There were big moves made this summer. John Tavares signing with the Maple Leafs and shifting some of the star power away from the Metro and toward the Atlantic Division. Ilya Kovalchuk coming back to the NHL and signing a three-year deal with a Kings team that needs some offensive punch.
But the biggest move of the offseason, without question, was Erik Karlsson getting traded to San Jose, giving the Sharks a back end with both Karlsson and Brent Burns. Conceivably, they could have either one of those two guys on the ice at all times, and use them together when they really want to have some fun. It reminds me of the Anaheim Ducks when they got Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer together and won a Cup. This could very well have the same kind of impact.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if this is the year that Jumbo Joe gets a Cup as a bearded, banged-up veteran who's part of, rather than the leader of, an overwhelmingly talented team?
Anyway, here are the first of this year's power rankings, a look at how the league starts with the start of the season just days away:
1. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
As a great wrestler once said, to be the man you’ve got to beat the man. And the Washington Capitals are “the man” right now.
2. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
VGK is going to have to do a lot of work to prove last season wasn’t a Cinderella-style fluke. Teams will be better prepared headed in and out of Vegas, and the Golden Knights may not have the same “me against the world” mentality they had last season.
3. SAN JOSE SHARKS
We’re not going to put them at No. 1 sight unseen, but getting Karlsson (and Evander Kane late last season) makes the Sharks very dangerous. They could roll through the West.
4. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
They couldn’t get by the Capitals last season, but you get the feeling they're going to have their day pretty soon. Could this be the season, knowing they won’t be able to keep everybody under the cap forever?
5. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
As long as Sid and Malkin are in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will continue to be in the conversation. Will watching Ovie lift the Cup last season really light the fire for them again?
6. WINNIPEG JETS
Just as it looked like the Jets might get a few kicks at the can, San Jose goes out and snags Karlsson. Still, the Jets are a contender again this season and should be there toward the end.
7. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Will Tavares put them over the top? Will their question marks on defense be big enough to sink them again this season? How good will Auston Matthews be now that some of the pressure has been taken off him? All these and more answered this season.
8. BOSTON BRUINS
The Bruins are kind of being overlooked this season because of Toronto and Tampa Bay, and that might be a mistake. This is a 112-point team with a wealth of young talent, the best forward line in hockey and Zdeno Chara still getting it done in the D-zone. They may be able to use the underestimation to their advantage.
9. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
The Predators are another Western Conference team whose run may be disrupted by Doug Wilson’s maneuvering out in San Jose. Still a ton of talent in Music City, however.
10. MINNESOTA WILD
Every year they have a quality team. Just about every year they get into the playoffs. And every year they fall well short of winning a Stanley Cup. It’s a nice team in Minny, but can they hang with the big dogs in the West?
11. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The blue-collar bunch with the stellar goaltending will once again do its best in a tough Metro Division, but one thing to watch out for is whether John Tortarella's message is getting stale. There’s only so long players really want to play that hard if they know they won’t be winning the Cup.
12. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
As it does just about every season with the Flyers, it will come down to goaltending with a pretty solid group up front and a back-end crew that’s young and getting pretty good. So Brian Elliott better consistently eat his Wheaties this season.
13. ANAHEIM DUCKS
Losing Corey Perry for a stretch before the season even starts definitely hurts, but this is a hockey team that should still be playoff-caliber this upcoming season.
14. COLORADO AVALANCHE
The Avs are back in the respectable category again and they have the talent to win on a consistent basis. What they don’t have is the depth to really get to the top of the heap in the Western Conference.
15. FLORIDA PANTHERS
Everybody talks about the Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins, but it’s the Panthers who could truly surprise in a division where prognosticators already think the top-3 spots are locked up. They have great depth all over the ice and young talent that could take a big leap this season.
16. EDMONTON OILERS
With so much pressure on the Oilers, this is a team that could really go either way this season. They could all come back and live up to their talent level led by Connor McDavid, or some of the jobs on the line could make this team even tighter than it was last year. It will be a fascinating watch.
17. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
The Devils crept into the playoffs last season and ended up with the Hart Trophy winner in Taylor Hall. It will be a challenge to top that this season, but they should have a better, more experienced crew with some young players, like Nico Hischier and Will Butcher, really ready to step up their game.
18. LOS ANGELES KINGS
They still have Jonathan Quick, they still have Drew Doughty and they will be adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the mix for a little more offensive power. They should make the playoffs if they can stay healthy. But how are they going to keep up with the best teams in their division?
19. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
In the past the Blackhawks would get a top-15 courtesy appearance no matter what was going on with their team. Not anymore. They have to get busy reestablishing their dominance, or get busy fixing things before they get too far behind the curve.
20. BUFFALO SABRES
I think the Sabres are actually going to be pretty good this season. They have a lot of young talent, and they can’t be a garbage hockey team forever. I say this is the year that starts to change, for Jack Eichel’s sake if nothing else.
21. CAROLINA HURRICANES
The Hurricanes are another team with young talent and a lineup shakeup with Dougie Hamilton coming down there. I think Carolina is going to be good for Dougie, and vice-versa. The big hockey markets aren’t really his bag, baby.
22. CALGARY FLAMES
Speaking of big lineup shakeups, the Flames also have some new pieces after their roster needed an airing out following last season. They still have the flashy young talent, but is that going to be enough to get them where they need to be? Some of those young guys need to grow up a little first.
23. DALLAS STARS
Could the Dallas Stars be way better than this? Of course they could. But I just don’t think they have the ingredients to win tough games, and that’s what you’re going to need in the Western Conference this season.
24. ST. LOUIS BLUES
The hope is that Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko can bring the Blues back to their former heights sooner rather than later, but it may be tough sledding for them in the Central as they continue to reload after maxing out short of the Cup with the last group.
25. NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers sank to the bottom last season after opting for a straight-up rebuild. How much better will they be this season? Well, they can’t be too much worse, but they’re going to need some young players to come through if they want to even threaten for the playoffs.
26. DETROIT RED WINGS
The Red Wings are one of a trio of teams in the Atlantic Division that don’t look anywhere close to competing this season. Sure, they have Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist, among others, but losing another link to the past in Henrik Zetterberg is definitely going to hurt them some. And they can’t afford too much hurt.
27. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Strange times in Vancouver with Trevor Linden stepping down and whispers that ownership might sell the team. One thing we know for sure is that Brock Boeser is one of the best younger players in the NHL and that’s a pretty good place to start. Good look to a good guy in Tim Schaller out there.
28. MONTREAL CANADIENS
I would truly feel bad for the hand Claude Julien has been dealt in Montreal if it weren’t for the bundles of money he’s making to coach the Habs. But as it is they lost another talented player in Max Pacioretty and didn’t get enough back for him. Sacre Bleu!
29. ARIZONA COYOTES
One of these years the young talent in the desert is going to finally come together and make some noise. At least that’s what John Chayka is saying to himself every day when he goes to the office in Glendale.
30. OTTAWA SENATORS
The soap opera is over as Mike Hoffman is gone, and now Erik Karlsson is gone as well. But they still have a rough ownership situation and a fan base that just doesn’t seem to love this team anymore. It’s going to take a lot for the Sens to get anywhere close to back to good.
31. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
This might be kicking a team when they’re already down, but the Isles took a huge gut punch when Tavares left for Toronto. Yes, they have Lou Lamoriello now and maybe he can make a move or two to help them survive. But it could be another long, difficult year for Isles fans.