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  • After a summer of big contracts and trades, here's already some clear favorites. It's who comes after them that will bear watching this season.
By Jeremy Fuchs
September 30, 2018

So you want to be a contender in 2018–19? Unless you're one of eight teams, good luck. 

There are eight clear rosters that are poised to make a deep run. There are another perhaps five or six teams that could rise to challenge for a second-round run. Everyone else is fighting for mediocrity. What that means for this season: If you're a fan of one of the top eight teams, you're in for a fun year. If you're a fan of great NHL playoff games, you'll have a lot to get up for come April.

Should you live in Western Canada, or be a fan of a bottom-tier squad, prepare yourself for a very long season.


Here's how we see teams stacking up in the NHL, from 31–1 to begin the season:

31. Ottawa Senators

It's going to be rough. Like really, really rough. Mark Stone and Matt Duchene need new contracts at season's end, and their status will be watched very closely.

30. Vancouver Canucks

No more good, old reliable Sedin Twins. The youth brings a glimpse of this team's future with Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat and Calder favorite Elias Pettersson. While free agent signings Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle are great depth players, they are not goal scorers. Not enough of those on the roster. 

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29. Montreal Canadiens

There’s always a chance when Carey Price is in net, but there's no more Max Pacioretty and top defenseman Shea Weber will be out for a while. Could be rough going for the Habs.

28. Detroit Red Wings

This is a rebuilding team with some young talent. Filip Zadina looks dynamic, but this is a squad that will make a lot of mistakes as it finds its way sans Henrik Zetterberg.

27. New York Islanders

New coach Barry Trotz might be the biggest free agent acquisition over the summer outside of John Tavares. But they are missing Tavares, and the jury is still out on Robin Lehner.

26. Arizona Coyotes

Arizona was a lot better in the second half of last season, and there's reason to believe that will continue. Clayton Keller is really good and if they get anything from Dylan Strome or Lawson Crouse, that would be huge. We'll probably regret having them this low.

25. Buffalo Sabres

We’re excited to see Rasmus Dahlin. Along with Rasmus Ristolainen, that's an emerging top-pair defensive unit. Jeff Skinner will take some pressure off of Jack Eichel, but there's not enough for a playoff push—they will be better, though.

24. New York Rangers

There's lots of youngsters and a new coach on Broadway. There will be some bumps, but they will be in plenty of games as long as Henrik Lundqvist is in top form.

23. Edmonton Oilers

When you have Connor McDavid, there's always a chance. But we said that last year and look what happened. This team needs goalie Cam Talbot and blueliner Oscar Klefbom to perform this season.

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22. Carolina Hurricanes

Dougie Hamilton helps a young set of defensemen, and he and Justin Faulk are a really good first pair. It's the rest of the team that's questionable. Can Scott Darling bounce back after a rough first season in Raleigh? Who will provide the goals here?

21.Chicago Blackhawks

There will be improvement from the core stars, and a healthy Corey Crawford will be key. Don't be surprised if the Blackhawks move up this list by the end of the first month.

20. Dallas Stars

It's hard to beat the top line of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn, but if that's the extent of things, it's not enough. Can rookie defenseman Miro Heiskanen live up to the hype?

19. Colorado Avalanche

Like New Jersey, the Avs snuck in the playoffs after a season from Nathan MacKinnon that garnered plenty of MVP chatter. There will be some regression here. How long until Philipp Grubauer wrestles the crease from Semyon Varlamov?

18. Calgary Flames

Getting rid of Dougie Hamilton is big, although Noah Hanifin is a pretty good replacement piece. We're still not sure he and Elias Lindholm are enough to push them over the edge and back into the postseason.

17. Florida Panthers

Florida was one of the most dangerous teams in the second half of last season. Add consistent 20-goal threat Mike Hoffman to an already stellar top-six, and this is a team that should hover around the playoffs all season.

16. New Jersey Devils

The Devils barely made the playoffs and that was with a heroic season by reigning MVP Taylor Hall. There are questions, especially between the pipes. Expect some regression, and for them to be a bubble team.

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15. Minnesota Wild

The Wild return most of the same core, one that's been good for years, but it's a core that hasn't gotten over the hump, and no changes means that fact will remain the same.

14. Anaheim Ducks

Locking up John Gibson was smart, but they failed to inject enough youth into this veteran lineup. Losing Corey Perry for at least 20 weeks doesn't help a team trying to keep up with a shifting Pacific Division. 

13. Columbus Blue Jackets

Artemi Panarin's future looms, as does that of star goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. There's enough firepower to make the playoffs again, but if the season goes off the rails quickly, Panarin might find himself dealt to a new home.

12. Philadelphia Flyers

James van Riemsdyk's return should be a boon to the offense the Flyers' uniquely good core of forwards. Ivan Provorov is a stud on the back end, but outside of him and Shayne Gostisbehere, there's a bit lacking there.

11. Los Angeles Kings

Not sure what Ilya Kovalchuk brings to the table in his return to the NHL, but if he's a threat on the power play then it's worth it. Missing out on Max Pacioretty after a reported failed draft weekend deal could be the biggest loss of the offseason.

10. St. Louis Blues

Ryan O'Reilly is a nice pick up from Buffalo, as are free-agent forwards Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak. But they'll need consistency in net from Jake Allen, and better health, especially from Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri.

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9. Pittsburgh Penguins

Maybe a longer offseason will help Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But we're looking to see which Matt Murray comes to play. Is it the two-time Stanley Cup winner, or is it last year's inconsistent version?

8. Boston Bruins

Boston flamed out a bit in the postseason, but the Bruins have the best first line in hockey, and a full season of Calder candidate Ryan Donato. There's high hopes for the youth on a team that will be in the mix alongside Toronto and Tampa in the Atlantic.

7. Washington Capitals

Most everyone is back, so we can expect a deep run. But how much does losing steadying influence Barry Trotz? That's unknown right now.

6. Vegas Golden Knights

Paul Stastny is a huge free-agent get after he was crucial for the Jets down the stretch last season. Max Pacioretty should be rejuvenated. There has to be some regression here, but there's too much talent to fall off the map.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

John Tavares and Auston Matthews on the same team is unfair, and then you add in names like Zach Hyman, Mitch Marner, Nazem Kadri, Patrick Marleau... Getting William Nylander back under contract is a concern, but we worry more about the back end. Is Frederik Andersen a big-time goalie? That will determine how far the Leafs go (or don't).

4. Nashville Predators

There is no reason why Nashville shouldn't be as good as last year, when they spent most of the regular season atop our power rankings. We'll look for any slippage from Pekka Rinne. Watch out for Eeli Tolvanen this season, who should make a return to the big club after shortly after starting the season in AHL Milwaukee.

3. San Jose Sharks

This is all post-Erik Karlsson of course. But this is the best defense in the league, and we shudder at the thought of the power play. Evander Kane was dynamic after being acquired at the deadline and San Jose locked him up long-term. Martin Jones is a very capable goalie. And I don't think Logan Couture gets enough credit for just how good he is.

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2. Winnipeg Jets

The Jets are here because they beat Nashville in the playoffs. Losing Paul Stastny hurts, but most of the young group that took them to the Conference Finals remains. If Patrik Laine takes another step forward, look out.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

You could make a case for a number of teams to be here, but there are few who match Tampa's star power at each group of positions. You have the best one-two punch in the league up front with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. You have the best defense in the East, with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Mikhail Sergachev. You have a top-three goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. On paper, the Lightning will be tough to beat.

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