Very Early NHL Power Rankings For 2016-17

Well, that went by fast.

We are halfway through the NHL offseason. So just keep following Major League Baseball, embrace yourselves for NFL in September and before you know it, it'll be opening night for the NHL. And boy, do we ever need it after a rather disappointing season in the Great White North. Seriously, how did all seven Canadian teams a) miss the playoffs and b) all pick in the top 11?

There were plenty of huge head coach hirings, trades, draft selections, and free agent signings that promise to change the future of the NHL. From a Canadian fan's perspective, we really hope that Rogers' gamble pays off. Come on American fans, just admit that hockey is way better with Canadian teams actually competing.

The regular season is just a couple of months away, and now fans can start debating as to who the top teams are. We do our best here as we show our early power rankings with the regular season just weeks away.

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30 Toronto Maple Leafs

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Sorry Leafs fans, but remember Brendan Shanahan's promise that there'd be long-term pain? That will hold in place again. The team wisely avoided signing big free agents as they stick to the rebuilding plan.

Yes, getting Steven Stamkos would have definitely made them a better team--but don't tell us Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly, and Mitch Marner aren't franchise building blocks. The Leafs are doing the smart thing by putting all their cards in the hands of their young, rising stars. The goaltending has been a problem for years, but the trade for Frederik Andersen may finally give them the franchise netminder they've lacked for over a decade.

Yes, Toronto will be dominant team sooner rather than later. But it's not going to come just yet. Expect them to once again finish near the bottom of the standings.

29 Vancouver Canucks

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The Canucks made the right moves in order to load up at another run for the playoffs.

Trading for 6'5 defenceman Erik Gudbranson will help them compete with their physical Pacific Division foes in Los Angeles, Anaheim, and San Jose. Drafting Olli Juolevi may give them their first-ever Norris-calibre blueliner. The team also signed slick Swede Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal. He and the Sedin Twins should form a lethal line together.

But expecting the Canucks to turn it around again may be asking for too much. Though the Sedins might have their best linemate ever, 36-years-old is a time for players to decline, not get better. Gudbranson, Chris Tanev, Juolevi, and Ben Hutton round out a solid core--but the blueline is a few years away from reaching its full potential.

Unless Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen leap into superstardom right away, the Canucks won't have an secondary scorers outside of their top three forwards. Asking those two to contribute significantly is simply too much.

28 Arizona Coyotes

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The Coyotes have a nice core in place. Anthony Duclair, Max Domi, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dylan Strome, and Clayton Keller are a great group of guys to build around. But the Coyotes will regress next season.

Shane Doan (4o in October) isn't going to score 28 goals like he did last season. Buying out Antoine Vermette was extremely questionable and leaves a gaping hole at centre. The Coyotes goaltending situation is also a huge mess. Their Pacific Division rivals all made moves to get better. That puts a lot of pressure on Arizona's young guns, who simply aren't ready to take the next step.

The Coyotes have arguably the most promising future in the NHL, but that doesn't mean they're going to dominate right away. Arizona is once again going to struggle next season in another year of rebuilding.

27 Columbus Blue Jackets

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The Blue Jackets aren't really going in a firm direction right now. John Tortorella took over early last season and this team showed more pride and will under him, but they're still nowhere close to being a playoff team again.

Sergei Bobrovsky needs plenty of help up front. Can Seth Jones take the next step and will Jack Johnson maintain his solid all-around play? Bobrovsky needs it, because he can only mask the team's defensive issues for so long. The scoring should get a boost if prized rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois gets top-six minutes.

Cam Atkinson and Brandon Saad each notched 53 points last year, while the latter and Boone Jenner hit 30-goals. The Jackets scoring won't be an issue, but this team just never seems to gel together. Their Atlantic Division is also extremely competitive, so the young guys need to keep maturing.

No signs of a turnaround year in Columbus.

26 Colorado Avalanche

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It may seem weird putting the Avs this low after just missing out on the playoffs last year, but the departure of head coach Patrick Roy is just foreshadowing of what's evident in the Mile High City: This team is as dysfunctional as it comes in the front office and locker room.

Roy allegedly resigned because he reportedly wasn't getting control over the players and wanted stars Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie traded. Being the head coach, he definitely knows best--based on the system he runs. The Avs failed to do the moves their great coach wanted, and they're going to have to find someone to inherit this mess.

Nate MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Duchene, and Barrie are nice players to build up front with. However, this team, like the Jackets, just can't work together. It seems like these young guys are just trying to do it all on their own.

Semyon Varlamov is going to keep them in games. But unless the Avs can actually work well under their new coach, don't expect a turnaround.

25 Carolina Hurricanes

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Eric Staal, the face of the franchise, has signed with the Minnesota Wild. It was just one move that has signified the beginning of a new era for the perennially-struggling Hurricanes franchise.

There is a lot to love with this group, but why did they bring back veteran Cam Ward, who has seen better days? When you rebuild, you need to get rid of veterans that don't have much left. The Canes have spent years in mediocrity and still can't seem to figure out how to get back to the playoffs.

Jeff Skinner had 51 points last year and will provide plenty of scoring, along with Jordan Staal and Victor Rask. It's really Carolina's blueline that could propel them next season. Noah Hanifin is a star in the making, but Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy are the stars that really give Carolina hope.

But once again, expect Carolina to be a top-10 worst team. They need plenty of more talent before they start making noise again.

24 New Jersey Devils

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Like the Hurricanes, New Jersey has settled for mediocrity the last few seasons.

The Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson trade is a win for both teams, but Hall has yet to establish himself as the face-of-the-franchise type player. He was inconsistent with Edmonton and now joins a team with...far less scoring talent than he had with the Oilers.

Though many New Jersey fans want to think he's a franchise saviour, Hall is going to remain nothing more than 25-goal winger at best. Losing Larsson leaves a huge void on their blueline which is consistently one of the best. Cory Schneider is going to keep putting up Vezina-type numbers, but it's all-for-nothing until someone on this team learns how to score.

Playing in a division with the Penguins, Islanders, and Rangers is no easy task. New Jersey simply doesn't have much talent or firepower to compete with other teams. Expect another top-10 draft pick next season.

23 Edmonton Oilers

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The Oilers could FINALLY breakout this year, and even though I want to put them in the top-15, I can't resist the urge. I'm sure most of you are with me in the fact you can't bet big on the Oilers until they actually turn everything around once and for all.

Once they don't own a top-10 pick in the NHL Entry Draft, I will be convinced enough that good things are right around the corner. Peter Chiarelli made some great moves to get Edmonton in position to win again. Though most people were critical of the Larsson-for-Hall trade, the Oilers are stacked with offensive weapons. Larsson is the ideal stay-at-home shutdown blueliner they've lacked since trading Chris Pronger 10 years ago.

Signing power forward Milan Lucic may be the best move of the offseason. Edmonton's undersized forwards have been pushed around too much, but the 6'4 winger will protect his young guns a la Marty McSorley 30 years ago.

Lucic joins Connor McDavid (the next face of the NHL) Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, and prized rookie Jesse Puljujarvi. Hard NOT to be impressed with this young core.

But it's a matter of if, not when, the Oilers start a resurgence this season.

22 Buffalo Sabres

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Like the Coyotes and Oilers, the Sabres future is brighter than the sun from 10 miles away. They've got themselves a future franchise icon in Jack Eichel, and newly-signed winger Kyle Okposo should easily add another 20-30 goals in Buffalo. As scary as it is for other teams, it doesn't end there.

Ryan O'Reilly led the team with 60 points last year and should keep producing as a top-flight centre. Young centre Sam Reinhart had 23 goals and 42 points and you can expect the 20-year-old to only get better. Though Evander Kane's antics off the ice have him in trouble--should he stay healthy--he'll also be a sure bet for 20.

Their goaltending woes are still a concern, and the blueline is a question mark after Zach Bogosian. The Sabres are going to be a tough team to play against in 2016-17, but they're still one or two years away from realistically competing for the playoffs.

21 Ottawa Senators

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It's hard not to get excited about the future of the Senators. They'll push incredibly hard for a playoff spot this upcoming season. With a new head coach in Guy Boucher and an assistant coach in Marc Crawford, there are no excuses for failure again.

Kyle Turris, Mark Stone, Derick Brassard, Mike Hoffman, Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and the growth of Curtis Lazar give them an excellent top-six group. Oh yeah, then there's a guy named Erik Karlsson leading the back end, whose 82 points led the team last season.

Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, and Cody Ceci round out the rest of a top-four that underachieved last year. Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are solid goaltenders who just need the defence to play better in front of them. Bad defence can often be attributed to coaching, and the Sens have two of the greatest masterminds behind the bench.

It's going to be an exciting year in Ottawa, but it might not be good enough to beat out the Eastern Conference powerhouses.

20 Winnipeg Jets

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No team in the NHL has a brighter future than the Jets, and it's incredibly possible that they finish as a top-three team in the Central Division.

Drafting Patrik Laine, who many scouts are already comparing to Alex Ovechkin as a pure goal-scorer, was their big offseason move. Up front, he'll join rising star Mark Scheifele, who broke out with 29 goals and 61 points last season. Blake Wheeler also had a huge year with 78 points, but he probably won't top that.

Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault, and Nikolaj Ehlers will also provide substantial scoring, with the latter on the verge of breaking out. Kyle Connor and Nic Petan, also prized prospects, could earn top-six minutes. Now that we're done with all those forwards, the defence is due for a bounce-back year. A blueline led by Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, and Jacob Trouba has nowhere to go but up. Connor Hellebuyck will man the crease.

I would not be shocked if the Jets ended up winning the Central Division, but they're going to push for the playoffs. They're that close to dominating the NHL.

19 Philadelphia Flyers

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For the second time in the last three seasons, the Flyers erased a horrendous start to their season and made the playoffs. But don't let the hot second-half of last season fool you: This is not a great team. And they have a long way to go before they can be taken seriously again.

Yes, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, and Shayne Gostisbehere provide plenty of scoring. But Steve Mason is an average starter at best and won't be able to mask all of the problems on the blueline. Philly still has the same problem year-after-year in protecting the puck from entering their nets.

The Capitals, Islanders, Penguins, and Rangers are all much better teams in the Atlantic Division, because they all have depth in all three phases. They failed to make any impactful offseason additions to address their needs. Philly has the talent to make the playoffs in 2017, but don't bet on it.

18 Minnesota Wild

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When will the Wild ever learn?

They bought out Thomas Vanek and replaced him with...Eric Staal.

For a team who can't score, much more was needed in the free agent market to address their problems. But once again, aging forwards Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will be asked to shoulder the load. The Wild's defensive group is one of the best in the NHL with Ryan Suter, Marco Scandella, and Jared Spurgeon. But that defence, along with stud goalie Devan Dubnyk, aren't enough when this team can't score against the top teams in the Central.

Minny has barely gotten into the playoffs the last four years. They haven't made any significant moves in recent years to be taken seriously. We all know that Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and Nashville will be great. But Winnipeg had an epic offseason and should really push Minny for a playoff spot.

Expect a regression from the Wild next season.

17 Detroit Red Wings

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It feels weird putting a team here that's qualified for the playoffs in the last 25 seasons. Still, the Wings have overachieved and like the Wild, have barely squeaked into the playoffs over the last four years. It's bound to catch up to them.

Franchise icon Pavel Datsyuk is gone after leaving for Russia. His world-class play in all phases and his leadership will not be replaced by newcomers Steve Ott or Thomas Vanek. Their defence, consistently one of the NHL's worst, also found a way to get them by. Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard both regressed near the end of the regular season. It's clear Detroit is no longer a powerhouse.

Signing Frans Nielsen to replace Datsyuk was a smart move by Ken Holland, but he still isn't on Pavel's skill level. Detroit's Atlantic Division foes made significant moves to get better (Ottawa and Montreal, namely) so the playoffs will be no simple task.

Brace yourselves. A playoff streak may come to an end.

16 Calgary Flames

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The Flames had a major setback after a surprising run to the second round of the playoffs in 2015. Don't let that regression fool you, though. They're locked and loaded to be a legitimate contender in the Atlantic Division this upcoming season.

We all know Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are already superstars (aged 22 and 23, respectively) that will be consistent 30-goal scorers. Mark Giordano and Mikael Backlund also pinched in 20-goal seasons. Add in rookie power forward Matthew Tkachuk and gritty veteran Troy Brouwer (always a threat for 20 goals) and few offenses look as scary as this one.

The blueline looks lethal with Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Dougie Hamilton, and Dennis Wideman. Calgary may have finally solved their goaltending woes by trading for Brian Elliot as well. If all the young stars come together, they could have a major turnaround, similar to the 2009 Chicago Blackhawks.

With the three California powerhouses seeing their top stars aging fast, the opportunity will sit right there for the Flames to make a run at the Pacific Division in 2016-17.

15 Boston Bruins

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The Bruins have narrowly missed out on the playoffs in each of the last two seasons--not being formally eliminated until the last day of the regular season on both accounts.

Unlike last year, however, this team didn't make any sweeping changes that were needed. Replacing gritty, two-way forward and 30-goal man Loui Eriksson with a past-his-prime David Backes in free agency is going to reduce Boston's scoring attack. Don Sweeney also lacked aggression to bring in a veteran blueliner. Zdeno Chara is well past his prime at this point, and the rest of the defence is one of the weakest in hockey.

Despite those concerns, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Backes, and David Pastrnak give them some solid weapons up front. Boston has kept most of its core in tact from the 2011 Stanley Cup-winning team. They have the leadership to rebound, but the clock is ticking in Beantown for this core to win another title.

But they should make a run at the playoffs.

14 Nashville Predators

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The Predators went from third in the Central in 2015 to being one of the Wild-Card teams. But all they did was take down the heavy favourites Anaheim Ducks in Round One before pushing the eventual Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks to seven games in Round Two.

Nashville made the biggest trade in recent memory by acquiring Montreal Canadiens star defenceman P.K. Subban in exchange for Shea Weber. The trade helps out both sides, as Subban's superior puck-moving abilities make him and Roman Josi an ideal fit together. The Preds defensive core is always among the NHL's best, and Pekka Rinne's superb play in the crease is to thank for that.

Their offence is only going to get better as Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg mature. Veteran forwards James Neal and Colin Wilson will also supply scoring. The Predators are scary in all three phases, but it just doesn't seem to come together when it matters most. They should be considered a darkhorse Cup contender in 2016-17. If only they didn't play in the NHL's toughest division.

13 New York Rangers

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After a pair of Eastern Conference Final trips (2014 and 2015) the Rangers ran out of gas in the playoffs, bowing out with ease to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. They did make a huge trade, shipping Derick Brassard to the Ottawa Senators for flashy Swede, Mika Zibanejad.

It was a good move for both sides, as the Rangers need to inject more youth into their lineup. Zibanejad joins an offensive core led by Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, and Rick Nash. The defence took a step back, but it's hard not to like Dan Girardi or Marc Staal's chances of rebounding.

Though Henrik Lundqvist remains a force in goal, it's clear that he's seen better days. Now at 34, he's only got a couple of prime years left. The Rangers are capable of having a mass turnaround, but 2015-16 indicated their Cup window is closing. They've got a solid roster in place, but they need to show us they still have it.

12 Montreal Canadiens

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Make no mistake--the Canadiens are going to be among the NHL's elite next season.

The return of Carey Price is enough for fans to take them seriously as a Stanley Cup contender. But GM Marc Bergevin wisely went beyond that and struck the opportunity to make the necessary upgrades to help his team.

Love or hate the Subban trade, his play was badly exposed once Price was gone. Shea Weber's 6'4 frame give this team physicality and size, something they've lacked for years. He's more defensively sound than P.K. and will make the play much better in front of Carey Price. As for their offence that always underachieves? Alex Galchenyuk should keep building off of a solid second-half from last season after being moved to centre. Gritty, 20-goal winger Andrew Shaw also plays great two-way hockey. The team  also took a chance on Russian sniper Alexander Radulov, inking him to a one-year deal.

Oh yeah, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Emelin, and Andrei Markov were never bad to begin with, either. The Habs are back and will exact revenge after a disastrous 2015-16.

11 Dallas Stars

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What?! How could I possibly put the team with the most points in the Western Conference last season this low? Actually, it's quite simple.

The Stars have kept building their team up front--and up front only. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are not cutting it out as a goaltending tandem, but their expensive contracts made it impossible for GM Jim Nill to ship out and bring in a suitable replacement. The Stars are stuck with mediocre goaltending.

Yes, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Patrick Sharp, and Jason Spezza are dangerous scorers. But offence only carries you so far. Their defence is one of the NHL's worst, and it isn't going to get any better after losing Alex Goligoski and Kris Russell in free agency. Yes, they signed Dan Hamhuis, but he's been injury-prone for years and has seen better days. He's not going to turn around that blueline alone.

Dallas didn't address their main weaknesses,  and it's increasingly clear they're due for a setback.  But they'll still qualify for the playoffs come April.

10 New York Islanders

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The Islanders won their first playoff series in 23 years after upsetting the Florida Panthers in Round One. For once, the young core finally came together and they appear destined for another big year.

Talented winger Kyle Okposo joined the Buffalo Sabres, but the Isles replaced him with two-time Stanley Cup champion Andrew Ladd. Though his seven-year contract was far too much for a 31-year-old, he's the ideal star they've missed. His rugged, two-way game and valuable playoff experience is exactly what this young roster was lacking.

You know John Tavares will be a threat to win the scoring title. Losing Frans Nielsen in free agency hurts, but the continued growth of Brock Nelson (26 goals last year) and Anders Lee should make up for it. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk form a deep blueline.

The Islanders won't be considered Cup contenders with the Capitals, Penguins, and Rangers in their division. But they sure as heck won't shock anybody if they have a big year.

9 San Jose Sharks

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It's a scary thought to know the Sharks actually got better in the offseason after falling just two games short of winning their first-ever Stanley Cup.

After being exposed by the Pittsburgh Penguins' speed in the Final, they signed 20-goal speedster Mikkel Boedker to a four-year deal, instantly addressing their main concern. Though Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are both 37, neither guy has shown any signs of regression. Don't count on a decline just yet.

Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, and Logan Couture balance out the rest of the offence, while Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic give them one of the league's top shutdown pairings that shut down the likes of Anze Kopitar, Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin in the playoffs. Martin Jones appears to be a bonafide Vezina candidate. The main difficulty for the Sharks? Erasing the Stanley Cup hangover. Pittsburgh and Detroit (2009) are the last teams to play in consecutive Finals.

8 Los Angeles Kings

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The Kings have fallen off the charts ever since winning their second Stanley Cup in three years back in 2014. They missed the playoffs altogether in 2015 and were bounced in the first round in ugly fashion by the San Jose Sharks the following year. Their core players are not getting better, so the window of opportunity is running out.

Vincent Lecavalier retired after resurrecting with the Kings in a mid-season trade, and 20-goal power forward Milan Lucic chased a big contract with the Oilers. Salary cap constraints prevented the Kings from being able to make a big move, so it's imperative that someone replaces the voids left by both players--considering L.A. is known to having problems scoring.

Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick are still together, and a healthy Marian Gaborik may be all they need to fix their offensive woes. Sadly for the Kings, the entire Pacific Division has gotten better this offseason, while they got worse. No one will be surprised if they win a third Stanley Cup, but it's going to be harder than ever.

But with this core in tact, you can't count them out.

7 Florida Panthers

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Florida's Atlantic Division-winning season came to a quick close after the aforementioned Islanders took them out in the first round. The Panthers opted to make a huge change on defence as a result.

Erik Gudbranson was traded to the Vancouver Canucks--receiving talented centre Jared McCann as part of the return. Shutdown defenceman Willie Mitchell retired, veteran Brian Campbell signed with the Florida Panthers, and Dmitry Kulikov was traded to the Buffalo Sabres.

They signed puck-moving blueliners Jason Demers and Keith Yandle, while extending Aaron Ekblad to an eight-year extension. The offence will take care of itself as young Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov remain on the team. Should Roberto Luongo get through his awful postseason play, Florida will be a force to be reckoned with next season.

6 Anaheim Ducks

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Once again, the Ducks underachieved in the playoffs. For the fourth-straight year, they were sent home in seven games. On home ice. As huge Stanley Cup contenders.

This may be their last year to win a Cup for a while. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry started showing their age (31) while Ryan Kesler regressed in his second year with the Ducks after a strong 2014-15 season. The Ducks biggest change was behind the bench, bringing back old friend Randy Carlyle after firing Bruce Boudreau. Goalie Frederik Andersen was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, putting all the pressure on John Gibson to carry the load.

Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Hampus Lindholm give Anaheim three bonafide stud blueliners. The Ducks are once again in great position to go on a deep run, but can they get through the playoff troubles once and for all? We'll find out in April.

5 St. Louis Blues

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The Blues FINALLY stopped with the early playoff exits by reaching the Western Conference Final. But once again, it was heartbreak in St. Louis as they bowed out to the Sharks in six games. Their road back to the final four didn't get easy during the summer, unfortunately.

David Backes, the heart-and-soul leader of the Blues, signed with the Boston Bruins. Gritty forward Troy Brouwer signed with the Calgary Flames. Now they have to find a way to replace those 39 goals and 84 points. They also made a questionable call in trading Brian Elliot to the Calgary Flames for nothing more than a second-round pick. They're asking Jake Allen to take over, and we saw his awful play in the 2015 playoffs against an average Minnesota Wild squad.

But the Blues still have a great core with Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri. They should contend for the Central Division again.

4 Chicago Blackhawks

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The Blackhawks salary cap situation once again prevented Stan Bowman from being able to bring in big names. Then again, the 'Hawks roster is already good enough to compete for Stanley Cups.

For cap reasons, Andrew Shaw was traded to the Montreal Canadiens. No big deal, they played great last year after trading Brandon Saad. Remember when people thought their Cup window was closed after trading away so many big names in 2010? Their big move was signing blueliner Brian Campbell, who was a big part of their 2010 Stanley Cup win.

You all know that Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Corey Crawford will keep them in contention. They almost defeated the Blues in the first round after being down 3-1 last year. The Blues got worse this offseason, and the Stars are bound for regression. The Central is the 'Hawks to lose.

3 Tampa Bay Lightning

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Most of the Lightning's stars had major regressions from a year prior, namely Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Ryan Callahan. Steven Stamkos missed all but one game in the playoffs. Ben Bishop was injured in the third round and didn't return.

Yet, the Lightning gave everything they had and were just one win short of defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins to repeat as Eastern Conference Champions. So yeah, they are going to be real scary in 2017. You know Palat, Johnson, and Callahan will regain their forms, while a healthy Bishop and Stamkos will make them a tougher out in the playoffs.

Victor Hedman was re-upped for eight years as he's now blossomed into a bonafide Norris-calibre blueliner. The Lightning would have probably beaten Pittsburgh if Bishop and/or Stamkos played the whole series. Tampa Bay is blessed in all three phases and don't have any glaring weaknesses. They're a legitimate Cup contender. No question about it.

2 Pittsburgh Penguins

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Just when it looked like Sidney Crosby had regressed and the Penguins would miss the playoffs altogether, new head coach Mike Sullivan brought back No. 87's A-game and the Pens stormed through the league to win their fourth-ever Stanley Cup.

One interesting thing to watch for is how the Pens sustain last season's momentum. They reminded me much of the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators, who had a red-hot second half and got to the playoffs...then missed out the following season. But as long as Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Murray, and Kris Letang play up to their normal standards, Pittsburgh is a contender.

This Cup window is closing faster than you think. Crosby (29), Malkin (30), Letang (29), Kessel (29), and Fleury (31) are going to slow down sooner rather than later. That won't be in 2016-17. Expect them to be a real threat for another Cup.

1 Washington Capitals

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The Capitals won the President's Trophy with ease last season, but a red-hot Pens team made it all for naught by eliminating them in a close six-game second-round series. Washington is still in prime position to compete for another Stanley Cup. Alex Ovechkin is still the best scorer, their defence might be the best in the NHL, and Braden Holtby could easily win his second Vezina Trophy.

I hold a firm belief that the Caps would have won the Cup if they somehow got to avoid Pittsburgh. You figure the Pens are due for a step back, so it's an ideal chance for Washington to win their first championship in franchise history. Ovechkin will be 31 shortly, so the time to win is now.

The Caps didn't make any major offseason moves, and they didn't need to. The East looks better with improvements by the Canadiens, Lightning, and Islanders. But it's once again Washington's to lose.

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