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Caps atop offseason rankings

Though arbitator Richard Bloch made Ilya Kovalchuk's ultimate destination a bit hazy as of this writing, it is possible to get a decent handle on where all 30 teams stand as summer glides toward September training camps.

A reminder: These rankings are based on many factors, and not one is scientific. They're heavily influenced by taking into account expectations versus achievement and my uncannily intuitive gut calls on how each team stacks up against the rest of the Original 30. Please note that I, unlike some referees, do not have it in for your team and no homer glasses of any color were worn during the establishment of these rankings.

Want to send me a comment about the rankings or maybe a cool video clip that cries out to be shared? Scroll to the bottom of this page for my Mailbag. I read 'em all and if you're halfway civil -- or at least clever in your skewering of my decisions -- I'll try to get back to you.

Biggest climb: Flyers (25 to 4)

Biggest fall: Flames (14 to 23)

NHL Power Rankings
1Washington Capitals
Last Week: 1
Possibly the most important offseason in club history has been little more than re-signing several young components (Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann and Jeff Schultz, etc.) and sweeping out the trash on the blueline to create real opportunities for John Carlson and Karl Alzner. But honestly, what else did George McPhee need to do? The Caps are loaded up and down the roster. Rather than make some regrettably overpriced free agent acquisition, he can fine tune the engine down the stretch. All things considered, it's the right approach.
 
2Chicago Blackhawks
Last Week: 6
Tough not to rank the defending Cup champs at No. 1 until you consider that just 11 members of last season's squad will be on hand for the banner-raising ceremony. GM Stan Bowman saved the ship, but threw everything that wasn't nailed down overboard, including starting goalie Antti Niemi. To his credit, Bowman kept the defense intact, and that should make life easier for new stopper Marty Turco. But with so many forwards wearing Hello, My Name Is tags, it could take time for the offense to gel.
 
3Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Week: 10
No doubt some among the Pens' faithful are still stinging from the loss of Sergei Gonchar, but the savvy signings of free agents Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek give the team what should be a more effective top-four. GM Ray Shero is still shopping for a top-six winger (in other news, dogs make great pets!), but the Pens will hardly struggle to score without one. This looks like a very dangerous team.
 
4Philadelphia Flyers
Last Week: 25
The Stanley Cup finalists will continue to face questions about goaltending, but from this vantage point they look like a more formidable unit thanks to a deeper blueline (Andrei Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell make for a dangerous third pair) and a forwards corps that includes 15 legitimate NHL skaters. If Ville Leino keeps up his playoff pace and Nikolai Zherdev delivers on his talent, the Flyers are a strong bet to win the East.
 
5San Jose Sharks
Last Week: 5
San Jose Sharks (51-20-11)
Despite all the positive spin suggesting that this year's playoff exit was a far cry from a choke job, the fact is the Sharks failed to advance out of the conference again. Someone had to pick up the tab for yet another disappointment, and Evgeni Nabokov got stuck with the check. For now, Antero Niittymaki and Thomas Greiss man the pipes. Despite strength advantages elsewhere on the roster, is anyone in San Jose really excited by that prospect?
 
6Vancouver Canucks
Last Week: 4
GM Mike Gillis recognized that his blueline simply wasn't salty enough to man up against the best in the West. His bold response might have altered the balance of power in the conference. Signing free agent Dan Hamhuis and swapping for Keith Ballard should pay big dividends next spring. Both are reliable minute-munchers who'll help mitigate the loss of perpetually injured Sami Salo. They could still use some additional scoring punch, but the Canucks are in the mix.
 
7Los Angeles Kings
Last Week: 12
An NHL exec described them to me earlier this summer as a bona fide contender. I politely disagreed. No doubt the pieces are in place for a run long-term, but the inability to address their most pressing need (no, Alexei Ponikarovsky is not a reliable top-six forward) or bring in a veteran blueliner suggests that, while they are trending up, the Kings are not quite in the same class as the big boys just yet.
 
8New Jersey Devils
Last Week: 9
Tough to get an accurate read on this team until the Kovalchuk situation is settled, but it's been an eventful offseason even without taking that cap-flaunting contract into consideration. The Devils repatriated Jason Arnott from the Preds to solidify the middle, brought in Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder to replace the departed Paul Martin, and signed to maybe, possibly, hopefully, reduce some of the wear and tear on the aging Martin Brodeur. Kovy or not, it won't be smart to write off the Devils.
 
9Detroit Red Wings
Last Week: 2
Returning home to Motown might help Mike Modano find the desire that's been missing from his game the past couple seasons, but it's just as likely that Detroit's biggest off-season acquisition will quickly recognize how far he's beyond his best-by date. He won't be the only one, either. The Wings could dress as many as nine players who are least 35, and that seems like a roster that dips too far into the "early bird special" crowd. Mike Babcock will keep them competitive, but the graying of the Wings might finally catch up to them.
 
10Phoenix Coyotes
Last Week: 3
Phoenix Coyotes (50-25-7)
Has Cinderella lost the other glass slipper? One year after emerging as the surprise story of the NHL, the Yotes appear positioned to take a big step back. While they added veteran scorer Ray Whitney to bolster the attack, they lost two of last season's most critical components: Zbynek Michalek and Matt Lombardi. The plan is to give the kids a chance to step up (Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the blueline, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker up front). Long term, it's the right approach. Short term, Phoenix will be hard pressed to build on last season's success.
11Boston Bruins
Last Week: 16
Boston Bruins (39-30-13)
The league's lowest scoring team last season added instant impact in the hulking form of winger Nathan Horton, and long-term promise in second-overall pick Tyler Seguin, but beyond those fresh faces this was a summer of maintenance for Peter Chiarelli. Boston's GM spent his time dancing around the cap while re-signing Dennis Seidenberg, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, Johnny Boychuk, Dan Paille and Shawn Thornton. He still has some pruning to do -- Marco Sturm won't be on LTIR forever -- but this team should compete for the division title.
 
12Buffalo Sabres
Last Week: 8
Buffalo Sabres (45-27-10)
Is Ryan Miller still under contract? Then the Sabres are fine. Still, is there anything other than the presence of the world's best goalie to get the fans' blood pumping this season? Replacing Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman on the blueline with Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold rates a massive meh, and while Rob Niedermayer will bring an honest effort, he's a diminishing resource. If you liked that first-round exit last season, get ready for more of the same.
 
13Nashville Predators
Last Week: 7
They lost Jason Arnott and Dan Hamhuis and added Matt Lombardi, Ryan Parent and Sergei Kostitsyn. A typical offseason for a team that is stuck in a rut. You know they'll show up with a hard hat and their lunch packed, but they haven't done anything that suggests they'll be more than a group of hard-working ham-and-eggers. At some point they'll start delivering something more, right? Right?
 
14Colorado Avalanche
Last Week: 18
It was a stay-the-course summer for last season's most surprising club, with defensive forward Daniel Winnik the only notable addition or subtraction. A solid strategy over the long haul, but it wouldn't be a surprise if the young nucleus -- or standout goaltender Craig Anderson -- stumbles while taking that next step forward. The return of David Jones should bolster an offense that only needs consistency to go along with its impressive potential.
 
15Carolina Hurricanes
Last Week: 23
A solid second half proved the Canes weren't as brutal as they looked in October and November, but this is still a team deep in transition. Gone are vets Rod Brind'Amour and Ray Whitney, meaning larger roles must be earned by Brandon Sutter, Zach Boychuk and Drayson Bowman. Joe Corvo and Anton Babchuk were brought back to bring some zip to a defense that was among the league's worst. If Cam Ward can avoid a recurrence of his back woes, the 'Canes could challenge for a playoff spot.
 
16Atlanta Thrashers
Last Week: 24
Oh, to be a program vendor in Atlanta. Those guys will be able to retire on the proceeds as fans try to put faces to the names of a new GM (Rick Dudley), coach (highly-regarded Boston assistant Craig Ramsay), and four former members of the Stanley Cup champions who now reside in Blueland. None of those ex-Hawks are named Kane or Toews, so we're not talking about an overnight reversal of fortunes, but the new-look Thrashers should be a considerably tougher out than in the past.
 
17St. Louis Blues
Last Week: 17
St. Louis Blues (40-32-10)
There's a lot of frustration bubbling up in Blues fandom, but that's to be expected when a team preaches development from within...and actually sticks to the plan. Now that the old folks (Paul Kariya, Keith Tkachuk) have moved on, this season will focus on the continued development of high-value prospects like Erik Johnson and Alex Pietrangelo on the back end and David Perron and T.J. Oshie up front. Whether this team can contend for the playoffs, though, will come down to the play of Jaroslav Halak. If he looks anything like the guy who Rick rolled the Caps and Pens, the kids will be alright.
 
18Montreal Canadiens
Last Week: 11
They tabbed Carey Price as their goalie of the future, shipping Halak to the Blues for promising forward Lars Eller, but it's been an otherwise dreary summer in Montreal. Alex Auld is the new backup (yawn), Alexander Avtsin is the hot new prospect, and Andrei Markov became a Canadian citizen. Any other town and this team would be relegated to page eight of the sports section.
 
19Anaheim Ducks
Last Week: 15
Anaheim Ducks (39-32-11)
Teemu and Saku are back, the captain is gone, and Bobby Ryan still doesn't have a deal. Fair to say this summer has done little to raise expectations after the Ducks missed the playoffs last spring. Assuming Ryan eventually signs, Anaheim won't have trouble scoring, but that defense looks awfully soft. It'll be interesting to see if top pick Cam Fowler makes the club out of camp. He already has the NHL puck skills that would help replace some of what brought to the equation, but a return to Windsor seems like a more sensible management of his development.
 
20Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Week: 29
They could be the must-watch team of 2010-11. The new attitude in Tampa started with owner Jeff Vinik, who gave the team instant credibility when he lured Steve Yzerman from the Red Wings. The new GM quickly re-signed Martin St. Louis, traded for scoring (Simon Gagne), blueline (Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina) and goaltending (Dan Ellis) depth, and created long-term cap space by dealing Andrei Meszaros and Matt Walker. Can't wait to see what he does after lunch or what this rejuvenated lineup can do under the guidance of new coach Guy Boucher.
21Ottawa Senators
Last Week: 13
Ottawa Senators (44-32-6)
They made the most surprising splash of the summer when they signed Sergei Gonchar moments after the start of free agency, and he'll serve as the ideal mentor for outstanding young defender Erik Karlson. But while that duo should help keep the puck moving, who's going to put the puck in the net? Roman Wick and Bobby Butler will get first crack at addressing that question, but don't expect either to be a real answer.
 
22New York Rangers
Last Week: 19
New York Rangers (38-33-11)
If nothing else, the long-suffering Blueshirt faithful have to be thrilled that Glen Sather didn't spend his summer handing out goofy, unjustifiable contracts to aging, over-rated...oh, wait. Alright, the inexplicable Derek Boogaard deal aside, Slats actually won some points for nabbing intriguing free agent Mats Zuccarello-Aasen (top scorer in Sweden last season) and the low-risk contract he gave to Alex Frolov. Neither is a sure thing, but both bring hope of improvement. Adding Martin Biron to lighten Henrik Lundqvist's load was another solid move.
 
23Calgary Flames
Last Week: 14
Calgary Flames (40-32-10)
Look, I won't for one minute suggest that I know more about this game than Darryl Sutter, so I have to concede that his decision to bring back Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay could turn out to be a stroke of pure hockey genius. But we all know it won't be, right? I mean, high marks for hiring Jay Feaster, but those deals paint a picture of a man who has simply run out of things to throw at the wall in the hope that something sticks. There's still enough talent that you can't write the Flames off, but this doesn't look like a club worth taking seriously.
 
24Florida Panthers
Last Week: 28
Florida Panthers (32-37-13)
Lost in all the LeBron-Bosh-Wade hype that dominates the Miami sports scene is the fact that new GM Dale Tallon -- you know, the guy who built the 2010 champion Blackhawks? -- scrapped together a pretty decent first summer in South Florida. Tallon dazzled at the draft, coming away with a trio of promising first-rounders, moved malcontent Nathan Horton, and added a couple of former first-rounders in Steve Bernier and Michael Grabner to his forward corps. The Panthers remain a work in progress, but they've got their feet moving and in the right direction for a change.
 
25New York Islanders
Last Week: 20
Here are the offseason acquisitions of a non-playoff team: Milan Jurcina, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Zenon Konopka and Mark Eaton. How'd you like to get up in the morning and face the prospect of selling season tickets with those names as your enticement? The Isles are drafting well and eventually the young talent will force its way to the top (Kirill Petrov could make the jump this year, as could 2010 first-rounder Nino Niederreiter). Until then, this team will battle the Leafs for the bottom rung on the Eastern ladder.
 
26Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Week: 21
Youth didn't serve them particularly well last season, but that won't deter a plan to get even younger this year. Nazem Kadri and recent signee Jerry D'Amigo have a chance to contribute, but the pressure will be on newly-acquired wingers Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong to make a top-six impact. The forward group could acquire another significant piece if Tomas Kaberle is traded, as expected.
 
27Dallas Stars
Last Week: 22
Dallas Stars (37-31-14)
Parting ways with Modano and Turco was a bold step into the future, but that first stride might take the Stars right over the cliff. New starter Kari Lehtonen brings more questions than answers in goal and with no improvement to an overmatched blueline, he and new backup Andrew Raycroft could be ready for summer by Thanksgiving. Even in a best-case scenario (youngster Scott Glennie makes the jump and James Neal, Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn continue to develop into premier scoring forwards), the Stars look like a long shot to make the playoffs.
 
28Minnesota Wild
Last Week: 26
Minnesota Wild (38-36-8)
They are the very picture of a team going nowhere. GM Chuck Fletcher was busy, signing franchise center Mikko Koivu to a possible retirement deal and adding useful pivot Matt Cullen through free agency. Still, this is a club that has too little pop up front and too little depth on the back end to be taken seriously. This looks like another long, frustrating year in the State of Hockey.
 
29Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Week: 27
When the big offseason acquisition is Oilers castoff Ethan Moreau, it's a good bet that Nationwide Arena will have plenty of available dates come early April. Still, there's reason for hope in Columbus, starting with a revamped coaching staff that includes Scott Arniel, Bob Boughner and Bard Berry. It's a youth-oriented group that seems well suited to get the most out of the team's young talent. And if Steve Mason rebounds, and Nikita Filatov grows up, the Jackets could surprise.
 
30Edmonton Oilers
Last Week: 30
Edmonton Oilers (27-47-8)
A trio of high-end prospects -- Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Eberle -- will make the Oil worth watching this season and for many more to come, but Edmonton has the look of the league's punching bag yet again. The coaching carousel continued (here's the key to the executive offices, Pat Quinn), Nikolai Khabibulin's drunk driving issues have yet to be resolved, and the young nucleus (particularly Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano) must bounce back from disappointing seasons.
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