Hockey is back and expanded
We’ve made it! We’ve made it through the worst months for hockey fans and followers. The summer is in our rearview mirror and all we have ahead is just another full season of ice hockey. Long gone are the days of wondering where this or that guy would play in 2018. Long gone are our thoughts about who Vegas should or shouldn’t pick in the expansion draft held after the Penguins conquered their second Stanley Cup in a row. It is time for new beginnings and here at Holyfield, we have teamed to answer some freezing questions about the upcoming NHL season.
In order to keep things organized, we first created some sort of power rankings. Once those were done, we generated an aggregated ranking of teams. Finally, and taking that final order in consideration, we were able to find some questions and answers to them that will serve as our proxy to know who’s who in world hockey. Some you’ll like more, some you’ll like less, but everything will get covered next.
So let’s get started. Here is our NHL Power Rankings table, which includes every team from 1 to 31 based on the aggregated ranking that came from the lists curated by Holyfield writers Grant Evan, Matt Bram, Antonio Losada, and Brandon Allin. Each contributor list is also color-coded in four tiers, without restrictions about the number of teams in each of them. Those are the following:
- Green: Championship Bound
- Yellow: Playoff Team
- Red: Dark Horse Playoff Contender
- Blue: Rebuilding
Now, onto the table. Again, the first column contains the aggregated ranking, and the following four-and-four are each of the contributors’ rankings, color-coded by tier and from 1 (green) to 31 (red) for better comparison with the position of each team in the aggregated ranking.
Looking good? Well, we have the answers to your freezing questions about what is going on in there, so let us bring them to you.
1. Pittsburgh will officially become a dynasty by getting the three-peat
Good things come in threes. The Pittsburgh Penguins, for better or worse, will win their third consecutive Stanley Cup Championship and cement themselves as a bonafide NHL dynasty.
Our writers have pegged the Penguins as the consensus favorite heading into the new season, a position we expect them to still hold come playoff time. Mega talent Sidney Crosby (barring any significant injury woes, knock on wood) will again lead the way for the black and yellow in their quest for the three-peat and the opportunity to once more hoist Lord Stanley.
Behind Crosby, the Penguins will ice somewhat of a different look. Forwards Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino, defenseman Trevor Daley, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have departed for less-green pastures. The Penguins can expect Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, and Patric Hornqvist to carry much of the load. Furthermore, a third championship will no doubt require a healthy Kris Letang on the back end and contributions from younger bodies in Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary.
Lineup changes aside, expect to see the Penguins right back on top come season’s end.
— Brandon Allin
2. Vegas may not suck as much as expected
It’s really easy to look at an expansion team and pass them off; a team that’s going to have to go through a lot of growing pains and gets their socks rocked. The last time the NHL expanded in 2000, both the Blue Jackets and the Wild had terrible records, finishing 5th in both of their divisions — and this was back when 5th was last place due to having smaller division breakups. The Golden Knights, however, have a very real opportunity to land themselves a respectable finish in their division. Vegas will compete in the Pacific division, a division that hosts powerhouses like the Ducks and the Oilers, but also on-the-verge-of-being-demolished teams like the Coyotes and Canucks.
Moreover, Vegas is primed to be an offensive force to be reckoned with. While we can’t give too much credence to preseason hockey, the Golden Knights not only looked competent, but even talented. Thomas Hyka is a big name to keep an eye on as the 6th round rookie led the team in goals with a whopping 4 in addition to an assist. In addition to that, Hyka brought in 40% of the team’s shooting percentage.
On defense, you must account for the presence of long-time Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury, a goalie who has not allowed a sub .900 shots against percentage in a decade. The veteran still looks to be a wall in the net. Vegas may not be going to the playoffs immediately, but look at them to frequently play spoiler against your favorite team this season.
— Grant Evan
3. There is still hope in Detroit
It’s not looking great for Detroit. The team’s longstanding playoff appearance streak came to an unsatisfying close last season as they finished 7th in the Atlantic division, which is increasingly looking like the toughest one in the NHL. Having to keep up with the Canadiens, Senators, Bruins, Lightning, and the suddenly hot Maple Leafs is no easy task. But all doesn’t seem totally lost for Detroit, right?
Yes, they have some areas of concern. A team with the likes of Zetterberg, Nyquist, and Nielsen should probably not be under .500 when it comes to shooting goals. But we also have to remember that Zetterberg is an assist machine and will absolutely be more featured heading into this season. You may be thinking, “But wait, wasn’t he already team captain and heavily featured this season?” Why yes, yes he was. But considering he only walked away with 68 points this year, 40 of which came off of assists, it’s safe to say Zetterberg is more efficiently finding a niche area he can succeed in, which can pave the way for less shooting and more assisting. Assists are a big area of concern for the Red Wings, so with doubling down on somebody who is actually good at them, they may actually see something besides bland stagnation.
But what I’d really like to turn your attention to is the third round of the Red Wings draft. A big investment on defense, a shiny new goalie and two promising centers that are already starting to turn a few heads. Detroit could get back to playoff glory if just a few small things that didn’t fall their way end up working next season. Especially if the Maples Leafs experience even a slight regression.
— Grant Evan
4. Tampa Bay can go either way
Steve Yzerman has put together something special in Tampa. What’s even more impressive is how he has kept it together. There was a lot of speculation two years ago that the Lightning may undergo a serious rebuild as the contracts of their biggest players came up. Steve Stamkos and Victor Hedman re-signed for eight-year deals, cementing them as the core pieces of the team. What’s astounding though is how Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov both were retained as well. They traded in Ben Bishop for Peter Budaj, effectively keeping the promising Andrei Vasilevskiy in the top spot. Yzerman took his Stanley Cup qualifying team from a few years back and not only retained his core but improved on it. That being said, this isn’t new information.
The Lightning have been plagued by untimely injuries over the last two seasons. Last year, Stamkos was only available for a fraction of the season. The upside? Kucherov and Hedman both had banner years and the Lightning went one point short of a playoff appearance despite the absence of their franchise star. Injuries to Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop kept them struggling in the post-season, especially down the stretch, during their 2014-15 season.
The Lightning are built to dominate but have struggled over the last few seasons due to injuries and uncertainty at goaltender. Looking at this roster now, there is a lot of reason to be hopeful. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are two of the best in the game. Victor Hedman is an elite defender. You’ve got solid veterans in Ryan Callahan, Chris Kunitz, and Anton Stralman. Then, as a result of their Jonathan Drouin trade, they’ve got a young stud in the making in Mikhail Sergachev. This team is young, diverse, and built to make a serious run this year. But again, this isn’t new information. They have got to get into a rhythm and they have got to stay healthy. If they do, they have the pieces to contend with the best.
— Matt Bram
5. Congratulations Canada, you (virtually) will make it again!
Make Canadian hockey is great again! Especially in Edmonton. The Predators may have been the darlings of the playoffs last season, but if anybody is poised to potentially knock Pittsburgh off their perch, it’s the Oilers. Easily the best team in their division and possibly the best one in the conference. The Ducks are looking like they’re starting to slip and the Predators and Wild are going to need to work to maintain the success they saw from last season. Furthermore, the Blackhawks early playoff exit was very telling of their blatant weaknesses, and nobody else has the sticks to hang with the Oilers right now.
The last time a Canadian team took the cup was in 1993. Each season since then, there has been a clear-cut “best Canadian team” that the whole entire country seemed to hang their hopes on. As of right now, though, Canada seems to have several teams they could potentially hang their hats on. While the Oilers seem poised to make a run at the cup, we can’t dismiss the fact that five of the league’s seven Canadian teams not only made the playoffs but did not lose any momentum heading into the next season. Can’t bring yourself to cheer for the Oilers because you’re a Jets fan from the Gretzky days? Well hey! The Maples Leafs seems to be on the up and up and it’s fun to cheer for the underdog!
Canadian teams — Vancouver and Winnipeg excluded — are moving in a positive direction. Pittsburgh is going to be difficult to knock off, but between Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal, Canada has a very real chance to bring the cup back to the birthplace of hockey.
— Grant Evan
6. Toronto will improve, but ultimately get back to flopping ways
This is how the Eastern Conference Wild Card standings looked like at the end of the 2017–18 regular season:
- New York Rangers: 48 W–28 L –6 OT–102 PTS
- Toronto Maple Leafs: 40 W–27 L–15 OT–95 PTS
- New York Islanders: 41 W–29 L–12 OT–94 PTS
- Tampa Bay Lightning: 42 W–30 L–10 OT–94 PTS
If we remove the New York Rangers from the list, the remaining three teams ended the campaign in a space of two points and their order in the ranks. Subsequently, their appearance in the postseason came down to the smallest of differences. Toronto jumped over the Islanders and Lightning, and once in the playoffs, made Washington go through a tough series that the Capitals ended winning 4–2.
But let’s be real. No one expected Toronto to finish as high as they did nor reach such a performance level last season during a rebuild; it caught some people off-guard. Auston Matthews became just the 20th player to score 40+ goals in his rookie season and the first since Ovechkin in 2006. Along with Mitch Marner and William Nylander, the trio combined for a total of 191 points. No team has had a group of rookies clicking at the same time such as Toronto did during the past season, and things look like can only get better.
The signing of Patrick Marleau is a clear clue about what the Maple Leafs have in mind: winning and winning now. If you don’t have that mentality you don’t pay a 38-year-old that money. Toronto’s window is wide open. Their young core is still on cheap deals and about to become huge sooner rather than later. Support-pieces like Van Riemsdyk, Kadri, Bozak or Rielly are enough to make a deep run in the postseason, but questions are still in the air. Is the aforementioned trio of youngins ready for such a leap? Can they carry the team through the late stages of the season? And most importantly, was last season just a lucky bounce for a franchise in the middle of a process, or the first step towards what could end being a success story this very next summer?
— Antonio Losada
7. Dallas’ top line is going to be a postseason headache for more than one
There will be no shortage of firepower in Dallas this year.
With the additions of right winger Alexander Radulov and towering center Martin Hanzal, it appears the Stars won’t have any trouble finding the back of the net in 2017-18. It remains to be seen if general manager Jim Nill’s retooling of the club’s top six will be enough to get the Stars over the hump. As it currently stands, a return to the playoffs appears all but certain. Radulov and Hanzal will join Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Spezza as part of an offensive core that appears poised to one of the league’s most potent.
Now if only they could find a way to keep pucks out of their net. Ben Bishop, you’re up. The native of Denver, Colorado comes with the task of improving the poor work done by Dallas’ past nightmarish goalies although his .910 SV% is not otherworldly. Ultimately, the Stars’ offensive power is what will matter and everything will depend on it in order to end with a positive goal difference.
— Brandon Allin
8. California turns old but gold
Go back in time to 2012. The Los Angeles Kings had just won their first Stanley Cup. In 2013 they lost in the Conference Finals but they came back strong in 2014 to win their second Stanley in three years. Fast-forward to the present and we’re just three seasons away from that. Not much time passed, but is more than that elapsed since the San Jose Sharks reached their first Stanley Cup Final a little more than one year ago to fall against Pittsburgh. Things are not looking that bad in California, are they?
Objectively, the Kings have dropped the puck hard during the past three seasons. They have not made it past the First Round and have missed the postseason entirely two of three years. It is not that they are a real contender, but they have the goods. Drew Doughty is the franchise’s pilar and one of the NHL’s best defenders. Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar keep being a tremendous one-two punch at the center position and Jonathan Quick has the goal covered.
Age is the issue, though. Los Angeles is at a point where they must capitalize before turning the page and starting all over again, but their window is closing faster than you might imagine. A new management team has taken charge of the franchise and results will be expected given the position the team is at, only that they come from their worst season in PTS% since 2009. You probably shouldn’t bet on them, but I’d definitely keep an eye on what the Kings have in store and who they can upset through the course of the season.
And what to say about San Jose? 25 seasons in the NHL, 19 playoff appearances, yet still no cups thanks to a Crosby-led Penguins team that made it impossible for the debuting Sharks to get their first in 2016. Consistency defines what San Jose has achieved lately. What could become an issue, though, like the Kings, is age. Per Hockey-Reference.com Point Shares, three of the five most valuable Sharks are already 31+ years old. Marleau has bolted for Toronto, Burns is an aging d-man with a huge contract attached to him, Pavelski is still holding his own, and other pieces around them such as Joe Thornton will be on the decline quite soon.
If San Jose wants to get the cup they’ve been after for so long, their chance is now. Last season lost to Edmonton proved that the team has probably lost a step and is not able to keep up with the pace of younger-blood teams anymore, so their options go through making a deep run now or break it all up and start all over again. The core is still valuable, the pieces around it are good enough, but the future doesn’t look so bright out of the already-developed players in the team. If the banner can’t get raised during the next summer, the Sharks may find them lost in the sea for quite some time.
— Antonio Losada
9. Tank, tank, and tank some more — Colorado has to tank
The Colorado Avalanche may be the worst team in the four major leagues. The competition is scarce. Sure, you have The Chicago Bulls, but outside of them, things are looking up for both the Browns and the 49ers. Things are looking up for Colorado, I swear, but in a similar way as the 49ers and Browns. You’re looking up at a mountain. It’s just, in this case, we’re referring to a team called the “Avalanche,” so that’s not necessarily a great place to be. Or analogy. Anyway, the Avalanche need to tank this year.
They’ve got a great prospect in Tyson Jost, who could easily become a franchise piece for them. But as good as I think Jost will be, he won’t be good enough to elevate Colorado from the bottom. He isn’t an Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, and even so, they didn’t do it alone. Colorado finished last in goals scored, goals against, and powerplay goals. Virtually any category you can think of, the Avalanche were one of the worst teams.
Colorado has a lot of youth, but they have a lot of disappointment as well. Believe it or not, it’s actually not hard to see how things could go right for them. There is a lot of potential on the roster, but no identity. They don’t seem to know what they want to do. They’ve got to get “something.” There is so much youth on this roster and while Gabriel Landeskog is a good leader, there isn’t a star. No one is really elevating this team and carrying them. They’ve got to find that something, be it through a star player or through the unity and chemistry of the roster. But save that for 2018-19. This year, the Avalanche cannot afford to fight their way to the outer reaches of mediocrity. For what seems to be three years running, the top overall pick in the draft has been instrumental in turning their teams around. For the good of the team, the Avs should try their hardest to make it four years.
— Matt Bram
10. Calgary is about to become Ottawa
Erik Karlsson will play just with an ankle and a half this year. The attacking d-man accounted for 12.9 Point Shares during the past season. Ottawa missed the Stanley Cup Final by just one overtime goal. They were so close, yet they are so far now. Luckily for Canada, Calgary may be poised to turn into this season’s Senators thanks to its developing core and the moves they’ve completed during the past few months. The Flames have most notably acquired Travis Hamonic, Eddie Lack, and Ryan Murphy. Their defense is up there with the most talented ones thanks to a top-4 consisting on the aforementioned Hamonic along Giordano, Brodie, and Hamilton. Not to mention their best forwards, where they have the likes of Gaudreau, Monahan or second-year winger Tkachuk.
A bad run or a slump through the season may make the Flames find themselves fighting for a wild card spot at the end of the campaign due to their divisional rivals, Anaheim and Edmonton primarily, being a little over them. With that said, they have enough pieces to make a run for the gold this next season. There are still question marks at goal, and the forward corps have yet to prove they can perform at the utmost possible level. But there is hope for the Flames. Calgary posted good possession numbers in terms of shooting and the demolition at the hands of Anaheim in the first round of the playoffs shouldn’t be the story of the year again.
Ultimately, most of the Flames potential success will come down to the level of performance Mike Smith shows behind the net. Acquired from Arizona during the summer, Smith comes with a .913 Save Percentage over his career and improving upon what Brian Elliott and Chad Johnson did a year ago shouldn’t be much of a task. A couple of good streaks, continuity, and a leap from a group ready to make the jump in quality should be enough to take the bull by the horns and make some noise in the postseason.
— Antonio Losada
11. Get ready for a Wild regression
With every new season comes a handful of meteoric rises and unexpected free falls. This year, the Minnesota Wild will come out on the losing end. Call it a bold prediction if you’d like, but we’re nonbelievers in the wild. Last year, they finished just three points shy of a Western Conference title, and while odds dictate the Wild won’t plummet enough to miss out on a postseason berth, we consider it unlikely they’ll replicate last season’s success.
Part of the reason for that dreary outlook is in net where goaltender Devan Dubnyk’s dazzling numbers may very well be unsustainable. When Dubnyk is on, the Wild are a tough out for any team in the league, but when he’s off, it is bad news in the State of Hockey. Whether it be the heavy workload or plain bad bounces, look for Dubnyk to come back down to earth a little bit this year.
The other reason? Minnesota simply won’t score in bunches the way they did just last year, scoring exactly 50 more goals than the previous season. Everything went right for the Wild offensively last year, a phenomenon we don’t expect to carry over into 2018.
— Brandon Allin
12. New Jersey has a run hidden somewhere
First came Connor McDavid and the Oilers. Then Auston Matthews with the Maple Leafs. Is it the Devils turn with Nico Hischier? An offensive attack featuring Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Nico, who has been very impressive this preseason, could be enough to elevate the Devils significantly. They’ve got their star-in-the-making defenceman, Damon Severson, signed for six more years, and Cory Schneider, despite a down year last season, is still a great presence in the net. What could go wrong?
Schneider could enter a decline, first of all. He could steer closer to that middle-of-the-pack level and keep the Devils out of as many games as he keeps them in. Furthermore, while Severson is a great player, the Devils defense has been a weak point as of late. John Moore improved in his second year with the Devils and could be a much-needed boost to that position group.
Their offense has improved significantly over the last two years. Well, talent-wise, I should say. The Devils were still 28th in goals per game last season. The addition of Hischier should improve their chances though. New Jersey has something cooking. They’ve got youth and for the first time in a few years, they’ve got optimism. While the Devils aren’t a playoff team, they could make a surprising run for that final Wild Card spot should all their cards fall right.
— Matt Bram
So, how about the rest of the league? Well folks, that could make for another full preview, so we better start firing the engines as I provide some quick takes on other pressing topics.
Last season’s Stanley Cup Final featured an eighth-seeded team in Nashville that swept Chicago in the very first round of the playoffs. The Predators have lost Mike Fisher and James Neal, right, but Chicago has flipped Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad (congratulations to Columbus for turning into a top-of-the-order contender out of nowhere and improving that status this summer), traded Niklas Hjalmarsson for peanuts and signed not-so-inspiring Patrick Sharp from Dallas. Nashville will probably make a good run during next summer trying to capture their first cup while Chicago’s retooling may end not very well after all the jiggle.
The Pacific is stacked on its own. San Jose and Los Angeles will fight to come back for one last try before their rebuilding processes become inevitable, while Calgary is poised to take everyone by surprise. But the loaded guns are none of those. Edmonton has hockey’s future and first $100-million player on its roster, while Anaheim looks like the most stable team from the bunch. Expect Corey Perry back at his usual level after last season’s regression. Wait and watch Ryan Getzlaf getting assists here and there. Get frustrated by Ryan Kesler’s style of play. But most of all become familiar with the Ducks’ because you’re going to hear about them for a long long time.
And speaking of large time spans, what about the Capitals second-round exit streak? It has reached the count of three, and barring a miracle — not because of lack of quality, but because God knows what — it doesn’t look like they’ll make it pass it this year. Alex Ovechkin had led Washington’s roster in Point Shares every single season since he joined the team until last year. He became the talk of the Capitals’ offseason with rumors of a possible trade being in the making. Who’s going to be blamed for Washington’s early exit from the postseason next summer? You bet.
That’s enough on Ovechkin. Let’s talk about Jonathan Drouin and the Montreal Canadiens. I don’t know where the Habs are headed. They have a good team which includes Pacioretty, Drouin, outcast-Galchenyuk, Shea Weber, Alzner and Carey Price. The pieces are there, the fans are there, the history is there. Everything looks to be in place, only Montreal always finds a way to screw things up.
Does this sound familiar to Islanders supporters? New York has not seen winning-hockey since the Rangers won the cup in 1994. Yes, the Islanders have Tavares on the roster, although maybe not for so long. Yes, the Rangers have signed the most coveted free agent from the last class in Kevin Shattenkirk. Is any of that enough for the two middle-of-the-pack teams to make an impact? Hardly.
Will St. Louis be able to make the playoffs again? And if they do, can they get past the first couple rounds? This franchise is a headache. They have made so much yet so little lately, that another upset feels like coming. Even after trading Shatt to Washington at the deadline, the Blues had enough fuel in the tank to win six games in the playoffs. Just ten short of the championship, the optimistic would say. I can only think of St. Louis as one of those teams full of talented players that fall short again and again, and again, and end wasting some great players’ careers. I’d love to see Parayko and Tarasenko lift the cup. I’d love to watch Pietrangelo round the ice with the trophy in hand. Too bad we won’t witness it too soon.
You know what may come soon enough? Buffalo or Winnipeg assaulting the league. Not as soon as this summer, but still. These are some of the names listed on Buffalo’s roster, next to their age: Lehner (25), Ristolainen (22), Eichel (20), O’Reilly (25), Reinhart (21). All of them had 4.6+ PS seasons last year. These are some of the names listed on Winnipeg’s roster, next to their age too: Scheifele (23), Laine (18), Hellebuyck (23), Ehlers (20). All of them had 7.2+ PS seasons last year. That’s what I call young, productive cores with huge upside. Don’t rule out surprises coming from the Sabres or the Jets.
But definitely don’t expect anything good from Arizona, Florida or Vancouver. What is the ceiling for any of those teams? Which is the best position they could reach? Would they reach 70 points, maybe 75 on a good year? None of us is high on those three franchises and their immediate futures certainly don’t look hopeful. Maybe they’re better starting to study next year’s draft pool already because it looks a tad better than this year’s body of talent. Just go Google Rasmus Dahlin.
Is possible that Carolina ends in that group too and we see Hurricanes’ scouts spread all over Europe looking for the next Sebastian Aho? Yes, it is, but Carolina’s team should get closer than ever to the playoffs this next fall and make the postseason if not this year, the next one. On the flip side, Boston and Philadelphia may come crashing this season and a potential upset could be waiting around the corner — something the Flyers know all too well. The Bruins can’t ask for more power up-front, where they are loaded, and the Flyers improved an aging but still productive core with the addition of number-two pick Nolan Patrick in the 2017 draft. Storied franchises, yes. Long-shots for another title, definitely.
— Antonio Losada