NHL Top 10: Sleeper Teams
Have you ever found yourself at the beginning of the season looking ahead thinking you have it all figured out? You know exactly who's finishing where, but then you find yourself when all is said and done, in bewilderment at how far off you really were.
I know I have.
Each and every year their are those select few teams that rise above adversity, and stun even the brightest of analysts.
Remember the Boston Bruins two years back finished in eighth in the East with 94 points, and then returned the next season with a seemingly new life. The Bruins ended up finishing 22 points higher last season then the previous, and came one point shy of winning the presidents trophy.
The following is a list comprised of ten teams that I feel could show great improvement, and may just surprise everybody.
10. Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars had a very weak season, finishing 12th in the conference.
While Dallas did not make any improvements during the offseason, I still think they will be greatly improved.
One main reason is that they are done and rid of Sean Avery. The little pest had worked his way into the skin of all hockey fans, but more importantly he worked his way into the skin of the Stars players.
His influence played a major factor in the lousy outcome of the Stars season, and with a fresh Averyless club I feel they will be rejuvenated to that steady club they once were.
Secondly, last year Marty Turco was not up to his usual standard. This all-star calibre goaltender clearly would like to forget what happened last year, and he has.
In an interview posted on the Dallas Stars website he was quoted in saying "Last season was a tough one for me and I am very confident that I will have a good season"
Now most may just pass that off as "saying all the right things" I don't. In my honest opinion I believe Turco will have a much improved season.
With the distraction of Avery removed, and a new and improved Marty Turco the Dallas Stars will get right back on track.
9. New York Rangers
The success of the New York Rangers heavily relies on the back of one individual. Signed in the offseason Marian Gaborik is one of the best players in the NHL today, and can greatly improve the Rangers offence.
One problem may crop up however.
Marian Gaborik has a rather tumultuous past with injuries. In his eight season span in the NHL he has only had one season in which he stayed completely healthy.
This could be a major problem for the blue shirts.
With the departures of Gomez and Antropov, the Rangers needed to address their secondary scoring, and that meant adding Ales Kotalik. Split between the Sabres and Oilers last season Kotalik produced 43 points in 75 contests.
Also with Higgins coming in from Montreal the offence is still fairly potent.
One thing that still needs to be addressed is the defensive situation. While they still have their one, two tandem, they lost Morris, and Mara. This is a fairly significant loss.
If gone unaddressed they may have problems, but I still see them being sleepers if all goes well on the Gaborik front.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year the Columbus Blue Jackets made their first ever Stanley Cup playoff appearance. This was a bit of a shocker as know one really expected them to be all that good.
No one expected Steve Mason either.
The rookie goaltender stymied the competition en route to his Calder trophy win, and his Vezina trophy runner-up.
The Jackets will likely continue their new found good fortune this up coming season, and could surprise many teams.
In the offseason they made one addition to the lineup, when they signed UFA centre Samuel Pahlsson. Fresh off his run with the Blackhawks Pahlsson provides a good two-way forward, and a lot of winning experience.
With one Stanley Cup ring, and an Olympic gold around his neck, Pahlsson can bring a lot to the table.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will aim to reach the playoffs once again, in which they will very likely succeed, and who knows they just may surprise you.
7. Anaheim Ducks
Now I know what you may be thinking. How can you consider the Anaheim Ducks a sleeper team?
When I refer to them as a sleeper team, I am suggesting they will finish top two, which is a significant jump from the eighth place finish of last year.
It may be a bold statement considering they have lost possibly their best defenceman, but hear me out.
The Anaheim Ducks are loaded with talent up front. They may have possibly the best one, two punch on offence then any other team in the league.
Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan are three exceptional talents, and are all quite young to boot. They also are introducing this year two new workhorses to add to an already stunning line-up.
Saku Koivu, provides leadership, with 10 years of captaincy under his belt he is a valuable addition. He is no slouch either. With the Canadiens he was third in team scoring in a slightly shortened season.
Another big factor with this signing is that he is rather acquainted with Ducks forward Teemu Selanne, who have spent time together playing internationally.
Secondly in the pronger trade Joffrey Lupul came Anaheim's way. Lupul is a solid forward who brings solid numbers. He is capable of getting upwards of 50 points in a season, which would be very welcome on any team.
With the addition of Koivu and Lupul the Ducks now have eight players capable of scoring 50 or more points.
The Ducks didn't stop there, however. With the loss of Pronger they had to strengthen their defence. This process brought in: Luca Sbisa, Nik Boynton, and Steve McCarthy.
The defence is still solid despite the loss of Pronger.
Mark my words, save for something very unexpected. The Anaheim Ducks will finish atop the Pacific Division.
6. Phoenix Coyotes
Hopefully when the season starts, an owner will be in place, and some sense of normalcy can be returned to the Yotes.
Shane Doan is the perfect guy to teach youngsters such as: Mueller, Boedker, and Tikhonov.
Once these guys can hit their stride the Coyotes should be a force to reckon with. All of them have amazing potential.
In the offseason the Yotes added a little scoring depth when they signed Vern Fiddler out of Nashville, and acquired Radim Vrbata from the Lightning. Vrbata had is best season in Phoenix in 2007/2208 when he recorded 27 goals and 56 points.
They have all the tools, but can they put it all together.
I guess we'll find out soon enough.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs' big concern over the offseason was to improve on the NHL's worst defence. That is exactly what Brian Burke managed to do.
The biggest move that Burke made was to bring in all-star defenceman Mike Komisarek. Now the Leafs will not get much offensive production from Komi, but what they do get is a player who makes few mistakes. This is something the Leafs have been lacking for quite some time.
In an attempt to bring a little more offence to the back end the Buds signed Francois Beauchemin. Although he had a shortened season with the Ducks he does provide what the Leafs need.
A powerplay quarterback. With a booming point shot Beachemin should will be essential to success for the Leafs.
To add a little grit to the front end Burke traded Anton Stralman and recently acquired Colin Stuart to the Flames for Wayne Primeau. Primeau brings more grit to a somewhat soft offensive line.
Also the Buds signed free agent tough guy Colton Orr. With the Rangers he amassed nearly 200 penalty minutes.
Finally in an attempt to solidify the goaltending the Leafs added Jonas Gustavsson. The monster from Sweden could possibly be the best goalie available outside the NHL. It should be interesting to see how he will manage in the big leagues.
The one concern for me is that the Leafs added 434 penalty minutes. Hopefully the new defence can counteract this surge in minutes.
All in all the Leafs are a better team, but only time will tell how much better they are.
4. St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues have everything they need to be a strong contender.
They have very balanced offence, and a solid enough defence.
Brad Boyes leads the charge for the Blues as their leading scorer. Boyes is one of those rare players who is capable of having a 40-goal season.
Players such as : Andy McDonald, David Perron, David Backes, and Patrick Berglund are all capable of 50 or more points in a season, which makes a offence that very few want to reckon with.
Up and comers like Perron and Oshie provide a lot of hope to a franchise that has struggled as of late.
Chris Mason is a solid starter and Ty Conklin should provide a strong back-up if need be.
The St. Louis Blues are in the toughest division in the game, but they will prevail as a sleeper hit.
3. Ottawa Senators
Now with Edmonton out of the mix hopefully Heatley can accept that he will likely remain a Senator. What Ottawa desperately needs is for Clouston and Heatley to make amends.
The Senators made one move in free agency, and that was to sign Alex Kovalev. The former Canadien has an amazing skill set, quite possibly the best in the NHL, except we rarely ge to see it.
The Russian rocket has had a checkered past, and is looking to get back on track. The right place for that is in Ottawa. Unlike in Montreal Kovalev is not the number one guy, and hopefully this will take the pressure off of him.
The other new Senator who has yet to see action is Pascal Leclaire. This season Leclaire will be the number one, and unlike past seasons I am finally happy about the Senators goaltending situation.
Leclaire has star potential as he proved before going down to injury.
Finally with Clouston at the helm for an entire season, may provide a better opportunity at making the playoffs. Going by the stats if Clouston had of coached an enitre season he would have finished with a 46-26-10 record. Which would have landed them a fourth place finish.
Ottawa is set and ready to have a solid recovery season.
2. Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings have the best core of young talent in the entire NHL.
Just take a look at the vast amount of talent that this team boasts.
Being a perennial cellar dweller had allowed them to build from the ground up, and draft and develop these young guns into the stars they soon will become.
On offence you have: Kopitar, Frolov, and Brown leading the pack. All very capable forwards and all rather young. To add to that you also have plenty of talent in: Handzus, Stoll, Simmonds, Purcell, Mollar, and Schenn.
Recently acquired forward Ryan Smyth should provide more offence, and much stronger leadership to a young Kings squad.
On defence you have: Doughty, Johnson and Scuderi. All solid guys who lend to very few mistakes in their own end, and also provide offence up front.
In goal you have two guys you may have never heard of in Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg. Both of them are young and very talented.
The Kings may or may not move up next year, but assuredly they will be breaking out of the cellar soon enough.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Despite all the issues surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning over the course of the summer. They have still managed to get things done.
The Bolts have been busy little beavers.
Without losing any players of their own they have managed to strengthen every aspect of their game.
On offence they have added Stephane Veilleux. Veilleux is a very hard nosed in your face kind of player, something Tampa desperately needs. He will not provide a lot of offence, but he certainly be able to protect the stars.
Speaking of stars, Steven Stamkos had a less then stellar year, but nearing the end he started to prove his worth. I expect big things this year from him.
On the back-end they have added Mattias Ohlund, Kurtis Foster and Victor Hedman. Mattias Ohlund is as steady as they come. He very seldomly makes mistakes, is a strong leader, and can provide a little bit of offence.
Foster is a smart offensive defenceman. After a very devastating injury two years back, he finally returned to the wild, and played very well off the hop. The Lightning definitely got a hidden gem.
Most importantly though is Victor Hedman. Possibly the most NHL ready rookie in the league. Hedman has a very solid kid, and can play 30 minutes a game. Undoubtedly he will be a top notch defenceman in this league very fast.
The Lightning may stand to gain the most of all the teams mentioned, but is it enough to make the playoffs?
The following teams just didn't make it:
The next edition of the Top 10 will feature the top hidden gems. These are the players who don't get near as much credit as they deserve.