The National Hockey League has certainly undergone transformation this offseason. Not only will the divisions be completely different under the new realignment, but teams across the league will have a bit different feel this season.
Daniel Alfredsson will no longer captain the Ottawa Senators, John Tortorella will no longer scowl from the New York Rangers’ bench, and the Columbus Blue Jackets, with the addition of Nathan Horton, look to be a legitimate playoff contender.
But are the Jackets a top ten team? After all, that’s what I’m here to discuss.
The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Champs, but are they the team to beat?
Without further ado, here are my rankings:
10. Ottawa Senators
This was tough. With Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Washington to choose from, I had to give serious consideration to all four teams. What it boiled down to was this: while I like some things about the other teams, they all have a glaring weakness. Vancouver lacks depth defensively, Washington lacks depth everywhere and needs to find a consistent goaltender, and Toronto’s inexperience showed in the playoffs last year.
Ottawa, meanwhile, lost its captain in Daniel Alfredsson, but landed arguably the offseason’s biggest free agent in Bobby Ryan. He makes that team better, and may put them over the hump that has prevented them from winning a Stanley Cup.
Maybe they won’t win it this year, but the future is bright in Ottawa, especially with their defensive prowess.
9. New York Islanders
The Isles are the NHL’s up-and-coming squad, and they’re going to be around awhile. Garth Snow has done a nice job building this team around stars John Tavares and Michael Grabner. The list of young talent is long, but starts with Kyle Okposo, who is poised for a breakout year in 2013-14. The addition of Cal Clutterbuck was just another good move by Snow, who signed the 25-year-old banger away from Minnesota for cheap.
The defense is a bit inexperienced, but the entire roster only has three guys in their 30s and one of them is goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. I’m not worried about the youth movement in New York.
8. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are another team that is getting younger and faster. Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson are youthful guys that can really play. The youth, added with the veteran leadership of Daniel Alfredsson, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, equals a team that will make its 23rd straight postseason appearance.
7. Los Angeles Kings
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ The age-old adage was the theme of LA’s offseason, as they didn’t make any big free agent acquisitions, but retained many of their core guys. Losing Rob Scuderi hurts a bit, but the Kings’ defense will be fine without him.
And it certainly helps to have Jonathan Quick between the pipes.
6. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens hold the NHL record with 23 Stanley Cups, but they haven’t won one in more than 20 years. They have a very talented team with the likes of P.K. Subban, Brian Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty, but haven’t been a true contender in years. Will the addition of a few tough guys (Douglas Murray, George Parros) and Danny Briere make the difference this year?
5. New York Rangers
I’m blaming last year on John Tortorella. The Rangers underwhelmed all season, Brad Richards disappeared, and ultimately the Rangers fell short in the playoffs, losing to the Boston Bruins in five games.
This year, the Rangers have a new coach in Alain Vigneault, and a “clean slate” as Vigneault has emphasized in camp thus far. If, and that’s a big if, the Rangers can re-sign Derek Stepan, they’ll have the talent to complete with anyone. Now, it’s up to Vigneault to get the most out of his guys.
And that shouldn’t be too tough with Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan on the roster.
4. St. Louis Blues
St. Louis is a team that is intimidated by nobody and will gladly turn any game into a back alley fist fight. They have guys like David Backes who can go for a Gordie Howe hat trick on any given night. They have guys like Alex Pietrangelo who can shut down even the most elite forwards. And they have guys like T.J. Oshie who can fly around the ice at a dizzying pace.
What’s not to like?
3. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have some of the truly elite hockey players on the face of the earth and overall, are one of the most well-rounded NHL squads. But the loss of Nathan Horton to Columbus and Tyler Seguin to Dallas will be felt. I’m hesitant to even rank Boston this high, but with MVP-caliber players in Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask and Zdeno Chara, these guys will still be a force.
A force that won’t hesitate to punch you in the mouth.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
I have a confession to make: I’m a follower of the Detroit Red Wings, so making the decision between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins for the league’s top team was a lose-lose situation for me. The Blackhawks fall to number two despite being the defending Stanley Cup Champs because of the key guys they lost this offseason.
Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg aren’t big name guys, but they brought important intangibles (and a Stanley Cup-winning goal) to Chicago. With these two gone, I think Pittsburgh takes the #1 spot.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh won the Cup back in 2009, but since then has experienced one disappointment after another in the postseason. On paper, they’re the most talented team in the league, and have two legitimate MVP contenders in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If the two can stay healthy (which they haven’t done lately), Pittsburgh has the most dynamic duo in the league.
If Marc-Andre Fleury learns to translate his regular season game to the postseason, the Pens will be my favorite to win the Cup. But that’s a huge if. Even without a stellar Fleury, the Penguins still have a chance to win with the goal-scoring power they possess.
In addition to Crosby and Malkin, James Neal, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz can all fill the net with pucks. And don’t forget about Kris Letang lurking around the blue line. The star defenseman had five goals and 33 assists in last year’s lockout-shortened season.
I’m sure nobody will, but should you disagree for some reason, vote in the poll and we’ll determine the real Stanley Cup favorite.
Follow me on twitter @ScottPeceny