Breaking down the NHL contenders, pretenders

By Tim Sassone

Here’s a look at our NHL power rankings by division to open the season, and our predictions for the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Western Conference

Central Division

1. Blackhawks

Key additions: G Nikolai Khabibulin, RW Joakim Nordstrom, D Mike Kostka.

The skinny: The Hawks will not only win the division but repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The only concern is the power play.

2. St. Louis Blues

Key additions: LW Brenden Morrow, C Derek Roy, LW Magnus Paajarvi, RW Maxim Lapierre,

The skinny: The Hockey News picked the Blues to win it all and all the pieces appear to be in place for a Cup run.

3. Minnesota Wild

Key additions: LW Matt Cooke, D Keith Ballard, RW Nino Niederreiter.

The skinny: The Wild made the playoffs last year, then suffered goalie injuries in the first round against the Hawks. There’s pressure in Minnesota to win now.

4. Nashville Predators

Key additions: RW Viktor Stalberg, C Matt Cullen, LW Eric Nystrom, D Seth Jones.

The skinny: The Predators signed Stalberg to beef up one of the league worst offenses, but he will miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury.

5. Dallas Stars

Key additions: C Tyler Seguin, C Rich Peverley, C Shawn Horcoff, D Sergei Gonchar.

The skinny: The Stars made big changes during the off-season, turning over their top three centers, but it still won’t get them into the playoffs.

6. Winnipeg Jets

Key additions: LW Devin Setoguchi, LW Michael Frolik.

The skinny: The Jets don’t have enough to get to the playoffs, but they do have a nice 1-2 punch at left wing in Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd.

7. Colorado Avalanche

Key additions: LW Alex Tanguay, C Nathan MacKinnon.

The skinny: New coach Patrick Roy won’t be miracle worker in his return to the NHL.

Pacific Division

1. Los Angeles Kings

Key additions: LW Matt Frattin, LW Daniel Carcillo, G Ben Scrivens.

The skinny: The Kings believe they have what it takes to compete again for the Cup, and they do.

2. Vancouver Canucks

Key additions: C Brad Richardson.

The skinny: How the players react to temperamental new coach John Tortorella might define the Canucks’ season. That and the return of Roberto Luongo to No. 1 goalie status.

3. San Jose Sharks

Key additions: LW Tyler Kennedy.

The skinny: The Sharks might be the most disappointing team in the league with so much talent and so little to show for it.

4. Anaheim Ducks

Key additions: LW Jakob Silverberg, LW Dustin Penner.

The skinny: Trading Bobby Ryan to Ottawa is going to come back to bite the Ducks and GM Bob Murray.

5. Phoenix Coyotes

Key additions: C Mike Ribeiro, G Thomas Greiss.

The skinny: The Coyotes finally have stability in ownership and one of the game’s top goalies in Mike Smith, but there’s little reason for optimism in the desert.

6. Edmonton Oilers

Key additions: LW David Perron, C Boyd Gordon, G Jason LaBarbara, D Andrew Ference.

The skinny: It’s put up or shut up time for the Oilers. This young group is out of excuses.

7. Calgary Flames

Key additions: RW David Jones, LW T.J. Gallardi, D Kris Russell, G Karri Ramo,

The skinny: The rebuild in Calgary is going to be long and painful despite the presence of Brian Burke as the new director of hockey operations.

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Key additions: D Rob Scuderi.

The skinny: Despite their dismal showing in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston, the Penguins are convinced they have what it takes to win it all.

2. Washington Capitals

Key additions: None.

The skinny: Can the Capitals hold up in a more competitive division? They can if goalie Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin perform.

3. Philadelphia Flyers

Key additions: C Vincent Lecavalier, G Ray Emery, D Mark Streit.

The skinny: The Flyers went all in by signing Lecavalier, Streit and Emery, and now they must produce.

4. New York Rangers

Key additions: LW Benoit Pouliot.

The skinny: The Rangers have a new voice behind the bench in Alain Vigneault, which could make all the difference in the world for this team.

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Key additions: D Andrej Sekera, G Anton Khudobin.

The skinny: The Hurricanes were on their way to the playoffs last season when goalie Cam Ward got hurt. Their season depends on Ward again.

6. New York Islanders

Key additions: LW Pierre-Marc Bouchard, LW Cal Clutterbuck.

The skinny: The Isles could make a return to the playoffs if John Tavares achieves and goalie Evgeni Nabokov is solid again.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets

Key additions: RW Nathan Horton, RW Jack Skille.

The skinny: The Blue Jackets will be wishing they were back in the Central Division before this season is over. Can goalie Sergei Bobrovsky stay hot?

8. New Jersey Devils

Key additions: RW Michael Ryder, RW Jaromir Jagr, LW Ryane Clowe, G Cory Schneider.

The skinny: Last off-season, the Devils lost Zach Parise as a free agent. This off-season, they watched Ilya Kovalchuk sign to play in Russia. They won’t survive his loss.

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Bruins

Key additions: RW Loui Eriksson, RW Jarome Iginla, RW Reilly Smith, G Chad Johnson.

The skinny: The Bruins will make another run at the Cup behind a strong core led by Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask.

2. Detroit Red Wings

Key additions: RW Daniel Alfredsson, C Stephen Weiss.

The skinny: The Red Wings have two top lines but depth will be an issue as well as a thin defense. Jimmy Howard remains the most underrated goalie in the NHL.

3. Ottawa Senators

Key additions: LW Bobby Ryan, RW Clarke MacArthur.

The skinny: The Senators will get along just fine without Daniel Alfredsson thanks to the addition of Bobby Ryan. Goalie Craig Anderson was a stud last year.

4. Montreal Canadiens

Key additions: RW Danny Briere, RW George Parros.

The skinny: The Canadiens remain on the small size, especially up front, where size matters. A young and mobile defense helps.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

Key additions: C Dave Bolland, RW David Clarkson, G Jonathan Bernier.

The skinny: Clarkson left the bench to fight in the preseason, which earned him a 10-game suspension. That’s a big loss to overcome.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning

Key additions: C Valtteri Filppula.

The skinny: The Lightning are loaded up front with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but there are big questions on defense and in goal.

7. Buffalo Sabres

Key additions: D Jamie McBain, D Henrik Tallinder.

The skinny: All you need to do is look at the Sabres down the middle (Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis and Mikhail Grigorenko) to see it’s going to be a long season.

8. Florida Panthers

Key additions: G Tim Thomas, C Brad Boyes, D Tom Gilbert, C Aleksander Barkov, RW Bobby Butler.

The skinny: The Panthers were going young until they went out and signed veteran free agent goalie Tim Thomas. So which way are they headed?

First round

Blackhawks over Nashville

St. Louis over Minnesota

Los Angeles over Anaheim

Vancouver over San Jose

Pittsburgh over Rangers

Philadelphia over Washington

Boston over Montreal

Detroit over Ottawa

Second round

Blackhawks over St. Louis

Los Angeles over Vancouver

Pittsburgh over Philadelphia

Detroit over Boston

Western Conference finals

Blackhawks over Los Angeles

Eastern Conference finals

Pittsburgh over Detroit

Stanley Cup Final

Blackhawks over Pittsburgh

— Tim Sassone

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.