A new season brings new hope to 30 NHL teams in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.
There are plenty of teams in the favorites category, poised to win their conference or division. There are plenty of contenders as well, teams just outside of the upper echelon, but strong enough to make a deep playoff run. Then there are the pretenders, teams who will hang around the playoff picture until late March, but are ultimately unable to crack the top eight. And as always, there are a handful of rebuilding teams who will not compete for a playoff spot.
This list will rank the 20 best teams each week based on which team Jaime Eisner thinks would win a seven-game series on neutral ice, not just who has the best record.
Preseason power rankings are always dangerous as fans have yet to see their teams on the ice with a normal roster. Looking back on this list in April may provide some laughs, but you have to work with what you know. In the immortal words of Jim Mora...
1. Chicago Blackhawks (46-21-15)
Chicago lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champs in a seven-game Western Conference Final for the ages. They were able to re-sign cornerstones Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the offseason to matching eight-year, $84 million deals. The Blackhawks also were finally able to find a true second line center, bringing Brad Richards into the fold. Chicago is my early Stanley Cup favorite as the addition of Richards coupled with the infusion of youth (Teuvo Teravainen and Jeremy Morin) could lead the 'Hawks back to the promised land.
2. Los Angeles Kings (46-28-8)
The reigning, defending Stanley Cup champions come in at No. 2 in the initial power rankings. LA remains mostly intact from their Cup run after re-signing Marian Gaborik. Their search for a solid second line may be over after the group of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli excelled in the postseason and will remain together to start the season. Fans could very well be looking at a Chicago/LA Western Conference Final yet again.
3. Boston Bruins (54-19-9)
The best team in the East last season is the early favorite to repeat as such in 2014-15. Boston is solid down the middle and displays a mix of physicality and skill. Elite goaltending will take them a long way as well. Boston will contend for the Presidents Trophy in a weaker conference than LA and Chicago.
4. St. Louis Blues (52-23-7)
Well the Ryan Miller experiment did not go so well. Despite question marks in net (I think Jake Allen and Brian Elliott will be fine), the Blues got a lot better at center ice, adding Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera. All their other main cogs return. St. Louis is a solid defensive team with enough skill to put up points. Another 100+ point year lies ahead.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7)
Home of the best hockey player in the world, Pittsburgh will one again rely on their top tier talent to get them through a top heavy Metropolitan Division. The addition of Christian Ehrhoff will give the Penguins one of the best top pairs in the league. Marc-Andre Fleury and Thomas Greiss will be enough goaltending to get them by.
6. Anaheim Ducks (54-20-8)
While they continue to play above what their advanced stats suggest, the Ducks continue to be one of the premiere teams in the Pacific Division. The addition of Ryan Kesler should help their PP and 5v5 scoring. Anaheim may not win the division for the third consecutive season, but they will be in the mix.
7. San Jose Sharks (51-22-9)
The Sharks may have had a nervous breakdown in the offseason, but they did not completely sabotage their team. A fourth line to end all fourth lines aside, the Sharks have too much talent up front and a more than solid top defensive pairing to fall out of the playoffs. All three California teams will make the playoffs and fight for the Pacific Division crown.
8. New York Rangers (45-31-6)
The reigning Eastern Conference champions come in at No. 8 after losing Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot and Anton Stralman in the offseason. The Blueshirts have some quality youth and elite goaltending and will be in the conversation at the top of the East again in 2014-15.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning (46-27-9)
Tampa is a good, young team that should have a full season of Steven Stamkos and rookie Jonathan Drouin. If Ben Bishop can play like he did last season, the Lightning are dark horse Cup contenders. Can their defense hold up?
10. Dallas Stars (40-31-11)
Aside from St. Louis, no team improved more in the offseason than the Stars. The additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to an already offensively potent team makes Dallas one of the more exciting teams in the league. Will their defensive corps and goaltending hold up? Enough to make a run at the top three in the Central.
11. Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8)
Eastern Conference finalists last season, the Habs got a little better in the offseason, swapping Daniel Briere for P.A. Parenteau. They remain a poor possession team, but have plenty of offense, one of the best D-men in the league along with an elite goaltender.
12. Minnesota Wild (43-27-12)
If it were not for questionable goaltending, the Wild would easily be a top 10 team. Their defense is solid, their offense is solid. Goaltending was a huge question mark even with Josh Harding, without him the water is even more muddied. Minnesota is essentially St. Louis light and should compete for a wild card spot out West.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets (43-32-7)
I am assuming Ryan Johansen is playing for Columbus by sometime in October. If so, Columbus is a solid, albeit unspectacular team. Solid goaltending and a good top line will make the Blue Jackets postseason contenders.
14. Colorado Avalanche (52-22-8)
Quite possibly the most controversial choice of this list. The Avs were great last year but every thing from metics to the eye test to common sense says they will regress. How much and how fast? Who knows. At the moment, their offense may be able to carry them back into the postseason as a wild card team.
15. Nashville Predators (38-32-12)
Nashville is a solid team that added some offense in Mike Ribeiro and James Neal while also getting their elite goaltender back. Watch out for the Preds in the wild card picture out West.
16. New York Islanders (34-37-11)
Their goaltending was atrocious last year and is much improved with Jaroslav Halak in net. They have a superstar in John Tavares and they addressed their defensive deficiencies by acquiring Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy in trades. This may be a little high for a team that was below .500 last season, but this much-improved group will compete for a playoff spot in 2014-15.
17. Washington Capitals (38-30-14)
The Caps aren't the 100-point caliber team they once were, but are still good enough to hang around the postseason picture. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are elite players while free agent additions Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen will help bolster their blueline. Braden Holtby is underrated as well.
18. Detroit Red Wings (39-28-15)
I have lots of concerns about Detroit starting with their bottom-six and defensive corps, but when healthy, they have as solid of a top-six as anybody in the league. Jimmy Howard may not be elite, but he is good enough to get the job done. Will the Red Wings makes the playoffs for the 24th consecutive season?
19. Vancouver Canucks (36-35-11)
Vancouver is due for a bit of a bounce-back after a miserable 2013-14 season. Signing Radim Vrbata and placing him on a line with the Sedin Twins may be the best thing the Canucks have done in years. Ryan Miller is an upgrade at the goaltender position. Vancouver did enough in the offseason to pull themselves back into wild card contention.
20. Arizona Coyotes (37-30-15)
It was an interesting offseason for the Coyotes. The loss of Vrbata and Ribeiro. The additions of Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale and B.J. Crombeen. The fans wanted a youth movement but got Brandon McMillan and Justin Hodgman instead of Max Domi and Henrik Samuelsson. The Coyotes will not be as bad as people think and will likely be in the playoff hunt until late March.