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Beware of Ducks

While we all breathlessly await Monday's NHL trade deadline (or what I like to call "Men in suits checking their Blackberries around a glossy TV studio table"), there is still hockey to be played by the players who haven't been moved yet -- which if you believe the rumors, will account for half the league. There is no change at the top here this week, as you just can't put a team that has won 23 in a row at home anywhere but at No. 1. The Vancouver Canucks did displace the Rangers at the No. 2 spot, though. Say, did you hear about the big deal brewing between the Rangers and...oh, never mind.

A DISCLAIMER (of sorts): These rankings are based not just on each team's record, but an empirically tested formula that includes a) realistic near-term future expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations and; c) whatever the Magic 8-Ball I've had since I was seven years old tells me will happen. One more thing: Rest assured that I don't have it in for your team. OK, so I once hated the Philadelphia Flyers with a passion bordering on the psychotic, but that was 30-something years ago and Dave Schultz has long since retired. I welcome your emails to the link attached to my name above, and I always respond -- even to the ones that start with "Dear Idiot."

On with this week's list:

NHL Power Rankings
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
The NHL's points leaders were slated to get goalie Jimmy Howard and forward Daniel Cleary back for Tuesday's game against Chicago. If that didn't bring out your inner Wings envy, try this on for size: according to people with knowledge of the team's future plans (if the following guys are on the open market July 1), Plan A this summer will be to sign Zach Parise as a free agent. Plan B is sign Ryan Suter. Maybe both plans will come to fruition. Be afraid of the Detroit Red Wings. Last week: 3-0-0
 
2Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 3
Hard to believe there was recent grumbling in the Vancouver media about the Canucks not winning games easily enough. Now, that is what's called "a rich person's problem." But routs of Toronto and Edmonton were good enough to quiet the critics for a bit at least. It's also worth noting that Vancouver's 20-9-2 road record is tops in the league. Last week: 3-0-0
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 2
A home loss to skidding Chicago and a less-than-impressive OT win over Columbus are responsible for the Blueshirts dropping a peg. But folks are still wildly happy at Madison Square Garden about this hockey team. A conference title and home-ice advantage through the first three rounds is looking likely indeed. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 4
St. Louis Blues (36-16-7)
More rich people's problems: the Blues almost always have the lead, but sometimes get a little too conservative and don't win as easily as they should. They had a 1-0 advantage after the first period Sunday in Chicago and were outshooting the Blackhawks 15-4. Then they put just 14 shots on net the rest of the game and lost 3-1. Can't win 1-0 every time (unless you play the L.A. Kings -- see below). Last week: 2-2-0
 
5Nashville Predators
Last Week: 6
Picking up Hal Gill for Blake Geoffrion and a second-round pick was a worthwhile gamble by GM David Poile, who was given a contract extension through 2015 on Monday. Gill will find things a bit faster in the West, but he's a quality D-man and good penalty-killer. Nashville could still use another scorer, and maybe Poile will find one by Monday. Last week: 2-1-0
 
6Boston Bruins
Last Week: 5
Boston Bruins (35-20-2)
The puck isn't going in right now for the Black and Gold, but they're still playing pretty well. They dominated the Wild for much of the time in Minnesota on Sunday, but Niklas Backstrom stood on his head while making 48 saves. It was the fourth time in nine games that the B's have been shut out. "We're getting frustrated because we're not scoring,'' coach Claude Julien told reporters. "We're getting a lot of shots every night. I think we can still be better as far as getting to the front of the net and finishing around those areas." Last week: 1-3-0
 
7New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 10
Things are going so well in Newark that Martin Brodeur is already talking about playing next season. The future Hall of Famer and NHL's all-time wins leader said as much in Montreal last week. The Devils, especially Ilya Kovalchuk, are making it easy on him. Kovy's put up 17 points in his last nine games. Last week: 3-0-0
 
8Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 13
The tourniquet has been applied. Their win in New York over the Rangers last week not only stopped a nine-game losing streak, it got Hawks fans off the ledge. Joel Quenneville's team followed it up with solid victories over Columbus and St. Louis, and Corey Crawford is looking good again in net. This team still has problems, but at least it has gotten its confidence back. Last week: 3-1-0
 
9Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 8
James Neal got a six-year, $30 million contract extension on Monday. Not bad for a guy who only had one goal and six points in 20 games for the Pens after coming over from Dallas last season. Of course, he's looking a lot more valuable now. Sidney Crosby continues to skate and look good in practice, but it remains a frustrating guessing game when he might be back. The Pens need a bounce-back game Tuesday against the Rangers, after getting blown out in Buffalo on Sunday. Last week: 1-2-0
 
10Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 9
The additions of Pavel Kubina and Niklas Grossman should make them tougher to score against, and Kubina has shown the ability to help a power play. Still, things haven't been quite right for the Flyers since late December. They've just been too up and down. Last week: 1-1-0
 
11Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 11
Phoenix Coyotes (29-21-9)
The Coyotes continue to grind out victories. What a season winger Radim Vrbata (29 goals) is having. Just a couple of years ago, he was essentially cut by Tampa Bay after signing a big contract with the Lightning and underperforming in the eyes of management. Think they'd like to have a do-over on that one? Last week: 2-0-0
 
12San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 7
San Jose Sharks (31-19-7)
In the middle of a NINE-game road trip, the Sharks have been less-than-impressive so far with a 1-3-1 mark. Coach Todd McLellan was pretty ticked off after a 6-5 loss at Tampa Bay the other night, verbally throwing goalie Antti Niemi under the bus a bit. It hasn't been D-man Brent Burns' fault though: he's got 11 points in his last nine games. Last week: 0-2-1
 
13Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 19
Anaheim Ducks (25-24-10)
I don't care that they're still five points out of a playoff spot -- these guys have been among the five best teams in the NHL for the last month or so. Hats off to coach Bruce Boudreau for getting his talented top line to gel again. Nobody wants to play these guys right now. Last week: 3-0-1
 
14Calgary Flames
Last Week: 15
Calgary Flames (28-22-9)
Goalie Miikka Kiprusoff continues to be red hot. He's not lost a start since Jan. 31 (3-1 in Detroit). "He's been our glue," coach Brent Sutter told reporters. "He gives us a tremendous chance every night. I don't think he gets enough credit personally outside around Calgary like he should. He's definitely one of the best goalies in the game. He comes every night and he brings it every night for us." Last week: 2-0-1
 
15Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 17
Ottawa Senators (31-22-8)
Jason Spezza has scored in nine games so far in 2012, and the Senators are 9-0 in those games. So, yeah, as goes Spezza so go the Sens. He's had a terrific season, and should be considered among the Hart Trophy finalists. He probably won't win it, but the race isn't over yet. Last week: 3-0-0
 
16Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 24
Winnipeg Jets (29-26-6)
On Monday night, I made my first trip to Winnipeg since 1996 and wow was it loud inside the MTS Centre. And that was before the Jets dusted the Avalanche, 5-1. The fans yell "True North" during the Canadian anthem in grateful ode to their new owners, and "Let's go Jets" in unison before the face-off. Welcome back, Winnipeg. Being in the playoff hunt obviously feels good. Last week: 3-1-0
 
17Florida Panthers
Last Week: 14
Florida Panthers (27-20-11)
The Cats have lost three in a row, just when they could have pulled away from the Capitals. Now the Jets are right on their tail for the Southeast title. Fortunately, they always seem to win a couple and do what they need to do to keep that top spot. Last week: 0-3-0
 
18Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 12
Does Darryl Sutter have to get a cardboard sign, go out on Sepulveda and Rosecrans and literally beg his team to score a goal? You get the feeling Sutter would do just that if it meant he'd get at least one in any given game. The Kings have been shut out twice in a row and their 124 goals are the fewest in the league. Last week: 0-2-0
 
19Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 18
The goaltending has turned bad again. James Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson just don't really scare other teams. The Leafs are now in a certified fight for a playoff spot, and the Jets look like a good bet to slip past them. Last week: 1-2-0
 
20Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 16
They've got three games left to determine whether they'll be buyers or sellers on Monday. Matt Duchene returned to the lineup on Sunday after a seven-game absence, but Winnipeg spoiled that deal. Gabriel Landeskog has been tremendous lately, though, and should get consideration for the Calder Trophy. Last week: 1-2-0
 
21Washington Capitals
Last Week: 23
In a desperation-type of situation Monday night in Carolina -- with the Hurricanes missing their top goalie, Cam Ward -- the Caps went out and disgraced the game of hockey. A 5-0 loss -- the game wasn't as close as the score might indicate -- elicits the question: what went so wrong in Washington? Time remains to slip into a playoff spot, but these guys inspire little confidence. Last week: 1-2-0
 
22Dallas Stars
Last Week: 20
Dallas Stars (29-26-4)
An already fragile team lost top scorer Jamie Benn to an errant skate blade over the weekend, though coach Glen Gulutzan said Benn could be back in a few days. But Brenden Morrow is still out, as is Sheldon Souray. This team can't afford so many key injuries. Last week: 1-2-1
 
23Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 21
Minnesota Wild (26-24-9)
They got the win Sunday against Boston, but other than goalie Nik Backstrom, nobody in a Wild sweater looked too impressive. Still, they're hanging around with an outside chance at a playoff spot. Last week:1-2-1
 
24Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 26
They're 9-3-2 in their last 14 games, but there was alarming news at practice Monday when longtime star Vincent Lecavalier had to leave early because of an upper-body injury and won't be in the lineup for Tuesday's important game against Anaheim. Losing Vinny obviously won't do the Bolts' precarious playoff chances much good. Last week: 2-1-0
 
25Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 28
They really are playing much better now. Coach Kirk Muller is going to be a good one at this level it certainly appears, having done a great job of getting this team turned around. But though they got away with it Monday night against Washington, the Canes can't afford to be without goalie Cam Ward if they want to make a serious playoff push. Last week: 2-0-0
 
26New York Islanders
Last Week: 22
Monday's dismal 6-0 home loss to the Senators showed that, for all the recent gains made to their game, they're still not ready the prime time of a serious playoff push. The Isles haven't won back-to-back games since Jan. 19-21, but at least they're not losing more than two in a row too often, either. Last week: 2-2-0
 
27Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 27
Buffalo Sabres (25-27-7)
Things are going better in Western New York, but is it too late? Buffalo is 5-3-2 in its last 10 and the Sabres looked like their exciting former selves in Sunday's rout of the Penguins. It's going to be tough, though. Too many teams are ahead of them in the standings. Last week: 1-2-1
 
28Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 25
The Habs had a chance to get back to the .500 mark (however statistically phony that may be) over the weekend, but laid an oeuf against le Devils. Let's face it, these guys just aren't good enough. They're a one-line team, and losing Hal Gill to that trade with the Preds will hurt their defense and penalty kill. Last week: 1-1-1
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (22-30-6)
Things have gotten so bad health-wise for the Oil that even coach Tom Renney has been out with a concussion. He took a deflected puck to the head during a game against St. Louis and was unable to coach on the bench late last week. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins continues to be out with a shoulder injury too. Wait 'til next year. Last week: 0-2-1
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
According to Tuesday's Columbus Dispatch, GM Scott Howson continues to field offers for star forwards Rick Nash and Jeff Carter and interestingly told the paper, "We're getting closer (to a deal) but we're not there yet. We're waiting for the right deals." Many folks believe it would be wiser to wait until summer to trade a guy like Nash -- when more teams will have cap room and be more willing perhaps to deal off other established players or draft picks. Last week: 1-1-1
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