Why wait until September? Here are our Summer Power Rankings
With the exception of future Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, Mats Sundin (the ponderous one), Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne, all the big-name free agents have been snapped up, and the complexion of the vast majority of NHL teams is well-established heading into the dog days of summer.
Here's a look at our Summer Power Rankings with less than two months to go before the start of training camp:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Never mind the absence of Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu and Georges Laraque, the Penguins still have the most formidable lineup down the middle of any team in the NHL, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, plus an emerging elite netminder in Marc-Andre Fleury.
2. Montreal Canadiens
Many folks will pick the Habs to win the East next season, but Carey Price will have to prove he's over this spring's playoff meltdown before we hop on that train. Sundin will make that bandwagon pretty crowded if he signs on with the Habs.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
What do Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Braydon Coburn, Daniel Briere, Kimmo Timonen et al do for an encore after going from 30th overall in 2006-07 to a berth in the Eastern Conference finals? How about a return trip?
4. New York Rangers
The Rangers have been flirting with contender status for three seasons now, and they'll have a dramatically different look with Wade Redden, Nikolai Zherdev and Dmitri Kalinin in and Jaromir Jagr, Shanahan (we assume) and Martin Straka out. Different, but not necessarily better.
6. New Jersey Devils
We put the Devils here because they're always better than we expect they'll be. This will be true again with the addition of Brian Rolston and the continued growth of an underappreciated blue-line corps.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Yes, the Hurricanes have missed the playoffs twice in a row after winning the Cup in 2006, but they missed the cut by a single point this spring and have improved themselves along the blue line with the addition of Joni Pitkanen. If healthy, they're a playoff team.
8. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning will be much more imposing offensively this season with the addition of Malone, Radim Vrbata, Gary Roberts and Adam Hall. Defense is young, and goaltending is unproven. Still, a playoff team in the mediocre East.
9. Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres inked netminder Ryan Miller to a long-term deal and added stabilizing force on the blue line with Craig Rivet. Veteran defenseman Teppo Numminen likely will return to help a talented young lineup, which took a step backward in missing the playoffs this past season.
10. Ottawa Senators
The Senators have devolved quickly from a Stanley Cup finalist in 2007 into a one-line team with ordinary goaltending.
12. Florida Panthers
Still waiting for the Panthers to realize their potential. Maybe rookie coach Pete DeBoer can manage to make that happen. Or not.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs
Little to recommend on the Leafs up front with the departures of Darcy Tucker (bought out), captain Sundin (we assume) and Kyle Wellwood. Defense is actually better than people think. But not much.
15. Atlanta Thrashers
The Thrashers, Leafs and Isles look to be in a heated battle for the No. 1 pick in next summer's draft and the chance to land super prospect John Tavares. That's about as good as it gets for the Thrashers, whose spotty lineup promises to make rookie coach John Anderson's first season a long one.
What are your Rankings?
ESPN.com's Scott Burnside had his say on how the conferences shape up, but do you agree?
The NHL season will be here before you know it, so submit your own Power Rankings!
1. Detroit Red Wings
The defending Stanley Cup champs pick up one of the top two-way forwards in the game in Hossa to go with accomplished all-around players Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Also picked up a more than capable backup for Chris Osgood in Ty Conklin and remain the gold standard for all other NHL teams.
2. San Jose Sharks
Ho hum, another offseason of heightened expectation in San Jose with blue-chip puck-moving defenseman Dan Boyle playing the role previously held by Brian Campbell. Rob Blake will be a welcome addition, although the Sharks are suddenly looking less and less youthful and more and more old and desperate. Not a bad thing, but different.
3. Dallas Stars
Stars are deep down the middle, have a nice collection of emerging defensemen and a bona fide leader in Brenden Morrow, and added a nice agitating touch in Sean Avery. Did they overachieve in advancing to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2000? We don't think so.
4. Anaheim Ducks
Still a formidable lineup from the goal on out, but the Ducks slipped offensively last season. Brendan Morrison will help bring much-needed depth down the middle and could possibly line up with Selanne if the Finnish Flash ever gets off his couch and makes a decision about his future.
5. Edmonton Oilers
There isn't much to separate about 10 teams in the middle of the conference pack, and the Oilers, who missed the playoffs by a scant three points after a late-season surge, have improved their back end with the addition of Lubomir Visnovsky and their talented young forward corps with the addition of Erik Cole.
6. Chicago Blackhawks
Like the Oilers, the Blackhawks finished three points out of the last playoff berth and added two big pieces to what should be their playoff puzzle. In Chicago, it's puck-moving defenseman Campbell and steady netminder Cristobal Huet. With rookie of the year Patrick Kane and new captain Jonathan Toews maturing, this is a team ready to take a big jump.
7. Calgary Flames
We love the addition of Mike Cammalleri as a possible center for Jarome Iginla, and let's assume Miikka Kiprusoff's on-off 2007-08 season was an aberration. If so, the Flames should be in the hunt in the crowded Northwest Division.
8. Nashville Predators
The Predators boast one of the best young defensive lineups in the league and are well-coached. They score by committee, but don't score quite enough and will miss Alexander Radulov if he can't be repatriated from Russia.
9. Minnesota Wild
It doesn't take much to take a slide in the Northwest Division, and the Wild have moved sideways at best and might have taken a step back with the loss of Rolston and Pavol Demitra. Then there's the uncertainty surrounding Marian Gaborik, who can become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the coming season.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are bigger and more mobile along the blue line, but still don't have enough offense; and, unless R.J. Umberger or Derick Brassard is the answer, Columbus still doesn't have a No. 1 center to play with Rick Nash.
11. Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes now have the big center they've been lacking in Olli Jokinen, but they still don't have enough scoring and they're going to miss Keith Ballard along the blue line and in the dressing room.
12. Vancouver Canucks
This ranking would change if Sundin decides $20 million over two years is enough incentive to pack up and head west. If not, the Canucks are overmatched offensively by pretty much every other team in the conference.
13. Colorado Avalanche
Did we mention it's a short trip from the top to the bottom in the Northwest? And with the goaltending duties now split between Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft and captain Sakic's return uncertain, the Avs are poised for a big step backward.
14. St. Louis Blues
St. Louis has a fine collection of defensemen, but special teams and offense are wanting. After looking as though they were ready to get back in the playoff hunt two seasons ago, the Blues have been lapped by their Central Division colleagues.
15. Los Angeles Kings
A familiar place for the perpetually rebuilding Kings, who remain two or three years from contending for a playoff berth.
Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.
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