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.
19. Anaheim Ducks
2017 Record: 44-25-13 (101 points)
2017 League Ranking: 9 (-10)
IN: Brian Gibbons (Devils), Luke Schenn (Coyotes), Andrej Sustr (Lightning)
OUT: Francois Beauchemin (Retired)
STAYING: Ondrej Kase, Brandon Montour
Lee: Although they finished in the Top 10 last season, this team has aging stars up front. I don’t know if they will be able to repeat what happened last season. I think this is a fall from grace year for the Ducks.
Mike: The Western Conference is tight and it doesn’t figure to get easier in ’18. With their aging front line and thin defense, the Ducks are a prime candidate to fall out of the Top 8 in the conference.
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18. Chicago Blackhawks
2017 Record: 33-39-10 (76 points)
2017 League Ranking: 25 (+7)
IN: Marcus Kruger (Coyotes), Chris Kunitz (Lightning), Brandon Manning (Flyers), Cam Ward (Hurricanes)
OUT: Anthony Duclair (Blue Jackets), Marian Hossa (Coyotes)
Lee: After years of success, everything went wrong last season for the Blackhawks. If Corey Crawford can stay healthy and Toews & Kane play up to their contracts, they could finish higher. Unfortunately, I I think they miss the playoffs, again.
Mike: 2017 was definitely a season from hell for the Blackhawks, finishing dead last in the Central Division. Even though they have plenty of experienced hands on deck, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the team again in ’18, with another loaded division. They’ll be a fixture on that playoff bubble.
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17. Los Angeles Kings
2017 Record: 45-29-8 (98 points)
2017 League Ranking: 12 (-5)
IN: Peter Budaj (Lightning), Ilya Kovalchuk (KHL)
OUT: Torrey Mitchell (Switzerland), Tobias Rieder (Oilers)
STAYING: Paul LaDue
Lee: This is a quality team, with a quality goaltender. But at 35, does Ilya Kovalchuk (who signed on for three years in the offseason) still have the ability to be an elite scorer in the NHL, after years away? The Kings should be interesting/fun to watch.
Mike: This is definitely a solid team, but age is a concern. Of their 18 projected forwards and defense, eight of them are over 30 years old (and five of them over 33). If the Kings can get through a full season with relatively good health, they have enough firepower to get into the playoffs.
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16. New Jersey Devils
2017 Record: 44-29-9 (97 points)
2017 League Ranking: 15 (-1)
OUT: Brian Gibbons (Ducks), Michael Grabner (Coyotes), Jimmy Hayes (Penguins), Patrick Maroon (Blues), John Moore (Bruins)
STAYING: Blake Coleman, Eddie Lack, Stefan Noesen, Steven Santini
Lee: Taylor Hall was inhuman last season. Keith Kinkaid stepped in and actually saved the season. The Devils have a good talent base and play a great, up-tempo style. but I think they just miss the playoffs.
Mike: If you weren’t surprised by what the Devils did last season, you’re lying to yourself. Taylor Hall was absolutely incredible last season en route to picking up the Hart Trophy for MVP of the league. Without a ton of depth, I don’t think the Devils can duplicate last year’s success.
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15. Calgary Flames
2017 Record: 37-35-10 (84 points)
2017 League Ranking: 20 (+5)
IN: Noah Hanifin (Hurricanes), Elias Lindholm (Hurricanes), James Neal (Golden Knights), Derek Ryan (Hurricanes), Austin Czarnik (Bruins)
OUT: Micheal Ferland (Hurricanes), Dougie Hamilton (Hurricanes)
STAYING: Mark Jankowski
Lee: Is this the year that the Flames finally live up to their potential? They have two great lines, a solid defense and a good goalie. They “should” be a good team this year, but they have a tough road in front of them.
Mike: Count me as one who thought the Flames really underachieved last season. I like the depth they added in the offseason, particularly James Neal, who went all the way to the Cup Finals with Vegas. The team will need Mike Smith to be at his best to compete in the deep Western Conference.
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14. Columbus Blue Jackets
2017 Record: 45-30-7 (97 points)
2017 League Ranking: 14 (–)
IN: Anthony Duclair (Blackhawks), Riley Nash (Bruins)
OUT: Matt Calvert (Avalanche), Ian Cole (Avalanche), Jack Johnson (Penguins), Thomas Vanek (Red Wings)
STAYING: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray
Lee: It’s a contract year for Sergei Bobrovsky, one of the best goalies in the NHL and the heart and soul of this team. But can he be a Vezina caliber player again? Also, will this team be able to handle John Tortorella all season?
Mike: Though they did manage 97 points last season, I think this might be slightly high for the Jackets. They lost some depth from last year and didn’t do anything to replace it. The ’18 season will depend a great deal on how good Sergei’s Bobrovsky season goes as he’ll be asked to shoulder the load.