One month from today the regular season will be underway. Between then and now, injuries can happen and moves can still be made. But we have a pretty good idea what teams will look like, so why not post some early Power Rankings?! Here is our preliminary list…
1. Vancouver Canucks The highest-scoring team in the West returns its key offensive contributors while the defense improved with the additions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard. Vancouver just might have the best team on paper. 2. Washington Capitals Last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners will be just fine in 2010/11, even though 121 points may not be in the offing. Who will emerge as the number one in net: Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth? 3. Pittsburgh Penguins The recent addition of Mike Comrie is an interesting one. He hasn’t had much success in the last couple years, but can’t stay healthy. He could thrive next to Crosby – if healthy. 4. Detroit Red Wings Unless they have the injury bug bite them again, I think we’ll see the real Detroit return this season. Jiri Hudler is back in the fold, and they made smart veteran additions in Mike Modano and Ruslan Salei. 5. New Jersey Devils Could the Devils be even better than they have been in the last two years?? Having Anton Volchenkov and Jason Arnott on board will help, and they’ll benefit from having Ilya Kovalchuk around for a full season. 6. Chicago Blackhawks The defending champs come in at #6 despite all of the movement GM Stan Bowman did this summer. Marty Turco will be solid behind that defense, but will he last the whole year? 7. Los Angeles Kings L.A. missed out on Kovalchuk, yet brought in veterans Willie Mitchell and Alex Ponikarovsky. This team could be scary good if the youngsters continue to improve. 8. San Jose Sharks Which Finn will Todd McLellan rely on this season: Antti Niemi or Antero Niittymaki? Both. For the Sharks to win another division title, the goaltending has to be consistent in the post-Nabokov era. 9. Philadelphia Flyers The reigning Eastern Conference champs have one of the most talented rosters in the NHL. But will the goaltending hold up? That could be the difference between being a division winner or bubble team. 10. Boston Bruins Boston is just lying in the weeds in the Eastern Conference. The Northeast isn’t as strong, and a healthy Bruins club could take advantage and have a big year. 11. Nashville Predators GM David Poile pushed the right buttons in the off-season, including giving Shea Weber the ‘C’. If Pekka Rinne is the goalie we think he can be as the number one, this team could surprise a lot of people. 12. Tampa Bay Lightning Everyone is drinking the Tampa Bay Kool-aid… why not? GM Steve Yzerman has had a wonderful first impression, and new coach Guy Boucher has a bright future in this league. 13. Buffalo Sabres I honestly think the Sabres may have overachieved a bit in 2009/10. Ryan Miller is still a stud between the pipes, but will the losses of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman have a considerable impact? 14. St. Louis Blues St. Louis possesses one of the better up-and-coming teams. Youngsters T.J. Oshie and David Backes power a youthful Blues attack, while Montreal playoff hero Jaroslav Halak is the new man in the crease. 15. Phoenix Coyotes Was 2009/10 a mirage or the real deal in the desert? I’ll settle for somewhere in between. Phoenix lost a couple key players, but was able to hang on to Lee Stempniak. 16. Anaheim Ducks Randy Carlyle’s crew had a disappointing showing last year and they lost Scott Niedermayer to retirement over the summer. Do they have enough to bounce back into the playoffs? 17. Ottawa Senators This is a team I’m not overly high on because I have my doubts Brian Elliott can repeat his solid second half from last year. Also, what impact will losing Volchenkov have (despite the Gonchar addition)? 18. Colorado Avalanche Joe Sacco and company must now deal with high expectations. The Avalanche have a bright future with a lot of great talent, but may take a step back before going forward. 19. Calgary Flames Can Calgary fan the flames leftover from last year? The second half wasn’t pretty, and the off-season saw questionable moves come from GM Darryl Sutter. 20. Montreal Canadiens The organization made the decision to go with Carey Price over Jaroslav Halak, despite the latter’s terrific postseason. Look for the Habs to be in a dogfight once again for one of the final playoff spots. 21. Toronto Maple Leafs Is this finally the year that Brian Burke’s plan comes into shape? The defense is stacked but there are question marks up front and in net. The success of the young centers could tell the tale. 22. Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley also made a nice impression in his first summer in Atlanta. He brought in four Blackhawks from last year’s roster, along with steady goalie Chris Mason. 23. Carolina Hurricanes Look for the ‘Canes to be much more competitive from the on-set than 2009/10, as they were hit by injuries. The defense is underrated, and could complement a nice mix of forwards well. 24. New York Rangers The Blueshirts did add Alexander Frolov to the top line, but there are shades of gray everywhere else. One problem: Derek Boogaard and Wade Redden are overpaid while Marc Staal is still unsigned. 25. Minnesota Wild Todd Richards’ gang hopes to take a big step this year, but is the talent there? A decent forward mix and ‘hybrid’ defensemen may not be the answer in the west. 26. New York Islanders At one point this summer I felt the Isles could be a surprise team in 2010/11. But they were reluctant to add offense, and the goaltending is either old or injury-prone. They are still a year or two away. 27. Columbus Blue Jackets Columbus is top-heavy up front and the back end is shaky. Rookie coach Scott Arniel will certainly have his hands full. 28. Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon is starting to put his stamp on Florida, but the rebuilding project isn’t going to be quick. Unless Michael Frolik and David Booth both bust out, the Panthers could be in for a long year. 29. Dallas Stars Marc Crawford and company have an uphill climb this season. Not only do they have four playoff-caliber teams in their division, but the defense is pitiful and Kari Lehtonen is their starter. 30. Edmonton Oilers Edmonton rounds out the rankings… just because. Injuries played a large part in their dismal campaign last year. Talented rookies Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle could give the team a jolt of energy.
Our next Power Rankings will be revealed after the pre-season. They will appear every Monday throughout the 2010/11 season!
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.