It's coming, folks—the NHL's shortened sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs is about to begin.
And that means it's time for some power rankings.
While it's always difficult to accurately power-rank teams before the season begins, consider this a list of rankings based on each team's potential. The top team, the New York Rangers, has, in my opinion, the best chance to win the Stanley Cup playoffs.
And sorry, fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets, but your team has the worst.
Keeping in mind how the shortened season might affect teams differently, I offer you my power rankings heading into the beginning of the NHL season.
1. New York Rangers
The Rangers were the league's most complete team last year, and then added Rick Nash in the offseason. It's hard to have them anywhere other than atop this list.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby is healthy. For that reason alone, the Penguins are a team to be feared.
But the Penguins also have two of the ingredients that often lead to success in shortened seasons: They have largely the same roster from a year ago, and the team is rife with veteran presences.
There's no question this team can score, but the biggest issue for the team down the stretch last year and in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers was that the Penguins forgot how to play defense. If the Penguins return to a more disciplined style—and if Marc-Andre Fleury returns to elite status—this is a very scary team.
3. St. Louis Blues
The Blues thrived last season by playing stingy defense and relying on two solid goaltenders throughout the year. If the team can replicate that formula again this year, the young Blues should be the favorites in the Western Conference.
4. Vancouver Canucks
The fact that the Canucks are starting the season without one of the league's top two-way players, Ryan Kesler, and with question marks at goalie, yet still start the season at No. 4 on these rankings, should tell you how deep this team is. Expect them to make noise in the Western Conference again, as usual.
5. Los Angeles Kings
On one hand, I feel like I have the Kings ranked too low. After all, this is the defending Stanley Cup champion, and Jonathan Quick is good enough to carry the Kings to another Cup.
On the other hand, I wonder if I have the Kings ranked too high. Center Anze Kopitar will miss the beginning of the season, and if Quick doesn't perform at the obscenely high levels of a year ago, the Kings could be in trouble. Remember, they were the No. 8 seed in Western Conference last year.
Still, the Kings are a talented, well-balanced team, and it will be interesting to see if late-season addition Jeff Carter can thrive in this environment, reunited with ex-Flyers teammate Mike Richards. Expect big things from L.A. this year.
6. Boston Bruins
How will the Bruins fare without Tim Thomas? Quite fine, I would think—Tuukka Rask is a very solid goalie. Plus, veteran teams like the Bruins generally do well in shortened seasons.
7. Chicago Blackhawks
If Corey Crawford plays better than he did a year ago, the Blackhawks will be dangerous. Of course, that's always a big "if," isn't it?
8. Philadelphia Flyers
This will be a controversial placement for the Flyers. Some will justifiably argue that the question marks at goalie (Ilya Bryzgalov was disappointing last year) and in the depth of the team's defense makes it a shaky top-10 selection.
On the other hand, the Flyers are rife with young firepower, led by MVP candidate Claude Giroux. Even if the team has issues with allowing goals, it'll score enough to generally make up for that fact. Youngsters like Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds are only going to improve.
And perhaps a change in scenery will be what Luke Schenn needs to live up to his potential.
In the end, two things are certain: Folks will have mixed opinions about this ranking, and the Flyers will likely make the playoffs, as they often do. With a lot of young legs and a roster that hasn't seen too much upheaval, the Flyers could sprint their way to a high seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
9. Detroit Red Wings
Can the Wings replace Nicklas Lidstrom? No. Will they still be a playoff team? Of course.
10. Nashville Predators
Ryan Suter may have bounced, but with Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and a balanced roster, the Predators will be just fine.
11. New Jersey Devils
With Ilya Kovalchuk returning and Martin Brodeur still sipping from the fountain of youth, the Devils will once again be a team to be reckoned with.
12. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks aren't one of the sexier playoff contenders, but they are one of the more stable squads with very little turnover. Expect them to adjust to a short camp and shortened season well.
13. Washington Capitals
Will the real Alex Ovechkin please stand up? Under new coach Adam Oates, I expect Ovechkin will return to being one of the league's most fearsome scorers. If Oates can allow Ovechkin to be himself while maintaining the same defensive identity that made the Capitals dangerous in the playoffs, this team could finally live up to its potential.
14. Florida Panthers
The Panthers benefit from having a lot of veterans on the roster, including goalie Jose Theodore. He must be excellent for the team to once again make the playoffs. The Panthers were one of the league's biggest surprises a year ago—it will be interesting to see if they can replicate the feat.
15. Ottawa Senators
Can Erik Karlsson replicate his epic 2011-12 season? If the answer is yes, the next question will be how far into the playoffs the Senators will advance.
16. Phoenix Coyotes
In goalie Mike Smith they will trust. And, hopefully, earn a playoff spot in doing so.
17. Buffalo Sabres
If Ryan Miller can maintain an elite level of play throughout the season and the young talent adjusts quickly to the shortened schedule, the Sabres could surprise some folks. Remember, the Sabres nearly earned a playoff berth last season.
18. Carolina Hurricanes
The additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin could be the little push this team needs to compete in the playoffs. Then again, do the Hurricanes only need a little push to make the playoffs?
19. Minnesota Wild
I know, I know, the additions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise are huge and enough to have the fanbase screaming for the playoffs. The Wild are going to be an improved team this season, yes, but with a young roster, I feel the squad is still a year away from the playoffs.
20. Edmonton Oilers
Rookie Justin Schultz could be the difference for a team hoping to reach the playoffs this season, and the Oilers have a ton of young talent accumulated. Still, young teams still learning how to play with one another generally need a full season to peak, not a shortened one. The Oilers are improving, though, make no mistake about that.
21. Dallas Stars
The additions of Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy don't make the Stars much younger, but they should make the team better. Not good enough to slip into the playoffs in the stacked Western Conference, but still better.
22. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning improved the roster this offseason and still have a lot of returning talent in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. But trying to develop chemistry with a short training camp will be nearly impossible for this team, and I expect it to start slowly this season.
23. Calgary Flames
The additions of Dennis Wideman, Roman Cervenka and Jiri Hudler should keep the Flames in the small groups of teams battling for the last playoff spot out West.
24. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens will be better—how could they not?—but they still won't be nearly good enough to make the playoffs in the East.
25. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks seem more likely to be sellers (Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf will be unrestricted free agents this offseason, while Bobby Ryan always seem to be the subject of trade rumors) than contenders this year.
26. Colorado Avalanche
The team has enough talent at forward to be dangerous, but a questionable defense will make goalie Semyon Varlamov all the more vital this season. If Varlamov struggles, it will be a very long season for the Avs.
27. Toronto Maple Leafs
Until this team finds a solid goalie and franchise center, it won't find itself a playoff berth.
28. Winnipeg Jets
Depth, off-ice issues and a young roster will keep the Jets from making much noise in 2013. Still, there is potential here, and the 2013-14 season could be kinder to the Winnipeg faithful.
29. New York Islanders
The Islanders have compiled plenty of young talent, but that talent isn't ready to lead the team anywhere close to the playoffs this season.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year's worst team got rid of its best player, Rick Nash. Uh oh.
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