Detroit Red Wings - Nicklas Lidstrom
Where would the Wings be without Lidstrom's steady influence? The soon-to-be-41-year-old is second on the team with 62 points and still plays over 23 minutes a night. His hot start (3 goals, 20 points in 18 games) is a big reason Detroit didn't find itself in a battle to make the playoffs for the second straight year. Runners up: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg.
Playoffs: The big question mark here is goaltending. Jimmy Howard has had an average season and it is highly unlikely Chris Osgood will be able to deliver like he did in the Springs of 2008 and 2009. Unless he improves his play in a hurry, don't expect Detroit to be much of a threat. Unless Johan Franzen gets out of his funk, they may not reach the Conference final.
Nashville Predators - Pekka Rinne
If it weren't for Tim Thomas, Rinne would be the front-runner for the Vezina Trophy. In 63 games, he is second in save percentage (.930), third in goals-against average (2.12) and fifth in shutouts (six). He sees an average of 30 shots a game and receives little goal support (Nashville's 2.63 goals per game is 21st in the NHL) making he performance much more meaningful. Runners up: Shea Weber, Ryan Suter.
Playoffs: Rinne is going to have to be even better as it gets harder to score in the playoffs. They had the chance to put Chicago on the ropes last year, but allowed a shorthanded goal to tie Game 4 while on a five-minute power play. Surely that will motivate them. Their defense, lead by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter had better be nasty if they hope to win a round for the first time in their history. If they play Phoenix in the fird round they'll have trouble, but if they face Los Angeles, they should be able to take advantage of injuries to Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
Chicago Blackhawks - Jonathan Toews
With the Hawks in danger of not making the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup last season. Then their captain went on a run with 13 goals and 39 points in 24 games; they went 14-6-4 over that span and can clinch a playoff spot with a point tomorrow against Detroit. He is more than just points as he leads Hawks forwards in plus-minus (plus-25) and ice time (20:44) and is fifth in the league in percentage of team draws taken (35.4%), winning winning 56.7% of them, the best winning percentage of any player in the top 10 in team draws taken. Runners up: Patrick Sharp, Corey Crawford.
Playoffs: It looks as though they will play Vancouver in the first round, a best-case scenario for them as they defeated the Canucks in each of the past two Springs. They are going in with momentum and while defeating the Canucks won't be easy, should they get past the first round they can certainly do some damage. As the eighth seed, Edmonton made the Stanley Cup final in 2006 and Montreal made the eastern Conference final last season and the Hawks are way better than each of those teams.
St. Louis Blues - David Backes
It was a disappointing season for the Blues as injuries derailed a promising start. Backes was one of the lone bright spots, returning to 30-goal form and leading the team in plus-minus (plus-30) by 13 points. He was physical, leading the team with 211 hits and is third with 93 PIM while taking nearly a quarter of the faceoffs. The 2010 Olympian is also one of only two players to play in every game. Runners up: Andy McDonald, Jaroslav Halak.
Offseason: They need to get a veteran defender. They have good young defensemen, but Barrett Jackman and Carlo Colaiacovo are the only two who have played at least 300 games. they will benefit largely from having a healthy forward unit as five forward missed significant time, including David Perron who only got into 10 games, scoring five goals.
Columbus Blue Jackets - Rick Nash
He's gonna get help one of these years. Until he does, it's up to Nash to do everything for the Jackets. He led the team in goals (32), assists (34), GWG (7), shots (305), take aways (47), even strength (14:59) and power play (3:39) time on ice for forwards. Runners up: R. J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette.
Offseason: They need a number one center more than any other team in the league. They also need scoring depth and defense. Steve Mason wasn't terrible this year so they will probably hold on goaltending.
Vancouver Canucks - Daniel Sedin
Pretty much anything you need to know can be found here. Runners up: Roberto Luongo, Ryan Kesler
Playoffs: If the don't get to at least the Western Conference final this year, they will almost certainly be labeled as chokers along with San Jose, Washington and Ottawa in years past. Losing Manny Malhotra will hurt, but they have Ryan Kesler who is more than capable of stepping into the checking role. The West is an extremely tough conference, but the Cancusk look like they are primed to go on a serious run.
Calgary Flames - Jarome Iginla
Iginla has 15 more goals and 17 more points than the next closest Flame. Take away his poor start and he has 40 goals in just 66 games, a 50-goal pace. He more than doubles the next closest player in power play goals (13) and plays two more minutes per game than any other forward at even strength (16:50). The Flames have gone 21-8-5 since Jan. 21 to get within sniffing distance of a playoff spot with Iginla scoring 23 goals and 43 points in those 34 games. Runners up: Alex Tanguay, Miikka Kiprusoff.
Offseason: They only have $6 million to work with, so it might be a better idea to not go after many free agents. Spending too much money for a quick fix will only mean many more years of mediocrity. It starts with the draft this year which is extremely important as the Flames are ranked 27th in THN's Future Watch for the team with the best prospects.
Minnesota Wild - Mikko Koivu
Koivu is one of only three players to have a positive plus-minus for the Wild this year. He leads the team with 43 assists, 21 power play points and 0.86 points per game and all forwards in ice time (19:29). He plays in every situation as only Matt Cullen is also among the top five in power play and shorthanded ice time. Runners up: Martin Havlat, Brent Burns.
Offseason: Their top three defensemen of Brent Burns, Marek Zidlicky and Nick Schultz aren't bad, but it gets pretty thin after that. They are 25th in shots against per game (32). They also need a goal-scoring winger to play with Koivu to improve their 2.44 goals per game.
Colorado Avalanche - Matt Duchene
This was a tough one as not a single regular finished the season with a positive plus-minus. Runners up: Paul Stastny, John-Michael Liles.
Offseason: They need to start a rebuild this summer. With Duchene and Stastny, they have the potential to have one of the best one-two punches at center in the league and should Erik Johnson develop like he was supposed to in St. Louis, he could be their defensive anchor for years to come. They need to find a goalie, they were spoiled getting Patrick Roy in the first year of the franchise and haven't found a suitable replacement since he retired in 2003.
Edmonton Oilers - Taylor Hall
The first pick of 2010 was on his way to a very good rookie season before getting hurt in a fight. His negative-9 rating was respectable for a first-year player on a bad team. despite missing a number of games, he leads the Oilers in power play goals (eight), shots (186), and is third among forwards in time on ice (18:12). This most certainly would have went to Ryan Whitney who had two goals, 27 points and a plus-13 before getting injured and playing just 35 games. Runners up: Jordan Eberle, Ryan Whitney.
Offseason: They are rebuilding and it looks as though they have a solid core of forwards to work with and Devan Dubnyk's save percentage of .916 shows promise in net. Should they get the number one pick, they should use it on Adam Larsson, a defenseman playing in Sweden. They were horrible in their own end this season, 28th in goals-against per game (3.16) and 21st in shots-against per game (31.8).
San Jose Sharks - Logan Couture
Couture was second with a plus-19 and only Patrick Marleau had more goals, power play goals and game winning goals, but it was Couture who carried the team early in the season when all the veterans were struggling. He was very consistent and not counting April, he only had fewer than four goals in a month once. Runners up: Patrick Marleau, Antti Niemi.
Playoffs: THN's Ryan Kennedy pointed out in a blog the Sharks below average regular season could mean a strong playoff. They now have a goaltender who has on the Stanley Cup and have faced long-term adversity for the first time in years. They could easily make the Conference final or the second consecutive year.
Phoenix Coyotes - Keith Yandle
Yandle has led the Yotes in scoring for most of the season and will most likely be a Norris candidate. He leads the Coyotes and is second among league defensemen with 48 assists and is tops on the team in ice time by almost three minutes (24:20). He was consistent all season and helped the team that finished 24th in offense last season climb to 13th this year. Runners up: Ilya Bryzgalov, Shane Doan
Playoffs: The Coyotes are hoping to win just the second playoff round in their history and first since 1985 when they were the Winnipeg Jets. Their offense has greatly improved and though their defense dropped slightly, they should be in good shape to play to Game 8 this Spring.
Los Angeles Kings - Jonathan Quick
The Kings didn't have a whole lot in the way of offense this season, finishing 24th in the league with 2.54 goals per game. Quick is fourth in the league in goals-against average (2.23), 11th in save percentage (.919), fifth in shutouts (six) and ninth in wins (35). With 60 games played, only Tim Thomas, Tomas Vokoun (56 each), Jonas Hiller (49) and James Reimer (34) have played fewer games among goalies ranked higher than Quick in those categories. Runners up: Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown.
Playoffs: They did a good job at not burning out Quick during the regular season, so he should be refreshed for the playoffs. Losing Kopitar and Williams to injury is a big blow. Kopitar is their best skater and Williams is one of only two players with a Stanley Cup ring. According to rotoworld.com, Kopitar is still out for another four weeks, but Williams could be back in round one.
Anaheim Ducks - Corey Perry
Perry bested his career high in goals by 18 to become the only 50 goal scorer of the season. Of those, he had a team leading 11 game-winning goals, 4 shorthanded goals and was second with 14 power play goals. He also plays more than any other Ducks forward (22:13 per game) and is second on the team overall. HIs 25 goals in the past 29 games is a big reason the Ducks were able to overcome Hiller's vertigo and secure a playoff spot. Runners up: Teemu Selanne, Jonas Hiller.
Playoffs: The status of both Hiller and Ray Emery is unknown, but with the best line in hockey (Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry), they should be a challenge for whatever top-ranked team they face in the first round. They were able to upset the President's Trophy-winning San Jose Sharks in the first round of 2009 and don't be surprised if they can do it again this year.
Dallas Stars - Brad Richards
Every game is important to the Stars as they have been on the bubble for most of the season, so when Richards went down with an injury, its no surprise they lost the first four games without him. Points lost in those game could mean the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf next week. Richards has a career high 27 goals while playing in a career low 71 games. He leads the team with 75 points, 21 power play assists, 5:19 minutes per game on the power play and is first among forwards with 21:42 played per game. Runners up: Loui Eriksson, Brenden Morrow.
Playoffs: Should they make it in, it is hard to believe they will do much damage. While Richards is a Conn Smythe winner, Kari Lehtonen only has two games of playoff experience when he went 0-2 with a 5.59 goals-against average and .849 save percentage against the Rangers in 2007. It would be surprising to see them win a round.