With just less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, just what are reasonable expectations for teams heading into the postseason, trying to get there or playing the role of spoilers? This week's power rankings, which are updated every Tuesday, looks at what is attainable for each of the 30 teams.
1. San Jose Sharks (45-21-9, Previous: 1) – The preseason pick by many to not only contend for the Stanley Cup but win it, the Sharks are focused on the big prize. The team is young, but not inexperienced, they've appeared in seven playoff rounds the past three years.
2. Detroit Red Wings (50-20-6, Previous: 4) – They don't fool around in Hockeytown. Never mind the franchise has basically turned over from the Steve Yzerman-Brendan Shanahan era to the Pavel Datsyuk-Henrik Zetterberg-led group, the goal and feeling is the same – Stanley Cup Finals or bust.
3. Anaheim Ducks (43-26-8, Previous: 3) – They did it once so anything less will feel like a disappointment in their locker room. Truth is, they've battled a lot of adversity and any sort of deep run would be a success even if they don't win it all.
4. Montreal Canadiens (43-24-10, Previous: 6) – The team has probably already exceeded expectations, but that's not always enough in Montreal where 24 championship banners hang from the rafters and there's always room for a 25th. Again, with the East being wide open, why shouldn't the Canadiens be considered a contender?
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-26-7, Previous: 5) – The Penguins got a taste of success by getting into the playoffs last spring. Reality set in during a first-round blowout at the hands of eventual conference champ Ottawa, however. The experience is valuable, and with another year of maturity for the young stars, the possibility going deep and even winning the East is there.
6. New Jersey Devils (42-26-7, Previous: 2) – Getting out of the East is no less reasonable of a goal than for any four or five other conference rivals. If that happens, the Devils will be rooting for a beaten-up Western survivor and depend on Martin Brodeur to steal the Cup.
7. New York Rangers (39-26-10, Previous: 11) – Like San Jose, the Rangers were a trendy preseason pick then floundered much of the pre-All-Star portion of the schedule. They've gained confidence in the second half and are in a position to contend. Throw them in the group that could come out of the East.
8. Minnesota Wild (40-28-9, Previous: 8) – It's a tough grind in the West and depth is needed to go deep. Minnesota will play it close to the vest and the Wild are comfortable in one-goal games, but that's a tough way to go about four rounds. A trip to the West finals might be a stretch.
9. Calgary Flames (39-27-10, Previous: 10) – The Flames are a sleeping giant. Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf are built for the playoffs and Miikka Kiprusoff is the kind of goalie who can get hot for two months. They're not talked about in the same breath with Anaheim, Detroit and San Jose, but maybe they should be.
10. Ottawa Senators (41-28-7, Previous: 7) – After the blistering start it looked like the Senators were going to breeze through the conference, but the loss of a hard work ethic led to a coaching change and the team is just holding on. They still expect to win, but it'll be a surprise to most if they survive three rounds.
11. Dallas Stars (42-29-5, Previous: 9) – It all hinges on Sergei Zubov's health and Marty Turco's performance. The Stars could face match-up problems against bigger, more physical opponents. They view themselves as contenders, but two rounds might be as much as to reasonably hope for.
12. Carolina Hurricanes (41-30-5, Previous: 14) – The team took a hit when Rod Brind'Amour went down to a season-ending injury, but Eric Staal & Co. have really picked up the slack. If they get a favorable first-round matchup and maybe avoid Martin Brodeur for a while they could reach the conference finals. Beyond that? Don't think so.
13. Vancouver Canucks (38-27-10, Previous: 12) – Sure there's Roberto Luongo, but the Canucks don't have the depth to go four rounds, assuming they indeed finish in the top eight, which they should. It would take a couple of breaks to reach the West finals, more likely they could be looking at an early bow-out.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (38-28-10, Previous: 19) – The Flyers got everyone excited early, but they are probably exactly where they should be considering what they went through last year and the roster makeover that has taken place. A return to the postseason and maybe winning a round is a step back in the right direction.
15. Colorado Avalanche (40-31-6, Previous: 13) – Hard team to read because of all the key injuries. You have to wonder what might happen if the Avs have all their forwards available. Not sure a healthy slate is in the cards, which means just getting in and maybe upsetting someone in the first round is the best Colorado can hope for.
16. Washington Capitals (37-31-8, Previous: 17) – It's the playoffs or bust. Well, not really. The Caps have come a long way since the early season coaching change, and they have a young core so really it's not like they are going to blow up the team when it finishes ninth. Viewed from the start of the season, however, it's a disappointment if Washington misses the playoffs.
17. Boston Bruins (37-28-10, Previous: 15) – If the Bruins reach the postseason, and they have the slight inside track, that would exceed expectations considering the loss of their top offensive threat, Patrice Bergeron, early on. Any noise they make in the postseason is gravy.
18. Buffalo Sabres (35-29-11, Previous: 18) – Reasonable expectations for a team that has let significant talent slip away in the past 10 months? It's reasonable to access the overall plan here and let the chips, or ax fall, where it may. Don’t blame Lindy Ruff or what he's been given on the ice for a non-playoff finish after consecutive appearances in the final four.
19. Edmonton Oilers (39-33-5, Previous: 20) – Should the Oilers have been buried in such a deep hole when they didn't have as many injuries (albeit they did have some)? Now they're battling back like madmen, but they're going to run out of time. It's not reasonable to expect Edmonton to make the playoffs, but that still doesn't excuse the Oilers from disappointing.
20. Chicago Blackhawks (36-32-8, Previous: 24) – Denis Savard won't be happy about missing out on the playoffs, but the team took a huge step to be competitive, exciting and to attract big home crowds again. Continue on this path and even better days are ahead.
21. Florida Panthers (36-31-9, Previous: 21) – Enough is enough is enough, isn't it? The young core isn't bad, they found a good goalie still in his prime, yet they aren't going to make the playoffs again. Something has to give here.
22. Nashville Predators (37-31-8, Previous: 16) – Sub-par goaltending and the loss of depth following last summer's sell-off has caught up to the Predators. You just can't get away with that in the West and expect to sneak into the playoffs or steal a series.
23. Toronto Maple Leafs (35-31-10, Previous: 25) – Please don’t say the late-season surge has changed anyone's opinion here. The Leafs are a mess, mostly on top, but there's a lot of dead weight, too, obviously. Should they have made the playoffs with this group? Probably not, despite the upgrade in goaltending with Vesa Toskala.
24. Phoenix Coyotes (36-34-6, Previous: 22) – Wayne Gretzky hates to lose, but the Coyotes have stayed the course and been competitive through at least the first 60 games. Nothing to be ashamed of here, even if there is pressure to win now since crowds can be sparse in Glendale.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-31-11, Previous: 23) – Ditto Chicago and Phoenix.
26. New York Islanders (34-36-7, Previous: 28) – All the Isles can do is try to foil the season of a division rival. The inability to score hurt them all season and will have to be addressed before next season.
27. Los Angeles Kings (30-40-6, Previous: 27) – It's coming to a merciful end, finally. It's been two seasons of being completely out of contention, and early on. The only question that remains is how deep will the changes run?
28. St. Louis Blues (30-33-12, Previous: 30) – This is an example of just how tough it is to show improvement in the West when a team really is better. The Blues are pointed in the right direction and they have a number of good young players. They shouldn't feel like the season was a disappointment even though it looks that way in the standings.
29. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-38-8, Previous: 26) – All that's left is to play the role of spoilers and give recently acquired goalie Mike Smith as much work as possible in the No. 1 role since he'll be assuming that status again in the fall.
30. Atlanta Thrashers (31-38-8, Previous: 29) – They fell off the map the last quarter of the season. Does anyone believe the vote of confidence Don Waddell received?