With the draft complete, most of the big trades having transpired and almost all of the top NHL free agents off the market, we know have a good idea of what all 31 teams will look like heading into the 2017-18 season.
Preseason hockey is only a month away, where teams start to piece together their final rosters for the season. And before you know it, NHL hockey will be up and about again in early October. So let the speculation begin as to how all teams will look as we near the start of the NHL’s 101st season.
Now that the NHL is at its slowest and quietest stage of the year, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where all 31 teams lie. Here are my super-early power rankings for the upcoming 2017-18 season. So enjoy, comment and discuss among your friends!
31. Vegas Golden Knights
Throughout NHL history, expansion teams have always been awful in their very first season. They tend to be pretty bad for the following three-to-five seasons, too. And though the Golden Knights did land quality players like Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Marchessault and James Neal, they still have very little depth. The prospect pool is obviously low, since they’ve only been part of one league entry draft.
The Golden Knights just don’t have that much talent on the roster right now, and we have no idea what to expect from this team in 2017-18. They could be really, really bad or quite mediocre. The playoffs are out of the question, no doubt. Right now, the Golden Knights look to be the worst team in the NHL.
30. Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche were far-and-away the NHL’s worst team in 2016-17, finishing with just 48 points. GM Joe Sakic has delayed an inevitable rebuild for reasons unknown, as star forwards Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene (im)patiently wait to be traded. Those two could each bring back a trio of terrific young assets, but Sakic hasn’t dealt either of them yet.
There’s zero reason to believe the Avalanche will turn things around. They didn’t add a whole lot outside of backup goalie Jonathan Bernier in the offseason. Head coach Jared Bednar surprisingly avoided his walking papers, and it’s tough to believe he’s going to turn it all around in one year.
Colorado was far-and-away the NHL’s worst team last season. Unfortunately for the fans, things aren’t going to change a whole lot for them next season. The Avalanche will once again contend for the lottery pick.
29. New Jersey Devils
After missing the playoffs for the fifth-straight season, the New Jersey Devils lucked out and won the draft lottery — selecting Swiss star Nico Hischier. The only problem is unlike most recent first-overall picks like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, Hischier doesn’t have that franchise-changing potential.
Hischier is probably better suited as a quality No. 2 centre, and with little support around him in New Jersey, he’s unlikely to have much of an impact in his rookie year. The Devils also failed to land star defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, who was supposed to be high on their radar in free agency.
New Jersey can’t score, and goalie Cory Schneider doesn’t get a lot of defensive support. The Devils didn’t add any significant pieces in the offseason, so they’ll be in position to win the first selection for the second consecutive year.
28. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks finished 29th in the league standings last season, following a 28th-place finish the year before. But general manager Jim Benning has made a handful of good trades and has drafted greatly in his four years with the Canucks. Though he has the Canucks on the right path of contending for Cups, Vancouver isn’t quite ready to take a leap forward in 2018.
There are young players to like, including Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Troy Stecher, Ben Hutton and Brock Boeser. But with prized prospects like Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi far away from NHL-ready, the Canucks can’t expect to get much better just yet.
Vancouver just doesn’t have that ultra-superstar on their roster to turn things around significantly in 2018. Another bottom-five finish in the league standings is far more likely than being a playoff bubble team.
27. Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes haven’t made the playoffs over the past five years, but all the young talent is in place for them to start making progress. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is one of the league’s premier blue liners, and forwards Max Domi, Clayton Keller, Anthony Duclair and Dylan Strome round out one of hockey’s best young cores.
But Arizona will enter 2017-18 without Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata, two of their scoring leaders from last season. The Coyotes also traded goalie Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames and thus don’t have a great option in the crease.
Arizona’s lack of goaltending security, depth on defence and reliable scoring forwards will hold them back from taking significant strides in 2018. But with some up-and-coming players, they’ll avoid being the worst team in hockey.
26. Buffalo Sabres
Will the Sabres finally break out? Or at least go from awful to mediocre? Time will tell.
Ownership made two head-scratching moves, firing well-respected veteran head coach Dan Byslma and general manager Tim Murray — who has stockpiled Buffalo’s prospect pool while adding great young pieces to the roster. Nonetheless, Buffalo should be a bit better in 2018.
The Minnesota Wild shipped young blueliner Marco Scandella to Buffalo for taking on Jason Pominville’s terrible contract. The Sabres also let past-his-prime veteran Brian Gionta leave, and inconsistent Dmitry Kulikov took his talents to Winnipeg.
Buffalo made some solid roster changes, and it’s time for Jack Eichel to finally lead this team out of the Eastern Conference basement. Until that happens, the Sabres will stay in the bottom-10 this season.
25. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings saw their 25-year playoff drought end in 2017, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to return to the postseason next season. GM Ken Holland has refused to rebuild, and has handcuffed Detroit with toxic contracts. Guys like Fran Nielsen, Stephen Weiss, Darren Helm, Jonathan Eriksson, Niklas Kronwall, Jimmy Howard, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader carry long-term deals but don’t play anywhere close to their salaries.
Detroit used their first-round pick on Michael Rasmussen — a big 6-foot-6 centre that doesn’t come with the “franchise-changing” label. He’s not likely to make the NHL next season, so don’t expect him to save the team.
Holland’s only notable addition was defenceman Trevor Daley — who’s good but not great. The Red Wings have too much rebuilding to do, and they haven’t really started. They won’t be horrible in 2018, but they’re not going to compete for the playoffs, either.
24. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings went from Stanley Cup champions (2014), to no playoffs (2015) to an embarrassing first-round exit (2016), to no playoffs once again (2017). Frustrated with the inconsistency, management fired GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Darryl Sutter. Los Angeles has the talent to be…not horrible. But their championship window has all but closed at this point.
All their core players are in their 30s, most past their primes. The Kings don’t have any promising prospects outside of 2017 first-rounder Gabriel Vilardi — whose skating has drawn much concern from scouts.
Los Angeles is hoping new head coach John Stevens can get guys like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik to score again. It’s just not going to happen. In a league built entirely around speed, the Kings are one of the slowest in hockey. It’ll be no playoffs for the third time in four years.
23. Florida Panthers
The Panthers definitely have the talent to turn things around, but the amount of studs they lost this offseason is alarming. This includes the ageless Jaromir Jagr (who remains unsigned), Jussi Jokinen, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Though he didn’t make much of an impact after being acquired, losing Thomas Vanek also doesn’t help Florida.
Consider that their Atlantic Division foes all made moves to get better, and it’s easy to believe that Florida could finish among the bottom teams in the Eastern Conference. The talent level on this team has dried up, and they don’t have many players who can change a game on any given night.
22. Minnesota Wild
Now it may seem unfair to place the Central Division’s second-best team from 2017 this low on the list, but regression is inevitable for the Minnesota Wild. Up until an ugly collapse in March, Minny was on its way to winning the Central Division.
If you look at the advanced stats, Minnesota’s late-season unraveling shouldn’t be all that surprising. Their 49.34 Corsi for percentage ranked just 20th in the NHL — suggesting they got plenty of lucky bounces through the first few months of 2016-17.
The Wild lost two of their best blueliners in Erik Haula and Marco Scandella. Furthermore, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are in their mid-30s and can only perform at high levels for so long. Devan Dubnyk is also likely to fall back to earth, so it all adds up to a non-playoff season in Minnesota.
21. Winnipeg Jets
I would certainly love to put the Winnipeg Jets higher on this list. With so much talent that includes Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers, among others. But the Jets haven’t been able to gel together under head coach Paul Maurice, who is on the hot seat like no other coach entering 2017-18.
Winnipeg made some good moves in the offseason, signing veteran goalie Steve Mason to push Connor Hellebuyck for the No. 1 job. They also added big, stay-at-home defenceman Dmitry Kulikov to fix the porous play from the blue line.
But until/unless Winnipeg actually puts it all together, they can’t rank outside of the bottom 10. They’ve been all hype and no action for far too long. So Winnipeg, let’s see it if you want us to believe it.
20. Boston Bruins
The Bruins narrowly qualified for the playoffs in 2017, but the odds are against this team getting back there again in 2018. Boston was an aging core that consists of Zdeno Chara (40), Patrice Bergeron (32), David Backes (33), David Krejci (31), and Tuukka Rask (30). Furthermore, they didn’t make any significant moves to upgrade the roster.
Too bad, because the majority of their division rivals made a boatload of moves to get stronger and better this offseason. We saw the Ottawa Senators skate circles around Boston in the opening round of the playoffs, and we’re sure to see more of it from other teams this upcoming season.
Boston doesn’t have many young talents that expect to make the roster this season. So with all these fading veterans carrying the load, expect the Bruins to fall apart and miss the playoffs for the third time in four years.
19. Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia continued its frustrating trend of missing the playoffs for the fourth-straight odd year, though they did qualify in 2012, 2014 and 2016. The good news is that there are plenty of talent veterans to carry this team. That includes Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier.
The Flyers got even better by getting lucky in the draft lottery, landing Nolan Patrick with the second selection. Philadelphia also addressed a crucial roster need by signing goalie Brian Elliott to a two-year contract.
Though I firmly believe the Flyers are capable of making the playoffs, the blue line still raises plenty of questions. GM Ron Hextall didn’t do a whole lot to make it better in the offseason. The Flyers can score goals, sure. But will Elliott be enough to stop them on his own? Too many questions with few answers, that’s why Philly misses the top 15.
18. Carolina Hurricanes
Here they are…Rock you like a Hurricane(s).
For once, things are looking up for the team that won a Stanley Cup in 2006 that you probably forgot existed. Carolina is on the rise, thanks to a stacked young blue line that consists of Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk and Brett Pesce.
Carolina also has some good young forwards in Derek Ryan, Sebastian Aho, Jeff Skinner (SKKIINNNNNNNER) and Victor Rask. But it’s not just these young players that inspire a new growth of confidence in Carolina.
That would be goalie Scott Darling, who looks ready to be a No. 1 goalie after being a great understudy to Corey Crawford for the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hurricanes will easily fight for a playoff spot in 2018, the only question is if they will make it or not.
17. New York Islanders
The Islanders got off to a brutal start in 2016-17, but interim head coach Doug Weight (who replaced the fired Jack Capuano), guided New York to a 24-12-4 finish. The Isles fell just short of the postseason, but they look ready to compete for a playoff spot with a new bench boss who has the confidence of his players.
New York should be able to score more after swapping Ryan Strome for speedy winger Jordan Eberle, who should provide John Tavares with a great linemate. The likes of Anders Lee and Brock Nelson round out the rest of a formidable offence.
The Islanders have a great top-four on defence which includes Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy. But losing Travis Hamonic in a trade leaves a hole there that can’t be filled easily. The Isles also didn’t do much to upgrade their questionable goaltending. Because of that, they fall just outside the top half in the rankings.
16. San Jose Sharks
Is this it for the San Jose Sharks as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender? Time will tell.
Losing franchise icon Patrick Marleau in free agency to the Toronto Maple Leafs hurt, but that’s only half the concern mounting in the Bay Area. San Jose is an aging group — Joe Thornton (38), Joe Pavelski (33), Brent Burns (32), and Joel Ward (36), aren’t getting any younger nor better from this point forward.
San Jose couldn’t make any big splashes in the offseason (thanks salary cap), and they don’t have any promising prospects coming up through the system. We saw the Edmonton Oilers use their superior speed to wear out the Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. The Sharks will likely be a wild card team and nothing more. With the Pacific Division rapidly improving, the Sharks are probably done competing for championships.
15. St. Louis Blues
The Blues looked like a team that was on the verge of missing the playoffs, until they swapped Ken Hitchcock with Mike Yeo behind the bench. The latter led them to a 22-8-2 record to nab the third spot in the Central. St. Louis went on to upset Minnesota in the opening round of the playoffs, but fell two games short of reaching their second consecutive Western Conference Final.
But unfortunately, the Blues Stanley Cup window has probably closed now. They felt the loss of Kevin Shattenkirk and didn’t fill his departure this offseason. Trading for Brayden Schenn did make their offence better, but Jake Allen still hasn’t shown he’s a true No. 1 option.
The Blues might be an elite team in 2018 if they can continue to excel under Yeo. But there are younger, faster and better teams in the wild, wild west. St. Louis will make the playoffs, but it’s tough to see them winning more than a series.
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs entered 2016-17 in what was supposed to be Year 2 of a rebuilding project that was supposed to go through 2020. Well, Auston Matthews kind of happened, Frederik Andersen kind of played well in goal and the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. They pushed the top-seeded Washington Capitals to six games, but look poised to go further in 2018.
Toronto made a big splash by signing perennial 25-goal man Patrick Marleau to a three-year deal. With Matthews as his centre, Marleau could score 30 goals again. The Maple Leafs fixed their defensive game by adding stay-at-home blueliner Ron Hainsey and gritty forward Dominic Moore.
The Leafs have all the pieces in place to finally go on a deep championship run. The only reason they’re not hire? The defence still scares me a bit. Until that gets better, the Leafs can’t be a top-10 team on here.
13. New York Rangers
Just when most people thought the Blueshirts were no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they upset the Atlantic Division-winning Montreal Canadiens in round one then nearly take down the Ottawa Senators in round two. So as it turns out, the Rangers do have a bit of gas left in them.
The signing of Kevin Shattenkirk should be the biggest impact move of this offseason, but concerns mount for the Rangers. 35-year-old Henrik Lundqvist had one of his worst statistical seasons, but turned it around in the playoffs. Can he really keep it together for another full year, though?
New York also packaged No. 1 centre Derek Stepan and backup goalie Antti Raanta to obtain the Arizona Coyote’s first-round pick in 2017. Losing Stepan hurts, and the Rangers are sure to score less goals.
12. Ottawa Senators
Some may find it unfair to post the Eastern Conference runner ups on this list, but hear me out.
As great as Ottawa’s playoff run was in 2017, they were fortunate in getting some favorable opponents in Boston and the Rangers. For others, the Senators were single-handedly carried by Erik Karlsson in the postseason. Craig Anderson was average at best and Ottawa couldn’t score that much.
They did nothing to build off a season that saw them fall one goal short of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. As great as head coach Guy Boucher was in his first year behind the bench, the Senators can’t expect to win 1-0 or 2-1 all season. Throw in the vast improvements from their division rivals, and Ottawa falls down significantly in power rankings.
11. Calgary Flames
The Flames are my dark horse pick to win the Stanley Cup in 2018, but it’s undeniable that there are better teams heading into this season. Only the Nashville Predators can say they rival Calgary’s top-four on defence — Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie and newcomer Travis Hamonic.
Calgary also has a great group of scorers in Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Backlund, Troy Brouwer and Matthew Tkachuk. The only question is if the goalie duo of Mike Smith and Eddie Lack are enough to take the Flames past the first round of the playoffs.
The Flames have a great mix of speed, toughness, youth and veterans. Head coach Glen Gulutzan was able to turn Calgary into one of the best puck possession teams last season, and that should be sustained through 2018. The Flames will challenge for the Pacific Division, and the Cup next season.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets had their most successful regular season in franchise history, picking up 108 points to finish with the fourth-best record in the NHL. The scary thing? Columbus probably got better.
In a move that made headlines across the league, the Jackets acquired Russian star Artemi Panarin (70-plus points in each of his first two seasons), from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brandon Saad. The latter is good, but Panarin is now recognized as a true superstar in the NHL.
Nothing should change in the crease with reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky. Head coach John Tortorella made Columbus one of the highest-scoring yet also one of the stingiest defensive teams last season. There’s zero reason to believe the Jackets can’t maintain their excellence in 2018.
9. Washington Capitals
It may surprise you to see the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners on this list, but is it safe to agree that this team isn’t going to win a Stanley Cup? This team has blown chance after chance despite the world class talents of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby.
The Capitals got significantly worse this offseason. Playoff hero Justin Williams went back to Carolina, reliable second-liner Marcus Johansson went to New Jersey and Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner (free agency) and Nate Schmidt (expansion draft) were lost. The Capitals once-dangerous blue line grew a lot thinner this offseason.
With an aging core and few prospects in the system, Washington simply doesn’t have the ability to win the Cup now. But we all know they’ll dominate the regular season, so we’ll place them in the top-10.
8. Dallas Stars
Has a team ever had such a great offseason despite missing the postseason a year after winning the Central Division? Man, the Dallas Stars got rapidly better in the blink of an eye, and they’re sure to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2018.
It all started when GM Jim Nill brought back old friend Ken Hitchcock to replace the departed Lindy Ruff. Hitchcock’s defence-first system should help Dallas play responsibly in their own end, again.
Dallas also signed the top goalie on the market in Ben Bishop, who becomes a huge upgrade over Kari Lehtonen. They added Russian star Alexander Radulov to complement Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn on offence. They signed shutdown centre Martin Hanzal and acquired stay-at-home blueliner Marc Methot from the Golden Knights.
7. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are once again among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup in 2018. GM Marc Bergevin had a slightly lackluster offseason after being expected to build around Carey Price to compete for a Stanley Cup.
On one hand, he did trade for superstar Jonathan Drouin, who was disgruntled with the Tampa Bay Lightning. But Bergevin also moved on from Alexander Radulov and defencemen Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin.
Re-signing Carey Price was a big move, as was adding shutdown blueliner Karl Alzner. But the Habs lost more key roster players than they gained, so it’s tough to know if they can really get to that next level. But we’ve seen Price single-handedly carry this Habs team before. He gives them every chance to fight for a championship in 2018.
6. Anaheim Ducks
Another Pacific Division title (five in a row), another crushing exit that saw Anaheim fail to reach the Stanley Cup Final. We all know the Ducks will be great in 2018, but is this aging core ready to win a championship or is it too late?
Ryan Getzlaf (32), Corey Perry (32), and Ryan Kesler (33), are starting to wear down as their bodies begin to pack on more mileage. The Ducks are lucky to have arguably hockey’s deepest blue line, but they don’t have a whole lot of secondary scoring. Anaheim plays in a Pacific Division that has the younger and deeper Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, so there is cause for concern.
But we all know this is the Ducks. They are going to make the playoffs and they probably will win at least a playoff series or two. Another great regular season in Anaheim, but the players and fans want more than that.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks were the favorites to win the Western Conference entering the playoffs, but the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators shocked them with a sweep. That prompted GM Stan Bowman to furiously and desperately change up the roster, but the moves weren’t exactly that inspiring.
Trading away Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad was a questionable move, given Panarin’s higher ceiling and tremendous chemistry with Patrick Kane. Bowman also shipped No. 3 defenceman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes, picking up the younger but less-proven Connor Murphy in return.
Veteran Brian Campbell retired, and Marian Hossa is sitting out this season due to an allergic reaction from his hockey equipment. Backup goalie Scott Darling signed with Carolina.
Okay, you get it. The Blackhawks don’t look as great. But they also have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford. Let’s be honest, they’re more likely to win a fourth championship together than to miss the playoffs. They’re a contender entering next season.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning may have missed the playoffs last season, but falling one point short without Steven Stamkos for three-quarters of the season isn’t really that bad. Everyone knows the Lightning are a true Stanley Cup favorite entering 2018, because they have all the pieces to compete.
Coming off a breakout year that saw him score 40 goals and 85 points, Nikita Kucherov should be able to sustain that excellence with a returning Stamkos. GM Steve Yzerman added to Tampa’s core by signing four-time Stanley Cup champion Chris Kunitz and reliable second-pairing blueliner Dan Girardi.
All those guys plus Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy? The Lightning have so much speed, skill and depth all over the roster. They’re going to be Pittsburgh’s biggest challenger in the East this season, in case you thought they were going away.
3. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers finally broke through, thanks to scoring champion and Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid. Led by No. 97, Leon Draisaitl, Cam Talbot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson, Milan Lucic and others, Edmonton finally emerged as an elite team and showed the NHL they’re ready to contend for plenty of championships.
Edmonton has the perfect combination of crafty scorers and big goons/shutdown players. They strongly outplayed Anaheim in the second round of the postseason, and would have taken that series nine times out of 10.
There is way too much talent for the Oilers to ignore. They’ll beat you with their speed and they’ll beat you with their size. This team showed they can handle the playoff pressure, but they just have to play better on defence. With experience, they’ll get there. The Oilers are a true championship contender entering next season.
2. Nashville Predators
The Predators reached their first-ever Stanley Cup Final in 2017, and boy did they ever outplay the Penguins. But Matt Murray stood on his head and almost single-handedly stole Game 6 of the Final — securing Pittsburgh its second-straight Stanley Cup championship.
P.K. Subban promised Nashville would be back to the Final in 2018, and it’s hard to entirely dispute his words. The Preds are dangerous enough, but GM David Poile stole two-way centre Nick Bonino from the Penguins, then added power forward Scott Hartnell and shutdown blueliner Alexei Emelin.
And to think the Predators almost won the Cup with Ryan Johansen sidelined for the entire series. Nashville should be considered the favorite by most to win the West in 2018. All of the talent is in place for another great run in the Music City this upcoming season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are number one automatically, for being the defending Stanley Cup champions and all. They did lose some key role players in Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen and Marc-Andre Fleury. Those departures hurt, but all they need is Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Matt Murray to seriously contend for a third-straight championship.
Obviously, the odds are against the Pens repeating. They barely combed through their final three playoff series, and probably overachieved with a defence made up of duct tape. Nonetheless, they have the stars in place to win yet another Stanley Cup.
Most people probably aren’t expecting the Penguins to win a third Cup, it’s next to impossible in today’s NHL. But with the best player on the planet still in his prime, there’s zero reason to discount the Penguins. They’re the team to beat in the NHL this upcoming season, and there’s no questioning it.
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