NHLNumbers Season Preview: Power Rankings No. 5-1

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

These are the true contenders. When picking a 2017 Stanley Cup Champion, there’s a very, very good chance it’s going to be one of these five teams. These are the teams who were part of the elite pack last year, and are coming into this season just as good, if not better, than they were when they left last spring. They have elite talent, rock solid defence, depth, and strong goaltending. These are teams 5-1 on the NHLN preseason power rankings. 

5. San Jose Sharks

By Cam Lewis (@cooom)

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 52.9% (8th)

5v5 CF%: 51.7% (9th)

5v5 PDO: 100.1 (13th)

GF: 237 (4th)

GA: 205 (10th)

98 points (11th overall, 3rd in Pacific)

Last season:

After years of choking and playoff results that didn’t come anywhere close to matching the hype surrounding the team, the San Jose Sharks came as close as they’ve ever been to winning it all. They missed the playoffs in 2014-15, their core was aging, and there appeared to be locker room strife, but last season, it all clicked at the right time, and the Sharks mowed through the Western Conference. They were eventually stopped in six games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Cup Final, but it was easily the franchise’s most successful season. 

The offseason:

Like they did the summer before, the Sharks added to their team by grabbing a couple of good but not top tier free agents. It was Joel Ward and Paul Martin in 2015, and this summer, it was Mikkel Boedker and David Schlemko who were added to the team to provide high-quality depth at a reasonable cost. 

Reasons for optimism:

They had an excellent season and playoff run last year, so there’s reason to expect they can do it again. Like I said, they made a couple of nice additions to an already strong team, which is important considering some weakness in their depth could have been a factor in what killed them when it mattered most last spring. 

Reasons for negativity:

The team is old and, more than likely, completely exhausted. It doesn’t help that they play in the loaded Western Conference, and will have to battle with the likes of L.A., Anaheim, Nashville, St. Louis, and Chicago on a frequent basis. 

X-Factor: Energy

With an old team, the Sharks are going to have to be careful to ensure that their key players have fuel in the tank for an entire season. This could mean limiting the role that Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have on the team in favour of younger players, but the Sharks aren’t a team that can go full throttle for six straight months. 

4. Nashville Predators 

By Scott Maxwell (@scotmaxw)

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 50.9% (13th)

5v5 CF%: 52.47% (4th)

5v5 PDO: 99.47 (22nd)

GF: 228 (12th)

GA: 215 (12th)

96 points (14th overall, 4th in Central)

Last season:

The Predators weren’t exactly hot right out of the gate. They struggled early on, despite being one of the better possession teams. This was mainly due to Pekka Rinne, and a middling offense. The team addressed the offense issue, trading young defenseman Seth Jones in exchange for Ryan Johansen from Columbus.

After that, the Predators did well enough to sneak into the playoffs. They then did something they had never done before: win seven playoff games. That’s right, after a first round upset of the Anaheim Ducks, they held their own against the eventual Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks (although Rinne looked ugly in game five, and Weber looked ugly in game seven). Regardless, it was a big step forward for the franchise, and they look to improve on that this year.

The offseason:

The Predators didn’t do a whole lot this offseason. They bought out Barret Jackman, shored up their defense with the additions of Yannick Weber, Matt Irwin and Matt Carle, and re-signed Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok to six year extensions.

Oh, and they traded their captain for a Norris trophy winning defenseman in PK Subban in the middle of the biggest 23 minutes in hockey. Not that important though.

Reasons for optimism:

What isn’t there to be positive about for this team? They were a win away from the Conference Finals last year, and traded their worst defenseman of their top four in exchange for a top 10 defenseman in the league. They also added to their defensive depth with even more solid depth defenseman, and their offense looks promising.

Reasons for negativity:

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to Pekka Rinne. Despite popular belief, he is a replacement level goalie who is vastly overpaid. He almost singlehandedly cost them a playoff spot this season, so who’s to say that he doesn’t do it again.

X-Factor: Pekka Rinne

It seems like every year, Rinne rotates between good and bad seasons. Last year was bad, so hopefully he has a better one this year. If he doesn’t, it might hold the team back from taking the next set. Not to mention that swapping Weber for Subban will mean more high octane games, so Rinne might struggle with that as well. If Rinne can be at the very least average, the Predators might be the team to beat.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning 

By Alan Wells (@loserpoints)

Last years’ stats:

5v5 GF%: 54.21% (5th)

5v5 CF%: 51.19% (6th)

5v5 PDO: 100.88 (5th)

GF: 224 (12th)

GA: 198 (5th)

97 points (10th overall, 2nd Atlantic)  

Last season:

Following a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-2015, the Lighting returned with another strong season going all the way to the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning began the season as many peoples’ favorite to win the cup. While they ultimately made a deep playoff run, they were not as dominant as expected. They finished behind the rival Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division. 

The season was full of storylines beginning with the looming free agency of captain and star center Steven Stamkos. Top prospect Jonathan Drouin added to the drama when he refused to report to the club’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse and instead requested a trade. GM Steve Yzerman managed to salvage the Drouin situation and the young winger returned to be one of the most dynamic players for the Lighting in the playoffs. However, to cap off a tumultuous season, the Lightning were hit with a bad run of injuries at the worst possible time. Stamos, top pairing defender Anton Stralman, and Vezina nominated goalie Ben Bishop all missed time due to injury either during the playoffs.

Ultimately, the Lightning were eliminated in the conference final by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning manager to extend the series to seven games despite appearing to be outclassed at times by the Pens. 

The offseason:

The Lightning had some definitive highlights this offseason. They signed Stamos to a new eight-year deal at 8.5M per season, which is affordable for a franchise player like Stamkos. Equally importantly, the Lightning agreed to an extension with number one defender and likely Norris candidate Victor Hedman for eight years at just under $8M per year. For a defender of Hedman’s caliber, that contract looks to be a great deal. And just before the season was set to begin, the Lightning also locked up another key piece in Nikita Kucherov to a three-year deal with a $4.667 million cap hit. While Stamos is the captain, Kucherov is probably the team’s best offensive player. 

Aside from those major contract situations, the Lightning did not add or lose any major pieces. Depth forward Jonathan Marchessault left for more playing time with the Panthers. The Lightning agreed to terms with RFAs JT Brown, Cedric Maquette and Nikita Nesterov. In another small move, the team brought back Cory Conacher who was famously the player traded to Ottawa in exchange for Ben Bishop in what now appears to be a lopsided deal in favor of Tampa.

Reasons for optimism:

Now that Kucherov has signed a new deal, Tampa will be prepared to make another deep playoff run. They will return all of the key pieces that have made them one of the best teams in the league over the last two seasons and none of that should change this year. The team is young and shouldn’t expect any kind of fall off from the past two seasons.

Reasons for negativity:

The only real negative heading into the season is the wear and tear on the players over the last two seasons. Back to back deep playoff runs followed by having the most players in the World Cup of Hockey means the Lightning players have played more hockey than anyone else over the last two years. A big part of success for any team is avoiding injuries. The Lightning were unable to do that last year but they’ll be hoping for better fortune in that area this season.

X-Factor: Jonathan Drouin

Jonathan Drouin seems primed to realize his potential this season. He will get top six minutes with a chance to showcase his exciting brand of skilled hockey. He showed at the end of last season and during the playoffs that he can be a key contributor and he’ll be looking to build on that this season. If he can become the dynamic creator that most expect, the Lightning will hit a new level of offensive effectiveness.

One area he can contribute in particular is on the power play. The Lightning power play has struggled the last two years. With Todd Richards hired in part to help with the power play and a dangerous passer like Drouin involved, the Lightning will look to capitalize more with the advantage than they have in the past.

The Lightning have a look to be excited about for this season. If they can stay healthy, they have as good a chance as anyone to make another run at the Cup.

2. Washington Capitals 

By Megan Kim (@meggo1532)

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 56.12% (1st)

5v5 CF%: 51% (14th)

5v5 PDO: 101.2 (3rd)

GF: 248 (2nd)

GA: 191 (2nd)

120 points (1st overall, 1st Metropolitan)

Last season:

Good goaltending, balanced scoring, and yet another 50-goal season from captain Alex Ovechkin propelled the Capitals to the top of the standings with a whopping 120 points. TJ Oshie and Justin Williams both proved to be smart additions to the squad, and Evgeny Kuznetsov had a breakout year, dazzling fans with impossible no-look passes from below the net and posting a career high 20 goals and 57 assists for a 77 point season. 

The regular season went practically perfectly, but in the playoffs, the Capitals ran into the some familiar heartbreak. They were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins.

The offseason:

GM Brian MacLellan did a wise thing and sat tight this offseason, not giving in to the temptation of shaking up a roster that did, after all, win the President’s Trophy in 2015-16. Aside from some minor depth moves, the biggest move of the Capitals’ summer was probably the acquisition of forward Lars Eller. Eller was used largely in a defensive role with the Canadiens, but plays a strong transition game and is probably capable of more offensive output than he’s shown. 

With the core of the roster in tact and the addition of Eller down the middle, this team is definitely one to watch out for.

Reasons for optimism:

Seriously, this was a very good team last year. They just got beaten by another very good team, and there’s no shame in that. All of the key players from last year’s run are back, and there’s no reason that they can’t put up a similar performance. 

And frankly, this team is well-balanced and pretty stacked. When your top nine includes Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Williams, Andre Burakovsky, Marcus Johansson, you’re in pretty good shape. John Carlson leads a solid (if not spectacular) blue line, and Dmitry Orlov looks to have a breakout year with an increased role. 

Reasons for negativity:

Well, if you’re a Capitals fan, you’ve run into some awfully hot goalies and awfully bad luck over the years, so your default setting is probably pessimism. 

Also, the Capitals’ window isn’t closed, not by a long shot. But it’s inching closer with every year that passes. Franchise cornerstones Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom aren’t getting any younger. Beyond that, though, this is probably the last go at the Cup with this particular team.

Oshie, Williams, and Karl Alzner will all be UFAs after this season, while Kuznetsov and Burakovsky will be RFAs. 

And in case you forgot, there’s an expansion draft looming. 

It’s do or die for this particular group of Caps.

X-Factor: The blue line 

Last season, the Capitals proved that the puck didn’t have to go through Nicklas Backstrom or Alex Ovechkin for them to score. That’s been a problem in years past, but the forward group last year was much more well-balanced. Six forwards scored at least 20 goals, and two more scored 17. Of those eight players, seven are still with the team, so there’s not too much worry that the forward lines are too top-heavy. 

As far as defensemen went, though, John Carlson was the only player to break 30 points. That will likely change this year with Orlov on the top pair with Carlson, although of course there’s no guarantee. Washington will be successful whether their defensemen score more or not, but they’d definitely benefit from an increase of offensive output from their blue line. 

(They would also benefit from Brooks Opik being less… Brooks Orpik-y, but that’s a conversation for a different day.) 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

By Scott Maxwell (@scotmaxw)

Last year’s stats:

5v5 GF%: 55.21% (4th)

5v5 CF%: 52.72% (2nd)

5v5 PDO: 100.59 (9th)

GF: 245 (3rd)

GA: 203 (6th)

104 points (4th overall, 2nd in Metropolitan)

Last season:

Expectations were high going into this season, after the Penguins made big changes to the teams depth, including acquiring Phil Kessel. However, it wasn’t an ideal start, as the Penguins struggled for the first half of the season, in addition to all of their star players.

So, they missed the playoffs, and Sidney Crosby’s career ended.

That’s not true, despite some people’s belief at the time. The team was red hot for the rest of the season, and continued so in the playoffs, rolling all the way through to the Stanley Cup. Kessel led the way for them in scoring, while Crosby was dominant, winning the Conn Smythe.

The offseason:

The team literally did nothing all offseason, aside from celebrate their championship. They, uh, let Ben Lovejoy walk, and, ummmmmm… what else did they do? Oh yeah, they claimed Mike Condon off of waivers yesterday. I guess they re-signed Justin Schultz and Matt Cullen as well. Um, I think that’s it.

Reasons for optimism:

If I didn’t establish this point already, the team hasn’t changed one bit, and they’re coming off of a Cup win. How often do teams win a Cup, and are able to keep just about every piece of that Cup win, Ben Lovejoy aside. This team has a legitimate chance to repeat, and the rest of the league should be scared.

Reasons for negativity:

Well, Sidney Crosby, fresh off a Conn Smythe victory, is concussed again. While it could take him only a month, or maybe even less, to get back into the game, there also might be a chance that Crosby might not play at all. And when I say at all, I mean he might have to call it quits depending on how bad the concussion is. While it sounds crazy, remember that this is his fourth concussion, and the more blows he takes, the worse it may get for him. While Crosby probably cares about the game too much to quit at 29, we could very well have seen the last of Crosby.

Not only is this a reason to be negative for the Penguins, but also for the league in general, as we may potentially see a face of the league have to leave the game early. If he comes back, appreciate him while you can.

X-Factor: Evgeni Malkin

In 2011-12, the last time Crosby was out with a concussion, Evgeni Malkin excelled as a true first line center, scoring 50 goals and 109 points, while leading the league in scoring and winning the Art Ross, Hart, and Ted Lindsay awards. Now, at age 30, Malkin is a little bit past his prime, so while it’s a bit much to expect a season like that, it might be key for Malkin to step up and flourish in that role for Pittsburgh to survive without Crosby. The depth on the Penguins isn’t as bad as 2011-12, but losing Crosby gets rid of their three threatening lines, so Malkin will play a huge role.

Even if Crosby is only out for a month, Malkin will have a chance to carry the team on his shoulders and lead the way again. If he is capable of doing that, Pittsburgh will still be a threat, even with the best player in the NHL out.


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. 

No. 10-6: Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars. 



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