General managers like to gauge the progress, or lack thereof, of their teams after the first 20 games of the season – or roughly the quarter-season pole.
The sample size is big enough to determine what's simply a streak or a trend. It's after this period that the men in charge start to plot their strategies to fill holes, fix problems or decide if it might not be their team's year.
This installment of the NHL power rankings dissects each team's first quarter and assesses their future.
1. San Jose Sharks (15-5-4, Previous: 5) – The two most-scrutinized Sharks last offseason, Patrick Marleau(notes) and Evgeni Nabokov(notes), are off to career-best starts. Dany Heatley(notes) has fit right in and rookie Jason Demers(notes) is proving the team really could afford to trade away defenseman Christian Ehrhoff(notes). So far, so good, but check in during April when it matters most.
2. New Jersey Devils (14-5-1, Previous: 12) – Not sure if the Devils can maintain their 119-point season pace, but with Martin Brodeur's(notes) numbers – 12-5-1 with a 2.19 goals-against average and .921 save percentage while appearing in 18 of the first 20 games ‐ anything is possible.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (13-5-2, Previous: 7) – The change in goal and uncertainty of Cristobal Huet's(notes) ability to be a No. 1 has not stopped the Blackhawks from jumping to the top of the division and remaining on target as a factor in the Stanley Cup chase.
4. Washington Capitals (13-5-4, Previous: 3) – Alexander Ovechkin is clearly the best player in the world, and the Capitals are probably going to run away and hide in the Southeast. That wasn't a good thing for San Jose in the Pacific last year, but don't blame the Caps if no one can keep up with them.
5. Buffalo Sabres (12-5-2, Previous: 4) – Ryan Miller(notes) is your quarter-pole Vezina Trophy winner if not top Hart Trophy candidate as well. That's great for the franchise goalie, but it also suggests he's doing more than his part for a team that doesn't have anyone with as many as seven goals.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins (14-8-0, Previous: 1) – The Stanley Cup champions got off to a great start before falling prey to injuries, especially on defense. The great start will enable the Pens to weather the storm, assuming there's not a second wave of maladies.
7. Colorado Avalanche (13-7-3, Previous: 2) – The biggest surprise in the league by far, the Avs made one of the best offseason deals to acquire goalie Craig Anderson(notes), and their picks of Matt Duchene(notes) and Ryan O'Reilly(notes) look downright brilliant. New coach Joe Sacco has pushed the right buttons, but 22 games does not a season make.
8. Philadelphia Flyers (12-6-1, Previous: 14) – Nothing wrong with the two offseason marquee additions (Chris Pronger(notes) and Ray Emery(notes)), and Jeff Carter(notes) and Mike Richards(notes) continue to produce. The Flyers appear poised to be a major factor all season.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (8-4-7, Previous: 22) – The emergence of Steven Stamkos(notes) as a scorer and go-to guy has to be as rewarding as the disappointment in Vincent Lecavalier's(notes) drop in offensive production. The Bolts need to find a way to improve on special teams, but you can't take away the fact they have the fewest regulation losses in the league.
10. Calgary Flames (12-6-2, Previous: 10) – Secondary scoring is a concern, and aside from Jarome Iginla(notes) it would appear the Flames' best players have a lot more to give. That being said, the record isn't bad, and Calgary appears poised to overtake Colorado if or when the Avs slip.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-6-2, Previous: 17) – Until you look closely at the numbers – a team on pace for a 106-point season – you don't realize just how well the Blue Jackets have actually played with an average performance from last year's best rookie Steve Mason(notes) in goal. Bright days are ahead.
12. Boston Bruins (10-8-4, Previous: 21) – Like a lot of teams, the B's are battling injuries, but they also didn't get the kind of first-quarter play they expected from Vezina-winning goalie Tim Thomas(notes). The prospects are bright, assuming Thomas has turned the corner with his recent improvement and the fact the Bruins are getting healthier.
13. Los Angeles Kings (13-8-2, Previous: 11) – Anze Kopitar(notes) may be a surprise to some, but those on the West Coast knew he was a budding superstar. The Kings have been the only threat to San Jose thus far, but their depth will be tested as the season continues.
14. Ottawa Senators (10-6-3, Previous: 12) – Considering how little they've received from Jason Spezza(notes) and Jonathan Cheechoo(notes), the Sens are probably fortunate to be where they are in the division and conference race. Ottawa will be looking for a better save percentage from its goaltending duo going forward.
15. Detroit Red Wings (10-6-4, Previous: 19) – The Wings have looked merely mortal, but is it any surprise after opening the season abroad and facing goaltending challenges similar to those they encountered early last season? The division they play in is vastly improved from two to three years ago, so it's not that the Wings are getting worse as much as everyone else is getting better. The record nine straight 100-point seasons could end.
16. New York Rangers (11-9-1, Previous: 6) – Marian Gaborik(notes) is off to the best start of his nine-year career (15 goals, points in 17 of 19 games), which so far is paying off in terms of the huge gamble the Rangers took in signing a perennially injured star.
17. Atlanta Thrashers (10-6-2, Previous: 23) – Don't look now, but these guys have actually played pretty well. The Thrashers are a lot faster than they've been in recent years, and there's an upgrade in skill up front. The goaltending still isn't what it needs to be and the defense could use some help, but at least the team isn't buried in the standings.
18. Dallas Stars (9-6-6, Previous: 16) – Where would the Stars be without Brad Richards(notes) and James Neal(notes)? Marty Turco(notes) has been OK, but you knew the defense and power play would miss Sergei Zubov(notes). Hard to tell if Dallas is really going to be a player in the West race or turn into a spoiler for a second straight year.
19. New York Islanders (8-7-7, Previous: 26) – John Tavares(notes) has been everything as advertised, and he's helping breathe life into a franchise that can't get a break on a new building. He's also helping people forget about the Rick DiPietro(notes) situation.
20. Phoenix Coyotes (12-9-1, Previous: 9) – The best thing that happened to the Coyotes was the opportunity to pair new head coach Dave Tippett with good friend and underrated assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson. Phoenix always had talent; it was just overlooked in all the ownership controversy. The Coyotes also have a number of solid prospects being groomed in the minors who were rushed into the league last year. They could provide pivotal support to keep Phoenix in the race during the second half.
21. Edmonton Oilers (9-10-3, Previous: 15) – Dustin Penner(notes) is finally delivering in Edmonton, but goalie Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) isn't. The Oilers are going to have to pick it up on special teams and in goal to be legitimate playoff contenders.
22. Vancouver Canucks (12-10-0, Previous: 13) – Another high-expectation team beset by early-season injuries (Daniel Sedin(notes) after only four games, mainly, and Roberto Luongo(notes) to a lesser extent) figures to put the Canucks in more of a battle to secure a playoff spot than initially anticipated.
23. Nashville Predators (11-8-1, Previous: 24) – The Preds have somehow rallied again from what looked like a foreboding start. The young core of defense is really carrying this team, which just doesn't boast much in terms of firepower up front. That will be the team's eventual downfall.
24. Montreal Canadiens (11-11-0, Previous: 20) – Carey Price(notes) has taken a lot of criticism (not surprising in this city), but he does have some technical issues to work out in his game. Montreal is thriving on games which go past regulation, as the Habs are 8-0 (4-0 in overtime and 4-0 in shootouts).
25. St. Louis Blues (7-8-4, Previous: 18) – Because this was last season's surprise team, expectations were higher than they should have been, and the first quarter is a wake-up call – much like the recent calling-out by owner Dave Checketts. The Blues have more to give, but it was never going to be as easy as some had forecast.
26. Anaheim Ducks (7-10-3, Previous: 25) – Hey, there's a whole lot going on here that wasn't expected, but the Ducks have only three goals from their defense. That's crazy. And that's not going to cut it. Six more games on a make-or-break homestand.
27. Florida Panthers (9-9-2, Previous: 28) – Special teams have been poor, too many goals have been allowed and ownership has only recently been solidified. The Panthers have a long road to travel to break out of their playoff drought.
28. Minnesota Wild (8-12-2, Previous: 29) – You knew there would be an adjustment period for new coach Todd Richards and his style of play, but there's not a lot to work with here in St. Paul. Don't be surprised if it's a long year.
29. Carolina Hurricanes (4-12-5, Previous: 27) – The biggest disappointment in the league … by far. Some of it is injury-driven, but it runs much deeper than that. Underachievement runs throughout the lineup and the 'Canes have dug themselves a real hole. The freak injury to Cam Ward(notes) tells you all you need to know – Carolina is that one jinxed team this season.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (3-11-6, Previous: 30) – It's not pretty in Maple Leaf country, where Toronto is almost certain to miss the postseason for a franchise-high fifth straight year. They have to eclipse 50 points this season … don't they?