The perennial powers in the Eastern Conference are mostly living up to their potential. It is the bubble teams, and the wild cards that are making life so interesting.  I doubt anyone outside the Francosphere predicted the Canadiens would lead the Eastern Conference at any time, and yet they do. Predicting the Capitals as a basement dweller might have been a little easier, but it still counts as a surprise.

Washington Capitals: We know Adam Oates is a first year head coach. We know he didn’t get a real training camp to break everyone in. We know if McPhee fires him the general manager is probably writing his own pink slip at the same time. We know Mike Green still can’t stay healthy to save his life.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that after hundreds of reminders as to how long he’d been in place Lindy Ruff who still has five years left on his contract is no longer the Sabres head coach. We know the team’s identity is still unknown even to the men on the roster. We know they desperately need to improve at faceoffs. We also know we’re not going to see major changes to way the team plays until the general manager departs and someone else brings in the right mix of talent and attitude.

Florida Panthers: We know that part of last years division championship was a perfect storm of divisional woes. We know that no team in the east has scored less. We know that some of their youngsters are starting to come along. We know the teams goaltending woes are a real big part of why they aren’t performing better despite the emergence of Huberdeau.

New York Islanders: We know that John Tavares is really god damned good. We know that Brad Boyes appears to have a pulse again. We know those two and Matt Moulson aren’t enough to save the team from god awful goaltending and substandard defense. We know Vishnovsky is very unlikely to stick around past the end of the season and tutor the teams young defenders.

Winnipeg Jets: We know the Southeast divisions least south or east team is not great offensively, but that their defense is worse. We know the Jets are somehow worse at home than on the road. We know that if only two of your top five goal scorers have a positive +/- 200 foot hockey probably isn’t happening.  We know that the last time a goaltending tandem let a team to the Cup without either of them having a save percentage north of .900 was probably before most of the roster were allowed to cross the street by themselves.

Philadelphia Flyers: We know that this team is unbareably burdened by eight no trade and no movement clauses. We know this team has more ability that it is showing.  We know the goaltending has again, been reminiscent of the 1980s. We know the tether for the front office and coach have got to be pretty short.

Tampa Bay Lightning: We know if the team could transfer 10% of the talent from their top forwards to their defense they’d be a juggernaut. We know if the team had a third and fourth line who anyone outside the city could name their defense might not matter.  We know that Vincent Lecavalier is playing point per game hockey for the first time since George W. Bush was president. We know that Matheiu Garon is one of the best goaltenders in the southeast division this year.

New York Rangers: We know that not many people picked this team as a bubble team. We know that their powerplay can’t be properly described without using what some would call “unprintable words”. We know the offense as a whole can be called mediocre at best. We know Rick Nash somehow managed to play two games over a couple of days before he felt the hit from Milan Lucic that is blamed for his getting taken out of the lineup.

Ottawa Senators:  We know this a very resilient team.  We know Craig Anderson’s name should be etched onto the Hart and Vezina by early April if he stays anywhere near his current 1.49 gaa and .952 sv%. We know that despite the resilience and the absurd goaltending the team needs to either make a trade or find someone in the system to contribute outside the crease.

Toronto Maple Leafs: We know the Leafs have a coach who can get the individuals on the roster to play like a team. We know James Riemer is still built out of balsa wood and bubble gum. We know Phil Kessel is probably due a goal scoring explosion sometime real soon. We know a 4.4 shooting percentage is not something anyone associates with Kessel, even when he has one. We know that Grabovski is either being unforgivably misused or just having an off year after having been in the top three in scoring for the team the last two years.

Pittsburgh Penguins: We know this team can’t hold onto a shred of discipline when playing their cross state rivals. We know they can score. We know balance isn’t how this team is build. We know they are going to have to do something really creative to get under the cap next year and have a contender.

Boston Bruins: We know Brad Marchand is contributing big time. We know Nathan Horton is a UFA at the end of the season. We know the powerplay is still “a work in progress” despite success in recent games. We know they’ve played the least games so far of any team in the NHL.

Carolina Hurricanes: We know the team has their fair share of offensive talent.  We know Justin Faulk is the future of the teams blueline. We know they lead their division by being more evenly mediocre than the other teams in their division.

Montreal Canadiens: We know believers in karma will point to the last two season and say this is just an evening of the scales. We know those folks would be better served to point to the vastly underrated Tomas Plekanec and the rookie Alex Galchenyuk who have pushed the Habs offense from 20th last season to 9th th

The season was a long, long time coming and it seems amazing that we are one third of the way done. We know the Western Conference is never easy to predict. Today, we know which teams are better than we thought, which teams are worse, and which ones just don’t have a clue.

15: Columbus Blue Jackets: We know the more things change the more they stay the same. We know the team has a new General Manager. We know the new GM has a reputation as a great evaluator of draft-able talent.  We know that despite all the changes, the roster is still a lottery team.

14: Calgary Flames: We know this is one of the most hamstrung teams in the league in terms of farm system and with no movement and no trade clauses. We know Jarome Iginla isn’t getting any younger, and that this is the last year of his contract. We also know he might just be their best player at faceoffs, which would be great if he were a center and not one of their numerous grindline centers.

13: Edmonton Oilers: We know they still don’t have a defense. We know they probably have the assets to trade for defense. We know if they end up drafting first they probably won’t be smart enough to draft Seth Jones. We know from watching Oil Change that Daryl Katz is more interested in being seen as the owner of a hockey team than he is being seen as the owner of a winning hockey team. We know that sooner or later Ralph Krueger will be scapegoated so that Tambellini and Lowe can keep their jobs.

12: Colorado Avalanche: We know the AVS are still as a collective head cases.Their win two lose two, rinse and repeat record says their is more wrong with this team than questionable defense, and an offense that really should be better than it is. We know Sacco will likely get sacked because he ran out of gold stars and lollipops for his collection of kids.

11: Los Angeles Kings: We Know the Stanley Cup Hangover is only part of the problem. They still haven’t fixed their deficient offense.

10: Detroit Red Wings: We know they lost Lidstrom and Stuart. We know Datsyuk isn’t as good as he used to be. We know this team should be blown the hell up and rebuilt while no one in Detroit can afford to come to games anyway. We know two or three years of tanking and recreating the team with top talent is preferable to adding mediocre talent to a team that has possibly three above average players.

9: Dallas Stars: We know the Stars were a bubble team last year. We know they are a bubble team this year. We know that when you add Old Dudes, no matter how good they are simply because of how good they were in the 90s, you probably need to re-prioritize and figure out the real holes in your team.

8: Minnesota Wild: We know they added more salary and years to their roster than anyone else over the long, long offseason. We know they had a ton and a half of injuries last year. We know Josh Harding deserves a standing ovation before every game. We also know this team isn’t playing to their potential with that much talent on the roster.

7: Phoenix Coyotes: We know the NHL still hasn’t settled an owner into the corner office. We know the team will get to hold onto Shane Doan a while longer. We know that Oliver Ekman-Larsson is pretty damn good.

6: San Jose Sharks: We know they aren’t as good as their 7-0-0 start, nor as bad as the six game losing streak that followed. We know you can’t ignore the contributions on the backend or count this team out of the playoff hunt no matter how far they fell last season.

5: Saint Louis Blues: We know last year wasn’t a fluke. We know that Alex Pietrengelo needs to be accounted among the top five defensemen in the NHL. We know the team has a talent for identifying goalies about to hit the zone. We know that its unlikely anyone will ever think of the names of any forward other than Taresenko or Backes without prompting, no matter how many goals the team scores.

4: Nashville Predators: We know Weber is every bit as good as everyone said and that he was for more deserving of the last two Norris Trophy’s than either guy who collected them. We know the team is third best in goals against. We know that despite being 30th in goals for, they are still a damned dangerous team.

3: Vancouver Canucks: We know they are once again leading the weakest division in the NHL. We know Kesler is back from his yearly injury. We know it could be years before anyone knows who the real starter is in the crease. We know they aren’t all that impressive on the road.

2: Anaheim Ducks: We know Teemu is Forever. We know adding Bryan Allen to this team made their goaltenders job easier. We know Victor Fasth could steal Hiller’s job as the number one netminder. We know this team is a lot more like the squad we expect than last year’s  nearly identical roster.

1: Chicago Blackhawks: We know this team is incredible. We know the team is deep. We know the team isn’t playing 100% to their potential. We know they will never keep this pace up because guys are playing so far outside their normal range. We know they are incredibly fun to watch.