Posted: Tue February 5, 2013 3:38PM; Updated: Tue February 5, 2013 6:22PM
Adrian Dater
Adrian Dater>INSIDE THE NHL

Blackhawks still No. 1 in NHL Power Rankings

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Chicago Blackhawks left wing Viktor Stalberg
Though his numbers don't reflect it, winger Viktor Stalberg has been excellent for the Blackhawks.
Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI

The NHL season just started, and yet we're already nearing the quarter-pole mark. After the lockout, many teams that otherwise could have written off their slow starts by vowing to improve in January or February are now in serious trouble.

But ... this cut-to-the-chase season has been kind of fun, right? Will anyone really miss those Florida vs. Nashville or Columbus vs. New Jersey matchups that would have been played during a regular 82-game season? Do we all not secretly want every regular season to be short and to the point, with each game actually meaning something?

Before we get to this week's rankings...

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 expectations; b) consensus talent level and payroll considerations, and; c) my uncanny intuition that would make Nostradamus flush with envy if Nostradamus were only still around and able to flush. Please keep in mind that I do not stay up all night every night sticking voodoo pins in the McFarland action figures of players from your favorite teams, but if you feel I actually do have it in for your team and want to give me an earful, please send me an email by clicking on the link above. I may not always answer, but I'll give your screed a read.

1Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 1
I'm not sure their goaltending will be good enough to win it all. Of course, I probably thought that during the 2009-10 season when they won the Stanley Cup. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery though ... (making a scrunchy face) ... I'm not so sure about them come May and June. But for now, I really think that this is the toughest team in the league to play against. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa all came into the season with something to prove again, and they are doing it beyond the shadow of a doubt. Those three guys produced a combined 30 points in Chicago's first nine games. Keep an eye on big winger Viktor Stalberg, too. He scored 22 goals last season, and though his numbers don't reflect his level of play, he has been excellent so far. Last week: 1-0-2
 
2San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 2
Martin Havlat deserves more credit for this team's resurgence than he's given. He'd been somewhat forgotten after his injury-plagued first season (2011-12) with the Sharks, for whom he played only 39 games and scored seven goals. Healthy again, he's totaled three goals and five points in his first eight games this year. You still have to wonder if the Sharks' goaltending will hold up even though Antti Niemi was Chicago's starter when the Hawks won the Cup in 2010. And the Sharks probably could use another defenseman if they truly want to get everybody thinking again about a possible championship. Last week: 2-1-1
 
3Boston Bruins
Last Week: 4
After their first loss of the season -- a 7-4 game of shinny at home against the Sabres -- the B's made things right again with a 1-0 shutout in Toronto over the weekend. That, to me, was a huge sign that Boston is fully committed. The hung-over Bruins of last season might have gone into that game against the Leafs with the "We take another night off, no biggie, we'll be there in the end" attitude that usually sinks a Cup-defender. The spectral presence of Tim Thomas still hangs over this team to some degree, and it seems certain that he won't play at all this season. He's living a quiet family life in Colorado Springs. But fans are still asking, especially after that loss to Buffalo, if there's any chance Thomas will return. The B's -- or Thomas -- should clarify once and for all what his situation will be for the rest of the season. Last week: 2-1-0
 
4St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 3
Things are pretty solid with this team, yet its 5-3 loss in Detroit last Friday will keep some skeptics hanging around. It was only the second defeat of the season for the Blues, who had shut out the Red Wings 6-0 at home on opening night, and David Backes was victimized by a horrible call that left him with a match penalty for a totally clean hit to the chest of Kent Huskins. Nevertheless, the Blues still have to prove that they are ready to take the next step toward the elite status that the Wings have enjoyed for so long. Beating Detroit in Detroit will help. Last week: 1-1-0
 
5Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 5
Can we please stop with the ridiculous "Dan Bylsma is in trouble if the Pens don't get this thing turned around soon" stories? It's true that he is a bit robotic as a coach. You only needed to watch HBO's 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic series in 2011 to see that his pregame speeches are all kind of the same and a bit on the dull side. But that doesn't mean that he's not a smart guy who really knows the game. Yeah, maybe some longtime Pens have gotten a little tired of him, and the team's uneven start hasn't helped, but is firing a Stanley Cup-winning coach during a short season really the answer? Last week: 3-1-0
 
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 11
On Monday night, they got a win at Edmonton that they probably didn't deserve. It took Chris Tanev's first career goal, in overtime, to put the Canucks back where they usually dwell in the Northwest Division: first place. The bigger story, of course, has been Roberto Luongo reclaiming the No. 1 job in goal. The guy who was supposed to have been traded by now is again hearing warm calls of "Loooo" in Rogers Arena. For now, it appears that the best trade GM Mike Gillis didn't make was not dealing Bobby Lou. Last week: 3-0-0
 
7New York Rangers
Last Week: 7
While it's tough to lose a character guy like Mike Rupp, he is starting to look like he has too many miles on his beat-up body. So dealing him to Minnesota and getting a solid defensive forward (Darroll Powe) in return was a good pickup by the Blueshirts, who are starting to wake up after a sluggish start. They entered Monday tied for 29th in the league on the power play (10 percent), but that number will improve dramatically. So will the Rangers' record. There's too much talent here and enough time to fulfill its promise. Last week: 2-1-0
 
8Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 8
With a plus-18 goal differential (39-21) entering Tuesday, the Bolts had the best such margin in the NHL. Goalie Anders Lindback (5-1-0 and .911 saves percentage) has been a major factor. Fun fact to know and tell: The former Predator wears a mask with a large nose and an even larger mustache on the back. It's a tribute to his father, Lars, 57. "Since I turned pro I've always worn it back there," Lindback told the Tampa Bay Times. "He's always been there for me. He was always taking me to hockey practice, so I thought it would be pretty cool. I think he appreciates it." Last week: 2-1-0
 
9New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 6
Maybe the most surprising news about this team is that it tried to get Scott Gomez back as a free agent. (Gomez apparently preferred to go West, away from the Eastern media pressure cooker, which he did by signing with San Jose.) The best bit of surprising news was Adam Henrique coming back earlier than expected from thumb surgery. That's a huge plus. A definite esprit de corps still exists with the Devils, and that has to be the ultimate compliment to longtime GM Lou Lamoriello. Somehow, despite the franchise's ownership and financial distractions, Lou always gets his players to care and, most of all, to win. Last week: 1-1-2.
 
10Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 12
They will soon have the best top-six forward group in the league. They're all still babies, but these kids are gonna be unbelievable. Everybody laughed at me when I had the Oilers at No. 3 in these here rankings before the season, but with points in six of their first nine games, I'm not hearing as much trash talk. So far, Devan Dubnyk has shown enough in goal for me to believe that the Oilers can be a playoff team, one that won't be fun to play against. My one bone to pick: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins must play better. After nine games, he was still without a goal. Last week: 1-1-2
 
11Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 13
It's probably been an under-reported story, but coach Bruce Boudreau has done a great job since taking over what a flailing, failing team in December 2001. Most observers thought the Ducks were too stale entering this season, even with the big-name forwards they still have. But Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan have looked terrific. We also have to give a weekly mention to Teemu Selanne (3 goals, 9 points) too. How does this guy do it? We suggest that he hit the infomercial market pronto with some kind of age-defying product. I'd buy it. And how about 30-year-old rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth? He thinks the Ducks are an elite team. I'm not totally sold on them for the long-term, but for now let's give them the love they deserve. Last week: 3-0-1
 
12Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 14
After a solid start, the Sens got horrible news last week when Jason Spezza was lost indefinitely to back surgery. GM Bryan Murray said he hopes that Spezza will return before the end of the season, but that's probably wishful thinking. The veteran center's absence will catch up with Ottawa before long unless Murray can work some magic and acquire a good replacement for the playoff push. He fleeced the Avalanche a couple years ago by getting goalie Craig Anderson for Brian Elliott -- who the Avs let go for nothing after a couple months --- so maybe he can heist Ryan O'Reilly from Colorado for little in return. O'Reilly, who grew up near Ottawa, probably wouldn't mind. Last week: 2-2-0
 
13Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 9
An ugly 7-4 loss at Anaheim on Saturday night raised more questions about the defending champs' readiness to repeat. The loss of minutes-munching veteran Matt Greene is a killer right now for coach Darryl Sutter, who really values older, experienced defensemen. But while the worries about these guys are real, they are slowly starting to show signs of life. It says here they'll get it together and make the playoffs. Don't forget: they barely made the playoffs last year, finishing eighth in the West, and still won the Cup. Last week: 0-1-1
 
14Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 19
Michel Therrien for the Jack Adams Award? If the voting here held today, he'd probably win it. He's done a super job of mixing and matching the parts on his mediocre roster, creating enough combinations to get off to a strong start. Andrei Markov has been superb on the back end, but you're always holding your breath and hoping that he doesn't go down with some freak injury. Goaltender Carey Price (.938 saves pct., 1.70 GAA) has been as good as his numbers suggest. And blueliner P.K. Subban is back in the fold after his contract hassle. Last week: 3-1-0
 
15Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 10
After a listless 2-1 loss at Phoenix on Monday night, the Wild held a players-only meeting. So far, the team with the $98 million twins (Ryan Suter and Zach Parise) hasn't won on the road (0-3-1). And Suter's stats after nine games: no goals, four assists, -7. The many people around the league who thought Suter was by far the most overpaid of the Wild's two free agent plums are surely smirking now. Parise, though, has delivered 10 points. Another problem: Devin Setoguchi, who came from San Jose in a trade two years ago, is probably back on the block. He failed to score a goal in his first nine games, after posting only 36 points in 69 games for the Wild last season. If this team dips a few games below .500, coach Mike Yeo is going to be in some serious trouble. Last week: 2-2-0
 
16New York Islanders
Last Week: 18
They looked great beating the Penguins, 4-1, in Pittsburgh last week on national TV. Then they went into New Jersey and beat the Devils in overtime. So what happens when they go home to face those same Devils in the next game? They look terrible in a 3-0 loss to backup netminder Johan Hedberg. So it always seems to go. Just when you want to buy in a little bit, this bunch turns into the same old Islanders again. Still, there's no question that their record so far is better than most predicted. Brad Boyes (six points in eight games) is an early candidate for comeback player of the year. Last week: 2-1-0
 
17Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 17
Jordan Staal got his first goal as a 'Cane on Monday in a road win over the Maple Leafs, and after a terrible start, Cam Ward is starting to get it together in net. These guys have a lot of skill up front, and if Ward gets really hot, look out. The defense probably isn't good enough to consider Carolina as an elite team, but I maintain that the 'Canes will be dangerous by season's end and in a playoff berth. Last week: 2-1-0
 
18Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 15
Injuries continue to beset this team, which probably isn't a surprise given that it's one of the older clubs in the league. But Mike Babcock, tremendous coach that he is, has somehow wrung a decent record out of it thus far. As long as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg stay off the injured list, there will always be hope. But let's face it -- these aren't the same Red Wings anymore. You only had to watch their indifferent loss in Columbus on Saturday night to see that. Last week: 2-1-0
 
19Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 28
They are starting to get their game back, capping off a nice unbeaten week with a home win over Minnesota on Monday night. Of course, the Coyotes remain a mess off the ice. Seriously, Greg Jamison has turned into the NHL version of the deadbeat friend who always says he'll pay you back the money he owes you in a few days but never does. After his supposed sure-thing acquisition of the franchise fell through AGAIN last week, there were no words. What an embarrassment for the NHL. Last week: 2-0-2
 
20Nashville Predators
Last Week: 25
Wow, are they are a boring team to watch, but what else is new in Nashville? Somehow coach Barry Trotz has been able to squeeze points out of a team that scored just 14 goals in its first eight games while allowing 20. Nobody knows how Trotz is able to do it, but somehow he always does. Still, you need to ingest barrels of caffeine before you watch these guys try to win their usual 2-1 or 3-2 games. Last week: 2-0-0.
 
21Dallas Stars
Last Week: 22
Dallas Stars (4-5-1)
Center Jamie Benn finally started to earn his $5 million-plus salary with a three-point effort in a 3-2 win at Colorado on Monday night. The Stars are not a very good team, but Benn is a major talent who, if he really heats up, could keep Dallas in playoff contention. But the Stars' postseason hopes took a huge blow when veteran forward Ray Whitney (six points in eight games) was put on the injured list -- probably for 4-6 weeks -- with a broken bone in his foot. Brenden Morrow, 33, will need to turn back the clock some to make up for that loss of scoring punch. Last week: 2-2-0.
 
22Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 21
I'm a Lindy Ruff fan, but honestly, you have to ask: Hasn't this guy overstayed his welcome? Nothing personal, but Buffalo's longtime coach doesn't seem able to light a fire under his players anymore. The Sabres play boneheaded, careless hockey too often, with major defensive breakdowns and little scoring from the bottom lines. Thomas Vanek --- leading the league with 19 points and on pace for 47 goals and 111 points -- can't do it all by himself. Buffalo's 33 goals-against is tied for most in the NHL. When does this team make a change behind the bench? Or does Ruff have the job for life? Last week: 1-2-1
 
23Winnipeg Jets
Last Week: 16
If they look exactly like last season's mediocre team, maybe it's because management didn't do a whole lot to change last year's mediocre roster. The Jets' big off-season move was adding aging center Olli Jokinen to the mix. Winnipeggers remain thrilled to have a team again, but some of the honeymoon aspects are fading. Fans are grumbling about the lackluster defense and goaltending, and wishing that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff would try to shake things up with some kind of move. Last week: 0-3-0.
 
24Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 26
Their record may be better than it should be, given the absence of four of the team's top nine forwards from last season, three of them to injury. Captain Gabe Landeskog is out indefinitely with a head injury, the result of a huge hit from San Jose's Brad Stuart. Meanwhile, Ryan O'Reilly remains the lone unsigned big-name restricted free agent in the league, with no end to his contract standoff in sight. The Avs refuse to pay any more to O'Reilly than the $3.5 million cap hit they're taking from Matt Duchene's deal. Fans are beyond frustrated by the situation, given that Colorado has about $18 million in cap room. With such a good player doing nothing for them, the heat is on Avs management to do something, given all the injuries. Last week: 2-2-0
 
25Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 23
The blown call that nullified Tyler Bozak's goal against Carolina Monday night showed that the Leafs just don't have the kind of talent that can overcome many bad breaks. As of Feb. 5, Phil Kessel still hadn't scored a goal and captain Dion Phaneuf hadn't played well, either. He isn't scoring goals anymore, and is a minus player. Last week: 2-2-0
 
26Florida Panthers
Last Week: 30
Two wins in a row have calmed some of the panic that was building in South Florida. OK, people in South Florida don't panic over their hockey team, but things were looking dire. Peter Mueller is a nice story, having missed much of the last two seasons due to concussion issues. Yet another Avalanche castoff who found success elsewhere, Mueller has four goals for the Cats while the Avs remain banged up and starved for scoring. Last week: 2-1-0
 
27Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 20
Another major blow to Philly's forward lines occurred last week when winger Wayne Simmonds was lost to a concussion after taking an elbow to the head from Washington's John Erskine, who received a three-game suspension. There's still time to get things turned around, but without physical forwards such as Simmonds and Scott Hartnell (out long-term with a left foot injury), it's going to be tough -- especially with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. Last week: 1-2-0
 
28Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 27
Coach Todd Richards blew his stack after a 3-2 loss to Minnesota last week, blasting his players by saying they took half the game off. Then they looked even worse in their 3-0 loss to the Blues, but followed that stinker with a nice win over Detroit. In their first eight outings, the Jackets' three highest-paid forwards -- R.J. Umberger, Derick Brassard and Brandon Dubinsky -- combined for one lousy goal. No wonder Richards is steaming. Last week: 1-2-0
 
29Calgary Flames
Last Week: 29
It looked like they would get a nice comeback win over Chicago on Saturday night when Jay Bouwmeester scored a great goal for a 2-1 lead with a little under 40 seconds left. Did the lead hold up? Nope. Marian Hossa scored for the Blackhawks with about two seconds left and the Flames went on to lose in a shootout. It's going to be a long short season for Bob Hartley and Company. Last week: 0-1-1
 
30Washington Capitals
Last Week: 24
What a mess. New coach Adam Oates' line experimentations are blowing up in his face, and goaltender Braden Holtby is getting lit up regularly after everybody thought he would be the league's next goaltending sensation, thanks to his defeat of the defending Cup champion Bruins in last year's playoffs. Alex Ovechkin looks like just another guy more often than not these days. You have to wonder if maybe -- just maybe -- the Caps should look to make a major rebuild, starting with a trade of No. 8. There's no denying that Ovie looks stale in Washington. Last week: 1-3
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