NHL Power Rankings: Regular season is here
The NHL regular season is now days away, and teams are taking shape as the end of the preseason gives way to the start of 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 knowing that the NHL expansion draft awaits them once the regular season and playoffs have finished.
Given the way the Penguins were floundering before promoting head coach Mike 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 things after a challenging stretch. The question is this: will it be a traditionally powerful team that captures the Cup this season, or will it be another surprising team like the Pens spurred on by adjustments during the season.
Without further ado here are this week’s power rankings:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-2-0 in preseason, previous ranking: 3)
Once Nikita Kucherov re-signs with Tampa, Steve Yzerman will have effectively kept this whole group together for a long run together. This team should be one of the best in the East year in, year out for the foreseeable future.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (3-3-0, previous ranking: 1)
Pittsburgh, we have a major problem. Sidney Crosby coming down with a concussion before the start of the regular season is bad, bad news for the Penguins.
3. San Jose Sharks (3-2-1, previous ranking: 2)
It will be interesting to see if San Jose simply found lightning in a bottle for the Sharks last season, or if San Jose was onto something with Martin Jones now between the pipes. Bringing in Mikkel Boedker as the big move doesn’t represent a major upgrade for the Sharks.
4. Washington Capitals (4-1-2, previous ranking: 4)
The Capitals are a roster loaded with talent, depth and multi-faceted players, but have trouble once it comes to playoff time. That will be the challenge again this season for a group led by Ovie that doesn’t have much to prove in the regular season.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (2-4-0, previous ranking: 5)
Brian Campbell makes for an interesting return to the Blackhawks team where he originally won a Cup with back in 2010, but their forward group is a bit thin past the obvious star players at the very top. That’s why they made such a big push for Jimmy Vesey over the summer before he settled on the New York Rangers instead.
6. Los Angeles Kings (3-4-1, previous ranking: 5)
The Kings are going to be forced to ride new captain Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick as far as they can go next season after watching Milan Lucic walk away via free agency. They also have to wade through a potentially awkward situation with Dustin Brown after stripping the “C” away from him, but the talent is obviously there for the playoffs and a decent run once they get there.
7. Florida Panthers (2-2-2, previous rank: 7)
The Panthers had solidified their defense by bringing in Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, have named Keith Mackenzie their new captain and have locked up young star players like Vincent Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad and Reilly Smith among others to long term contract extensions. GM Tom Rowe has done a nice job of getting all of Florida’s ducks in a row, and now it’s a matter of going out and winning with consistency and excellence up to their considerable talent level on the roster.
8. Dallas Stars (4-3-0, previous ranking: 9)
Signing Dan Hamhuis was a solid move for the Stars to fortify their defense a bit, but Dallas still has a long way to go in the defense and goaltending department. At least the Stars don’t seem like they’re going to be too affected by the Tyler Seguin injury that knocked him out of World Cup of Hockey consideration.
9. St. Louis Blues (4-3-1, previous ranking: 10)
Brian Elliott, Troy Brouwer and David Backes are gone from the Blues, and that is going to leave a big void in veteran experience, leadership and forward depth. They also had to be disappointed in the inability of Vladimir Sobotka to get out of his KHL deal and return to St. Louis. But they still have Vladimir Tarasenko, and that will erase plenty of the shortcomings along the way.
10. Anaheim Ducks (2-4-1, previous ranking: 11)
Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back? Guess who’s back, guess who’s back, guess who’s back? Randy Carlyle…that’s who. I wonder if this is a popular move with any of the Ducks players still on the roster from the last time Carlyle was behind the Anaheim bench back in 2011.
11. New York Islanders (4-4-0, previous ranking: 8)
The losses of Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen is definitely going to leave a mark on the Islanders, but they also have some very talented young players ready to jump into the fray. Can Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera make a difference for an Isles team that hopes to take the next step? It actually seems like a lateral move at best, and a downgrade in most respects. But perhaps John Tavares can find a way to really carry this Isles group while they figure out where their permanent home could and should be.
12. Minnesota Wild (3-3-0, previous ranking: 12)
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter need to be at their very best all year for a Wild group bringing in some new elements like Chris Stewart, and Bruce Boudreau is also going to need to provide Minnesota with some strong direction from behind the bench. There’s enough talent to get into the playoffs, but they really need players entering their prime like Charlie Coyle to step up and provide the necessary report.
13. New Jersey Devils (3-5-0, previous ranking: 13)
Taylor Hall and Cory Schneider will be leading the way for the Devils this season, and rightfully so given what the organization had to give up to ensure both players would end up in New Jersey. I feel like there’s definitely some high upside for a Jersey that should be among the top-8 teams in the Eastern Conference mix when it comes to playoff time.
14. Detroit Red Wings (6-1-1, previous ranking: 14)
The Red Wings looked like they meant business in Boston’s home preseason game against them a couple of weeks ago, but they will undoubtedly miss Pavel Datsyuk after he’d been a fixture with the Winged Wheels over the last 10 years.
15. New York Rangers (2-2-2, previous ranking: 15)
Jimmy Vesey had a great training camp with the Rangers, and looks like the kind of player that’s going to be a factor offensively for the Blueshirts this season. That’s good because the prospect cupboard is getting a bit bare for a Rangers team that hasn’t made many first round picks over the last few years. They did sign Michael Grabner to a two-year contract, so they have that going for them…which is nice.
16. Nashville Predators (2-2-2, previous ranking: 16)
It will be interesting to see just how much the Predators will miss Shea Weber, and just how much he will add to what the Canadiens are doing up in Montreal. Either way, P.K. Subban is going to add excitement, personality and a certain sense of style to Nashville’s attack on a nightly basis, but the Predators definitely won’t be physically tougher than they were with Weber last season.
17. Calgary Flames (3-3-1, previous ranking: 17)
Credit to Brian Burke and Brad Treliving for getting a reasonable deal done with Johnny Gaudreau, and keeping a cool head when there could have been other NHL teams trying to poach Johnny Hockey. When you add the decent salary cap hit for Gaudreau to the other players signed to long term deals, the Flames should be in line for a big bounce-back year and a nice little run as their young nucleus of core players begins to mature into the prime of their careers.
18. Montreal Canadiens (4-1-2, previous ranking: 18)
Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are going to raise the “pain in the butt” level to a tremendous amount when it comes time for teams 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 in an Atlantic Division that’s not as strong as it used to be, but they’ll need solid seasons from their key guys like Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Markov and Brendan Gallagher among others.
19. Boston Bruins (4-2-1, previous ranking: 19)
The Bruins have their same group of players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and David Pastrnak among others, and they’ve added a much-needed butt-kicker type player in David Backes as well. They also look like they’re going to give young D-men like Rob O’Gara and Brandon Carlo a chance to thrive after good training camp performances. Perhaps there is some hope for this B’s team to return to the playoffs again after all. The bottom line is that they need to be better defensively, and everybody on the roster knows that talk is cheap.
20. Colorado Avalanche (6-0-0, previous ranking: 20)
The talented, young group of players - except for Jarome Iginla as he keeps on rolling along - should be ripe for a giant turnaround with the removal of coach Patrick Roy, which is addition by subtraction. This could be a very dangerous team in the Western Conference if things go right for them, and if guys like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog really buy in and do the heavy lifting up front. They’ve been the biggest underachievers in the league over the last two seasons in the NHL.
21. Buffalo Sabres (4-2-1, previous ranking: 21)
Kyle Okposo is a big addition to the Buffalo ranks and adds to the talent up front, but the signing of Rasmus Ristolainen is a giant key to everything the Sabres are hoping to do this season. Jack Eichel should be in line for a large leap in his second NHL season, and could lead the Sabres back into the playoffs so the Ryan brothers have something to do in Buffalo this spring.
22. Arizona Coyotes (5-1-2, previous ranking: 22)
The Coyotes have made some big moves this offseason, and added Alex Goligoski, Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse and Jamie McGinn among other players, and that’s not even counting the expectation that Dylan Strome is going to be a big performer for them this season. Put that all together with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Anthony Duclair and Max Domi, and the Coyotes might be onto something with a young, energetic and skilled team that isn’t afraid to play with speed. They should be fun to watch, and the revamped D-corps could turn out being a big strength in Arizona.
23. Winnipeg Jets (4-2-1, previous ranking: 23)
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 last summer. They’ve also waived goalie Ondrej Pavelec among other moves getting ready for the season, and are looking for a different energy to the upcoming season after missing the playoffs last season.
24. Carolina Hurricanes (4-2-1, previous ranking: 24)
Teuvo Teravainen gives the Hurricanes another talented young player, and their D-men corps is extremely young and very skilled. 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, but one thing that could give you a little moment to pause is that Cam Ward is still their goaltender. Ward has been okay lately between the pipes for Carolina, and he’s been just barely good enough to hold off competitors and that’s about it.
25. Philadelphia Flyers (4-2-2, previous ranking: 25)
The Flyers could be a team ready to rise with Shayne Gostisbehere after he finished second in the Calder Trophy voting last season, and Philly will have some interesting, talented young kids in Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov cracking the final roster for the Flyers. Combine those up-and-coming youngsters to Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux and the rest of the Flyers group, and Philadelphia should have a really strong run toward a potential playoff spot in the East.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (2-4-2, previous ranking: 26)
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. Young Mitch Marner is also a massively talented offensive prospect up front as well, and it looks like he’s breaking the season on the Maple Leafs NHL roster. 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 (4-4-0, previous ranking: 27)
The Seth Jones contract extension was a massive win for the organization as other NHL teams circled around the young former first round pick, and NHL draft weekend was also a very good one for Columbus. That will probably be enough to make fans forget that their head coach, John Tortorella, can’t go more than a few weeks without any angry outbursts about just about anything these days. The Blue Jackets also waived Gregory Campbell on Monday, and that’s a bummer for a former B’s playoff hero.
28. Ottawa Senators (3-2-2, previous ranking: 28)
Dion Phaneuf has made it something of a habit to find his way into losing traditions at every stop along his NHL journey, and now Ottawa is that place simply gasping for hockey life. The talent is there for this team to return to the playoffs, and perhaps the stern, intense atmosphere fostered by head coach Guy Boucher will bring all the players into shape. That’s one coach that is going to demand a lot out of his players every time they take the ice, and will undoubtedly go overboard once in a while trying to create a competitive situation.
29. Vancouver Canucks (3-2-2, previous ranking: 30)
The positive is that free agent Loui Eriksson has signed to a six year contract extension, and has been installed into a key top line position with the Sedin twins. He was going to be happy wherever he got the best deal in free agency, and Vancouver signed him to a good deal with some of his friends like Alex Edler, the Sedins etc. ready to support his choice of signing on with the Canucks. The down side is that Eriksson, along with the Sedins, are going to be physically manhandled by opponents on a nightly basis this season, and there’s little that Vancouver can do about it. But that’s another story for another day.
30. Edmonton Oilers (5-3-0, previous ranking: 29)
The Oilers have talent, they have good organizational leadership in Peter Chiarelli, they have excellent coaching in Todd McLellan and they have extremely good talent in a massive collection of elite young players that are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They also have to start reversing the losing feeling that permeates everything about the Oilers organization, and to that end it would really help if defenseman Adam Larsson works out for Edmonton after they gave up Taylor Hall for him during the day of transactions that will live on in NHL infamy.