After winning the Stanley Cup in June, the Chicago Blackhawks remain the top-ranked team in the TSN.ca NHL Power Rankings to open the 2013-2014 NHL season, ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins -- the usual suspects.
What really works in the Blackhawks' favour this time around, as opposed to following their 2010 Stanley Cup, is that, even with a decreasing salary cap, they didn't have to gut the roster. Sure, there are some tweaks, but it's very much the same cast from last season, with a few prospects making the jump from the farm and veteran goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin returning to Chicago, giving Corey Crawford an accomplished backup.
It's not as though maintaining close to the status quo automatically grants the Blackhawks the number one ranking, but even with their questions -- that number two centre spot still looks like it needs to be addressed -- they are in the best position entering the season.
The second-ranked Penguins aren't far off, especially with a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start the year, but defenceman Kris Letang has a leg injury and goaltender Tomas Vokoun is sidelined after blood clots, so while the Penguins are still loaded, their back end isn't quite at full power and these rankings always take injuries into account. Which players are available to play matters.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings were the dominant possession team in the league, even though their results didn't indicate such proficiency. That was largely due to the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick, who struggled in his return from back surgery, but Quick was tremendous in the playoffs, so health shouldn't be an issue going forward. If the Kings are still a dominant possession team and get even average goaltending, they will hold their high ranking.
Last year's Stanley Cup finalists, the Boston Bruins didn't sit still in the offseason, shuffling out right wingers Tyler Seguin, Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton most notably, bringing in Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla and Reilly Smith the look up front. Otherwise, there's a lot of continuity in Boston -- the core is the core that has one Cup win and one Final appearance in the last three seasons.
The top-ranked Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, sits sixth, with a healthy Erik Karlsson and Jason Spezza, along with newcomer Bobby Ryan, expected to upgrade the skill on last season's surprise playoff team.
Next in line, the Montreal Canadiens rank 10th, the Vancouver Canucks are 12th and the Toronto Maple Leafs sit 16th.
Western Canada gets some tougher rankings to start the year. The Winnipeg Jets open at 23rd, the Edmonton Oilers -- minus centres Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins -- 24th and the Calgary Flames 28th.
There will undoubtedly be movers and shakers in the rankings throughout the season. Even in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, the Anaheim Ducks, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders were all ranked in the 20s prior to the season starting, yet all three ended up making the playoffs, while the Philadelphia Flyers, ranked in the Top 10, missed the playoffs. Playing the percentages is not to be confused with any kind of guarantee.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.