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Cullen: Examining the 2013 NHL Power Rankings

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Scott Cullen
5/3/2013 5:22:07 PM
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Each year I look back at the TSN.ca NHL Power Rankings, comparing the preseason to end-of-season results and see what kind of factors contributed to unanticipated results. Injuries, goaltending and unexpected individual performances, both good and bad, tend to play the largest role.

It's important to note that the pre-season rankings are not predictions, because they are based on current value of the team, with the understanding that there will be factors throughout the season (trades, injuries, unexpected performances -- both good and bad) that affect results. But if a team has a dramatically different ranking at the end of the season, compared to the beginning, there ought to be some reasons that are evident for that change.

Basically, what happened that wasn't expected?

Here are some of the reasons for differences in rankings between rankings in mid-January and those at the end of April.

ANAHEIM DUCKS
Pre-Season Rank: 22
Final Rank: 6
Average Rank: 7.13
What's the Difference?: Bouncing back from a career-worst season, C Ryan Getzlaf made a significant difference for the Ducks' fortunes and the addition of goaltender Viktor Fasth gave Anaheim a strong tandem in net, which helped them stay on top of the percentage game that they needed to win in order to have the kind of success they did. Strong seasons from veteran defencemen Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray exceeded expectations as well.

BOSTON BRUINS
Pre-Season Rank: 3
Final Rank: 3
Average Rank: 3.27
What's the Difference?: High expectations, met, even if their place in the standings (fourth in the East) wasn't quite to that level. The Bruins remained a strong puck possession team and G Tuukka Rask made a successful transition to the starting job.

BUFFALO SABRES
Pre-Season Rank: 12
Final Rank: 25
Average Rank: 23.27
What's the Difference?: The strong finish to the 2011-2012 season, particularly from C Tyler Ennis, LW Marcus Foligno and RW Drew Stafford, wasn't duplicated and they traded away RW Jason Pominville and D Jordan Leopold at the deadline. Mix in a step back in development for D Tyler Myers and the results were never in the cards for the Sabres. They were ranked 19th in the first two updates of the season, and that was their high point.

CALGARY FLAMES
Pre-Season Rank: 21
Final Rank: 28
Average Rank: 26.67
What's the Difference?: I've tended to be more critical of the Flames than most others in recent years, which has played out just fine I must say, but even my own jaded view of that team wouldn't have forecast them as poorly as 2013 turned out. G Miikka Kiprusoff was injured, ceding the crease to the likes of Leland Irving, Joey MacDonald and Danny Taylor, but had a miserable .882 save percentage when he did play. As poorly as the season turned out, it wasn't a huge surprise when the Flames decided to deal face-of-the-franchise RW Jarome Iginla and D Jay Bouwmeester, cementing their status in the lower echelon of the rankings.

CAROLINA HURRICANES
Pre-Season Rank: 19
Final Rank: 24
Average Rank: 17.07
What's the Difference?: There were a few positives, most notably the emergence of LW Jiri Tlusty, but G Cam Ward got hurt and the Hurricanes' goaltending went downhill after that. RW Jeff Skinner wasn't nearly as productive as hoped and veteran D Joni Pitkanen missed 30 games with a variety of maladies, including a season-ending fractured heel. Hard to imagine but, around midseason, the Hurricanes were as high as sixth in the rankings before the bottom fell out.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Pre-Season Rank: 6
Final Rank: 1
Average Rank: 1.60
What's the Difference?: Expectations were relatively high for the Blackhawks coming into the season, but not to the extent that they would rule the rankings, unchallenged, after Week Three. A bounceback year for Corey Crawford in goal, nice production from rookie LW Brandon Saad and even RW Patrick Kane's return to elite point production helped take the Blackhawks from contenders to favourites.

COLORADO AVALANCHE
Pre-Season Rank: 26
Final Rank: 27
Average Rank: 24.93
What's the Difference?: For all the young talent in Colorado, there have been legitimate concerns about their defence and whether or not G Semyon Varlamov is capable of handling the No. 1 job in goal. Nothing that happened during this season has changed those perceptions, so the ups (Matt Duchene, John Mitchell) and downs (Paul Stastny, David Jones) among the forwards didn't make much difference in the end.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Pre-Season Rank: 30
Final Rank: 14
Average Rank: 22.80
What's the Difference?: After years of subpar performance from G Steve Mason, the Blue Jackets vaulted into playoff contention this year largely because of G Sergei Bobrovsky's special season. C Mark Letestu broke through and rookie D Dalton Prout was a solid contributor but, really, most of the difference should be attributed to Bobrovsky.

DALLAS STARS
Pre-Season Rank: 14
Final Rank: 23
Average Rank: 17.87
What's the Difference?: One of the reasons that Power Rankings aren't considered predictions is that injuries might seem inevitable in some cases, but they don't get taken into account until they actually occur. With the Stars adding some veteran free agents (Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr) up front, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect that at least one of them might get hurt and Whitney did end up missing 21 games. An injury to G Kari Lehtonen was a factor (since he was a significant reason for their decent preseason ranking) too, then trading away Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Michael Ryder (for an unproductive Erik Cole) sent the Stars' season down the drain.

DETROIT RED WINGS
Pre-Season Rank: 7
Final Rank: 11
Average Rank: 13.80
What's the Difference?: It's not a massive shock that the Red Wings took a step back in the wake of Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement but, because of injuries, they got next to nothing from right wingers Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson and D Carlo Colaiacovo. Valtteri Filppula's production also dipped and while several call-ups, including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar,and Joakim Andersson, have gotten a taste of the NHL, they haven't been playing a big enough role to have a serious positive impact on the rankings.

EDMONTON OILERS
Pre-Season Rank: 16
Final Rank: 20
Average Rank: 18.53
What's the Difference?: It looked like this could be a season in which the Oilers, who have been accumulating talent through high draft picks, could actually challenge for a playoff spot. It was a reasonable thought through the first three-quarters of the season before they lost nine of ten games to fall out of contention. LW Taylor Hall and C Sam Gagner were better than expected, RW Jordan Eberle regressed, but the most significant player, in terms of affecting rankings was C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who endured a difficult sophomore campaign.

FLORIDA PANTHERS
Pre-Season Rank: 27
Final Rank: 30
Average Rank: 29.53
What's the Difference?: A team with precious little NHL depth, the Panthers couldn't withstand injuries to, most notably, C Stephen Weiss, RW Kris Versteeg and D Dmitry Kulikov, among others. Nevertheless, they had overachieved in 2011-2012, which didn't alter my expectations much and they lived down to low expectations in 2013.

LOS ANGELES KINGS
Pre-Season Rank: 10
Final Rank: 9
Average Rank: 12.80
What's the Difference?: Coming into the season there is always some segment of the population that demands the previous season's champs be ranked No. 1, no matter what the analysis says. Part of the reason for the Kings' depressed ranking at the start of the season was an injury to C Anze Kopitar, which only cost him a couple of games. The Kings struggled to get going early in the year, at least in part because of subpar play from G Jonathan Quick and it required a strong season from the rest of the team to overcome Quick posting a .902 save percentage this season, down from .929 last year. The defending champs had a lot of roster stability and many players didn't vary too dramatically from expectations, though the Kings' climb into the Top 10 was aided by the development of young defencemen Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin.

MINNESOTA WILD
Pre-Season Rank: 20
Final Rank: 17
Average Rank: 16.00
What's the Difference?: Even with Dany Heatley's descent in full effect and rookie C Mikael Granlund falling flat in the face of lofty expectations, the Wild finished three spots ahead of their preseason ranking. D Ryan Suter was a little better than expected, but young players helped make the difference. Suter's partner, Jonas Brodin, is a Calder candidate, and RW Charlie Coyle finished the year playing meaningful minutes on the top line. Trading for Sabres RW Jason Pominville also provided a late-season boost in value.

MONTREAL CANADIENS
Pre-Season Rank: 18
Final Rank: 10
Average Rank: 6.47
What's the Difference?: A team that was so bad that it drafted third last summer, the Canadiens were a vastly improved outfit this year, and their possession metrics indicated that their wins weren't a fluke, either. As a result, Montreal was ranked in the top five for a good portion of the season before a late-season goaltending and defensive swoon dropped them. What made the Canadiens better? Head coach Michael Therrien deserves some credit, but his roster was much better too. D Andrei Markov stayed healthy. D P.K. Subban emerged as a star. D Alexei Emelin improved in his second season. C Lars Eller improved. The trade for RW Michael Ryder upgraded the offence. Rookies Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk were very productive in limited ice time.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Pre-Season Rank: 8
Final Rank: 29
Average Rank: 23.40
What's the Difference?: After years of underrating the Predators, they finally started the year with a strong ranking, only to fall flat. G Pekka Rinne was mortal, RW Martin Erat struggled before he was traded away to Washington, RW Patric Hornqvist and LW Colin Wilson both missed half the season and, for a team that wasn't blessed with scoring talent to begin with, they could ill afford to lose some of the players that could actually produce for them.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Pre-Season Rank: 15
Final Rank: 26
Average Rank: 17.60
What's the Difference?: I was aiming in the right direction with last year's finalists, but they were even worse than I expected. The goaltending was a mess, and LW Patrik Elias may have been their only productive player. LW Ilya Kovalchuk's numbers were down, even before he got hurt, and the rest of the forwards weren't scoring. Even though the Devils actually had very strong possession numbers, they got killed on percentages (shooting and save) at both ends.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Pre-Season Rank: 29
Final Rank: 15
Average Rank: 19.87
What's the Difference?: The Islanders broke through, after consistently sitting in the 20s, thanks to a nice contribution from RW Brad Boyes, who helped keep the first line productive, and the development of the second line -- Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo -- made a real difference down the stretch, and was probably the biggest difference from the Islanders' preseason forecast. Getting D Lubomir Visnovsky to finally agree to join the team paid off too. He played well and landed a contract extension.

NEW YORK RANGERS
Pre-Season Rank: 2
Final Rank: 5
Average Rank: 10.87
What's the Difference?: Expectations were sky-high for the Blueshirts this year and they were nowhere close to meeting them, thanks in large part to lower-than-anticipated production from C Brad Richards and RW Marian Gaborik. However, some roster changes (subtracting Gaborik, but adding LW Ryane Clowe, C Derick Brassard, LW Mats Zuccarello and D John Moore) helped contribute to their late-season surge and the Rangers, getting top-tier goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist once again, finished the season not so far off the preseason projection, even if they took a rather indirect route to get there.

OTTAWA SENATORS
Pre-Season Rank: 13
Final Rank: 4
Average Rank: 8.13
What's the Difference?: Injuries wreaked havoc on the Senators' lineup, with C Jason Spezza, D Erik Karlsson, D Jared Cowen and G Craig Anderson the most notable to miss significant chunks of the season but, by season's end, Anderson, Cowen and Karlsson had returned, giving the offensively-challenged Sens the top goaltender (in terms of GAA and SV%) and the league's best defenceman. Rookies made a big difference for the Sens, from C Mika Zibanejad and RW Jakob Silfverberg in secondary offensive roles to G Robin Lehner, who was outstanding while Anderson was sidelined.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Pre-Season Rank: 9
Final Rank: 18
Average Rank: 20.80
What's the Difference?: Maybe it should have been assumed that defence would be an issue for the Flyers but, aside from Kimmo Timonen and, to some degree, Luke Schenn, it was a revolving door of injured and replaceable parts. Lack of production from veteran forwards like Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell hurt the cause, too. Even G Ilya Bryzgalov performing worse than 2011-2012 caused the Flyers to be ranked lower than expected.

PHOENIX COYOTES
Pre-Season Rank: 23
Final Rank: 21
Average Rank: 18.47
What's the Difference?: Pretty close to expected. G Mike Smith didn't duplicate his 2011-2012 season, but that wasn't a major surprise. The ceiling is only so high for a team whose top centre, Martin Hanzal, finished with 23 points, even if that is a fair expectation based on his previous offensive track record.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Pre-Season Rank: 1
Final Rank: 2
Average Rank: 4.93
What's the Difference?: The only thing keeping the Penguins from top spot, by season's end, was Sidney Crosby's broken jaw. By the time the Penguins added LW Brenden Morrow, RW Jarome Iginla, C Jussi Jokinen and D Douglas Murray in trades as well as rookie RW Beau Bennett, they had done plenty to improve an already-formidable lineup. With Crosby having the best season of his career, prior to his injury, and the team getting healthy by season's end, the Penguins are legit Stanley Cup frontrunners.

ST. LOUIS BLUES
Pre-Season Rank: 4
Final Rank: 13
Average Rank: 10.47
What's the Difference?: St. Louis remained a grind-it-out physical team that was tough to go against, but their goaltending was a mess for most of the year. Jaroslav Halak struggled, got hurt. Brian Elliott was terrible and couldn't be trusted, so Jake Allen got his chance. Allen played okay, then Halak returned. Halak got hurt again and Elliott rose to the challenge with an unbelievable April. Adding defencemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold helped by season's end, too, but if the goaltending was better, the Blues would have been closer to their preseason rank for much of the year anyway..

SAN JOSE SHARKS
Pre-Season Rank: 11
Final Rank: 12
Average Rank: 9.87
What's the Difference?: A team skilled enough to comfortably make the playoffs, but have modest expectations once they get there, the Sharks scored less than expected, with big names like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Martin Havlat producing less, but that was countered by G Antti Niemi performing at a very high level, with a career-best .924 SV%.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Pre-Season Rank: 24
Final Rank: 19
Average Rank: 13.53
What's the Difference?: For much of the season, the Lightning were ranked significantly higher than their place in the standings because they still held a positive goal differential despite their losing record. Their goaltending was terrible, again, but if they got even mediocre goaltending, it could have saved them. By the time they made a move to address that need, acquiring Ben Bishop from Ottawa at the trade deadline, it was too late. The Lightning have great skilled forwards and have some pieces that can be part of a competent defence, but the Lightning need more pucks stopped.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Pre-Season Rank: 25
Final Rank: 7
Average Rank: 10.80
What's the Difference?: If you want some idea how beaten down the Maple Leafs fan base has become, there was barely a whisper of complaint regarding their preseason ranking. This from a fanbase that swamps our website on most matters, but who knew that James Reimer would get his game back? Who knew that Nazem Kadri would not only make the team but shine? D Cody Franson was a lot better and LW Joffrey Lupul was great, when he managed to stay in the lineup. Not everything was positive, however. C Mikhail Grabovski saw his production fall off and D Jake Gardiner spent an inordinate amount of time in the press box or the AHL, but the Maple Leafs, despite having the worst shot differential in the league, won more than expected. For that, they should thank Reimer and backup Ben Scrivens, both of whom were above average at a position that was clearly below average in previous seasons.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Pre-Season Rank: 5
Final Rank: 14
Average Rank: 11.67
What's the Difference?: In previous seasons, the Canucks have outscored opponents by a large margin and, justifiably, have been ranked near the top. This season, when they start to talk about learning how to win ugly, well, that's the kind of thing that teams do when they can't dominate play any more. Injuries played a part -- C Ryan Kesler, LW David Booth, D Kevin Bieksa and D Chris Tanev were among those to miss significant time -- but the Canucks weren't dominant this year and their ranking reflected as much.

WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Pre-Season Rank: 17
Final Rank: 8
Average Rank: 20.93
What's the Difference?: For more than half the season it was looking optimistic to have the Capitals at 17 in the preseason rankings, but once RW Alex Ovechkin caught fire and D Mike Green started scoring like he did a few years ago and, further down the depth chart, RW Eric Fehr and defencemen Steven Oleksy and Jack Hillen also contributed more than expected.

WINNIPEG JETS
Pre-Season Rank: 28
Final Rank: 22
Average Rank: 21.93
What's the Difference?: Winnipeg's preseason ranking was affected negatively by D Zach Bogosian being injured, but that could have been a precursor to the whole season as the Jets had a hard time keeping all of their top defencemen healthy. Even once Bogosian returned, Tobias Enstrom missed more than half the season and C Olli Jokinen was a flop as a free agent addition. All that said, the Jets still pushed for a playoff spot right into the final week of the season, even with a goal-differential that ranked 23rd.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

James Reimer (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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