The NHL-30 (October)

My version of Scott Cullen’s TSN “Power Rankings”. I was inspired to do this after disagreeing intensely with some of his picks (Washington 6th, Buffalo 7th, Minnesota 27th). Like Cullen’s item, it isn’t meant to indicate the top team in the standings, but rather the team(s) I feel are most equipped to make a serious playoff run. (Although the two will naturally tend to overlap). Here’s the first installment of what will become a monthly item.

The Elites

(1) San Jose

After another loss in the Western Conference finals, San Jose may finally be poised to take the next step. They have the best group of top-6 forwards in the league, and a very good defence after the big-time addition of Brent Burns. They may not be the top team during the season, but all the key pieces are in place for a very long playoff run.

Key Injuries: (LW/RW) Martin Havlat  (Day-to-day)

(2) Washington

Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green are out to show that their performance last season was an abberation. Not can this team light up the scoreboard, but they also may have the best defence in the league. They’re my pick to win the President’s Trophy, and to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Key Injuries: None

(3) Buffalo

Second best team in the East. The Sabres have ridiculous depth at all positions, and Ryan Miller will be the best goalie in the NHL this season. They don’t possess quite the same high-end talent as San Jose and Washington, but it will come as their young core matures.

Key Injuries: None

(4) Los Angeles

Very much like the Sabres of the West, the Kings have great depth throughout their line-up. With Kopitar and Richards up front, Doughty and Johnson on the back-end, and Quick and Bernier in goal, this team has some excellent young pieces to build around. The Kings could finish ahead of the Sharks during the season, but they’ll need a bit more time before they’re ready to go all the way.

Key Injuries: None

(5) Chicago

After an early playoff exit, the Blackhawks should be rested and ready to take another run. Stars like Keith, Toews, Kane, Sharp, and Hossa should be better this year. That being said, I find it hard to believe that replacing Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer with Steve Montador (is he really a top-4 D?) and Andrew Brunette (38 years old!) made the team better. The Hawks are also praised for adding grit, but over-the-hill vets like Mayers and O’Donnell don’t being much to the table, and Dan Carcillo is often a liability.

Key Injuries: (C) Dave Bolland (Day-to-day)

(6) Boston

On paper, the Bruins are still a great team. But after a gruelling cup run and a shortened summer, I think some of the veterans will be hobbled by lingering injuries. The seemingly small departures of Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi may also sting, as both veterans really stepped up their play in the playoffs. They’ll certainly be tough to beat come playoffs, but I can’t see them getting back to the finals this year.

Key Injuries: None

(7) Vancouver

Similar to Boston, Vancouver is due for a rash of injuries this coming year. Kesler and Raymond are already on the shelf, which all-but eliminates the Canucks’ secondary scoring. Ehrhoff was a huge loss on D, as last year’s #1 powerplay now lacks a quarterback. The Canucks are still very dangerous, but a few others teams have surpassed them.

Key Injuries: (F) Ryan Kesler (week-to-week), (F) Mason Raymond (out indefinitely)

(8) Pittsburgh

The Pens proved last year that they’re a capable regular season team even without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. But when the playoffs came, they weren’t able to get out of the first round. It should be about the same this year – if Malkin returns to his ’06-’09 form, and Crosby is able to get healthy, the Pens will be a top cup contender along with Washington. Until then, they’re only a secondary threat.

Key Injuries: (F) Sidney Crosby (indefinitely), (D) Brooks Orpik (week-to-week)

(9) Detroit

The Wings are who they are: an elite veteran team with as much skill as anyone in the league. But their aging core is a big concern come playoff time, as injuries have limited Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Franzen in recent playoff runs. They are getting younger, but they’ll win and lose with their vets, who aren’t nearly as good in May and June as they are in October.

Key Injuries: None

Good Teams Missing an Ingredient

(10) Tampa Bay

Although Tampa Bay was one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals, don’t bank on a repeat performance. Outside the elite forward group of Stamkos, St. Louis, and Lecavalier, this team is pretty average. The defence is average, and 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson can play as well over 82 games as he did in short spurts last post-season. The Bolts will be a good team, but they won’t be around come the later playoff rounds.

Key Injuries: (D) Matthias Ohlund (DTD)

(11) New York Rangers

The Rangers look like two-thirds of a cup contender. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top-3 goalies in the league, and the forward group is vastly improved by the addition of #1 centre Brad Richards and the expected emergence of #2C Derek Stepan. But the blueline, which was thin coming into the season, was struck a devastating blow when news broke of Marc Staal’s post-concussion symptoms. With their #1 defenceman out of the line-up, the Rangers have a young, rag-tag group of defencemen, which should give Lundqvist more than he can handle.

Key Injuries: (D) Marc Staal (out indefinitely)

(12) Anaheim

The Ducks are kind of like the Tampa of the West. They have the best line in hockey (Ryan-Getzlaf-Perry), but don’t have many other quality forwards aside from Teemu Selanne. They do have a great goalie in Jonas Hiller, but he missed much of last season with vertigo, and may not return at quite the same level. The Ducks are certainly a playoff team, but they don’t have the depth to compete with the league’s best.

Key Injuries: (D) Tony Lydman (week-to-week), (D) Kurtis Foster (DTD)

(13) Philadelphia

We all know about the Flyers’ roster overhaul. Well the dust has settled, and what remains is a very young team, with key players like Giroux, Schenn, Simmonds, Van Riemsdyk, and Voracek all under 24, and Couturier just a teenager. Jaromir Jagr is still a talented player, but he can’t be the dominant force he was 6 years ago. Chris Pronger is also starting to show his age, as he missed much of last season with a variety of different injuries. While the team is very talented, the demographics don’t equate to a long playoff run.

Key Injuries: None

(14) St. Louis

The Blues remind me a bit of the Blackhawks 3-4 years ago. They’re loaded with young talent, and poised to make some noise soon. I wouldn’t anticipate a long playoff run this year, but they should be in the picture. Look out a in a few years.

Key Injuries: (F) David Perron (indefinitely), (F) Jason Arnott (DTD), (D) Carlo Colaiacovo (DTD)

(15) New Jersey

It was a tale of two seasons for the Devils last season – they were basement dwellers for the first half, and then made a miraculous run after the all-star break which nearly netted them a post-season berth. They aren’t a lock for a spot this year, but having captain Zach Parise healthy can only increase their chances.

Key Injuries: Travis Zajac (Out indefinitely)

(16) Minnesota

Altough Scott Cullen has them 27th in his weekly ‘Power Rankings’, I’d wager my life savings that the Wild finish higher than 27ththis season. For years, the Wild have been a good defensive team, but have struggled to score goals. The offence has finally been addressed, as the Wild now have a legitimate top-line with former Sharks Heatley and Setoguchi joining the underrated Mikko Koivu. A full season of Pierre-Marc Bouchard also boosts the attack significantly. The Wild are a bit thin on D with Burns’ departure to San Jose, but Nik Backstrom can hold down the fort if he’s feeling 100%.

Key Injuries: None

(17) Toronto

Toronto is a well-balanced team which has the misfortune of playing in a significantly improved Eastern Conference. Last year, this team would have snuck into the playoffs, but they lack the high-end talent of a sure playoff team. The forwards are solid but won’t blow anyone away; the defence is good, but lacks a true top-pairing. The goaltending could go either way, as Reimer is unproven over a full season. The Leafs will be very competitive this year, but they may not have the talent to post long winning streaks like the top teams do.

Key Injuries: Tim Connolly (DTD)

(18) Montreal

The Montreal Canadians made the playoffs last year for one reason: Carey Price. Their top scorer (Plekanec) had 57 points. Offence will again be an issue for them, as free agent signee Erik Cole will prove how average (and overpaid) he is. Losing Wisniewski and Hamrlik is a huge blow to the defence, and Markov is still out with swelling in his knee. The Habs will compete for a playoff spot, but they’re in trouble.

Key Injuries: (D) Andrei Markov (indefinitely), (D) Chris Campoli (indefnitely)

(19) Nashville

Each year Nashville loses a few useful players and replaces them with younger, cheaper options, seemingly without missing a step. While the same is true this year, their consistent performance may finally end, as divisional rivals like St. Louis and Columbus have improved considerably. Their defensive triumverate (Weber, Suter, and Rinne) will keep opposition scoring to a minimum, but as stingy as they are, the offence is equally paltry. Expect them to miss the playoffs for only the second time since the NHL lockout. (Last time was 2008-2009).

Key Injuries: (F) Mike Fisher (week-to-week)

(20) Columbus

The additions of Jeff Carter and underrated defender James Wisniewski will make the team better, but the playoffs may not be a realistic goal this year, especially in the tightly contested Central Division. The forwards group is pretty good, but questions remain on defence and in goal. Youth, which is scattered throughout the Jackets line-up, doesn’t tend to produce immediate success in the NHL.

Key Absences: (D) James Wisniewski (suspension), (F) Kristian Huselius (indefinitely)

(21) Carolina

The Hurricanes are an interesting group. They have some well-established talent with centre Eric Staal and goaltender Cam Ward, but they’re also loaded with youngsters, and others who could be deemed ‘complementary’ players at best. The free agent signings of Alexei Ponikarovsky and Anthony Stewart were concerning, as neither was of much interest to the rest of the league, and they also overpaid heavily for fading defenceman Tomas Kaberle. The Hurricanes will be decent this year, if for no other reason than the steady play of Cam Ward, but I wouldn’t expect them to build on last year’s late-season run.

Key Injuries: None

Find Another Team for the Time Being…

(22) Calgary

The Flames aren’t an awful team now, but their unwillingness to plan for the future has all-but guaranteed misery for their fans for the next 10 years. The team is made up of a small group of talented but aging veterans, a decent group of complementary players in their prime, and a young group which offers little hope for the future. The early season injury to Jarome Iginla further hurts their playoff chances for this season, which were in question to begin with. The best thing for this team would be to tank and get a high draft pick in order to start the rebuild in earnest, but the Flames are good enough to finish higher than the bottom-10, which should hurt them even more in the future.

Key Injuries: (F) Jarome Iginla (DTD), (F) Michael Backlund (1-2 months), (F) Brendan Morrison (DTD)

(23) Dallas

Written-off prior to last season, the Stars were a bit of a surprise as they narrowly missed the playoffs. But losing star centre Brad Richards dealt a huge blow to this season’s playoff hopes, and like Carolina, they made some curious free agent signings (Souray, Pardy) in which they spent money without upgrading their team. There is some room for grwoth, as young players like Benn and Goligoski are ripe for break-out years, but expecting a playoff berth would be unrealistic.

Key Injuries: None

(24) Winnipeg

Despite being ranked well into the league’s bottom-10, the Jets shouldn’t be seen as a bad team. What they are is a very young team which lacks the consistency required to make a serious run at the playoffs. As such, expect unexpected moments of brilliance, followed by periods of incredibly poor play. Nevertheless, the NHL’s return to Winnipeg will provide Jets fans with all the excitement they can handle, even if the product isn’t yet top-notch.

Key Injuries: None

(25) Phoenix

Few teams were hit harder by free agency this summer than the Phoenix Coyotes. They lost starting goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, veteran d-man Ed Jovonovski, and veteran centres Eric Belanger and Vern Fiddler. They still have a very good defence, led by young star Keith Yandle, but their goaltending and offence are both impressively bad. Add to that the continuing distraction of the ownership dilemma, and the Coyotes should finish well outside the playoff picture.

Key Absences: (F) Kyle Turris (contract hold-out)

(26) Colorado

To say the Avalanche are a young team is an understatement. Remove back-up goalie J.S Giguere and veteran winger Milan Hejduk and this team barely has a player past their mid-20’s. While they might speak to the future, it doesn’t bode well for this coming season.

Key Injuries: None

(27) Edmonton

Like Colorado, the Oilers are running a nursery. They have a scary-good group of young forwards with Eberle, Hall, Paajarvi, Nugent-Hopkins, Omark, and Gagner, and good veterans with Hemsky, Horcoff, Smyth, and Belanger. The problem lies in balance, as every one of those players is a forward. The goaltending will be below average, and the defence rivals the New York teams for worst in the league. Another high pick may be coming their way; conventiently, 2012 is supposed to be the year of the defenceman.

Key Injuries: (D) Ryan Whitney (DTD), (F) Sam Gagner (Indefinitely)

(28) New York Islanders

The Islanders are kind of like the Oilers, as they have an impressive group of young forwards led by the ultra-skilled John Tavares. They should score a lot of goals, but like the Oilers, they’ll struggle to keep them out. The defence is well below average, and their goaltending rivals Florida for league-worst.

Key Injuries: None

(29) Florida

If you think Philadelphia made big changes in the off-season, you didn’t see what happened in Florida. The Panthers added 10 players through trade or free agency, which, as far as I know, is unprecedented in NHL history. (The Flyers added 6; 5 not including Couturier who they drafted). Despite being ranked 30th, the team isn’t necessarily horrible. They have pretty good forward depth, and a couple of talented defencemen. However, their top scoring line is pitiful relative to most NHL teams, and Jose Theodore – 9 years removed from his MVP season – is a back-up on at least 28 other teams. Factor in the lack of continuity, and this talent-poor roster should be in for a very long season. 

Key Injuries: None

(30) Ottawa

Ottawa is all-but assured a high pick this year, as they’ve loaded up their roster with no less than 7 first-year NHLers, and no more than 6 veteran skaters, some of which are no longer effective. (Think Filip Kuba). They have a number of extremely talented young players, especially on defence where Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, and David Rundblad make up a very impressive group, but they’ll need a few years before they become sturdy NHL players.

Key Injuries: None


5 thoughts on “The NHL-30 (October)

  1. I’m disappointed you corrected the article. I still think Florida is a better team than Ottawa. Will guarantee they finish with a better record.

  2. There is also a guy who lives across the street from Spankys who is a Calgary Flames fan. We constantly rip him for it. Love how we see eye to eye on that train wreck of a franchise. At least someone will give Jay Feaster a TV job once his reign is over.

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