1. Pittsburg Penguins
With a healthy and rested Sid the Kid back in the game the Penguins should have no trouble staying close to the top in the standings. He will return with his best game and Malkin, who is already in mid-season form and is fresh off a Hart Memorial Trophy winning season, will not be far behind. As long as Fleury doesn’t start this season the way he finished the last the pens will make it hard for teams to compete.
2. New York Rangers
Although the Rangers stand #1 on most lists I am still a bit skeptical. They have the potential to win the Presidents Trophy but if Rick Nash is not the missing piece that everyone says he is then they will have yet another superstar on their hands that cannot perform under the pressure of Broadway. That said, I do believe he will fit in well with the team and they will finally have the scoring touch they have been missing. This combined with the rest of the Atlantic Division winning Rangers gives the Pens good reason to be worried.
3. Vancouver Canucks
Talks over what will happen to Roberto Luongo are not likely to stop soon, but that should not change the play of this great team. As of now the Canucks have two starting goalies, and with a surplus of games in a short period of time I don’t think the Vancouver faithful have anything to worry about. Playoff time, however, is a different story.
4. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were not busy this off season and are bringing back a very similar team. They are capable of staying on top of league standings, but that all depends on which Kings team we see. If it’s the team from the beginning of last year then they could be in for another rough season, but with Quick between the pipes and a roster full of confident players I don’t think they will have this problem.
5. St. Louis Blues
The Blues surprised everyone last season, and now is their time to prove it was not a fluke. They still have two competent starting goal tenders in Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, who will likely dual out for the #1 job during the season. A lot of pressure is on T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart to put up more consistent points but with Hitchcock behind the bench that should be a possibility.
6. Chicago Blackhawks
With a healthy Marian Hossa the Hawks have one of the best top two lines in the game. But everyone knows scoring is the least of their problems. Cory Crawford’s play will determine where this team lands in the standings. For now they have great potential but only time will tell if they can be on top.
7. Boston Bruins
Not having Tim Thomas guard the net will be a new site in Boston, but Tuukka Rask is ready to be a number 1 goalie. He proved two years ago that he had the talent and now it’s his time to shine. The Bruins roster is very similar to last years but now they have a healthy Nathan Horton to deepen the scoring depth and to excel Milan Lucic’s game.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
Newly appointed captain Claude Giroux will be the vocal point of his team just like he was last season. The Flyers will bring their usual mix of grit and talent to both ends of the ice and it will win them multiple games. However they will not climb the standings as long as Ilya Bryzgalov doesn’t play like a number one goalie.
9. Detroit Red Wings
A Lindstrom-less Red Wings team is not something anyone has seen in some time, but he has left them in good hands with the new captain Henrik Zetterberg. Everyone on the team will have to step up in order to fill the role Lindstrom left, especially defensemen Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall, but I don’t expect the Red Wings to be any easier to beat.
10. Washington Capitals
New coach Adam Oates should help spark Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Capitals offense back to their previous explosive form.
11. Nashville Predators
Life without Suter will not be easy but Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber will be up for the test. The biggest question is if left wing Sergei Kostitsyn will come to play.
12. Phoenix Coyotes
With Whitney gone Phoenix will lose leadership and scoring, but they will not be easier to beat. If Mike Smith plays the way he did in last years playoffs the Coyotes will be a contender.
13. Minnesota Wild
We saw what Minnesota did earlier last season before they were plagued by injury. With the edition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter the wild should push towards the top of their division.
14. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes added much needed offense over the post season with Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. Jordan will help the team in all aspects and if Semin shows up to play, Carolina will be tough to beat.
15. Buffalo Sabers
The Sabers are a grittier team then they have been in the past and this will allow their forwards to step up and demand attention.
16. San Jose Sharks
With an improved penalty kill the Sharks will have a well rounded team. This could be what puts them back up at the top of the league.
17. New Jersey Devils
After loosing Parise the Devils will have to rely on every player to pick up their game. But with Kovalchuk in mid-season form the team could be tougher then expected.
18. Dallas Stars
There is no doubt that the Stars have added offense, but they also added age. If Jagr and Whitney can keep up with the busy schedule Dallas will be a tough team to beat.
19. Colorado Avalanche
Depending on how Matt Duchene leads the second line, the Avalanche could have a comeback season. Gabriel Landeskog will have to continue his play as well along with being the youngest captain in the history of the NHL.
20. Tampa Bay Lightning
Even with Stamkos’ Rocket Richard winning season last year the Lightning couldn’t find their way into the playoffs. This year will be the same if they cannot improve their defense.
21. Ottawa Senators
Unless Karlsson can repeat the season he had last year the Senators will have a tough time competing with the elite teams.
22. Calgary Flames
If Jarome Iginla is not healthy when the season begins the Flames will have a tough time winning games and might not level out their play in time to come back and make it into the playoffs.
23. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are easily one of the most exciting teams to watch, but with a very young and un-experienced lineup it will be hard to adapt to the condensed schedule.
24. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs acquired James Van Riemsdyk from the Philadelphia Flyers- which should give them scoring depth, but until they improve their goalie situation they will not go far.
25. Winnipeg Jets
Evander Kane has not played up to the standards his team thinks he is capable of. If he can provide points for the second line they might be able to win some more games.
26. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have a very similar team from last year, and that includes Bobby Ryan despite trade rumors. If he cannot mesh with Getzlaf and Perry they will have trouble winning games.
27. Florida Panthers
After a surprising run last year the Panthers will have to do it again before they can be considered one of the leagues top teams.
28. Montreal Canadians
Michel Therrien claims this term as head coach of the Canadians will be better then the last because he is more prepared. His team has a lot of heart but if he cannot get them to score the Canadians will not move from the bottom of the Northeast division.
29. New York Islanders
For now the Islanders are ranked low because they have a plethora of young talent that isn’t ready for the NHL, but most of them have been called up. They will need a healthy Okposo to feed Tavares if they want to have any success.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have a team that is more balanced then the past few seasons. I don’t see them winning to many games but I think they are on the right path.