1. St. Louis Blues (last rank 3): The Blues move into the number one spot for the first time this season, and are a nasty piece of business to play against. Let's not kid ourselves, this team is really good. It is what is it is. They play for 60 minutes, they go to the net, they keep it simple, they pay the price one shift at a time, and they always seem to bring their "A" game. Whatever cliché you can think of, the Blues are a legit Cup contender. They are 8-2 in their last 10, and show no signs of slowing down. The Blues don't have a single bad contract. None of their players will be bought out this summer.
2. Colorado Avalanche (last rank 1): They have started losing some hockey games, and thus their slow decline down the power rankings has begun. Despite that amazing start, they are only 6 PTS ahead of the next contender for their playoff spot (right now, Vancouver, whom they still play 3 more times). Goaltender Simeon Varlamov has avoided the kidnapping charges, and instead is only charged with 3rd degree assault. I have one friend who has predicted that Varlamov will not spend a single day in a prison cell in 2014. This is good news for the Russian Olympic team, as Varlamov is looking like their number one goalie with Bobrovsky struggling. The Avs worst contract is expiring and they don't have a single bad contract beyond this season. None of their players will be bought out this summer.
3. San Jose Sharks (last rank 4): After cobbling together a little 5 game losing streak, they have since won 5 of their last 6. Logan Couture is their team MVP, but an honourable mention has to go out to Tommy Wingels, who has taken a giant leap forward this season (he finished last season 278th in my rankings, and currently sits 49th overall in my week 8 player rankings). If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on this roster, it would be the $6M owed to Martin Havlat next season.
4. Boston Bruins (last rank 7): They have won 7 of their last 9 games, and continue to be one of the best teams in the league. They are who we thought they were. If you want to crown them, then crown their ass. They are officially the toughest team to score goals on, while their offense has been in the middle of the pack. Tuukka Rask will be one of the 3 nominees for the Vezina Trophy. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be a coin flip between Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, though I consider both to be fair contracts.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (last rank 5): The Hawks have also won 7 of their last 9 games, and like the Bruins (the team they met in last year's cup finals), they continue to be among the league's best teams. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $12M owed to Bryan Bickell. That buyout won't happen, but thus far this season the power forward has not earned his new deal. Let's face it, Bickell really maxed out his value with a great run in the playoffs. Also, Patrick Sharp is having a good season, but there is no way he makes Team Canada. All those people can shut up.
6. Anaheim Mighty Ducks (last rank 2): The Ducks had lost 5 in a row before defeating the Stamkosless Lightning on Friday, and the Coyotes on Saturday. They seemed to slip right about the time that they had started earning the praises of most hockey pundits, but have since won 2 in a row. How many different ways can I say that both Perry and Getzlaf have to be Hart Trophy contenders? If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $3.5M owed to Sheldon Souray. For the most part, this team is not saddled with any bad contracts (Viktor Fasth may have a bad deal, but until he's healthy, it's tough to tell).
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (last rank 8): Evgeni Malkin is starting to pick up the pace, and if they can get high end production from him and Crosby, with Neal and Letang healthy, this should be one of the league's best teams. By all accounts they embarrassed the Caps on Wednesday (described by Karl Alzner as being like playing keep away with your older brother). After a short 3 game losing streak, they have won 4 of the last 6 games. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $5M owed to MA Fleury, though their goalie has played very well this season (I'd buy him out over Paul Martin because he chokes in the playoffs (2008 notwithstanding)).
8. Minnesota Wild (last rank 9): Is it too early to start campaigning for Josh Harding to win the Vezina? Should he be on Team Canada? Don't look now, but the Wild have won 9 of their last 11 games, and are receiving elite top end production from Suter and Parise. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $3.4M owed to Niklas Backstrom, seems like a big price tag for a back-up goaltender. They might have to re-name the Bill Masterton Trophy (awarded for perseverance and dedication to hockey) to become the Josh Harding Trophy. Remember, Masterton did not overcome his injury, he died after smacking his head on the ice. Harding has been the best goalie in the league, all with a debilitating medical condition.
9. Los Angeles Kings (last rank 12): The Kings continue to get a little bit better every week, even without their top sniper Jeff Carter. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $3M owed to Robyn Regher, though you can argue that's a fair contract. They have lost Conn Smythe goalie Jon Quick to injury, and suddenly Ben Scrivens is channelling his inner-Terry Sawchuck as his replacement. So far so good, provided Scrivens can sustain this unbelievable level of play.
10. Montreal Canadiens (last rank 13): They had hit a bad slump at the beginning of November, but have since managed to in 4 of their last 5 games. It's fair to say that they have endured the slump and gotten past it, while managing to retain a playoff seed. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $10M owed to David Desharnais. This buyout isn't going to happen because the Habs already bought out Gomez and Kaberle, and it should be noted that Desharnais jumped 70 spots in my player rankings over the last 2 weeks, so he may have turned a corner.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs (last rank 10): The Leafs are 4-5 in November without 2 of their top 3 centers, even 3 of 3 with the Kadri suspension. Tyler Bozak is returning to the line-up soon, which will be a big help. David Bolland is going to take much longer. They have slipped, but it could have been much worse. The team has been giving up a ton of shots, but continue to get great goaltending. Neither Bernier or Reimer has been able to run away with the starting job, because both are playing too good. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $7.6M owed to Jean Michael Liles.
12. Seattle Coyotes (last rank 11): Yes, they continue to be last place in the NHL in attendance, despite having a great record at home. Phoenix doesn't seem to care. The out clause in the sale will be reached sooner rather than later, and this team will move. It is going to happen. Count on it. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $7.5M owed to Lauri Korpikoski.
13. Tampa Bay Lightning (last rank 6): Life without Stamkos is gradually getting worse. The Lightning had won 7 of 8 before Stamkos broke his leg, and have gone 2-5 since losing the league's top sniper. How important was Stamkos to this team? What's the difference between 7-2 and 2-7? There were pundits who predicted that Valterri Filpulla would or should be the guy to fill that void; but as a Red Wings fan I can tell you, Filpulla is not a load bearing structure. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $3.9M owed to Eric Brewer (though if they wanted to move that contract, they'd easily find a buyer).
14. Vancouver Canucks (last rank 15): There might be trouble in Vancouver, and the root cause of all their problems is a sudden inability to score goals. You can see the frustration building in coach John Torterella, as he struggles to keep a lid on it. Ah who is kidding who, Torts is not trying at all to put a lid on it. They lost in a shootout to Florida, and he vented his anger in the post-game press conference. This guy is entertaining. I live in this market, and his interviews are incredibly more fun than Vigneault had become. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $4.2M owed to David Booth.
15. Detroit Red Wings (last rank 14): I'm not quite sure how this team managed to lose 7 games in a row without falling out of a playoff spot, but it probably has something to do with pushing most of those losses to overtime. Their ability to salvage loser points is helping to keep them in a playoff spot. Now they have recalled Gustav Nyquvist from the minors, a player who should have been with the big team all along, but got forced to Grand Rapids in a salary cap squeeze. Granted, they could only afford Nyquvist's promotion because of an injury to Danny Dekeyser, the 2nd best defenseman on this team. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be all that money they spent on Jimmy Howard. Petr Mrazek is ready to be a starting goalie in the NHL. Let Kyle Quincey walk, or trade him if you can get something, anything for him.
16. Washington Capitals (last rank 17): This team continues to be Ovechkin, Backstrom, and everybody else. They are not going to enter the elite tier anytime soon, but they'll find a way to win hockey games. They have lost 3 in a row, after winning 3 in a row. They are a middle of the pack team with a lot of holes, but enough high talent to be a good bad team. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $4.5M owed to Martin Erat, who has flat out sucked this season.
17. New York Rangers (last rank 18): They are 7-4 in November, and like the rest of the Metropolis division are turning their season around. Nash is back in the line-up, Chris Kreider is playing better, and the Rangers that sucked for the first 15 games have improved. I'm not sure what the story is with Michael Del Zotto, as he seems to be the guy to fall onto the coach's shit list. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the fat stack of cash owed to Brad Richards, who has slowed down again after a quick start.
18. Philadelphia Flyers (last rank 27): The Flyers have won 6 of their last 7 games after a terrible start to the season, thanks in large part to Steve Mason and Claude Giroux (who is establishing himself as a Canadian Olympian). They have stopped the bleeding, salvaged some dignity, and are still within reach of a playoff spot given the weakness of their division. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the millons owed to Mark Streit. That was one signing they didn't need to make. Like a zombie, Kimmo Timonen is back from the dead.
19. New Jersey Devils (last rank 21): I'm quite sure how this happened, but the Devils have won 6 of their last 9 games. Brodeur is playing great hockey, and has supplanted Schneider for the number one spot. Jaromir Jagr is not only the best player on the team, he has been among the top 100 players in the NHL. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the fat contract they recently paid to Ryane Clowe. That was a terrible decision, and their big acquisition has not made any contribution to the team's success.
20. Dallas Stars (last rank 19): For all the talk about how potent Seguin and Benn have been together, make no mistake, Kari Lehtonen is the most valuable player on this team, and they need him to bring his A game if they are going to win more. It will be the health of Lehtonen that determines if this team makes the playoffs. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $4M owed to Erik Cole. That punk should have done what he threatened to do after the lockout and retired. He keeps showing up to earn that fat pay cheque, but his performance has been dismal. He needs to get the boot.
21. Nashville Predators (last rank 22): No Rinne, no problem. Losing their franchise goalie has not seemed to hurt the team, who have now won 3 of their last 4 games. Mazanec is playing fantastic in net, after the Hutton Experiment. Over their last 5 games, Matt Cullen and Craig Smith have combined for 12 PTS. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $9M owed to Victor Stalberg, who has been a major disappointment after defecting from the Stanley Cup Champions.
22. Ottawa Senators (last rank 16): The Senators have lost 4 of their last 5 games, as they continue to sit well outside of a playoff spot. They have lost too many games, but have a terrific record inside their own division. They are getting solid production from their top 5 players, but it falls off quickly after that. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $3M owed to Craig Anderson, assuming they could not find a buyer. Robin Lehner is ready to be a number one goalie and Anderson hasn't played very well.
23. Winnipeg Jets (last rank 20): After finding a way to win 5 of 6 games at the beginning of the month, the Jets have since lost 4 in a row. They just cannot sustain any success, and are doomed to failure. I'm picking Claude Noel in the next coach to get fired pool, though if you picked the Columbus coach, you just might be right.
If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $1.6M owed to Jim Slater. That being said, they are paying way too much money to Tobias Enstrom. If they can find a buyer, pull the trigger.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (last rank 23): The Hurricanes have problems, whether it be inability to score or prevent goals. Both fronts seems to be a problem for the Canes. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games, but managed a win on Sunday thanks to a 3 point outburst from Eric Staal. If the Staals can get rolling, there will be brighter days ahead. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $M owed to Tuomo Ruutu. Roots has been garbage this season. The GM may want a time machine to change his mind on that ridiculous Alex Semin contract. That was a bad idea.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets (last rank 24): Getting thumped 7-0 by the Oilers, one of the worst teams in the NHL, is not a good sign of things to come for the Blue Jackets. They have lost 5 of their last 7 games, as the head coach has to find his ass on the hot seat. Whatever magic formula helped them to have that inspiring attempt at the last playoff spot last season is gone. They suck. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $14M owed to RJ Umberger.
26. Calgary Flames (last rank 26): They are 2-7 over their last 9 games, and probably have the worst goaltending tandem in the NHL. Typically the team needs to score 4 or 5 goals to win a hockey game, and sometimes that isn't even enough. Berra has started 9 of their last 10 games, and he's not much better than Ramo. Like I said a few weeks ago, if the cream rises to the top, so too does the shit sink to the bottom. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $10.5M owed to Ladislav Smid. Maybe the Oilers were shallow on D to trade this guy, but he logged a lot of minutes on a terrible Edmonton blueline. It may have been addition by subtraction for their rivals up the road.
27. NY Islanders (last rank 25): They are 2-8 in their last 10 games, as the the slow starters in the Metropolis have started to pick up speed. Getting Thomas Vanek did not make this team better. The Islanders were better with Moulson, so it looks kind of ridiculous that they traded their first round pick to swap these players. This could be my Islanders summary every 2 weeks for the rest of the season. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be, it would be, it would be....dammit, for as shitty as this team has become, they are too cheap to be burdened by any albatross contracts (now that Dipietro is gone). Maybe I'd buy out $1.5M to Matt Carkner.
28. Edmonton Oilers (last rank 28): They had lost 10 of 11 games before recently cobbling together a little 3 game winning streak. They have won their last 3 games by a score of 15-3. It is going to take some great hockey to dig this team out of the massive hole that they built for themselves early. We will see if this is the start of something new and improved, or just a flash in the pan. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it might be that Andrew Ference contract handed out this summer. I thought he was exactly what the Oilers needed, but he has not been all that impressive.
29. Florida Panthers (last rank 29): They followed a 9 game losing streak by going 3-3 in their last 6, which is good enough to keep them high on the list of the league's worst teams. There is a turtle race between the Panthers and Sabres for last place.
If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the $2.7M owed to Sean Bergenheim, or $3M owed to Tomas Kopecky, or $3.5M owed to Scottie Upshall, or $4M owed to Ed Jovanovski (who seems to have retired, but still counts against the cap). You get the picture. Dale Tallon (if he still has a job soon) needs to get the dead money from the summer of 2011 spending spree off the books.
30. Buffalo Sabres (last rank 30): This is a train wreck, and I'm pretty sure they will be among the 3 worst teams in the league when this season is over. Moulson and Hodgson have been top 100 players, Steve Ott has been okay, and the rest of the team sucks. If I were the GM and had to buy out one contract on the roster this summer, it would be the Ville Leino contract, hands down.