It's the Power Rankings -- the preseason edition
In the name of "The Chicoutimi Cucumber," Georges Vezina, we resurrect the ESPN.com Power Rankings for the 2007-08 season.
Now, keep in mind that this is the preseason edition, but we're not factoring in the preseason scores here, folks. They are about as relevant as Megan Fox's role in "The Transformers" (I know Michael Bay wanted her in it, but she was not in the classic comic). Back to my preseason point: Chicago went 7-1 before the start of last season and we know how well things turned out there.
So, my Optimus bitterness aside, here we go!
1. San Jose Sharks
Yes, they've been ousted in the second round of the playoffs for two straight seasons, but is this the season the Sharks turn things around for good? Any team that has Joe Thornton (114 points in 2006-07) has more than a decent chance. San Jose racked up 258 goals last season. Since the Sharks are bringing back most of their lineup, that number should not change. Some may point to defenseman Scott Hannan's departure, but San Jose still has Craig Rivet, Matt Carle and Kyle McLaren.
2. New York Rangers
On paper, this team has no true weakness heading into the new season: deep down the middle, Henrik Lundqvist in net and, yes, there's a defense. The blue-line group ranked ninth in goals-against last season, so it's not like they're starting from scratch. And King Henrik might have a true big man playing in front of him if the club keeps 20-year-old Marc Staal in Manhattan. The only thing that scares us right now is that coach Tom Renney is still figuring out his top two lines. (Where will Scott Gomez and Chris Drury fit?) What a problem to have.
3. Detroit Red Wings
Get the octopi ready! Unless Dominik Hasek doesn't hold up (which is always a question), we can't see who can challenge the Red Wings in the Central Division. Why? There's Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Chelios (freak of nature!), Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Brian Rafalski and Tomas Holmstrom, and most of the 19 players who hit double digits in points last season are back in Hockeytown.
4. Ottawa Senators
Note to Ray Emery: Don't be an angry driver and miss those team flights. Stop. It's not worth it! Stop. End of transmission. With Jason Spezza, Wade Redden and Dany Heatley playing in the last season of their respective contracts, Ottawa fans might be feeling like it's now or never. But with most of its squad returning from their Cup finals campaign, we don't see how the Sens don't start off on the right skate.
5. Anaheim Ducks
We love the Ducks, we really do. But the defending Stanley Cup champion enters this season with too many questions to earn No. 1 billing. The biggest: the impending futures of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. Especially Niedermayer. You can't replace a player and a defenseman like him. Then, there's the health of goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who missed the team's season-opening weekend in London because of a nagging sports hernia condition.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
Will Sidney Crosby run for mayor, too? The 20-year-old star won the scoring title, the Hart Trophy and ended the Penguins' four-season playoff drought all in the same season. He and other Penguins even delivered season tickets to fans' doors. Marc-Andre Fleury is a bit of a question mark, but Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar and Gary Roberts return, while Petr Sykora joins the fold; plus, there's the offseason addition of Darryl Sydor on defense. Pittsburgh will be in a dogfight with the Rangers for the Atlantic crown.
7. Calgary Flames
So, what's the over/under on new coach Mike Keenan? Can things really get that out of control if ol' Darryl's watching? Hope Jarome Iginla and Robyn Regehr don't regret signing those long-term deals. That being said, this lineup is still one of the best in the West. Can Adrian Aucoin rediscover his game after two lowly injury-plagued seasons in Chicago? The Flames' 22nd-ranked power play could use a boost.
8. Colorado Avalanche
Is a mullet worth at least a point in the standings? We think Ryan Smyth is the kind of player who is the difference between making the playoffs and an April round of golf. Just ask the Islanders and Oilers. Add in Scott Hannan, the now healthy Jordan Leopold, Paul Stastny and the eternal Av Joe Sakic, and you have one of the best "punches" in the league. Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore round out the lineup in net. This team was tied for third in goals scored last season (267) and finished the season on a 15-2-2 run. They're ready for more.
9. Buffalo Sabres
We know many in Buffalo were about to choke on their wings when they saw Chris Drury and Daniel Briere leave town this summer. And while those two players are very difficult to replace, we've seen enough youngsters come up and save the day over the past few seasons to know that all hope is not lost. You have a solid NHL netminder in Ryan Miller, too. Fans will also hope to see Tim Connolly come back strong. OK, let's open the argument up again: Duff's or Anchor Bar?
10. Vancouver Canucks
Will they score? Will Markus Naslund snap out of that mind-numbing (for me, at least) funk? A stud of an NHL goaltender is a terrible thing to waste. Roberto Luongo and his 47 wins carried this team into the postseason. Yes, yes, we know there were the Wonder Twins (Daniel and Henrik Sedin), we're not discounting that. But Luongo gives this team life, and he's the one who gets his team into the preseason Top 10.
11. Minnesota Wild
Some of you hockey fans have written into us, saying that this team is about as fun to watch as paint drying. The shame! While it's not shocking that a Jacques Lemaire team is defensively sound, the coach will be in one heck of a pickle if talented forward Marian Gaborik can't survive this season injury-free. That would provide some of you pessimists with a little more excitement.
12. Nashville Predators
Is Music City becoming more of a deserted island for premiere hockey players than Long Island? Putting owner Craig Leopold and his money-cutting aside, this club still has a solid, young defense (Dan Hamhuis, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber) and Chris Mason has something to prove as the No. 1 man in net. All enough to not write them off in the Power Rankings.
13. New Jersey Devils
We're still wondering if this is a little too high, but with Sweet Lou running the show, Martin Brodeur (best of all time?) in net and hard-nosed Brett Sutter behind the bench, we're still in no-nonsense mode. We'll soon see how the Colin White and Jamie Langenbrunner injuries affect the team's start.
14. Florida Panthers
Hey, Olli Jokinen has to skate in a playoff game some time, doesn't he? With Tomas Vokoun now in net, we have to believe the Panthers will move up in the standings and improve their 12th-place showing in 2006-07. Hence, the rankings respect. Hopefully, their West Coast preseason swing won't hinder a strong start, which this club really needs.
15. Atlanta Thrashers
Still smarting from their first-round sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers, the Thrashers will want to come out strong. This is still, on paper, one of the league's most talented lineups, with Marian Hossa leading the charge. He's backed up by Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Zhitnik and Slava Kozlov. One of the more interesting story lines this season will be how things play out in net -- who will be No. 1 by the time April rolls around, Kari Lehtonen or Johan Hedberg?
16. Dallas Stars
Now that Marty Turco has erased all of those playoff demons (buried them, more like it), the Dallas Stars have bigger questions hanging over their heads. After another disappointing playoff loss, to the low-scoring Canucks no less, do we keep the Stars among the West's elite? Playing in a division with the Sharks and Ducks, we're not so sure. But Sergei Zubov always earns rankings points.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs
Goalie Vesa Toskala and forward Jason Blake join the party at the Air Canada Centre, but injuries have already hurt the lineup --Kyle Wellwood (sports hernia) and Carlo Colaiacovo (tendinitis/knee) are out. Does this keep the Leafs from getting on the right track after missing the playoffs by a point?
18. St. Louis Blues
While this ranking might not show it, we think there is plenty of upside in St. Louis. Coach Andy Murray will have a full season behind the bench, Paul Kariya comes on board to add offense, Manny Legace looks to build on his solid season in net (45 games) and Erik Johnson makes his NHL debut and hopes to help a defense hurting without the injured Jay McKee.
19. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens will never be hurting in net. We all know Saku Koivu is a pillar of a player. Outside of the Habs' captain, Sheldon Souray was the only player to tally at least 60 points last season. He's outta there. So, who else is going to put up those kinds of numbers, consistently, this season? Alexei Kovalev may have the answer in his next interview with an overseas publication.
20. Philadelphia Flyers
Things can't get much worse than they did last season for the Flyers, and they didn't exactly finish strong (two wins in their last 11 games). Still, Martin Biron and Daniel Briere are enough to keep Philly out of the rankings basement. Besides, most of Philly is going to miss the first few weeks of the NHL season thanks to the Phillies.
21. New York Islanders
We can never bet against coach Ted Nolan, but that was one heck of a mass exodus this summer. While we'll sure miss Alexei Yashin, the Islanders did bring in Mike Comrie (Hilary Duff? Really?), Bill Guerin (wow, was that a stint in San Jose, or what?!) and Ruslan Fedotenko, among others. We'll see what the future holds. And, hey, Christie Brinkley is a fan.
22. Tampa Bay Lightning
Outside of the big three -- Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier -- and Dan Boyle (who's hurt), what's going on in Tampa Bay? Team depth and goaltending continue to be issues. And is anyone bothered by Doug MacLean's ownership ties?
23. Carolina Hurricanes
The Stanley Cup champions from 2005-06 saw a hard reality seep in last season, and some experts wonder if they can return to the postseason. They'll need Eric Staal to improve after he saw a 30-point drop in offensive production last season (100 to 70). Cam Ward also struggled, posting an .897 save percentage in 60 starts.
24. Los Angeles Kings
This is an interesting club that could be one of the season's surprises. That's if the goaltending shores up. Jason LaBarbera? Jonathan Bernier? The answer will come soon. Alexander Frolov, Lubomir Visnovsky, Rob Blake, Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Ladislav Nagy, Anze Kopitar, Michael Cammalleri and Jack Johnson give the Kings a great mix of youth and experience. A bonus: Coach Marc Crawford has some of the best hair in the business. Take that, Jimmy Johnson!
25. Washington Capitals
The Capitals have young talent (Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin), they brought in talent (Michael Nylander) and they've kept talent (Olaf Kolzig). Now, can that produce real results this season? Washington has the reputation of being a hard team to play against, but after awhile, that can't be enough for fans.
26. Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Jack Skille could all see time on the big club this season -- enough hope to keep us from putting the Blackhawks in Chateau Bow Wow. But we need to see a few games that count -- with Nikolai Khabibulin et al -- before we can give them some ground in the rankings.
27. Boston Bruins
The only promising news we've seen out of Beantown is the Bruins naming Cam Neely their new vice president, working with the club on "hockey operations" and "club issues." Club issues? Is "all of the above" an answer?
28. Columbus Blue Jackets
Can a team that sports Sergei Fedorov in its lineup really go far? We'd like to see coach Ken Hitchcock work his magic on that one. It's hard to remember that Fedorov was on those Wings' Cup teams ... and dated Anna Kournikova. Michael Peca signed on during the offseason and Rick Nash was buying into Hitch's system late last season, but can that provide a spark?
29. Edmonton Oilers
GM Kevin Lowe sent us a $180 million offer sheet to get us to put his Oilers in the top 20 of the rankings, but we didn't bite. Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray are not Ryan Smyth and Jason Smith. The only thing that could cure Oil Nation's pain is beer, fried dill pickles and more beer.
30. Phoenix Coyotes
We take no pleasure in putting any Wayne Gretzky-affiliated club in last place, but this team has some major hills to climb this season. Gretzky always loved a challenge and responded to them as a player, but this has to be the biggest of his career.
Joy Russo is the NHL editor for ESPN.com.
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2007-08 NHL SEASON PREVIEW
The NHL is back and we've got all you need to get you ready for the new season. The 2007-08 campaign starts Sept. 29 in London, followed by the North American opening Oct. 3.
TEAM PREVIEWSATLANTIC DIVISION
• New Jersey Devils
• New York Islanders
• New York Rangers
• Philadelphia Flyers
• Pittsburgh Penguins NORTHEAST DIVISION
• Boston Bruins
• Buffalo Sabres
• Montreal Canadiens
• Ottawa Senators
• Toronto Maple Leafs SOUTHEAST DIVISION
• Atlanta Thrashers
• Carolina Hurricanes
• Florida Panthers
• Tampa Bay Lightning
• Washington Capitals CENTRAL DIVISION
• Chicago Blackhawks
• Columbus Blue Jackets
• Detroit Red Wings
• Nashville Predators
• St. Louis Blues NORTHWEST DIVISION
• Calgary Flames
• Colorado Avalanche
• Edmonton Oilers
• Minnesota Wild
• Vancouver Canucks PACIFIC DIVISION
• Anaheim Ducks
• Dallas Stars
• Los Angeles Kings
• Phoenix Coyotes
• San Jose Sharks
VOTE• Who will win the Stanley Cup?
• Can you pass our preseason quiz?