Lord Stanley’s Cup resides in Detroit right now, courtesy of the Red Wings victory over Carolina in the finals last May.
The Red Wings have won the Cup three of the last six years. They have a shot at repeating this season, something they accomplished in 1998.
Here are our top 10 pre-season choices:
#10 Carolina: A return trip to the Stanley Cup Finals? Not likely. This team remained essentially intact, but played in a weak division and got hot at the right time. The Hurricanes were only 21-20-11 ATS at home and, overall, scored as many goals they gave up (217).
Carolina could use some offensive help (2.5 GPG.). Their ability to roll four lines and play good defense will get them back to the playoffs, but lacks the offense to advance very far.
#9 New Jersey: Not flashy or exciting, but the Devils win by shutting the other team down. New Jersey allowed 2.22 GPG, tying with Detroit for second-best in the NHL. They let Alex Mogilny leave and their top returning goal scorer (Patrik Elias) had only 29.
Forward Jeff Friesen and offensive defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky were added. But the defensive style remains with new head coach Pat Burns and outstanding goalie Martin Brodeur. New Jersey was 47-30-11 in games UNDER the total and may equal that again.
#8 Vancouver: The Canucks are the antithesis of New Jersey — lots of offense.Vancouver led the NHL in scoring (254 goals) and has one of the best 1-2 punches in hockey with Markus Naslund (40 goals) and Todd Bertuzzi (36). Coach Marc Crawford is very skilled and efficient with his lines.
Vancouver will have to fight its way in a tough division. This team will light up the nets again and could beat anyone come playoff time if that offense stays hot. Vancouver was very strong at home (24-15-5 ATS), but average on the road (21-20-3 ATS).
#7 Washington: Injuries and poor defense hurt the Capitals last season, allowing 2.79 GPG. But there’s plenty of talent. RW Peter Bondra (39 goals, 31 assists) and Jaromir Jagr (31 goals, 48 assists) lead a potent offense. Free agent signees Robert Lang and Kip Miller played with Jagr in Pittsburgh.
Rookie head coach Bruce Cassidy prefers an up-tempo style and it should work well with all the skilled offensive players. Steve Konowalchuk, Calle Johansson and Jeff Halpern all missed significant time with injuries, so with the blessing of good health, the Caps should be a force.
#6 Ottawa: The Senators should have been better than theirs 46-39-9 SU/ATS mark. There is speed and talent with Daniel Alfredsson (37 goals), Radek Bonk (25 goals, 45 assists) and Marian Hossa (31 goals). Ottawa allowed only 2.40 GPG, while netting close to three.
The Sens showcased their talent with a five-game blitz of Philadelphia in the playoffs (three consecutive shutouts, including one as a +140 dog). But they suffered a seven-game loss to Toronto after taking a 3-2 series lead. They may bust out with a deeper playoff run this year.
#5 San Jose: Make way for the Sharks! Teemu Selanne re-signed at a reduced rate after testing the free agent market and the bulk of this team returns intact. San Jose won the Pacific Division with terrific balance (2.93 goals scored, 2.43 allowed).
The Sharks took Colorado to seven games in the playoffs (winning as a +140 and +170 dog) and lost Game 7, 1-0. The offense really clicked as a favorite (36-22), so the bite was as big as the bark.
#4 St. Louis: The Blues finished second in the Central to Detroit last year with a 43-27-8 mark. They have plenty of talent in Al MacInnis, Keith Tkachuk (38 goals, 37 assists), Doug Weight and Pavol Demitra (35 goals, 43 assists). Top defenseman Chris Pronger (knee) is in rehab and out for a while.
Goaltender Brent Johnson comes off an
outstanding season (34-20, 2.18 GAA). St. Louis was a money-maker at home
(29-15-2 ATS), but played poorly on the road (18-21-7 ATS). They can take the
next step with an improved away mark.
#3 Toronto: The big question is how the Maple Leafs play without Curtis Joseph, who replaced the retired Dominik Hasek in Detroit. Thus, 37-year old goaltender Ed Belfour is on the hotseat after a tough season with Dallas. Fortunately, there is plenty of talent around him in Robert Svehla, captain Mats Sundin and free agent board-bangers Tom Fitzgerald and Aaron Gavey.
The outstanding hockey fans in Toronto won’t hurt. Toronto was 29-16-7 ATS at home, but just 23-23-4 ATS on the road. The Leafs went 43-25-10 SU last year have a great chance to win the Northeast.
#2 Colorado: The Avalanche,
league champs two years ago, have the depth and talent to make a run at another
Cup. Peter Forsberg will be with the team from the
outset, joining key veterans Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and Adam Foote. Colorado added
defenseman Derek Morris in the Chris Drury trade with Calgary. Ageless goalie
Patrick Roy is headed for the Hall of Fame.
Colorado comes off a sizzling 54-41-8 ATS mark. After losing to Detroit in seven games in the NHL semifinals, the Avs feel they have something to prove. Unlike a lot teams, they have the talent and experience to go far.
#1 Detroit: The defending champs are loaded again. after steamrolling through the NHL with a 51-17-10 record (116 points). Hasek and head coach Scotty Bowman retired, replaced by Joseph and 14-year assistant Dave Lewis. Star center Steve Yzerman (shoulder) will be unable to play until January.
The Wings possess weapons to deal without Yzerman. Sergei Fedorov (31 goals) will get more ice time along with gifted youngsters Pavel Datsyuk and rookie Henrik Zetterberg. When Stevie Y returns, it will make this talented, deep roster even better. And they can beat you anywhere: Detroit was 31-14-6 ATS on the road and 34-14-6 ATS at home.