NHL Power Rankings 2013: How Start of Free Agency Shook Up the League

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IJuly 7, 2013

NHL Power Rankings 2013: How Start of Free Agency Shook Up the League

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    The opening weekend of NHL free agency resulted in owners spending over $400 million to improve their teams for the 2013-14 season and beyond.

    Championships are rarely won because of major free-agent signings—just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers—but the depth acquired in the free-agent market with the signings of veterans who play vital roles is very important in the pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

    In the salary-cap era, the general managers who spend wisely and don't hurt their teams' financial flexibility with poor signings will have the greatest chance for consistent postseason success.

    Let's take a look at the latest NHL power rankings following the first few days of this year's free agent frenzy.

     

    Note: All signings per TSN. Salary information via CapGeek.

30. Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers lost their best center and top playmaker on Friday when Stephen Weiss signed a five-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

    It's a huge blow to a Panthers offense that finished 29th in goals scored in 2013, largely because the 30-year-old veteran missed half of the year with a wrist injury.

    Now that Weiss is gone, the team may need to rely on second overall pick Aleksander Barkov to play a significant role (likely in the top six) next season as a rookie. He's ready for the NHL, but asking a young player to be productive consistently against opposing teams' best defensive players is not an ideal situation.

29. Calgary Flames

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    The Calgary Flames have made no significant moves in free agency, which is actually an encouraging sign for the team's fans.

    Over the last three or four years, the Flames have tried to correct many of their problems by signing UFAs on July 1. This strategy has resulted in general manager Jay Feaster giving out some horrible contracts that hurt the team's cap flexibility.

    It appears that the Flames are finally realizing that a rebuild is in order, and they won't interrupt that process by wasting cap space on a veteran when the team isn't ready to win right now.

28. Buffalo Sabres

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    The Buffalo Sabres haven't made any notable signings in free agency. Meanwhile, almost every team in their division, especially the Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, have all improved with major free-agent deals and/or trades.

    With that said, since Terry Pegula took over as team owner in 2010 and began opening his checkbook to allow general manager Darcy Regier to spend big in free agency, the Sabres have been unsuccessful in building a contender.

    The failed signings of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and forward Ville Leino in the summer of 2011 were a valuable lesson for Buffalo and proved to the front office that building a championship-caliber roster through free agency isn't the best strategy.

27. Phoenix Coyotes

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    The Phoenix Coyotes addressed a major weakness at the center position by signing the top center on the UFA market in Mike Ribeiro. The 33-year-old forward instantly becomes the team's No. 1 center and will form a great duo with team captain and first-line winger Shane Doan.

    Ribeiro tied for the league lead in power-play points last year, and his playmaking skills will greatly improve a Phoenix team that ranked 25th in power-play success during the 2013 season.

    Many of Ribeiro's best seasons offensively happened in Dallas when current Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett was behind the bench, and it wouldn't be a surprise if this duo enjoys more success together in Phoenix.

    With new ownership and the ability to spend more money on player salaries, the Coyotes should be a much-improved team in 2013-14. But general manager Don Maloney still needs to add more scoring depth before training camp begins in the fall.

26. Winnipeg Jets

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    Instead of making moves in free agency, the Winnipeg Jets have decided to construct an improved roster through the trade market.

    Following the end of the playoffs, the Jets acquired Chicago Blackhawks forward Michael Frolik and Minnesota Wild forward Devin Setoguchi without giving up anything of significant value.

    But sooner or later, the Jets will have to spend money in free agency, because 13 of the team's players from last year don't have a contract, including top two defenseman Ron Hainsey (UFA) and Zach Bogosian (RFA). Top-six forwards Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, both RFAs, are also unsigned.

    As the Jets' current roster stands, even if they don't lose any important players to free agency, this team won't make the playoffs next season unless more improvements are made with players acquired from outside the organization.

25. Tampa Bay Lightning

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning made a risky signing by giving Detroit Red Wings center Valtteri Filppula a five-year deal worth $25 million. He's a talented forward capable of filling a top-six role, but he's too inconsistent to make $5 million per year.

    The most discouraging part of this move for Lightning fans is that general manager Steve Yzerman decided to spend his major signing on a forward instead of a top-four defenseman, which was the team's biggest weakness going into the offseason.

    Tampa Bay finished 26th in GAA and 19th in penalty killing during the 2013 season, but Yzerman has not made the upgrades required to improve the back end and make the Lightning more difficult to score against.

24. Colorado Avalanche

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    The Colorado Avalanche addressed a need for more goal scoring and playmaking skill at the draft with the selection of Nathan MacKinnon first overall. But they have yet to upgrade a blue line whose poor play resulted in the team finishing 27th in GAA, with more than three goals allowed per game.

    With no major free agents to re-sign and $11,951,667 in salary-cap space to work with, the Avalanche must dip into the free-agent market for a veteran defenseman who will provide a steady presence on the back end and improve the team's 20th-ranked penalty kill.

    With that said, since most of the top defensemen in this year's class have already signed, the Avalanche may be forced to improve via the trade market. Lucky for Colorado, it has several quality centers to offer teams for a top-four defenseman.

23. Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals have been one of the quietest teams in the offseason, with no major trades or free-agent signings made.

    After declining to re-sign second-line center Mike Ribeiro, who joined the Phoenix Coyotes a free agent, there are some depth issues down the middle for general manager George McPhee to address. The problem is that he has only $8,465,705 in cap space and still must re-sign important RFAs Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson.

    McPhee will need to get creative in the trade market to make the necessary upgrades that ensure the team's six-year playoff appearance streak doesn't end next year.

22. Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes upgraded their goaltending by signing Bruins backup Anton Khudobin, who has the talent to push former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward for the No. 1 job.

    Carolina's backup goaltenders were unable to help the team contend for the playoffs when Ward suffered a season-ending injury in early March, and the signing of Khudobin will ensure that a repeat scenario does not happen in the future.

    With very little cap space, the Hurricanes made another depth signing with the addition of veteran defenseman Mike Komisarek. He's a motivated player who will add much-needed grit, penalty killing and leadership to the team's blue line.

    General manager Jim Rutherford should be applauded for making needed upgrades and spending less than $2 million. That's efficiency.

21. New Jersey Devils

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    The New Jersey Devils have been aggressive in the offseason—a strategy that has given the team some much-needed depth, especially at forward.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello signed veteran forward Michael Ryder to a two-year deal to add some goal scoring and championship experience to his roster. Earlier on Friday, he inked veteran winger Ryane Clowe to a five-year contract for bottom-six depth, leadership and additional grit.

    At the draft, he acquired a No. 1 goaltender with star potential in Cory Schneider from the Vancouver Canucks and only gave up the No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft. As long as RFA and top-six center Adam Henrique is re-signed, this will have been a very productive summer for the Devils.

20. Dallas Stars

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    Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill has wasted no time improving his team's depth and skill during his first summer in charge. Instead of overpaying to sign the top free agents, Dallas has made its moves through the trade market.

    The Stars' depth and talent down the middle was a huge weakness last season. But in just two days, Nill turned it into a strength by acquiring Boston Bruins star Tyler Seguin and Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff via trades.

    After an impressive draft and two great trades, Nill has turned the Stars into a legitimate playoff contender just a few weeks into the offseason.

19. Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators are well on their way to returning to the playoffs next season after drafting top defensive prospect Seth Jones with the fourth overall pick and signing depth forwards Matt Hendricks, Matt Cullen and Eric Nystrom.

    These three forwards all play "Predators hockey," with strong two-way games, a willingness to block shots and impressive penalty-killing skill.

    General manager David Poile also signed Chicago Blackhawks winger Viktor Stalberg to a four-year deal, which will add some speed and skill to an offense that ranked 30th in goals scored last season.

    Nashville will contend for a playoff spot in the Western Conference next year after adding great forward depth and a top prospect to a roster that already included superstar defenseman Shea Weber and elite goaltender Pekka Rinne.

18. Minnesota Wild

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    Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher hasn't made the same splash early in free agency that he did last season when superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were signed, but he's added important depth to his roster by agreeing to contracts with forward Matt Cooke and defenseman Keith Ballard.

    Cooke provides grit, great penalty killing and third-line scoring to the Wild, while Ballard will add depth on the blue line. The veteran defenseman's career in Vancouver was a struggle, but a change of scenery and playing in his native state will benefit him tremendously.

    Re-signing starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom to a team-friendly contract was another great move by Fletcher. The 35-year-old tied for the league lead in wins last season.

    Minnesota made a lot of roster changes going into last year, and it took the team most of the regular season to develop strong chemistry. This experience will make it a better team in 2013-14.

17. Edmonton Oilers

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    The Edmonton Oilers have made tremendous upgrades to their roster in free agency by signing defenseman Andrew Ference and forward Boyd Gordon to four- and three-year contracts, respectively.

    Ference provides much-needed leadership, defensive skill and penalty-killing skill on the blue line. His championship experience will also help a young group of defensemen who haven't learned how to win important games at the NHL level.

    Gordon will greatly improve the league's worst faceoff team last season and provide the bottom-six grit, scoring and leadership that Edmonton sorely missed last year.

    The Oilers' No. 1 need in the offseason was to improve their depth and talent on the blue line. The selection of Darnell Nurse with the seventh pick in the 2013 draft and the signing of Ference has bolstered the team's defensive strength in a major way.

    Edmonton is finally ready to contend for the playoffs next season after many years of drafting in the lottery.

16. Vancouver Canucks

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    To no one's surprise, the Vancouver Canucks have not made any notable moves in free agency.

    Despite losing veteran center Derek Roy and buying out defenseman Keith Ballard, the Canucks have just $5,147,222 in cap space, which doesn't give general manager Mike Gillis much flexibility in the free-agent market.

    Vancouver's biggest move of the offseason will likely be the draft-day trade that sent star goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the No. 9 pick in the 2013 draft.

    Gillis still needs to add some depth down the middle, but he doesn't have many quality prospects or young stars at the NHL level to offer in a trade. As the roster currently stands, it's unlikely that Vancouver will win a sixth straight division title in 2013-14.

15. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders had a great first day of free agency, headlined by the re-signing of top-four defenseman Travis Hamonic to a seven-year deal worth $27 million—which is a very team-friendly contract.

    General manager Garth Snow also added depth to his bottom-six forward group with the signings of Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Peter Regin. And he re-signed starting goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to a one-year contract.

    At the draft, New York acquired gritty forward Cal Clutterbuck via trade to add some size and strength to the bottom six.

    These four signings, the arrivals of top prospects Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome and the continued development of players such as John Tavares and Frans Nielsen will ensure that the Islanders remain competitive next season and well into the future.

14. Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the winners of free agency so far with the signings of top-six center Vincent Lecavalier and veteran goaltender Ray Emery.

    Emery was 17-1 with a 1.94 GAA as the Chicago Blackhawks' backup goalie last season and will challenge Steve Mason for the No. 1 goalie role on the Flyers next year.

    The signing of Lecavalier adds some much-needed size to the Flyers offense. He will also add some goal scoring, playmaking skill and power-play ability. And his championship experience and strong leadership will be valuable additions to Philadelphia.

    General manager Paul Holmgren re-signed captain and No. 1 center Claude Giroux to an eight-year extension as well. The young superstar's contract was originally set to expire after the 2013-14 season.

    With these signings and a healthier roster, the Flyers will have a strong chance to make the playoffs next year after failing to qualify in the shortened 2013 season.

13. Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators will look very different next year because longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson left the team to sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings to pursue the first Stanley Cup title of his career.

    Alfredsson was the face of the franchise, and many expected him to finish his career in Canada's capital. To replace him, general manager Bryan Murray acquired Anaheim Ducks star winger Bobby Ryan, which instantly upgrades the team's offense with a goal-scoring power forward.

    Murray also added depth and skill to his lineup with the signing of former Toronto Maple Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur.

    If the Senators are able to add a top-four defenseman to their roster who will replace departed veteran Sergei Gonchar, this team will contend in the Eastern Conference next season.

12. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to upgrade their offense this summer after finishing 25th in goals scored and 28th in power-play success last season.

    The team made a big splash on day one of free agency by singing Boston Bruins winger Nathan Horton to a seven-year deal worth $37.1 million. Horton will provide leadership, 20-30 goals per year and a wealth of playoff experience to a young Columbus roster.

    The addition of Horton and the re-signing of Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will ensure that the Blue Jackets contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference next year after barely missing the postseason in 2013.

11. Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens made one notable free-agent signing with the addition of top-six center Danny Briere. If he's able to stay healthy, the Quebec native will give the Canadiens more playmaking, power-play skill and clutch playoff scoring.

    The next challenge for general manager Marc Bergevin will be to add some size and strength to a group of forwards that is pretty small. One UFA still on the free-agent market who would satisfy this need is veteran winger Jaromir Jagr.

    Montreal shocked a lot of people by winning the Northeast Division last year after finishing in fifth place the season prior. With a roster full of young talent (Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, P.K. Subban, etc.) and established veterans (Brian Gionta, Andrei Markov, etc.), the Canadiens will be a top contender for the Eastern Conference title next season as long as star goaltender Carey Price lives up to expectations.

10. St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues missed out on their top center targets in free agency and had to settle for Derek Roy on a one-year, $4 million deal.

    With some depth down the middle acquired, general manager Doug Armstrong's focus must turn to getting star RFAs Alex Pietrangelo and Chris Stewart re-signed.

    St. Louis has just $7,850,000 in cap space to work with for the rest of the summer unless the team uses one of its two compliance buyouts or trades a player. This means that if Pietrangelo signs, the team may not have enough cap space to get a deal done with Stewart, which would be a huge blow to a Blues offense that finished last season 17th in goals scored.

    Armstrong has assembled a quality team with a strong blue line and impressive depth, but it's going to need a significant offensive upgrade to win a a very competitive Western Conference next season.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    The Toronto Maple Leafs are hard at work this offseason to build on the team's success from 2013, which included its nine-year playoff drought coming to an end.

    General manager Dave Nonis used his abundance of cap space to re-sign top-line center Tyler Bozak, newly acquired goaltender Jonathan Bernier and land the most coveted winger on the market, David Clarkson.

    Toronto is a team on the rise after the progress that it and several of its best young players, including Bozak, Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner and James Reimer, made last season.

    This is a group of players that's tough to play against because of their size, grit and strong special teams play, which wasn't the case just two years ago when the draft lottery was the only postseason event for fans to be excited about.

    Nonis has done a wonderful job of building on the foundation laid by his predecessor Brian Burke, which should give Leafs fans a lot of hope for a bright future. This is a young, talented team that is already capable of competing in the Eastern Conference while some of its top prospects (most notably defenseman Morgan Rielly) make their way to the NHL level.

8. San Jose Sharks

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    Logan Couture's five-year extension was the most notable move that the San Jose Sharks have made since the start of free agency. It's one that ensures the team will have a superstar player to build around in the post-Joe Thornton era.

    Speaking of Thornton, he's one of the many veteran players heading into the final year of his contract—a group that includes Patrick Marleau, Dan Boyle and Joe Pavelski. With only $218,333 in cap space for the 2013-14 season, don't expect any more free-agent signings from San Jose unless it creates some financial flexibility with a trade or a buyout.

    General manager Doug Wilson seems content with taking one more run at the Stanley Cup with the team's current core of veterans, which has failed many times in the playoffs since the 2004-05 lockout, with zero Cup Final appearances and just two trips to the conference finals.

    The wild card is starting goaltender Antti Niemi, who was a Vezina Trophy finalist and the team's most consistent player last season. He needs to duplicate that performance in 2013-14 if San Jose is going to win a championship.

    With that said, the Sharks are still one of the most talented teams in the Western Conference, and it would be shocking if they didn't at least reach the second round of the postseason next year.

7. Anaheim Ducks

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    The Anaheim Ducks made a huge trade on the first day of free agency to acquire young forward Jakob Silfverberg, right winger and 2011 first-round pick Stefan Noesen and a first-round selection in the 2014 NHL draft in exchange for top-line forward Bobby Ryan.

    After re-signing superstars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry to eight-year deals worth over $8 million per season, trading Ryan to free up some cap space and acquire some young talent was almost expected of Anaheim this summer, especially since the 26-year-old had been the subject of trade rumors for over a year.

    Even with the departure of Ryan, Anaheim still has four quality lines and enough scoring depth to win games consistently. Ultimately, the success of the team will be most impacted by its goaltending, which was strong last year thanks to the emergence of 30-year-old rookie Viktor Fasth.

    The Ducks were one of the most improved teams in the NHL last season, and they will once again be a top contender in the Western Conference. This team has the size, skill, depth and goaltending needed to win in the playoffs despite its recent first-round exit, and several of the team's best players already have Stanley Cup-winning experience.

6. New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers made a brilliant signing to add 26-year-old Benoit Pouliot to a forward group that needed additional scoring and speed before next season. Scoring depth was a problem for the Rangers following the Rick Nash trade last summer, and the Pouliot signing will help give new head coach Alain Vigneault at least three quality lines each game.

    Vigneault should also be able to get more offensive production out of veteran center Brad Richards than previous head coach John Tortorella did. The former playoff MVP had a terrible 2013 season and was the subject of buyout speculation, but he will return for next year and benefit from Vigneault's more open and offensive style of play.

    The next challenge for general manager Glen Sather is to re-sign his restricted free agents, a group headlined by defenseman Ryan McDonagh and top-six center Derek Stepan. McDonagh is a shutdown defenseman with the potential to be a superstar for a long time, while Stepan is already one of the team's top scorers and a player who's rapidly improving.

    With tremendous depth and talent on the blue line, the best goaltender in the world in Henrik Lundqvist and an offense that has improved since the end of the 2013 season, the Blueshirts will be among the top contenders in the Eastern Conference next year.

5. Detroit Red Wings

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    Before the salary cap era began in 2005, the Detroit Red Wings often dominated the start of free agency by spending incredible amounts of money to sign some of the best veterans on the market.

    Fans in Hockeytown were reminded of these times on Friday when general manager Ken Holland signed top-six forwards Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson (two of the top UFAs on the market) to improve his offense, which ranked 20th in goals scored last season.

    The next task for Holland is to re-sign rookie forwards Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson. The only problem is that Detroit has just $2,307,121 in salary-cap space at the moment, which may force Holland to trade one of his 14 forwards under contract.

    All of these signings prove that Holland is trying to make the most out of the next few years while veteran forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are still elite players. The Red Wings roster has so much more depth than it did just a two years ago as a result of young players such as Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith and Nyquist playing prominent roles.

    It also helps that the Red Wings are led by the league's best bench boss in Mike Babcock.

    With a roster that features a nice collection of veterans with championship experience, several talented young players and a top-tier goaltender in Jimmy Howard, Detroit will be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference next season. This team's Stanley Cup window hasn't closed.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Ray Shero has begun the offseason successfully by re-signing several important players and addressing a major weakness with the addition of veteran defenseman Rob Scuderi.

    Shero has re-signed superstar center Evgeni Malkin, first-line wingers Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz and No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang.

    These four players made a huge impact on the league's highest scoring offense last season. Getting them re-signed without handicapping the Penguins for the rest of free agency was a major victory for Shero.

    Signing Scuderi, who was a critical part of the team's Stanley Cup victory in 2009, addresses several weaknesses on the team's blue line, including a lack of defensive skill, penalty killing and a suitable partner for Letang.

    The Penguins will be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference next season as a high-scoring team that will likely play much better in their own end.

    The only wild card is the goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury will likely go into next season as the starter despite the fact that he was benched in the first round of last year's playoffs after a poor performance. If he struggles early in the year, Shero will have to make a significant change at that position to avoid another postseason disaster.

3. Los Angeles Kings

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    Losing Rob Scuderi was a blow to the Los Angeles Kings' blue line, but his departure will allow young defensemen Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov to play larger roles in the team's success.

    After finishing in the top 10 of GAA, power-play success and penalty killing, there aren't many weaknesses for general manager Dean Lombardi to address in free agency. With only $5,203,106 in cap space, Lombardi doesn't have much financial flexibility to upgrade his roster through free agency, especially since Muzzin has to be re-signed as an RFA.

    But as long as elite goaltender Jonathan Quick is between the pipes and the depth on the blue line isn't ruined by injuries, the Kings will be among the best teams in the NHL next season.

    Los Angeles is built for playoff success, with great goaltending, a physical group of forwards and a talented defensive corps. It also helps that most of the players from the Stanley Cup-winning roster of 2011-12 are still with the team.

2. Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins have wasted no time looking for ways to improve their team after losing in the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

    General manager Peter Chiarelli pulled off a bold trade to acquire two-way winger Loui Eriksson from the Dallas Stars in exchange for 21-year-old center Tyler Seguin as part of a deal that included seven players. He also signed free-agent forward Jarome Iginla to bolster his team's depth at right wing following the departures of Seguin, Nathan Horton and Jaromir Jagr.

    Eriksson and Iginla are perfect fits for the Bruins because they each play a physical game, excel defensively and are capable of improving the power play and tallying 50-70 points. Seguin and Jagr are not the types of forwards who thrive in head coach Claude Julien's system, which requires consistent backchecking, physical play and great defense from each player.

    The next challenge for Chiarelli is to re-sign 26-year-old goaltender Tuukka Rask (RFA), who has become one of the top players at his position. Per Joe McDonald of ESPN.com, Chiarelli told reporters on Saturday that he is "very close" to re-signing Rask and star forward Patrice Bergeron.

    As the reigning Eastern Conference champions with an improved roster heading into the 2013-14 season, Boston has a fantastic opportunity to make a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final and capture its second championship in four years.

1. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The defending Stanley Cup champions will be the favorites to lift the best trophy in sports heading into next season because general manager Stan Bowman has done a fine job of keeping most of his 2013 roster intact over the first few days of free agency.

    He re-signed center Michal Handzus, winger Bryan Bickell and defenseman Michal Rozsival, and he wisely refused to overpay to keep winger Viktor Stalberg and backup goaltender Ray Emery.

    The Hawks are led by captain Jonathan Toews, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane, the best defensive pairing in the NHL featuring Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and an elite goalie in Corey Crawford. It will be difficult for journalists and fans to pick against the Blackhawks when it's time to make predictions for the 2013-14 season.

    Not very many teams in the salary-cap era (2005-present) have been able to assemble a roster with the right collection of veteran leaders and young talent, but unlike most clubs, the Blackhawks consistently make the right free-agent signings and dominate the draft, especially in the later rounds.

    If Chicago is able to stay healthy, it will have a great chance to start a legitimate dynasty, which the NHL has not seen since Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s.

     

    Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft. All quotes obtained first hand.