NHLNumbers Season Preview: Power Rankings No.10-6

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 1:35 am by Cam Lewis

These are very good. As long as nothing terrible happens, these teams will be playing meaningful games in May, and if everything goes well, into June. They boast elite talent, and have much more positive going on than holes to dissect. They aren’t quite the top of the class, but this is where the discussion of true contenders begins. These are teams 10-6 on the NHLN poker rankings. 

10. Chicago Blackhawks 

By Christian Pagnani (@chrispagnani)

Last year’s stats: 

5v5 GF%: 48.91 (19th)

5v5 CF%: 50.65 (15th) 

5v5 PDO: 99.63 (19th)

GF: 134 (20th) 

GA: 140 (16th) 

103 points (5th overall, 3rd Central)  

Last season:

After winning their third Stanley Cup in six years, the Chicago Blackhawks failed to make it past the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. The Blackhawks started to show some early signs of decline posting their lowest shot-attempt differential this decade, although the addition of free-agent signing Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane having his best career season points-wise helped the Blackhawks remain at the top of the standings in one of hockey’s toughest divisions. 

The offseason:

The Blackhawks continued their annual salary cap purge sending Andrew Shaw to Montreal and dumping Bryan Bickell to Carolina at the cost of Teuvo Teravainen. 

Brian Campbell returns to Chicago on a one year deal. Campbell will add much needed depth to a previously top-heavy defensive group last season, and his contract is a steal at 1.5m AAV.  

The Blackhawks also signed 2014 1st round pick Nick Schmaltz to an entry-level contract after a strong season at North Dakota.

Reasons for optimism:

Losing Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen hurts, but the Blackhawks’ core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane,  Duncan Keith still remains in tact and they have one more year before performing more salary cap magic to keep Artemi Panarin and his likely massive contract extension. 

Corey Crawford is one of the leagues top goalies and should help mask some deficiencies in the Blackhawk’s lineup. 

Reasons for negativity:

Although the Blackhawks’ core remains, the depth surrounding them is among the bigger question marks than previous years. Instead of Shaw or Teravainen riding shotgun with Toews or Kane, the Blackhawks have less established players like Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen or young prospects like Mark McNeil and Ryan Hartman to rely on. Shaw and Teravainen might not have been star NHL players, but they’re serviceable NHL players nonetheless. 

The Blackhawks are able to dance under the salary cap every season, but this season seems to be the first where their depth just isn’t the same and could be something to watch if they aren’t quite the Blackhawks of years past.

X-Factor: Brian Campbell

Campbell’s play still doesn’t reflect his age at 37 years old as he averaged the most time-on-ice for an emerging Panthers team last season. Both his regular partners, Aaron Ekblad and Erik Gudbranson, saw their shot-attempt number increase handedly with Campbell at their side and his addition gives Chicago some nice options.

Campbell’s return allows Chicago to form two strong pairings and also limits the minutes of players like Trevor van Riemsdyk, who likely played too much after averaging the fourth most ice time on defense for Chicago last season.

There have been questions about Brent Seabrook’s play, but having Campbell at his cheap price gives him a much more formidable partner than Trevor van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson, or even Viktor Svedberg, all of whom were Seabrook’s top three most common defense partners. 

9. Los Angeles Kings

By Scott Maxwell (@scottmaxw)

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 53.64% (6th)

5v5 CF%: 56.37% (1st)

5v5 PDO: 99.72 (16th)

GF: 225 (14th)

GA: 195 (3rd)

102 points (8th overall, 2nd in Pacific)

Last season:

After learning the hard way that you can’t just get by in the regular season, the Kings came into 2014-15 guns ablaze, tearing up the Pacific division. At one point, they had a clear lead for 1st, while the remaining six division rivals were distanced by two or three points. However, the blew a 20 point lead over Anaheim, and because of that, lost the division title in the last days of the season.

They still were very good at possession, having almost a 4% difference over the second place team, Pittsburgh. However, that didn’t help them, as they lost in five games to the eventual West champs, the San Jose Sharks.

The offseason:

After two disappointing seasons in a row, changes needed to be made to the team. They let a lot of players walk, such as Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg, Luke Schenn, and Jhonas Enroth. They also added Teddy Purcell, Tom Gilbert, and Jeff Zatkoff to the team, and just recently signed Devin Setoguchi. Additionally, they extended Trevor Lewis for four years because…reasons.

The biggest news, however, was Dustin Brown getting stripped of his captaincy in place of Anze Kopitar. Whether that will make a big difference to the team or not, we will see, but until then, it’s more of the team publicly shaming Brown.

Reasons for optimism:

It’s the Los Angeles Kings. They are just two years removed from winning a Stanley Cup, and they are constantly a threat, whether from a possession standpoint or a physical standpoint. They have the (debatable) reigning Norris trophy winner in Drew Doughty, the reigning Selke trophy winner in Kopitar, and a Vezina nominee in Jonathan Quick. They have their fair share of really good players, so we’ll see if they can put this team over the top again. Also, the Pacific looks to once again be a relatively weak division, so it could be an easy sneak in for the Kings.

Reasons for negativity:

The problem with these really good players is that they aren’t the same players from five years ago when they went on that dominant cup run in 2012. The team looked like they struggled when matched up against the Sharks, and odds are, they’re going to have to go through them again. Throw in the fact that Quick has looked quite average these last few years, and that teams are starting to figure out LA’s physical possession game, it doesn’t bode well for the team. Also, they’re struggling to keep under the cap, so the team might end up in a position that their dynasty rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, are in a few years.

X-Factor: Jonathan Quick

Unlike the opinions of many, Jonathan Quick is not elite *fire emoji*. However, he continues to look like a good goalie under the Kings system, so if he can step it up a notch this season, and play to somewhat of the level that we saw in 2011-12. If not, the Kings might be faced with another early playoff exit – if they even make it that far.

St. Louis Blues

By Scott Maxwell (@scottmaxw)

Last Year’s Stats:

5v5 GF%: 52.85% (7th)

5v5 CF%: 52% (7th)

5v5 PDO: 100.17 (12th)

GF: 224 (15th)

GA: 201 (t-4th)

107 points (3rd overall, 2nd in Central)

Last season:

The St. Louis Blues continued their dominance over the last several years this season, with another excellent regular season performance, which saw almost no issues. In fact, the only problems were Jaden Schwartz’s injury, and the potential for David Backes and Kevin Shattenkirk to get traded.

Playoffs was a different story. Notoriously known for choking in the playoffs, the Blues exorcised their demon’s against the Blackhawks in round one, and then beat the Stars before losing to San Jose in the conference finals. It was a step in the right direction, and they hope to continue it.

The offseason:

It was definitely a season of big changes for the Blues. They traded Brian Elliott to Calgary, and let captain David Backes go to free agency, as well as Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott. In turn, they replaced them with David Perron and Carter Hutton, and the more recently acquired Nail Yakupov.

On another note, the team also extended a couple of players, like Schwartz to a five year deal, and Alex Steen to a four year deal. They also named Alex Pietrangelo the newest captain for the team.

Reasons for optimism:

This is a team coming off it’s first conference finals appearance since 2001, and they made very few changes to the team. They somehow managed to avoid signing Backes to a bad contract, and they replaced Brouwer and Ott with Perron and Yakupov.

Also, it’s supposedly Ken Hitchcock’s last year, so maybe the team will rally around that to go all the way  this year.

Reasons for negativity:

They didn’t really make an adequate replacement in net. Don’t get me wrong, Jake Allen is a solid goalie, but he’s no Brian Elliott. It should be interesting to see how Allen handles the reigns from here on out, but the signs so far haven’t been the most optimistic.

Also, look around in the division. Just about every team beneath them made an improvement of some sort. Nashville added Subban. Minnesota added Boudreau. Colorado fired Roy. Winnipeg added all of their youth. While St. Louis isn’t in trouble, it isn’t going to be easy for them.

X-Factor: Goaltending

As mentioned before, the Blues are now without Brian Elliott. While I think Allen shouldn’t have too many issues with the starting role, the team no longer has the insurance behind him in Elliott, with Carter Hutton as the backup. How Allen handles the role will determine whether or not the team will succeed.

7. Florida Panthers

By Megan Kim

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 56% (2nd)

5v5 CF%: 48.7% (20th)

5v5 PDO: 102.1 (2nd)

GF: 132 (8th)

GA: 200 (7th)

103 points (7th overall, 1st Atlantic)

Last season:

Last season was a resounding success for this Florida team. Several of their young players began to really come into their own, with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau leading the way in that regard, and Roberto Luongo showed us that he’s still a very good goaltender in this league. An effective blend of age and experience and up-and-coming talented youth was good for a first-place Atlantic finish.

In the playoffs, they suffered a first round defeat at the hands of the New York Islanders, losing the series 4-2. It was a tightly played series, with three of the six games going to overtime. 

All in all, 2015-16 was a massive step forward for this team, and with their young core, they’ll be looking to build upon it in coming years. 

The offseason:

The Panthers had a busy offseason. They started out by undergoing a significant amount of personnel turnover in the front office and making it clear that they’re taking analytics seriously when it comes to roster construction. Then they put their money where they mouth is. 

With Nick Bjugstad and Barkov already signed until 2021 and 2022 respectively, GM Tom Rowe got to work and locked up the rest of their young core, including franchise defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The Panthers also bolstered their blue line by signing Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, and managed to shed the contracts of Marc Savard and Dave Bolland. 

In addition, they added a very capable backup goaltender in James Reimer to make sure that they’d be covered if Luongo’s recovery from offseason hip surgery took longer than expected. 

Reasons for optimism: 

This team was good last year, and now they’re better. They retain the majority of their core, including the young players who were vital to the team’s success, and despite losing Brian Campbell, upgraded the blue line. Barkov is proving himself to be one of the best young centers in the NHL, and with the ageless Jaromir Jagr back for another year, that top line should be very fun to watch. 

Luongo’s recovery has evidently gone well, as he’s gotten some preseason action, so it looks like the Panthers will be able to begin the year with their starting goaltender in net. 

The nice thing about this team is that their Cup window is still wide open. In fact, it may still be in the process of opening. Last year should end up being the start of a stretch of playoff contention for a talented group of young players who look like they’ll be in this together for the long run. 

Reasons for negativity:

So… that top line mentioned above? It’s now without dynamic left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who will miss 3-4 months with a lower body injury. That’s unfortunate for Huberdeau, who’s in his prime as a player, and it’s unfortunate for the Panthers, as he was their third-leading scorer last season. 

In other injury news, Nick Bjugstad will miss the first month of the season with a broken hand. Not ideal. Bjugstad won’t be missing half the regular season like Huberdeau will, but a month isn’t nothing, either. 

Getting through these injuries will be the first major obstacle for the Panthers as they look to improve on last year’s finish.

X-Factor: Depth

The previously mentioned injuries don’t have to break the team, but they have the potential to seriously set Florida back. Huberdeau in particular is hard to replace. The Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr line accounted for a significant portion of Florida’s scoring last year (184 points between the three of them), and the Panthers will need to find a way to fill the hole that Huberdeau leaves behind.

Florida’s forward depth isn’t terribly overwhelming, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ll handle this. Jussi Jokinen will probably step into that first line left wing spot, and after that? Well, there will certainly be opportunities for someone to step up.

Alternatively, maybe the Panthers decide that this isn’t a problem that can be solved internally and go out and get a winger to play with Barkov and Jagr. 

Either way, the injury to Huberdeau is going to test Florida’s mettle. 

6. Dallas Stars

By Cam Lewis (@cooom)

Last year’s stats: 

5v5 GF%: 51.3% (11th)

5v5 CF%: 52.6% (3rd)

5v5 PDO: 99.5 (21st)

GF: 265 (1st)

GA: 227 (20th)

109 points (2nd overall, 1st in Central)

Last season:

The Stars were hockey’s most fun team last season. Despite having goaltending that could be politely described as shaky, the Stars managed to finish with the best record in the Western Conference largely because they could score goals at will. It ultimately resulted in a second round loss in the playoffs at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, though. 

The offseason:

Dallas took a pretty major hit this summer, especially on their blue line, as Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski decided to leave for (somehow) warmer weather in Miami and Phoenix. They replaced one of them with Dan Hamhuis, but the other hole will need to be filled internally. 

Reasons for optimism: 

It’s hard not to like a team that features Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, and Patrick Sharp up front. The Stars scored goals last year, and they’re going to score goals again this year. There’s a very good chance that they’ll lead the league in scoring again, which very likely will compensate for any struggles on defence or in net. 

Reasons for negativity: 

I touched on it above, but Dallas’ biggest weakness, such as it has been the past few years, will be keeping the puck out of the net. Their defence is fairly thin, and their goalies don’t leave much margin for error, either. Another thing to worry about is the fact they play in a stacked division that got even better over the summer. 

X-Factor: Young defencemen

The Stars lost two of their three best defencemen and replaced one of them via free agency, but a lot of good minutes that were previously eaten up by Goligoski and/or Demers will need to be allocated elsewhere. The Stars have a nice first pairing in John Klingberg and Hamhuis, but beyond that, they’ll be looking for someone like Esa Lindell, Patrik Nemeth, or Jamie Oleksiak to take a step forward and help anchor their blue line. 

PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES:

No.  30-26: Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres

No. 25-21: Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers. 

No. 20-16: Carolina Hurricanes, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens. 

No. 15-11: New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, Philadelphia Flyers, Anaheim Ducks, New York Islanders. 

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