Young, Emerging, and Perhaps Playoff Worthy
16. Edmonton Oilers
The Oil have stockpiled young talent but many questions remain. Such as:
a) Can Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano build on their fine rookie campaigns and turn into bonafide offensive threats?
b) After missing a season can Sheldon Souray return to the level that made him the most lethal PP point man in the league?
c) Will Kevin Lowe be able to resist his annual urge to turnover a quarter of his roster?
15. Chicago Blackhawks
I could see the Hawks finishing second in the Central and making the playoffs or getting off to a terrible start that costs Dennis Savard his job. Just like everyone else, I'm a big fan of Jonathan Toews, but was it really necessary to strap the kid with the 'C' to start his second season?
14. Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin goals this year: 59.5
Sergei Fedorov: 12.5
Playoff Bound but Not Without Issues
13. Ottawa Senators
Alfy will lead, Heatley will score, Spezza will act goofy (and get hurt) and goaltending will kill the Sens...again.
12. Carolina Hurricanes
The Eric Staal deal was a bit of a reach if you ask me. Not that Staal isn't a very good player, because he is, but of all the ridiculously long contracts handed out in the last few years (Ovechkin, Lecavalier, M.Richards, Briere), I feel the least certain about this one. Is Staal a 40 goal, point per game player…or more? If I’m paying you $70M, I would want more.
I really want to believe the Flames can do big things this year, but can't help feeling that Kipper is on the downside and Bertuzzi is, well, almost finished. Even though he's only 33, Big Bert has been through 10 years worth of adversity since the lockout and I'm not sure he has the speed to keep up anymore.
10. New Jersey Devils
If Brent Sutter was coaching in New York or Toronto he would be heralded as the best in the business. In New Jersey, he and superstar goalie Martin Brodeur will continue to be brilliant, under appreciated…and successful.
9. Boston Bruins
Don’t sleep on the Bruins. They pushed the Habs in the first round last year and then added Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder. Say what you want about Ryder’s contract, but the guy scored 74 goals in three seasons with everyone in Montreal cheering against him.
Potentially Dangerous (as always)
8. San Jose Sharks
The young Sharks are getting old. Well, maybe not old...but older. After years and years of being on the cusp of greatness you have to wonder if this particular group of players will ever live up to their expectations and push the team to the next level. I say no.
Good But Not Great
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Phase one of GM Paul Holmgren’s makeover was a success but if the Flyers want to make another move up to top contender status, Holmgren is going to need a phase two. That would include acquiring another goalie and at least one defenceman, maybe two if Parent doesn’t hold up.
6. Dallas Stars
How nervous do you think the Stars management got when the story broke that Hollywood is going to base a movie on Sean Avery's summer internship with Vogue magazine? Here's a guy who has had all sorts of personality issues everywhere he's been and maybe now he feels validated. Scary.
5. NY Rangers
Handing Wade Redden $40M at this stage of his career is like someone offering Sloan a new four record deal. Good band, solid act and they’ve been around forever, but their best years are cleary behind them.
4. Montreal Canadiens
With 13 guys set to become free agents after the season, including every key player (Tanguay, Koivu, Kovalev, Lang, Higgins, Komisarek) the Habs are built for this year. Oh, and about Lang: he'll be fine in the regular season but the fans will boo him out of the line-up at some point in the playoffs.
The Top Shelf
3. Anaheim Ducks
Isn't it weird that Brian Burke continues to work for the Ducks even though he's about to become General Manager of the Leafs?
2. Detroit Red Wings
I want to say the Wings are the Atlanta Braves (circa 1991-2005) of hockey. Their home crowd is so bored with the playoffs they can't even be bothered to sell out the building. But now Detroit has four Stanley Cup wins during their 17-year playoff streak so the comparison ends there. If I'm Marian Hossa and someone offers me $50M to one-time pucks into empty nets on a line with Crosby, I would have to have an incredible reason to turn them down. Will we ever get to find out what that reason was?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
I don't have the Red Wings in the number one position because in today's world of professional sport it's just too hard to repeat as champion. The seasons are so long, the training so hard, the physical and mental toll so taxing that a hangover is only natural. It's not that I don't think a team will ever repeat again, it's that I believe the odds are overwhelmingly against it. As for the Pens, no one else has a 1-2 punch that's anywhere close to Crosby and Malkin and now it's Jordan Staal's turn to play for a new contract, so I see Pittsburgh scoring a lot of goals on their way to another Cup final.