The passing of Thanksgiving in the United States on the hockey calendar is typically considered a time to take stock of what has occurred around the NHL in a given season and a good first marker for general managers who are trying to decide if their clubs are going to be contenders or if they need to brush up on the scouting reports of the top prospects in the forthcoming draft.
If recent history is a strong indicator, 12 of the 16 teams currently in a playoff position will go dancing at the end of the season and four will be left to wonder what happened after a good start. Four teams that were in a playoff position on Nov. 28 have not finished in one in each of the past three full NHL seasons.
That number was typically lower in the seasons before that, but the rise of the shootout and competitive balance has brought teams closer together and made it more possible for teams to surge and fade because the margins are so close on any given night.
One team that won't fall out of a playoff position is the Dallas Stars, but they look like a team trying to steal someone else's spot. It's probably a good change of pace for them to be a chaser instead of a rabbit. They've been in the top eight in the West on Nov. 28 in each of the past three full NHL seasons and been passed each time.
As of Thursday morning, there was more separation in the West than the East, with five points between the eighth-place Minnesota Wild and the ninth-place Vancouver Canucks. Being within five points of a playoff spot in the East is a little more complicated because of the imbalance of power. Four teams trail the Washington Capitals by five points or less for the third automatic bid from the Metropolitan Division, while the Ottawa Senators are the last team out in the Atlantic Division but six points shy of the two wild-card slots.
Given it is a holiday week in the States, this is a bit of a pared down version of the Super 16. We'll look at reasons for each of the top 16 clubs to be in a thankful mood, and something that should be on the teams' holiday wish lists in the coming weeks.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, the new-look version is going to focus more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings, and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. Also, statistics and team records are through the games Wednesday night.
1. St. Louis Blues (18-3-3) LW: 2
THANKFUL FOR: A burst of offensive creativity. The Blues looked like a team with all the parts the past two seasons but they didn't quite fit, especially on offense against the Los Angeles Kings in the postseason. The addition of Derek Roy, the maturation of Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, the settling in by Jay Bouwmeester and of course the breakout by Alexander Steen has led the Blues to near the top of the League in goals per game.
WISH LIST: This team leads the League in 5-on-5 goals ratio and power-play percentage while also ranking in the top 10 on the penalty kill. Wish for the Kings to miss the playoffs or get knocked out early, maybe? The Blues look ready for a Cup run.
MUST READ: Robb Tufts of St. Louis Game Time writes about where the Blues' goals are coming from on the ice (and offers a link to a great new resource at SportingCharts.com).
2. Chicago Blackhawks (18-4-4) LW: 1
THANKFUL FOR: The Blackhawks are 70-16-11 since the start of the 2012-13 season (if the 2013 playoffs count as 16-5-2), or a 127-point pace. Patrick Kane has never scored more than 30 goals in an NHL season, but he's on pace for 47 in 2013-14, and at times he hasn't been the best player on his line. These are going to be remembered as the halcyon days of a long hockey history in Chicago.
WISH LIST: Like Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis, Corey Crawford has wobbled at times despite the talent in front of him. Unlike Halak, Crawford has recently won four playoff rounds in a row, and the team in front of him this season might be better than the one from a year ago. Better goaltending from the backup, whether it remains Nikolai Khabibulin or Annti Raanta supplants him, could be the key to home-ice advantage in a potential showdown with the Blues.
MUST READ: Brandon Pirri appears to be making headway in his quest to be the Blackhawks' solution at second-line center, writes Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.
3. San Jose Sharks (16-3-5) LW: 3
THANKFUL FOR: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Hertl era has been a blast, but the key to San Jose's Cup dreams is in net, and in Antti Niemi the Sharks have a guy who could absolutely outduel the two names listed above in a conference final.
WISH LIST: A long-term solution on Martin Havlat, either committing to keeping and finding a consistent role for him or shipping him to a new home. Such a move could open some salary cap space, or provide a depth forward who is a better fit. Or Havlat finding a semblance of his previous form could just make the Sharks even better.
MUST READ: Hertl got to play against his idol Jaromir Jagr, who had some serious praise for his young countryman, writes Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area.
4. Los Angeles Kings (16-6-4) LW: 8
THANKFUL FOR: The best puck possession line in the League. Justin Williams, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar are ranked among the top four forwards in the NHL in Corsi for percentage (CF%) at 5-on-5. Kopitar has been a monster, and should be filtering into new MVP discussions. Ten guys on the roster are at 55 percent or higher, which is a big reason why the Kings are winning without Jonathan Quick.
WISH LIST: A setback-free recovery for Quick. Ben Scrivens has been great, but the Kings' Cup chances lie with Quick, who also needs to get back in time to prove he should still be the No. 1 goalie for the United States in the 2014 Sochi Olympics as well.
MUST READ: Drew Doughty is really good at hockey and is still young, in case anyone forgets the second part. He's the best player in the Kings organization under the age of 25, according to Jewels From The Crown.
5. Anaheim Ducks (17-7-3) LW: 9
THANKFUL FOR: Teemu Selanne has played for the team 21 more times than he would have had he retired. Also, the depth scoring has helped replace Bobby Ryan, the young defensemen have helped replace an injured Sheldon Souray and the Ducks have the best goaltending depth on the planet. But mostly it should be Selanne, and Saku Koivu, who are both incredible ambassadors for the game and mentors for a group of kids who could help the Ducks to a 105-plus point season.
WISH LIST: Jakob Silfverberg should be back soon and needs to be integrated, while coach Bruce Boudreau said he wants more from Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly. Matt Beleskey hasn't been much of a factor yet, either. The Ducks have some options, and depth to withstand injuries.
MUST READ: Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun writes about the bond between Ryan Getzlaf and his brother Chris, who won the Grey Cup this past weekend.
6. Colorado Avalanche (17-6-0) LW: 7
THANKFUL FOR: New coach Patrick Roy has breathed new life into the franchise, and letting a strong, fast group of forwards do their thing has proven to be a wise tactical decision. New goalie coach Francois Allaire has also paid immediate dividends.
WISH LIST: The Avalanche could still use another steady veteran defenseman, and Semyon Varlamov still needs to prove he can be consistent for a full season, but this has been an incredible start for the Avalanche.
MUST READ: Mike Chambers of the Denver Post details some of the reasons the Avalanche players believe in their new coach.
7. Boston Bruins (16-7-2) LW: 6
THANKFUL FOR: Tuukka Rask signed a huge contract in the offseason, and it hasn't affected his play. He might be even better than he was as Boston's best player during the postseason run last season. Loui Eriksson's traditional offensive numbers don't show it yet, but he and Patrice Bergeron are both above 59 percent in CF% at 5-on-5.
WISH LIST: The top line scored early in the season, but hasn't been very consistent. All three guys are hovering near 50 percent in CF%, which is not what's expected for a typically dominant team at even strength like the Bruins. They could use more goals, especially if they don't think rookie defenseman Torey Krug will score the 29 he's on pace for this season (HINT: he's not going to).
MUST READ: Tuukka Rask is proving he's not just a product of the Bruins' stingy defense, Matt Kalman writes.
8. Minnesota Wild (15-7-4) LW: 5
THANKFUL FOR: Ryan Suter's skating ability and conditioning, but mostly for Josh Harding, who should be considered the best story of the 2013-14 season. Harding has been fantastic, and has helped the Wild remain contenders despite various other injuries while becoming a symbol of pride and hope for anyone who is also affected by Multiple Sclerosis.
WISH LIST: The Wild could use more from Dany Heatley, but he might be at a point in his career where he doesn't have more to give. They could use one more consistent scorer, and that could either be one of the kids like Jason Zucker or Charlie Coyle taking another step forward or someone from outside the organization. Or Heatley.
9. Phoenix Coyotes (15-6-4) LW: 6
THANKFUL FOR: Goals! The Coyotes are scoring goals like the franchise's days in Winnipeg. OK, not that many, but still more than what has become the expected amount in the desert. Phoenix has also shown the ability to steal games with late comebacks, and has six players on pace for 55 points or more.
WISH LIST: Coach Dave Tippett has been consistently concerned about the defense, and a recent mini-slump brought some of the team's newfound deficiencies to light. While the Coyotes are winning games and remain firmly among the top eight in the West, Tippett knows they need to be better in their own end or it will be a short stay in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs or a disappointing conclusion to the regular season.
MUST READ: Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic touched on the sense of urgency to correct some issues in Phoenix.
10. Pittsburgh Penguins (16-9-1) LW: 9
THANKFUL FOR: The two most gifted offensive players in the world is always a nice place to start, but Marc-Andre Fleury's performance has been encouraging after back-to-back postseason meltdowns and rookie defenseman Olli Maatta has been a nice addition.
WISH LIST: Injuries on the back end continue to be an issue. Kris Letang missed a little time at the start of the season, and now the Penguins are without veteran stalwarts Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi because of broken bones. There is depth to keep the team afloat, but the commitment to defensive structure looks a lot better with Martin and Scuderi executing it.
MUST READ: Rob Rossi writes about the franchise's 300th consecutive sellout, and be sure to click on the PDF file for the full effect.
11. Dallas Stars (12-9-2) LW: 11
THANKFUL FOR: New general manager Jim Nill's bold moves in his first weeks in charge have paid off. Tyler Seguin has formed a dynamic duo with Jamie Benn, and 2013 draft pick Valeri Nichushkin has shown flashes of brilliance as well. Toss in Kari Lehtonen, who looks more and more like a franchise goalie and less like a "maybe if he ever stays healthy" one, and the Stars have a nice foundation in place.
WISH LIST: Another round of realignment? The Stars are young and they're on the rise, but they might also end up with 95 points and still be well short of a playoff berth in the West. Finishing ninth or 10th has been a huge disappointment in recent years, but it feels like the franchise is heading in the correct direction this season. Also, Sergei Gonchar needs to be better. A lot better.
MUST READ: Brandon Bibb of Defending Big D writes about the relationship between Gonchar and Alex Goligoski -- specifically about how they should continue to see other people skating next to them on the blue line.
12. Montreal Canadiens (14-9-2) LW: NR
THANKFUL FOR: The meltdown at the end of the 2012-13 season by the defense and goaltender Carey Price appears to have been a short-term issue, and Price looks like he could be Canada's starting netminder in Sochi. Also, the "Kid Line," which has carried a struggling offense at times.
MUST READ: Montreal has been strong on the penalty kill, Sean Gordon of the Globe and Mail writes.
13. Vancouver Canucks (12-9-5) LW: 12
THANKFUL FOR: A healthy and productive Ryan Kesler, a relatively drama-free season for @strombone1 and when Tommy and Tora Sedin decided to have a third child and ended up with four.
WISH LIST: They've got to find more support for the big guns on offense. The Canucks have a lot of guys with solid possession numbers, but they need more production from guys not named Sedin or Kesler or it could be an early offseason in Vancouver.
MUST READ: Coach John Tortorella says the system is the solution, Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province writes. Note: Tortorella is most likely correct, but the ability of the players to finish the chances created by said system could continue to be an issue.
14. Detroit Red Wings (12-7-7) LW: 14
WISH LIST: Detroit needs some decent luck with injuries on defense. Jimmy Howard can be better as well, but injuries have wreaked havoc on the back end and the team's cap situation isn't likely to allow GM Ken Holland to look for outside solutions.
MUST READ: Mike Babcock still believes in Howard, Brian Hedger writes.
15. Tampa Bay Lightning (16-8-1) LW: 15
THANKFUL FOR: A step forward by defenseman Victor Hedman, a breakout performance by goaltender Ben Bishop and the fruits of back-to-back dynamic seasons for the club's American Hockey League affiliate giving the club depth it hasn't had in recent years.
WISH LIST: See, there's this guy who normally plays for the Lightning and he's really, really good, but he's hurt right now. They need him. Canada would like to have him in Sochi, but Tampa Bay needs him. The Lightning could be dangerous in April if he has no issues with his recovery.
MUST READ: Is it possible that Vinny Lecavalier's impact in the Tampa Bay area and general greatness as a human being has been undersold? Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune authored a nice reminder of the important part of Lecavalier's legacy when he returned with the Philadelphia Flyers.
16. Nashville Predators (13-10-2) LW: NR
THANKFUL FOR: A couple of weeks ago the obvious answer here was the idea that three NHL teams would pass on American hero and future Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones in the 2013 NHL Draft, but Marek Mazanec, who began the season somewhere around fourth and not far from whoever is singing at Tootsie's that night on the organization's depth chart in goal, has been a revelation and steadied a wayward ship.
WISH LIST: Obviously the Predators need a return to good health for Pekka Rinne, but Mazanec might just be able to keep them in the playoff hunt for a while. If so, the search for impact players at the offensive end continues. Say, anyone know of a potential top-six forward who has publically requested a trade? Yeah, that bridge might not still be standing.
MUST READ: Thomas Drance of the Sporting News writes about the rapid progress of Jones.
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