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Super 16: Little clarity on favorite as playoffs beckon

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

By the end of the 2013-14 season, the top teams in the NHL had distinguished themselves.

The top of the West was pretty clearly a group of five teams: the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. The top teams in the East was a smaller group, with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers leading the way.

Save for the Bruins losing to the Montreal Canadiens, those other five teams that didn't win the Stanley Cup had their season ended by the Kings or the Blackhawks.

Two seasons ago, the Blackhawks went wire-to-wire but Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston were the three best puck possession teams to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and all reached the final four. Even the Detroit Red Wings, a No. 7 seed facing the team with the second-most points (Anaheim), was tied for fourth among playoff teams in score-adjusted shot attempts percentage (SAT%) and they were the de facto fifth-place finishers, taking the eventual champs to seven games in the second round.

There doesn't seem to be nearly as much clarity at this point in the 2014-15 season. As discussed last week, three of the top teams in the League, according to the standings, have not been great in areas that have proven to be critical in the postseason of late.

Some of the teams that have been great in those areas have slipped in recent weeks. A couple of elite teams are missing key players and their return dates are murky.

It is entirely possible that three of the top five teams in the NHL in scored-adjusted SAT% since Feb. 1, a span of close to 30 games, will not make the playoffs. Two, the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes, won't for sure and it's possible that either the Kings or Winnipeg Jets will miss as well.

October-November Team SAT%

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December-January Team SAT%

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February-March Team SAT%

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Check out the accompanying bar graphs. They show the top 12 teams in the NHL by score-adjusted SAT%, according to www.war-on-ice.com with the season divided into three two-month sections.

Only one team, the New York Islanders, is in the top seven in each of the three chunks. The Tampa Bay Lightning came close, finishing February-March in a tie for eighth.

The Blackhawks, Red Wings and Nashville Predators are going the wrong way. The Ducks, Rangers and Canadiens are not on any of the three lists. If the Kings make it, are they the favorites?

It's hard to make much sense of what has been a strange season. It could make for a wild postseason, or the Kings will play the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final and, from an analytics standpoint at least, it will have all made sense.

Given all of the uncertainty, this week the Super 16 is going to make the case for why each of the teams on this list could win the Stanley Cup … or not win the four games required to advance to the second round of the tournament.

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. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.

1. St. Louis Blues

PLAN A PARADE: If everyone is healthy (that's going to be a running theme), the Blues might have the deepest team in the NHL. Vladimir Tarasenko is a star, and the evolution of he, Jaden Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin, along with the additions of Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera, have added talent and depth and game-breaking ability to the offense. In-season additions Marcel Goc, Robert Bortuzzo and Zbynek Michalek have all performed better than the player they replaced. One of those two defensemen might not crack a full lineup.

ONE AND DONE: Tarasenko is injured and his return date is uncertain. The team has slumped of late, and neither goaltender looks at a "ready to win 16 times in two months" level of sharpness right now. And of course the Blues are likely to face a great team in the first round, and considering they've lost to the Kings, Kings and Blackhawks in the past three postseasons, another early date with Chicago might not end well.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning

PLAN A PARADE: They can attack and score as well as anyone. A superstar anchors the first line and three young, emerging stars comprise one of the top second lines in the League. The defense corps is deep, and the Lightning potentially have multiple great options in net. They've been a top-10 possession team all season.

ONE AND DONE: Four of those defensemen, including Victor Hedman, and No. 2 center Tyler Johnson, are currently injured. It is possible all but Braydon Coburn will be fine by the start of the playoffs. Ben Bishop has no playoff experience after missing the 2014 postseason. They're third in shot attempts against per 60 minutes at even strength for the season, but ninth since Feb. 1.

3. Los Angeles Kings

PLAN A PARADE: They've been the NHL's dominant possession team after a slow start to the season. Los Angeles is third in shot attempts for and first in shot attempts against per 60 minutes since Dec. 1. The gap between the Kings and second place in score-adjusted SAT% since then is bigger than the divide between second and ninth. The Kings are not quite as deep as last season, but still among the deepest teams in the League, led by a top-three center and a top-three defenseman.

ONE AND DONE: Well, there is that minor detail of actually securing an invitation to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The schedule sets up for them to make it, but losing defenseman Andrej Sekera for an undetermined period of time doesn't help. They've played more hockey than anyone the past four seasons. If they get in, even if it is as the last team on the last day, the Kings would probably be one of the biggest favorites in the opening round.

4. Anaheim Ducks

PLAN A PARADE: The overall numbers aren't great, but the Ducks are third in the League in score-adjusted SAT% since the 2015 NHL Trade Deadline. If that type of late-season surge carries over into the playoffs, this might finally be the year for Bruce Boudreau. Anaheim is deep down the middle with the addition of Ryan Kesler and the maturation of Rickard Rakell, and that defense corps looks even better with some additions (and some veteran subtractions).

ONE AND DONE: They are not an elite team at any one particular thing. Anaheim is tied for ninth in goals per game, but outside the top 10 in goals against per game, power play, penalty kill, shots for per game and shots against per game. The Ducks also don't know who their goaltender is going to be. They tend to rely too much on Nate Thompson and not enough on Rakell in close games. There is a scenario where they get the Kings in the first round.

5. New York Rangers

PLAN A PARADE: They're young and they're fast with a lot of guys who can score. The defense corps is a mixed bag, but one of the best goaltenders in the League is behind them. The Rangers have won 37 of 51 games since starting 11-10-4, and can still claim the Presidents' Trophy, despite Henrik Lundqvist missing a large chunk of that torrid stretch with a throat injury. Alain Vigneault deserves Jack Adams Award consideration, and has coached multiple teams deep into the playoffs.

ONE AND DONE: A big part of the Rangers' success was a relatively untested goalie at the NHL level suddenly producing Carey Price-like numbers while the offense slowly dried up in front of him. Having Lundqvist back means they are more likely to receive great goaltending moving forward, but the Rangers remain one of the worst puck possession teams expected to qualify for the playoffs. Keith Yandle has scuffled since arriving in a marquee trade, but he could still have a positive impact on the possession issue.

6. Chicago Blackhawks

PLAN A PARADE: Before the injury to Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks were the favorites to win the Cup. Since Kane's injury, they've still been pretty successful and if they can play long enough for him to return, they probably become the favorites again. Even without Kane, there is plenty of talent and depth and experience and coaching prowess to reach that point when he can play again.

ONE AND DONE: Regardless of the possession numbers, Chicago has struggled to score for much of the season and it would only take a few games of that against a great team like the Blues or Predators to be out. The possession numbers aren't nearly as gaudy as they were earlier in the season, and the deadline additions (Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette) have struggled.

7. New York Islanders

PLAN A PARADE: As mentioned above, this has been the most consistent puck possession team in a very inconsistent season, League-wide. There is plenty of depth up front around superstar John Tavares, and the defense corps matches up well with anyone in the East. This is also the last dance at Nassau Coliseum, and it might be the best home-ice advantage in the 2015 playoffs (it says might, calm down Winnipeg Jets fans).

ONE AND DONE: While Jaroslav Halak has been a big improvement compared to recent goaltenders, the Islanders are in a division with three goaltenders boasting a save percentage better than .920 while their guy is at .913. Also, the Rangers and the Canadiens are the only two teams expected to make the playoffs in the East who yield more shot attempts against per 60 minutes. That offensive depth has taken a bit of a hit with Mikhail Grabovski out indefinitely because of a concussion.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins

PLAN A PARADE: Having two of the best centers in the world, a Norris Trophy contender on defense, a goaltender having his best season since the team reached back-to-back Cup Finals and a coach who has improved the team's puck possession and shot suppression numbers dramatically seems like a pretty good recipe for being a contender.

ONE AND DONE: The Penguins have not won and not scored goals this season like people have come to expect in Pittsburgh. There are a lot of media members and fans who think something is amiss, and doom is pending. If Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang aren't healthy, that is almost certainly accurate because while general manager Jim Rutherford has made some moves to improve the team's depth, other transactions have not and that's still a big weakness for this team.

9. Minnesota Wild

PLAN A PARADE: Since Devan Dubnyk arrived, the Wild have racked up points like a contender and saved a previously sinking season. A couple of nice additions up front have bolstered the forward depth, and a couple of young defensemen have improved to bolster the depth on the back end.

ONE AND DONE: The most obvious potential issue is Dubnyk's crazy workload, but the other is Minnesota's possession numbers. The Wild began the season looking like the NHL's new analytics juggernaut. When the possession numbers dipped, the idea that poor goaltending forced alterations to the system and strategy made sense, but now they're getting great goaltending and the puck possession has not perked back up.

10. Washington Capitals

PLAN A PARADE: This is the best edition of the Capitals in several seasons. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are as formidable a duo as any, and they are supported by a strong defense corps and elite goaltender, neither of which they had in their younger days. The Metropolitan Division is so tight on paper that any of those four teams could survive. This team does more right than wrong, and if the bracket does get busted, don't be surprised if there are a lot of "the Capitals have finally put it all together for Barry Trotz" articles in late May.

ONE AND DONE: The Metro is so tight on paper that any of those four teams could be out before the calendar reaches May. There is better depth up front than in recent seasons, but it isn't at the level of most of the other contenders in the East.

11. Detroit Red Wings

PLAN A PARADE: They have complemented two of the best all-around forwards in the League with a bevy of young talents, because the Detroit draft-and-develop assembly line is still purring. The defense corps doesn't have a star, but it is probably better than its reputation. Mike Babcock is the best coach in the League, and this is his best roster since Nicklas Lidstrom retired.

ONE AND DONE: The goaltending quandary could be a big problem. The Red Wings were the best shot suppression team in the NHL earlier in the season, but now they're not. For a large part of this season, the Lightning and Red Wings were the two highest-rated teams in the East in this space, but they are likely to see each other in the first round.

12. Montreal Canadiens

PLAN A PARADE: Carey Price … OK, there's more than just "have the best goalie in the world win 16 games." P.K. Subban has been fantastic and will probably play a ton in the postseason. The top guys up front, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, could carry the offense with help from Subban.

ONE AND DONE: If Price doesn't play like the best goalie in the world, the Canadiens are in serious trouble. Even if he does, it will be hard for a team to lean on the goalie so much for two months. If the Flames don't make the playoffs, Montreal is the worst puck possession team in the tournament. If they do, the Canadiens are still the worst in the East.

13. Nashville Predators

PLAN A PARADE: A new coaching staff and aggressive system, a revitalized Pekka Rinne, a deep defense corps and better depth and talent up front than any season in team history save for maybe 2011-12 are all reasons for optimism in Nashville.

ONE AND DONE: Most of the numbers suggest the Predators have faded in the second half of the season, and the 8-10-3 record since mid-February supports that. Maybe it is just a malaise that can be snapped out of once the postseason begins. The biggest weakness on the roster remains at center.

14. Winnipeg Jets

PLAN A PARADE: Put Dustin Byfuglien on defense, leave him there, add a couple depth forwards to bolster an underrated group, get some decent goaltending and become a great puck possession team and solid dark horse in the Western Conference. Add in the idea of playoff hockey at MTS Centre, and maybe everything is in place for a deep playoff run.

ONE AND DONE: Like the Kings, the Jets have to actually get to the starting line first. It could end up being one or the other, depending on what happens with the Flames. Not having Byfuglien for the next four games is not going to help, nor is the tough schedule. The goaltending could absolutely still let them down.

15. Boston Bruins

PLAN A PARADE: With David Krejci back and rookies Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak producing, the Bruins' offensive woes from earlier in the season have subsided. Trying to beat a team with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask is still not going to be easy for anyone, and if they get the Canadiens or Rangers in the first round, being the underdog in a rivalry could be to their advantage.

ONE AND DONE: Dougie Hamilton has to be available, or the Bruins won't last long without him. He's become that valuable, probably rivaling Chara for third on Boston's most indispensable list.

16. Vancouver Canucks

PLAN A PARADE: The Sedins have reminded everyone they are still great, the defense corps is deep and underrated and the team likes its new coach a lot. Radim Vrbata and Nick Bonino have been nice additions, and Eddie Lack has a better save percentage this season than Jonathan Quick, Frederik Andersen and Jonas Hiller.

ONE AND DONE: If they have to play the Kings in the first round, the Canucks will probably be the least-picked higher seed in the League. Will Ryan Miller be ready, and will the Canucks put Lack on the bench in favor of him? Lack has a better save percentage (.919 to .913) than Miller too.

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