Preseason NHL Rankings
Okay, so it's October. Hockey is back. The World Cup of Hockey just wrapped up, congrats to Canada once again. Training camps are under way. Some players have already been sent back to juniors or down to developmental leagues. Several players remain unsigned. Prospects are attempting to prove their case that they belong in the NHL. It's time to set some expectations.
Here are my thoughts on the teams entering the season:
1- Washington Capitals - Washington finished as the best regular season team in the league last year. They boast Alex Ovechkin, the best scorer in the league. Braden Holtby is a elite goaltender. The team solidified their third-line center position. The Caps are scary.
2- Pittsburgh Penguins - The Pens won the Stanley Cup last year. They are healthy again. Watch out.
3- Chicago Blackhawks - Can you think of a reason to ranked them any lower? I can't. Patrick Kane and Johnathon Toews are two players you can't count out of any fight.
4- San Jose Sharks - The Sharks surprised many last year (including me) by making the Stanley Cup Final. They only got better with David Schlemko and Michael Boedeker. The backup goalie position is the only question at this point, beyond which young kids take roster spots from older players.
5- Florida Panthers - Division winner last year. Solid defense. Better goalie depth. Great young players. Should be fun to watch.
6- St. Louis Blues - Jake Allen takes over full time duty in net. The team is still deep at all positions. Is it finally the year of the Blues?
7- Nashville Predators - Pekka Rinne played well in the World Cup. Filip Forsberg has a shinny new contract. PK Subban brings even more offense to the back end. Ryan Johansen is a true first line center. Watch out. They won't get much in the way of headlines this year, as always, but they can do some damage.
8- Tampa Bay Lightning - Hard to believe this team is ranked higher after almost making the Finals last year. Contract issues with Nikita Kucherov put a damper on training camp. They need him back.
9- Anaheim Ducks - New coach. Lots of players on PTOs. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf make this team dangerous every year.
10- Los Angeles Kings - A dangerous team that people think are losing a step. We'll see. They will be successful in 2016. Come the second half of the season, with injuries and a grueling schedule?
11- Dallas Stars - Defense questions, injuries to star players (Tyler Seguin), inconsistency in net, and loss of Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL scare a lot of onlookers.
12- New York Islanders - Did anyone watch Jaro Halak in the World Cup of Hockey? The team is in good hands.
13- New York Rangers - Team is getting older. Off-season additions make this team stronger, but can King Henrik play well enough?
14- Philadelphia Flyers - The late season push to the playoffs inspired a lot of good thoughts for this team. With two quality goalies, and a lot of good prospects, things are looking up in Philly!
15- Montreal Canadiens - So Jaro Halak was a monster in the World Cup. So was Carey Price. Much like Team Russia, the defense leaves a lot to be desired, but offense got stronger.
16- Minnesota Wild - Stronger center depth with Eric Staal could lead this strong defense team to another playoff birth. Getting past the first round, though, still might be trivial.
17- New Jersey Devils - Cory Schneider gives this team a chance to win every night. Taylor Hall will hopefully bring enough offense to make the playoffs. This group is my prediction for the surprise playoff team.
18- Edmonton Oilers - I am joining everyone else in the world expecting the Oilers to be much better this year with Connor McDavid. Could be a disappointing season, but not disappointing as the last decade.
19- Boston Bruins - After failing to make the playoffs last year, is this team finally seeing the decline of a decrepit blue line that won the Cup in 2010? Don't expect much more than a wild card.
20- Carolina Hurricanes - The kids make this team better, but there there is no longer term solution in goal. Next year could be a playoff year for this team, but this year most likely won't be.
21- Ottawa Senators - Stronger down the middle, the Senators might be be ready to stop wasting the best defenseman in the league's prime years, but are they good enough yet? Time will tell.
22- Buffalo Sabres - Jack Eichel and Co. give a lot to be excited about. Signing their best defenseman is the last thing to do this off-season. Well, that and determine lines. Tons of talent, but no clear answers to lineup questions. Also, what happens to Evander Kane?
23- Detroit Red Wings - Old lineup getting older. The team needs some of its youth to step up. If Dylan Larkin regresses, the Wings will lose their playoff streak. A Cup is not realistic with this group.
24- Winnipeg Jets - Consider this to be the last year of training for Conner Hellybuck. Next year the Jets will return to the playoffs, but they might surprise some people this year. The BIG defense is strong. Jacob Trouba demanding a trade hurts the team, but they should be competitive.
25- Calgary Flames - Expect improvement this year with Brain Elliot in goal and a very strong offense. The top four on defense is solid. If Johnny Hockey remains unsigned, this team will NOT make the playoffs.
26- Columbus Blue Jackets - What team will we see? They no longer have a No. 1 center, but the defense is better with Seth Jones. Perhaps this team shocks the world and steal a playoff spot. But that is what it would be: stealing a playoff spot.
27- Colorado Avalanche - What is going to happen with this team with a new coach? Tons of talent up front. A pretty good goalie. Maybe if this team lands Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg, the defense might be good enough. This team gives up too many shots.
28- Toronto Maple Leafs - This team should be fun to watch with a lot of young talent. I doubt Mike Babcock can pull this team together for a playoff spot this year, but they will be competitive.
29- Arizona Coyotes - The Coyotes have a lot of to e excited about, just not this year.
30- Vancouver Canucks - Loui Erikson can't save this team. I don't think management knows how to run the team. They are trading away a lot of young talent to "win now," but can they? No. Not even an argument on that one.
Pre-season Stanley Cup Playoffs Prediction:
East- Washington Capital over Tampa Bay Lightning in 6.
West- San Jose Sharks over the Nashville Predators in 7.
The Capitals finally realize their full potential with sniper Alex Ovechkin. A healthy Stamkos leads the Lightning past the Florida Panthers and the wildcard Penguins. The San Jose Sharks make their final push to a Stanley Cup with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on the team. The Predators make a huge statement by knocking off the Blackhawks in the first round in just five games.
Stanley Cup Finals
The Sharks put up a might stronger fight this year with a deeper team that last year. The Capitals defense is tested by a fast, talented group of forwards. At the end of the day, Barden Holtby steal the show, the Conn Smythe, and the Stanley Cup in six games.