As the preparations for the 2013 season get underway at arenas around the league, the scribes that cover the sport are also dusting off their predicting hats and gearing up for January 19th. Whether it’s power rankings or fantasy outlooks, prognosticators are eagerly dissecting what the shortened season will mean for various teams fortunes.
The good folks at TSN took their turn at the well on Friday morning, issuing their first power rankings for the new season. The top couple of teams aren’t exactly shockers, with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the top thanks to the re-emergence of a healthy Sidney Crosby, and the New York Rangers in the runner-up slot with the newly acquired Rick Nash.
Where did the NHL Central clubs end up in the ranking? Here’s the breakdown:
#4: St. Louis Blues
The Blues are the top team among Central clubs, with TSN citing rookie winger Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo as the key reasons behind their high ranking. The team surprised a lot of experts with their rapid ascension last season, with Brian Elliott keying the resurgence with a tremendous presence in net.
This ranking may be appropriate given the chemistry that the team has, but there are some questions as to whether they can sustain that. Their defense will still be solid, but there is simply no way that Elliott will be able to reproduce his .940 save percentage that he put up last year. That will certainly take the Blues down a few notches and could even cost them the competitive Central, but they’ll still be a top-10 team at year’s end if things go according to plan.
TSN discussed the additions to the Hawks’ blue line, including Michal Rozsival and the re-signing of Johnny Oduya, in praising the team and saying that they are just a shade outside of the top-five in the rankings. They did bring up potential weakness in goal as being something to overcome, but there is one factor that they clearly omitted, which should knock the Hawks down the list.
The team did absolutely nothing in the offseason to address what was their most glaring weakness last year, and that was their lackluster special teams. They finished near the bottom of the league in both penalty killing and power play, and just because they fired assistant coach Mike Haviland doesn’t mean that these issues will magically resolve themselves. With a team as richly offensively talented as the Hawks, the power play should be a top-tier unit, but the fact is they aren’t, and without some upgrades in that area, it will ultimately prove to be their downfall again.
The Wings had one of the more disappointing offseasons among NHL clubs, losing Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement and failing to land any of the big name free agents, with Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signing elsewhere. They also lost Jiri Hudler to the Calgary Flames, and the addition of Kyle Quincey hardly seems adequate to stem that much bleeding of talent.
Even still, the team still has Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the fold, so they will be competitive, but to rank the Wings ahead of teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings seems a bit foolish on the part of TSN.
#8: Nashville Predators
The aforementioned Suter left the Predators this offseason to explore more frigid pastures with the Minnesota Wild, but the Preds were able to keep Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne with rich contract extensions. TSN cited youngsters like Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis as needing to step up to replace Suter, but questions regarding whether they will actually be able to do the job are entirely legitimate.
The team’s ranking will definitely be viewed as too high in light of losing Suter, but with the chemistry the team has, as well as the continuity in net and coaching style, this team could actually surprise some folks this season, so they are probably around the correct area rankings-wise.
TSN said it best when they delivered this deathblow to hopes that Jackets fans have for a turnaround this season by saying this:
“When the last place team gets rid of their best player, it’s hard to start anywhere but the bottom.”
Trading Rick Nash definitely puts a damper on Columbus’ hopes, and while it wasn’t a terrible trade that they agreed to, obtaining Brandon Dubinsky and a couple other quality pieces, it still shows that the Jackets are in it for the long haul in terms of rebuilding. Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski are a solid basis for a blue line corps, but the lack of forward depth is alarming, and the highly questionable goalie situation with Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason vying for starts isn’t exactly a dream come true either.