10 NHL Teams That Will Be Dominating the League 5 Years from Now
As we pass the quarter mark of this 2011-2012 NHL campaign, there's surely been many surprises, such as the young guns in Edmonton leading the charge.
The Oilers have slipped off from the hot start that saw them top the Northwest Division, but let's face it—most people likely didn't pick them to make the playoffs this season. There's obviously still plenty of hockey to be played, but if the Oilers don't qualify this year, not many will be disappointed, even after a hot start.
Along with Oil Country, there are some more rebuilding franchises on the rise, as well as currently dominant clubs that will continue to flourish the next five years while others may drop off.
It's always tricky to say what will happen considering salary cap issues and whether or not management addresses the teams' needs.
However, here are my 10 NHL teams that will be among the league's best in five years.
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With goaltender Pekka Rinne locked up long term, the focus for the Nashville Predators' management turns to Ryan Suter and Shea Weber. Weber could be waiting to see what happens with Suter first before making a decision on his future.
However, the Predators need not worry. With youngsters Jonathan Blum and Ryan Ellis set to man the blue line for a long time, the back-end will be solidified in the Music City for years.
Up front, the Predators could use a little more scoring power, but rookie Craig Smith is already emerging in his first season with Nashville. Prospects Austin Watson, Taylor Beck and Blake Geoffrion are due to play big roles up front in the organization's future.
Nashville is already a competitive club, but not quite at the Stanley Cup-caliber yet. In five years, they should be one of the West's top clubs.
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I couldn't help but be brought back to the Chicago Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup victory upon hearing Dale Tallon was to take over as GM of the Florida Panthers.
Tallon built a great Blackhawks team, largely through the draft over the years. With some top prospects already picked for him in Florida—such as Jacob Markstrom, Erik Gudbranson, Jonathan Huberdeau and Quinton Howden—Tallon has a great head start.
It was evident he was going to try and add a supporting cast much like he had in Chicago when he signed ex-Blackhawks Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky.
The Panthers are surprising a lot of people right now with their first-place Southeast Division positioning so far through 23 games. Now, as far as staying there all year, I wouldn't hold them to that. However, it's a sure sign of things to come, as the Panthers will be a highly-competitive club in the next five years.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have made the playoffs for 20 straight seasons. Over the years, this world-class organization has found a way to not just get the job done but get the job done remarkably well.
Consistently being the league's oldest club (based on average age) doesn't really affect my outlook on the Red Wings. They have young prospects like Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Jurco, should Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen or Henrik Zetterberg begin to falter. With the way Detroit successfully develops such young talent, I have no doubts they will continuously find a way to thrive.
Look for the Red Wings to remain a top contender in the Western Conference five years from now.
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Matt Duchene is one of the NHL's top young guns, not just on the Colorado Avalanche. Combined with Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog, Erik Johnson, David Jones and Kyle Quincey, it won't be long before the league's current youngest team (by average age) gets back to the glory days again.
Within their organization, Duncan Siemens, Stefan Elliott (who is already playing well through his first couple NHL games) and Joey Hishon are waiting in the wings. Come five years, expect these guys to be big pieces to the puzzle in a happy Mile High City.
Los Angeles Kings
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The Los Angeles Kings have a bright future ahead of them. They are already looking to become a consistent playoff team for the first time in a while. Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are already all here.
Though Jonathan Bernier is likely to be traded, the Kings are set between the pipes with Jonathan Quick.
Add in the mix a healthy supply of prospects—such as Andrei Loktionov, Slava Voynov (both seeing time this year) and Derek Forbort—and the Kings have a long-term recipe for success on the West Coast.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Here's a little-known fact that may surprise a lot of you: The Toronto Maple Leafs are 59-44-13 with Dion Phaneuf in the lineup, and 32-17-8 since the All-Star break last year.
Obviously, this season's hot start is included in there. The Maple Leafs are a feisty team that deserves more credit. With James Reimer, their sure-to-be No. 1 guy, out with injury, the Leafs are still finding ways to hang tough and win games. Combine that with the spectacular starts for Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf, and the Leafs are a top team in the East right now.
With prospects like Nazem Kadri, Joe Colborne, Keith Aulie, Jake Gardiner, Jesse Blacker, Matt Frattin, Tyler Biggs and Jerry D'Amigo, the Maple Leafs will undeniably have some young talent to work with in five years' time. Again, the uncertainty of adding free agents and making trades always lies in the cards, too.
It's finally getting to be an exciting time for Toronto fans again.
Tampa Bay Lightning
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Five years from now, the Tampa Bay Lightning's best player in franchise history thus far, Martin St. Louis, will likely be retired.
However, the Bolts have prospects Brett Connolly and Carter Ashton expected to take huge strides over the next couple seasons in Tampa Bay. Vladislav Namestnikov will also be a valuable part of the puzzle.
On the back-end, Victor Hedman is an up-and-coming rearguard who will anchor the Lightning blue line for years. Veterans Eric Brewer, Matthias Ohlund and Pavel Kubina will age, but Brett Clark, Marc-Andre Bergeron and Matt Gilroy will help form a solid core.
Plus, there's always the possibility that Paul Ranger returns from his mysterious personal leave.
The big question for Tampa will be in goal, but there's no denying that GM Steve Yzerman is well aware of that. Whether it be during the season—much like how they acquired Dwayne Roloson on New Year's Day last season—or via free agency, the Bolts will be picking up a net-minder by the start of next season.
The Lightning, sure to be led by Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier in five years, will be a top competitor in the Eastern Conference.
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With 25 points through 24 games, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers is leading his team in points. He's also quite remarkably 10th in league scoring.
With a boatload of young talent like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers are seemingly bringing back the 1980s.
Off to a hot start, Edmonton is cooling down a little bit now, but this is just a preview of things to come in the future. This team is going to absolutely take off in the next few years.
In only his second season, sophomore sensation Tyler Seguin is taking the league by storm. Fellow youngster Brad Marchand is developing into a top two-way forward who makes life for the opposition a living nightmare.
Combine those upcoming factors with an already-solidified core of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Tim Thomas, and the B's are a scary-good club right now.
With an average age of around 27.7, the Bruins will continue this greatness for several years, too. Not to mention prospects Jared Knight and Dougie Hamilton will be knocking on the door for a chance to join in.
You can bet they'll be singing "Dirty Water" for years to come in Beantown.
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With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury—the same core that led the Pens to a Stanley Cup in 2009—Pittsburgh will continue to make this team a dominant one for years.
Head coach Dan Bylsma led the Penguins to a great second-half with Sidney Crosby out for its entirety, along with Evgeni Malkin missing significant time, too. Up to the quarter mark this season, Bylsma and the Pens were back at it again, sitting atop the Atlantic Division without Crosby.
With Crosby back in the lineup now, it's going to be scary just how far the Penguins should take off running. But it's not just this year—it'll carry over to the next year and years after that. Depending on how many Stanley Cups they capture, we could be witnessing the early years of a dynasty in the making.
Other Soon-to-be Top Teams: Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks