The 2018-19 NHL season is getting close. We're in for plenty of surprises this upcoming year, and of course some disappointments. For the first time in years, we have at least 10 teams that need to be considered serious championship contenders.
Here are the early 2018-19 power rankings as we await the start of the season.
Bottom Feeders/Lottery Contenders
These teams won't be making the playoffs, and their fans are really only looking forward to the draft lottery. Expect these teams to be in the bottom-10 of the league standings, barring any major surprises.
31. Ottawa Senators
They traded captain Erik Karlsson and consistent 25-goal man Mike Hoffman. The owner has turned his own fan base against him. The Senators also gave up their first round pick for 2019 in the Matt Duchene deal. Prepare for a long season in the nation's capital.
30. Detroit Red Wings
They've now missed the playoffs in each of the last two years. The problem is the rebuilding Red Wings carry too many expensive contract on past-their-prime veterans. Losing captain Henrik Zetterberg to retirement with nagging back injuries is a huge blow to the offense.
29. Arizona Coyotes
It's another year of rebuilding in Arizona. Top prospect Dylan Strome will finally get his chance to shine in the NHL, while Alex Galchenyuk was a nice addition. He finally gets the opportunity to grow into a No. 1 center.
28. Montreal Canadiens
Captain Max Pacioretty was traded, and GM Marc Bergevin stayed away from signing big time free agents. Is it a rebuild or a retool in Montreal? Who knows, but with captain Shea Weber sidelined for (at least) the first two months, it should be another long year in Montreal.
27. New York Islanders
You have to love the Barry Trotz hire, but the Islanders were mediocre with John Tavares. He left to join his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, leaving the Isles without a franchise player to build around. At least they have Calder Trophy winner Mathew Barzal to lead the offense.
26. Buffalo Sabres
First overall pick Rasmus Dahlin will make an immediate impact. Top prospects Casey Mittelstadt and Alexander Nylander are going to shine, and the addition of 3o-goal man Jeff Skinner should fix an anemic offense. Buffalo won't finish 31st, but it's too early to peg them as a playoff contender in 2018-19.
25. Vancouver Canucks
Top prospect Elias Pettersson is a Calder Trophy candidate, while the young duo of Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat give fans a lot to be excited about. Probably more painful year of rebuilding before we can expect progress, though.
24. New York Rangers
The Rangers told their fans at the trade deadline that they're rebuilding. David Quinn gets his first NHL head coaching gig and will try to rebuild the foundation on the Big Apple. It'll be a long year for Blueshirt fans.
Middle of the Pack
These clubs could either make the playoffs or simply fall into the bottom-10 and compete for the draft lottery. For now, consider them in the "mediocre" category. Not good enough to win the Stanley Cup, but not bad enough to tank miserably.
23. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks missed the postseason for the first time in 10 years, and there's little reason to believe they'll re-enter championship contention. But Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews give them some hope. It could either be a playoff year or another mediocre season in Chicago. Take your guess.
22. Carolina Hurricanes
Big changes were made under new owner Thomas Dundon. Don Waddell is the new GM, and franchise legend Rod Brind'Amour prepares for his first head coaching gig. Jeff Skinner was traded to Buffalo, while Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm were flipped to the Calgary Flames for Micheal Ferland, Dougie Hamilton and Adam Fox. Will the results lead to their first playoff berth in 10 years?
21. Dallas Stars
Dallas was supposed to be a championship contender last season, but they didn't even make the playoffs. It's up to Tyler Seguin and co. to score a lot of goals and hope for the best in a brutal Central Division.
20. New Jersey Devils
They were a nice underdog story in 2018, grabbing the final playoff spot in the East. But it's unlikely that Taylor Hall scores 93 points again, and the talent around him is limited. Another playoff season is easier said than done.
19. Los Angeles Kings
Sure, they made the playoffs with 98 points last season. But 31-year-old Anze Kopitar isn't coming anywhere close to another 92-point campaign. The core players are in their 30s, and the Pacific Division has deeper teams. Don't expect a return to the playoffs in 2019.
These teams will contend for playoff spots, and they have the talent to push for a Stanley Cup. They're not in the top-tier category, but don't be overly surprised if either of them wins it all in 2019.
18. Philadelphia Flyers
Fun fact: The Flyers made the playoffs in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018. They missed in 2013, 2015 and 2017. See the trend? Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick and the offense aren't enough. The goaltending and defense needs to step up. If that happens, they'll be a championship contender.
17. Florida Panthers
A hot second half surge gave Florida life, but they fell just one point shy of New Jersey for the final playoff spot. There's so much to love about this team. Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Mike Hoffman, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trochek and Aaron Ekblad round out an excellent young core. It could be a big year in Florida.
16. St. Louis Blues
They barely missed out on the postseason in 2018. With Ryan O'Reilly David Perron, Tyler Bozak among the key offseason additions, St. Louis finally has offensive depth behind Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko. They should make the playoffs, but can Jake Allen be the money goalie they've been waiting to see? And will the defese hold up?
15. Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are two world class players. No more excuses for head coach Todd McLellan and co. Another non-playoff year will mean big changes. They should return to form, though.
14. Minnesota Wild
Six straight playoff appearances, but only two series wins to show for it. Expect a rebuilding process if the annual playoff team from Minnesota doesn't win a series. Or two.
13. Colorado Avalanche
Big bounce-back seasons from the likes of Nate MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. The Avalanche are loaded with young talent. Expect a return to the postseason, but a championship parade is at least a couple of years away.
12. Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella got his extension, but the Jackets are awaiting their very first playoff series win. Another early exit could mean big changes. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is entering a contract year.
11. Anaheim Ducks
Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler aren't the same players they once were. Anaheim was swept by a faster and more skilled San Jose Sharks team in the opening round. This is probably the last year of contention for an ageing core.
The Elite 10
These teams are locks for the playoffs, and they're among the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Few weaknesses, depth and terrific star power. These teams are in a class of their own.
10. Calgary Flames
Bill Peters left Carolina to take over for Glen Gulutzan in Calgary. The Flames signed sniper James Neal and added the aforementioned Hanifin and Lindholm from Carolina. If the core players stay healthy, this is a legitimate Cup contender.
9. Vegas Golden Knights
Are the reigning Western Conference champions ready for a big encore? Pacioretty and Paul Stastny were nice adds, but losing Perron and Neal in free agency hurts. The rest of the core is back, though. They'll be in the mix for the Presidents' Trophy.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
They're aiming for a third Stanley Cup in four years. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel are enough to keep them competitive. But other teams have more depth on offense and superior defensive units.
7. Boston Bruins
A great mix of standout veterans and speedy young players. But Patrice Bergeron is 33, and the Atlantic Division got a lot tougher. The Tampa Bay Lightning exposed them in the playoffs with more speed and better defense.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. That could be the best offense in the league. It's enough star power to make up for a porous defensive unit.
5. Washington Capitals
The Capitals got hot at the right time last year. Can they really do it again, with an ageing core and limited talent on defense? Never bet against a defending Stanley Cup champion, especially with a player like Alex Ovechkin leading the way.
4. San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns? Two Vezina Trophy winners on the same blue line? Perhaps this is the year where the Sharks FINALLY overcome the playoff woes and win it all.
3. Nashville Predators
They followed up a trip to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final with The Presidents' Trophy. All the core players return. Nashville will be a top-tier team in 2019 and beyond. They're going to be very tough to beat.
2. Winnipeg Jets
Every star player returns. Winnipeg reached the Western Conference Final in a year they were supposed to miss the playoffs. Since they defeated Nashville in the second round, Winnipeg gets the nod as the team to beat in the West.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
One win away from the Stanley Cup Final in 2018. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Ondre Palat, Tyler Johnson and Ryan McDonagh round out a core that no other team can match in terms of skill and speed. They should be considered the team to beat across the NHL.