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|HPT Power Rankings: The ridiculously early preseason edition|
|Written by Blake Benzel|
|Monday, 12 July 2010 11:13|
It's less than two weeks into free agency, but never too soon to evaluate how the power in the NHL is shifting. Find out where your team ranks in Hockey Primetime's first power rankings of the summer:
1 Philadelphia Flyers — How do you respond to being the runner-up in the Stanley Cup Finals? Try trading for a top defenseman and signing a three-time 20-plus goal scorer. While they may be working on the assumption that the salary cap doesn't apply to them and, thus, may have to make a big move or two before the off season is over, there's no doubt that they are a better team than they were just a couple months ago, playing for their lives in the playoffs.
2 Pittsburgh Penguins — Pittsburgh needed two things this off season: Secondary scoring and defensemen to protect Marc-Andre Fleury. By signing Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, GM Ray Shero has exceeded expectations for revamping the back end. Though they could still use some scorers to complement Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the Pens' offense is in good hands. Now their defense is, too, lending to the idea that the Penguins will once again be in the driver's seat when the season rolls around.
3 San Jose Sharks — The Sharks were one series away from the big dance last season. Their lineup could improve by subtraction, as Rob Blake's retirement and Evgeni Nabokov's departure have given GM Doug Wilson more cap flexibility. They also stole some cap flexibility from rival Chicago by tendering Niklas Hjalmarsson an offer sheet, maybe freeing up Patrick Sharp in the process. Throw in the fact that you'll be seeing Joe Thornton in a contract year and the Sharks have no reason to expect a dropoff in 20010-11.
4 Washington Capitals — Its poor playoff performance notwithstanding, Washington very well could be the team to beat again this season. The Caps still have the most explosive offense in the league and a young defense that should only get better with experience. Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have proven that they can shoulder the load in net. While they have not made any enormous additions this off season, it may be a sign that management is content to let the defense – the team's biggest weakness – mature. Coming off a Presidents' Trophy-winning season, it's not a bad strategy.
5 Vancouver Canucks — Vancouver set out to shore up a defense that got pushed around by the Blackhawks in the playoffs. With that in mind, the Canucks acquired free-agent defenseman Dan Hamhuis and goaltender's best friend Keith Ballard to supplement their outstanding offense. Will it be enough to finally get them back to the Stanley Cup Finals?
6 New Jersey Devils — Ever since the retirement of Scott Stevens, the Devils have been missing a bruising defenseman. Enter Anton Volchenkov. GM Lou Lamoriello had shown a troubling penchant for nepotism when it comes to former Devils, but signing Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder shows he may be turning the corner. That can only mean good things for a franchise that's grown weary from postseason disappointments.
7 Chicago Blackhawks — Given their well-documented salary cap situation, the fire sale that followed the 'Hawks Stanley Cup victory was both expected and unfortunate. Kris Versteeg and Dustin Byfuglien were among the cap casualties, but the ‘Hawks kept their core players under contract, which bodes well for a team that will see a lot of turnover the next couple seasons.
8 Detroit Red Wings — Detroit is sitting pretty. All its key players are under contract beyond next season, the cap situation is comfortable, and the team that they were chasing last season is due to take at least a small step back. The bottom line? Don't bet against Detroit in the Central Division, especially if goaltender Jimmy Howard makes progress in his second full season.
9 Los Angeles Kings — The Kings may or may not lose the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, but either way the team is in good shape. Only complementary veterans Sean O'Donnell, Raitis Ivanans and probably Alexander Frolov will leave. There's still more than $10 million of cap space left to upgrade a young team that got its first taste of playoff experience last season. Their defensemen are some of the best in the league and their top forwards are deep with talent.
10 Boston Bruins — Picking up Nathan Horton gave the Bruins a solid top-nine forward group. If he makes the NHL roster as expected, Tyler Seguin should only add to that. Even without Dennis Wideman, the defense remains solid. With reigning goals-against average leader Tuukka Rask back in net, the Bruins will be back in business.
11 Nashville Predators — After yet another first-round exit, the predictable Predators pursued another rebuilding project. It began when the team traded the negotiating rights to Dan Hamhuis for Ryan Parent. They also acquired Matt Halischuk in a trade with the Devils, then signed playmking center Matthew Lombardi. The latest re-invention of this team will be interesting, if not successful.
12 Phoenix Coyotes — The Coyotes, broadly speaking, were the NHL's most intriguing story last season. After a well-documented off-season of tumult, the Glendale Gang pulled a rabbit out of its hat and made the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Now even the losses of Michalek and Lombardi aren't enough to quash optimism that last season was more than just a flash in the pan.
13 Buffalo Sabres — If 2009-10 taught us anything, it's not to bet against Ryan Miller. The goaltender's stellar season, coupled with the emergence of Tyler Myers on the blue line and a handful of bright young stars, make it hard to imagine that the Sabres won't improve on a 100-point season.
14 Ottawa Senators — Despite the "Save Spezza" rallies and the ensuing speculation, the Senators' signing of Sergei Gonchar has made their off-season a success. They still need help up front, but Gonchar will help the Sens' power-play. Buying out Jonathan Cheechoo was a necessary step that will benefit the team, but only if they use the extra money to pick up some secondary scoring behind Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek.
15 Colorado Avalanche — The Avs land smack-dab in the middle of the power rankings because of their confoundingly successful 2009-10 season. Rebuilding and facing low expectations, they made the playoffs as an eighth seed, only to be bounced in the first round by a much better San Jose squad. A lack of movement this off-season puts the onus on the team's collective maturity – but will it be enough to improve on last season's finish?
16 Montreal Canadiens — One trade was all it took to make the Canadiens plummet. Playoff hero Jaroslav Halak has placed their hopes on the shoulders of Carey Price and Alex Auld. While this could be a scary proposition, this team otherwise looks similar to the one that made a marvelous Conference Finals run. If their goaltending can hold up, we could be looking at another playoff run for the Habs.
17 St. Louis Blues — While Chris Mason and Ty Conklin had great seasons in net for the Blues last season, Halak is a significant upgrade. They have some work yet to do in re-signing their restricted free agents and adding some scoring punch to become a playoff contender.
18 Minnesota Wild — The Wild had a single desire this off-season: To sign a second-line center. They did that, but Matt Cullen may not be enough to get this proud franchise back into the playoffs. Minnesota will be tougher and harder to play against, but still needs at least one more top-six forward without much room to upgrade.
19 Atlanta Thrashers — New general manager Rick Dudley certainly started off on the right foot by trading for half of the Blackhawks' organization. Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd instantly make the Thrashers better, but they're still missing the scoring threat they possessed in Ilya Kovalchuk, and could use help on defense.
20 Anaheim Ducks — The retirement of Scott Niedermayer leaves the Ducks with a gaping hole on their blue line, a need that hasn't been filled yet. Their forward group looks set with the return of Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne a good possibility to join him. Get Bobby Ryan's contract sorted out, and Anaheim could be a force again in the West.
21 Tampa Bay Lightning — You've got to admire Stevie Y for sticking to his guns. He said he wasn't going to overpay for a big-name free agent and he hasn't. Instead, he's made some small, beneficial signings. Dan Ellis will give the team some added security in net and Pavel Kubina provides a solid, veteran defender. Because of the strong cast they have up front, you simply can't count the Lightning out of anything this early.
22 Calgary Flames — There have been some baffling decisions here that only Jarome Iginla seems to like. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay struggled greatly in Calgary. Tim Jackman and Raitis Ivanans bring grit, but not much else, to a Flames team that badly underachieved last season.
23 Florida Panthers — Dale Tallon has already put his mark on this club. The Panthers' re-build began in earnest with a spectacular draft. The additions of Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner give the Panthers two players capable of putting up points, as does Chris Higgins. The overhaul could continue for a couple more seasons, but the Panthers at least are headed in the right direction.
24 New York Rangers — The Rangers have been nothing if not confusing, shrewdly signing Martin Biron then following that up with the silly signing of Derek Boogaard. GM Glen Sather did nothing to improve his team's secondary scoring or defense. If that doesn't change, the Rangers will be lucky to be a shootout away from the playoffs again.
25 New York Islanders — The Islanders could easily find themselves in the same situation that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks did a few years earlier – a handful of years of ineptitude followed by a very, very strong team. The Isles are in the enviable situation of having both a handful of young stars and the cap room to sign them. Do they want to try to win now and sign Ilya Kovalchuk? Or do they play the waiting game and wait for their top players to evolve?
26 Dallas Stars — After not re-signing the player who had been the face of the franchise for 20 seasons, the Stars must re-invent their image. With plenty of cap space and an otherwise full roster, the main question now is if Kari Lehtonen is the long-term answer in net.
27 Carolina Hurricanes — One year removed from the conference finals, the Hurricanes stumbled out of the gates and never recovered last season. This wasn't helped by an injury plagued season for franchise goaltender Cam Ward. The ‘Canes added a familiar face on defense, in Joe Corvo, but seem like they'll look within to replace the productivity of Ray Whitney and Rod Brind'Amour. All of that could add up to another disappointing season.
28 Toronto Maple Leafs — I'm sure Brian Burke just loves it when a plan comes together. The problem here is that it's hard to discern whether or not the plan is actually coming together. The good news here is that the Leafs will have quite a bit of cap space to throw at what could be pretty decent free-agent class next season. In the meantime, another disappointing season awaits.
29 Edmonton Oilers — All in all, Edmonton has improved this off-season – which isn't saying much, considering there was nowhere to go but up. Rookies Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle instantly make the team better, while Kurtis Foster is an under-rated addition. There's a lot of work left for new coach Tom Renney, but at least the Oilers are on the way back up.
30 Columbus Blue Jackets — How do you follow up an underwhelming draft? By not making any noise in free agency, of course. The Blue Jackets were one of the bottom teams in the NHL last season and haven't gotten any better since. That's not to say that there isn't hope. This team is, after all, just one season removed from a surprise playoff run and essentially has all of its key players still in place. The proof will be whether it was Ken Hitchcock's coaching that was hindering this team or whether it was something much, much different.
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|Last Updated on Wednesday, 28 July 2010 09:24|