The NHL season has begun with tragedy—the death of three enforcers; concern—Sidney Crosby’s injury; and rebirth—the reincarnation of the Winnipeg Jets (the second Atlanta team to go north of the border).
Reebok is no longer a symbol on the back of a player’s jersey and Brendan Shanahan has begun is reign as the head disciplinarian by slapping major fines and suspensions in the preseason.
It should be a fun year.
Before I get to the power rankings, let me give you my Stanley Cup prediction:
- Eastern Conference Finals: Pittsburgh over Washington
- Western Conference Finals: Nashville over Vancouver
Pittsburgh, assuming Crosby returns fine and the rest of the team stays healthy, should be back in the finals.
They’ve had success against the Washington Capitals, who are usually picked to win it all in the preseason and, well, never have.
It’ll be another year of heartbreak in Vancouver, a team that’s capable of winning it all.
However, the Predators are under the radar (as always), but are in an upswing.
Last year Nashville made the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years and got to the second round for the first time in franchise history.
They will not be overwhelmed by the Canucks like they were last year, and sound defense, in the end, will get them to the finals.
Prediction: Nashville Predators in seven.
This week, rankings are based off of preseason projections more than recent results.
In the future, more emphasis will be placed on games played that week.
The Flames are giving it one last go with their veteran roster.
Only four players on their opening day roster—Mikael Backlund, Roman Horak, Chris Butler and Brendan Mikkelson—are under 26.
In contrast, nine players are over 30.
Calgary needs to get off to a quick start or the Jarome Iginla trade rumors will once again grow early in the season.
The Winnipeg Jets started off their new era by… losing 5-1 to Montreal.
It’s probably going to be a long season for the zombie Thrashers, but Winnipeg has their team back and they should have a honeymoon period.
Expect captain Andrew Ladd and established youngsters Evander Kane, Bryan Little and Zach Bogosian to take the next step this season.
Blessed with much talent, Alexander Burmistrov, a 19-year-old Russian, could also have a big year this 2011-12 season.
The opening screen on the Coyotes home page reads: "You know what’s easy about hockey succeed in Arizona? Nothing."
Translation: This is our last season in Glendale unless you people start coming out to our games.
Young defenseman Keith Yandle is a great player and recently signed long term. However, that’s not nearly enough to get people to support the Desert Dogs.
It’s a make-or-break year for the franchise.
Kansas City has a beautiful, unoccupied stadium and the people of Quebec City think because Winnipeg got their team back, they deserve one as well.
The vultures are circling over the Coyotes' heads.
Their website claims that the Panthers are "A Team Built to Win."
The rest of the NHL community begs to differ.
Florida GM Dave Tallon, who turned the Blackhawks around, has a few big names on his roster, namely Brian Campbell, Ed Jovanovski and Sean Bergenheim, but the team also had to get above the cap floor.
The Cats have a lot of young talent on their roster, but it’s going to take some time before they see the results they are looking for.
The Senators are celebrating 20 years in Canada’s capital by…
It’s going to be a long season in Ottawa.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson, 38, is aging, Jason Spezza is unhappy and Sergei Gonchar has not lived up to his contract.
Fortunately, the Sens have a lot of young talent, most notably second-year player Erik Karlsson, that will be given ample ice time and an opportunity to turn the franchise around in the future.
The Islanders are celebrating 40 years in New York knowing that… well, they may be a lame duck team without a new arena under construction.
Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo and John Tavares have all proved they can play, despite the situation surrounding them, and Nino Niederreiter, 19, should be an exciting young player in net.
However, blue line questions and lack of a stalwart goaltender (we all know about Rick DiPietro, and Evgeni Nabokov appears washed up) means this team won’t go anywhere in the Atlantic Division.
No Brad Richards is going to mean trouble in Dallas.
In order for this team to succeed, Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson will need to fill his production.
There’s a lot of youth on this team and they’ve got a great leader in Brenden Morrow, so anything can happen, but they’re going to need to prove themselves after losing a star like Richards.
Adding Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski in the offseason were bold moves—something that has to be done by a franchise that has yet to win a playoff series.
Both players are talented and in their prime, but it’s probably not enough for a mediocre team in a difficult division.
Two players to watch in Columbus are Ryan Johansen, 19, and David Savard, 20, two young players who made the team out of camp.
Johansen, drafted fourth overall in 2010, could be headed back to the WHL after a stint in Ohio, but had 92 points in 63 games in Portland last season.
Savard has used up his junior eligibility. The team’s fourth-round pick in '09 likely does not want to return to Springfield this season. Last year he had 43 points in 72 games for the Falcons.
Ryan Smyth has returned to Edmonton and the youth are all a year older, but the Oilers have to wait a few years for this corps to marinate.
In the short term, the team must ask whether Nikolai Khabibulin, 38, is the best answer in net. Otherwise, Devan Dubnyk, 25, may see significant playing time.
Long term, this team needs to hope Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Linus Omark all become superstars.
On paper, the Devils can contend.
But that’s what everyone said last year.
The spotlight will be on Zach Parise, who is coming off an injury, in a contract year. Teams will be looking to add him to their roster if he has a good season and the Devils don’t.
If Parise doesn’t perform and has lingering effects from his injury, he could be in a lot of trouble this offseason.
Also, the Devils could have a gem in Adam Larsson, an 18-year-old Swede who was left available four picks into last year’s draft. The defensemen could thrive in New Jersey’s defensive system.
Two years ago, it seemed that the Avalanche had the young talent to turn their franchise into what it was when it first came over from Quebec in 1996.
Now, there are question marks all over the place.
Is Semyon Varlamov the answer in net?
Can Erik Johnson become the elite defensemen he was expected to be as the No. 1 overall pick in 2006?
Was 2009-10 a fluke or do they belong in the playoffs?
Those are a few questions they must answer this season.
The Leafs, yes, the Leafs have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs this year—without sending anyone into cardiac arrest.
They will be playing in a tough division—everyone but Ottawa has a chance to make a playoff run this year—but the team GM Brian Burke has built over the past few years looks matured and ready to turn the franchise’s fortune around.
Toronto is built for the long run, there are a lot of talented players on the roster who have yet to hit their mid-20s, but this team has to win now. Their fans deserve it.
The Blues need to make the playoffs this year.
They have the capability of filling a large arena and creating a lot of buzz in a big-time sports city, but they cannot test their fanbase’s patience again this year.
Veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner were brought in to help the talented youth David Backes (C), TJ Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk succeed in the long NHL season filled with tough divisional opponents.
The Canes will be expected to make the postseason this year.
They’re a young team that has enough talent to make a splash in their division.
Tampa, who crushed them 5-1 in their opener, and Washington, who beat them in OT, are better teams, but Carolina is significantly better than Florida or Winnipeg.
Two players to watch on this team are Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk. At 18 and 19, respectively, both players made the team out of camp as teenagers.
Murphy may be sent back to Kitchener (OHL) for another year and Faulk, who lost his eligibility at the University of Minnesota by signing with Carolina, may return to the minors.
However, both players have a lot of upside and could, along with Jeff Skinner (19), make the most formidable trio of teenagers in the league.
At best, I see the Ducks as a late seed that disrupts a team early in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They return the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophy winner in Corey Perry, who will be paired, as always, on the top line with the formidable Ryan Getzlaf.
Teemu Selanne, the ageless wonder, has decided to return to the team once again.
Randy Carlyle is one of the best coaches in the league and the youth in Anaheim look great. Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler should be great players for years to come.
However, they have to prove they’ve got what it takes to win in a division with two bona fide contenders.
Phoenix and Dallas look laughable, but both the Kings and Sharks are capable of winning it all this year.
Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi both found the back of the net in Minnesota’s 4-2 victory over Columbus.
Both players are going to be a focal point this season, but lost in the mix is Guillaume Latendresse, who had immediate success when he came over from Montreal two years ago.
Latendresse has a lot of talent and needs to complement the scoring of the prized imports this season if the Wild are going to make the playoffs for the first time since winning the division in 2007-08.
It’s hard to label a hockey team in Montreal under the radar, but the defensive-minded Habs could be underestimated as a contender this season.
There are not a lot of scorers in the lineup, but a formidable defense can go a long way.
Carey Price will, as always, be under scrutiny, but PK Subban’s sophomore season should be a focal point for this team as well.
If he can avoid the slump, he will be a major factor for the Canadiens this season.
The new-look Predators will have both new uniforms and new players this year.
Gone are Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward, big contributors from last year’s playoff run.
This team needs to win now or risk losing captain Shea Weber as well.
Youngsters Colin Wilson (21), Blake Geoffrion (23) and Patric Hornqvist (24) will be asked to provide more scoring this season, while, defensively, a lot will be expected from 22-year-old California native Jonathan Blum.
If the youth plays well, the Predators franchise will take the next step this year.
The New York Rangers are contenders this year.
With a stalwart goaltender (Henrik Lundqvist) outstanding young talent (Derek Stepan, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh), a player to set up Marian Gaborik (Brad Richards), and outstanding leadership from Ryan Callahan (C), Marc Staal (A) and Richards (A), this team has the makings of a contender.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia make the Atlantic a tough division, but expect three teams to emerge from the East Coast and challenge the rest of the East for the conference championship and a spot in the finals.
A lot will be expected of the Sabres this season.
Most of their players are in their prime and they’ve got an owner who is willing to spend.
They won their first two games, against Anaheim and LA, convincingly. At least they can say they started the season off on the right foot.
Philadelphia will be the most scrutinized team in the league this year.
Gone are Mike Richards and Jeff Carter; in are Ilya Bryzgalov and Jaromir Jagr. Yes, 39-year-old Jagr.
Chris Pronger is still in town, but this team will live and die by the sticks of James van Riemsdyk and Claude Giroux.
It’s their team now.
Pressure is going to mount on defenseman Drew Doughty after his holdout, but this team is also expecting Dustin Brown to channel his leadership skills effectively and Anze Kopitar to stay healthy.
The Kings are built for the long run, but brought in players like Simon Gagne and Mike Richards to help immediately.
Expect LA to challenge the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division title this season.
The new-look Lightning need to prove that last year was no fluke.
Guy Boucher proved he belongs in the upper-echelon of NHL coaches and the team has enough talent to compete.
Expect the Bolts to challenge the Caps for the division title again this year.
It’s said every year: the Wings are too old; it happens every year: the Wings make the playoffs.
Chicago is probably the best team in the Central, but nobody is going to sleep on Detroit in the playoffs.
Expect Jimmy Howard to have a big season without Chris Osgood in his shadow, and I have a feeling we’ll see some of Detroit’s promising young talent make an impact this season.
Cory Emmerton, the team’s second-round pick in 2006, has already matched his goal (and game) total from last year (one goal, two games played).
General manager George McPhee has improved a team that will be expected to bring home the Stanley Cup this season.
Incomers Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward and Roman Hamrlik have proven themselves in the postseason and should boost the core that’s always almost there.
Expect captain Alex Ovechkin to have a rebound year and Tomas Vokoun, another McPhee addition, to be a difference-maker in net.
Just like the past few years, the team is talented enough to win it all this year.
Chicago has bounced back from their cap casualties and are picked by many to win the Stanley Cup this year.
The 2010 corps is still in tact and GM Stan Bowman has bolstered his lineup from last year by adding veterans Andrew Brunette, 38, and Jamal Mayers, 36, up front and Steve Montador, 31, and Sean O’Donnell, 39, on the blue line.
Detroit is a perennial contender and have owned the Central for a decade, but this year the Hawks could take it for the second time in three years.
Brent Burns has shored up the defensive corps in San Jose, and once again, the Sharks are going to be Stanley Cup contenders.
This is an improved team that needs to find a way to get over the hump.
Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton are both 32 and Dan Boyle is 35.
The future looks great with Logan Couture and Co., but this team needs to take advantage of having both talented youth and veterans who haven’t passed their prime.
It’s hard to put too much emphasis on one player, but in Vancouver, it comes down to Roberto Luongo’s play.
The Canucks are returning their championship team sans Christian Ehrhoff (essentially) and will be expected to make up for last year’s Game 7 collapse.
They can get there and win it all, but Luongo needs to play to his capability all season long.
The B’s are capable of doing it all again and making Bostonians forget all about the Red Sox’s epic collapse.
Gone are Michael Ryder and Tomas Kaberle, but the Bruins have retained the pieces necessary to win the final game of the season.
Expect 19-year-old Tyler Seguin to have a breakout season; I don’t see a sophomore slump from such a poised, experienced player.
The 26-year-olds—Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton—need to play like they are in their prime, while the 34-year-olds—Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Joe Corvo—cannot remind their fans that they’re that old.
Another question for Boston is whether Tim Thomas, 37, can repeat last year's performance. Otherwise, expect former B's starter Tuukka Rask, get extensive playing time.
It’s simple in Pittsburgh: If Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are 100 percent this season (whenever Sid the Kid gets back) this team is Stanley Cup-bound.
If not… well they did fine last year, but they’ll want those guys back.