In the dog days of the NHL offseason, there can often be little news that will spice up the conversation. Certainly the San Jose Sharks have given media types plenty to cover during the summer months, but on a day-to-day basis, there’s still nothing like the actual season. So while we wait for the season to come around how bout a quick look on where the teams rank heading into the year?
So without further ado, here’s an August take on NHL power rankings:
1. Boston Bruins- Not every Stanley Cup winner belongs at top the rankings the following season, but this year the Bruins have to be the consensus No. 1, don’t they? They still have Tim Thomas in net, they still have Zdeno Chara on defense, and while they lose Mark Recchi to retirement, they still have incredible forward depth with the likes of Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to go along with Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron.
2. Vancouver Canucks- Love them or hate them, the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) are consistent offensive machines. And even though most fans have grown to despise the infamous Alex Burrows, the three combine for a dynamite first line. Throw in Selke candidate Ryan Kesler anchoring the second line and one of the best third line centers in the league in Manny Malhotra, well, the Canucks forwards could make an average defensive team into a Cup contender. However, they have a top-5 defense with the likes of Dam Hamhuis, Alex Edler, and Kevin Bieksa leading the way. Plus Roberto Luongo and Corey Schneider in net are arguably the best 1-2 punch.
3. San Jose Sharks- Two years in a row knocked out of the playoffs in the Western Conference final by deeper teams, especially on defense. This offseason they boosted their defense from a middle of the pack to a sure-fire top-5 unit. The only offensive pieces they lost in the process were a struggling Dany Heatley (almost zero playoff production in two years as a Shark) and the inconsistent Devin Setoguchi. Sharks can still score with the best of them but now they can play defense and they have a Stanley Cup Champion between the pipes. Hard to increase expectations for a team which has long been a Cup contender but there is serious positive buzz about this team here in Northern California.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins- If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are good to go, then the Penguins will be as good as anybody. Last season they almost won a playoff series without them. With them? No reason they can’t win another Stanley Cup.
5. Washington Capitals- This spot may seem high for what has been an offensive juggernaut of a team that over the years has been thin on defense and in goal but last year mid-way through the season Washington started playing better in their own end. Combine some young defenders with an experienced and reliable goaltender in Tomas Vokoun and this year could be the one for the Capitals to break through.
6. Los Angles Kings- Again, this may appear to be a high ranking for a team that lost in the first round last playoffs, but for the unfamiliar hockey follower, here is your 411 lesson on the Kings. Last season they took the Sharks nearly to seven games, losing in OT of Game 6. They did so without their best player in Anze Kopitar and with an hobbled Justin Williams. Bring those two into the fold, easily could have beaten San Jose. Both will be back this season plus the Kings have acquired Mike Richards from the Flyers and signed Simon Gagne. While Gagne can be a bit of an enigma, the Kings firepower is much improved for a team that already brings a top-10 defense and a solid goaltender in Jonathan Quick.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning- Talk about fire power, the Lightning have ridiculous STAR power in Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos. Unfortunately that is a lot of money dolled out to those three players, and depth is definitely a concern. Furthermore, Dwayne Roloson was old when he took the Edmonton Oilers to within a game of hoisting the Cup, his time may be running out.
8. Chicago Blackhawks- The team everyone seemed to forget after the salary cap forced out nearly their entire supporting cast after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup will be back this season. Despite falling down 3-0 against the Canucks, the Blackhawks were an OT goal away from pulling of that upset. Jonathan Toews often goes overlooked even being the captain of the Blackhawks with a cup ring on his finger. Along with Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp, the forward star power is evident and role players like Dave Bolland and the newly acquired Andrew Brunette can also score from the forward positions. A top-5 defense remains intact and a more than capable netminder in Corey Crawford round a team that will be back in the hunt this season.
9. Detroit Red Wings- Yes, the vaunted Detroit Red Wings are this low because they don’t scare other teams like they once did. Back-to-back second round exits at the hands of the Sharks and their stars aren’t getting any younger. While nobody will ever be happy to draw the Red Wings in the playoffs because of their history, the fact of the matter is Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg aren’t getting any younger and the team really hasn’t improved much around them.
10. Philadelphia Flyers- Philadelphia has had goaltending problems for awhile now and they solved that with Ilya Bryzgalov but they gave up a lot to fit him under the salary cap and there offense won’t be the same. The defense is getting older and Chris Pronger’s health is a a gigantic concern for this team. Danny Briere and Claude Giroux are players fans love to root for but are they better now than they were last year? Hard for me to see it that way. Seems odd that Flyers shipped out great offense in part to make room for Bryzgalov and then Vokoun ends up in Washington for a bargain basement price. Just that karma alone might do them in.
11. Montreal Canadiens- What can you say about the Canadiens, they always seem to surprise us year after year. They are small up front, have salary where it doesn’t belong but they have tremendous defense, especially if Andrei Markov can stay healthy. Great defense plus tremendous goaltending from Carey Price and this team has enough to scratch their way to a Conference final just when nobody expects it.
12. New York Rangers- Finished 18th overall last season and outside Marc Staal, there are some questions on defense but with the big free agent prize off the offseason signing with the Rangers, it’s hard not to think a big improvement is coming. Brad Richards joins some talented forwards in Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and Brian Boyle. Rangers now have a tremendous top-six, a respectable defense and an elite goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist.
13. St. Louis Blues-This year’s sleeper team in the Western Conference has got to be the St. Louis Blues. Even without David Perron, the Blues still have a tremendous young core with David Backes, Chris Stewart, Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, Matt D’Agostini and Kevin Shattenkirk to go along with solid older veterans in Andy McDonald, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jason Arnott and Scott Nichol. A great mix of youth and experience at both forward and defense with a solid netminder in Jaroslav Halak make the Blues quite the dangerous squad.
14. Buffalo Sabres- Ville Leino has been vastly underrated in his career and with the veteran winger joining Buffalo’s already impressive top-six, the offense is there, as is the netminding with Ryan Miller. But a $10 million dollar salary to Christian Ehrhoff? Yes his cap hit is only 4.5 and the new Buffalo regime has the cash to spend but Ehrhoff doesn’t fit that bill. Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr make a solid pair but a lot of new pieces throughout the roster, perhaps some growing pains this year. Playoff team yes, but seventh or eighth seed.
15. Anaheim Ducks- MVP Corey Perry carried the Ducks into the playoffs last year as No. 4 seed with a ridiculous hot stretch to finish his season. Unfortunately the Ducks are top heavy and overly rely on their dynamite top line of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. Regardless of whether or not Teemu Selanne returns, this team isn’t what it was a few years back when they won the Cup. The depth isn’t there like it used to be and that will cause them to be a playoff bubble team.
16. New Jersey Devils- In 2009-10 the Devils were the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. These days the Devils are top heavy with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk and an aging Martin Brodeur but if these Devils stay healthy, no reason they won’t be back in the playoff picture.
17. Nashville Predators- Nashville lost some role players to free agency in Marcel Goc and Joel Ward. Losing the oft-injured Steve Sullivan isn’t easy either and while they return Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne, there is no reason to suspect the Predators to be anywhere other than where they always are: in the playoff chase but hardly talked about.
18. Carolina Hurricanes- Top heavy. When you think of the Carolina Hurricanes, you think Eric Staal. They have outside shot at the playoffs but will be swinging the golf clubs at the end of the regular season.
19. Calgary Flames- Hard not to root for a player like Jarome Iginla but he’s not going to win a Cup in Calgary, the supporting cast just isn’t good enough.
20. Colorado Avalanche- May be a stretch for the second worst team in the league a year ago but good young talent with Matt Duchene, Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson. No. 2 overall pick Gabriel Landeskog will make an impact at some point plus Jan Hejda is a good pickup on defense. The Avalanch should have solid goaltending between the likes of J.S. Giguere and Seymon Varlamov. Two years ago they made the playoffs, so a bit of a jump from last year’s abysmal season isn’t out of the question.
21. Toronto Maple Leafs- A few years ago Dion Phaneuf was amongst the elite defenseman in this league but numbers are down since and the rest of the Leafs roster is filled with unproven talent.
22. Winnipeg Jets- Offensively challenged certainly, but Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian on defense makes for a strong blue-line. Ondrej Pavelec is an up and coming goaltender, they need some offense but there not far off. Put it this way, take Rick Nash off Columbus and put him on Winnipeg and this is a playoff team.
23. Minnesota Wild- Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi will help Minnesota score but the name of the game is defense and losing Brent Burns hurts. Minnesota will be at best average at the forward position but are now weaker defensively. Niklas Backstrom is a good goalie but he’s not superman.
24. Edmonton Oilers- Another team with good young talent. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle will be better and even if Ryan Nugent-Hopkins doesn’t make the NHL roster, the Oilers should be better than a year ago.
25. Dallas Stars- Losing Brad Richards is huge for the Stars. While they still have some pieces in Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn and Stephane Robidas, there just isn’t enough. They brought in some role players but the defense is average, goaltending is average and offense has taken a hit. With San Jose and Los Angeles clearly the class of the Pacific, and Anaheim a capable playoff team, Dallas will have a tough time this year.
26. Phoenix Coyotes- Ilya Bryzgalov was the Coyotes. He’s gone now and even with a respectable defense, a weak top-six other than Shane Doan and questionable goaltending makes for a recipe of struggling this year.
27. Columbus Blue-Jackets- Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski were big splashes this offseason for Columbus but it has disaster written all over it. Goaltending a major concern, defense not much better and a top heavy offense. How much will Carter enjoy going from a contender to not even a pretender? Could get ugly in Columbus.
28. New York Islanders- John Tavares will continue to develop and well, err, yeah.
29. Florida Panthers- Signed a great contingent of second, third and fourth line forwards and an over the hill defenseman but they will still be really bad.
30. Ottawa Senators- At least the Panthers signed some players…