NHL Power Rankings: Offseason Finally Over, Preseason Predictions 2011-12
NHL Power Rankings: Preseason Hockey Begins and a long offseason is finally over – predictions and rankings for the 2011-12 season.
It’s been a long and tragic offseason for the NHL but hockey is finally back. Preseason games have started, and the 2011-12 season draws near. As teams set their rosters and free-agent signings are pretty much finished, it’s as good a time as any to do some power rankings.
As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section.
1. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks blew away the rest of the NHL last year, and most of the team returns. There are certainly some issues with the Canucks and a few minor departures, but after how dominant they were last season it’s hard to expect anything but a repeat of last year’s regular season success. Look for the hangover from an emotional Stanley Cup loss to hold the Canucks back a little, but they’re still the most talented team in the NHL. Plus, if I didn’t have the ‘Nucks #1 they might make good on some of those death threats after last year’s Bruins in seven prediction.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: I expect the Penguins to run away with the Eastern Conference this year. Despite playing in the toughest division in hockey, and without Sidney Crosby for at least a while longer, the Penguins will be dominant this year. Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off a great season and Evgeni Malkin is back. If Crosby plays at all this season the Penguins could be the best team in hockey.
3. Washington Capitals: How many times can you have the best record in the conference and come up empty? Perhaps Alexander Ovechkin is the Lebron James of the NHL – or is that Roberto Luongo’s claim? Perhaps Alexander Ovechkin is the Roberto Luongo of the Eastern Conference.
4. San Jose Sharks: Brent Burns provides the Sharks with a solid defenseman that can move the puck. Martin Havlat may not be the producer than Dany Heatley was, but he’s a playmaker that will fit in with a still-loaded Sharks offense that might just show up in the playoffs. This team is far more balanced.
5. Detroit Red Wings: They’re always good, so why wouldn’t they be good again this year? Sure, they’re a little older, but there’s no reason to doubt the Red Wings in 2011-12. Figure on a 21st consecutive playoffs appearance.
6. Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas is 37 years old, but if he plays half as well as last year the Bruins will be an elite team again. They return most of their Stanley Cup roster and enter the season on a roll. The Sabres are much better this year, but the Bruins are still the class of this division.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are the first team in the second tier of the NHL. They took a few steps backward this offseason, but it may prevent a more precipitous decline in the near future. Ilya Bryzgalov is an above-average goalie, but after last year’s goalie carousel he looks to Flyers fans like… Martin Brodeur?
8. Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford is another year older and coming off a fantastic rookie campaign. The mental composition of this team was pathetic last year as demonstrated by a streaky season and an 8th place finish (despite a +33 goal differential), but they were talented enough to take the Canucks to 7 games. This is a good team as long as Q can get them back on track mentally.
9. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres may have overpaid for Christian Erhoff, but he solidifies a once-average defensive group. Ville Leino could be poised for a breakout season in a less cluttered Sabres offense after coming over from the Flyers. The Sabres reloaded. However, Ryan Miller’s middling 2.59 GAA is beyond puzzling, and they might miss Tim Connolly’s nearly point-per-game pace the last four years. Will the Sabres, who have never won the Stanley Cup, suffer from high expectations in the same way the Canucks did?
10. New Jersey Devils: No offseason moves, but a healthy Zach Parise is more valuable to this team than any free-agent. Martin Brodeur might just have a little magic left, and the core of prospects that played extended minutes last year should only get better. Ilya Kovalchuk is poised for a rebound year, but losing Travis Zajac for the beginning of the season could really hurt New Jersey.
11. New York Rangers: Brad Richards should help Marian Gaborik immensely, and the Rangers have one of the best goaltenders in hockey. Ryan Callahan is coming off a career year and seems ready to assume a larger role. Can the Rangers stay healthy though? They block a ton of shots for Torts, but by sprawling to get in front they suffer more injuries than any other team. With Lundqvist in net, you have to wonder why they run such a risky defensive system.
12. Los Angeles Kings: If Mike Richards couldn’t stay sober in Philadelphia, I wonder how he’ll handle Los Angeles. Maybe the Flyers just needed to blow up a team that was just short of greatness. Richards gives the Kings scoring and leadership, and despite an injury riddled season the Kings made an exciting playoff push last year. This is a playoff team again in 2011-12.
13. Tampa Bay Lightning: This team will be as good as Dwayne Roloson allows them to be. “Electric” scoring up front, a solid defense with production from the point, and an ancient goalie. If Rolo has anything left the Lightning will have another great year. If their goaltending collapses, they’ll be mediocre.
14. Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne is back. For an offensively challenged team that proved they can win almost entirely with goaltending, the Preds have everything they need to be a mediocre playoff team in a heated Western Conference.
15. Anaheim Ducks: Is Jonas Hiller healthy?
16. Montreal Canadiens: The Habs are in a bit of a pickle. Carey Price and PK Subban are nearing the end of their contracts, but the rest of this division is passing them by. Erik Cole is a solid supplemental player, but the Canadiens are poised for a mediocre year. They’ll be on the playoff bubble, and might end up on the outside looking in. Consider this the third echelon of NHL teams.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs added tons of depth, included Tim Connolly from Buffalo, and seem poised for a breakout season. They blew up the roster and put it back together again, and with James Reimer in net I really like their chances this year.
18. Carolina Hurricanes: Is Tomas Kaberle the washed up defenseman that couldn’t score a power play goal for the Bruins, or is he the saving presence on the point that the ‘Canes need? I’m not sure, and I expect the Hurricanes to be in the middle of the pack all year.
19. Minnesota Wild: Losing Brent Burns will change the composition of this team dramatically, but I think it’s for the best. The Wild added Dany Heatley and Devon Setoguchi and will actually be exciting to watch this year.
20. St. Louis Blues: Will Jason Arnott and Jaime Langenbrunner prove to be the cancers they were to the Devils last season or the veteran leadership St. Louis craves? This is a huge year for a young and talented Blues team.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets scooped up a ton of depth this offseason. They brought in Jeff Carter from Philadelphia, Vinny Prospal from New York, and James Wisniewski from Montreal. That should be enough to make the Blue Jackets relevant.
22. New York Islanders: I think the Isles will be around .500. Will the prospects put it all together? Who will start the season in net? There are plenty of questions, but the Islanders could be pretty good this year.
23. Colorado Avalanche: Semyon Varlamov will make the Avs tough again. There’s plenty of young talent on this team, and they’re in for a rebound season.
24. Calgary Flames: Will this be Jarome Iginla’s last year in Calgary? The team likely needs to start rebuilding, and he seems like he’ll be the first to go.
25. Winnipeg Jets: There’s going to be a ton of buzz as a young team moves to a city where they’re actually wanted. The roster has too many holes in it, but the momentum these fans create could turn around a struggling franchise.
26. Phoenix Coyotes: Will they be able to score enough goals to compensate for Ilya Bryzgalov’s departure? The defense is great, but there’s little else to like about the Coyotes.
27. Dallas Stars: Brad Richards is gone and the Stars made no effort to replace him. This is going to be a painful season for the Stars, but the Dallas Cowboys might be relevant again so Dallas fans are happy.
28. Ottawa Senators: Parity in the NHL. I love Craig Anderson and the Senators will shock some teams when he shuts them out and they win 1-0. Still, they didn’t spend any of the cap space they’ve freed up and won’t be a good team.
29. Edmonton Oilers: Injuries derailed a bad season and turned it into a truly awful season. Let’s see what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has.
30. Florida Panthers: No goalie, no scoring, no defense, no chance.
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