30. Phoenix - The fact that this team will end up in Kansas City (or Las Vegas or Oklahoma City) over Hamilton is a joke. It's too bad the NHL doesn't have a Commissioner to deal with things like this. I mean a REAL Commissioner, one who actually cared about the game.
29. NY Islanders - If Alexei Yashin got a 10 year deal out of Charles Wang and Rick DiPietro got a 15 year deal out of Wang, I have to assume John Tavares will soon be signing a 20 year contract. And you've got to love Garth Snow spending $8 million on goalies this year to finish in the bottom five. You know, unless you happen to be an Isles fan.
28. Florida - Perhaps the worst defence, top-to-bottom, in the league. And their forwards aren't a whole lot better. They need Nathan Horton to get back on the up trend after leveling off production-wise the last two seasons...which happened to perfectly coincide with when he signed his big contract. Hmmmmmm. Who would've guessed?27. Atlanta - If you are Ilya Kovalchuk do you re-sign with the Thrashers and play the prime years of your career in obscurity or do you refrain from signing an extension, score another 50 goals this season and become the King of Toronto next year? Just sayin.
26. Colorado - Wondering who the biggest Fantasy sleeper is this year? Paul Stastny. Yahoo has him buried in the 200's but somehow decided Bill Guerin was worthy of the 62nd overall pick. And how crazy is it that a team can add journeyman goaltender Craig Anderson and dramatically improve their goaltending situation? That's how bad Andrew Raycroft and Peter Budaj were last year.
25. Tampa Bay - I don't see how spending your entire training camp on the road, trying to make money instead of preparing for the season, is the best way to get your team ready to compete. But then I haven't made millions of dollars producing mediocre hollywood horror movies so Len Barrie and Oren Koules must be right and I must be wrong. Although I think not.
24. Ottawa - If Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips are your top two D you're in trouble. And the Sens are definitely in trouble. After giving away Dany Heatley on the eve of training camp for two overpaid players and zero cap savings, Bryan Murray will now attempt to push this team all the way from the cusp of the Cup to the bottom of the league. I for one, think he can do it.
23. Dallas - This will be a transitional (read: awful) year for the Stars, who following the season will bid adieu to two long-time pillars of the franchise, Marty Turco and Mike Modano. Both could potentially be dealt at the deadline, though Modano may be reluctant to leave the only team he's ever played for. Although playing with Fabian Brunnstrom might be enough to push him out the door.
22. Nashville - Has anyone ever been excited to go to a Preds game? Anyone? Ever? If Shea Weber played in Canada (or at least a decent US hockey market) he would be a preseason favorite to win the Norris trophy. Instead he'll have to wait until the Olympics to get his recognition.
21. Edmonton - I foresee a big bounce-back year from Sam Gagner, another so-so year from Ales Hemsky (with his usual flashes of brilliance), and an Oiler fanbase that pretends paying Sean Horcoff and Lubomir Visnovsky $7 million each this year is a good thing. Oh, and another year without the playoffs.
20. L.A. Kings - The goaltending tandem of Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg isn't going to scare many teams but the Kings have tremendous talent in the top half of their forward group (Kopitar, Frolov, Smyth, Brown, Williams) and Drew Doughty looks ready to play Pronger-like minutes at only 19 years old. They might still be a year away, but the pieces are definitely in place for the Kings to return to the postseason by next year at the latest.
19. Buffalo - Not above average in any area, the Sabres continue to be just good enough not to be bad. Which is great if you're just trying to hang onto your job (hello Lindy Ruff and Darcy Regier) but not so good if you're legitimately trying to build a contender. Tyler Myers had better be the answer on the blueline because otherwise there is no reason to get excited about this team. Besides Thomas Vanek that is.
18. Montreal - The Habs will have seven new faces playing prominent roles in a demanding market where the fans may have already turned on their young goalie. If they don't get off to a good start it will be a very long year in La Belle Provence.
17. Minnesota - Most analysts deemed the Wild's decision to replace Marian Gaborik with Martin Havlat a wash, reasoning they were simply replacing one injury-prone superstar for another. But Havlat is a couple million dollars a year cheaper and usually only misses 20 games rather than 40. A good move in my mind.
16. St.Louis - Andy Murray is one of the most underrated coaches in hockey and gives the Blues an edge on the bench on most nights. If Eric Johnson and Paul Kariya can stay healthy, the Blues have serious 2008-09 Chicago Blackhawk potential.
Coming tomorrow - Part II: The Contenders