Every week, I will write an NHL Power 10 list at Breitbart Sports with commentary of where teams stand in the NHL. Before the puck drops on opening weekend, here is my pre-season Power 10 list.
This weekend, we will see some of my early season top 10 teams play each other (kudos to the NHL for a spectacular weekend schedule). The Pittsburgh Penguins travel to Philadelphia on Saturday and then to New York to face the Rangers on Sunday. The Los Angeles Kings open against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, and Edmonton travels to Vancouver on Sunday.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The prospect of a fully healthy Crosby and Malkin on the ice all year for the Pens for the first time since 2009-2010 is a tantalizing one. Forty-goal-scorer James Neal, who plays on Malkin’s wing, may be the unsung hero of a team stocked with flashy stars. With the addition of Tomas Vokoun, who will share time with Marc Andre-Fleury, the goaltending is solid. Questions, however, still remain about the Pens defense outside of Kris Letang. If the Pens are going to make a Stanley Cup run, they will either need one of their one defenseman like Simon Despres to step up or they will need to make a deal for additional help on the blue line (rumors are already swirling that the Pens could bring back Sergei Gonchar).
2. New York Rangers
The Rangers were stout last year, before adding Rick Nash (whom they basically stole from the Blue Jackets). Factor in a full season from highly-touted youngster Chris Kreider, who joins 40-goal-scoring Martin Gaborik in giving the Rangers more offensive fire power. Considering that Henrik Lundqvist is a shut-down goalie and that the Rangers play a stifling defensive-style, one could just as easily have the Rangers ranked #1. Think of the Penguins as 1A and the Rangers as 1B.
3. Los Angeles Kings
They are the reigning Stanley Cup champs and return basically their entire team. If Jonathan Quick isn’t bothered by his back and Anze Kopitar gets healthy, the Kings are the odds-on favorite to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup again this year.
4. Vancouver Canucks
With the Sedin brothers, the Canucks will always be dangerous. The Canucks could get even stronger if they manage to get the king’s ransom they supposedly want in return for goalie Roberto Luongo. Ryan Kessler (who is out indefinitely after offseason surgery) will be missed.
5. Boston Bruins
There is a lot to like about the Bruins, even in year one of the post-Tim Thomas era (though I still think Thomas comes back to hockey). The Bruins return six players who scored 20 or more goals last year in addition to the big Slovakian defenseman Zdeno Chara.
6. Edmonton Oilers
Slotting the Oilers this high in the pre-season will either make me look like the Oracle at Delphi by the end of the year or a guy who doesn’t know a thing about hockey. I love this young Oilers team. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner form the core of this talented, young team. They are going to score lots of goals and going to be a whole lot of fun to watch, but will likely only be able to go as far as their net-minding takes them.
7. St. Louis Blues
Plenty of NHL experts have referred to this shortened and compacted 48-game season as a whole season of “playoff hockey.” Many a team has ridden a hot goalie to a long playoff run, and the Blues have the best 1-2 goalie tandem in the league.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers ran through the Penguins like a buzz saw in the first round of the playoffs last year. Many folks, myself included, expected the Flyers to make a deep run after that performance. Instead, they were dumped by the New Jersey Devils in the second round. The Flyers have lots of talent–led by newly-minted captain Claude Giroux–and plenty of attitude (think Broad Street bullies 2.0). Goal tending could be a problem for the Flyers. Ilya Bryzgalov is great at times, terrible at times, and it often seems like he lives on a different planet. Don’t be surprised to see the Flyers make a run at Luongo or another goalie near the trade deadline.
9. Chicago Blackhawks
With tons of depth on the blue line, if Patrick Kane can stay out of trouble, Marian Hossa can stay healthy, and Corey Crawford really does turn out to be the answer in goal for the Blackhawks, then they should be positioned for another playoff run.
The problem, of course, is that is a lot of ifs.
10. Carolina Hurricanes
With the addition of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, the Canes are one of the trendy picks to have a big year. I am not sure just how far this team can go in the playoffs (the Eastern Conference is loaded), but I do think Carolina is going to be a vastly improved team. Between Jordan Staal, his brother Eric, Alexander Semin, and Jeff Skinner, the Canes are going to score goals. Cam Ward is a talented goalie, but questions remain on the blue line for Carolina.
On the waiting list:
Detroit Red Wings
Follow Chris R. Barron on Twitter @ChrisRBarron