2010-11 NHL Power Rankings: The Quintessential Report

October 10th, 2010 No Comments

With the NHL pre-season behind us it’s almost time to start the regular season where all 30 NHL teams will drop the puck in anger for the first time.

There was plenty of movement this summer, which should help change the landscape of the NHL standings in a big way from where the teams finished in 2009-10.

Sure, the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and New Jersey Devils are bound to be amongst the NHL’s elite teams, it’s in the bottom ranks that we will see the most change.

Off-season improvements from teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins should equate to big changes in the Eastern Conference, while Western Conference teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, Calgary Flames and Phoenix Coyotes should help determine the playoff landscape in the West.

Without the benefit of 10-20 games to see how teams will gel it is often difficult to determine just how well these changes will play out. That said, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a self proclaimed hockey expert if I didn’t lay down my final power rankings before the start of the NHL regular season.

Keep in mind, these are power rankings and do not necessarily represent where teams will be positioned at season’s end.

For a more detailed look at the Eastern Conference and my playoff predictions, click on this link: http://theslapshot.com/nhl-2010-11-eastern-conference-playoff-picks and look for my detailed Western Conference preview in the days to come.

1. Washington Capitals: (2009-10 record—54-15-13—121 points)

There is every indication that the Capitals will be just as effective offensively as they were in 2009-10 this season, but there are still concerns with their overall goaltending and defense.

With very little changes being made to the Caps’ roster I suspect continuity will play a big role in the Capitals success, which should see them finish atop the NHL standings, resulting in back-to-back President’s Trophies.

Alex Ovechkin should compete for the Rocket Richard and Hart Trophies and, if my gut tells me correctly, will likely emerge from the 200-10-11 season with career highs in points.

Between the pipes Jose Theodore is gone, leaving the door wide open for one of Semyon Varlarmov or Michal Neuvirth to steal the starters job form one another.
A top line of Ovechkin, Nik Backstrom and Alexander Semin is as good as it gets—as long as the Capitals can get timely scoring and better defense there is no reason to believe that they will not represent the East in the Stanley Cup final.

2. Vancouver Canucks: (2009-10 record—49-28-5—103 points)

Blessed by a ton of offense provided by the Sedin twins and a host of depth players, the Vancouver Canucks should be amongst the NHL’s most potent offenses this season.

Roberto Luongo is always good in the regular season and if he can stay healthy a 40 plus win season is completely within his grasp—no easy task in today’s NHL.

The additions of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard on defense should address the Canucks short comings on the backend, which should alleviate any many of the doubts that came with yet another early exit from the playoff last spring.

3. San Jose Sharks: (2009-10 record—51-20-11—113 points)

With perennial all-star goaltender Evgeni Nabokov out of the picture it remains to be seen whether or not the San Jose Sharks can get it done without him.

The Sharks will go with Antero Niittymaki as their Starter and pray that his excellent 2009-10 campaign was not a fluke—which many experts believe it was.

Up front Joe Thronton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley make up one of the most potent foursomes in the entire NHL, while the Sharks defense led by Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, looks very solid.

As we all know, the Sharks will not be judged by their regular season success—it’s the playoffs that will matter in the end.

With Thornton in the last year of his contract and several other players starting to get a little long in the tooth it’s do or die for the Sharks—expect big things from this squad.

4. Detroit Red Wings: (2009-10 results—44-24-10—98 points)

Even with all the injuries, a goaltending change and a number of aging veterans showing their age in 2009-10, the Detroit Red Wings still managed a more than respectable 98 points.

With the additions of Jiri Hudler and Mike Modano up front and Ruslan Salei on the backend the Red Wings look to be a deeper, more talented team.

Those acquisitions combined with a much healthier roster to start the 2010-11 season, should equate to a much more consistent Red Wings squad that should see big increases in their offensive output—which, in turn, should equate to more wins.

Jimmy Howard is still a bit of a question mark between the pipes, but with 37 wins, a goals against average of 2.29 and a save percentage of .924 and a decent playoff in 2009-10, I don’t see the worry.

The Wings will be tough to beat this season, you can book another long run in the playoffs too!

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: (2009-10 Results—47-28-7—101 points)Even with the injury to Jordan Stall the Pittsburgh Penguins offense should be fine with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way.

The Pens do not have the most intimidating group of wingers on their roster, but the added talent on the backend—most notably Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek—should be enough to off-set their offensive shortcomings and the loss of the oft-injured veteran defenseman, Sergei Gonchar.

The Penguins are not going away—they are a Stanley Cup contender right now.

6. Chicago Blackhawks: (2009-10 results—52-22-8—112 points)

Last years Stanley Cup Champion, the Chicago Blackhawks are likely going to start the season a little tired and with all the roster changes they had to make in order to get under the cap, they might just be a little rusty as well.

The losses of Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Brent Sopel, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager and John Madden are going to hurt this club, as will the loss of Cristobel Huet—although veteran goaltender Marty Turco is a nice replacement.

Jack Skille, Viktor Stalberg and other young guns will have to make up for the losses up front, while the backend will also have to rely on a few youngsters this season.

The Blackhawks took a huge hit in the depth department and have played a ton of hockey. For those reasons, I do not see them being the powerhouse they were in 2009-10 and I do not see them repeating as Stanley Cup Champs.

7. Los Angeles Kings: (2009-10 results—46-29-9—101 points)

With so many young players chomping at the bit to make the Los Angeles Kings NHL roster I suspect the competition for playing time and roster spots will be furious throughout the 2010-11 season.

The Kings feature one of the best stables of young prospects in the entire NHL—assets they can use during the season or at the deadline to acquire players that can/will help them make a long run in the playoffs.

Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson make up one of the best one-two punches on defense in the entire NHL, while up fron the Kings are as deep as any other NHL club.

Jonathan Quick proved to be a steady NHL goalie last season, but with Jonathan Bernier quickly rising to the top, he may find himself playing second fiddle to the talented rookie by season’s end.

Blessed with one of the best skating teams and a defense that most NHL GM”s would kill for, the Kings are poised to go far in 2010-11.

8. New Jersey Devils: (2009-10 results—48-27-7—103 points)

A  lot of “experts” have the Devils finishing a lot higher than eighth overall in the standings, but I will go out on a limb and suggest they will struggle a bit this season.

Sure, Martin Brodeur will probably get close to 40 wins, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise will both score 40 goals and Anton Volchenkov will knock most of the opposing forwards into next week. That said, I am not sold on the Devils bottom six forwards and I just can’t see where all the offense is going to come from on the backend.

Don’t get me wrong, the Devils will be an excellent team, I just see them needing a little bit of time to gel, which will cost them a ranking or two in the standings.

9. Boston Bruins: (2009-10 results—39-30-13—91 points)

If not for the injury to Marc Savard I could see myself ranking the Boston Bruins a few notches higher. That said, given the Bruins struggle to score without the talented set-up man in the lineup, I suspect the Bruins will hover around the top ten all season long.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask should contend for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie, especially when you consider the depth of talent on defense—which is impressive.

Look for veteran defenseman Zdeno Chara to bounce back from a sub-par 2009-10 season—especially in light of the extras minutes he should earn with Savy out of the lineup.

Tyler and Seguin should be a nice addition to a roster badly in need of offense, as should Nathan Horton, who has a very good chance of cracking the 40-goal mark with the Bruins this season.

The Bruins embarrassing playoff choke aside, this is a great team, with a great mix of youngsters and veterans, which should serve the Bruins well.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning: (2009-10 results—34-36-12—80 points)

With legendary NHL forward and decorated international general manager Steve Yzerman running the show in Tampa Bay I have all the confidence in the world that this club will make a huge splash this season—emerging as the NHL”s most improved club and making the playoffs for the first time since dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Up front the Lightning are stacked with Steven Stamkos, Martin St-Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Simon Gagne leading the way.

Steve Downie, Ryan Malone, Teddy Purcell and Carter Ashton round out an impressive top-nine, that can compete with any NHL roster up front.

The knock against the Lightning will be their lack of defense and questionable (at best) goaltending.

That said, I do not think the Lightning’s goaltending is as bad as people make it out to be—both Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are capable goalies who, with a little healthy competition, should push each other for playing time.

On the backend, Voctor Hedman should continue to develop into the premier defenseman everyone thinks he will be, while Pavol Kubina and Mattias Ohlund (who will start the season on the sidelines with a knee injury) should bring a solid veteran presence to the team.

They may not win pretty, but if they can get any kind of goaltending, Tampa has a great shot of making the playoffs this season and may very well be this seasons “Phoenix Coyotes”.

11. Philadelphia Flyers: (2009-10 results—41-35-6—88 points)

Playing with a sense of pride and desperation that was rarely on display during the 2009-10 regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers earned themselves a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with a spirited effort in the playoffs.

Career backup goaltender Michael Leighton established himself as Philly’s go-to goaltender and was rewarded with an of-season deal that should end the Flyers goaltending controversy.

But wait…The Flyers are already facing goaltending issues and we have yet to drop the puck in the first regular season game! Leighton will be on the shelf to start the season, which leaves veteran Brian Boucher and “red-light” Johan Backlund (who does not appear ready for NHL action just yet) as the Flyers one-two punch in net.

The Flyers let Simon Gagne leave for the sun and sand in Tampa Bay and replaced him on the cheap with enigmatic forward Nikolai Zheredev.

Ville Leino and Jeff Carter will need to be consistent in 2010-11, while the Flyers backend made up of Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Sean O’Donnell, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Cobourn, will need to be near flawless defensively to keep their goaltenders out of trouble and out of the press clippings.

Blessed with a tremendous power play, the Flyers should be able to keep their heads above water and, if healthy, should be able to manage another long playoff run….or not.

12. Buffalo Sabres: (2009-10 results—45-27-10—100 points)

With Vezina winning goaltender Ryan Miller in net anything is possible. That is why you cannot write-off the Buffalo Sabres and likely why I will eat a ton of crow when they finish far ahead of where I have positioned them at 12th overall.

Jordan Leopold on defense and Rob Niedermayer up front are the only significant changes to the Sabres’ roster, although one can expect a lot more playing time from Tyler Ennis and Patrick Kaleta this season.

A tough, hard working, defensively sound, grind it out kind of team, the Sabres will win their fair share of games, but will they score enough to climb into the Eastern Conference’s top-five???

If the pre-season has anything to do with it the Sabres will be fine. Me? I want to see them win when it matters.

13. St. Louis Blues: (2009-10 results—40-32-10—90 points)

Boasting a top six that rivals just about any NHL clubs, a maturing defense that has the potential to be amongst the leagues best and the good fortune to have picked up playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to solidify their goaltending, the St. Louis Blues should have enough to make it back to the playoffs after a sub-par 2009-10 season.

Elder-statesmen Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk will not be back on the team, which opens the door up for a number of youngsters and should give the likes of T.J. Oshie and David Perron a much deserved increase in icetime.

If Brad Boyes can return to form and hit the 30 goal mark the Blues will be a dangerous bunch. Look for Andy McDonald and David Backes to have career years and watch for defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to finally make his mark as an NHL defenseman.

14. Phoenix Coyotes: (2009-10 Results—50-25-7—107 points)

After coming out of nowhere to be the surprise team of the 2009-10 season, the Phoenix Coyotes will be hard-pressed to repeat their accomplishment in 2010-11.

The Coyotes lost defenseman Zbynek Michalek and centre Matthew Lombardi to free agency, but added Ray Whitney up front—as player that should benefit from joining the Western Conference with all his speed.

An aging defense looks to be the Coyotes weak spot, but given the fact the team finished with the third ranked defense last season, those alarm bells are likely premature.

Ilya Bryzgalov will be asked to have another Vezina Trophy-calibre season between the pipes—something that is a must given the Coyotes lack of offense, which ranked 24th in 2009-2010.
One of the areas that the Coyotes must improve on is their power play, which ranked a pathetic 28th overall in 2009-10, good enough for a 14.6% success rate.

Don’t expect another 100 point season from this crew, but a playoff spot should be attainable.

15. Colorado Avalanche: (2009-10 Results—43-30-9—95 points)

There is not a lot of love for the Colorado Avalanche this season—many prognosticators have them missing the playoffs after posting a strong record in 2009-10.

I, for one, feel the Avalanche will continue to develop their young players, ending with another playoff birth, albeit just barely.

A strong top-six up front that led the team to the sixth best offense last season, a defense that is improving and tremendous goaltending from Craig Anderson is enough for me to give this young team the nod over the likes of the Calgary Flames, Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks—the three teams many experts have finishing in the coveted eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Look for Peter Mueller to have a big season—posting 20 goals and as many as fifty points. Peter Statsny should be good for an 80 point season, while sophomore forward Matt Duchene should have another solid NHL campaign.

16. Atlanta Thrashers: (2009-10 Results—35-34-13—83 points)

While it is hard to imagine a team that lost it’s franchise player at the deadline last season making the playoffs, I think the depth the Thrashers gained as a result of the trade and some key off-season moves, makes them a playoff team this season.

Up front the Thrashers appear to be an unassuming bunch, but with three members of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks being added to the roster and a full season from Nik Bergfors, I think the Thrashers have enough depth to compete in the East on a nightly basis.

On the backend a top five of Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian (who will be relied upon to replace the offense from the departure of Pavol Kubina), Ron Hainsey (who will need a bounce back season), Johnny Oduya (who will be better this season) and Steady blueliner Brent Sopel, should be good enough to help the Thrashers improve on their 25th ranked defense from 2009-10.

Even with Ilya Kovalchuk in the lineup the Thrashers owned the 25th ranked power play—an area where they will have to improve.

Veteran goaltender Chris Mason should solidify the Thrashers between the pipes, an area where they have been let down in the past.

Someone’s gotta be eighth, why not the Thrashers???

17. Nashville Predators: (2009-10 Results—47-29-6—100 points)

How is it that a team that finished with 100 points and almost knocked off eventual Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks in last years playoffs is going to miss the playoffs in 2010-11? In a word, “depth”.

While almost every NHL fan admires what the defensive combination of newly elected captain Shea Weber and ever rising Ryan Suter can bring to the table, the Predators offense is suspect at best.

Up front the Preds “boast” a first line of the oft-injured Steve Sullivan, Perrenial second/third liner Matthew Lombardi and potential all-star Patrick Hornqvist.

Underachieving David Legwand (who had 38 points in 82 games last season) is a huge concern for the Preds, as is their lack of depth on the third and fourth lines.

Between the pipes Pekka Rinne looks poised to be a 35-game winner in his sleep, but can the Predators get enough offense from their collection of forwards to make a run at the playoffs.

Admittedly, I could be completely wrong about the Preds, but something tells me, given the strength of the Western Conference, that the Preds may fall back this season.

18. Montreal Canadiens: (2009-10 Results—39-33-10—88 points)

As good as the Montreal Canadiens top line is and as good as their defense can be when Andrei Markov is in the lineup, I am not confident in this team making the playoffs with Carey Price leading the way between the pipes.

Immature, mentally flawed and temperamental, Price has never demonstrated the ability to lead the Canadiens and I suspect the pressure of playing in the Mecca of hockey that is Montreal will be the death of this young man.

Look for P.K. Subban to have a huge year, establishing himself as a Norris Candidate right away.

The Habs made very little changes to their roster, which makes me believe their offense will continue to sputter along as it did last season when they finished with the 25th ranked offense.

Strangely enough, the Habs owned the second best power play last season—call it a hunch, I do not see that continuing.

In the end, Price will cost this team a playoff spot and with Alex Auld playing behind them, I do not see the Habs being able to recover from another bad campaign from their young goaler.

19. Calgary Flames: (2009-10 Reuslts—39-33-10—88 points)

Not a lot of support out there for the Calgary Flames these days, especially in light of the questionable signings of Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay—two players that struggled in their first go-around with the Flames.

As bad as those two signings seem, there really wasn’t a lot of options for the Flames, who, given their cap concerns, needed to sign two top six forwards on the cheap.

Toronto Maple Leaf cast-offs Matt Stajan and Nik Hagman will need to contributre secondary scoring if the Flames are to be successful, as will Daymond Langkow—who will need to improve on his 37-point effort from 2009-10.

Between the pipes Mikka Kiprusoff looks to be set to have another huge year, approaching the 40-win mark and emerging as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL.

Will goaltending and a potentially powerful first line be enough to get the Flames into the playoffs? Time will tell, I see them falling just short.

20. Ottawa Senators: (2009-10 Results—44-32-6—94 points)

There are more than a few experts picking the Senators to make the playoffs this season. That said, there are just as many of us out there that feel the Sens will take a step back this season—missing the playoffs.

The Senators lost the services of Anton Volchenkov to the New Jersey Devils—something that is not getting enough press.

Volchenkov’s shot blocking ability, defensive prowess and hitting will be sorely missed by a team that has little to no physical players on the roster.

In a Division and Conference that puts a premium on toughness and truculance, the Sens will likely get pushed around, which will hurt them offensively and perhaps lead to injuries.

On the bright side, Jason Spezza looked excellent during the pre-season and should emerge as an 75-80 point player again.

Alex Kovalev is always a bit of a quagmire—tough to read, plays sporadically and tends to only bring it when he feels like it.

The addition of Sergei Gonchar should help the Senators power play numbers and brings a measure of veteran leadership to the team, but with his injury history, I do not envision him being the “messiah” Ottawa fans are making him out to be.

Between the pipes the Sens look to be mediocre at best, but if one of Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliot can get hot, the Sens will stand a chance (however slim) of making a push for the playoffs).

21. New York Rangers: (2009-10 Results—38-33-11—87 points)

Any team that has goaltender Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes has a chance to win, night-in, night-out.

Trouble is, the Rangers still look very weak offensively—an attribute which killed the teams chances of making the playoffs last season.

The addition of Alexander Frolov should help the Rangers offense, but he’s hardly an all-star talent.

Derek Boogarrd will bring an added element of brawn and intimidation, but that’s never been a weak spot for the Rangers anyways.

Their are a number of questions up front, including, can Chris Drury return to form? Is Erik Christensen really a number one centre? Can Marian Gaborik stay healthy? and is there another 20-goal season left in Vinny Prospal?

On the backend big things are expected of youngsters Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto and Matt Gilroy and, with the loss of Wade Redden (who played in a lot of crucial situations last season), even more will be expected this season.

Martin Biron is a solid addition as the Rangers backup, sadly, he cannot score, which is where the Rangers will fall short again.

22. Anaheim Ducks: (2009-10 Results—39-32-11—89 points)

After missing the playoffs in 2009-10 the Anaheim Ducks will be looking to extract a measure of revenge form their Western Conference foes.

Trouble is, given the departure of iron-man defenseman Scott Niedermayer their is plenty of doubt surrounding the Ducks defense for the first time in about a decade.

To put it all into perspective, the Ducks first defense unit will likely be led by Lubomir Visnovsky—a far cry from their past pairings of Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.

The Ducks first line of Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan is as good as it gets and their second unit of Jason Blake, Saku Koivu and Joffrey Lupul is decent.

Like many NHL clubs, a lot of the Ducks trials and tribulations will be on the third and fourth lines—an area where the Ducks lack depth and toughness.

Goaltender Jonas Hiller should keep the Ducks in most games, but without the benefit of a trade or two to bolster the defense, I just can’t see the Ducks making the playoffs.

23. Toronto Maple Leafs: (2009-10 Results—30-38-14—74 points)

The Toronto Maple Leafs will start the season with a number of new faces in the lineup, including defensemen Brett Lebda and Matt Lashoff and a number of changes to their forward unit, including Colby Armstrong, Kris Versteeg and Tim Brent.

But the changes don’t stop there for the Leafs.

Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke made a number of changes towards the end of the 2009-10 season and at the deadline, bringing in veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere from the Anaheim Ducks, newly elected team captain Dion Phaneuf from the Calgary Flames on defense, Pesky forward Luca Caputi over from the Pittsburgh Penguins and defensive specialist Fredrick Sjostrom over form the Calgary Flames as well.

When you look at all the changes the Maple Leafs have made over the past six months you can clearly see that the 2010-11 edition of the team is nothing like the
underachieving team that “graced” the Air Canada Center in 2009-10, quite the contrary.

This years Maple Leafs will be tougher, faster, deeper and should compete for the final playoff spot in the East.

24. Dallas Stars: (2009-10 Results—37-31-14—88 points)

If the Stars are going to be a playoff team in 2010-11 they will have to get better results on the road where they were a combined 14-20-7 in 2009-10, improve on their penalty kill, which was ranked 27th overall last season and get better goaltending.

The goaltending duties will fall on the shoulders of Kari Lehtonen—who is capable of having an excellent season and, if healthy, may get comeback player of the year consideration.

Up front look for Brenden Morrow to bounce back, while Brad Richards and Louis Eriksson should also have solid campaigns.
James Neal is the player everyone will be watching to do “big things”, but don’t expect him to hit that 70 point mark—at least not yet, anyways.

A thin defense will hamper the Stars chances, as will the fact they play in the ultra tough Western Conference. Too many goals surrendered will kill the Stars chances of making the playoffs, simple as that.

25. Carolina Hurricanes: (2009-10 Results—35-37-10—80 points)

As much as I applaud moving out Rod Brind’Amour and Ray Whitney upfront the Hurricanes did little to improve their top-nine forwards, and I cannot see how adding the likes of Joe Corvo and Bobby Sanguinetti to the backend improves a team that ranked a horrific 26th in defense last season.

Sure, the Hurricanes have Cam Ward between the pipes, which gives them a chance to win most nights, but he cannot do it alone and without the benefit of a few trades, I just can’t see how the Hurricanes have enough toughness and depth to compete for a playoff spot.

Many experts have the Hurricanes ranked in the top ten in the Eastern Conference, but I think they have overvalued a team that lacks character and, despite a good first line of Eric Staal, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, still has plenty of question marks up front—especially along the boards.

26. Minnesota Wild: (2009-10 Results—38-36-8—84 points)

With Mikko Koivu and Martin Havlat leading the way up front the Wild have a decent one-two combo that can win games on their own.

That said, for a team that once prided itself on defense, the transition towards becoming a more offensive minded club has been a difficult one at best.

The Wild finished the 2009-10 season scoring 219 goals (20th ranked offense) while allowing 246 (21st ranked defense)—a differential of -27.

With a stronger defense the Wild can expect to give up fewer goals, but with the only addition to the offense being Matt Cullen, this team is bound to get outscored more times than not.

Goaltender Nik Backstrom should keep the Wild in games, but with little offense in front of him and with a penalty kill that needs work, this is bound to be a long 2010-11 season for the Wild.

27. Florida Panthers: (2009-10 Results—32-37-13—77 points)

The Florida Panthers have been getting a lot of support for making the playoffs, but I think those predictions are both short sighted and foolish.

It is clear that the Panthers will try their best to execute a re-build this season, with an emphasis on shedding salary and stocking up on draft picks in order to solidify their future.

The Panthers future is a lot brighter than today’s roster will ever measure up to be, as such, expect veterans such as Bryan McCabe, Steven Reinprecht, Cory Stillman and goaltender Tomas Vokoun to be gone by season’s end, if not sooner.

Offensively the Panthers were horrible in 2009-10, ranking 28th in total offense and 29th on the power play.

The loss of veteran forward Nathan Horton will only hurt their “offensive game”, which was grim to begin with.

Sophomore defenseman Dmitry Kulikov should emerge as the Panthers’ best defenseman by seasons end, although Dennis Wideman may have something to say about that.

Bottom line: The Panthers are not making the playoffs, and are probably looking at another lottery pick.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets: (2009-10 Results—32-35-15—79 points)

The Columbus Blue Jackets look to be in a free-fall and, unless they can find a legitimate centre to feed Rick Nash the puck—which is doubtful— they are going nowhere, fast!

Goaltender Steve Mason will be looking to bounce back from a very tough 2009-10 season. In all likelihood he will be better, but he will need a lot of help from his blueliners to get his numbers back on track, which, collectively, looks like an underwhelming cast of characters.

A decent top six, followed by a good checking line should ensure the Blue Jackets offense remains ranked in the top 20, but I worry about their overall defense, which was ranked 24th overall last season and may emerge as bad or worse in 2010-11.

A lottery pick may serve the Blue Jackets well where they might just land that coveted centre they so badly need.

29. Edmonton Oilers: (2009-10 Results—27-47-8—62 points)

Everyone is picking the Edmonton Oilers to finish last in 2010-11. I thought I’d be different and pick them to finish 29th!
Finishing with an alarming 62 points in 2009-10, the Oilers have nowhere to go but up this season.

Youngsters Taylor Hall (rookie of the year favorite), Magnus Paajarvi and Jordan Eberle should bring a spark to an otherwise unmotivated team this season, while Shawn Horcoff, Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky will all be asked to have much better seasons.

With Sheldon Souray not returning, the Oilers will have to rely heavily on defensemen Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert to lead the troops on the backend—a tall order for sure!

Bewteen the pipes the Oilers will hope that Nikolai Khabibulin can return in-shape, sober and on point—which may also be a tall order!

While Edmonton fans are very high on this team, the mere fact that the Oilers look to have assembled a tremendous cast for the future and the chance that they could finish out of the basement might be enough to entice the fans to come back.

Where the Oilers are still lacking is in the toughness department, something general manager Steve Tambellini will have to address at some point during the season.

Huge upside, but don’t expect big things form the Oilers just yet. That top five pick should be another beauty!

30. New York Islanders: (2009-10 Results—34-37-11—79 points)

The New York Islanders look destined to finish last in the East. Fact is, they simply do not have the horses to compete with their Eastern Conference foes, night-in, night-out and, given the severity of the injuries to defenseman Mark Streit, their chances just got dimmer.

Goaltender Dwayne Roloson will likely face a ton of shots and see plenty of action. Rick DiPietro’s future looks pretty grim, and with the Islanders paying him $4.5 million this season, he continues to handcuff the organization both financially and on the ice—where he is nowhere to be seen on most nights!

Up front the Islanders have a number of players with tremendous upside, but outside of John Tavares (who fizzled out last season), Matt Moulson (who will have a tough time repeating last season totals) and Kyle Okposo, the Islanders have a very ordinary forward corps.

Look for Frans Nielson to have a decent season—perhaps hitting that 20-goal mark.

Otherwise, the 2010-11 season is shaping up to be another painful one for the Islanders, with another lottery pick being the end reward.

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