The start of the NHL Regular Season is tomorrow night at 7:00 PM ET in Toronto with the Maple Leafs taking on the Ottawa Senators.
Let’s take a look at how the top ten teams in the NHL stack up heading into the season opener.
10. Dallas Stars:
We can all agree what held this team back last year was lack of depth scoring from their Forwards.
Adding Joe Pavelski to the mix certainly will help out, however there may still be concerns about depth when comparing to other contenders.
Although there still are some concerns about depth, Goalie Ben Bishop may be able to back bone this team again as he is a predicted favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season.
9. Nashville Predators:
Dealing P.K. Subban to the Devils will definitely be felt on Defense, however Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis should be able to fill that hole.
Bringing in Matt Duchene is Nashville’s attempt to produce more scoring out of the Forwards as last season the Predators had the league’s worst Power Play unit despite being one of the league’s most lethal Power Plays in seasons prior.
Goalie Pekka Rinne will also need to be more consistent than last season, as Juuse Saros still appears to not be ready to take the reigns as the starter as Rinne will be 37 in November.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs:
Toronto did their homework over the off-season locking in Mitch Marner to a long term deal, along with adding Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie to strengthen their Defense.
I am not sure how many more years can go by with the Maple Leafs being one of the best teams in the NHL, but eventually finishing third in the Atlantic Division and being bounced in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs without Head Coach Mike Babcock, or General Manager Kyle Dubas being fired.
The biggest concern for Toronto is bottom six depth up front, largely due to the fact that Matthews, Tavares, and Marner alone earn a collective total of over $30 million.
7. San Jose Sharks:
Despite losing Joe Pavelski, and Donskoi the Sharks still have some offensive fire power from Timo Meier, Logan Couturer, Evander Kane, and Tomas Hertl.
On top of that, San Jose will be led by the strongest Defense unit in the league with Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Vlasic, and Brendan Dillon as their top four.
Martin Jones will need to be much better than he was last season, as he finished with a career worst goals against average of 2.94, and save percentage of .896.
6. Colorado Avalanche:
Let me make this clear, with the re-signing of Mikko Rantanen the Colorado Avalanche are for real, and are only getting started.
Led by Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, the Forward group is filled out by Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Tyson Jost, Joonas Donskoi, Colin Wilson, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Matt Nieto; not a bad offensive group to say the least.
On Defense the Avalanche have strong potential with Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, Erik Johnson, and Nikita Zadorov as their top four.
Ian Cole is currently injured but will play a key role on defense when he returns.
Philipp Grubauer in net is the biggest question mark for Colorado, however proved to be solid last season with a save percentage of .917, and a goals against average of 2.64.
5. Washington Capitals:
The Washington Capitals despite a First Round exit last season, still remain one of the strongest teams in the NHL led by Alex Ovechkin.
In net the Capitals will need Braden Holtby to play at his elite level as the largest whole this team has is their depth on Defense as John Carlson, and Dmitri Orlov are going to have a large work load carrying the rest of the Defense.
With the core up front consisting of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Wilson, Oshie, Eller, Vrana, Hagelin, and Panik the Capitals will yet again be in the top five of the league in goals for.
Do not sleep on this team this season.
4. Vegas Golden Knights:
Despite losing Haula, and Colin Miller this off-season, Vegas still remains not only the best team in the Pacific Division, but also arguably the top team in the Western Conference.
On Defense Vegas still has Brayden McNabb, Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, and Deryk Engelland.
Especially with Fleury in net, the Golden Knights will not be an easy team to score on as Fleury is still in the hunt for his first Vezina Trophy.
Up front Vegas is deadly.
With a top six of Karlsson, Marchessault, Smith, Pacioretty, Stone, and Stastny Vegas is set to out score arguably any team in the league.
Brandon Pirri, Cody Glass, Valentin Zykov, and Ryan Reaves are also solid depth Forwards that will help produce secondary scoring.
Watch out for Mark Stone as this is his first full season in Vegas since being traded from Ottawa.
3. Boston Bruins:
Like Toronto, Boston also did their homework this off-season, re-signing Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen while remaining under the salary cap.
This Boston team is the exact same team as last year’s Stanley Cup Finalist team minus Noel Acciari, and Marcus Johansson.
David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand remain one of the best lines in all of hockey, backed by DeBrusk, Krejci, Kuhlman, Coyle, Backes, Heinen, Kuraly, Lindholm, and Wagner; it is hard to even argue a team with a better Forward roster.
On Defense the Bruins return all starting six Defensemen in Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, and Matt Grzelyck.
In net the combination of Tuukka Rask, and Jaroslav Halak still remains.
Rask finished last season with a goals against average of 2.48, and a save percentage of .912; Halak was even better, starting 37 games and recording a goals against average of 2.34, and a save percentage of .922.
This team is on a mission to win a Stanley Cup before the Bergeron, Chara era is over.
2. St. Louis Blues:
St. Louis returns this season in tact from last season minus Patrick Maroon, who is now in Tampa Bay.
Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko, O’Reilly, Sammy Blais, and David Perron are a dangerous top six filled in by a solid bottom six of Tyler Bozak, Robby Fabbri, Robert Thomas, Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist, and Alex Steen.
The Blues also have one of the strongest Defensive units with all six of their starting Defensemen capable of being a top pair Defenseman.
With the new addition of Justin Faulk, the Blues Defense consists of Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Colton Parayko, Vince Dunn, and Robert Bortuzzo.
The only uncertainty is if Jordan Binnington can repeat his performance from last season, and remain an elite Goaltender.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning:
Is it really any surprise that the Lightning still remain atop the league despite a First Round sweep, after a record setting 62 win season?
Led by Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay has the most explosive offense in the entire NHL.
Brayden Point, Palat, Killorn, Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Patrick Maroon complete this offense that has the potential to repeat their success from last season, obviously with a different outcome in the playoffs.
In net Andrei Vasilevskiy will look to have yet another Vezina winning season; Vasilevskiy recorded a goals against average of 2.40, a save percentage of .925, as well as six shutouts.
Not only is it nearly impossible to match Tampa Bay’s scoring goal for goal, but it is also just as hard to even score against the Lightning with their Defensive group.
Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Brayden Coburn, Kevin Shattenkirk, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak make up their top six Defensemen as a solid combination of younger players with huge potential, and Veteran Defensemen with great experience.
Expect to see Tampa Bay in the fight for another Presidents’ Trophy.
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