SI Staff
Tuesday December 23rd, 2014

NHL's best impact moves of 2014

Welcome to the latest installment of our 2014–15 NHL Power Rankings. The Blackhawks continue to hang on to their perch at No. 1 for the third week in a row while holding off the tough Ducks and resilient Penguins. Our three scribes—Brian Cazeneuve, Sarah Kwak and Sam Page—submitted their choices for the league's Top 10. The rankings for the all 30 teams have been weighted according to ancient Babylonian accounting principles as well as how high each club came in on our writers' ballots. In some cases a purely intuitive, wholly unscientific and no doubt deplorable method was used to break ties, rank teams that were chosen by only one or two writers, and antagonize the general public. We've presented the 30 teams in groups, with the Top 10 receiving the most trenchant commentary. Overview paragraphs precede the Middle 10 and Bottom 10. Weekly movement up or down has been noted. So without further ado, commence to stew!

The Top 10
  • 1
    1Chicago Blackhawks
    last week:  1
    record: 23-9-2
    CAZENEUVE (3): Not since Nov. 1 and 2 have the Blackhawks dropped two games in row. They continue to play with a chip on their shoulders and the expectation that they are better than anyone they go up against. After a tough, 3-2, shootout loss to Columbus on Saturday, they came back home the very next day and blanked the Maple Leafs, 4-0. Antti Raanta made 31 saves to pick up the shutout. Granted, the team was playing on emotion following the sudden passing of their 34-year-old equipment manager Clint Reif. This team has been resilient on ordinary nights, too. With a 16-3-1 mark during their last 20 games, the Hawks are already the that team people expect to see making noise in the playoffs.
    KWAK (1): Finishing the week with the sudden, unexpected death of assistant equipment manager Clint Reif, the Blackhawks won an emotional game against Toronto with heavy hearts. Winners of 11 of its last 13 games, Chicago remains the league’s standard.
    PAGE (1): Every time Antti Raanta records a shutout (like he did on Sunday), I'm left wondering what kind of team the Blackhawks would have if they hadn't sunk $6 million into Corey Crawford. There's value in paying for a reliably good goalie, but investing in another top forward would certainly be more fun.
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 2
    2Anaheim Ducks
    last week: 2
    record: 23-8-5
    CAZENEUVE (2): Is it OK to take these Ducks seriously? Anaheim leads the league with 51 points, and this is a team that has been there and done that during past regular seasons. They have scored 104 goals, while allowing 98, exactly the same numbers as the Flames, who are fading quickly in the standings. The Ducks have an eight-game home stand starting on Dec. 28, and will play 13 of their next 14 games in California. It’s a stretch that could make believers out of doubters soon enough.
    KWAK (2): Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov’s return to the NHL with Anaheim hasn’t gone well. He came in against Toronto in relief, a 6-2 loss last Tuesday, and followed it up with a 6-2 loss to Ottawa that was all his own on Friday. Dropping two of three on their trip to eastern Canada isn’t exactly what the Ducks wanted, but they still lead the league with 51 points.
    PAGE (4): There's something to be said for your losing blowouts and winning your one-goal games, but it also raises questions about how good this Ducks team really is.
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 3
    3Pittsburgh Penguins
    last week: 4
    record: 22-6-5
    CAZENEUVE (1): Mumps or no mumps, you have to hand it to the Penguins for the way they have withstood this extended period of being shorthanded due to illness. Just as Sidney Crosby is recovering, Brandon Sutter, Steve Downie and Thomas Greiss were sent back home before the team’s most recent game in Florida when they were diagnosed with the virus. Yet even with mounting personnel losses, the Pens have been defeated only once in regulation during their last 10 games. The concern about a lack of team depth this season has proved to be unfounded while Pittsburgh continues to successfully adjust to shifting roster circumstances.
    KWAK (3): After blanking the Avalanche on Dec. 18 for his league-leading sixth shutout of the season, goalie Marc-André Fleury has already surpassed his career high mark for perfect games (5). His splendid week (3-0-0 with a 0.99 GAA and .971 save percentage) earned him the NHL’s Third Star honors, and have helped keep the injury-plagued Penguins on top of the Eastern Conference.
    PAGE (5): Marc-André Fleury is good again. Actually, he's better than ever. With the Penguins rolling along, this regular season seems like a formality until the real test: Can Flower shake his considerable postseason demons?
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 4
    4Nashville Predators
    last week: 5
    record: 22-8-2
    CAZENEUVE (4): Nashville’s 5-1 victory against the Blue Jackets on Tuesday was a blueprint for the way this club wants to win most of its games. Pekka Rinne made 31 saves and Filip Forsberg got on the score sheet again with an assist and now leads all rookies with 32 points. The Predators got some scoring help from the back end as defenseman Seth Jones recorded his first goal of the season with a superb rush down the left side of the ice. And 11 different Preds picked up at least one point. That’s strong work from everyone, which is exactly how they have been thriving so far this season.
    KWAK (5): Mike Ribeiro, the Preds’ huge gamble after he had been bought out of his contract in Arizona for “behavioral issues” has been paying off large with 27 points and a +14 rating.
    PAGE (3): A familiar story: The power play struggled and it didn't matter as the Preds reeled off three big wins. Special teams are now the double-edged sword of Nashville's season: If they figure it out, watch out. But if they continue to struggle man-up and man-down, it could ruin an otherwise special season.
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 5
    5New York Islanders
    last week: 8
    record: 23-10-0
    CAZENEUVE (5): How much of improvement has this team made? With their 3-1 victory against the Lightning on Sunday, the Islanders won their 13th home game of the season, matching their total for all of 2013-14. It is also the first time in franchise history—yes, we know there were ties during their run of four straight Stanley Cups–that New York has won 23 of its first 33 games in any season. That win total is tied for the lead atop the NHL. And these Isles don’t panic. They trailed Tampa Bay, 1-0, deep into the third period, but stormed back with three goals in the final 3:09 to grab the victory. This may be the most compelling team in the league.
    KWAK (6): After a three-game skid earlier this month, in which the Isles allowed 17 goals, they’ve tightened up considerably, allowing fewer than 30 shots per game. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has given up just six goals in his last four games as New York tries to prove that it can keep winning.
    PAGE (2): Need a reason to believe? The Islanders now lead the league in Fenwick For percentage (shots taken including shots missed as opposed to shots against including shots missed, but not counting blocks in either case), a historical predictor of long-term success. The team that lead the league in FF% last season? Your Stanley Cup champion Kings.
    Last week: 2-0-0

  • 6
    6St. Louis Blues
    last week: 3
    record: 21-9-3
    CAZENEUVE (6): The Martin Brodeur experiment seems to have grabbed everyone’s attention, but let’s give some love to the team’s often-anonymous goal scorers. The Blues have certainly had no problem lighting the lamp this month. Since Dec. 4, St. Louis has totaled 33 goals in eight games. Now it will be a challenge to keep that up as Jaden Schwartz misses time with a foot injury. He is the team’s second-leading goal scorer with 11, which is a bit like being the second leading scorer after Gretzky, considering that phenom Vladimir Tarasenko tops the team with 20.
    KWAK (4): Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who ranks second among NHL defenders with 28 points, is on pace for near 70 this season. He’s become a leader on the power play, where he has scored 18 of them, and his confidence with the puck is surely showing with results.
    PAGE (6): Boy that Brodeur guy stinks, huh? All Blues fans want for Christmas in Brian Elliott back. All they're going to get is T.J. Oshie traded to the Bruins. Maybe Boston will send back whatever crazy experimental medicine the Bruins used to keep Tim Thomas looking so young during their Stanley Cup run in 2011.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 7
    7San Jose Sharks
    last week: 7
    record: 19-11-5
    CAZENEUVE (7): San Jose made the most of a stretch in which it hosted nine of 11 games. The Sharks have an eight-game home win streak and are squarely back in the heart of the Western Conference race. As always, this is a franchise that seems to have one foot into serious contention and another one dipping into disaster. For now the recent hot streak has called off the dogs that were looking for GM Doug Wilson, coach Todd McLellan or veteran Joe Thornton.
    KWAK (7): The hottest team in hockey continues to dominate, winning nine of its last 11 and staying perfect at home this month. As the Sharks climb up the Pacific Division standings, the murmurs about hot seats have quieted, but will they stay that way if the Sharks don’t make a run for the Cup? That is always the question in San Jose.
    PAGE (9): Even in his "old" age, Joe Thornton is in the league's top 10 in scoring. Count me among those who wouldn't mind seeing Jumbo sneak into the playoffs and then go crazy, securing his legacy as the greatest playmaker of his generation.
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 8
    8Detroit Red Wings
    last week: 9
    record: 17-8-9
    CAZENEUVE (13) 
    KWAK (8): It’s not a freefall but rather a rough tumble for the Red Wings, who are winless since Dec. 7. They haven’t come out completely empty handed—getting to overtime in four games. But with four shootout losses, they miss out on points they could really use in the competitive Atlantic.
    PAGE (8): On the one hand, they haven't won a game in two weeks. On the other hand, how many shootouts can one team realistically lose? If only they had a guy who could do something like this in the skills competition. Or even another guy like this.
    Last week: 0-1-2

  • 9
    9Tampa Bay Lightning
    last week: 6
    record: 20-11-4
    CAZENEUVE (12) 
    KWAK (10): Their five-game road trip through the Metro could have gone a lot better as the Lightning went 1-3-1 against the league’s most pedestrian division. Their fearsome offense has cooled, and was even usurped by the Maple Leafs for the NHL lead in goals per game. In their last eight games (2-5-1), they’re averaging 2.00 per contest, 1.56 fewer than they had up to the start of that skid. They’re a team that relies on offense, so the Bolts need to rediscover their spark.
    PAGE (7): All the indicators for success are there: the third best goal-differential, the third-best possession stats, the second-best offense. And yet they haven't beaten a team with a winning record since Dec. 1. Still, if you were forced to pick a new team to be a fan of, is there any chance you don't pick the Lightning? Jonathan Drouin, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Nikita Kucherov have all looked great lately. The future is bright, and the now is pretty good too.
    Last week: 1-1-1

  • 10
    10Montreal Canadiens
    last week: 11
    record: 21-11-2
    CAZENEUVE (11) 
    KWAK (9): The streaky Canadiens are at it again, winning four of their last five. After averaging 1.86 goals per game while in a seven-game rut (1-5-1), they scored 18 in their last five (3.60 average). This has more or less been life for Montreal this season, which could spell trouble come spring.
    PAGE (11): I guess this makes me especially down on Montreal, but I have Detroit, Tampa Bay, and Toronto ahead of them going forward. And I don't like Toronto at all. 
    Last week: 2-1-0


Nash a smash: With 20 goals, Rick Nash has helped the Rangers recover from their stumbling start.
AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek

After the last couple of seasons, nothing could be funnier than the 2014-15 Canucks, who have has everything except goaltending. I think Ryan Miller will figure it out, but until then, keeping laughing, Roberto.

Also causing mirth, at least in New York, is Rick Nash, one of the league’s great comeback stories. He ranks second in the NHL with 20 goals and is just six points shy of his output for all of last season. Now the Rangers are starting to look like a comeback story, too. New York did not have the feel of a Stanley Cup finalist last season, but the team rolled at the right time. This year, the club opened the season like a tired team that had exhausted all of its bullets last spring. Both Nash and keeper Henrik Lundqvist have picked up their games–Nash from the outset and Lundqvist after a slow start. With that, the Rangers are currently wielding the league’s longest win streak, at six games. This club probably won't reach the final again, but it should return to the playoffs.

SI's favorite hockey stories of 2014

Let’s give some love to the Jets for taking points in 10 of their last 11 games, including six wins. It’s especially impressive when you consider the injuries to the team’s hobbling defensemen. Winnipeg recently picked up Jay Harrison from Carolina after placing Jacob Trouba on IR. He joins Mark Stuart, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian on the long injured list that hasn’t seemed to slow the team.

In Los Angeles, center Anze Kopitar has jolted awake, it seems, after plodding along through most of the first two months of the season. He followed a five-point game against St. Louis with three assists against Arizona, and with nine points in his last three games, he almost doubled his season output last week. His re-awakening is pivotal for the Kings.

And as they get ready to host their first Winter Classic, the Capitals are coming off their best stretch of the season, taking points in nine straight games. Braden Holtby turned in a gem of a game against Ottawa on Monday night in which he turned back 38 of 39 shots and made a highlight-film glove snare of Clarke MacArthur’s blast from the right circle in the first period. Holtby has been playing with confidence lately. He gave up four goals in three straight games back in early November, but has done that in only two other games since then, a span of 19 appearances.


The Middle 10
  • 11
    11Vancouver Canucks
    last week: 13
    record: 20-11-2
    KWAK: 12
    PAGE: 10
    Last week: 2-1-0

  • 12
    12New York Rangers
    last week: 17
    record: 17-10-4
    KWAK: 11
    PAGE: 14
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 13
    13Winnipeg Jets
    last week: 16
    record: 17-10-7
    KWAK: 14
    PAGE: 15
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 14
    14Los Angeles Kings
    last week: 12
    record: 17-11-7
    KWAK: 15
    PAGE: 12
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 15
    15Washington Capitals
    last week: 19
    record: 17-10-6
    KWAK: 16
    PAGE: 17
    Last week: 3-0-1

  • 16
    16Toronto Maple Leafs
    last week: 10
    record: 19-12-3
    KWAK: 13
    PAGE: 13
    Last week: 1-3-0

  • 17
    17Florida Panthers
    last week: 21
    record: 15-9-8
    KWAK: 18
    PAGE: 18
    Last week: 3-1-0

  • 18
    18Boston Bruins
    last week: 18
    record: 17-14-3
    KWAK: 17
    PAGE: 19
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 19
    19Dallas Stars
    last week: 23
    record: 14-13-5
    KWAK: 19
    PAGE: 21
    Last week: 3-0-0

  • 20
    20Minnesota Wild
    last week: 14
    record: 0-1-2
    KWAK: 21
    PAGE: 16
    Last week: 0-1-2

Calgary, one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the early season has now unceremoniously tumbled from fourth in the West to ninth, with one win in its last nine games. The Flames' superb comeback against the Kings on Monday night kept them from falling further, but has this team’s early success run dry? Perhaps reality has caught up; certainly the Calgary's scoring hasn’t kept pace. Can the Flames right their sinking ship? They’d better hope that coach Bob Hartley knows how, given that they just renewed his contract last week. 

As clubs at the very bottom gear up to watch the start of the World Junior Championship, the temptation to play their assistant coaches in goal to make it easier to land one of those top draft picks next June will only intensify. If any other set of circumstances had led us to this point, it would be super cool to dream of McDavid's 97 joining Gretzy's 99 in Edmonton's rafters one day. But in this reality, we'd rather the Oilers have their draft pick taken away for consistent, egregious bungling.

The Bottom 10
  • 21
    21Calgary Flames
    last week: 15
    record: 18-15-3
    KWAK: 20
    PAGE: 20
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 22
    22Philadelphia Flyers
    last week: 25
    record: 13-14-6
    KWAK: 22
    PAGE: 24
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 23
    23Columbus Blue Jackets
    last week: 20
    record: 14-16-3
    KWAK: 24
    PAGE: 26
    Last week: 2-1-1

  • 24
    24Ottawa Senators
    last week: 22
    record: 14-14-6
    KWAK: 23
    PAGE: 22
    Last week: 2-2-0

  • 25
    25Colorado Avalanche
    last week: 27
    record: 12-13-8
    KWAK: 25
    PAGE: 23
    Last week: 2-0-1

  • 26
    26New Jersey Devils
    last week: 26
    record: 12-17-6
    KWAK: 26
    PAGE: 25
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 27
    27Buffalo Sabres
    last week: 24
    record: 13-18-3
    KWAK: 27
    PAGE: 27
    Last week: 0-2-1

  • 28
    28Carolina Hurricanes
    last week: 29
    record: 9-20-4
    KWAK: 28
    PAGE: 28
    Last week: 1-2-1

  • 29
    29Phoenix Coyotes
    last week: 29
    record: 11-18-4
    KWAK: 29
    PAGE: 29
    Last week: 1-2-0

  • 30
    30Edmonton Oilers
    last week: 30
    record: 7-20-7
    KWAK: 30
    PAGE: 30
    Last week: 0-1-2


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