Thursday, September 11, 2008

NHL Preseason Power Poll

Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit Red Wings)
(Photo courtesy of www.russianhockey.xdn.de's photos.)

A couple changes have taken place since I began my series on top ten units in the NHL. For instance, the Detroit Red Wings have added Chris Chelios (one of my all-time favourite players) to their already formidable blueline. Florida added Brian McCabe and lost only Mike Van Ryn in the process. I am not sure either move changed their ranking, but it does help their units.

NHL.com has also finally updated rosters: the Blackhawks do still have Brent Seabrook, and why he was not on the list before I do not know (I have been told the ‘Hawks are planning on using Dustin Byfuglien on the wing); Patrick Thoreson and Sami Kapanen should not have been listed as on the Flyers roster.

Changes will still continue into training camps which will begin opening in the coming week, but rosters should be more or less set. Therefore, it is time to examine each team and establish a power ranking.

It is my belief that goaltending accounts for about 40 percent of a team’s strength, while forwards and defencemen make up about 30 percent each. We all know great goaltending is essential to championships, but how did I come up with those ratios?

Simple: I looked at Olympic play. Germany had a great NHL goalie in Olaf Kolzig, but until recently lacked NHL skaters and could not make the medal rounds. Meanwhile, Slovakia and Finland did not have star goaltenders until the 2002 Olympics, and they contended for and even won medals because they have great skaters. Therefore, goaltending cannot be as significant as skaters.

But what team wins a Stanley Cup without good goaltending? Tampa Bay won without great defencemen, Anaheim won without great forwards, but no one wins without great goaltending. Therefore, goaltending means more than either of the other units individually.

Finally, anywhere I have listed a rating next to teams, I have applied their rank in my three unit analyses against this 40-30-30 percent factor; thus, the lowest rating is best. I only did this for teams that were top ten on all three lists, and because of their balance, they automatically fill my top spots. Note that the list is who is better, not how they will finish—it does not factor schedule difficulties or project mid-season moves.

1. Detroit Red Wings (3.2—only team top five in all three units)

2. San Jose Sharks (3.8—finally upgraded blueline)

3. Dallas Stars (7—talk about balance, they were ranked seventh in all three units)

4. New York Rangers (8.9—defence barely made it into top ten)

5. Pittsburgh Penguins (nearly made list for goalies and top five in the other two)

6. Anaheim Ducks (being first on two lists makes up for mediocre at best forwards)

7. New Jersey Devils (solid blueline and top ten forwards to front legendary goalie)

8. Chicago Blackhawks (top five goalie tandem and blueline, talented forwards)

9. Calgary Flames (elite blueline and starting goalie, decent forwards)

10. Montreal Canadiens (should pad numbers with fall-off of their division)

11. Philadelphia Flyers (losses offset by gains and improving young players)

12. Minnesota Wild (goaltending, defence, coaching help them overachieve)

13. Phoenix Coyotes (good balance, but still miss the playoffs in tough division)

14. Ottawa Senators (their fall has been drastic after reaching Cup Finals in 2006)

15. Washington Capitals (not enough depth to win any other division)

16. Boston Bruins (solid and scrappy, they may will themselves into the post-season)

17. Colorado Avalanche (too many questions about age and netminding)

18. Florida Panthers (blueline upgrade and goaltending may get them into playoffs)

19. Tampa Bay Lightning (forward depth mitigates questions on bench, net, blueline)

20. Vancouver Canucks (team in transition is still competitive)

21. Carolina Panthers (good enough goaltending. forwards to compete in Southeast)

22. Edmonton Oilers (young team has a bright future, but too many in front of them)

23. Buffalo Sabres (just have lost too much in the past two years to make playoffs)

24. Toronto Maple Leafs (it’s not about how much but how well you spend)

25. Nashville Predators (Barry Trotz paying for being as nasty as he looks in his last life)

26. Columbus Blue Jackets (still have questions in net and too little skater depth)

27. St. Louis Blues (how long will they be in rebuilding mode? They’re not close yet)

28. Los Angeles Kings (no goaltender in this division = top spot in lottery)

29. New York Islanders (do they even have a plan?)

30. Atlanta Thrashers (Ilya Kovalchuk deserves better)

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