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Edmonton Oil Kings, Niagara IceDogs lead CHL regular season’s final BTN Dynamic Dozen

Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman Griffin Reinhart (The Canadian Press)The final regular-season Dynamic Dozen might look like a MasterCard Memorial Cup preview — three teams which are favoured to the win the league and the tournament host.

That was not by design or cooking the numbers, it just worked out that way. The disclaimer, of course, is that the playoffs are something of a whole new ballgame. There is strength in the numbers. At the end of the regular season last spring, the Owen Sound Attack were BTN's top-ranked team. They went on to win the Ontario Hockey League's J. Ross Robertson Cup and might have reached the Memorial Cup final before their two best forwards were waylaid by injuries. The Saint John Sea Dogs were the highest-ranked QMJHL team and they won the league and the national title. Of course, surprises happened too. The Erie Otters were considered the CHL's second-strongest team according to the RPI and they crashed out of the playoffs in one round. The Saskatoon Blades were No. 3, but went out in four consecutive games in the second round to Kootenay. Point being, stuff happens.

1. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.559 RPI, +1). Consider this ranking another first among the Oil Kings' first overall problems. They have done their thing, done it quite well, in the shadow of their NHL parent, but now face maintaining their level of performance with many more distractions. The good news for coach Derek Laxdal's team is it it drew a Kootenaye team for Round 1 which has been in a second-half downward spiral. One priority for the series has to be to get overage scorer Tyler Maxwell to break his seven-game goal drought.

2. Niagara IceDogs, OHL (.555 RPI, +2). The seemingly lone down note for the 'Dogs entering their series vs. Oshawa is that forward Mitchell Theoret is sidelined. The New York Islanders late-rounder's physical presence, when he's on his game, can give coach-GM Marty Williamson better options for spreading out the scoring. Of course, that hasn't been a problem too often down in St. Kitts this season. You heard this already, but Niagara is the favourite to win the league.

3. Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL (.554 RPI, -2). General manager Martin Mondou has apparently read from the Tao of Ricky Bobby, saying if you're not first, you're last. That does sound a bit like a bid to turn up the heat a little on a team whose management is under the gun to produce a winner during this all-in season. Meantime, since his image is played for sport every week during the Chatravaganza, it is only fair to point out that Kirill Kabanov had a pretty nice little season with 55 points in 50 games and a +32 plus/minus, third on the team.

4. Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL (.551 RPI, -1). Windsor flirted with disaster during its run for a repeat in 2010, could something similar engulf Saint John? You never know. With the Sea Dogs likely to roll through Cape Breton in their first-rounder, this blurb is really good for soapbox purposes. For instance, why don't the other two leagues have unique awards to honour the best offensive and defensive defenceman? (The Sea Dogs' Pierre Durepos is up for the latter.) Also, a little-known fact is that last season marked the first time in 27 years that the Memorial Cup and University Cup were captured by teams from the same province. The New Brunswick Varsity Reds could hold up their end of the bargain this weekend.

5. Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL (.551 RPI, +3). The Tigres probably did not need to be tipped off that the Baie-Comeau Drakkar are hoping to bounce them around a little when the first-round series begins Friday. It really is the Drakkar's best shot to stop the Smurfs, Yanni Gourde, Brandon Hynes and Philippe Halley, one of two teammate trios who were among the Q's top 15 scorers.

6. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.545 RPI, -1). Of all the coincidences, the only two teams in the Ontario league who did not make a deadline deal, the Whalers and Guelph Storm, are facing each other in the first round. The Whalers liked the hand they had been dealt and Guelph is building. Plymouth might not dispense with the Storm too quickly, given that big defensive cogs such as Colin MacDonald and captain Beau Schmitz were rested last weekend and will presumably need time to get up to playoff mode. Now how about this coincidence: defenceman Austin Levi and goalie Scott Wedgewood, taken with consecutive picks in the 2010 NHL draft, signed NHL entry-level deals with the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils on the same day.

7. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.539 RPI, +2). Not the place of an Easterner to say it, but the Hitmen penalty killer vs. the Brandon Wheat Kings power play is a big matchup in their Round 1 series. The Hitmen were a solid fourth in the league on the PK thanks to the work of their defencemen and goalies, plus forwards such as Trevor Cheek (four short-handed goals during the regular season). The Wheat Kings and Mark Stone had the league's No. 3-ranked power play.

8. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.539 RPI, -1). Americans' statistical feat that has not had enough attention: their strong two-way play led to them having four of the WHL's top six plus-minuses. Defenceman Zachary Yuen, the Winnipeg Jets pick, and star scorer Brendan Shinnimin tied for first at +45. Shinnimin's linemates Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland were also among the league leaders.

9. Quebec Remparts, QMJHL (.535 RPI, +2). Coach-GM Patrick Roy, ever the tinkerer, moved his son Frédérick Roy off the first line for their series vs. Drummondville. Florida Panthers pick Logan Shaw, who had an only-OK 15 points in 23 games since a deadline deal with Cape Breton, gets to do the grunt work on the Mikhail Grigorenko-Anthony Duclair unit. The younger Roy has had a fine overage season, by the way, earning a nomination as the league's top defensive forward.

It should be illuminating to see how far Quebec can get in the playoffs relying on 17-year-old Grigorenko and rookies Duclair and Adam Erne for much of their offence.

10. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.534 RPI, -4). The 'Hawks drop a few slots — call that the Bärtschi effect — after two losses cost them home-ice advantage beyond Round 2 of the playoffs. Losing their arguable best player, with no disrespect to Ty Rattie, for a week is a disruption that could hurt their prep for the post-season. On the plus side, coach-GM Mike Johnston got his regulars some rest. And now everyone gets to watch the fun of seeing Sven Bärtschi reacclimatize to junior for another few weeks.

11. London Knights, OHL (.531 RPI, -1). No word if Mark Hunter borrowed the old Dick Irvin motivational gambit where you put a puck in front of the net ask the players why they're having so much trouble putting the smaller thing in the larger thing. The Knights' lack of scoring is a concern entering their series vs. Windsor. The grip-the-stick gang includes their top marksman Seth Griffith (one goal in nine games since a Friday Night Hockey hat trick three weeks ago) and NHL first-rounders Austin Watson (one in 11 games) and Vladislav Namestnikov (one in eight). The pesky Rupert twins, Matt and Ryan, had gone goal-less since Jan. 28 before Matt Rupert scored in the season finale.

12. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.526 RPI, +1). Tigers coach Shaun Clouston is downplaying the concept of momentum entering the 4 vs. 5 matchup vs. the Saskatoon Blades. The Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk-led Tigers did go 6-3-1-0 across the past 10 games, which was not enough to drop down into a lower seeding thanks to Calgary's late charge.

Meantime, the timing of the Edmonton Oilers' announcement that they have signed star Tigers goalie Tyler Bunz to an entry-level control has given some pause. Does signing him right before the playoffs detract from his focus? Or would having it stretched out until the June 1 deadline create a distraction?

The next dozen

13. Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL  (.523, +3); 14. Brampton Battalion, OHL (.522, +6); 15. Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL (.521, +6); 16. Barrie Colts, OHL (.520, -5); 17. Chicoutimi Saguenéens, QMJHL (.520, -3); 18. Blainville-Boisbrand Armada, QMJHL (.518, --); tied-19. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.517, -4); tied-19. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.517, +5); 21. Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors, OHL (.515, +4); 22. Saginaw Spirit, OHL (.514, +7); 23. Sudbury Wolves (.514, -6); 24. Regina Pats (.509, -2).

Dropping out: Ottawa 67's (23rd to 26th), Kitchener Rangers (19th to 27th), both OHL.

Hot teams: Saginaw Spirit (29th to 22nd) and Guelph Storm (43rd to 36th), each OHL.

Cold teams: Kitchener Rangers (19th to 27th) and Oshawa Generals (39th to 47th), each OHL, down eight spots.

Looking (nowhere but) up: Erie Otters, OHL (.426 RPI). The QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (.444) end up next to last.

An explanation on rankings: Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recent games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties for philosophical and practical reasons. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.

Note from Buzzing the Net's statistician, Rob Pettapiece: The rankings have been corrected since last week's Dynamic Dozen. RPI gives more weight to road wins and home losses; however, an error in our calculation meant a team was being punished for road losses more than they should have been (and were not being punished enough for a home loss). This week's rankings reflect the correct weighting, and the "change since last week" is based on correct weighting as well.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).

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