Welcome to the first edition of the Twisted Wrister, SI's new weekly NHL column. We'll do a little bit of everything here. We'll do some rankings, explore some trends, talk to players and try to make sense of what just happened in the hockey world.
We start this week with a more typical version of rankings—top to bottom, 1–31. With the season about to start, let's see where each team stands. We'll go through what's good and what's bad.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
What's Good: Um, everything. There is no team in the league that matches the Bolts on paper. Best and deepest offense. Top-notch defense. Best goalie in the game. There should be no reason why they don't romp through the regular season.
What's Bad: That playoff hangover. And not the post-Cup, Washington kind. There has yet to be a full accounting for what happened against Columbus, how the best team in the league could look so ordinary, so hapless. This won't be solved right away—in fact, this narrative may never go away unless they win a Cup.
2. Boston Bruins
What's Good: This is pretty much the same team as last year. Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are back. Tukka Rask and Jaro Halak are a fantastic pair in net.
What's Bad: Is it too much to ask for a bit more secondary scoring? This was a one-line-heavy team for most of the year. Can Charlie Coyle, who was pretty good in the playoffs, continue that production in the new season?
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
What's Good: Mitch Marner is back home. Tyson Jost and Cody Ceci will upgrade the defense. Jason Spezza is perfect in a depth role. Rasmus Sandin looks like the real deal.
What's Bad: We still have more to learn about the Auston Matthews situation. Losing Nazem Kadri might hurt more than they think. And is Frederik Andersen the best option in net?
4. St. Louis Blues
What's Good: They kept largely the same team, and added Justin Faulk. Youngsters like Robert Thomas and Zach Sanford will continue to develop.
What's Bad: Pat Maroon, who was one of the engines of that team both on and off the ice, is in Tampa Bay. Jordan Binnington was ridiculous down the stretch last year, but is that sustainable?
5. Nashville Predators
What's Good: Matt Duchene appears to be the offensive threat they've long needed. And now there's more depth up front. Nick Bonino as your fourth line center is pretty good.
What's Bad: The Preds are asking a lot of 21-year-old Dante Fabbro on defense. Plus, Steven Santini and Dan Hamhuis won't wow anyone as a third pair.
6. Vegas Golden Knights
What's Good: A full season of Mark Stone and what looks like an elite first line.
What's Bad: Some really good players had to go, like Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Colin Miller and Erik Haula.
7. Calgary Flames
What's Good: The entire offense is back, now that Matthew Tkachuk is in the fold.
What's Bad: The goaltending situation. It might be worse: David Rittich had a lot of good moments, but he didn't start in the playoffs for a reason. Cam Talbot hasn't been good for a while.
8. Washington Capitals
What's Good: An offense as good as any. And deep, too.
What's Bad: The defense is definitely worse without Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. Radko Gudas often causes more trouble than he’s worth.
9. San Jose Sharks
What's Good: Erik Karlsson is back. Youngsters like Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc are really good.
What's Bad: Joe Pavelski is gone as he’s coming off a career year. Meanwhile, Martin Jones is here as he’s coming off his worst year ever.
10. Dallas Stars
What's Good: Pavelski adds a ton of scoring depth. Lots of good youngsters, and we haven't even really seen Denis Gurianov. Exciting, mobile defense. Ben Bishop has been fantastic.
What's Bad: Pavelski is 35. Will he be the difference maker needed for a team that had trouble scoring in the playoffs?
11. Colorado Avalanche
What's Good: A remade second line with Kadri and Andre Burakovksy. That line will be even better now that Mikko Rantanen is signed. Plus, we get a full season of Cale Makar.
What's Bad: Is a full year of Philipp Grubauer the answer?
12. Montreal Canadiens
What's Good: Another season under the belts of solid youngsters. The addition of Nick Suzuki.
What's Bad: Uncertainty over Shea Weber and his health. Young defensive core. Is Jonathan Drouin on the move?
13. Winnipeg Jets
What's Good: A still-elite first line. Good youngsters, and both Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor are back.
What's Bad: No Jacob Trouba. Possibly no Dustin Byufglien. It was a bad season last year for Connor Hellebuyck and it could be a mess on defense.
14. Carolina Hurricanes
What's Good: Jake Gardiner. Another year from Andrei Svechnikov. Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel make up a pretty good third line. Joel Edmundson was a really good return for Justin Faulk.
What's Bad: No Justin Williams. Faulk was still pretty good. Uncertainty in net—can Petr Mrazek ever be more than just streaky?
15. Pittsburgh Penguins
What's Good: Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Kris Letang. Maybe a bounce-back season from Alex Galchenyuk?
What's Bad: Which Matt Murray are they going to get? This team might be betting on too much from Galchenyuk, Dominik Kahun and Brandon Tanev.
16. Florida Panthers
What's Good: The Panthers found an answer in net with Sergei Bobrovsky and are led by Hall of Fame coach in Joel Quenneville, plus elite offensive talent.
What's Bad: There’s still questionable defensive depth and we can’t forget the stretches when Bobrovsky disappeared.
17. New York Rangers
What's Good: Artemi Panarin. Kaap Kakko. Jacob Trouba. And don’t forget the vastly underrated Mika Zibenejad.
What's Bad: They have a really young back half of the defense and questionable scoring depth. Plus, an aging Henrik Lundqvist.
18. Arizona Coyotes
What's Good: A good situation in net. Phil Kessel. Really good end-of-year play from Nick Schmaltz.
What's Bad: Can Antti Raanta stay healthy? Is Darcy Keumper the real deal? Where’s the scoring depth?
19. Chicago Blackhawks
What's Good: An Elite offensive talent and an improved defense.
What's Bad: Who's the goalie? Was Robin Lehner just a product of Barry Trotz's system?
20. New York Islanders
What's Good: Same offensive squad. Derick Brassard was a sneaky good signing.
What's Bad: Young defense. Is Semyon Varlamov the answer in net?
21. New Jersey Devils
What's Good: Jack Hughes. P.K. Subban. Wayne Simmonds. Nikita Gusev.
What's Bad: Weak defense after the first pair. Who's the goalie?
22. Philadelphia Flyers
What's Good: Kevin Hayes and Alain Vigneault work well together and the offense should get a boost. Niskanen and Ivan Provorov are a legit first pair. Carter Hart looked like the real deal.
What's Bad: But is Hart the real deal? Defense after the top duo could be shaky.
23. Vancouver Canucks
What's Good: Hopefully a full season of Elias Pettersson. Quinn Hughes will be a Calder candidate.
What's Bad: Jacob Markstrom has just been okay in ne and the rest of the defense is shaky.
24. Minnesota Wild
What's Good: Full seasons of Kevin Fiala, Ryan Donato and hopefully Matthew Dumba. A top-four defense as good as any.
What's Bad: Devan Dubnyk might be on the decline and they’re banking on offensive improvement from far too many guys.
25. Columbus Blue Jackets
What's Good: There’s still a top-tier defense and still some high-end scoring.
What's Bad: The goalie situation is tenuous. And are they deflated after swinging for it and striking out?
26. Buffalo Sabres
What's Good: They've shown they can win and Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin are enviable cornerstones.
What's Bad: They've also shown they can lose, plus there are questions in net.
27. Edmonton Oilers
What's Good: Connor McDavid is healthy. There’s no better one-two punch between him and Leon Draisaitl.
What's Bad: Defense has simply been neglected.
28. Detroit Red Wings
What's Good: Dylan Larkin is a star and there are some intriguing youngsters.
What's Bad: It’s a rough-looking defense and there’s no real answer in net.
29. Anaheim Ducks
What's Good: John Gibson is one of the best in the league. They have a few good-looking youngsters and still have some good defenders.
What's Bad: There’s just no elite offensive talent.
30. Los Angeles Kings
What’s Good: Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty remain two of the best in the league.
What's Bad: There’s an uncertainty on defense past Doughty and a lot of money tied up in unproductive players. Is this the end of Jonathan Quick?
31. Ottawa Senators
What's Good: Thomas Chabot has multiple-time Vezina talent.
What's Bad: Nearly everything else.
Things that caught our eye this week:
1. Cammi Granato becoming a pro scout for Seattle. This is awesome. More of this, please.
2. The Jack Hughes–Kaapo Kakko rivarly will be awesome to see. Both have looked good in preseason, but Hughes has looked especially impressive. There's a quiet dominance to his game. But the two will grow up together, play each other often and reassert this rivalry.
3. The Hurricanes came out really well in the Faulk trade. Joel Edmundson is solid and has a Cup under his belt. Dominik Bokk had 23 points in first season in the Swedish Elite League. Jake Gardiner had five less points in 20 fewer games than Faulk. They should be fine.
The Random Ranking
Our very subjective ranking of something hockey-related:
This Week: The best young defensive cores
The Profile: Samuel Girard, Colorado Avalanche
There’s a tornado brewing in Samuel Girard’s house. Okay, not a real tornado. It’s Tornado the dog, a goldendoodle he and his girlfriend just bought. (It’s actually tornade to Girard, the French pronunciation for the native Quebecois.) Girard, the 21-year-old Colorado defenseman, says it was a gift for his girlfriend, and he has a lot of reasons for sharing the wealth. After a breakout season in which he established himself as a legitimate first-pair defenseman, the Avalanche rewarded him with a seven-year, $35 million contract. “It was kind of like a dream for me,” says Girard after a recent practice, with Tornado yipping in the background. “I really like Denver, the organization, the fans. It feels like home. So when my agent called and told me the deal was done, I was very happy.” (So was his family: There were some tears shed back home in Roverbal, Quebec.)
The 5’10”, 170-pound defenseman is a smooth skater, who will probably produce more offense as time goes on. He had four goals and 23 assists, but will see more ice time this year. He often drew the opponent’s top line last year, and he will do that even more now that Tyson Barrie was traded. And though the Avs’ defense (2.98 goals per game) wasn’t quite as good as their offense (3.15), they picked things up in the playoffs, with a surprising 4–1 series win over top-seeded Calgary. They then took San Jose to a seventh game. “We knew that we could beat [Calgary],” he says. “We know our qualities on the ice.”
There’s plenty of good to focus on, especially on the blue line. There will be a full season of Cale Makar, the electric 20-year-old, along with solid veterans in Erik Johnson and Nikita Zadarov. The third pairing is still up for grabs.
But for Girard, things are settled. He’ll be in Denver for a while. He’ll see first-line minutes on a Cup-contending team. And, of course, he has a Tornado to deal with.
“We have a good team,” he says. “A lot of people think we’re going to go far. But it’s on us. If we’re as good as everyone thinks, I think we can go far and win a lot of games.”
A few games on our radar this week:
San Jose at Vegas, Oct. 2
Boston at Dallas, Oct. 3
Calgary at Colorado, Oct. 3
Dallas at St. Louis, Oct. 5
The best empty-net goal of the week:
Panarin aimed this perfectly!