After a four-month lockout, the NHL is set to finally drop the puck.
Teams have been practicing for six days. Six whole days! And they’ve all had an intrasquad scrimmage, too. That’s more than enough preseason hockey action to draw conclusions for an NHL power rankings, right? Sure.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus was 29-46-7 last season, plays in a tough conference and hasn’t improved in any noticeable way. In a 48-game season, another .386 winning percentage comes to a record of 18-30. Throw in some ties and ... the most interesting hockey story in Columbus this season will be whether the Blue Jackets can tie or best Ohio State football’s 12-win season.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs took a lot of flak for firing their general manager a week before the season started. But name one signing or acquisition Brian Burke had made in the previous months? That’s right. You can’t. Another great move by great ownership.
28. New York Islanders
And so begins the Islanders’ three-year farewell to Long Island. Considering the Islanders haven’t made the playoffs or had a winning record once since 2007, they must seem to locals a bit like the total screw-up son who is 38 years old and still won’t move out of the house. “No, really, Mom. I’ve got a place all lined up in Brooklyn. I promise. It’s really nice. But I can’t move in until 2015-16. I’m just going to crash with my friend Rick here for a few more years, if that’s cool.”
27. Calgary Flames
The Flames say they are keeping contract extension talks with Jarome Iginla private so as to not cause a distraction. They might also want to keep their record private, or Iginla might decide it would be a lot smarter to sign with a good team.
26. Winnipeg Jets
On Thursday the NHL ran newspaper ads in major markets across North America saying it is “committed to earning back your trust and support" with "hard work and unwavering dedication." Four days earlier, the Jets had more than 5,000 fans show up to watch a practice. A practice, man. We’re talkin’ about 5,000 fans at a practice. Yeah, the NHL probably didn’t need to spend the money for a Winnipeg ad. They really like the hockey up there.
25. Montreal Canadiens
Michel Therrien is finally back in the NHL as a head coach, and he’s taking over a team that was dead last in the Eastern Conference last season. Oh, this is going to be awesome.
24. San Jose Sharks
San Jose must improve its penalty kill. Last season it was second-worst in the NHL and then went downhill in the playoffs. On the flip side, the Sharks were second in the league in power-play percentage, and that was without once getting to go on the power play against San Jose.
23. Dallas Stars
No matter what happens on the ice this season, the Dallas Stars have already won at everything this year.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 8, 2013
And in adding Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, they’re almost shoo-ins to also win their local 40-and-over rec league.
22. Buffalo Sabres
Sabres fans are excited about young prospect Mikhail Grigorenko, who fell to them in the draft partly due to questions about his true age and identity. The Sabres have met him, though, and he really exists. That’s really all you can hope for these days.
21. New Jersey Devils
The Devils will be hard-pressed to replace Zach Parise, who was second on the team in goals. Maybe they will now have to go back to their trapping style of play, which is both effective and the only style of hockey less entertaining than a lockout.
20. Ottawa Senators
Ottawa coach John MacLean on his team this season: “I feel good about it. But I’m also scared to death.” A man with a mustache like this doesn’t scare easy. There must be plenty of cause for concern.
19. Edmonton Oilers
Speaking of cause for concern, Edmonton defenseman Ryan Whitney isn’t exactly sold on projections that the Oilers will be good this season.
Proposed 2013 Edmonton Oilers promotional slogan: “Third. That’s a goal of ours. But I wouldn’t go that far yet.”
18. Colorado Avalanche
Colorado’s season probably will hinge on the play of 24-year-old goaltender Semyon Varlamov and 20-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, the youngest captain in NHL history. Landeskog was 5 when Milan Hejduk came into the league. Hejduk will now look to him for leadership. OK.
17. Nashville Predators
Nashville has two problems: covering up the loss of Ryan Suter and finally figuring out a way the Predator can close its mouth. Look at that thing. How can it eat? Are they feeding it with droppers of liquid vitamins? How has it survived for 15 years? Shave the top teeth down already. This is just another example of Gary Bettman being asleep at the wheel. There’s a freakish logo starving to death for more than a decade, and he’s nowhere to be found on the issue.
16. Detroit Red Wings
Many are predicting that this is the year the Red Wings finally miss the playoffs for the first time since 1990. I don’t know. I’d have to see a body before I believe it. Eww. No, not an octopus body. Disgusting. Get it away.
15. Anaheim Ducks
Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry remain unsigned beyond this quasi-season. Maybe the Ducks can pick up some of the cash falling out of the pockets of the Angels and Dodgers and get these deals done.
14. Florida Panthers
Last season the Panthers won the Southeast, a division in which every team had a negative goal differential. That probably won’t happen again. The goal differential thing or the Panthers finishing in first.
13. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay’s big acquisition of the offseason was trading for 6-foot-6 goalie Anders Lindback. I’ve heard of the Obese Goalie Theory, but not the Extremely Tall Goalie Theory. Maybe the plan is to just fold his body up a few times and jam him in net. It’s worth a try.
12. Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks have a question mark in goal. Wait. That’s not true. A wood cutout of a question mark would have played better in goal than Corey Crawford did in the postseason last year. Chicago has Corey Crawford in goal.
11. Washington Capitals
Alexander Ovechkin’s points total has dropped for four consecutive seasons. At least the shortened season will give him a good excuse when that streak increases to five this year.
10. Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver still hasn’t found a trading partner for Roberto Luongo, so now it's paying starting goalie money to him and Cory Schneider. Two starting goalies. Two Sedins. If there is a team out there looking to improve at both the goalie and Sedin position, the Canucks have plenty of depth in both spots and are looking to trade.
9. Minnesota Wild
The Wild made the biggest splash of the offseason, signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Should we hate Minnesota with every fiber of our beings? The Wild signed the two biggest free agents. Their team name doesn’t end in an “s.” All of the state’s 10,000 lakes have a south bank/beach. You can make the case that the Minnesota Wild are the NHL's Miami Heat. Not a very good case, but a case.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina should return to the playoffs thanks to the acquisitions of Alex Semin and Jordan Staal. The Hurricanes now lead the NHL in Staals with Jordan and Eric in Carolina, and an extra Staal, Jared, stowed away in the minors for emergency Staal purposes. The fourth brother, Marc Staal, is still on the Rangers, and unfortunately misses out on all the fun to be had building tree forts and playing army.
7. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes return the same core that made it to the Western Conference finals last year. Most were surprised by the Coyotes’ run, but they have made the playoffs three years in a row -- each year since they declared bankruptcy in 2009. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs are worth $1 billion and are the NHL’s most valuable franchise, yet they haven’t made the playoffs since 2004. Clearly total failure is the path to wealth, and success will make you go broke. That’s Sport Management 101 right there.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers look like a Cup contender. But the big question is whether they have enough in goal. (Note: This is the same season preview that has been written for the Flyers every year in either direction in history to infinity.)
5. Boston Bruins
Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin will take over in goal for Tim Thomas, who decided to sit out the season to spend time with his family. But thanks to the lockout, everyone in the NHL got to spend three additional months with their families. That’s probably why the lockout suddenly ended. There’s only so much time you can spend with your family before you’ll take absolutely any offer to do something else.
4. St. Louis Blues
The Blues are getting a lot of Stanley Cup buzz this year thanks to their talent and youth, the theory being that young legs won’t tire during the unrelenting schedule of a shortened season. That’s right: Talent and youth could be advantageous in a sport. It’s an interesting theory.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Vegas installed the Penguins as the Stanley Cup favorite, but it’s hard to shake the memory of Pittsburgh’s playoff defeat last year to the Flyers, during which Marc-Andre Fleury allowed every goal on all the shots. Or was it all the shots on every goal? Either way, it was bad. At least the Penguins have solid backup options this year in Tomas Vokoun and this guy.
2. New York Rangers
New York’s chance of winning the Cup? “It’s good. Thanks.”
1. Los Angeles Kings
With hockey finally back, Staples Center has to host the world’s best hockey team, the team with the NBA’s second-best record and ... the Lakers. Sorry, Lakers. If any scheduling conflicts arise, you’ll have to play your games at the Y. Losers walk.