1. Chicago Blackhawks
It’s hard to argue against the dominant performance the Blackhawks displayed in 2012-13. Until proven otherwise, they are the best team in the National Hockey League.
2. Boston Bruins
Aside from the fact the Bruins have played in 2 of the last 3 Stanley Cup Finals, they may actually be even better this season.
The emergence of promising young defencemen, Tuukka Rask between the pipes and incredible depth up front make the Bruins one of the league’s true powerhouse teams.
3. Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings are strong at every position. Priding themselves on flawless defensive hockey, the Kings play a mean style that torments opponents. They know how to win and will do so on most nights in 2013-14.
4. St. Louis Blues
The Blues are supposed to be great this season, but they still have a lot to prove. Either way, their depth in all areas makes them an obvious favourite to win a bunch of games and possibly take home the franchises first ever Stanley Cup.
5. Detroit Red Wings
After a solid half season without Nicklas Lidstrom, followed by two rounds of playoffs, it’s safe to say the Detroit Red Wings are still one of the league’s top clubs.
They join the Eastern Conference this year, enjoying significantly less travel and a lighter schedule. They are going to tear it up.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins can out skill any team in the NHL, however, lately, that has not been enough to earn them a 2nd Cup title with this group.
Goaltending appears to be an issue on what is an otherwise flawless team that will pile up the regular season victories this season.
7. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks no longer rely solely on Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to be stars. They boast a wealth of depth and young blood infused into a veteran core of elite talents.
With a very strong defence corps and Cup winning/Vezina finalist Antti Niemi between the pipes, the Sharks will have another dominant season.
8. Washington Capitals
A little high? The Caps started last season slow but they turned it up big time once they got going.
Versatile defence, offensively dangerous forwards and a good goaltender give the Caps every opportunity to do extremely well this season.
9. Anaheim Ducks
Last season the Ducks finished with the 3rd best record in the NHL. They boast amazing depth up front, at both the high end and low end of their forward unit. They’re going to score a lot of goals.
In net, they may be a little less proven than some other clubs, but Hiller and Fasth provide two possibilities to get the job done. One of them is likely to step up and produce well.
10. Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are a strong NHL team at every position. A little older than competitors, their experience will be an asset that gets them through a lot of tough situations that inevitably occur throughout the course of an 82 game NHL season.
Luongo in net, the Sedins and Kesler up front, and a very underrated, deep defence corps means the Canucks are always a threat to beat any team on any given night.
11. Montreal Canadiens
They may be known as a small team, but they actually have some big fellas playing within their forward unit. The Habs are rich in wisdom and youth, allowing for a good balance offensively.
In goal, they’re set. Plus, their defence is not only strong it’s also perfectly equipped with a great compliment of offensive and defensive specialists. They’re going to be better than many people think.
12. Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators should be great this season if you consider they made the playoffs in 2013 without their 3 best players.
They’ve added 4 time 30 goal scorer Bobby Ryan to an already deep forward core and their defence is loaded with talent.
Between the pipes, Craig Anderson will be lights out on most nights, leading to many wins for the Sens.
13. New York Rangers
It could be argued that goaltender Henrik Lundqvist alone makes the New York Rangers one of the best teams in the NHL. In net, the Rangers are as good as any squad.
The Blueshirts boast one of the game’s most solid defencemen units and an underrated forward group. The Rangers forwards are capable of scoring goals, benefitting from an altered philosophy with new head coach Alain Vaigneault in charge.
14. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs have come a long way over the last 12 months, and now, they deserve credit as one of the top teams in the NHL.
Offence comes in bunches with the Buds – that won’t be a problem. Where the Leafs have question marks is on the blue line and between the pipes. That being said, their young defencemen and goaltenders are one more strong season away from shutting up all the doubters.
15. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes had a rough lockout shortened season. They missed the playoffs for the first time in 4 years, leading many to wonder if the magic is over in the desert. It probably isn’t.
Dave Tippett’s Desert Dogs are a force defensively, with a sick goaltender, and a deep forward group that got better this summer with the acquisition of C Mike Ribeiro. They should return to the playoffs in 2013-14
16. Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers have arrived. Excellent offseason moves couple with an emerging conglomerate of highly skilled offensive forwards to form one of the NHL’s most exciting hockey teams.
We’re still not sure how the goaltending will turn out in Edmonton. If it holds up, they could make the playoffs in a very tough Pacific Division.
17. New York Islanders
Last season the Isles made massive strides in the right direction with a playoff birth. They even gave notorious slow starters the Pittsburgh Penguins a scare in the 1st round of the playoffs.
The Isles have a solid team, but maintaining success over the course of 82 games could be a challenge. They lost defenceman Mark Streit this offseason and their goaltending is arguably the worst in the NHL. They might be good, however, they may struggle.
18. Minnesota Wild
At first glance, the Minnesota Wild appear to be a lock for the playoffs, but the truth is, they still lack experienced depth at all positions. They’ll win games this season, but it’s safe to say they’ll have some rough nights against better put together clubs with more depth and high end talent.
The Wild possess the elements of a great NHL club, but they may be one more season away from hitting full stride.
19. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes suffered from a ton of injuries to key guys last season, and it hurt their performance. If they can stay healthy in 2013-14 they should improve on last year’s results and seriously contend for the playoffs.
20. Florida Panthers
You heard it here first, the Florida Panthers are not going to bottom out this season. Only one year removed from a division title, the Cats have some good pieces in place.
The Panthers possess all the ingredients to steal games from unsuspecting higher profile teams. And, Tim Thomas between the pipes could be the story of the NHL season. If he gets hot, look out.
21. Nashville Predators
The Preds are solid. Last season injuries plagued their lineup, but this year, a healthy Preds club should fair much better than bottom of the barrel.
Their blue line is stacked and their goaltender Pekka Rinne is considered the best in the world by many. If they get enough offence, look out for the Preds.
22. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers have a great forward group, that cannot be denied. However, after that there are many returning flaws from last season that could prevent them from making the playoffs once again.
In goal, the Flyers’ combo of Ray Emery and Steve Mason has potential for success, but Philly is known as a goalie graveyard and neither current keeper has been a legitimate successful NHL starting goalie for a while.
On defence, speed was a huge issue last season for the Flyers. The addition of Mark Streit greatly improves the defence corps, but it may not be enough. They are a good team, with a lot to prove.
23. New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils signed a bunch of veteran forwards this offseason, trying to replace the scoring potency of Ilya Kovalchuk. They have depth up front, which is usually a good start.
The Devils blue line is basically the same group that played in the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, and between the pipes they have one of the best one-two punches in hockey.
It’s widely believed they’ll struggle this season, but don’t be surprised if they don’t.
24. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning have given up way too many goals in recent seasons. Unless defence drastically improves they will not make the playoffs again.
They’ve added speed up front and enjoy a full season with Ben Bishop in net, which will help. But the jury is still out on whether they’re ready to turn a page and once again be a top team in the league.
25. Winnipeg Jets
Joining the Western Conference makes the upcoming Winnipeg Jets’ season almost impossible to project. To their favour, they enter the most inexperienced division in hockey, allowing for some easy wins if they can take advantage of weak opponents.
That being said, the Jets lack forward depth needed to win consistently. Plus, they’re trying out some young players in key roles this season – usually growing pains are associated with heavily relied on rookies. The Jets may have to wait for next year to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets had a strong season by their standards in 2012-13. They missed the playoffs on a tie breaker and enjoyed the luxury of a Vezina winning goaltender. The truth is, for most franchises, missing the playoffs would have been deemed a huge failure. So, although the Jackets look to be headed in the right direction, they have a lot to prove throughout 82 games.
Adding Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton ensures the CBJ’s will be a stronger threat to score than they’ve been in recent years. They play in a tough division, though, where defence is at a premium.
With defence being the main strength of the Jackets, can they prevent goals against better than the Devils and Rangers? It will be tough. And they probably won’t score at the clip of the Penguins, Capitals and Hurricanes. It could be a challenging season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
27. Colorado Avalanche
The Avs are set for the future, thanks to some recent regular season debacles leading to high draft picks. But they may not be ready yet.
NHL rookie head coach Patrick Roy has never manned a bench at the NHL level, creating a scenario where learning and losing may be more likely than winning and surprising.
One thing the Avs will do this season is score some goals. They have above average NHL depth at the centre position. There will be winning streaks for the Avalanche in 2013-14.
28. Dallas Stars
With a rush of new additions, the Dallas Stars will fight to define their identity in the NHL this season. It could be a transition year, leading to a bright future.
It’s difficult to expect the Stars’ revamped roster will immediately gel and out perform some of the powerhouses in the West, but they could surprise and win more hockey games than critics expect of them.
Being this low on the list doesn’t mean the Stars are a bad team, more so, they are a team with a lot of questions. If they can dispel those questions early they will challenge for a wild card spot in the West.
29. Buffalo Sabres
The bottom two spots are reserved for the NHL’s obvious rebuilding squads. The Buffalo Sabres’ have a deep pool of highly touted prospects they will nourish and provide with opportunity over the next few seasons.
The only downside to letting the kids play is they probably won’t win too many hockey games. For the Sabres, this season is about building toward a successful future, while sacrificing a little bit right now.
30. Calgary Flames
The Calgary Flames are much like the Sabres. With a rebuild freshly established, Alberta’s southern representative will struggle at times this season, but it’s all for the greater good.
Expect Calgary to continue unloading salary and potentially make a big trade that benefits their future. This season, they probably won’t win too many hockey games.