster their playoff chances. GM Peter Chiarelli has hinted that he'd like to add a scoring forward, certainly a quantity this team could use. Still, it makes more sense that they will pursue a top-four defender. Hamhuis and Souray seem like ideal fits.
 
19Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 16
Minnesota Wild (30-27-4)
It's coming down to the wire for them and pending UFA Marek Zidlicky. The 33-year-old defender is in talks with the team about a new deal, but if things aren't settled by Wednesday, it's expected he'll be moved. He ranks 10th in scoring among blueliners, so he could be of interest to the Sabres, Coyotes and Canucks. Owen Nolan could also be on the block.
 
20St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 18
St. Louis Blues (28-25-9)
They moved back into playoff contention with three home wins leading up to the break, but they're heading out on the road for eight of their next nine. Not a bad thing -- they boast the sixth best road record in the conference. The long trip means their fans may have seen the last home games from Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk and/or Carlo Colaiacovo.
 
21Calgary Flames
Last Week: 25
Calgary Flames (30-23-9)
GM Darryl Sutter made the most of the Olympic break, signing potential UFAs Rene Bourque and Matt Stajan to long-term deals. The top-six forwards are in the lineup for the long haul, with Stajan signing for four years ($14 million) and Bourque on board for six ($19.8 million).
 
22Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 21
Even with a pair of early swaps to his credit (Ilya Kovalchuk, Kari Lehtonen), Don Waddell's dialing finger should get a workout before the deadline. Slava Kozlov has requested a trade and Colby Armstrong has fallen out of favor with coach John Anderson. Pavel Kubina has reportedly initiated contract negotiations, so the big defender (an impending UFA) could be inked instead of dealt if it looks like the numbers are close.
 
23New York Rangers
Last Week: 28
Smart move by Glen Sather to snap up Alex Auld on waivers. The slapheaded vet won't get much work the rest of the way, but if anything happens to Henrik Lundqvist, Auld provides cheap, reliable insurance. The Rangers aren't expected to make any more deals at the deadline, but there should be plenty of drama. Seven of their next eight opponents rank above them in the conference race.
 
24Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 23
Losing three of four heading into the break left them with a precarious hold on eighth place in the East. Doesn't help that they come out of the break with four straight on the road, including three games in California. While Carey Price should start the stretch against Boston, look for Jaro Halak, who was a leviathan in net for the Slovaks, to handle the heavy lifting the rest of the way.
 
25Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 22
Lots of intrigue behind the scenes. Assistant coach was offered a job in the organization that he didn't want, turned it down and was, essentially, fired. He was replaced by Jim Johnson, apparently without the approval of coach Rick Tocchet. Looks like GM Brian Lawton, who should be concentrating on adding a scoring winger before the deadline, is setting up a power play of his own in advance of new owner Jeff Vinik.
 
26Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 26
With their playoff hopes in tatters, the Blue Jackets look to be sellers...again. Fredrik Modin offers size and streaky scoring. Raffi Torres has some bite. Milan Jurcina offers third-pairing insurance, but not much more. The Jackets will look to receive draft picks in return.
 
27Florida Panthers
Last Week: 14
Florida Panthers (24-27-10)
With the trade freeze lifted, GM Randy Sexton wasted no time sending defender Jordan Leopold to the Pens for a 2010 second-rounder. After ownership sent out a letter promising change, this should be the first of several deals. Sexton better think carefully before agreeing to trade Tomas Vokoun. That kind of swap could shorten the GM's career expectancy considerably if he doesn't get immediate, sufficient help in return.
 
28New York Islanders
Last Week: 24
Any teams needing a goalie are likely to call the Isles second. Once (if) Tomas Vokoun is off the market, either Dwayne Roloson or Martin Biron might make for an appealing backup option. News that Rick DiPietrois sidelined with swelling in his knee means at least one will stay on board, however. Andy Sutton offers some size and nastiness on the back end for teams not all that concerned about an overall lack of skill.
 
29Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 29
Hey, Ron Wilson: Appreciate that postgame passion, but the best team did win the gold medal. That said, Wilson's Olympian efforts, and those of GM Brian Burke, should give Leafs fans some reassurance that this duo can be dynamic indeed. Look for Burke to further burnish his rep with at least a pair of significant moves before the deadline. Alexei Ponikarovsky is a goner. Tomas Kaberle's not going anywhere.
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (19-36-6)
A last-place team spending close to the cap means only one thing: changes are coming. The question is: will Steve Tambellini find many buyers for his castoffs? Vets like Ethan Moreau, Fernando Pisani, Steve Staios and Sheldon Souray will draw varying degrees of interest, but the Oilers GM could create more excitement by whittling down his core and offering up a youngster like Andrew Cogliano. He managed to snag a second-rounder from the Preds for Denis Grebeshkov. That's a promising start.

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