Summer is over and the NHL's regular season is finally here! Changes abound, but how does your team stack up in our initial NHL Power Rankings? Disagree? Have suggestions? PM or comment!
1. Ottawa Senators
From 1-6, their talent on defense is unmatched. Spezza and Heatley are simply magical. Is Emery's health a concern? Can Eaves and Kelly pick up where Schaefer and Comrie left off? Redden's days in Ottawa are numbered, so who gets groomed to fill his $6-million dollar shoes?
Potential breakout player: Christoph Schubert
2. Detroit Red Wings
It's October, but is it too early to hand the Norris Trophy over to Lidstrom for a 6th year? Zetterberg and Datsyuk are simply breathtaking. With Lang and Bertuzzi gone, Filppula and Hudler get a chance to prove themselves. Is age finally going to be an issue with Hasek and Chelios... this year?
Potential breakout player: Valtterri Filppula
3. Anaheim Ducks
Hard to bet against the defending Cup Champions; this is Pronger's team now. Together, Bertuzzi, Getzlaf and Ryan are 700lbs of scoring muscle. Even if Scott Niedermeyer doesn't return, this team still has all the tools to make another run deep into the playoffs. Pahlsson's return should stablize the team.
Potential breakout player: Corey Perry
4. Vancouver Canucks
Roberto Luongo has grown into the leagues top goaltender. The RW carousel on the Sedin line continues... Mason Raymond gets a shot to start, but everybody suspect that Taylor Pyatt will be back up there soon enough. Morrison and Naslund are in contract years, and Canucks fans hope for any signs of life from the former fan-favorites.
Potential breakout player: Ryan Kesler
5. San Jose Sharks
If the Sharks can figure out how to score at even strength, they have a legitimate shot. Thornton, Michalek, Cheechoo appear unstoppable. Young Vlasic was '06-07's most pleasant surprise on defense, but can he continue to impress? What will JR bring to the party, besides dressing-room tunes and amusement for the Sharks' beat reporters?
Potential breakout player: Matt Carle
6. Buffalo Sabres
It's very premature to write this team off. Forget the scoring depth, this team has one of the best goaltenders in the league in Ryan Miller. Talented Paetsch gets his shot at a regular NHL job with Numminen sitting out. Connolly and Roy can replace the departed captains, but who will replace their production among the bottom-six?
Potential breakout player: Drew Stafford
7. Dallas Stars
Their ever-anemic offense saw no offseason additions, but the Stars continue to bank on their bread and butter of defense and goaltending. Zubov is the most underrated defenseman in the league -- still. Eriksson and Jokinen need to take the next step to push to supply some much-needed scoring. Turco finally put his playoff demons to rest, so all pressure is on the forwards to produce.
Potential breakout player: Steve Ott
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
People are already talking future dynasty but they are getting way ahead of themselves. Even with a team full of future and present world-beaters, the Pens still has some glaring holes. Fleury still hasn't brought consistency to his game and there are still plenty of question-marks on defense. Also, is Crosby's health a concern?
Potential breakout player: Jordon Staal (40-goals anyone?)
9. Calgary Flames
This team will do fine as long as both Iggy and Kipper are in the mix. However, the team's blueline is a shadow of its former self, looking more like a ragtag bunch of journeymen. Was signing Owen Nolan really necessary? Keenan will whip this veteran group into shape, but on paper, the Flames are a step back from where they were just a year ago.
Potential breakout player: Matthew Lombardi
10. Colorado Avalanche
Missing the playoffs by an inch was nothing short of a tragedy for one of the NHL's most talented teams. The additions of Smyth and Hannon bring grit and veteran presence, and adding Extraliga scoring champion Jaroslav Hlinka will bring the best out of future-star Paul Stastny. Budaj was solid, but he needs to be even better for the Avs to contend.
Potential breakout player: Peter Budaj
11. New York Rangers
Can the Rangers greatest strength from '06-07 - team-chemistry - withstand the additions of two new 'top' centermen? Despite extended looks with both Gomez and Drury, Jagr hasn't clicked with either. The grand chemistry experiment may still yet succeed, but this team still goes only as far as Lundqvist can carry them.
Potential breakout player: Marc Staal
12. Minnesota Wild
With only minor additions, Lemaire is hoping that another year of seasoning and playoff experience is all this group needs. There's a monster season somewhere inside Marian Gaborik... if only his health would allow for it. Johnsson is on a big contract and needs to be the leader on the blueline. Backstrom cam out of nowhere, and was a true revelation in net.
Potential breakout player: Marian Gaborik
13. New Jersey Devils
Gomez and Rafalski can't be replaced, but the Devils' feeder system of interchangeable parts will keep them afloat for another year. Parise is one of the shining stars of his draft class. Could emerging Andy Greene become the next Brian Rafalski? He's going to get the icetime to prove it. Brodeur remains the constant of excellence.
Potential breakout player: Zach Parise
14. Carolina Hurricanes
A preseason without significant injury should catapult Hurricanes back into playoff contention. Is there a better top-six forward tandem in the league? Staal looks poised to reassert himself for another 90-100 points season. Is this the year Cam Ward puts it all together and plays like a Conn Smythe winner? How long can his Cup-hangover excuse still hold merit?
Potential breakout player: Andrew Ladd
15. Montreal Canadiens
Much has been made of the Canadiens' inability to attract UFA marquee talent, but they have quietly, and smartly, picked the fruits of their system to fill out the roster. Chipchura brings some snarl to the bottom-six and Price looks like a homerun prospect. With Price, Huet and Halak, goaltending remains a strength. A potentially motivated Kovalev could proved a lift.
Potential breakout player: Carey Price
16. Tampa Bay Lightning
Depth, depth, depth. The Lightning addressed some of those concerns with the affordable additions of Ouellet, Gratton, Lukowich and Hlavac. If the team can overcome Boyle's injury to start the season, their star-power should be enough to get them into the playoffs once again. Goaltending remains a big question-mark, but secondary scoring has improved.
Potential breakout player: Brad Richards
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
Even after the Toskala trade, the Leafs still find themselves questioning their goaltending. Blake should finally offer Sundin a much-needed outlet on offense. Wellwood sitting on IR to start the year really hurts the team's scoring depth and chemistry. When will McCabe/Kubina finally be dealt? Leafs fans are tired of asking...
Potential breakout player: Alexander Steen
18. Nashville Predators
Firesale notwithstanding, Nashville still boasts an extremely fast and talented team. With Sullivan on the shelf, Radulov and Legwand have a chance to carry the Preds on offense. On defense, the team is still young and talented enough to mitigate the loss of former-captain Timonen. Is Mason a starting NHL goaltender? Who is going to end up writing the paychecks?
Potential breakout player: Alexander Radulov
19. Florida Panthers
The Panthers always appear to be on the cusp of competitiveness, however this could be the year that they reward South Florida for its patience (or apathy). Vokoun is solid and is accustomed to playing behind a questionable defense. Weiss and Horton are looking for big years, especially after signing big contracts. Jokinen returns as the star.
Potential breakout players: Stephen Weiss & Nathan Horton
20. Washington Capitals
Adding the two playmakers like Nylander and Kozlov to the likes of Ovechkin and Semin is a recipe for explosiveness. Poti should finally give the Caps a legitimate QB on the power play. Backstrom will be given a shot to translate Elitserien scoring into NHL success. Kolzig is always trusty and reliable, but the defense looks shabby.
Potential breakout player: Alexander Semin
21. Philadelphia Flyers
The worst team in the league gets better, but the Flyers are still a work in progress. Hopes hinge on significant strides from their group of youngsters, but prognosticators who have the Flyers reloaded and contending for the Cup could be counting their chickens before they've hatched. Jury is still out on whether Biron is a true #1 goaltender.
Potential breakout player: Mike Richards
22. New York Islanders
Finally, Ted Nolan has his Ted Nolan team. The Islanders look every bit like the scrappy Buffalo Sabres from the 90's that gave more talented teams fits in the playoffs. Despite limited success in the win column, DiPietro has proven he's the real deal. Comrie gets yet another shot at being a #1 centerman. Berard should provide a lift... providing he's actually signed.
Potential breakout player: Rick DiPietro
23. St. Louis Blues
Veteran-laden squad hopes to sneak into the playoffs in a weak division. Legace has been solid in a Blues sweater, but not many GM's would want to hitch their wagons to him for a run to the playoffs. Can Kariya and Tkachuk ignite young Stempniak? Can blue-chipper Erik Johnson assert himself in the pro game?
Potential breakout players: Lee Stempniak & Erik Johnson
24. Atlanta Thrashers
Another offseason gone by and the Thrashers still find themselves loaded with All-Star wingers with nobody to get them the puck. Playmaker Bryan Little looks to stick on one of the top-lines, as does UFA acquisition Todd White. Goalie-phenom Lehtonen had an outstanding season, but imploded in the playoffs. Can his confidence recover?
Potential breakout player: Bryan Little
25. Chicago Blackhawks
There's finally an air of excitement around the United Center, with summer's top draft pick and the death of notorious mismanager Wirtz, it looks like there are better days ahead for the franchise. Kane and Toews could be stellar. Will grabbing Wings' cast-offs Williams and Lang make the team... more Wings-like? When will Ruutu find his game?
Potential breakout players: Tuomo Ruutu & Patrick Kane
26. Los Angeles Kings
It's going to be either boom or bust this season in LA. If rookie Bernier can stick with the club past his 9th game and continues to impress, this team could be in the playoffs. However, if Bernier is returned to juniors and the team opts for a tandem of LaBarbera and Aubin, it could be a long year despite all the offseason additions. No matter what, Kings fans can go to bed feeling safe that Kopitar is a superstar in the making.
Potential breakout players: Anze Kopitar & Jonathan Bernier
27. Columbus Blue Jackets
Even though the Blue Jackets are slowly becoming a team in the Hitchcockian mold, there's still plenty of team-evolution yet to be done. The checking-pair of Malhotra and Peca should bring a smile to Hitch's face, but what is he ever going to do with poster-boys of underachievement like Zherdev and Klesla? Is it too late for Fedorov to rekindle his career as a scoring threat?
Potential breakout players: Gilbert Brule & Kris Russell
28. Edmonton Oilers
After a scandalous offseason that saw GM Kevin Lowe make 29 enemies out his front-office peers, the Oilers look forward to finally concentrating on playing hockey. Pitkanen and Souray bring explosiveness from the back-end that was sorely missing in '06-07, and Pouliot, Gagner, Nilsson and Cogliano head the latest Alberta youth-movement.
Potential breakout player: Joni Pitkanen
29. Boston Bruins
Continued mismanagement all but guarantees that the Bruins will spend another playoff year on the outside looking in. Bergeron and Savard continue to produce, but the signing of Chara has yet to prove its benefit. Bringing in Fernandez may seem like an upgrade over steady Tim Thomas, but it would be an improvement in the marquee only.
Potential breakout player: Phil Kessel
30. Phoenix Coyotes
It won't be all doom and gloom with the concensus worst team in the NHL... the prospect pipeline finally seems to be kicking in for a franchise that has somehow seemed to botch all of its top draft picks in recent years. Mueller, Hanzal, Jones and Carcillo bring some much-needed freshness and excitement to the desert. Goaltending is a big concern and the blueline needs to play up to its talent level.
Potential breakout player: Keith Ballard