31. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks are in full-on tank mode – they just don’t know it yet.
30. Detroit Red Wings – Detroit doesn’t have much in the way of quality prospects – or NHL players for that matter. With an ugly cap sheet, it should be a long season in the newly-opened Little Caesars Arena.
29. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs were historically bad last season, and the Matt Duchene soap opera remains unresolved. Some improvement is possible, but don’t hold your breath.
28. Vegas Golden Knights – No one knows what the Knights will look like this year, but we can safely assume that a lack of quality blueliners will keep them out of the playoffs.
27. New Jersey – Things are looking up in New Jersey with Nico Hischier joining to a solid forward group, but a porous blueline and aging Cory Schneider should ensure another lottery-bound season.
26. Florida Panthers – Florida had an all-time bad off-season, and their regular season isn’t looking much more promising. Barkov, Ekblad, and Huberdeau give them hope for the future, while Luongo will keep them in games.
25. Arizona Coyotes – The Coyotes had a fantastic off-season, carving out an extremely respectable blueline in the process. However, the litany of young forwards leaves one to wonder if they’ll be anything more than a fringe playoff team.
24. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers have amassed a nice stable of young talent, with Nolan Patrick headlining the group. However, a lack of overall depth and star talent keeps them from true playoff contention.
23. Boston Bruins – Although the Bruins boast perhaps the best first line in hockey, their roster features a slew of veterans on their last legs. A playoff-less season is in play.
22. New York Islanders – In what could be John Tavares’ last season wearing an Islanders jersey, General Manager Garth Snow added Jordan Eberle, and that’s all. A nice group of young forwards could see them push for a playoff spot.
21. Buffalo Sabres – Buffalo had a noisy off-season, with changes coming behind the bench and in the front office, but they may indeed be better for it. Solid goaltending and top-end talent will keep them in the mix, but their blueline remains a question mark.
20. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes added solid veterans in Justin Williams and Marcus Kruger over the summer to an up-and-coming roster filled with young talent. With Bill Peters calling the shots behind the bench, they could claim their first playoff berth since 2009.
19. Los Angeles Kings – Los Angeles’ front office has said all the right things this offseason, claiming that they’ll turn sparkling possession numbers into goals, but that remains much to be seen.
18. Ottawa Senators – Although Ottawa did just make a magical run to the Eastern Conference Final, they’ll be hard pressed to repeat the feat with a so-so forward group and crowded Atlantic Division.
17. St. Louis Blues — Losing Robby Fabbri for the season hurts, and Coach Mike Yeo still has to prove he can lead a team deep into the post-season. Although the Blues have a solid core, missing the playoffs is certainly in play.
16. Winnipeg Jets – The Jets boast an impressive collection of star talent up front, but questions in net and behind the bench keep them out of a sure-fire playoff berth – for now.
15. Calgary Flames – Calgary gave a huge boost to an already potent blueline with the addition of Travis Hamonic, but no one really knows how good Mike Smith will be, and their forward depth remains questionable at best.
14. San Jose Sharks – The playoffs have been a staple of recent Sharks’ history, but that’s now an open question thanks to a shaky blueline and an aging core. Youngsters like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc need to take a step forward for another deep playoff run.
13. Chicago Blackhawks – Chicago’s roster still features familiar names, but the pseudo-retirement of Marian Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson’s departure takes a significant chunk out of their depth. Young players like Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy will have to step up for the Hawks to reclaim their former glory.
12. Minnesota Wild – The Bruce Boudreau-led Wild boast one of the deepest lineups in the league, but a lack of true star talent and aging leadership keeps them outside of the top-10.
11. Dallas Stars – Dallas’s off-season garnered the most popular acclaim, yet even with an improved blueline and goaltending situation, it remains to be seen if Ken Hitchcock can turn them into a competent defensive club. Scoring goals won’t be an issue.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets took the league by storm last season thanks to a dynamite power play, high-octane offense, and elite goaltending. They’ll be great once again, but John Tortorella has never been known for his longevity behind the bench, casting some doubt on this team’s ceiling.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs – Everything seemed to go right in Toronto last season, as Auston Matthews stepped into stardom while pushing the Washington Capitals in the first round. Year 2 of Mike Babcock should mean further growth, but a spotty blueline keeps them from being truly elite.
8. Washington Capitals – The Capitals had a lackluster off-season, and their aging core – although very good – can’t seem to beat the Penguins. They’ll be near the top of the Eastern Conference once again, but this season does feel like the beginning of a steady decline.
7. Edmonton Oilers – Two words: Connor McDavid. Depending on who you ask, the Oilers have the best player in the world on their team, which covers up just about any issue. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is poised for a bounce-back season, while Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom form one of the better first pairings in the league.
6. Montreal Canadiens – The Habs are firmly in win-now mode, as evidenced by Carey Price’s mega-extension over the summer. A full-year of Claude Julien behind the bench, the addition of Jonathan Drouin, and growth from the likes of Artturi Lehkonen and Charles Hudon could mean a deep playoff run for Montreal.
5. New York Rangers – The Rangers have long been criticized for their blueline depth, but that could prove to be one of their greatest strengths this season. Kevin Shattenkirk’s arrival along with another step forward from Brady Skjei means less work for Henrik Lundqvist, which should mean more wins in the Big Apple.
4. Anaheim Ducks – Even with early season injuries to Hampus Lindholm and Ryan Kesler, the Ducks figure to be one of the last teams standing in April thanks to a deep group of forwards and defensemen, as well as the promising John Gibson in net.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning – The Bolts have been a bit M.I.A in recent seasons thanks to a slew of key injuries, but when healthy, there are very few teams that can keep up with the skill and tactical excellence that they bring to the table. Health will ultimately decide their fate.
2. Nashville Predators – Ryan Ellis’ injury may hurt Nashville’s playoff positioning, but that hardly mattered when they swept the division-leading Blackhawks in the first round last season. With Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson once again leading the charge up front, the Preds’ will pick up right where they left off last season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins can do no wrong when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in the lineup, and until that changes, they remain the best team in the NHL. Matt Murray figures to be a year better, while a healthy Kris Letang means more nightmares for the rest of the Eastern Conference.