Well, dear readers, it’s that time of the year. These are the first of my whenever-I feel-like-it NHL team ratings, which have changed since my first tally for the bi-weekly USA Today panel upon which I proudly serve. The USA Today ballot ranking for each team is in parentheses.
1 – Bruins (1)
They will be raising the only banner that matters. That’s good enough for the top spot right now.
2 – Canucks (2)
They came within a win of the Cup, and they are deserving of the top Western slot as the season begins.
3 – Red Wings (3)
Call them old, but also call them the likely Western Conference favorites.
4 – Penguins (10)
A motivated Evgeni Malkin is worth a big jump in this poll.
5 – Capitals (4)
This isn’t April, which means they should be feared.
6 – Devils (7)
No way they start horribly two consecutive years, right?
7 – Kings (8)
They’ll be the best team in La-La Land even when (if) the Lakers start playing ball.
8 – Sharks (5)
Good idea to shake up the roster after another disappointing postseason.
9 – Lightning (6)
How that system holds up in Year 2 of the Guy Boucher tenure is up for debate.
10 – Ducks (11)
The hockey world, not just Southern California, is better for Teemu Selanne playing one last season in the NHL.
11 – Blackhawks (9)
Patrick Kane as a center… uh, anybody remember that Sidney Crosby as a winger experiment?
12 – Canadiens (13)
They took the Bruins to seven games in Round 1 last spring, and that was with a depleted defense corps.
13 – Rangers (12)
Quietly, John Tortorella has remolded them in his image. Look for big things this season.
14 – Sabres (15)
A whole lot of spending money for Western New York’s club should pay off in the form of help for Ryan “Captain America” Miller.
15 – Hurricanes (14)
They’re better this season, but so is most of the Eastern Conference.
16 – Flyers (17)
Jaromir Jagr looked great on the power play in September. It was September.
17 – Maple Leafs (19)
A strong start is a must for this playoff drought to end.
18 – Predators (16)
Score. Some. Goals. Please.
19 – Islanders (22)
No, this isn’t a typographical error.
20 – Flames (23)
Tick, tock goes the clock on the great Jarome Iginla’s realistic chance to bring the Cup back to Calgary.
21 – Coyotes (24)
This much is guaranteed: Dave Tippett will get the most out of this group.
22 – Blue Jackets (20)
They are definitely capable of making a huge jump in these rankings over the next few weeks.
23 – Panthers (27)
That is one mad chemistry experiment in South Florida. At least the jerseys are red again.
24 – Wild (25)
It was a bold move by former Penguins assistant GM Chuck Fletcher to hire former Penguins assistant coach Mike Yeo to be the man in the State of Hockey.
25 – Avalanche (26)
After the mess of last season, should there be any job security in Denver?
26 – Blues (21)
They have an awful lot of ground to make up in arguably the league’s best division.
27 – Oilers (29)
Bet on this being the last season to kick around these kids.
28 – Jets (18)
Winnipeg crowds will be amazing. The home team – not so much.
29 – Stars (29)
Alex Goligoski might need to be at Norris Trophy-level for them to make a playoff run.
30 – Senators (30)
Same goes for Sergei Gonchar and these guys.