For most of this NHL season, it appeared the Western Conference was a three-team race.
The Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings and defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks set the pace early on and were the clear favorites. But then the Anaheim Ducks, whom many experts — myself included — picked to reach the Cup Final, finally started to play like legit contenders.
The Ducks have a five-game win streak — the longest active run in the league — an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games and a 16-4-2 record since New Year’s Day. As a result, we could see Anaheim be major buyers at the Feb. 29 trade deadline, not only to improve its playoff hopes but also to derail those of L.A. and Chicago.
The Ducks have the most assets of any contending team entering the deadline, and it would be smart for general manager Bob Murray to add a piece or two to upgrade a roster capable of playing into June.
Here are this week’s NHL power rankings. All records current entering Feb. 24.
1. Washington Capitals (44-10-4, Last week: 1): The Capitals, who’ve won four consecutive games and nine of their last 10, acquired more blue line depth by trading for Buffalo Sabres defenseman Mike Weber on Tuesday. It only cost Washington a 2017 third-round draft pick.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (38-19-5, Last week: 2): The Blackhawks reportedly are interested in acquiring Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who helped Chicago win the Stanley Cup in 2010. That would be a huge acquisition for the defending champs.
3. Dallas Stars (38-17-6, Last week: 3): Dallas is 6-3-1 in its last 10 games, but it’ll be interesting to see what general manager Jim Nill does at the trade deadline because he has plenty of future assets to deal in order to win right now.
4. Los Angeles Kings (35-20-4, Last week: 5): The Kings have won back-to-back games and might look to add a top-six forward at the deadline with Marian Gaborik out of the lineup because of an injury. L.A. general manager Dean Lombardi normally has something up his sleeve near the deadline.
5. St. Louis Blues (35-18-9, Last week: 4): The Blues added goaltender Brian Elliott to injured reserve this week, joining No. 1 defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and top-six winger Alex Steen. St. Louis must make a trade to bolster its depth for potential playoff matchups against Dallas and Chicago.
6. Anaheim Ducks (31-19-8, Last week: 7): Most of the buyers at the deadline would like to add a defenseman, and the Ducks are in a unique position where they have enough blue line depth to make a move. It could bring back a quality forward to bolster Anaheim’s offense, which has struggled throughout the campaign with a league-worst shooting percentage.
7. Florida Panthers (34-18-7, Last week: 6): The Panthers have taken points from seven of their last 10 games to hold off the red-hot Lightning and maintain first place in the Atlantic Division.
8. New York Rangers (34-20-6, Last week: 9): The Rangers are surging with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games, but the real issue is Keith Yandle’s future. The veteran defenseman is a pending UFA, but injuries on the blue line would make his departure sting quite a bit for New York.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-22-4, Last week: 15): The Lightning have won four in a row, and the Steven Stamkos trade chatter has died down. It’s a good time to be a hockey fan in Tampa Bay.
10. New York Islanders (32-19-7, Last week: 10): The Islanders are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games with back-to-back wins, but the Travis Hamonic trade request from earlier this season remains the team’s focus entering the deadline.
11. Pittsburgh Penguins (30-20-8, Last week: 11): The Penguins are 12-5-4 since Jan. 1 and own a one-point lead over New Jersey for the final wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
12. Boston Bruins (32-22-6, Last week: 8): The Bruins are a difficult team to figure out. They demolished the high-scoring Stars 7-3 on the road and then returned home and lost 6-4 to the struggling Blue Jackets. Boston must improve its 12-15-3 home record to secure a playoff spot.
13. Detroit Red Wings (30-20-11, Last week: 12): Detroit has leap-frogged the Bruins into third place in the Atlantic Division by taking points from eight of their last 10 games.
14. New Jersey Devils (30-24-7, Last week: 13): Tuesday night’s win over the Rangers was a huge confidence-booster for a Devils team that was starting to slip a bit in the playoff race.
15. San Jose Sharks (32-21-5), Last week: 14): The Roman Polak trade was a head-scratcher because he’s at best a third-pairing defenseman and not close to being worth multiple second-round draft picks. Someone should’ve told Sharks general manager Doug Wilson that his team has no chance of beating Anaheim and L.A. in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
16. Nashville Predators (29-21-11, Last week: 16): The Preds are a perfect 2-0-0 on their three-game road trip, but next up is the Blackhawks.
17. Carolina Hurricanes (28-23-10, Last week: 17): Carolina is too well-coached to fade from the playoff race, unless of course captain and No. 1 center Eric Staal is traded before the deadline. He’s a pending UFA.
18. Minnesota Wild (27-23-10, Last week: 18): The Wild are 4-1-0 with five goals or more scored in each of those four wins since they fired Mike Yeo and promoted John Torchetti to head coach last weekend.
19. Colorado Avalanche (31-27-4, Last week: 20): A 5-1 loss to Vancouver and a 4-1 defeat to Buffalo are not what Colorado needs in a very competitive wild-card playoff race in the Western Conference.
20. Ottawa Senators (29-26-6, Last week: 22): A four-game win streak has vaulted Ottawa back into the playoff race, but it would seem unlikely for the Senators to be major buyers at the deadline.
21. Philadelphia Flyers (26-22-11, Last week: 21): Philly is five points out of a playoff spot, but it’s not a legit contender. It would be smart for Ron Hextall and the rest of the Flyers’ front office to continue building toward the future.
22. Arizona Coyotes (27-27-6, Last week: 23): Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker is among the top trade targets for contending teams searching for offense or a top-six upgrade.
23. Montreal Canadiens (28-27-5, Last week: 19): The Canadiens are just six points ahead of the Sabres in the Atlantic Division. That would’ve been unfathomable at the start of the season.
24. Winnipeg Jets (25-30-4, Last week: 25): Four consecutive losses could send Winnipeg into full sellers mode at the deadline. Jets captain and top-six winger Andrew Ladd arguably is the top trade target at any position.
25. Vancouver Canucks (23-24-12, Last week: 24): Jim Benning’s tenure as Canucks GM has been a disaster. The Markus Granlund-Hunter Shinkaruk deal earlier this week was another poor trade by the Canucks.
26. Calgary Flames (26-30-3, Last week: 26): Bob Hartley played fourth-line grinder Brandon Bollig with first-line winger Johnny Gaudreau this week. Remind me again how Hartley won the Jack Adams Award last season.
27. Buffalo Sabres (24-29-7, Last week: 27): Receiving a third-round pick for a third-pairing defenseman in Mike Weber was a good haul for the Sabres. Let’s see if they continue to sell and add to their war chest of draft picks. Buffalo currently has 20 selections in the next two drafts combined.
28. Columbus Blue Jackets (24-29-8, Last week: 28): The Blue Jackets are starting to play better on a more consistent basis, which is awful for them because all it’s doing is worsening their draft lottery odds.
29. Edmonton Oilers (22-33-6, Last week: 29): Edmonton is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games, but at least Connor McDavid is making the Calder Trophy race interesting with his absurd 1.17-points-per-game pace.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (20-28-10, Last week: 30): A four-game losing streak has sunk Toronto to the bottom of the standings, tied with Edmonton at 50 points. It’s going to be a fascinating draft lottery between these two teams.
Thumbnail photo via Michael Dwyer/Associated Press