1. Detroit - Best group of defensemen in the NHL and three very good
goaltenders. It's going to take a massive collapse for the Red Wings not to
finish near the top.
2. Dallas - Turco proved that he was for real, although things will
become more challenging without Hatcher and Sydor. Still, the Stars are deep,
talented, and rich, and should finish in the Top 3.
3. Colorado - Who needs goaltending when you've got goal scoring?
Actually, Aebischer is a decent goalie and a replacement can be easily found if
he falters. However, Colorado's depth will be tested this season with four
rookies on the starting roster.
4. Vancouver - Relatively quiet off-season, but the Canucks have a
well-balanced squad and two goaltenders that can get it done in the regular
5. Anaheim - Mike Babcock deserves a ton of credit for getting this
team to play so well together. I don't see them returning to the Finals, but I
think they'll be a tough team night-in and night-out and should easily make the
6. St. Louis - Rarely a favorite, but consistently contenders, little
has changed in St. Louis. The return of Pronger will offset mediocre
goaltending, and you never know which netminder Larry Pleau will acquire in
7. Los Angeles - Obviously, injuries to Allsion and Deadmarsh will
play a big role in their season, but Roman Cechmanek seems to keep every game
close, so I expect the Kings to contend.
8. Calgary - On the ice, I don't think they're a better team than last
year, though Turek leading the league in preseason GAA and save percentage is
very promising. However, Daryl Sutter will make a big difference, and if he can
keep this team on the happy side of .500 (he was one game over during his tenure
last season), I think 8th place is realistic. I'm still concerned about the
goaltending situation and offense from blueline, but I think the Flames have
enough to edge out the competition. Then again, I said that last year… and the
9. Columbus - I think the Blue Jackets are the surprise team of the
West and have done a great job adding veterans to their lineup (Marchant,
Letowski, Sydor, Brathwaite). I think they'll be one of the powers of the NHL in
the latter half of this decade.
10. Minnesota - They'll continue to be awfully tough to play against,
and will win their fair share of games. But without Gaborik and Dupuis, I just
don't see them making enough of an impact in October and November to be serious
contenders in March & April.
11. Edmonton - If Comrie signs soon, then the Oilers will compete with
the Flames all season long for the 8th playoff spot. But this year's team is
considerably weaker than the team that notched 92 points last season…
12. San Jose - The Sharks are continuing to rebuild their team, so I
don't see them as a legitimate contender. However, with some inspired
leadership, this team could be a surprise.
13. Chicago - Post-CBA, the Hawks will have one of the best groups of
young forwards in hockey. But for now, they're too inexperienced to be taken
14. Phoenix - Their biggest asset, goaltender Sean Burke, will be
traded if the price is right. The Coyotes have a patchwork lineup and simply
cannot be counted on to make any noise this season.
15. Nashville - Have you seen their blueline?
1. Ottawa - The Sens looked very strong in the preseason, which is a
testament to their depth. They may be the best team in hockey right now.
2. New Jersey - The Devils keep losing veterans and bringing in young
players to replace them. And they keep winning. They're always a threat,
especially in the post-season.
3. Tampa Bay - A one year wonder? Not in my opinion. They've got good
young players in every position and very reliable goaltending.
4. Philadelphia - I think Hackett will make them miss Cechmanek, but
they're still a talented team and a virtual lock for a playoff spot.
5. Toronto - Their defence is not pretty, but Ed Belfour has still got
it and the Leafs have enough offense to easily make the playoffs again.
6. Boston - The Bruins will score a ton of goals and Felix Potvin will
stop enough pucks to make this a playoff team. I think they'll be out again in
the first round, however…
7. New York Islanders - They were 7-0 in the preseason and Michael
Peca is healthy. Plus, Rick DiPietro finally appears ready to play regularly in
8. Buffalo - An easy team to discount, but they've got talented young
players galore and three strong goaltenders. They'll be the surprise of the
9. Washington - Losing Klee and Johansson will hurt the Capitals, who
are left with a thin and inexperienced blueline. Jagr isn't enough to make this
10. New York Rangers - One more season with Messier means one more
season out of the playoffs. Learn from your mistakes, Sather… money doesn't
11. Florida - Young, small, and inexperienced. I like a lot of the
Panthers' prospects, but this team needs some veteran leadership before it can
call itself a contender.
12. Atlanta - I didn't think they were a playoff team before the
horrible accident, and losing Heatley for the bulk of the season cements my
opinion. However, never underestimate what a team can do in the face of tragedy.
They could surprise…
13. Montreal - Jose Theodore will have to carry this team on his back
if they hope to make it to the post-season. Don't count on it.
14. Carolina - Even if they improve by 15 points, they still won't be
a good team.
15. Pittsburgh - The real question is whether Ed Olczyk will put
himself in the lineup in order to improve the Penguins talent level!
Stanley Cup: Detroit over Ottawa in a thrilling seven-game series.
Surprise Teams: Columbus in the West and Buffalo in the East will both
make significant strides this season.
Disappointing Teams: Washington and the Rangers will continue to prove
that money cannot buy happiness.
Breakout Players: Rick Dipietro - his time has come, and Milbury's
patience will finally be rewarded.
Comeback Players: Sergei Samsonov and Chris Pronger will rebound from
injuries and have strong seasons, while Fred Brathwaite will steal some key
games for the Blue Jackets.