2018 NHL Preview

NHL Rankings (#7-1): Licensed to Hoist

Could any of these teams hoist the Stanley Cup in June? Yes. Can all of them? Unfortunately not. That's why they play the games. Here's to ranking the seven teams most likely to be labeled "Cup Champions" in 2018.

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.

31-26: The Reclamation Projects
25-20: Maybe Next Year?
19-14: Those Bubble Squads
13-8: Playoff Worthy, Need Bounces
7-1: Licensed To Hoist

pit7. Pittsburgh Penguins

2017 Record: 47-29-6 (100 points)
2017 League Ranking: 10 (+3)

IN:  Matt Cullen (Wild), Jimmy Hayes (Devils), Jack Johnson (Blue Jackets)
OUT:  Matt Hunwick (Sabres), Conor Sheary (Sabres)
STAYING:  Jamie Oleksiak, Bryan Rust, Riley Sheahan

Lee: Sidney Crosby and company. Need I say more? The whole team is basically back, with the addition of a good defender in Jack Johnson. There’s no question that the Penguins will be right at the top of the Eastern Conference once again.

Mike: The Penguins are the same competitive force every season. Behind Crosby, Malkin and now Kessel, the secondary pieces always seem to be interchangeable. Even though this team starts notoriously slow, it’s never surprising when they work their way deep into the playoffs. And they always seem to execute at the trade deadline. ’18 should be no different.

• • • • •

stl6. St. Louis Blues

2017 Record: 44-32-6 (94 points)
2017 League Ranking: 18 (+12)

IN:  Tyler Bozak (Maple Leafs), Chad Johnson (Sabres), Patrick Maroon (Devils), Ryan O’Reilly (Sabres), David Perron (Golden Knights)
OUT:  Patrik Bergland (Sabres), Kyle Brodziak (Oilers), Carter Hutton (Sabres), Vladimir Sobotka (Sabres), Tage Thompson (Sabres)
STAYING:  Joel Edmundson, Robbie Fabbri, Dmitrij Jaskin

Lee: This is THE year for the St. Louis Blues. Management and ownership shelled out top dollar and made sizable moves to improve this team. With depth, they should be one of the most consistent teams all season long.

Mike: This Blues team is deep, and built to win now. They underachieved last season. Among the many offseasons transactions they pulled off, I like all of the moves they made. In ’18, if this team finishes with less than 100 points, I’d be shocked. And shout out to my New Brunswick home slice Jake Allen, who could win 40+ games in net this year.

• • • • •

was5. Washington Capitals

2017 Record: 49-26-7 (105 points)
2017 League Ranking: 6 (+1)

IN:  None
OUT:  Jay Beagle (Canucks), Philipp Grubauer (Avalanche)
STAYING:  John Carlson, Michal Kempny, Brooks Orpik, Devante Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson

Lee: Yes, the he reigning Stanley Cup champions! This team stayed together for the most part, but paying Tom Wilson a BOATLOAD of cash and the most epic of Stanley Cup parties may come back to bite them this year. Either way, they’re going to be a very good team.

Mike: As the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” When you’re the defending champions, why not just take care of your own? Which is what the Caps did in the offseason. No new faces, but same dangerous team that will once again make a run in the East. But once you taste victory, damn it’s so hard to get back to the top.

• • • • •

tor4. Toronto Maple Leafs

2017 Record: 49-26-7 (105 points)
2017 League Ranking: 7 (+3)

IN:  Tyler Ennis (Wild), John Tavares (Islanders)
OUT:  Tyler Bozak (Blues), Leo Komarov (Islanders), Matt Martin (Islanders), Tomas Plekanec (Canadiens), Roman Polak (Stars), James van Riemsdyk (Flyers)
STAYING:  Matt Dumba, Greg Pateryn, Jason Zucker

Lee: John Tavares is a Maple Leaf! With the deepest forward core in the entire NHL, this offense will be scary and come at you in waves. If the defense is even average, this team will be a major force this season (and for years to come). Freddy Andersen lines up to be a Top 5 goalie this year. Oh, and John Tavares is a Maple Leaf!

Mike: I know, I know… John Tavares. He’ll be amazing, it’s a great story and yes, the kids will be scary good. But hell, this team did lose some major depth in the offseason. And one of the biggest “ifs” in the hockey universe involves the Leafs defense being “average.” They overcame it last season with Andersen stopping a million pucks. I’m hesitant to have them in the Top 5 just yet. I want a little more proof.

• • • • •

nas3. Nashville Predators

2017 Record: 53-18-11 (117 points)
2017 League Ranking: 1 (-2)

IN:  Dan Hamhuis (Stars)
OUT:  Mike Fisher (Retired)
STAYING:  Ryan Ellis, Ryan Hartman, Juuse Saros

Lee: Last years President’s Trophy winners will have another fantastic season. The Predators possess the best defense corps in the entire NHL by a long shot and one of the best goalies out there in Pekka Rinne. This is a true Cup contender.

Mike: You really have to do a double take at Nashville’s record last season, it’s that astonishing. Defensively, this team is miles ahead of the competition. Duplicating 117 points is asking a lot, but they’ll easily be an elite team again in 2018. And if “defense wins championships,” the Preds are in phenomenal shape.

• • • • •

wpg2. Winnipeg Jets

2017 Record: 52-20-10 (114 points)
2017 League Ranking: 2 (–)

IN:  None
OUT:  Joel Armia (Canadiens), Toby Enstrom (Sweden), Michael Hutchinson (Panthers), Steve Mason (Canadiens), Paul Stastny (Golden Knights)
STAYING:  Connor Hellebuyck, Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev, Jacob Trouba

Lee: The Jets are about as complete a team as there is. Two great scoring lines, a great defense and if the goaltending is anything like last year, this team should be fun to watch again. Beware the White Out! And thank God, Patrik Laine finally shaved!

Mike: I think the Jets might be the best team in the NHL. They are elite in all faucets of the game and if Connor Hellebuyck (who got paid in the offseason) performs close to the level he did in 2017, the league is officially on notice.

• • • • •

tam1. Tampa Bay Lightning

2017 Record: 54-23-5 (113 points)
2017 League Ranking: 3 (+2)

IN:  None
OUT:  Peter Budaj (Kings), Chris Kunitz (Blackhawks), Andrej Sustr (Ducks)
STAYING:  Louis Domingue, J.T. Miller, Cedric Paquette

Lee: Was there any question? No. The Lightning are the class of the NHL and should win the Cup. They are so deep up front, so talented on the back end and they have the best goalie in the league in Vasilevskiy. It should be the Bolts year in 2018.

Mike: There’s no doubt that the Lightning are terrifying and the team to beat in the East. However, personally, I think both the Jets and Predators are actually better teams, so I’m not penciling the Bolts in to hoist the Cup just yet, even though they have the necessary tools. I think any of those three teams deserve the #1 spot in these rankings. But this is why they play the games.

Come back to check out the rest of the series and rankings. You can also keep up to date with the publishing of the rankings by following on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

31-26: The Reclamation Projects
25-20: Maybe Next Year?
19-14: Those Bubble Squads
13-8: Playoff Worthy, Need Bounces
7-1: Licensed To Hoist


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