Posted: Tuesday February 7, 2012 3:18PM ; Updated: Tuesday February 7, 2012 3:47PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Beware of Predators

Story Highlights

Goalie Jimmy Howard's injury may be a blessing in disguise for the Red Wings

Gritty Nashville's Cup mix needs a scorer to go with its defense and goaltending

Is that complacency we see settling in with the Bruins? They need a Mark Recchi

After a couple weeks away, the Power Rankings are back. The time after the NHL All-Star break is commonly referred to by hockey insiders as when the "big boy" hockey is played. The pace picks up, and there is a tangible uptick in the sense of urgency around NHL dressing rooms. More than one Hall of Fame player I've talked to over the years has essentially put it this way: "The good teams don't really start playing until after the break."

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."

With that sentiment in mind, let's move on with our new rankings:

NHL Power Rankings
1Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 1
If they lose some games they shouldn't during the next couple of weeks (like Monday against Phoenix), it'll probably be because goalie Jimmy Howard is still sidelined with a broken right index finger. But for now, my index finger is still held high for these Wings as No. 1. Howard will get a nice rest and come back fresher. His injury could be a blessing. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. Besides, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will dial up the meter to help cover for Howard's absence. Last week: 2-1-1
 
2Nashville Predators
Last Week: 7
They're 12-2-2 against teams in the tough Central Division (Columbus, notwithstanding, of course). "Coach (Barry Trotz) does a great job preparing us for these games," goalie Pekka Rinne told The Tennessean. "We start to get ready in the meeting room and then we get ready mentally." Look for the Preds to get a good scorer at the trade deadline. With their defense, goaltending and team concept, that could be all that's needed for their first Cup. Last week:: 3-2-0
 
3New York Rangers
Last Week: 3
The West has one really bad team (Columbus), one fairly bad team (Edmonton), and the rest are at least very respectable. The East has four, maybe five, pretty bad teams. That helps explain why the Rangers' record is so good, but let's agree on one thing: these Blueshirts are a nice, solid team -- the best in the East according to these here rankings. But they're not the best team in the league. Last week: 3-0-1
 
4Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
They probably get a little bored in the soft Northwest Division where they lack the kind of rival that keeps them looking over their shoulder, so off-nights can happen as a result. But the Canucks are right on schedule for a top-four Western finish, and don't count them out for a run at another conference flag. Last week: 3-0-1
 
5Boston Bruins
Last Week: 2
Boston Bruins (33-16-2)
Some complacency seems to have crept in lately (only five wins in their last 11 games). But at least Tim Thomas got out of his hotel room in Washington this last time around and shut down the Caps to keep Boston well within range of the Rangers for the conference crown. Look for the Bruins to get a veteran forward at the deadline. Someone to fill a Mark Recchi-type role is needed. Last week: 2-3-0
 
6St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 5
St. Louis Blues (30-14-7)
It's beginning to be a bit disconcerting that they are still having trouble scoring goals. With a puck-possession style and a stable of young, quick forwards, there should be more illumination of red lamps by the Blues' sticks than we've been seeing. Ten other Western teams have scored more goals than St. Louis (126). Of course, no team in the West has allowed fewer (105). Last week: 1-1-1
 
7San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 9
San Jose Sharks (29-15-6)
They've been treading water all season it seems. When are they going to reel off eight wins in a row, like they're capable of doing? Yet, their record is still real good. There have been trade rumors , but coach Todd McLellan had this to say on the subject to the San Jose Mercury News: "(GM) Doug (Wilson) and I talk every day. Then you go home and somebody mentions a rumor to you and we haven't spent any time talking about those players or wanting to move them. Ninety-five percent of it is fabricated or created for hype." Last week: 2-1-0
 
8New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 14
They have very quietly gotten back into the conversation again at 7-2-1 in their last 10 and Zach Parise en fuego with goals in each of their last four. It's hard to believe he could be an unrestricted free agent this summer. If he's available July 1, those beep-beep-beeps you'll hear will be the money truck backing up for this guy. Last week: 4-0-0
 
9Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 11
Injuries continue to plague this formerly charmed team (valuable role player Tyler Kennedy was the latest to go down, at New Jersey on Sunday), but they nonetheless have won eight of 10. And Sidney Crosby is skating again. Hope remains alive. Last week: 3-2-0
 
10Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 8
Daniel Briere's continued absence due to a concussion is taking a toll. The Flyers have lost two in a row and are 4-4-2 in their last 10. Ilya Bryzgalov has a good game, then a bad game. But they'll make the playoffs, and the good news is that Briere seems well on the road to recovery. Look for Philly to get a defenseman or two at the deadline. Last week: 2-2-1
 
11Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
They took an 0-4-1 streak into Denver for Tuesday's game against the Avalanche, who also had an identical mark in their last five. Somebody's gotta win. Chicago's goaltending duo of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery continues to be spotty of late, and Patrick Kane has one goal in his last 13 games. Last week: 0-3-1
 
12Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 16
Ron Wilson's team has looked terrific since the All-Star break. Goalie James Reimer has won three straight, including two shutouts. After six straight non-playoff seasons, Toronto is looking like a good bet to make it to the postseason dance. Last week: 4-0-1
 
13Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 10
Too bad they couldn't take their clock-keeper on the road with them, because they dropped two straight to start a six-game trip. OK, a bit of a cheapie there, but the Kings need another kick in the butt. Their inability to score goals has been one of the NHL's more puzzling stories. Yet, they are a still good bet to make the playoffs. We think. Last week: 1-2-0
 
14Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 19
Minnesota Wild (25-19-8)
Dany Heatley isn't scoring like he used to (17 goals, 38 points in 52 games), but he has drawn very good notices in St. Paul for his hustle and positive attitude. He seems to enjoy playing on a scrappy team after a few years of regal living in San Jose. The Wild should get captain Mikko Koivu back this week. Last week: 2-1-1
 
15Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 21
Phoenix Coyotes (24-21-8)
These guys just keep hanging around. A nice win over Detroit on Monday got coach Dave Tippett's team into 10th place in the West, just two points out of eighth. Veteran Ray Whitney, who will be 40 in May, is on a tear. He had two assists in the win over the Wings, and has eight points in his last five contests. Last week: 3-1-0
 
16Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 13
Ottawa Senators (27-21-7)
Mustachioed rookie coach Paul McLean's team is skidding : 3-6-1 in their last 10. Jason Spezza's icy play has coincided with that. Red hot previously, he has not recorded a point in six straight games. He and the Sens seem to have a hangover from hosting All-Star Weekend. Last week: 0-3-1
 
17Washington Capitals
Last Week: 15
Despite turmoil and a bunch of injuries (valuable forward Brooks Laich suffered a knee injury on Sunday and may be out a while), the Caps can move from ninth to third in the East with a victory over Florida on Tuesday night. We're very tentatively hitching a wagon to their Southeast title drive. Last week: 2-2-1
 
18Dallas Stars
Last Week: 20
Dallas Stars (27-22-2)
Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is looking like his old self again. He's won his last three starts and has Dallas starting to think about the playoffs again. The Stars' lineup is too iffy to get really excited about, but Lehtonen is certainly capable of getting as hot as the summer Texas heat and carrying everyone on it. Last week: 3-1-0
 
19Florida Panthers
Last Week: 17
Florida Panthers (24-16-11)
They seem primed for a slow fade, with too much inconsistent play of late. But they remained division leaders entering Tuesday's "showdown" with the Caps. These guys are just quirky enough that they might blow Washington out and go on a mini-tear. Or vice-versa. Last week: 2-1-1
 
20Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 12
They were a train wreck after the All-Star break last year, and are trending downward again. Colorado has outshot its last three opponents by double-digit margins, but putting the biscuit in the basket remains a daunting task. Forward Matt Duchene is still probably a couple of weeks away from returning from his knee injury. Last week: 0-3-1
 
21Calgary Flames
Last Week: 18
Calgary Flames (24-22-7)
Brent Sutter's squad did well to grab a point Monday in Anaheim after falling behind 2-0, but they hurt themselves at the end of regulation with a typical sloppy special teams play -- a too-many-men violation on their own power play. Because of stuff like that, you get the feeling they just don't have what it takes to get to the playoffs. Last week: 1-2-2
 
22Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 27
Guy Boucher's team is coming on (6-3-1 in its last 10), but it's probably too late for a playoff spot. The Bolts are still 10 points out of eighth place in the East and their goaltending just doesn't inspire confidence that a sustained run is possible. Last week: 3-0-1
 
23Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 23
Winnipeg Jets (24-24-6)
They've been the very definition of mediocrity all season long, and it doesn't seem like anything will change before the end of what has still been a feel-good (for the most part) return to the cold Canadian city. The part that hurts: Injuries have plagued coach Claude Noel's team, as the Jets have lost 233 man-games to them. Thankfully, young standout forward Evander Kane should return this week from a concussion, possibly Tuesday against Toronto. Last week: 2-3-0
 
24Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 22
Anaheim Ducks (20-24-8)
Look out for these guys. They're 7-2-1 in their last 10, and with all that offensive talent up front -- plus Jonas Hiller playing very well again -- a playoff spot is not out of the question yet. Yeah, it'll be tough, but when these guys are hot, they're hot. And they've got cupcakes Carolina and Columbus in two of their next three games, plus they'll get Detroit without Jimmy Howard in the other. Last week: 2-2-1
 
25New York Islanders
Last Week: 26
They keep taking little baby steps, with the accent on little. At least they have become a respectable team again, and if John Tavares can get red-hot again like he recently was, you never know what they're capable of doing. Last week: 2-0-2
 
26Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 28
Buffalo Sabres (22-24-6)
Poor Lindy Ruff. As if things haven't been bad enough for him trying to coax wins out of his team, now he's got guys breaking his ribs in practice. On Monday, Ruff suffered three after being knocked off his feet accidentally by Jordan Leopold. That's going to make it tougher to screaming at his players, which he's done a lot this season. But the Sabres are showing signs of life again. Last week: 3-0-1
 
27Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 25
They are definitely playing better again (6-2-2 in their last 10), but the playoffs look just too far away. That's what a horrible first half will do to a team. For what it's worth, Cam Ward is heating up in net, with shutouts in two of his last six starts. Last week: 2-1-0
 
28Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 24
Well, Scott Gomez did it. He managed to go a full calendar year without scoring a goal. Over 59 games and 122 shots, he laid a goose egg in the scoring column every time out. But don't worry Habs fans, he's only making $7.5 million for this and the next two seasons. Last week: 2-3-0
 
29Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 29
Edmonton Oilers (21-27-5)
They're going nowhere, but at least Sam Gagner gave everybody in Edmonton and the rest of the world a jolt with his incredible eight-point game against the Blackhawks last week, followed up by a three-point effort. Who knew that this guy would be trending worldwide on Twitter for a while? Last week: 3-1-0
 
30Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 30
The only drama left for this dismal team is what will happen to it at the trade deadline. Will Rick Nash and Jeff Carter be on the move? Things certainly haven't worked out too well with them on the roster this season, so, hey, why not blow it all up and start over with the bounty they'd surely bring in? Last week: 1-3-0

 
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