NHL Power Rankings: Ranking All 30 NHL Teams, Preseason Edition
The Boston Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup, proving just how unimportant preseason power rankings can be. That being said, up until the drop off the puck on opening night, the speculation and comparisons of teams on paper is all we have.
The 2011 NHL preseason has given us a taste of what some players are going to bring to the table, but the games that count will bring more substantial answers to the table.
Here are my preliminary power rankings for the upcoming NHL season.
30. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers were active this offseason, spending tons of money on veterans and youngsters alike that improved the overall makeup of their roster.
Unfortunately, the Panthers lost Tomas Vokoun, which is even worse when one considers that they replaced him with Jose Theodore.
It's tough to pick out the league's worst team in the preseason, but I want to see notable improvement from this team on the ice before predicting them to climb out of the cellar.
29. Phoenix Coyotes
I may be down on the Phoenix Coyotes a bit more than most people, but the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov is not one to be taken lightly. The Coyotes are not a playoff team without Bryz, and it's not even close.
Phoenix was not very active during the offseason with the extra money they had after Bryzgalov walked, so there is no reason to consider them much higher than this.
28. Colorado Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche are commonly found at the very bottom of NHL power rankings, but there is a bit to be excited about in the Mile High city. The team is younger than it was a year ago and has found some stability at the goaltending position.
It does appear to be a rebuilding year for the Avs, but don't be surprised if they play well at times this season.
27. Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars were not the same team when Brad Richards went down with a concussion last season. Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson did not have it in them to carry the offensive load, and Kari Lehtonen wore down from having the team on his back for the entire first half of the season.
Brad Richards is gone now, so this season could get ugly down south.
26. Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers will get there, but this season could be one of the last retooling years for the young and talented squad.
A full, healthy season from their top young guns will be just what the doctor ordered for continued growth as a unit.
25. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators are a very bad hockey team. They are very young, but they are also very bad.
This rebuilding project is going to take some time, but I like the direction they are taking in Canada's capital. We'll see what sort of development the young kids show with a full offseason to grow.
24. Winnipeg Jets
The Atlanta Thrashers were on a roll to start the 2010-2011 NHL season. The Thrashers' season turned south pretty quickly, culminating in a relocation to Winnipeg.
I thoroughly believe in the future of the Winnipeg Jets. The 2011-2012 season, however, could be a rough one. The travel is going to be brutal on this team, and the roster simply isn't ready to compete.
23. New York Islanders
I'm not quite ready to call the New York Islanders a playoff team. They have all of the pieces in place to develop a solid core of players, but they need another year or two before I'll be ready to buy in.
Plus, the goaltending position is a bit up in the air at the moment. The Isles aren't sure what they're going to get out of Rick Dipietro, and who knows if Al Montoya is for real.
There are a lot of things I want to see from New York on the ice before I bump them up the rankings.
22. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames consistently find themselves in this area of the league's power rankings. They don't have the depth to make the playoffs, but their top-end talent finds a way to keep them in contention throughout the season.
The Flames and GM Jay Feaster are in a bit of an awkward place between rebuilding and trying to contend with the talented, aging veterans on the roster. They'll struggle again this season.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski this offseason, causing expectations to get ramped up in Ohio.
The Jackets will improve this season, but for Columbus fans thinking this team is heading to the postseason, they are in for a rude awakening.
Carter and Wisniewski are solid players, but neither is an addition that turns a pretender into a contender. They certainly improved the roster, but each has inconsistencies that Columbus will have to deal with.
20. Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the few teams from last year's postseason that I could see being on the outside looking in next spring. The Habs didn't fare well in free agency, losing much more than they gained.
Carey Price carried the team through tough stretches of play last season, but those stretches figure to be longer and more common in 2011-2012. We'll see if Price is up to the task.
19. St. Louis Blues
The St. Louis Blues are a young team on the rise in a very difficult Central Division. The Blues' success this season will be predicated on how much improvement they get out of Jaroslav Halak and T.J. Oshie. The young defense will continue to grow, but the team needs a leader up front as well as between the pipes.
18. New Jersey Devils
2010-2011 was a disappointing season for the New Jersey Devils, who entered the season expecting a shot at the Atlantic Division crown only to finish with a top five pick in the 2011 NHL draft.
The Devils should be a lot better this season with the return of Zach Parise to the lineup. However, the decline of Martin Brodeur makes me think that the ceiling for this team is severely limited.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
This is where the power rankings get a bit muddled. The next tier of teams listed is the group that will be battling for those final playoff spots down the home stretch. I expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to be among those teams.
The addition of Tim Connolly will do wonders for Phil Kessel, and a full dose of James Reimer between the pipes will bode well for the Leafs. The young core is locked up for a while in Toronto, so even if the club narrowly misses the playoffs, there will be reason to be excited for the years to come.
16. Carolina Hurricanes
I expect the Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs to battle for the playoff spot that the Montreal Canadiens will likely vacate this season.
The Hurricanes are my pick, as of now, to sneak into the playoffs. The veteran core is reliable, and the expected improvement of Jeff Skinner is likely to take this team to another level. Also, don't underestimate the addition of Tomas Kaberle. While I think the team overpaid for Kaberle, he will still be a nice addition to the offense from the point.
15. Minnesota Wild
Sometimes, all it takes is one legitimate scoring threat to take a team to the next level. The Minnesota Wild now have that after trading for Dany Heatley this offseason. Plenty of people are down on Heatley after a "down year" in which he still managed over 60 points.
A new coaching staff, along with the rebuilt roster, is enough for me to consider the Wild a playoff team this season.
14. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have a talented enough roster to make the playoffs, with or without Jonas Hiller. However, his absence makes them a significantly worse team, as the latter part of the 2010-2011 season showed.
Hiller is expected to be back in the lineup, but I want to make sure he is healthy before giving the Ducks a lofty ranking.
13. New York Rangers
Another team I'm going to take a wait-and-see approach with this season is the New York Rangers. Year after year, the Rangers acquire high-priced free agents, but their spending rarely amounts to anything.
Brad Richards is the next name on that list, and just the idea of him playing alongside Marian Gaborik is enough to make some people project them to win the Atlantic. However, the injury history of the two players has me thinking otherwise.
Once they prove they can stay healthy, the Rangers will climb my rankings. After all, they have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning were one of the biggest surprises of the 2010-2011 NHL season, causing many to expect a huge year from the Bolts. However, there are a few things holding me back on Tampa.
For starters, Dwayne Roloson turns 42 this fall, and the Lightning got rid of Mike Smith this offseason. I'm not sure what kind of load Roloson is going to be able to handle, especially considering how worn down he looked in the postseason.
Tampa also doesn't boast an elite defensive group, making life even harder on the goalies.
11. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators had a banner year last season, going farther in the postseason than they ever had in the history of the franchise. However, in the Western Conference, things rarely stay the same year in and year out.
The Preds will definitely still be in the playoffs, and could even win their first-round matchup, but their lack of offense seriously restricts their potential.
10. Philadelphia Flyers
After an offseason of turnover, the Philadelphia Flyers have a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Many expect a huge drop-off from the club that finished second in the Eastern Conference a year ago, but they may be in for a bit of a surprise.
The Flyers may have become a more limited offensive team by subtracting Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but the team solidified the goaltending position, something they haven't been able to do for a very long time.
The result is a more balanced Flyers team. They boast one of the top defensive units in hockey, a Vezina-caliber goaltender and a more than formidable group of forwards. An Atlantic Division title is not out of the question on Broad Street.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks battled through injuries to lock down the eight seed in the Western Conference and nearly upset the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs.
If Corey Crawford and company come out as strong as they were in that opening-round series, 2011-2012 could be a serious bounce-back season in the Windy City. I think second place in the Central Division is a very realistic expectation for this club.
8. Vancouver Canucks
Not much has changed in Vancouver. They still have an extremely talented roster, but that roster still lacks the balls to win the Stanley Cup.
The Canucks will undoubtedly finish in the top three of the Western Conference. They will win the Northwest Division and cushion their record and point totals as a result. However, my faith in this team to win the Stanley Cup is slim to none. Luongo is a puddle in net, and the Sedins proved their worth as the leaders of this team with their sheepish play in the Stanley Cup Finals.
To make matters worse, the Canucks have one of the worst coaches in the NHL in Alain Vigneault, who was severely out-coached by Claude Julien in the finals.
7. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins deserve all of the credit in the world for their remarkable run to the 2011 Stanley Cup. They exemplified what playoff hockey is all about. That being said, the Boston Bruins were far from the most talented team in the NHL during the 2010-2011 season.
Yes, they won the Stanley Cup, but I would not count on a repeat from the B's. Tim Thomas put Boston on his back for two straight months, and at his age, who's to tell if he is going to be able to do that again. Somebody has to put the puck in the net, and with the ceiling of most players at 60 points, there isn't a ton of hope.
What the Bruins did was incredible and very surprising. For that reason, I am going to need the Bruins to prove themselves all over again. I'm expecting a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover.
6. Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres have a quality roster, excellent coaching and a dominant goaltender. Last season, the latter two were the only things Buffalo had going for them.
After a season of reworking the defense, Ryan Miller could be in for a career season. Meanwhile, the offense should continue to develop as a unit, taking some pressure off of Miller and company.
Just watching Buffalo is the preseason, it is apparent that this club is going to be vastly improved. Considering the fact that they were already a playoff team, a Northeast Division title is not out of the question.
5. San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks continue to falter in the postseason year in and year out. As disappointing as they have been, the Sharks continue to bounce back and earn a high seed in the playoffs ever year. 2011-2012 should be no different.
However, for those thinking that the Sharks have improved their defense and are ready to win the Cup, consider the fact that Brent Burns is more of an offensive threat. The hit San Jose's offense took will not be worth the upgrade on defense, in my opinion.
4. Los Angeles Kings
I am giving the slight edge to the Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division, so long as Drew Doughty suits up at some point this season.
The Kings have added some quality depth up front and continue to boast the same sturdy backend that they have in years past. Mike Richards and Simon Gagne bring experience and, in the case of the former, a bit of grit that the team lacked up front.
Drew Doughty's return is huge for the Kings' success, but this team is looking like the complete package.
3. Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals are in the same boat as the San Jose Sharks. Nothing this team does in the regular season will surprise or impress me. It's about the playoffs with this team.
Washington is far from a complete team, and the chemistry in the locker room is not ideal, but I firmly believe that Alexander Ovechkin has what it takes to lead a team to the Stanley Cup. Tomas Vokoun will be a welcome addition. This team will be in contention yet again.
2. Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings appear to be on their last legs, but every time the hockey world counts them out, they come back even harder. Expect a similar result this season.
Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are as strong of a core as any team in the NHL has to offer. With improved play from Jimmy Howard in net, which is reasonable to expect, the Red Wings should once again coast to the Central Division title.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby will be back, and when he returns, he will be as good as ever. Until their captain comes back, however, the Pittsburgh Penguins will definitely have their work cut out for them.
Let's not forget, though, that Pittsburgh finished as the four seed in the Eastern Conference, despite the absences of Crosby and Malkin.
Malkin looks fully healthy this preseason and should be able to pick up the slack while Crosby gets healthy.