Joe Thornton is not only skilled, but can make even top agitators like Steve Ott back away from him
Finally, those of you who have claimed I have a West Coast bias will see that what you assumed was bias was mere fact. The Western Conference is more focused on blueline and goaltending, but the Eastern Conference has the best forwards.
In this analysis, I cannot go into detail about each of the players like I did for the other units because a typical team will play 14 or 15 forwards over the course of the season. Even if I stuck to the projected 12, that would be 120 players to analyze for a top ten list. I would need Simon and Schuster to publish that, because an article of that size would crash this site.
Therefore, I will focus on stars individually and supporting cast as a body. That is bound to make this analysis less scientific than the others. Remember I have to focus on players currently on the teams' rosters according to NHL.com--i.e. I will not project likely signings!
Thus, I am sure there will be more than the usual number of cowardly snipers who log on just to send a disparaging comment (usually without good points supporting their mostly biased lamentations that I omit their team's players!). And as usual, they will never check back to hear the counter-argument. But those who can't, criticize.
- Detroit Red Wings: The Stanley Cup Champions actually improved their position, both by adding Marian Hossa (who performed well enough in the playoffs to buck the big game disappearing act label) and by the Pittsburgh Penguins losing more forwards. Meanwhile, the most significant player they lost was Dallas Drake. They have stars like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Hossa, and Tomas Holmstrom. They also have a great supporting cast including players who are good enough to see special teams action: Mikkael Samuelsson, Valteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, Kirk Maltby, and Kris Draper. A+
- Pittsburgh Penguins: It is not by accident that these two teams made the Stanley Cup Finals last season. The Penguins return studs like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal centering their top three lines, making them all potent. They also return Pascal Dupuis and Petr Sykora, and they added Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko. They lost a cavalcade of supporting help, most notably Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Mark Recchi, and did not quite gain as much in return. Nonetheless, they still are deep, making this one of the most formidable units in the NHL. A-
- Philadelphia Flyers: Despite the loss RJ Umberger, Vaclav Prospal, and one of my favourite agitators in Ben Eager, this squad is elite. It still boasts Simon Gagne (if he can stay healthy), Mike Knuble, Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere, and Mike Richards. There is also a healthy supply of supporting talent with Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, Sami Kapanen, Patrick Thoreson, and Scotty Upshall. B+
- San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton is still the best player in the game. He plays defence exceptionally well and can be physical, is the best passer in the NHL (Jason Spezza is a close second), and is great in the face-off circle--a skill that makes him more valuable than LW Alex Ovechkin. His line is second only to Ottawa's top line because he is flanked by Milan Michalek's speed and the league's best post-lockout goal scorer after the All Star break in Jonathan Cheechoo; both also are excellent defenders, and the unit as a whole is among the strongest defensively in the league. The roster also boasts Patrick Marleau, emerging power forward Ryan Clowe, clutch scorer Joe Pavelski, last season's top game-deciding goal scorer Jeremy Roenick, and penalty killers extraordinaire Mike Grier and Torrey Mitchell. B+
- New York Rangers: Despite losing Jaromir Jagr, this unit promises to be at least nearly as strong as last season. Other key losses include Sean Avery, Brandon Shanahan, and Martin Straka, but the team added Markus Naslund, Dan Fritsche, and Nicloai Zherdev--hardly a wash, but not a huge downgrade. They also still have Chris Drury and Scott Gomez, emerging star Brandon Dubinsky, and talented Petr Prucha. B-
- New Jersey Devils: The team once known for its defence now i exceptionally deep in forwards. They lost no big impact players and still have Patrik Elias, Zach Perise, and Brian Gionta. They added to the deepest supporting cast (Dainus Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, Jamie Langenbrunner) with a couple great supporting players from championships past in BobbyHolik and Brian Rolston. B-
- Dallas Stars: Brenden Morrow is a leader, a hitter, a scorer, a monster. He is the complete package, and the best value in the league at $4 million this season. He is surrounded by great talent like Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, and newly acquired Sean Avery. They are shorter in supporting cast but still have Steve Ott and emerging Swedes Joel Lundqvist and Loui Eriksson. B-
- Tampa Bay Lightning: This team made a splash with the upgrades to this unit, most of whom are supporting cast-level talent: uber-prospect Steven Stamkos figures to make an impact as a rookie, Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern were added before the trade deadline in 2008, and Ryan Malone, Vaclav Prospal, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi, and Adam hall from the Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, meaning they have valuable experience together. Their fourth line will be better than a few teams' second lines, and the Lightning still boast two of the game's most dangerous forwards in Vincent Lacavalier and Martin St. Louis. B-
- Colorado Avalanche: Currently Peter Forsberg is not on this roster, and even though I believe he will be by the trade deadline again to help his friend Joe Sakic with one more run, I have to analyze the unit without him. The team also lost Andrew Brunette from this unit, but added Brian Willsie and Darcy Tucker. They still have Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, and Paul Stastny to draw attention away from Sakic, plus a stiff supporting cast in Tyler Arnason, Ian Laperriere, Marek Svatos, and youngsters Wojtek Wolski and Ben Guite. B-
- Les Habitants de Montreal: Okay, maybe the use of French was a blatant attempt to appease the most passionate hockey fans in the world because I listed them tenth. When I narrowly left this group off my list of top defencemen, I was nearly tarred and feathered. But all I can say in this case is that once again, you will note how 5-10 all rate a B-. The tie-breaker for me was that I believe this unit will only field one All Star (Alexei Kovalev) and lost Mark Streit and Brian Smolinski. However, there are five players left who I think could be All Stars: Saku Koivu (still one of my favourite players), Alex Tanguay, Maxim Lapierre, Tomas Plekanac, and Andrei Kostitsyn. They also have a great supporting cast headed by Sergei Kostitsyn, Steve Begin, Christopher Higgins, and Gui Latendresse. B-