Tuesday April 14th, 2009

Biggest Climb: Chicago Blackhawks (11 to 6)

Biggest Fall: Philadelphia Flyers (7 to 12)

A reminder: these rankings are based primarily on recent quality of play, with overall record and my remarkably intuitive gut calls worked into the mix. Heck, if I went strictly off record, these would be no different than the standings, and you already know where to find those. Statistics and records are through Sunday's games.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings? 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
1Boston Bruins
Last Week: 1
Boston Bruins (53-19-10)
Coming into this season, did anyone believe they were capable of 53 wins (most for the franchise since 1971-72) and first place in the East? Even if they don't win the big prize, they should pick up plenty of hardware in Vegas: Claude Julien (Adams), Zdeno Chara (Norris), Tim Thomas (Vezina) and Patrice Bergeron (Masterton) are safe bets. Last week: 2-2
2Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 6
Fair to say that the decision to replace Cup finalist Michel Therrien with the unproven Dan Byslma went better than GM Ray Shero could have expected. Their 18-3-4 run obliterated early concerns that they wouldn't even make the postseason and set them up as the favorites in their first round series against the Flyers. Last week: 3-0
3San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
San Jose Sharks (53-18-11)
They clinched the Presidents' Trophy (first in team history) and the potential for four rounds worth of home ice that comes with it. Now they have to go about shedding the tag of postseason poseurs. Keep an eye on Devin Setoguchi, the high-energy antidote to the placid play of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Last week: 1-2
4Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 4
The regular season ended with a bit of a thud -- a sloppy loss to the Sabres and an inconsistent effort against the Devils -- but they're back in the playoffs for the first time since their Cup in 2006. Cam Ward was pulled after allowing four goals on 13 shots to Buffalo, but still finished the season with a club record 39 wins. Last week: 1-2
5Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 8
A week after being hung out to dry by a disinterested defense, Roberto Luongo offered up his best hockey of the year. The NHL's Player of the Week won all three of his starts, stopping 88 of 89 shots on the way to a 0.33 GAA, .989 save percentage and two shutouts to help them clinch the Northwest title. Last week: 3-0
6Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 11
You suppose their fans are glad that Dale Tallon couldn't find a taker for Nikolai Khabibulin back in October? The Hawks closed the season on a 6-0-1 roll, with the Bulin Wall allowing just seven goals over that span. Last week: 3-0-1
7Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 3
They finished with the NHL's best power play and most potent offense. Problem is, they also allowed 240 goals -- 91 in the third period. Only the Islanders (106) coughed up more. If the Wings are to defend, they must get off their butts and flip that that mythical switch or at least rediscover the concept of defensive responsibility. Last week: 1-2-1
8Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 10
Anaheim Ducks (42-33-7)
Let's see if they've learned their lesson. Their 10-2-1 finish was powered by better play in the defensive zone and, critically, a more disciplined approach. Neither quality was evident when they were upset by the Stars in last season's first round. If they hope to beat the Sharks, they'll have to stay out of the box and limit their chances. Last week: 1-0-1
9Washington Capitals
Last Week: 5
They clinched the second seed in the East and set a franchise mark for points (108) with Thursday's win over the Bolts, but failed to reach one for wins in Saturday's effort-free finale against Florida. Saving something for later? Let's hope so. There's no room for that kind of mental softness in the playoffs. Last week: 2-1
10St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 14
St. Louis Blues (41-31-10)
If Vancouver's Alain Vigneault had a vote for the Adams, he'd cast it for Andy Murray. "That is probably the best coaching job of the year with all the injuries that they have had," he said. "To get that push [at the end] and [see] the improvement of their young players, it's just a phenomenal season for them." They finished on a 9-1-1 tear to earn a first-round date against the Canucks. Last week: 3-0
11New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 9
So much for limping into the playoffs. The Atlantic champs finished on a 4-1 tear, including a finale win over first-round opponent Carolina. It was their 51st victory of the season, a franchise record. Last week: 2-1
12Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 7
No team was better in the third period all season, and yet they threw away home ice in the first round by allowing two goals to the Rangers in Sunday's final stanza. They managed to win two rounds last spring without that advantage, but that lapse could cost them the series against the Pens. Last week: 2-2
13Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 12
Maybe their fans should be happy simply that they finally clinched their first playoff berth, but would it have hurt to go in with a little momentum? They finished losing four of five, and seemed perpetually on the penalty kill. Worse, they looked jittery, something they can't afford once the second season starts. Last week: 1-2
14Calgary Flames
Last Week: 13
Calgary Flames (46-30-6)
If you thought blowing a 13-point division lead was embarrassing, just wait. The worst is yet to come. They enter the playoffs on a 7-11 skid, with their hopes resting on an overworked goaltender, a pimple-faced blueline, and a power play that went 0-for-42 to end the season. This could be over quickly. Last week: 2-2
15Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 20
Buffalo Sabres (41-32-9)
That 7-1-2 finish gave them something to spin, but the truth is there wasn't much to like about these Sabres. Sure, they may have put up a better fight for a playoff spot if Ryan Miller remained healthy, but they lacked too much in the way of physical presence and leadership to have done any real damage. Lindy Ruff's job is rumored to be in jeopardy, but he still earned the coaching job with Team Canada at the World Championship. Last week: 3-1
16Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 18
Minnesota Wild (40-33-9)
They went four months without stringing together three straight wins, which pretty much sums up why they're cleaning out their lockers. Injuries played a part -- a healthy Marian Gaborik (18 points in his last 11 games) would have made an impact -- but this was an obvious case of sliding into dysfunction. Jacques Lemaire's semi-voluntary departure at least offers promise of a new approach next season. Last week: 3-0
17New York Rangers
Last Week: 16
They enter the postseason on a high, winning their final three games (including a home-and-home set against the motivated Flyers) to reserve their playoff spot. Just don't expect that high to last. They start on the road, where they've taken just four of their last 19. Last week: 3-0
18Florida Panthers
Last Week: 17
Florida Panthers (41-30-11)
They can crow that their 40 wins represent the third-highest total in franchise history, but the only number that counts is eight. As in: eight straight playoffs on the sidelines. The Bouwmeester distraction was an issue, but not so much as the inconsistency of Tomas Vokoun, the regression of Nathan Horton or the team's 3-8 record in the shootout. Last week: 2-1
19Nashville Predators
Last Week: 15
If points were awarded on the basis of competitiveness, they would be near the top of the league. Unfortunately, it still comes down to scoring more goals than your foes and Alex Radulov's defection to Russia left them with too few weapons. The ability to add a legitimate sniper or two will define their offseason success. Last week: 1-2
20Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 19
A four-game losing streak to finish the season dropped them into the eight spot and a first-round date with the Bruins. Hey, it could have been worse. With just three 20-goal scorers, a popgun power play and a laissez-faire approach that improved only slightly after Bob Gainey took over behind the bench, they were lucky to even make the dance. They'll need to win a couple rounds to rinse out the bad taste of this season. Last week: 0-3-1
21Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 23
Ottawa Senators (36-35-11)
Being swept in the first round by the Pens last year doesn't look so bad now, does it? These Sens were done in by lousy goaltending, a blueline that couldn't move the puck and forwards who couldn't find the net until it was too late. The good news? The 19-11-4 run under freshly-inked coach Cory Clouston suggests better results could be had. Still, GM Bryan Murray has several holes to fill, starting in net. Last week: 2-1-1
22Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 21
Winning 12 of their final 18 games lets them head into another long summer on a positive note. So does the progress of young stars like Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian. But they still need significant fixes over the summer -- not just to get over the hump, but to prove to impending UFA Ilya Kovalchuk that Atlanta is the place to finish his career. The first step? Find a qualified GM to replace Don Waddell. Last week: 1-2
23Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 24
Phoenix Coyotes (36-39-7)
The Olli Jokinen deal fizzled faster than that North Korean rocket, kids like Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris need to repeat the grade, and Wayne Gretzky's yet to prove himself capable of getting the most out of his charges. Look for the them to go with an older, more experienced lineup next season. Last week: 2-1
24Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 25
Despite missing the playoffs for the sixth straight season, the atmosphere is hopeful. Jonathan Quick emerged as a legitimate NHL keeper and Drew Doughty blossomed into the game's most promising defender. The question now: do they continue the slow build or cash in some of their young chips for proven scoring help? I'd go with the former, but then again I'm not paying for tickets to watch them play. Last week: 2-2
25Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 22
Edmonton Oilers (38-35-9)
They had a transition-minded defense and slick forwards, but lacked the physical and mental toughness to get through rough patches. Special teams didn't do them any favors, either. Both were in the bottom third of the league. After a third consecutive DNQ, you have to think there'll be a change behind the bench. Last week: 1-2
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 26
These laughable Leafs set a franchise mark for ineffectual play, missing the postseason for the fourth straight season. The recipe? Start by allowing more goals than any other team (293), add in the league's most gracious penalty kill (74.7 percent) and the fewest five-on-five goals, and you've got a team that will undergo a major summer overhaul. Last week: 2-1
27Dallas Stars
Last Week: 27
Dallas Stars (36-35-11)
Some promising signs -- Loui Eriksson's 36 goals, James Neal's first steps towards power forward stardom -- but they weren't enough to take the sting out of the third playoff DNQ since moving to Dallas. Soft goaltending from Marty Turco and injuries to star performers simply overtaxed the abilities of those who remained in the lineup. Last week: 1-1-1
28Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 30
Not that we like to see anyone lose his job, but it was nice to see the Avs point the finger at GM Francois Giguere instead of letting coach Tony Granato take the fall. Granato may eventually get the pink slip from the new boss, but by targeting Giguere, the club has recognized that a disastrous season like this calls for a bold, new direction. Last week: 1-3
29New York Islanders
Last Week: 28
Most also-rans can trot out injuries when deflecting criticism, but it's hard not to give the Isles a partial pass after they lost a league-high 575 man games, including No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro for all but five contests. The patchwork lineup posted the NHL's worst record, but did provide ample on-the-job training for core prospects like Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Josh Bailey. Last week: 0-4
30Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
There's going to be a book written someday on the 16-game debacle that was Barry Melrose's tenure behind the bench. But don't blame him alone for this miserable season. Any team that goes through 50 players -- and an NHL record 22 defensemen -- has issues top to bottom. Last week: 0-3

Allan Muir's Mailbag
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