The Detroit Red Wings may have captured hockey's holy grail last June, but were they really the best team in 2008?
How can you judge how well a team does in a year?
Could it be their record? The impacts their players make? How well their goaltenders play?
With all these in mind, and many more, let's take a glance at the top 10 NHL teams of 2008.
10. Calgary Flames and New Jersey Devils
Flames—Regular Season: 42-27-7; Playoffs 3-4 (QF—San Jose)
Devils—Regular Season: 44-29-7; Playoffs: 1-4 (QF—NY Rangers)
It's difficult to give one of these teams 10th spot by themselves since their records are almost identical. Both teams had a decent run down the stretch of last year's season into the playoffs. The Flames finished out the season seventh in the West, while the Devils finished in fourth in the East.
However, both teams were very different in their team dynamic. The Devils rely heavily on Martin Brodeur for their success. However, this season, the Devils have found a way to win without Brodeur and score a few more goals.
On the other side, the Flames rely on heavy hitting defense and scoring sensations such as Jarome Iginla, Daymond Langkow, Mike Cammalleri, and Todd Bertuzzi.
The Flames took a lot of steam out of the San Jose Sharks post-season run taking the Sharks to seven games before bowing out. The Devils were eliminated quickly by the New York Rangers.
This season, the Devils have been scoring a lot more than playing a defensive style of hockey. With the likes of Zach Parise, Brian Gionta, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias lighting the lamps, the Devils are on top of their game. Same can be said for the Flames—always a playoff contender in the West.
9. New York Rangers
Regular Season: 44-24-12; Playoffs: 5-5 (QF—New Jersey; SF—Pittsburgh)
The Rangers showed the NHL once again in the latter part of the 2007-08 season why they were one of the best. With solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist and an array of talented scorers in Scott Gomez, Jaromir Jagr, and Chris Drury up front, the Rangers finished two points shy of the Devils for home-ice advantage.
Never mind home ice advantage—the Rangers scored early and often on Martin Brodeur as they bounced the Devils in five quick games. However, the run was not to last as the Rangers met the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins as they were on the march to the finals.
At the start of the 2008-09 season, with the additions of Markus Naslund and Wade Redden paired with the departure of Jaromir Jagr, the Rangers were fast out the gate—but have slowed down in recent weeks. Hopefully the Christmas holiday can help the Rangers get back on track.
8. Anaheim Ducks
Regular Season: 46-24-6; Playoffs: 2-4 (QF—Dallas)
Fresh off a Stanley Cup win a year prior, the Ducks were once again battling for Western Conference supremacy as the 2007-08 season wound down. Finishing fourth in the heated West with 102 points, the Ducks were surprised and possibly upset by the upstart Dallas Stars in six games.
However, with the return of Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer for good this season, the Ducks have returned to top form and find themselves in the midst of the Western Conference.
Powered by a high-octane offense with the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Selanne, and Chris Kunitz, the Ducks are a powerful team to stop. Especially with a back end that includes Chris Pronger, Niedermayer, and Francois Beauchemin. Fans in Anaheim have something to cheer about this season.
7. Montreal Canadiens
Regular Season: 46-21-9; Playoffs: 5-8 (QF—Boston; SF—Philadelphia)
The second half of the 2007-08 season was a wake-up call for many Habs fans. With the unexpected dealing of No. 1 goalie Cristobal Huet to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline, Carey Price took the reins and led the Canadiens all the way to the top of the conference and into the second round of the playoffs—all in his rookie season.
This season, the Canadiens are still on top of their game, except for the occasional brain farts that happen in random games against beatable teams. With solid netminding from Price and Jaroslav Halak and a young and talented core of players with a good mix of veterans, the Canadiens are one of the teams to beat in the East.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Regular Season: 42-23-14; Playoffs: 9-8 (QF—Washington; SF—Montreal; CF—Pittsburgh)
Philadelphia is on the list at number six because of the complete and total turnaround they made from a dismal and disappointing 2006-07 campaign in which they finished dead last in the East.
Not in 2007-08. During the 2008 playoffs, the Flyers shocked the hockey world as they played an aggressive and shut-down style of hockey, upsetting the upstart Southeast Division champions from Washington DC, beating the number-one seed from Montreal, until finally falling to their interstate rivals from Pittsburgh.
This season, the Flyers are not looking at stopping anytime soon. With excellent coaching from John Stevens and a great depth of young, talented, and physical players such as Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, and Daniel Briere, the Flyers are ready to rock and roll.
5. Boston Bruins
Regular Season: 47-18-11; Playoffs: 3-4 (QF - Montreal)
Surprised? Don't be. The Bruins may have finished in eighth spot last season, but they pushed the number-one seeded Montreal Canadiens to the brink—a series that did the Canadiens in later on in the playoffs.
The Bruins don't boast many big names. Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard, and Patrice Bergeron are probably the biggest names in Beantown. However, they usually fly under the radar—especially setup man Savard, who is among the league leader in points but is rarely noticed.
Claude Julien's got his troops on a tear, one that has taken them to the top of the East so far this season. With energy and role players such as Milan Lucic, Chuck Kobasew, and gritty defenders like Dennis Wideman and Mark Stuart, the B's are a team not to be taken lightly anymore.
4. Washington Capitals
Regular Season: 48-23-6; Playoffs: 3-4 (QF—Philadelphia)
These kids love to win. And one kid loves to score. Alex Ovechkin has become the heart and soul of the Capitals, reminding us of the days when Peter Bondra used to celebrate in Washington. The Capitals surprised the hockey world by going on an unbelievable tear as they captured the Southeast Division title by a mere two points over the Carolina Hurricanes during their last game of the season.
Despite losing in seven to the Flyers, the Capitals entered this season with that same zeal and energy. With coaching genius Bruce Boudreau behind the Caps bench and a young, talented core of players such as Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, the Caps are going to be a force for years to come.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Regular Season: 45-23-10 Playoffs: 14-6 (QF—Ottawa; SF—NY Rangers; CF—Philadelphia; SCF—Detroit)
These kids love to win, too. What a team. I've never seen a team that is so close and have bonds so unbreakable than the Pittsburgh Penguins. Such a young and up-and-coming team with superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins' days as the laughing stock of the NHL are long over.
After taking the club all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, Crosby and the Penguins remodeled in the off-season. Out were Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Georges Laraque, and, most notably, Marian Hossa.
Even without Hossa in the Pens lineup, the Penguins keep rolling along. Their success will be measured on how well they handle adversity. They made it so close in 2008, can they make it happen in 2009? If not, the Pens' day is coming—and it's coming soon.
2. Detroit Red Wings
Regular Season: 48-19-8; Playoffs: 16-6 (Q—Nashville; WF—Colorado; CF—Dallas; SCF - Pittsburgh)
A potent offense that can attack you and leave you wondering where your jock went, combined with a defense that can suddenly leave you dazed along the boards, and you've pretty much summed up the defending Stanley Cup champions.
A talented and possibly stacked team, the Red Wings are not to be taken lightly anytime. With the likes of one of the best two-way players in the NHL in Henrik Zetterberg and one of the best set of hands in Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings offense is like a never ending flood coming towards the opponents' goal.
With veteran captain Nicklas Lidstrom, Stanley Cup veteran Brian Rafalski, and bone-crushing defender Niklas Kronwall, the Wings are set to repeat again if they can keep up their unforgiving play.
1. San Jose Sharks
Regular Season: 54-14-8; Playoffs: 6-5 (QF—Calgary; SF—Dallas)
Evgeni Nabokov. Joe Thornton. Jonathan Cheechoo. Patrick Marleau. Rob Blake. Dan Boyle.
Big names, big results. That's what the San Jose Sharks are going for. The hottest team in hockey right now doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Always touted to be a Stanley Cup contender for years now, the Sharks looked poised to take the top prize by storm.
If it were not for a long seven-game series with the Calgary Flames during the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Sharks may have had enough steam to make it to the Conference Finals. However, as happens year in and year out, upsets occur and the Sharks were the ones going home upset.
But now with the additions of veteran Stanley Cup champions in Rob Blake and Dan Boyle, the Sharks' blueline is more solid than ever before. It only gets better for fans in the Shark Tank when you have the league's best playmaker and setup man in Thornton.
Good thing all the other Sharks players can shoot.