NHL 2013: Top 10 Preseason Highlight

Matt Barbato@@Matt_BarbatoCorrespondent IJanuary 15, 2013

NHL 2013: Top 10 Preseason Highlight

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    Although it took much longer than anyone could have expected, the NHL and the NHL Players' Association have finally reached an agreement and there will be a shortened 2013 NHL season.

    The shortened season will truly be a grind for players and coaches. Forty-eight games will be crammed into about three and a half months with many travel days and back-to-back games sprinkled amongst the rigorous schedule.With just four days left until the puck drops here are the preseason top 10 power rankings.

10. Detroit Red Wings

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    Last season the Red Wings went 48-28-6 (102 points) which was good enough for the five seed. Detroit's season ended in defeat against the Nashville Predators in five games in the first round.

    The Red Wings will be without former captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who decided to retire after last season. Detroit has its share of problems on the blue line but still has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who was announced the new captain of the team following Lidstrom's retirement. It is also hard to doubt head coach Mike Babcock and general manager Ken Holland. Expect Holland to pursue a deal if the Red Wings get off to a slow start.

9. Chicago Blackhawks

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    After an up-and-down season landed them with a record of 45-26-11 (101 points), the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in six games by Phoenix.

    Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa should be healthy entering the season opener and the Hawks are loaded with playmakers on offense. The biggest question for Chicago is the defense and goaltending.

    Chicago was one of the worst defensive teams in the league last season and tried to address the void by signing Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank over the offseason. Corey Crawford will need to have a rebound season in net or else the Blackhawks could be looking at another disappointing season.

8. Philadelphia Flyers

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    Peter Laviolette's club had another solid season in 2012, racking up 103 points and defeating the Penguins in a wild series in which the Flyers scored eight goals in two different games. They were eventually defeated in five games by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Devils.

    Philadelphia is loaded with young talent, but Claude Giroux stands out and is arguably one of the 10 best players in the NHL. Giroux is a forward who can do it all and is sure to be one of the league leaders in goals and points. The Flyers have a lot of holes on the blue line and will need the colorful Ilya Bryzgalov to establish some consistency. The Flyers have talent, but also a lot of flaws they will need to overcome.

7. Nashville Predators

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    The Predators quietly had a very strong season, finishing fourth in the Western Conference with 104 points and defeating Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. Their season was eventually ended by Phoenix in five games, but the 2011-2012 season was a big step for an emerging franchise.

    Unfortunately, Nashville was dealt one of the biggest blows of the offseason, losing defenseman Ryan Suter to Minnesota in free agency. Losing Suter to Minnesota leaves a big void on defense that Nashville will need to fill. Nashville is already a defensive team and Barry Trotz should be able to find a way to move on without Suter.

    The Preds also have Pekka Rinne, who gives them a chance to win no matter who is on the ice. Nashville will have to find some consistent scoring but if the defense can adjust to the loss of Suter they could go on a deep playoff run.

6. Vancouver Canucks

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    The Canucks had another excellent regular season followed by another disastrous postseason. After earning the President's Trophy with a 111 point season, Vancouver was knocked out of the playoffs by the Kings in five games.

    Vancouver has given the reigns in net to Cory Schneider and now have the most over paid backup in the league, Roberto Luongo. The window for a championship is closing for the aging Canucks. Henrik and Daniel Sedin remain the fuel to Vancouver's offensive fire.

    Vancouver will most likely have another impressive regular season but, at this point, anything short of a Stanley Cup will not satisfy their fans.

5. St. Louis Blues

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    The Blues were one of the biggest surprises of the 2011-2012 season by winning their division and getting to the second round of the playoffs before being swept by the eventual champions.

    The Blues could have a goalie competition on their hands between Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot which may be won by the one who gets off to the better start. St. Louis is a defense first club who plays a gritty style of hockey. Offensively, the Blues do not have any great goal scorers other than David Perron (21 goals in only 57 games last season), but the Blues get contributions across the board from their roster.

    The Blues are a cohesive unit who play well together on the ice. They are not very flashy, but they play a balanced and unified brand of hockey. If St. Louis can find some more fire-power, they could win the Western Conference.  

4. Boston Bruins

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    Boston had another solid regular season, recording 102 points and earning the second seed in the Eastern Conference, but was upset by the Washington Capitals in the first round in seven games.

    Tuukka Rask will be the net-minder for the Bruins in 2013 as Tim Thomas decided to sit this season out. Rask has been outstanding in his limited playing time and should be a strong backbone for one of the toughest defensive teams in the league.

    Boston will also have Nathan Horton back after an injury-plagued season. The star in Boston is Tyler Seguin who leads a very deep core of forwards including Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Milan Lucic.

    If Boston can continue to get steady production along with strong defensive play, the Bruins could be in the mix along with New York and Pittsburgh for an Eastern Conference title.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Pittsburgh had an outstanding regular season even without star center Sidney Crosby, who missed 60 games while dealing with post-concussion symptoms. Pittsburgh earned 108 points in the regular season but fell apart in the playoffs, losing to Philadelphia in six games.

    Pittsburgh is once again one of the sexy picks to take home the cup. The Pens did lose winger Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes but should have Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang all together to start the season. The obvious question is whether Crosby can stay healthy but, assuming he does, the Penguins have what it takes to win the east.

    It will also be interesting to see if Marc-Andre Fleury can recover from his nightmarish performance in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia. If Fleury can go back to his championship winning ways and Crosby can stay healthy, the Penguins will have a say in the race for the conference title.

2. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Kings stunned the hockey world by going on an incredible run and capturing the Stanley Cup after barely making the playoffs as the eighth seed. The Kings were loaded with talent that blossomed during their playoff run.

    Unlike the 2010 champion Blackhawks, the Kings were not blown up because of salary cap issues, which means the Kings have as good a shot as any of the past champions to hoist the cup once again. 

    Playoff MVP Jonathan Quick is coming off of back surgery and Anze Kopitar could miss the first week of the season due to a knee injury suffered in Sweden. The Kings have incredible depth on offense but will have to fight against the Stanley Cup hangover.

1. New York Rangers

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    The Rangers are coming off of an impressive 109 point regular season that was ruined by a defeat at the hands of New Jersey in the conference finals.

    New York finally added Rick Nash to the roster after failing to make a deal with Columbus before the trade deadline last season. Nash comes to a squad that already has some potent goal scorers in Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Gaborik, who underwent offseason shoulder surgery, was given some time to recover by the lockout. The Rangers have three very good defense-men in Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh and have the Vezina trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist as the last line of defense in goal. Expect another strong season from John Tortorella's squad and a deep run into the playoffs, possibly ending in a championship ceremony at Madison Square Garden.