It's time to come to grips with the fact that the NHL might not have a 2012-2013 season, and there's a very good possibility that there's at least going to be a shortened season.
So for grieving hockey fans around the continent, it's time to look to the future. I know things change quickly in the NHL, so this is more of a shorter-term, 3-5 season outlook rather than a 5+ years outlook.
Things are going to unpredictably different in five years, no matter what happens with the CBA. For instance, in 2007, the Flyers, Blackhawks, Capitals, and Bruins all finished last in their divisions while the Senators and Ducks played each other for the Stanley Cup.
Remember, this isn't just ranking a team's farm system. Having good prospects is key, but most current 19-year-old rookies are much less valuable than a 21-year-old stud with NHL experience, like John Tavares.
And this isn't necessarily a list of exactly how these teams will finish the 2016-2017 season, that's unrealistic and pointless. It's more of a ranking of how excited and optimistic fans should be about these particular teams' potential.
The Ducks' future rests heavily on the shoulders of two 27-year-old stars, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Both are unrestricted free agents next offseason, and if they are both able to stay in Anaheim, the Ducks could have themselves an extremely bright future. And don't forget about Bobby Ryan, who is still just 25 and is one of the best scorers in the game.
The Ducks have three great young defensemen in Luca Sbisa, Cam Fowler and 2012 first-round pick Hampus Lindholm.
Devante Smith-Pelly is 21 and was a top forward prospect before getting called up and playing 49 games for Anaheim. Kyle Palmieri is another talented 21 year old forward. He played 18 games in the NHL last year, and has a lot of promise.
Fowler is a year younger than Smith-Pelly, but he played in all 82 games for Anaheim this past offseason and was second on the team in minutes. Lindholm has a couple years before he'll hit the NHL, but he is a great skater who can create chances off the rush.
The Ducks also have a solid top three prospects at forward. Emerson Etem, William Karlsson and Rickard Rakell should all develop into top-six contributors. Etem, a first round pick in 2010, could make the roster this year.
The Bruins could have a heck of a next five years ahead of them. The 25-year-old Tuukka Rask takes over between the pipes and leads what should be somewhat of a youth resurgence in Boston.
The 20-year-old phenom Tyler Seguin will be a top scorer for years to come. David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk are all in their prime.
But a lot of Boston's future will rest on whether they re-sign Milan Lucic, who is an unrestricted free agent next offseason. The 24-year-old can score and mix it up with the best of them, and is crucial to the Bruins' success.
In the 2011 draft, the Bruins nabbed Dougie Hamilton, who is possibly the best defensive prospect in the NHL. Alexander Khokhlachev is an extremely talented center who is only 19 but has the skill to play with the big club by 2014.
The biggest reason Chicago is in the top ten is because of Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews. At only 24, Toews will be the team's centerpiece for years to come. Alongside of him is 23-year-old winger Patrick Kane, who is one of the most skilled players in the league.
Viktor Stalberg, who scored 22 goals last season, is just entering his prime. Marcus Kruger is only 24 but had 26 points and was a plus-11 last year.
They also have two standout young defensemen in 24-year old Niklas Hjalmarsson and 21 year old Nick Leddy. The latter is one of the brightest young defensemen in the league.
This past year's first-round draft pick, Teuvo Teravainen, is only 18 but should be in the NHL in two years. He's a super smooth playmaker who could be a huge difference-maker on the Blackhawks.
Chicago's next three forward prospects; Brandon Saad, Brandon Pirri and Mark McNeill, all have great futures ahead of them. Pirri could be in the league next season.
The Capitals have the potential to be a great team if they build their depth. They have top-level NHL talents with 26-year-olds Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green. But Nicklas Backstrom may be the best-kept secret in the NHL.
Some people say that the 24-year-old has the potential to be a better all-around player than Ovechkin, and I think there's a definite chance of that.
The Capitals have one of the best prospects in the NHL in Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 20-year-old center is a phenomenal skater, passer and shooter. He will stay in Russia for two more years, but he could be a top-15 forward the instant he gets to the NHL.
Filip Forsberg and Stansilav Galiev are wingers who both have the upside of a top-line producer. Forsberg is only 18 and a few years from the NHL, but has a ton of potential. Galiev is 20 and has to put on some weight but could play in the NHL this year.
Their top-end talent is as good as it gets, but Washington has to build around them to form a complete roster.
The Penguins' future is obviously in the hands of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If those two stay healthy and continue to dominate, the Penguins will figure out how to make things work around them.
James Neal is an underrated piece of the puzzle at only 25, and he will have to have more 40-goal seasons to help replace the loss of Jordan Staal.
But the Staal trade helped Pittsburgh replenish their system. They received Brandon Sutter, a talented 23-year-old center in the deal, along with the eighth overall pick and solid defensive prospect Brian Dumoulin.
The Penguins now have a stacked group of defensive prospects who are waiting to come up and help out 25-year-old Kris Letang.
This year's first-round picks Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta lead a group that also features Joe Morrow, Simon Despres and Scott Harrington. All have the potential to be top-six blue liners, with Pouliot and Morrow having elite potential.
The Panthers have a few under-28 forwards with a lot of talent, like Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg.
They also have two of the best young defensemen in the NHL in 21-year-old Dmitry Kulikov and 20-year-old Erik Gudbranson. Alex Petrovic is a top defensive prospect who is NHL-ready at 20 years old.
But the Panthers are so high on this list because of their incredible talent pool, most of which will be NHL ready within the next year or two. Jonathan Huberdeau is in the elite prospect category and will be a star soon.
Nick Bjugstad is a beast at 6'5" and is one of the best center prospects in the league. The Panthers have two other top center prospects in Drew Shore and Rocco Grimaldi. The three are 20, 19 and 21 years old, respectively. All three should be starting by 2014.
Corban Knight, Quinton Howden, and Kyle Rau are all good wingers under 21. Knight has the highest upside, but all three could be productive NHLers in a couple seasons.
And lastly, they have a top goalie prospect in 22-year-old Jacob Markstrom. The Swede is 6'6" and could step in as the full-time starter in the two years.
If it wasn't for their lack of young defensive talent, the Flyers would probably be first on this list. Their group of young forwards is unparalleled.
We'll start with the youngest of the bunch, 19-year-old Sean Couturier. The forward is 6'4", with the intelligence and defensive ability of a seasoned veteran. He shut down Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs last year, and has Jordan Staal-like potential.
Brayden Schenn was the No. 1 prospect in the world a year ago and showed flashes of brilliance in his first year in Philadelphia. The 21-year-old forward has an extremely high ceiling.
Everyone already knows about Claude Giroux, the 24-year-old who has already emerged as a superstar in the league. Jake Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are two other young forwards with a lot of promise and are only 23 and 24, respectively.
This year's first-round pick, Scott Laughton, may be a couple years away from the NHL, but he has drawn comparisons to Mike Richards.
Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn are entering their prime right now, and though they aren't among the NHL's elite, both are very good two-way defensemen. Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon are 23 and 22 years old, respectively, and have some potential on the Flyers blueline.
The Wild made a big splash this offseason by signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, who are 27 and 28years old, respectively. Getting two of the best players in their prime to go along with Mikko Koivu in his prime helps their outlook tremendously for the next few seasons.
To go along with Suter, Parise and Koivu, the Wild have one of the best groups of young players in the NHL. Mikael Granlund leads the charge, as one of the best prospects in hockey. At 20 years old, he could be one of the NHL's best centers in a few years.
Charlie Coyle is another 20-year-old center who was one of Team USA's best players at the World Juniors Championship this past winter.
Defenseman Matthew Dumba, shown above, was one of my favorite selections in the entire 2012 draft for any team. He, along with Jonas Brodin, are two of the best defensive prospects in hockey that could join a young defensive core led by 22-year-old Marco Scandella, and 23-year-old Justin Falk.
Also don't forget about Nick Pamieri, who was a great prospect and is now a 23-year-old power forward ready to produce. He could be a 25-30 goal scorer soon. Cal Clutterbuck, a 24-year-old forward, is a solid forward who could still develop.
Oilers' fans haven't had much to cheer about in the past decade, but their roster is loaded with young talent, led by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. RNH had a great rookie season and showed why he was taken first overall in the draft.
This past year's first overall pick, Nail Yakupov, has the potential to contribute right away and develop into one of the NHL's best scorers.
Taylor Hall is another former first-round pick who has a ton of talent and is only 20 years old. Jordan Eberle somehow gets overshadowed by RNH and Hall sometimes, but the winger led the team in points last year with 76, and is only 22. The old man of the group is Sam Gagner, who is 23.
On defense, Jeff Petry and Theo Peckham are reliable defensemen with time to develop at 24 years old. The Oilers have two fantastic defensive prospects who should be in the NHL soon in Justin Schultz and Oscar Klefbom.
If these players all continue to grow and develop, the Oilers could be scary good in a few years.
The Kings are coming off the heels of a Cinderella run to becoming Stanley Cup champions, and the road ahead is just as bright.
Drew Doughty is already one of the league's best defensemen, and he's only 22 years old. LA also has the league's best goalie tandem in Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, who are only 26 and 24 years old, respectively.
Anze Kopitar is just entering his prime at 25 years old. Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter are all 27 and should still have their best years ahead of them.
Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi are aging defensemen, but 22-year-old Slava Voynov should be ready to step up and become a top contributor. Another 22-year-old, Andre Loktionov, is a talented center who was one of the team's best prospects and will now be full-time with the big club.
I also really like the Kings' 2012 first-round draft pick, Tanner Pearson. He could be NHL-ready in a year or two.
He joins 20-year-olds Tyler Toffoli and Derek Forbort as LA's top prospects. Toffoli is a winger with good hands and scoring ability, while Forbort is a 6'5" beast of a defensemen currently dominating for North Dakota.