NHL Pre-Preseason Power Rankings

Training camps haven’t started yet, and perhaps a couple teams might pick up a free agent(s)/make a trade. But for the most part, teams have pretty set to begin their training camp regimes. This is the initial prognostication into the upcoming year. We’ll get a final standings prediction released right before the season. September 12th, the projected start of Penguins training camp, is right around the corner! Listed below are the ranking number, team, and last year's record.

1 Pittsburgh Penguins (45-28-9)

No way to not give the Penguins the nod here. The only changes on the team were essentially replacing Scuderi and Gill with McKee and Goligoski. I know we all love the way Scuderi plays the game, but McKee is not much further below him in stature. And if Alex Goligoski improves, as he should, he certainly will be better than Gill offensively and perhaps better defensively. Did I mention that Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Kennedy and everyone else will be a year better? The Penguins are well placed for now, but will most certainly make a move before the deadline. If that does end up being the case, they may well be an even better team moving into the playoffs than this past year’s Stanley Cup Champions.

2 Detroit Red Wings (51-21-10)

Lost are Hossa, Hudler, and Samuelsson. But they gain Darren Helm on a full time basis (who wasn’t impressed by him during the SCF? All I could think was ‘Why can’t we have him in our minor league system?’). They also pick up minor leaguers Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino, along with signing veterans Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, and Patrick Eaves. The team is still really deep, and they just plain ol’ win. The Wings are probably a weaker team than what they were last year, but that doesn’t lessen the fact that they have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals the last two years in a row. Detroit fans should worry that the Wings just might be getting too old to survive the deep playoff runs.

3 Philadelphia Flyers (44-27-11)

The Flyers have set themselves up really well for this upcoming year, with one caveat: Goaltending. If Ray Emery plays as well as he did for Ottawa’s playoff runs of the past, the Flyers will be very hard to beat. Chris Pronger allows the Flyers to have two sets of defensive pairings that can play against any offensive opposition (i.e. – see Malkin/Crosby), and the offense remains strong enough despite the losses of Lupul and Knuble. Giroux, who looked good in the playoffs, will hope to pick up some of that scoring punch that was lost. The team is more veteran and will be much more focused (sorry Mr. Richards, not so much partying for you this year). Emery will hold up for the beginning of the year. It’s down the line when the honeymoon is over that the Flyers may have to worry…

4 Boston Bruins (53-19-10)

Boston follows up a very good 2008/09 season with a solid returning group. Tim Thomas in goal is locked up with a new contract, and the majority of players are back in the fold. A key, missing piece will be the loss of Phil Kessel for the beginning of the season with an injury. There are rumors that he may not even come back midseason either due to a contract dispute. His loss could be a major blow to the team. We all know an aging Mark Recchi isn’t going to pick up the goal scoring slack…

5 Chicago Blackhawks (46-24-12)

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will be improving on this past year’s success, along with the rest of the youth on the team. The addition of Marian Hossa will give them a huge boost a couple months into the season. Losing Havlat will hurt, but Hossa is a better all around player. And everyone else is a year older and a year wiser. Lots of commonality with the Penguin’s team of 2007/2008. Whether is happens or not, this team is the sexy choice to make the SCF from the Western Conference.

6 Anaheim Ducks (42-33-7)

The team lost Pronger, but picked up Lupul and Sbisa in the trade, as well as Saku Koivu in free agency. Solid defensive corps and goaltending from Giguere/Hiller, along with some added offense, and this team looks prepared to build on the momentum started last year during the playoffs. Wings had all they could handle with the Ducks last year. Look for Anaheim to progress even more this year.

7 San Jose Sharks (53-18-11)

The positive side for the 2009 Sharks is that the best team in the NHL during last year’s regular season hasn’t lost anyone. The downside? They haven’t lost anyone. The team that consistently bows out in the playoffs way too early, gave their best choking performance as they were bounced in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks. And it was just announced that they took the captaincy away from Patrick Marleau and want some to ‘earn it’. I’m sorry. I just simply in good conscience can’t rank them higher since the Sharks continue to flounder in the playoffs.

8 Calgary Flames (46-30-6)

Add Jay Bouwmeester to a team that already has Dion Phaneuf on defense and Mikka Kiprusoff in goal, and you now have the best defense in the NHL. On offense, you have the perennial all star Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokkinen, and, um, Damond Langkow. And from there, the talent level of the forwards almost drops off a cliff. When and if Calgary can put the puck in the net, they’ll be very hard to beat. This team will do ‘well’ during the season, but their offensive shortcomings will simply prove to be too much during the playoffs.

9 Washington Capitals (50-24-8)

The Capitals record from last year is highly impressive in part to the poor competition in their division. This year will be no different. Capitals lost Sergei Fedorov and Victor Kozlov, but added Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison. Knuble will help them a lot, but you never know about Morrison. But here’s the problem. The Capitals would have been crushed by the Penguins in the 2nd round of playoffs had their rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov not stood on his head. The defensemen looked pretty average at best. And what does GM George McPhee do? He signs more forwards and doesn’t sign a single FA defenseman. Just remember how clueless Mike Green looked in the series and the problem is obvious. (Hint: he is supposedly the best defenseman on the Capitals).

10 Vancouver Canucks (45-27-10)

As usual, the team is really solid. The Sedin twins will add their typical production to the team. But the additon of Mikael Samuelsson doesn’t make them ‘better’ than last year’s team, especially with the loss of Mats Sundin. It is nice to have a good solid team, but the Canucks will be mired in the West unless they do something ‘big’. Just having the Sedins ,and Roberto Luongo in net, is not going to win the Stanley Cup.

11 St. Louis Blues (41-31-10)

Great young talent. A couple solid veterans in Kariya and Tkachuk. Solid defense. Mason in goal. Lots to like about this team. Just need to see if the Blues can make the jump this year to the upper level of the Conference. I think they’ll come out playing with a lot of enthusiasm and belief that they can get something accomplished this year.

12 Carolina Hurricanes (45-30-7)

The Canes got hot at the end of last year, and made a pretty good run in the playoffs. Carolina essentially plays the style of hockey that the Penguins do (just don’t have the skill of the Penguins). It’s the same team as last year. Expect the same results during the regular season. I think their run in the playoffs is as good as they’ll get. There needs to be an upgrade in talent for the Canes to seriously compete in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

13 New Jersey Devils (51-27-4)

Same old story for the Devils. They play great ‘team’ hockey, but no one on the team overwhelms you in status except for Marty Brodeur. Big losses in Coach Sutter, Brian Gionta, and John Madden. It will be interesting to see Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench again. Back to the past, as it were. They’re still a good team, but the Devils got worse in the off-season, not better.

14 Columbus Blue Jackets (41-31-10)

Rick Nash is awesome. Period. After finally making the playoffs last year, the Jackets learned what the extra season was all about as they were thrashed by the Wings. Remember the Penguins against Ottawa a couple years ago? Hopefully the team learned from that and will move forward. Columbus has a solid young team. As with several other young teams in the West, they just need to keep progressing.

15 New York Rangers (43-30-9)

The Rangers essentially swapped Gomez for Gaborik. Now there is no doubt that Gomez was kind of a bust with the NYR, and while Gaborik is an awesome player to watch, there’s that little thing of being ‘injury prone’. So now the best players on the Rangers are injury prone and the 7 million dollar man Chris Drury. And Wade Redden eating up 6.5 mil in salary every year. Not impressive. But I do like the Chris Higgins pick up, and Ales Kotalik can be very effective. As long as Gabby stays healthy, the Rangers might be a better team than last year’s version. But not by much. They still are awful offensively.

16 Edmonton Oilers (38-35-9)

Signing of Nikolai Khabibulin is a big deal, as is the coaching staff of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney. Spent to the cap, and have a really solid defensive team. Now it’s up to Horcoff, Penner and Hemsky to score.

17 Toronto Maple Leafs (34-35-13)

Huge strides on defense (GM Brian Burke’s mantra) by adding Mike Komisarek and Francois Beachemin via the free agency route, and adding Garnet Exelby via trade. Also procured ‘Monster’ Jonas Gustavsson for in goal. Huge strides if you ask me. But the team will more than likely be offensively challenged, with no huge names among their forward ranks. Look for Burke to try and trade one or two defensemen for a quality forward. But until this happens, the upper echelon will be out of the reach of the Leafs. There is no doubt that this team is in a much better place than last year. Probably have a shot to make the playoffs as it is. This is my sleeper team for the year.

18 Minnesota Wild (40-33-9)

With Chuck Fletcher (Pens Asst GM last year) and new coach Todd Richards (the old coach of the Baby Pens), Minnesota is going to look like Pittsburgh West in style. With the addition of Marty Havlat and the loss of the oft-injured Marian Gaborik, the Wild add to the consistency of the team. Probably need more scoring to get into the ‘run and gun’ style of play that Fletcher will like to play, but I think he will make the changes necessary over the next couple of seasons.

19 Montreal Canadiens (41-30-11)

Where to start….Overpaying Gomez (7.3mil). Check. Overpaying for Cammalleri (6.0mil per year). Check. Overpaying Hal Gill (2.25 mil a year-more than he made with the Penguins. I mean, I like the guy personally, but he couldn’t have been any slower. Scuderi should take a commission on this contract). Gainey also traded their 6th round pick next year for the Penguins 7th round (and last) pick of this year. That’s probably 45 spots for, um, what? Just seems a little strange. Gainey’s complete overhaul of the Canadiens could be good for the team, but I for one doubt it. The lineup is simply not scary at all, and they’ve already spent to the cap. And I am not sold on Price in net either.

20 Buffalo Sabres (41-32-9)

This team always seems to be in the same place: a good team, but just not one that can get over the hump. Never really a team that has names that scare you. Could argue that their top forwards Vanek (7.15), Pominville(5.3), and Connolly(4.5) are all overpaid. And they just lost one of their best Dmen when Spacek left. Teams in the East got better, but the Sabres did not. Unless Miller stands on his head in goal all year, it could be very disappointing year for Buffalo fans.

21 Nashville Predators (40-34-8)

Help wanted: Offense. Nashville is really solid with their defensive corps in tact and Dan Ellis back. But even with Steve Sullivan back and healthy, the Preds still need some more offense. Being 15 million under the cap (and knowing that the money is not going to be spent) never helped any team either.

22 Los Angeles Kings (34-37-11)

Oh Rob Scuderi, didn’t you pay attention to what happened to Ryan Malone? Okay, maybe ‘The Piece’ might have made the right decision if you look to the 3-year time horizon. And that was great money for someone who hadn’t made a lot in his NHL career. The Kings have been on the cusp of being a decent team for quite a while. Kopitar, Frolov, and Brown need to step up their games. Jonathan Quick in goal is really going to be ‘make or break’ factor for the season. The addition of Ryan Smyth helps too, even if the Kings overpaid for him. The Western Conference is just so talented and experienced, and it’s a big haul for the Kings to move to the top. Probably going to be another year though until this team really gets after it.

23 Ottawa Senators (36-35-11)
The whole Heatley fiasco is still ongoing, so that’s a huge negative. The positive is that the Sens signed Alex Kovalev. The negative to that is they do not know which ‘Kovy’ they signed: the superstar or the disappearing act. The Senators made a good run at the end of the year when they didn’t have anything to play for. But with all of the distractions and the games ‘counting’, the team needs to show something to the fans before they get fully behind them.

24 Dallas Stars (36-35-11)

The Stars will have captain Brenden Morrow back from injury. That is the first plus. And the Zubov situation is now settled as he skates off to finish his career in Russia. But the Brad Richards albatross is still around their neck (7.8million per year for the next 2 years), and Mike Modano is not the player that he used to be. Marty Turco needs a big rebound year for this campaign to be a success. The defensive core is still really young, and still probably not ready to take this team to the next level just yet. Add in the suspicious hiring of new coach Marc Crawford, who has just not been successful as of late, and most will see a team that is equivalent to 2008. With all of the injuries, I still have a tough time figuring why Dallas management fired Dave Tippett. His team was under talented and over performed in effort and record. You don’t fire a guy for that kind of result.

25 Tampa Bay Lightning (24-40-18)

How this team with Vinny, St. Louis, Malone, and Stamkos ended up with such a poor record is beyond me. I know they were a mess, but under the Islanders record? Come on!! They actually added some really solid blue line help in the off-season, including Victor Hedman with the #2 pick of the draft. We’ll really see if Rick Tocchet can coach now that he has the full year to show his acumen.

26 Atlanta Thrashers (35-41-6)

Have Kovalchuk, Kozlov, and Antropov as the forwards to watch, even if the last one is really not all that great. If Lehtonen returns to form after off-season surgery, the team could be bearable to watch just for the sake of Kovalchuk. And maybe Army when he gets in a crazy mood. But this team is going nowhere fast.

27 Florida Panthers (41-30-11)

Jay Bouwmeester was only the beginning of the players that were lost in the off-season. It wasn’t as though they were all stars, but they were all very serviceable NHL players ( something that is an important commodity for a team like Florida). This team is possibly going to fall like a rock.

28 New York Islanders (26-47-9)

Okay, so the Islanders signed 3 NHL level goaltenders. For those keeping score at home, they have Rick DiPietro, Dwayne Roloson, and Marty Biron. Last time I checked, only one of them could be in net at a time. Confusion for me. Clearly, confusion for GM Garth Snow. The addition of Tavares in the draft will make the fans happy to be sure, but all of the talent is still really young. They are a long way away from the playoffs, and are competing in a really good division. Tough sledding ahead. I would like to take this time to thank the Islanders for Billy Guerin, who was the final key ingredient for the Penguins Cup run. Guerin for a 3rd round pick: What a bargain. Nice.

29 Colorado Avalanche (32-45-5)

Paul Stastny is awesome, Milan Hejduk is not the player he once was, and Craig Anderson is the Colorado goalie. Who? Craig Anderson?? Yup, career backup. Just hard to think that this team is going to be any better than last year’s version. It’s called ‘rebuilding’. I’ll put them above Phoenix because of possible upside to the young talent. But at this point in the rankings, do we really care?

30 Phoenix Coyotes (36-39-7)

Okay. Name a player. Ed Jovanovski on Defense? Okay. Name another. Shane Doan at forward? Fine. Maybe you can get that one on your own (I had to think about it for a little). It’s a sad state of affairs when fans cannot name the players on a team, almost as much as they cannot name where the team is going to be playing in a couple years. Just as with Pittsburgh from a couple years ago, I hope the fans of Phoenix get to keep their team.


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