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Super 16: Holiday provides time to reflect, look ahead

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

It is fair to say the opening quarter of the 2014-15 NHL season has been relatively sanguine, compared to many campaigns.

All 30 coaches who began the season in charge remained so on American Thanksgiving. There have been a few trades, but beyond two the New York Islanders made just before opening night to shore up their defense there hasn't been a landscape-altering move.

There has been a lot to be thankful for around the NHL this season, but teams also have things they would like to see change before the next holiday week. (Photo: Juan Ocampo/NHLI, Getty Images, Joe Sargent/NHLI)

There have been injuries and the Pittsburgh Penguins will miss Pascal Dupuis and the Vancouver Canucks will miss for Dan Hamhuis, but no star players are lost for the season and a few (Victor Hedman, Zdeno Chara and Ryan McDonagh come to mind) are about to return.

There were a few minor rule changes to start the season, and a tweak to the pre-overtime ice-cleaning procedure since 2014-15 began, but the consensus from the League's general managers after their meeting in Toronto earlier this month was the game is in a pretty good place.

It is certainly possible the sense of calm around the NHL will change soon. Right around this point in the season is when GMs start getting antsy if their teams aren't performing to expectations. There has been speculation about player movement and coach movement in the past week or so, and expect it to intensify.

Teams know that while there still might be three-quarters of a season to go, the majority of clubs in a playoff spot right now are going to be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April. For the 14 teams on the outside, there might only be a few in the top 16 that are vulnerable.

It is a holiday week in the United States, so let's take stock of what the best teams in the NHL are thankful for, and what those clubs would probably like to see change before the next holiday week a month from now.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses 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. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (15-4-2)

GIVE THANKS: The Penguins wanted to improve their ability to possess the puck, and they have. GM Jim Rutherford wanted to improve the depth of his forward corps, and he did. Blake Comeau and Steve Downie have combined for 11 goals and 23 points. Add their salaries to that of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who has also been a nice fit, and they still cost less than what Matt Niskanen received per year from the Washington Capitals. That's good business.

WISH LIST: The biggest need is going to be someone to replace Dupuis, who is likely lost for the season because of a blood clot. Comeau did his best impression of a top-six forward with a hat trick against Toronto on Wednesday night, but this team needs another forward and must avoid any more serious injuries to the top eight or nine guys.

MUST READ: Brady McCollough of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dives deep on Mario Lemieux's 30 years in the city.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (13-8-1)

GIVE THANKS: The commitment to defense has been excellent. In most years Chicago has been able to outscore anyone. This season the goals aren’t flowing like usual, but the Blackhawks are limiting shot attempts well and are among the NHL's best in goal prevention. If they remain a top-five team in goals against when the pucks start going in with more frequency, they have a chance to be as dominant as they were in 2013.

WISH LIST: Coach Joel Quenneville is not the most patient when it comes to line combinations, but there has been a little less stability up front than usual. Once Patrick Sharp is back from injury, the Blackhawks will probably look for a little bit of consistency in that department.

MUST READ: Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times writes about the other sides of Captain Serious.

3. St. Louis Blues (14-6-2)

GIVE THANKS: Vladimir Tarasenko has been an MVP candidate and a highlight machine. This could just say "Vladimir Tarasenko" like five times. He's been that good (and Jori Lehtera has been a great addition to play with him and Jaden Schwartz).

WISH LIST: The obvious need is clarity in net because of Brian Elliott's injury. Jake Allen gets his big chance, and maybe Martin Brodeur, in on a tryout, is back in the NHL next week. A bigger concern could be Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. They haven't been bad, but they haven't been "one of the best pairings in the NHL" kind of great, either. Kevin Shattenkirk has helped mitigate this some, but the Blues should be better than about a 50 percent Corsi/Fenwick team when those two defensemen are on the ice.

MUST READ: Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes about how the "STL line" is starting to earn more attention from opposing coaches.

4. Tampa Bay Lightning (15-6-2)

GIVE THANKS: Anton Stralman might end up being one of the biggest bargains from the 2014 free agency period, at least among players who got long-term contracts. He's been fantastic for the Lightning, something pretty much anyone who has embraced analytics would have predicted. Even better, he's helped Tampa Bay withstand Hedman's injury. With a healthy Hedman, this team is ready for a deep playoff run.

WISH LIST: Whether or not Tampa Bay can challenge for a division title, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Presidents' Trophy could be determined by either improved play from Evgeni Nabokov or a new backup goaltender. Ben Bishop is on pace for 64 games, but will the Lightning need even more from him if Nabokov doesn't improve his .870 save percentage?

MUST READ: Kyle Alexander of Raw Charge writes about how Jon Cooper is creating successful minutes for the fourth line.

5. Nashville Predators (15-5-2)

GIVE THANKS: For all of the attention the Predators are receiving in discussions for awards (Pekka Rinne for the Vezina Trophy, Filip Forsberg for the Calder Trophy, Peter Laviolette for the Jack Adams Award, etc) what about David Poile for GM of the Year? It's a tough award to quantify. Should a GM get credit for drafting someone four years ago, or just the moves made in 2014? Poile had a fantastic offseason, and now the Predators have a healthy Mike Fisher as well.

WISH LIST: They have the highest PDO in the League. Granted, someone has to, but the team's shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength are both going to regress at least a little. Something to watch for in the next month is where Fisher fits and if he can play at his previous level. They don't need him to be a No. 1 center now, but if he could be a Jarrett Stoll-type for the Predators it would be a great addition.

MUST READ: Braden Thompson of On the Forecheck cautions that while Nashville's possession numbers are much improved, other indicators say there could be some regression coming.

6. Minnesota Wild (12-9-0)

GIVE THANKS: Scoring goals has been a struggle, particularly on the power play, despite dominant puck possession at even strength. Jason Zucker and Nino Niederreiter were expected to be depth scorers, but they've combined for 18 goals while Mikko Koivu, Thomas Vanek, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund have combined for seven.

WISH LIST: Darcy Kuemper had a great start to the season in net, but has cooled of late and getting yanked after he allowed four goals on Wednesday has his save percentage down to below League average. Niklas Backstrom has been useful as the backup, and both have shiny goals-against averages because of the Wild's ability to limit shots, but a .911 save percentage throughout the season should make people in Minnesota a little uneasy come playoff time.

MUST READ: Alec Schmidt of Hockey Wilderness writes about what is plaguing the Minnesota power play.

7. New York Islanders (16-6-0)

GIVE THANKS: The obvious answer is the salary-cap situations in Boston and Chicago, which allowed the Islanders to add Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, but GM Garth Snow deserves plaudits for being aggressive after years of preaching patience. John Tavares and Kyle Okposo have been great, but there is depth behind them and the Islanders have moved into the top-tier of the League in the possession stats as well.

WISH LIST: It's pretty hard to nitpick at this point, but the Islanders could win more games in regulation. They are 7-0 in games beyond regulation, and that is a tough standard to maintain. Even if they were 4-3 in those games this season would be a smashing success so far.

MUST READ: Arthur Staple of Newsday writes about the emergence of Leddy.

8. Los Angeles Kings (12-6-5)

GIVE THANKS: The play of Jonathan Quick was a divisive topic during the first three rounds of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was great against the New York Rangers in the Cup Final, but far from his best while the Kings had to grind through 21 games in three rounds to get there. He has been pretty great again this season, and Los Angeles has needed it. The puck-possession numbers have improved slightly of late, but they're still not where people would expect them to be after dominance in that area from 2012-14.

WISH LIST: GM Dean Lombardi has some cap space now and the Kings will need another defenseman at some point. Los Angeles needs a little more from its bottom two forward lines as well. Anze Kopitar has been great and Jeff Carter's line has scored like crazy, but there are six regular forwards on the roster with sub-50 percent Corsi for percentages.

MUST READ: Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times writes about the extra workload for Drew Doughty so far this season.

9. Anaheim Ducks (14-4-5)

GIVE THANKS: It is early in the process but Josh Manson looks like he could be a find for the Ducks on the blue line. Clayton Stoner has predictably been a drag on the team's ability to possess the puck, but Manson has helped and gives them another option.

WISH LIST: The Ducks could use a little more clarity on which of their talented young wings are ready to be counted on consistently, but that's a minor thing. The biggest issue is Stoner, and whether or not he can play better or if coach Bruce Boudreau is willing to play six other defensemen.

MUST READ: Rob Vollman of ESPN.com writes that dealing away future first-round picks, like the Ducks did when they acquired Chris Pronger, is usually a good gamble.

10. Detroit Red Wings (12-5-5)

GIVE THANKS: Mike Babcock is doing a masterful job of putting his skilled young players in situations to succeed. He's leaning on the fourth line to eat up a lot of the defensive-zone faceoffs (they're not the only team trying to emulate what has been a staple in Chicago) and the kids are turning offensive-zone faceoffs into great possession numbers.

WISH LIST: Does anyone know if the Red Wings have been looking for another defenseman? Yeah, they're still looking, though Xavier Ouellet has not looked out of place in limited duty. If this team adds a high-level defenseman, Detroit could win the East.

MUST READ: The defensive shell sounds like a great idea, but it really isn't, writes garik16 for Hockey-Graphs. The Red Wings are a good example of a team that doesn't sit back much. Detroit is allowing 46.89 shot attempts per 60 minutes at even strength, and when the Red Wings are leading by two-plus goals that figure only rises to 50.0, the second-lowest in the League in that situation.

11. Montreal Canadiens (16-6-1)

GIVE THANKS: Adding P.A. Parenteau for Daniel Briere was one of the best trades in the past few seasons. Tomas Plekanec between Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk has been a great line. Dustin Tokarski has given the Canadiens a strong backup option to help keep Carey Price fresh. There's a lot that has gone right for Montreal, and it looks like a great team …

WISH LIST: … on paper. The issue to this point is the underlying metrics don't agree with Montreal's success. The Canadiens should be a better puck-possession team. It's not that they can't have success as a team that controls less than 50 percent of the shot attempts, but that means relying a lot on the goaltending and special teams and luck.

MUST READ: Marc Dumont breaks down a costly breakdown by the Canadiens against the New York Rangers.

12. Boston Bruins (13-9-1)

GIVE THANKS: The Bruins have been able to keep grinding out points without Zdeno Chara and David Krejci. They have a very good coach and one of the best players in the world in Patrice Bergeron, so that helps. Carl Soderberg has been an excellent find for Boston, and Seth Griffith provided an offensive jolt.

WISH LIST: GM Peter Chiarelli needs time. He needs to see what this team really looks like with Chara and Krejci, and to see if the collection of young defensemen they've been leaning on are ready to handle a Boychuk-less postseason.

MUST READ: Joe Haggerty of CSN New England writes the Bruins have weathered the injury storm and are in good shape for the playoffs.

13. Vancouver Canucks (15-6-1)

GIVE THANKS: Radim Vrbata signing with Vancouver wasn't a splashy headline in July, but no player who switched teams in the offseason has scored more goals than him (Patric Hornqvist has as many). The Canucks have a top line that dominates, a second line that is competent and some other guys who have produced a little better than recent Vancouver depth forwards.

WISH LIST: The Canucks are going to see what life is like without Dan Hamuis, figure out how long he is out and then what's the best way to replace his 20 minutes. Will Luca Sbisa or Yannick Weber be able to handle more? There's a couple decent third-pairing options in the minors, but a top-four caliber player might have to come from outside the organization.

MUST READ: Eric Duhatschek of the Globe and Mail writes about Pat Quinn.

14. Calgary Flames (14-8-2)

GIVE THANKS: It is clear there are some serious building blocks on the Red Mile. Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are great and signed to team-friendly contracts. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau have played very well, and Marcus Granlund has helped fill in for Mikael Backlund.

WISH LIST: Getting Backlund healthy will help dig the Flames out a little from a possession standpoint, but they need to get a lot better or this run of success is almost certainly going to end. The team shooting percentage and save percentage have already started to slip a little. The stretch of six games just before the Christmas break could be a chance for them to prove this isn't a fluke.

MUST READ: Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald writes about the emergence of Granlund.

15. Winnipeg Jets (12-9-3)

GIVE THANKS: They are not scoring enough goals, but at this point in the season the Jets have made what look like real positive strides toward competing for a playoff spot. The puck-possession numbers are up, the goals-against are down and the trio of Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler has been really good.

WISH LIST: There is a little too much talent on this roster for the Jets to continue to shoot less than six percent as a team at even strength. It's hard to draw any conclusions with either goaltender just yet, but both have played well so far.

MUST READ: Garrett Hohl of Arctic Ice Hockey examines the reasons behind the goal-scoring slump.

16. San Jose Sharks (10-10-4)

GIVE THANKS: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still in San Jose. It was a really weird offseason, but Thornton has been great and Marleau has been pretty steady. Without them, the Sharks would be much closer to a top-five draft pick instead of three points shy of a playoff spot despite some bad luck.

WISH LIST: Asking for patience in San Jose might be a touchy topic, but the Sharks have improved of late. The wins have not followed, but they should if the team continues to play well. Matt Nieto has great possession numbers against slightly above-average competition. He's playing really well, even if the columns that say GOALS and POINTS do not agree at the moment.

MUST READ: Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area thinks it would be a bad idea for the Sharks to look for a new coach.

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