OK, it’s a little early to predict NHL standings as there is still a lot of time for roster adjustments prior to the first game of the regular season but let’s take a quick look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of teams to date.
Below is my “way to early” to predict teams final standings.
- Vancouver Canucks- The Canucks top 2 forward lines can match up against anyone, with MVP Henrik Sedin and sidekick Daniel it does not matter who they have on the wing, you could compare it “somewhat” to the Lemieux and Jagr line back in the day where you could throw Rob Brown on the line (which they did) and they will still have success. The other forward lines for Vancouver are still somewhat in limbo but with the re-signing of Mason Raymond and the addition of Manny Maholtra should bolster some forward line depth. The Canucks downfall in the past few years has been a thin defence and in adding players like Keith Ballard, and Dan Hamhuis should make life easier for Roberto Luongo. I expect Luongo to have a big year and I also expect the Canucks to have a huge run at the Western Conference title.
- Chicago Blackhawks- Call me biased but even in losing 9 players off of last years Stanley Cup Champion team the Hawks have kept the solid core that many teams wish they had. The Blackhawks have managed to keep the defensive squad from last years cup run minus Brent Sopel and he will be replaced by a young defenceman in the system or a cheap veteran signing such as a Nick Boynton . Turco will replace Niemi, although most fans are disheartened on the loss of the Nieminator and I am quite sure they will be pleasantly surprised on what veteran Turco will bring to the team. Remember the nervous moments when Niemi played the puck or let out those greasy rebounds? Those are distant memories now that Turco is here. We may not see the acrobatic unorthodox saves from Turco that Antti made but you can count on some solid goaltending. Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Bolland and Brouwer round out the Hawks top 6 and the other positions will be filled by Kopecky, Stalberg and Bickell along with youngsters from the AHL Rockford IceHogs to round out the forwards. I don’t expect Chicago to jack up 2 lines but rather go with a spread out offense throughout 3 lines with a newly made shutdown line for the 4th. Why is Chicago ranked #2 here? Well Toews and Kane are only going to get better and with Hossa starting the season healthy this team is still an extremely dangerous club.
- 3. San Jose Sharks- Basically the same team as last year with the additions of goaltender Antero Nittymaki and forward Jamal Mayers but once again the top line of Thornton/Marleau/Heatley will carry this club offensively with Joe Pavelski , Ryane Clowe and Devin Setoguchi as a solid 2nd line. After the top two lines you have 2 bottom lines of role players, these guys are going to need to step up to give the Sharks more scoring depth. We may see a lot of line juggling by the Sharks to make this happen, very similar to what the Hawks are doing now that they have been thinned out due to loss of players. The Sharks youngsters in McGinn , Mitchell and Couture could have break out seasons and make this Shark club an extremely dangerous offensive threat. The defence this year is identical as last year with superstar Dan Boyle leading the parade, but the retiring of hard hitting veteran Rob Blake the Sharks may be looking at adding some defensive help. Goaltending is the question here, yes Nittymaki had a solid year last year and should be able to do it again with a pretty decent Sharks team this year. But are they happy with Nitty and Greiss going in? We shall see.
- Detroit Red Wings – What good things can you not say about the Wings, they are solid 1 through 4 for the forward lines and with the addition of Mike Modano who will add experience and leadership to a team who already has that is going to do nothing but help this squad. If Detroit stays healthy this year this team will make some serious noise as they did last year when they were healthy and were clearly the best team since the Olympic break. The only issue is that they may be slowing down with veterans Bertuzzi, Modano, Lidstrom, Draper and Cleary but superstars like Datsyuk , Zetterberg and Rafalski should keep this team plugging away and near the top the Western Conference standings. Jimmy Howard had an impressive rookie season last year and will only improve, looks like the years spent in the minors for this high prospect has paid off and he has turned into a solid #1 goalie.
- Los Angeles Kings –I still believe the Kings need to add a couple pieces to the team to be up this high and I believe they will. In my opinion they could use another solid defenceman and a solid 2-way forward to go along with their already solid club. Kopitar, Brown, Smyth, Stoll and Ponikarovsky should add plenty of offensive punch and also an impressive Brad Richardson plus a pesky Wayne Simmonds make this Kings forward line a dangerous group. The Norris trophy runner up Drew Doughty heads a solid defensive core with the likes of Greene, Scuderi and Johnson running the back end. As mentioned before, defense is the issue here as another addition to the back end is in dire need to make a solid top 4. Jonathan Quick was run down last year carrying the majority of the load for the Kings and he was very impressive. However, if rookie Bernier can not step in and play well to give Quick a break once in awhile then Quick may just peter out again. With that said, I expect Bernier to make a solid run at that #1 position and really push Quick to the limits which should bolster the Kings goaltending this year.
- Phoenix Coyotes- This off season the Coyotes have improved, the additions of Ray Whitney and Derek Morris will only help this already impressive club this year. The only problem is they won’t surprise anyone any more . The defence is rock solid again with Jovanovski, Morris, Aucoin, Sauer and Yandle anchoring the back end with star goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. The offense is well rounded and deep with Doan, Wolski, Whitney, and Vrbata to name a few. I still believe this will be a defence first club and will be in a lot of close contests but they will most definitely be a very strong club again this year.
- Nashville Predators- The Preds lost Jason Arnott but smartly replaced him with goal scorer and speedster Matthew Lombardi which will help the offensively struggling Predators. If O’Reilly and Kostitsyn can add some offense plus improved seasons by Legwand, Erat , Dumont and an aging Sullivan then this team is on the right track offensively. The real strength for this club is the defence with star Shea Weber and Ryan Suter being arguably one of the best 1-2 punch defensive tandems in the league and Bouillon, Klein and Parent it is a solid defensive core. With impressive Pekka Rinne in goal solidifying the net this team will once again be no easy match for any team. The Predators still need to add some help and may down the road make a deal for some more offensive help and if that happens we will see this team shoot up the standings.
- Minnesota Wild- I really like what the Wild have done this year in additions to the club, they have added John Madden and Matt Cullen and the Wilds offense is certainly a strength this year unlike years in the past. If Havlat stays healthy, and Bouchard gets back on track along with star Mikko Koivu (one of the most underrated players in the league) this team may just shoot the lights out. Don’t forget about Latendresse , Brunette and Kobasew who are more then capable to contribute offensively plus some solid role players in the likes of Clutterbuck and Nystrom. The top 4 D of Zidlicky, Barker, Burns and Schultz compliment the offense well and once again solid goaltending with Backstrom and Harding tending the net. Wild fans have something to be excited for this year.
- Anaheim Ducks- The Ducks should make a good push this year with Getzlaf, Perry and Lupul leading the troops. If they add Selanne and Kariya and already having Koivu and Blake at forward along with some excellent 2-way players to fill out the other lines the Ducks front lines will be fine. Although the Ducks average age is seemingly looking like it is around 40 years of age (joking) the veterans still have enough offensive punch and speed to get the job done. The defence looks a lot different then past years with Visnovsky, Lydman, and Sutton they will need to rely mostly on the forwards for offence with limited help from the back end. Puck moving could be a serious issue here for Anaheim. In goal they are fine with emerging star Jonas Hiller whom keeps getting better and better every year and McElhinney will get some work but very limited, similar to when he was in Calgary.
- St.Louis Blues- With impressive youngsters Oshie, Backes, Perron, and Berglund and a sniper like Boyes and speedster Andy Mcdonald this offense needs to be feared. This team may just light the lamp like crazy this year with all of their offensive talent. Once again the Blues will not be pushed around with physical guys like Crombeen, Winchester, Janssen and newly signed Sobotka. The only question I have about this Blues team is can they stay out of the box and away from the thuggery that they have shown in the last couple years. If they can do so this team should have a good year, I am just not so sure they can stay out of the box though. The defence is decent with youngsters Johnson, Pieterangelo, and Colaiacovo and veterans Brewer and Jackman rounding them out but the youngsters may need another year of seasoning before they can become a serious threat. They have an excellent goaltender in Halak now BUT was last years impressive play plus his playoff run a one year thing or is he a keeper? I think Halak will be fine but he will most definitely see his shots this year which he is accustomed too being with the Habs last year.
- Colorado Avalanche- OK so I am calling last year a fluke by the Avs right, nah not at all but to be fair Craig Anderson stole a lot of games for this team and they were dwindling down the stretch. Sure it could be because Anderson had no energy left and the youngsters seemed to be sputtering yet they did pick it up in the playoffs and nearly took out the San Jose Sharks. However, the team is made up of youngsters, although good ones such as Duchene, Galiardi, Yip, and Mcleod but I question their offensive depth. Hejduk is always a good sniper but he is the veteran on this team and what they lack is leadership and role players in the forward position. The defence is decent with Hannan, Liles, and Quincy and an aging Adam Foote, but will it be enough to keep the workload down for Anderson? I don’t think so.
- Edmonton Oilers- Call me crazy but I like the look of this team, sure most are predicting the Oilers to finish dead last again but remember, they also predicted the Avalanche would last year. Predictions are for the birds but they are fun to write about. Anyways, with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Paajarvi-Svensson, Gagner, and Cogliano the Oilers have a ton of smallish forwards with great hands and blazing speed which will be a treat to watch this year for NHL and Oiler fans. Throw in a healthy dangling Hemsky and sniping softy Dustin Penner this team may just gel into something impressive. The re-signing of Brule will definitely help with some hard nose hockey and you can bet your bottom dollar that Stortini, Macintyre, Fraser and Jacques will be kept busy watching over these young budding stars. I like what GM Tambellini has done with the defence, he has added tough guy Vandermeer and powerplay specialist Kurtis Foster to the team and add those to a disgruntled yet healthy Souray, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney, Ladislav Smid and veteran Jason Strudwick I would say the Oilers defence is impressive with toughness and mobility. Huge question in goal, if Khabibulin is able to play the Oilers might just have something here but without him they will be depending on Deslaurier , who many think was impressive last year and I thought otherwise and Devan Dubnyk. I look forward to watching these guys play together and see how the team gels.
- Calgary Flames- The Flames are an interesting bunch, they have stud Jarome Iginla leading the team year after year but failing Darryl Sutter seems to be unable to get him a center to play along with every season. He did resign Ollie Jokinen which shocked the NHL world and the bashing continues with that, then he went and signed ex-flame Alex Tanguay in hopes of rekindling the magic he and Iginla once had with the Flames. Calgary’s other forwards include Rene Bourque, aging Daymond Langkow, underachievers Stajan and Kotalik and some role players such as Glencross and Ivanans. What I do like about this club is the defence, Bouwmeester, Regehr, White , Sarich, and an ever improving Mark Giordano plus cagey veteran Steve Staios. They also have Staffan Kronwall and Adam Pardy waiting in the wings. Calgary is fairly deep on defence and should prove to give Kiprusoff a bit of relief although Kipper will probably play 70+ games again this year as it seems Calgary is going with yet another rookie back up goaltender this year.
- Columbus Blue Jackets- The Jackets have one of the superstars in the league in Rick Nash along with some budding stars in Voracek and Brassard. Mix them in with veterans like Huselius, Umberger and Vermette and they will have a decent forward line up but I am worried about their depth. Chris Clark will help plus they added Ethan Moreau who may find his legs back but to me it’s doubtful as Moreau is going to a team that was very similar to the Oilers team he played with last year. The back end is anchored by some up and coming young gunners such as Russell and Klesla along with big Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda but is this defence enough to stop the questionable goaltending of Steve Mason this up coming season? I have my doubts, I feel it will be a long year for the Jackets who seem to be dropping a few notches.
- Dallas Stars- Dallas has an impressive top 3 guys in Richards, Ribeiro, and Morrow along with a decent compliment of forwards such as Eriksson, agitators Burish and Ott plus Jamie Benn and Brunnstrom. I question the forward depth still and I just don’t see the Stars being an overly scoring team aside from the Richards line. The defence is also marginal, Robidas leads the way and does a great job at it but with Daley, Skrastins, Lukowich, and Fistric rounding out the D it could be a long year. Lehtonen will be the starter with Raycroft backing him up, unless Kari can regain that status of a supposedly superstar up and coming goalie plus stay healthy he may give the Stars some much needed solid goaltending. Either way, one can tell the Stars are not willing to shell out the dollars for players and this years team will show it.
Once again it will be a tight race throughout the season fighting for the playoffs not just because of the solid teams but because of the ridiculous shootout point system format (which is another blog altogether) Take this as you will, it’s just how I feel the season will pan out as the rosters stand right now but of course rosters will change and I may just do another one of these. This is just my outlook, our other great bloggers for their respective teams on this site will also have great input so visit their blogs!
Hope you enjoyed and thanks for reading as always!
About the Author
Written by Trent Kondo
An all around sports fan and has been a Chicago BlackHawks supporter longer then he can remember. Currently writes for Prosportsblogging.com on the Blackhawks and NHLHotstove.com on the Edmonton Oilers. (If you would like to email feel free to contact Trent at TKONHOCKEY@gmail.com )