Before I begin, let it be known that these predictions are far too early to expect accuracy. Whilst I believe in these picks, offseason moves still need to be made, and one can imagine that more will change than what I could possibly try to play out in my own head. But with the drafts (expansion and prospect) both completed, it is time for Good Night, Good Hockey’s first official “Way Too Early Preseason Power Rankings.” This being Part Two, click here to see the bottom 15 teams ranked in Part One.
16. Calgary Flames
The Flames are a promising young team that absolutely killed it in February and March last season, to the tune of a 10-game win streak. They also enjoyed an increase of 10 wins from 2015-16 to 2016-17. Yet, regardless of regular season improvement, the Flames got torched by the Anaheim Ducks in a 4-0 sweep that left Calgary fans scratching their heads. Where is the team they used to know? Is that team coming back? Only time will tell for this borderline franchise in the upcoming season.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs
Last year, the Leafs faced a daunting challenge in the first round of the playoffs: The Washington Capitals. Regardless of inexperience and inferior talent, extending the series to six games definitely doesn’t qualify as a letdown for a team just making their way back in the fray. This group is young and fresh and at the center of it all is center Auston Matthews (see what I did there?). He is the shining star for the franchise, and the momentum flows where he flows. His performance will define a young team’s rise to contention this season.
14. Philadelphia Flyers
Our favorite team here at GNG Hockey, the Flyers have done nothing but break our hearts over the past few years. The tease of the 2010 Stanley Cup run salivated our taste buds and left us wanting something we have not attained, the star power of Claude Giroux is likened to a flickering street light, and the inconsistencies are piling on never giving fans a reason to believe the team will contend for a Cup any time soon. But, wait, a miracle was blessed to the only city deserving of it! The Flyers hopped around a dozen spots in the draft lottery and gained the 2nd pick, taking center Nolan Patrick. Will he be the savior of the franchise? I’m not convinced, yet Philadelphia is easily on track for an improvement this upcoming season, despite the loss of goalie Steve Mason.
13. San Jose Sharks
Pavelski. Thorton. Burns. What do they all have in common? Well, they are all over the age of 30. The Sharks are still good, but they’re not young anymore, and that’s a big difference. I have full confidence that they will make the playoffs this year, and should also be a formidable opponent to whoever they face. However, the loss to the younger, sharper Edmonton Oilers in the first round of last year’s playoffs does not give me faith in their ability to last in the long run. But who knows? They’ve made some minor trades for draft picks this offseason and can continue to grow until Father Time eventually, inevitably, catches up to them.
12. Minnesota Wild
Slipping and sliding everywhere, the Minnesota Wild were a sloppy bunch at the end of last season. But they’re gonna be in tip top shape for the playoffs, right guys? Wrong. Jake Allen absolutely owned their offensive front and Minnesota going out in 5 games wasn’t what we expected AT ALL. However, I expect the Wild to make it into a similar position this year. Hey, they could even exceed last year’s accolades. This team has strides to make for sure, but I see last year’s early exit in the playoffs more as a right-place-wrong-time type of scenario than an indicator that they are losing their thunder.
11. Columbus Blue Jackets
The almighty win streak. The Blue Jackets rode that thing all the way to Pittsburgh. However, the second best defensive team in the league couldn’t do squat against Crosby and the Pens, which is a turn of events that many of us saw coming. For this season, Columbus bought out Scott Hartnell and made a few other minor moves, but Jackets’ fans can only hope for great performances in net from Sergei Bobrovsky and consistency beyond a small (relative to the length of the season) win streak. They get those, and they’ll get another shot in the playoffs to prove themselves as legit.
10. Chicago Blackhawks
Where did we leave these guys? Oh yeah, in a pit of despair gasping for air after Ryan Johansen, Pekka Rinne, and the Nashville Predators suffocated the number-one seeded Blackhawks to make history as the first 8 seed to sweep a 1 seed in NHL playoff history. Anything can happen in the playoffs… but this? Move aside Cubs, the Hawks are the new losers of the Windy City. All jokes (and truths) aside, Chicago will bounce back. The playoffs proved that Nashville was the real deal and, while Chicago likely should have experienced a bit more success in last year’s playoffs, their talent entering the upcoming season is strong enough that a successful season is not at all far-fetched. Just don’t let it happen again, no-show Toews.
9. St. Louis Blues
What a run by the Blues. Jake Allen and the defense was fantastic, the offense was clicking, and I dare say that they overachieved. With a top of the line penalty kill unit (84.8%) this squad actually can continue on the momentum they built from last year. In an intelligent move, the coaching staff has been renewed for the upcoming season, and St. Louis is set for a long line of contention.
8. Washington Capitals
I’M DONE BELIEVING. Sorry for that, but this is it. Ranking this team as the 8th-best in the NHL isn’t awful but, considering the potential of their roster, I should be able to rank them higher. Alas, their failure year after year to make it past the second round keeps me from ranking them with the elite teams in the NHL. Yes, they will be great. Yes, they will succeed in the regular season. Yes, Ovi will flourish. But when it counts, the Caps will shrink like they have year after year after year. Stop believing, folks.
7. New York Rangers
The dynasty that is the New York Rangers will not come to an end this season. A high-powered offensive attack combined with Henrik Lundqvist’s impressive goaltending will make this year an interesting – and competitive – one for the franchise. The Rangers should have little issue in the Metropolitan Division, despite the necessity for a solid season in order to compete with the likes of Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Washington.
6. Ottawa Senators
The stats do not add up, but they also do not lie. There’s no way the Ottawa Senators should have been one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals, yet they were, and they’re coming back to the fray, folks. The Senators are considered to be almost the opposite of a perfect model for a contender; they have a lack of youthful players and fail to do what juggernauts do – consistently make the playoffs. Who knows, maybe that’s why they succeed and the Caps don’t. Crazy things happen in this league, and Ottawa certainly proves that.
5. Montreal Canadiens
Last February, a struggling Habs team decided to change their coach. Firing Michel Therrien, Montreal turned things around by hiring Claude Julien, who was fired by the Boston Bruins during the season last year, to be their head coach. This change was necessary to a team that experienced some success late last season, after Therrien was let go. Moreover, while a first round exit was not ideal, there’s no doubt that this team, led by goalie Carey Price, has a chance to contend for a title in 2017-18.
4. Nashville Predators
The Grim Reaper that was the Preds in last year’s playoffs was absolutely insane. Nashville had, arguably, the toughest path to the Stanley Cup, yet they marched to the Stanley Cup Final behind outstanding team play and just a little help from their secret weapon: Pekka Rinne. Regardless of Cup results, I would consider the run a success for Nashville and their ever-growing fan base. Now let’s see them do it again.
3. Edmonton Oilers
I love the Edmonton Oilers. In case you follow my writing regularly, you may remember an article I released about why I was rooting for the Oilers to win the Cup in 2017. They’re young, hungry, and have the most exciting young star since Crosby: Connor McDavid. They beat out a savvy Sharks team and took Anaheim to 7 games. Not too shabby for a team led by teenagers! Edmonton is on pace for a stretch of dominance; don’t sleep on this team of fast skaters and endless potential.
2. Anaheim Ducks
Too bad the Ducks ran into the speeding train that was the Nashville Predators; this team had one of the best sparks in 2016-17, and took the league by storm. They made a few minor tweaks to their roster and added young talent in the draft, which bodes well for this franchise that seems to be on the cusp of greatness. In a strong West, I expect Anaheim to dominate as well as any team can, while building off of last season’s momentum.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
They’re the anti-Capitals. I’m done betting against the Pens (for now at least). Back-to-back titles and a dynasty with top-tier players leave us all wondering when this team will stop stomping everyone. Think Marc-Andre Fluery leaving will hurt them? Wrong. Welcome in Matt Murray, the official guardian of the two Cups this team has won in two years. Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, and the whole bunch will take this team as far as they want to go and it’ll be tough to stop. However, it is the NHL; no one team is safe, and there are certainly no concrete predictions.