Haggerty’s NHL Power Rankings: Preseason edition
Haggerty’s NHL Power Rankings: Preseason edition
The NHL regular season is still weeks away, but the teams are starting to take shape as they dip their toes into their first preseason games getting ready for the regular season.
Players have changed teams and some will look very different with new coaches behind the bench, and all 30 teams will be operating this season while knowing that the NHL expansion draft waits for them once the regular season has finished up. But until the regular season gets going, credit where it’s due with Mike Sullivan, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil the Thrill Kessel and Kris Letang in the No. 1 spot after their impressive run to the Cup last season.
Given the way the Pens were floundering before hiring Sullivan in the middle of last season, it should serve as a lesson to other NHL teams what kind of difference a change in coaching, and an influx of youthful players, can have on a team’s short term hopes.
It should also give some reloading NHL teams some hope this season, and sometimes hope isn’t such a bad thing after a challenging stretch.
Without further ado, here are this week’s power rankings:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (0-0-0 in preseason, rank at end of last season: 4)
If only Phil Kessel would have tweeted out the same kind of passive-aggressive, whiny sentiments to the Leafs when they were falling all over themselves last year too.
2. San Jose Sharks (0-0-0, rank last at end of last season: 13)
So Joe Pavelski being Team USA captain didn’t work out so well in the World Cup, did it?
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 11)
The relative ease of re-signing Steven Stamkos ensures the Bolts are going to be one of the best teams in the East for a long time to come. Stevie Y has done an impressive job there.
4. Washington Capitals (0-0-1, rank at end of last season: 1)
The Ghosts of Stanley Cup playoffs past continue to haunt Barry Trotz and Alex Ovechkin. Another disappointing end for Ovie in the World Cup should provide some serious motivation for this season with a loaded team in the nation’s capital.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 5)
A banged-up Duncan Keith is a concern, and the Blackhawks could have their struggles if the World Cup exertion slows down Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews at all this season. But c’mon, this is the Blackhawks we’re talking about and they’ll be a handful as long as their core group is together.
6. Los Angeles Kings (1-1-0, rank at end of last season: 5)
Perhaps stripping the “C” from Dustin Brown was the kick in the pants that the Kings needed at this point after getting to the mountaintop a couple of times.
7. Florida Panthers (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 7)
Owner Vinny Viola has ponied up the cash to lock up all of their young core players and the Panthers have completed revamped their defense with Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. This is going to be a really interesting team, but they also should be young and good as long as the long term contract security doesn’t make things too comfortable in Sawgrass Mills.
8. New York Islanders (1-0-0, rank at end of last season: 9)
Will Andrew Ladd make anybody forget about Kyle Okposo, or help the Islanders advance any deeper than they did last season? How long will this Brooklyn experiment last for? Inquiring minds want to know the answers to all these questions.
9. Dallas Stars (1-0-0, rank at end of last season: 3)
The Tyler Seguin injury is a bit of a bummer at the start of a crossroads kind of season with this group, but we’ll see what this explosive run-and-gun group can do again this season. They’ll be fun to watch. We know that for sure.
10. St. Louis Blues (2-1-0, rank at end of last season: 2)
This team may take a step back without David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott in the ranks, but there is still plenty of talent for Ken Hitchcock in his final season behind the bench.
11. Anaheim Ducks (0-0-0, rank last week: 8)
Is Randy Carlyle really going to make a difference with this group? I’m going to say “no” as the salary cap is beginning to become an issue for a very talented group.
12. Minnesota Wild (1-0-0, rank at end of last season: 17)
Eric Staal and Chris Stewart will help the forward ranks, and Bruce Boudreau has a long history of turning teams around in the regular season. The talent is there for this team to really rise in the Western Conference, but Zach Parise and Ryan Suter need to be at their very best all year.
13. New Jersey Devils (2-0-0, rank at end of last season: 20)
Taylor Hall will make an undeniable impact on the Devils, and Cory Schneider is one of the best goalies in the Eastern Conference. I see the Devils as a definite playoff team this year.
14. Detroit Red Wings (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 14)
Detroit will find out this season just how much Pavel Datsyuk still mattered in Motown. It might be a bumpy ride for the Winged Wheels.
15. New York Rangers (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 10)
The power of Jimmy Vesey compels them. The power of Jimmy Vesey compels them. The power of Jimmy Vesey compels them. He had a pretty decent rookie training camp if you consider lighting it up as “pretty decent.”
16. Nashville Predators (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 12)
My prediction is that it will take a bit of time for this Preds team to regain their footing after trading such an important figure to their franchise in Shea Weber.
17. Calgary Flames (0-2-0, rank at end of last season: 25)
The Flames really have to be better this season after collapsing last season. It will be interesting to see what a new coach adds to the mix and how much of an impact young Matthew Tkachuk can have on the group.
18. Montreal Canadiens (0-1-0, rank at end of last season: 22)
Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are going to raise tremendously the “pain in the butt” level when it comes time to lace up against the Canadiens. Then there’s a healthy Carey Price to be a huge difference-maker as well. The Habs could be in line for a big turnaround.
19. Boston Bruins (0-0-1, rank at end of last season: 15)
While David Backes adds some grit, toughness and leadership it’s the same old defensive questions for the Bruins again this year. Rookie Brandon Carlo was impressive in the preseason opener, but the B’s are going to need the entire back end to up their game after last season’s weak link performance. I could see the B’s making the playoffs this season, but they’re still not built for anything approaching a long postseason run.
20. Colorado Avalanche (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 21)
This group doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt after underachieving heavily for the past two seasons, but it’s addition by subtraction getting a real hockey coach behind the bench. I think we’ll all see this season that the Avs were much better than the mediocre, disorganized group they’d been the last couple of seasons. The talent is there for a 180 degree turn, and a playoff appearance in the Western Conference.
21. Buffalo Sabres (0-1-0, rank at end of last season: 24)
Kyle Okposo is a big addition to the Buffalo ranks and adds to the talent up front, but this Evander Kane situation could cast a pall over the entire hockey club. They need to find a way to deal with that, and turn a talented young nucleus into a much bigger contender in the Atlantic Division. Jack Eichel should be in line for a large leap in his second NHL season.
22. Arizona Coyotes (1-1-0, rank at end of last season: 23)
The Coyotes have the best young GM in the NHL in John Chayka, and have a very talented group that they just keep adding quality to as time goes on. They could be in line to land Jacob Trouba as well, and that would really start to push this group of players into impressive territory and a big leap in the West. As it is this is a fun young hockey club to watch, and the defense is much improved.
23. Winnipeg Jets (0-0-0, rank at end of last season: 26)
The Jacob Trouba situation could be a distraction for the Jets, but they also came up smelling like lottery roses when they drafted Patrik Laine with the second overall pick. That’s another talented player to a group that should be good enough for a playoff spot if they play up to potential. Also a real stick salute to Blake Wheeler, who has become a fully realized player living up to his potential in Winnipeg after being named captain this offseason. He’s come a long way from Boston.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (1-0-0, rank at end of last season: 18)
Teuvo Teravainen gives the Hurricanes another talented young player and their D-men corps is extremely young and very good. Carolina might be in for another season where they take their lumps, but this is a group that could potentially make a big leap this season. Watch out for them.
25. Philadelphia Flyers (0-2-0, rank at end of last season: 16)
This is a team that should probably rank a lot higher based on their talent and the power of the Ghost, but I just have this nagging feeling that they’re going to struggle again this season. They did add Dale Weise, so they have that going for them…which is nic
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (34-39-8, rank at end of last season: 28)
Auston Matthews will give the Leafs a bounce in his rookie season as the No. 1 overall pick, and Roman Polak is a player that can be a bit of a pain to play against. I don’t think we’ll see a playoff-style turnaround in Toronto, but they will be tougher to play against as they slowly build it back up the right way. Signing Stamkos would have fast-forwarded that a bit, but he had the good sense to stay in Tampa Bay.
27. Columbus Blue Jackets (1-2-0, rank at end of last season: 27)
The Blue Jackets started off training camp with a grueling camp practice devoid of pucks and sticks. Welcome to Torts World, and paying the penance for the World Cup media and Team USA’s dog’s breakfast of a performance in aforementioned tournament.
28. Ottawa Senators (1-0-0, rank at end of last season: 19)
I wasn’t buying into the Senators, and then they had one of their own players take out Clarke MacArthur in an intra-squad scrimmage just days into main camp. That’s almost as bad of a sign as trading for Dion Phaneuf, and expecting him to stabilize your defense. Wait a second…
29. Edmonton Oilers (2-0-0, rank at end of last season: 29)
This is a “show me” ranking. I’ve expected the Oilers to rise up and become a power in the West before, and I’m not going to be fooled again until they actually show it on the ice. Clearly, Connor McDavid is something special and Milan Lucic is going to bring toughness, attitude and swagger to that group of players, but they still have to show massive improvement on defense, and in between the pipes. Perhaps this will be the year, but I’ll gladly be behind the curve on that one.
30. Vancouver Canucks (0-0-0, rank at the end of last season: 30)
Things could get really bumpy for the Canucks out in Vancouver. While the Sedin twins and Loui Eriksson looked like a good combination at the World Cup of Hockey, my prediction is they’re going to get roughed up early and often by other teams looking to shut them down. Perhaps I’m wrong and maybe Erik Gudbranson brings toughness, leadership and the kind of defensive play they needed on the back end, and I’ll be very happy for GM Jim Benning if that’s the case in Vancouver.