The Intermission’s 2018-19 NHL Team Rankings, a five-part series as part of the 2018 NHL Preview coverage, will have Lee and Mike rank all 31 teams from worst to first, based on each team’s viability and general expectations of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup next June. Each part in the series will be comprised of a different grouping or “tier” of competitive standards, featuring six to seven teams at a time, until we reach those true Cup contenders for this season.
25. New York Islanders
2017 Record: 35-37-10 (80 points)
2017 League Ranking: 22 (-3)
IN: Valtteri Filppula (Flyers), Leo Komarov (Maple Leafs), Jan Kovar (KHL), Matt Martin (Maple Leafs), Robin Lehner (Sabres)
OUT: Calvin De Haan (Hurricanes), Jaroslav Halak (Bruins), Nikolay Kulemin (KHL), John Tavares (Maple Leafs)
STAYING: Thomas Hickey, Brock Nelson, Ryan Pulock
Lee: Losing a superstar like John Tavares certainly hurts, but replacing him with Leo Komarov and Matt Martin might hurt even more. They’re great locker room guys, but overall production is pretty low, combining for less than 15 goals last season. Also, between Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner, there’s really no true number one goalie to speak of.
Mike: Of course, the Tavares loss is tough, but it isn’t franchise-crippling. The Isles do have some depth across their four lines. Mathew Barzal looks like an absolute stud already and looks the part of a perfect Tavares replacement. The goaltending is suspect, but I won’t be surprised if the team finishes the season higher than this initial ranking.
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24. Buffalo Sabres
2017 Record: 25-45-12 (62 points)
2017 League Ranking: 31 (+7)
IN: Patrik Bergland (Blues), Matt Hunwick (Penguins), Carter Hutton (Blues), Conor Sheary (Penguins), Jeff Skinner (Hurricanes), Vladimir Sobotka (Blues), Tage Thompson (Blues)
OUT: Chad Johnson (Blues), Robin Lehner (Islanders), Ryan O’Reilly (Blues)
STAYING: Scott Wilson
Lee: It really can’t be any worse than last year. With a healthy Jack Eichel all season and a potential superstar defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin joining the fray, they should be a fun team to keep an eye on. But they do need a top goalie badly, unless they truly believe in Carter Hutton.
Mike: The Sabres certainly got more veteran depth in the offseason, while not sacrificing anything of significance. Dahlin should step in immediately and make an impact. It’s a small sample size but I think Carter Hutton (17-7-3, 2.09 GAA, .931 SV%) has the tools to develop quickly into a number one netminder.
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23. Colorado Avalanche
2017 Record: 43-30-9 (95 points)
2017 League Ranking: 17 (-6)
IN: Matt Calvert (Blue Jackets), Ian Cole (Blue Jackets), Philipp Grubauer (Capitals)
OUT: Jonathan Bernier (Red Wings), Blake Comeau (Stars), Andrew Hammond (Wild), Nail Yakupov (KHL)
STAYING: Patrick Nemeth, Matt Nieto
Lee: Even though Nathan MacKinnon will have something to say about it, this team will come back to earth in 2018. Again, as is a running theme in these rankings, the lack of a proven number one goalie will hold the team back.
Mike: Nate MacKinnon is a superstar, but other than Gabriel Landeskog, there isn’t much behind him. How they managed 95 points last season is still head-scratching. Grubauer was signed to supplant the inconsistent Semyon Varlamov, but that’s not going to be enough to compete this year.
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22. Carolina Hurricanes
2017 Record: 36-35-11 (83 points)
2017 League Ranking: 21 (-1)
IN: Calvin De Haan (Islanders), Micheal Ferland (Flames), Dougie Hamilton (Flames), Petr Mrazek (Flyers)
OUT: Noah Hanifin (Flames), Elias Lindholm (Flames), Derek Ryan (Flames), Jeff Skinner (Sabres)
STAYING: Trevor van Riemsdyk
Lee: The Canes should be an improved team this year, but losing Skinner will hurt their goal output. They have a great defense corps. But it will come down to goaltending. Really, it can’t be much worse than last season.
Mike: I like the nucleus the Canes have put together, as they’ll feature a balanced mix of young guns with savvy veterans. Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask and now Andrei Svechnikov are solid cornerstones for the organization to build on. Scott Darling and/or Petr Mrazek will each have their chance to become “the guy” in net.
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21. Vegas Golden Knights
2017 Record: 51-24-7 (109 points)
2017 League Ranking: 5 (-16)
IN: Nick Holden (Bruins), Paul Stastny (Jets)
OUT: James Neal (Flames), David Perron (Blues)
STAYING: William Karlsson, Colin Miller, Tomas Nosek
Lee: It’s still shocking to this day, that the EXPANSION Vegas Golden Knights were a Stanley Cup Finalist. As impressive as that was, I can’t see the latest “miracle on ice” continuing for a second straight season. The other Karlsson won’t score 40+ goals again and teams will be better prepared this season.
Mike: I’ll let my man Lee defend this absolute nosedive for the Western Conference champions. I agree that this team will fall off in 2018, but 16 spots is pretty radical. Still, an incredible sports story from last season. Could be back in the playoffs with the group they have.
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20. Edmonton Oilers
2017 Record: 36-40-6 (78 points)
2017 League Ranking: 23 (+3)
IN: Kyle Brodziak (Blues), Tobias Rieder (Kings)
STAYING: Ryan Strome
Lee: Even the best player in the world (McJesus) can’t play 60 minutes a night and play in net too. Edmonton is a playoff bubble team and need a bounce back year from most of their roster, including Cam Talbot in goal.
Mike: Two years ago, Edmonton was a sexy pick. Last season they took a major step backwards and suffered a blow to any momentum they picked up. While you can book Connor McDavid in for 100 points annually, the kid needs support from the rest of the roster.