We're officially five days away from the start of the 2011-12 NHL season! After a busy offseason for all teams, the 30 NHL clubs are revved up and ready to begin anew.
The Boston Bruins are set to defend their Stanley Cup title. With that, I've ranked all 30 teams based on their chances to win make it all the way and win the Cup. I don't want to keep you in suspense, so let's get this thing going.
Edmonton will continue to wallow in futility so long as they continue to fail at both ends of the ice. Offensively, the team only combined to score 193 goals last season which, in the Western Conference, is nowhere near the amount needed to win.
Defensively, the Oilers gave up 269 goals which needs to be tightened up. Losing your top scoring defensive player, Ryan Whitney, 35 games into last season, obviously isn't going to help that number, but unless they find a way to put pucks in the net, they aren't going to make it anywhere near the playoffs.
Their No. 1 overall selection this year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, should help keep the fanbase happy, but he can't be expected to help carry this team himself, even if he sees the ice.
Two seasons ago, the Avalanche looked as if they had maybe righted the ship and were on track to play strong into the playoffs. However, last season, they proved that it may have just been an anomaly after missing the playoffs for the third time in five years. It doesn't help to play in the same division as the Stanley Cup finalists, Vancouver Canucks, but there's not much else to really hold them back.
They have a decent, but young, offense led by Matt Duchene. However, there still isn't nearly enough to carry the team to more wins. Of course, when you have absolutely no defensive play to speak of, no amount of offense will be able to keep you in the game. Unless the Av's can improve on their goal-against number (288, worst in the NHL), they won't be sniffing the playoffs this year
The Islanders got one of the best young forwards in John Tavares in the 2009 Entry Draft and he proved it again last year, leading the team with 67 points and finishing third in goals (29). The team has the offensive firepower to win, but defensively, the team is still in limbo. Losing their best blueliner in Mark Streit last year didn't help but expecting him to come back full strength right away and play on the first line is a tall order.
However, the Islanders season balances on their ability to keep a consistent, healthy goaltender. They used a total of six, count 'em, six different backstoppers with Rick DiPietro leading the charge. None were especially spectacular, posting a GAA of 3.09 total, and DiPietro looks to be the Day 1 starter. Anything can happen and the "other" New York hockey team may surprise, but I wouldn't bet on it.
It's easy to forget that merely five seasons ago, the Ottawa Senators were getting suited up to face the Anaheim Ducks in the Stanley Cup Finals before losing in five games to them.
In the years since, they've struggled in and out of the playoffs, losing in the quarterfinals twice and missing them completely twice, including last season. The Senators need better offensive numbers from more than just Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson to have any shot at seeing the playoffs. Not only that, but they, much like the Islanders, need more consistent play from their goaltending. If they can find any consistent play on either side of the puck, maybe they'd surprise. Who knows, again, anything can happen.
It's good to see hockey in Winnipeg again, especially since the Thrashers were dying a slow death in Atlanta, once again proving that hockey is not made for that market, just ask the Flames. Their fans will be happy to have a team once again, and they're inheriting a decent one at that. T
he only problem is, this is the same team that has missed the playoffs every season since 2006-07 in Atlanta. This team comes into this season a flawed team that needs to show better play on both ends of the ice. It's good to see that professional hockey has returned to Winnipeg, but unfortunately, there won't be enough to see the Jets fly into the playoffs.
So there's some upheaval in South Florida this year including a new coach; hopefully, for their fanbase, this means the Panthers are going to see some marked improvement. Unfortunately, hockey runs through Tampa Bay first and foremost still, and they are going to need more than just a new man behind the bench this year.
As a team, you can't win games if your highest point-scorer (Stephen Weiss) only puts up 49, and he missed six games. Mike Santorelli scored 41 to finish second on his team, and he played all 82 games. Much like the previous teams, without any serious offensive numbers, the playoffs will continue to elude the Panthers.
Every season that passes by, it seems like the Blue Jackets are primed to make a run. Rick Nash, their one consistent forward, continues to put up decent offensive numbers, and the cast behind him is starting to give him the support he needs.
The addition of Jeff Carter, from Philadelphia, should add enough muscle to the Blue Jacket's attack. He should complement Rick Nash's tough-as-nails play in front of the opponent's net. The thing to remember is that Columbus only managed a record of 8-11-5 against divisional opponents last season which, if the Jackets want to see the playoffs, will need to be improved.
If they don't find a way to bolster their defense, Steve Mason may struggle to keep his GAA below 3.00 which, against their strong Western opponents, isn't going to get this team into the playoffs. The Blue Jackets may surprise come April, but it's hard to know for sure.
A young, solid goaltender, James Reimer, and a surprisingly hot offense as of late, led by Phil Kessel (32 goals, 32 assists), should be enough for Toronto to challenge the rest of the Eastern Conference.
They put on display late, last season that they can be a team good enough to challenge in the playoffs. The only thing is, they need to be consistently good throughout the season and actually put wins on the board.
Finishing 37-34-11 isn't enough, and if Toronto can turn a few of those close OT losses into wins, they could surprise.
Minnesota is somewhat of a mystery because they've been around for 12 years now, and they're one of those teams that should be good enough to poke around the playoffs. They have decent skaters and one heck of a goaltender in Niklas Backstrom, who should have no problem keeping the team in games.
The real problem, it seems to be, is that they need to see a higher rate of scoring than they have in the past. Scoring 206 goals to giving up 233 goals isn't going to help the Wild make any noise in the Western Conference.
The team is solid defensively, but without any offensive help to complement that, they won't win any close games. Minnesota could light the lamp a bit more this season giving them a good chance but don't expect them to work deep into the playoffs.
Losing your #1 Center definitely hurts, but Big D is looking towards the future. It says something about the Western Conference that Dallas finished last season with a record of 42-29-11, and after losing their last game to the Wild, to miss the playoffs.
Without Brad Richards, it is going to be a slow start, but Mike Ribeiro should be good enough offensively to take over his spot of the first line. With a decent offense and a surprise in net in Kari Lehtonen, there might be hope in Dallas. It might be a stretch to say that the Stars will win the Cup this year but don't be surprised if you see them make a statement come the playoffs.
The New Jersey Devils continue to befuddle season after season recently. The Devils have maybe the second-best goaltender in the history of the NHL (Marty Brodeur, ever hear of him?) and have skaters that should be scoring 80 to 90 points a season. The thing that bothers me is that they played no where near that level last year and missed the playoffs after making them four seasons prior.
Even after missing key games due to injuries, Brodeur still only finished 23-26-3 in the games he started. He should contribute enough to lead the team pretty far, and if you think a goalie can't carry a team, ask Patrick Roy.
The team only allowed 209 goals last season which shows that they could win games, but the issue is that they only scored 174. Even with Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrick Elias, nobody behind them could put the puck anywhere near the net. If the Devils want to taste the playoffs, they need their playmakers to step up and play hockey, ignore everything else and just play hockey.
Some might think I have the Blues ranked too high, but I honestly believe this might be the season that St. Louis starts singing anything but.
They seem to have put the proper building blocks in place for a strong run at the playoffs. Behind strong goaltender play from Jaroslav Halak, the Blues should have enough offensive firepower to put a few more wins in their record column this year. All they need to do is cut down their goals against (234) and those from ole St. Louie could be enjoying some brighter music.
The Carolina Hurricanes are in a strong position to win big this year after losing their last game of the season and missing the playoffs. No team can go wrong with one of the four Staal brothers, but it was the young Jeff Skinner who was the biggest bright spot last year.
He posted 63 points to finish second on the team and scored 31 goals which landed him the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie. The team needs to focus on strengthening their defense and supporting Cam Ward in net.
The team wasn't overly terrible last year, but as long as they can garner more offensive support from their lines behind Staal and Skinner, they may find themselves ahead enough in the standings so that their last game won't keep them from playing for the Cup.
The Coyotes have put together a strong hockey team in recent years behind their veteran forward, Shane Doan. After discovering a strong young defenseman, in Keith Yandle, last year, the Coyotes may have the team to compete for a Cup for the first time in their 33 years.
There's not much this team needs to improve upon besides winning in big games come the postseason. If they can find a way to win a few more close games, the Phoenix Coyotes could give Doan the hardware he's been fighting for his entire career.
Ah, the New York Yankees to the Islanders' Mets, the Rangers continue to find success throughout the regular season. The only thing they need to improve are their offensive numbers if they ever want to see more playoff success—something that has eluded them for a long time.
The team needs more than Brandon Dubinsky to put up numbers, and they may have that with Brad Richards coming over from the Dallas Stars. Having Henrik Lundqvist in net doesn't exactly hurt their fortunes either after posting decent numbers (36-27-5, 11 shutouts, 2.28 GAA and .923 SV%).
After watching one of their strongest rivals, the Bruins, win their sixth Stanley Cup title last season, the Rangers should be even hungrier to win big this year. If they find the resolve their young players need in the playoffs, the Rangers could be raising their fifth Cup in 86 years.
Calgary continues to build a strong hockey team every season and is another good example of how strong the Western Conference is after finishing another year with 90-plus points and missing the playoffs. Jarome Iginla continues to be one of the best power forwards in the league with 86 points last year with 43 goals. He can't do it by himself though, and he needs his teammates to help contribute.
This team is probably one of the highest scoring teams in the league with 250 goals for, but the one thing they have to look at is their defense. They gave up 237 goals against to opposing teams during the season, and that's something they have to work on.
It's easy to heap blame on the goaltenders, but Miikka Kiprusoff may be one of top netminders when the defense plays well. The defense needs to shape up in their own zone and not allow as many shots to be taken on him. If they can improve the play in their own zone, the Flames could see some postseason success.
Montreal is always a strong hockey team, and in the 95 years they've been around, they always prove that they are one of the best in the Eastern Conference. They put together a lackluster season last year but came together in the playoffs last year and were one win away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup champions—the Boston Bruins.
Either way, Montreal can never be counted out no matter the year because they always seem to find ways to bring out the best from their young players (P.K. Subban anyone?). After 2009-10, it was assumed Carey Price wasn't an elite goalie, but after last season, he proved all of his critics wrong. He posted a 38-28-6 record with eight shutouts (2.35 GAA & .923 SV%) and gave Tim Thomas and Roberto Luongo a run at the Vezina.
The Canadiens will once again put together a strong hockey club and find a way to scare opponents in the playoffs.
The Sabres started terribly last year but managed to fight back towards the end of the season and make the playoffs. From there, they only managed to push the Philadelphia Flyers to a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Offensively, they scored 245 goals without their star forward Derek Roy, but unfortunately, they gave up 229 goals defensively. They hopefully shored up their own zone with the addition of Robyn Regehr (Flames) and Christian Ehrhoff (Canucks) so it could be enough to find themselves in the playoffs again.
The one constant on this team is Ryan Miller who continues to be a workhorse between the pipes. As long as he's there, the Sabres are a dangerous team.
The Kings may seem like they're ranked a little too high, but I really could see them making a run at the Cup this year. As young as they are, the Kings are a strong hockey team, and all they need to do is find the scoring they're capable of.
They have a tough goalie in Jonathan Quick and some of the best young forwards in the NHL today. Anze Kopitar continues to show of his considerable skill posting 73 points in 75 games. If he can stay healthy for 82 games, Kopitar should be able to score a point a game.
Besides that, Mike Richards from Philadelphia should add more offensive firepower. I won't be surprised to see the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals this year.
The Blackhawks looked every bit the team suffering from a Stanley Cup hangover last season but still managed to find themselves in the playoffs. They even almost shocked Vancouver last year in the first round of the playoffs after going down 3-0 and forcing a Game 7 and losing in OT.
They have two of the best young offensive forwards in the game, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, as well as a number of other strong teammates. Patrick Sharp came into his own last season, leading the team in goals (34) and finished third in points.
The one thing that Chicago seemed to know better than any of us was that Antti Niemi wasn't the answer at goaltender after winning the Cup. Corey Crawford posted a great rookie season with 33 wins and a .917 SV%.
Chicago has a great chance to win their second Stanley Cup in three years.
The thing the Ducks have going for them is Corey Perry. The NHL's leading goal scorer (50), he finished at 98 points and starts this season as the one player the team will lean on the most.
When Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and Perry are all healthy and at their best, the Ducks are the scariest team in the Pacific division. Getzlaf needs to come back stronger than last season and last all 82 games. If he can do so, he may be able to post 90-plus points.
Behind their top line, the Ducks rely on a group of youngsters and old pioneers. Finnish countrymen Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu are both nearing the end of the illustrious NHL careers. Last season, at 40, Selanne posted numbers that should come from somebody 15 years his junior.
Scoring 80 points, he helped keep this team afloat after both Getzlaf and the team's beast of a goaltender, Jonas Hiller, both went down with season-ending injuries. If Anaheim can keep the team up and running, they could quite possibly be the highest scoring team this year and run rampant through the playoffs.
You can't doubt the Caps as long as the Russian continues to play offense. However, one player can't win everything on his own so the nation's capital has to come together as a complete team to win. They consistently put together a strong team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season so all they need now is to carry over that success into the playoffs.
They looked like the team to beat taking out the Rangers in five games in the Eastern quarterfinal, but they proved wrong. Coming into the semifinals, they faced a hungry Tampa Bay Lightning team who swept them and didn't look back. If Washington can carry the momentum from one series to the next in the playoffs, No. 8 could be raising his first-ever Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay was one game away from facing the Canucks for the Cup last season. They and the Bruins were tied 0-0 going into the last minutes of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals when Nathan Horton pulled a Game 7 heroic for a second time, scoring the goal that sent Tampa packing.
The Lightning will come back this season with a gigantic chip on their shoulders and a bitter taste in their mouths. Steven Stamkos proved his ability to score alongside Martin St. Louis but a strong offense can only take a team so far. The Lightning gave up 240 goals, but it couldn't shut the door on Boston in key games such as Game 2 in Boston.
If Tampa had managed to shut the Bruins attack down, they could have taken a 2-0 lead in the series going back home. Tampa Bay should be able to put together another strong team this year, and if they can find ways to field a stout defense, they should be able to work well into the playoffs and contend for the Cup.
The Predators were a wonderful surprise last year behind the exceptional play of Pekka Rinne who kept them in contention throughout their time in the playoffs last year. If the momentum continues into the upcoming season, look out for Nashville to surprise again.
Their defense is led by Shea Weber and gave up only 194 goals, but they definitely need a more consistent offense that can put up more than 219 goals if they hope to win in the Western Conference.
I think you might see the Preds upsetting some top seed teams in the postseason.
Could the Bruins repeat? It's not exactly impossible, but it's also very difficult to do so. Detroit was the last team to do so in 1997 and 1998, but the league is always shifting. It is much more difficult to repeat, post-lockout, due to many reasons, including the salary cap, and simply, the improvement in players coming into the league nowadays.
Either way, the Bruins return a team that didn't have much upheaval from last year's Stanley Cup-winning squad. If they stay consistent enough throughout the season, and Tim Thomas continues his exceptional play (even at 38 years old!), Boston could find their way back into the finals again.
Welcome back to the NHL Jaromir! After much speculation, Jaromir Jagr makes his return, and it's with the Flyers. Will he be enough to change the fortunes of a team who was swept by the Bruins last year in the playoffs?
Probably not by himself but Philly always puts together a tough team that wears down opponents late into games. Losing Jeff Carter to Columbus won't help, but Philly always finds ways to put goals in the net regardless of who laces up the skates.
Claude Giroux and Danny Briere will both be top scorers once again, and if Jagr does manage to transition back into the NHL smoothly, he could contribute 15-20 goals. The recent Flyers aren't quite the Broad Street Bullies but could find themselves as winners at the end of the season.
The Red Wings are always contenders. I could never see betting against them unless they lose most of the top-line talent. With Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, the Red Wings come into this season as strong Stanley Cup contenders again.
The only thing they need to hope for is that Datsyuk plays an entire season healthy. He played 56 games last year and scored 59 points which was a little more than a point a game, and you can only imagine that across all 82 games. Scary.
Come on, something's got to give, eventually. How long can the Sharks win their way deep into the playoffs, usually as one of the highest point scoring teams and lose last minute and miss out on the Stanley Cup Finals.
It seems like it's becoming perpetual that the Sharks will lose when it matters most. However, you can't count them out as long as Jumbo Joe Thornton continues to play for them, and with a strong goaltender in Antti Niemi backstopping them, the Sharks should have one of the best chances in the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup.
The only difference is that I could see them breaking that wall this season and actually playing for the Cup.
The Vancouver Canucks come back into this season as the top contender in the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup. The team finished with the President's Trophy last year and had the Art Ross Trophy winner in Daniel Sedin.
With a high-powered offense and a Vezina finalist in Roberto Luongo, they fought their way all the way through the playoffs and finished with a Game 7 loss against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final. They couldn't find the resolve defensively and couldn't score in that game, getting shut out 4-0 by the surprising Bruins.
This sent the city of Vancouver into a well-publicized, frenzied riot that lasted for a few days. The biggest free-agent loss was defender Christian Ehrhoff to Buffalo, but the team should still field one of the toughest teams in the NHL.
There doesn't seem to be any reason why the Canucks shouldn't be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals. Of course, if the Blackhawks had anything to say, the Canucks wouldn't have made it out of the first round.
Sid the Kid was gone for half the season last year, Evgeni Malkin was sorely missed last season as well. However, Sidney Crosby still managed to finish the season first in points on the team with 66. Imagine that with a full 82 games. That could put him as one of the highest scoring forwards in recent history with him on pace for over 120 points.
He could have easily seen 60-plus goals last year had he stayed healthy. That's what'll happen when you get hit with a concussion. The scary thing is, Sid the Kid is coming back strong this season and even if he misses a few games in the beginning, Crosby could end up single-handedly bringing the Penguins back into playoff contention. That's not even counting Malkin's contributions coming back healthy this year either.
I honestly feel bad for the rest of the Eastern Conference this season having to face a Pittsburgh team with a hungry Sidney Crosby chomping to get back into a pair of skates. If you couldn't tell, I think the Penguins are in the best position to win the Cup this year. Wayne Gretzky's records may never be broken, but Sid the Kid is going to give that a run for its money during his long career. He'll be able to add another Stanley Cup to that career as long as everything goes right.