Ranking the 10 Deepest NHL Teams Entering the 2013-14 Season
If the eight years since the NHL first instituted the salary cap have taught us anything, it's that virtually every team has a legitimate shot at contending for the Stanley Cup, presuming they can find a way to advance beyond the regular season.
Last season, we saw well-balanced teams succeed, while those relying on a handful of standouts to carry the mail for the most part floundered, but such is the norm in today's National Hockey League.
In today's game, it's the clubs that operate like well-oiled machines, always ready to grind out a hard-fought victory when needed, that are the ones that are left standing deep into the postseason.
Looking ahead to 2013-14, here's an early look at the top 10 deepest teams in the NHL.
10. Ottawa Senators
This may be the most surprising selection on this list, but hear me out.
Up front, the Senators have a trio of legitimate first-line threats in All-Star Jason Spezza, former All-Star Milan Michalek and three-time 30-goal man Bobby Ryan.
Further down the offensive depth chart, Kyle Turris has proved to be a worthy reclamation project, and with him skating alongside former 60-point bruiser Clarke Macarthur and possibly one of the team's promising young forwards in Cory Conachar or Mika Zibanejad, the Sens should finally have some offensive support.
On the back end, the Senators can lay claim to arguably the most dominant rearguard in the game in Erik Karlsson, as well as a pair of steady two-way presences in Chris Phillips and Marc Methot. Assuming Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba keep progressing, scoring on the Senators won't be easy this season.
Most importantly, the Senators have one of the game's most impenetrable goaltenders in Craig Anderson, and as long as the 32-year-old Illinois native is on his game, Ottawa will always have a chance. It is also worth noting that Robin Lehner is a promising prospect in the crease, so the Sens should be set in goal for the foreseeable future.
9. St. Louis
No, the St. Louis Blues can't lay claim to a single offensive star, but that's okay, because Ken Hitchcock's group is a committed collection of hard-charging food soldiers that compete as hard as any team in the league.
Lead up front by T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Chris Stewart, Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and up-and-coming sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, the Blues boast a balanced offensive attack, but more importantly, this is a group that has bought into Hitchcock's cohesive defensively-oriented mindset.
On the back end, St. Louis has a defense corps that stacks up favorably against the majority of the offensive units of the league's other 29 teams.
To begin with, the Blues have a pair of blue-chippers in Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, but beyond them is a formidable supporting cast that includes former All-Star Jay Bouwmeester, former Calder winner Barret Jackman, former Hobey Baker winner Jordan Leopold and steady Roman Polak.
In the crease, St. Louis' tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak is among the league's best, as both goaltenders are capable of carrying the Blues on a deep postseason run, depending on which stopper is hot at the right time.
8. New York Rangers
Say what you want about the New York Rangers' at-times dormant offense, but this is a team capable of winning a Stanley Cup if all of Glen Sather's pieces fit together properly at the right time.
In goal, the Rangers have arguably the most dominant goaltender in the game in Henrik Lundqvist, which is where everything starts and ends for Alain Vigneault's new team.
But on the blue line, King Henry has a formidable group of rearguards to protect him, as Dan Girardi, Marc Staal (assuming he's healthy), Michael Del Zotto, Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh form a top-five that virtually every team has to be envious of. John Moore is also worth keeping an eye on since coming over from Columbus.
And up front, the Rangers' willingness to allow homegrown talent to develop has finally paid off, as Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Brian Boyle are veterans of a slew of postseason runs, and late-season reinforcement Derrick Brassard fit in well during the playoffs.
Obviously, superstar forward Rick Nash will be on Broadway for the considerable future, but a big question mark facing this squad is whether former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards can find his game after being benched by former coach John Tortorella during the 2013 playoffs (via USAToday.com).
7. Washington Capitals
Okay, before everyone's up in arms over this selection, hear me out.
For starters, the Capitals boast a subtly impressive group of forwards, when healthy. Obviously, everything starts with the dynamic duo of reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin and former 100-point scorer Nicklas Backstrom, but the cupboards are far from bare from there.
Martin Erat (a regular 50-55 point man), Troy Brouwer (coming off 19 goals in 47 games), Brooks Laich (a two-way jack-of-all-trades with a career-high of 59 points), and up-and-coming Swedish pivot Marcus Johansson represent a more than adequate top-six forwards, but beyond them, the Caps have the necessary sandpaper to contend.
Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Jay Beagle, Thomas Wilson and Mathieu Perreault make up a serviceable bottom-six, and there is certainly reason to believe help is on the way in the form of Evgeny Kuznetsov in a year.
On the back end, the Caps boast a solid if not spectacular foursome of Mike Green, Karl Alzner, John Carlson and either John Erskine or Steve Oleksy. Assuming Dmitri Orlov can find his game after struggling with injuries last year, he and Jack Hillen will vie for bottom-pairing duties early on.
In goal, the Caps' tandem of Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth leaves something to be desired in terms of experience, but overall, teams could do much worse than beginning the season with a pair of young goaltenders who each have a postseason series win under their respective belts.
Overall, this Capitals team still needs to add some pieces to be considered a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but at least for the time being, this team looks to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
6. Vancouver Canucks
So, to recap, the Vancouver Canucks decided to end the Roberto Luongo sweepstakes in quite unconventional fashion: Cory Schneider, and not Luongo was dealt at this year's NHL draft (via Yahoo! Sports).
Following the shocking trade, new coach John Tortorella is left with Luongo in net, and while that may not have been Plan A in Vancouver, it isn't exactly the worst possible outcome. It's been just over three years since Luongo shocked the world by winning the 2010 Olympic title on home ice, and though he suffered through an embarrassing meltdown during the Stanley Cup Final a year later, he's still a world-class goaltender by virtually anyone's standards.
In front of him, the Canucks will ice a solid defense corps headlined by Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison, but what everything will come down to this season is offensive production in the clutch.
Former back-to-back Art Ross winners Henrik and Daniel Sedin head up a generally high-powered offense, and beyond them, former Selke winner Ryan Kesler, one-time 30-goal man David Booth and pesky sniper Alexandre Burrows provide quality secondary scoring for the Canucks.
However, though Kesler was dominant at times during the team's run to the 2013 Final, the Sedin twins have been invisible far too often when the chips are down, which has to change if the Canucks are going to finally bring a Stanley Cup back to Van City.
If Mason Raymond is re-signed, Chris Higgins can continue to produce quality third-line numbers and Jannik Hansen finally enjoys the prolonged breakout performance Vancouver has been waiting for, this is a team to keep an eye on come April.
5. San Jose
It's true that the Sharks' core of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Boyle is aging, but that doesn't mean that the window has closed on this trio of elite offensive threats.
In fact, despite former Hart Trophy winner Thornton's consistent production, many would argue that young star Logan Couture is now the face of the franchise, and 2010 U.S. Olympian Joe Pavelski isn't far behind in that regard.
With those four sublimely talented forwards in the fold, San Jose has a quality group of secondary contributors in former All-Star Martin Havlat, super-pest Raffi Torres and longtime Penguin Tyler Kennedy. In addition, converted forward Brent Burns showed some promise playing up front last season, and appeared to find a fit alongside Thornton when given the opportunity.
On defense, the Sharks boast an All-Star in Boyle, three longtime veterans in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart (acquired from Detroit last summer), and if Jason Demers and Justin Braun continue to progress, there'll be no need for Burns on the back end.
San Jose also couldn't ask for much more in goal, as Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi is as clutch as they come when the chips are down.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
When a team has arguably the two most dominant forwards on the planet, an all-world defenseman and a Cup-winning goaltender, it's tough not to have them this high on the list.
In Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, the Penguins have four forwards capable of consistently ranking among the league's leaders in scoring, which is a scary thought for opposing goaltenders.
Beyond them, the Penguins have a solid supporting cast lead by Pascal Dupuis, Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen. Though the Pens' bottom-six may not be as strong as it was when Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy were terrorizing opposing defenders, there's still enough sandpaper within the lineup to make up for their departures.
Defensively, the Penguins are loaded with Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin, giving Dan Bylsma arguably the most complete top-four in the game.
Obviously, the biggest question mark facing general manager Ray Shero is how to handle the goaltending situation, because unless something changes in the short-term, Marc Andre Fleury simply is not the same stopper he was two years ago, at least during postseason play.
3. Boston Bruins
This is a tough one, because it's hard to argue against the overall depth of the Boston Bruins' roster.
That's because there is no area in which Claude Julien's team appears to be incapable of matching up favorably against any other team in the league.
Offensively, the Bruins ice a very balanced attack that relies on strong two-way play and physicality to generate opportunities. That's why Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic fit the team's mentality and overall style of play to a tee.
It also doesn't hurt that this already dangerous offensive core just added one of the most productive snipers in recent history in Jarome Iginla, and though the longtime Calgary Flames star has lost a step, he's still a big weapon, especially on the power play.
Yes, Boston did lose one of its most dynamic offensive weapons in former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin, but opposing teams won't be sleeping on his replacement, 27-year-old sniper Loui Eriksson. Eriksson has consistently been one of the most underrated scorers in the league over the past four years, posting over 70 points in each of his last full three seasons of play.
In addition, with the Bruins' defense corps consisting of perennial Norris candidate Zdeno Chara, two-way German Dennis Seidenberg and hard-nosed Johnny Boychuk, as well as fast-emerging impact rearguards in Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, this Boston team isn't easy to push around on the back end.
If opposing teams can even manage to get behind Boston's defense, the B's have a world-class goaltender in Tuukka Rask, who is coming off a superb run to the Stanley Cup Final.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Rask will start 2013-14 with more than enough incentive to be at his best, because it's no secret that he wants to secure the No. 1 job for Team Finland in preparation for the Sochi Olympics.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
It is difficult to rank a team that has captured two Stanley Cup titles in the last four years anywhere but at the top of this list, but at least on paper, the Chicago Blackhawks are not quite the deepest team in the league heading into 2013-14.
But that isn't to say that this team would be an underdog against anyone in a seven-game series.
Loaded up front with a pair of Conn Smythe winners in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago boasts a terrifyingly dangerous attack, with another two All-Star snipers in Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane on the wings.
Yes, Chicago will miss the presences of Dave Bolland (who scored the Cup-winning goal in Boston), Viktor Stalberg and Michael Frolik up front, but Stan Bowman clearly decided that Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell had progressed enough for the aforementioned trio to be deemed expendable.
There's up-and-coming talent in Saad, Andrew Shaw, Jimmy Hayes and Ben Smith, so the Blackhawks' offensive attack will be just fine this season, and this is a team that will be primed for another deep postseason run.
Anchored by former Norris winner Duncan Keith and Canadian Olympian Brent Seabrook, Chicago has a very well-balanced back end, and as Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson continue to improve, this group will only get better.
Veterans Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival round out an impressive top-six, and behind them is a fast-improving Corey Crawford, who announced his arrival among the league's best goaltenders with a stellar postseason performance.
1. Los Angeles Kings
No, the Los Angeles Kings weren't able to pull of the repeat in 2013, as Darryl Sutter's boys fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.
However, it wasn't due to a lack of depth or talent at any position, because the Kings are absolutely stacked in every way imaginable.
Up front, the Kings have a nice mix of skill and grit, with a budding superstar in Anze Kopitar, a standout sniper in Jeff Carter, and a pair of heart-and-soul leaders in Mike Richards and captain Dustin Brown.
Beyond those four, L.A.'s Justin Williams is an underrated offensive catalyst, who has been the perfect running mate for Kopitar and Brown. Veteran pivot Jarret Stoll provides clutch scoring and leadership down the middle as well, but what makes the Kings' lineup special is the quality of the team's bottom-six.
Trevor Lewis, Dwight King, Daniel Carcillo, Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford are a difficult bunch to play against, and former Maple Leaf Matt Frattin could blossom into a legitimate top-nine forward after escaping the pressure-cooker that is Toronto, Ontario.
On the back end, the Kings have arguably the best defensive group in the league, lead by one of the most electrifying blue-liners in the game in Drew Doughty. Doughty's mobility and poise with the puck is virtually unparalleled, and Slava Voynov has suddenly become one of the most dangerous offensive defenders in hockey after scoring six goals and 13 points in 18 postseason games.
After the two offensive dynamos, the Kings have a solid foursome in Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr and Alec Martinez, so generally speaking, the Kings' crown jewels are well protected.
Which brings us to the Kings' crease.
Simply put, there is no goalie in the game as clutch as Jonathan Quick, who put on one of the greatest goaltending performances in recent memory during the 2012 postseason. He's young, talented and confident, and unless something drastic happens between now and February, he will be the No. 1 guy in net for the American entry at the 2014 Olympic Games.