Haggerty's NHL power rankings
Haggerty's NHL power rankings:
With the NHL preseason in the books, it’s on to the games that really count in the 2017-18 regular season. The quick and dirty outlook for the league is this: The power continues to reside in the Metro Division where the two-time Stanley Cup champ resides in Pittsburgh, and other strong, balanced teams exist in Washington, Columbus and New York City.
Certainly there was a group of Western Conference teams that improved and Nashville’s ascendency to the Stanley Cup Final showed that things are more wide open than they’ve ever been in the West. But let’s all be honest here: The Pittsburgh Penguins are sitting at the top of the hill with crowns on their collective heads until somebody can make it all the way up there, and knock Sid the Kid and Co. out of the catbird seat. Until then, the champs is the champs.
Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (preseason final record: 3-3-1)
At the very least, a back-to-back Stanley Cup champ needs to start the preseason power rankings as the hockey club at the top of the list. Now they get a healthy Kris Letang back, so the rich should just be getting richer in Pittsburgh.
2. Chicago Blackhawks (4-2-0)
Some people think the Blackhawks are going to really bow out this season after serving as a first round playoff casualty last spring. I think they are going to one pissed off bunch of proud hockey players, and the return of Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad helps bring back some of the mojo that may have been missing last season. The talent is there for the Hawks to go on another run, and their core group is still young enough to do it.
3. Washington Capitals (2-5-0)
The regular season is never the problem for the Capitals, am I right? Alex Ovechkin is leaner and presumably hungrier than he’s ever been, and should be all kinds of pissed off after being barred from participating in the Olympics this winter. This group still has a while lot left to prove.
4. Edmonton Oilers (6-2-0)
Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers have now shelled out the big bucks for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, and now it’s up to them to push Edmonton forward in their playoff exploits. All the pieces are in place for the Oil to have a dominant regular season along with a long, productive playoff run, and now it’s just a matter of living up to their potential on the ice.
5. Nashville Predators (2-2-2)
The Predators took a major step forward last season with their Stanley Cup Final appearance, and now try to wind things up again for another long successful hockey season. Certainly Nashville looks like they’re primed for another great season while armed with so much talent within their core group. The NHL would love to see another repeat run from the Preds with the power of the entire country and western population behind them in Music City.
6. Anaheim Ducks (3-3-1)
The Ducks have some injury issues to overcome early on, but they should once again be in the middle of things out in the Western Conference even if key players like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are hitting the far end of their prime at this point.
7. Minnesota Wild (5-2-0)
It feels like the Minnesota Wild always end up in the top-10 by the end of the season, and this year should be no different with Devan Dubnyk in net, and players like Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Mikael Granlund in the mix. The back problems that Parise is dealing with could throw a monkey wrench into things, however, if it becomes any kind of a chronic issue.
8. New York Rangers (3-2-1)
How many more good years does King Henrik have left? The Rangers are betting it’s at least a couple more seasons, and they have enough talent at both ends to again push into the playoffs from a strong Metro Division. Offense will be a question mark with past prime time performers like Rick Nash onto the back end of their careers, and guys like Chris Kreider and Jimmy Vesey more complimentary players than prime scorers.
9. Ottawa Senators (3-3-0)
The reports of Erik Karlsson’s offseason ankle surgery are most definitely cause for some concern, but this is also the Atlantic Division team that foraged the deepest into the playoff field last spring. They have a strong group, solid goaltending and a very strong-willed coach leading them, and the equalizer for the Sens will be Karlsson as long as he’s playing at the same level as he did last season. Karlsson is a game-changer.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets (4-3-1)
The Blue Jackets won’t be sneaking up on people this season, but they return the same cast of rugged, talented characters being led by the inimitable John Tortorella and the goalie stylings of Sergei Bobrovsky. This is a group that could be ready to take the next step in a wide open Eastern Conference behind Pittsburgh this season.
11. Calgary Flames (2-5-0)
A lot will be hinging on the performance of goaltender Mike Smith, but this is also a very talented young group. One would hope the arena politics doesn’t hang over this team’s head, but stranger things have happened to promising NHL teams.
12. Toronto Maple Leafs (5-2-1)
Will Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner lead the Leafs to the top of the Atlantic Division this season? It’s there for the taking in a wide open division, but it will be interesting to see if this trio falls into a bit of the sophomore slump after such a dynamic opening act at the NHL level.
13. St. Louis Blues (3-5-0)
This is a tough one to gauge. The Blues have holdovers from past success, and they should always be competitive with an offensive force like Vladimir Tarasenko in their ranks. But we’re also talking about a Blues team that’s reloading on the fly as well, and that can always be a difficult challenge while still remaining competitive in the Western Conference.
14. Boston Bruins (4-3-0)
The Bruins lose virtually nothing from last year’s team, and will add Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk to the mix as another influx of youthful talent. It will be a more difficult road for the B’s this season in a more competitive Atlantic Division, but this team should be even better than they were last season with a full year under head coach Bruce Cassidy. McAvoy is a sleeper pick by many to be Calder Trophy winner this season, and the Bruins will absolutely be a playoff team if he plays to that level.
15. Dallas Stars (3-3-0)
The Dallas Stars made some splashy moves by bringing in Ben Bishop and Alex Radulov, but how much better are they really going to be? This whole operation relies on Ken Hitchcock getting Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin to buy in and play 200-foot hockey, and many coaches have tried and failed to convince Seguin to do that throughout his NHL career.
16. Winnipeg Jets (2-3-2)
This is a loaded group in terms of talent, so the pressure is on Paul Maurice to get results and cohesive performances. Goaltending is always the question with the Jets because they should have the firepower to score plenty of goals.
17. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-4-0)
The Lightning start the season on the periphery of the playoff picture, but let’s be honest here: A healthy Steven Stamkos should rocket them up to the top of the Atlantic Division and back into the playoffs. This is the sleeping giant in the East after missing the playoffs last season and they could very easily push all the way back to the top of the Atlantic.
18. Carolina Hurricanes (5-2-0)
The Hurricanes are the trendy pick of many after trading for Scott Darling, signing Justin Williams and boasting a pretty talented young group around those two new pieces. Let’s be honest, though. This is still Carolina, and we’ll all believe it when we see it from a group that’s completely stumbled out of the gate in each of the last couple of seasons in a Metro Division that doesn’t allow for that sort of thing.
19. San Jose Sharks (4-2-0)
The loss of Patrick Marleau will certainly make an impact, but this Sharks group still has Martin Jones along with a number of young players. And they still have the NHL’s favorite Hillbilly Jim duo in Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, so they’ll be keeping beard enthusiasts everywhere interested in the NHL as well. The window is closing on the Sharks, but it’s not fully shut on them this season.
20. New York Islanders (6-0-2)
John Tavares gets his partner-in-crime in Jordan Eberle, and Tavares should be highly motivated coming into his free agent season. On paper the Isles should be a playoff team, but they are yet another organization that has home arena uncertainty hanging over them in a less-than-ideal situation in Brooklyn that’s been playing out over the last couple of seasons.
21. Montreal Canadiens (2-6-0)
The combination of Carey Price and Claude Julien should be a golden one in Montreal, but that defense corps doesn’t look up to snuff after they tore things down late last season. This could be a team in transition, but Julien always seems to get a team to be just good enough for a playoff spot no matter what the roster talent level. That’s a credit to his coaching ability, which should get a major test under the Habs microscope this season.
22. Philadelphia Flyers (3-2-3)
This is actually a pretty talented group that’s adding a No. 2 overall pick in Nolan Patrick to the likes of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov. As always goaltending will be a big factor in Philly, and the young defense will have to be ready for prime time. The Flyers could use a big season of NHL development out of Shayne Gostisbehere after he hit a few road blocks last season.
23. Los Angeles Kings (5-1-1)
This is a tough one to gauge. On the one hand you have proud Stanley Cup-winning holdovers like Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, but on the other hand you’ve got a team that lacks offensive depth and has an injury-battered goaltender in Jon Quick. The Kings could push back into the playoffs, but this is an older, slower team that could also really begin to fall behind in the faster-paced NHL as well. Time will tell with a Kings team that definitely appears to be on the downslide.
24. Buffalo Sabres (1-4-1)
Jack Eichel is paying for Jim’s Steak Out for everybody after signing an eight year contract that will pay him $10 million per season, and make him the unquestioned franchise player in Buffalo. The Sabres could be poised for a big push forward this season, but they’ll need some major improvement on their back end to make that happen.
25. Florida Panthers (4-1-1)
The talent is there for the Panthers to turn things around and get back into the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. Now that things have been settled up at the top of the organization, the Panthers can refocus on winning and competing while watching young stars like Vincent Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov lead the way. Let’s all be honest, though: It won’t be nearly as much fun with Jagr and his mullet now gone.
26. Vancouver Canucks (4-3-1)
The Canucks start their power rankings season as the best of the worst, but they could become the worst of the worst by the end of the season. There are questions about this group, and leaving the goaltending to Jakob Markstrom could be the mistake that finally makes the bottom finally drop out. This is an organization that probably has to get worse in order to get better.
27. New Jersey Devils (5-1-1)
The addition of Nico Hischier is an interesting one to the Devils mix, and they have one of the most important ingredients in Cory Schneider. It’s great news that Brian Boyle may be able to resume his NHL career sooner than expected, and that would be another added boost to a Devils group that could sneak up on a few people this season.
28. Detroit Red Wings (3-4-1)
The Red Wings usher in a new era in a new arena, but may not be able to kick start things with a throwback season. Clearly there are some good, young players like Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin, but this Red Wings group is a mere shadow of the Cup-winning teams that will inhabited the ole Joe just a handful of years ago.
29. Vegas Golden Knights (3-3-1)
Some people think the Golden Knights are going to be a very good team this season. Those people are definitely wrong, but they will be competitive based on having Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, and based on some of the moves they can make with their surplus of young defensemen. Vegas could be pretty good in a couple of years if all the draft picks and expansion selections end up panning out for them with loads of assets.
30. Arizona Coyotes (2-3-1)
The Coyotes season has long since been over, but BU’s Clayton Keller gives them some hope for this season after getting his feet wet at the NHL level here at the end of last season. Many have Charlie McAvoy pinned as the favorite for the Calder Trophy, but I think that Keller could be a dark horse candidate capable of piling up points in the desert if he can remain healthy. I don’t think the Coyotes are going to be any good as a hockey team this season, but they do have some interesting pieces to watch this season.
31. Colorado Avalanche (4-2-0)
The Avalanche won four of their six games during the preseason, and managed to survive the extreme awkwardness of Matt Duchene attending a training camp for a team he no longer wants to play for. Joe Sakic needs to address that situation quickly if Colorado hopes to have a better team vibe than they did last season when the bottom dropped out.