The debut of the power rankings heading into the 2013 season:
1. Chicago Blackhawks: You always have to worry about the standard championship hangover, especially since this is an 82-game season, but how can you pick against the defending champs? They basically return the same team that beat Boston in six games for the Stanley Cup in June. It’s a much different scenario from when they won in 2010 and lost numerous important guys in free agency or trades.
2. Boston Bruins: Again, not very creative here but the B’s didn’t lose much and it could be argued that they improved with the additions of Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson. The rest of the NHL probably wouldn’t like it, but a Bruins-Blackhawks rematch in the Stanley Cup Final would be pretty sweet.
3. Los Angeles Kings: Another proven winner that captured the Cup two seasons ago and reached the Western Conference Finals last spring. They didn’t lose much and it’s tough to bet against Jonathan Quick, arguably the best goaltender in the league.
4. San Jose Sharks: We say this every year but perhaps this is finally the season when the Sharks exorcise their playoff demons and go as far as their top-notch talent should rightfully take them. On paper, it’s hard to find much wrong with this team but it’s about showing up when it really matters.
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5. Pittsburgh Penguins: No team was exposed more than the Penguins in last season’s playoffs as mighty Pittsburgh was swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. They lost Iginla but a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still the league’s best duo. The issue with them remains in the net where Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun do little to inspire you.
6. Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne’s farewell tour should be a memorable one as the Ducks reloaded with the reacquisition of Dustin Penner. They choked in the first round last season vs. Detroit (losing in seven games) but they have all the pieces to go way further this spring.
7. Detroit Red Wings: Death, taxes and the Red Wings making the playoffs, three certainties in life. Detroit moves from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference along with a new division: Atlantic. With the addition of Daniel Alfredsson, the Red Wings are a team that has the look of a Cup contender.
8. New York Islanders: This is the first prediction a little off the grid but the Islanders pushed the Penguins to seven games before losing in the first round last season and they look like a team that’s really building something. Captain John Tavares is one of the best players in the NHL that you’ll soon know way more about.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs: Another Eastern Conference team that seems to be going places, Toronto addressed their biggest need by trading for Kings backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier over the summer. They also gave a crazy deal to David Clarkson but he is a good player and there's every reason to believe the Leafs are the best team in Canada.
10. New York Rangers: Probably a littler overrated here, but getting rid of boorish head coach John Tortorella should allow them to maximize their potential a bit more. Henrik Lundqvist was shaky against the Bruins in the playoffs last season but he wasn’t the only reason why they lost in five games. He’s still one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and someone you can count on.
11. Washington Capitals: Until further notice, the Capitals are always a team built for the regular season but you know Alexander Ovechkin and Braden Holtby are tough to beat. Secondary scoring can be an issue for Washington, along with leaky defense, but they are usually difficult to play against.
12. Ottawa Senators: It wouldn’t be surprising if last season’s surprise run in the postseason was a fluke but it seems as though Ottawa is going places. Head coach Paul MacLean will love having Bobby Ryan, who will cure their scoring woes instantly.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets just missed out on the playoffs last season and with their signing of Nathan Horton, they bring aboard a guy that always shows up in the biggest games. You can’t expect Sergei Bobrovsky to play at the same insanely high level but with a similar season, they should be in the postseason this time around.
14. Nashville Predators: Excusing last season’s terrible hiccup, this is a solid team that only got better with the draft day steal of American defenseman Seth Jones (son of former NBA player Popeye Jones). You can expect a bounce-back season from Pekka Rinne, still one of the NHL’s top goaltenders and Shea Weber - one of the top defensemen.
15. Montreal Canadiens: It’s hard to forget how weakly the Habs went out in the playoffs last season but the veteran additions of Danny Briere and fighter George Parros are two nice moves for a team looking for a tougher identity. Peter Budaj might take Carey Price’s starting job if he’s not careful this season.
16. St. Louis Blues: It felt like as much as any team last season, the Blues underachieved in terms of how good they could be. With much of the same cast, they should be better assuming their goaltending and overall team health has some more luck. Locking up defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a long-term deal is a great move, he’s one of the less heralded but great players in the NHL.
17. New Jersey Devils: This comes with a big asterisk - the Devils can be a playoff team if they make the correct move to sit Martin Brodeur and let Cory Schneider be the starting goaltender. You can already sense the controversy brewing with this. After all, why else did they trade for Schneider?
18. Vancouver Canucks: Who can trust a team led by Tortorella and Roberto Luongo? Still, the Canucks have the Sedin twins, Ryan Kelser and Co. so they should be a good regular season team that bombs out early in the playoffs. Sound familiar, Vancouver fans?
19. Edmonton Oilers: Former Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference was just named captain of a team that might finally start to reach their potential. With Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, they have plenty of firepower. Getting steadier play from their defensemen and goaltender Devan Dubnyk would help the cause.
20. Phoenix Coyotes: Yes, the NHL has made the silly effort to keep the Coyotes stuck in irrelevance in the desert. Still, with goaltender Mike Smith, captain Shane Doan and star defenseman Keith Yandle, this team deserves way more fans that is has in Arizona. If they make the playoffs, they will have earned it since the Pacific Division should be ultra competitive as always.