The 2012-13 season ended with the four previous NHL champions in the conference finals, and none of those four teams were weakened significantly during the offseason.
While parity has been prevalent since the 2005-06 season, those four clubs provide the standard for others to strive for as the 2013-14 campaign beckons.
Those four teams are featured near the top of the first Super 16 rankings of the season, which are going to look a little different this year. Because this weekly segment no longer is penned by Dave Lozo, there probably will be fewer references to Ross Geller and George Costanza, but hockey fans who also like Jon Snow should not fret.
Here is the first installment of the Super 16, with the caveat that we know about as much as, well, Jon Snow does at this point:
1. Chicago Blackhawks (1-0-0)
The narrative for the 2013-14 season in the Windy City is pretty simple: The champs have a much, much better chance of repeating than the 2010-11 team did.
Let's show just how drastic of a difference there was in roster retention from last season to this one compared to from 2009-10 to 2010-11:
To put Chicago's ability to "keep the band together" another way, the Blackhawks retained 23 of 29 skaters who dressed for at least one game, plus starting goaltender Corey Crawford. They only brought back 16 of 28 three years ago, and neither of the top two goaltenders.
MUST SEE: Had the Blackhawks gone through another summer of upheaval like the one in 2010, they might be forced to rely on this guy's stickhandling [http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?hdpid=49&id=446755&lang=en] in important situations.
2. Los Angeles Kings (1-0-0)
Let's dispel one notion while giving credence to another. The idea that Jeff Carter is a perimeter player, a shooter who relies on world-class wrists to score goals, is a myth. Here's one of his goals from the 2012-13, and it is indeed a "classic" Carter snipe (in those classic Kings sweaters, no less): [http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=2012020253-44-h].
Carter scored 26 goals last season. After going back and watching each of those 26 tallies, it turns out half came from a position on the ice where Carter could reach out and touch a goal post with his stick. Six of his goals were either tap-ins or deflections.
Only six of those 26 were "typical" Carter goals -- a wrist shot from at least one of the circles or further out. In 2012-13, this [http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=54&id=241481&lang=en] was the norm for Carter.
The second part is can Carter continue his scoring ways (26 in 48 games is a 44-goal pace for an 82-game season)? His shooting percentage (19.5 percent) was significantly higher than any other season in his career, even six percent higher than when he collected a personal-best 46 goals in 2008-09.
His willingness to go to the front of the net certainly gives him more opportunities to supplement his sublime snap shot (Kings analyst Jim Fox after goal No. 24 last season: "No one can shoot the puck with a wrist shot like Jeff Carter. No one.") However, Carter was on the receiving end of several lucky bounces last season.
He scored three times from the goal line or below while trying to get the puck near the net, plus two others that took fluky bounces off defenders en route to the goal. Expecting 44 goals from a streaky player like Carter might be a stretch, but he's proven he can be more than just a shooter.
The Kings are a great defense-and-goaltending team, but Carter, along with Anze Kopitar, provides the dynamic touch that can set them apart from other teams with a similar style.
MUST READ: Los Angeles lost Rob Scuderi, but Curtis Zupke [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=683884] wrote about the missing man from 2012-13 who could be the difference for the Kings' defense, Willie Mitchell.
3. Detroit Red Wings (1-0-0)
This is an aggressive ranking, but if the NHL gave out a fifth-place medal each season, the Red Wings, who pushed the eventual champions to seven games in the second round, certainly earned such an honor in 2012-13. The travel is going to be easier, the defense corps is going to be a year older and a few of the young players up front are going to have a chance to make more of an impact.
One key for the Wings could be how well free-agent Stephen Weiss settles in on the second line. Daniel Alfredsson was a marquee signing, but Weiss might be the key one. Weiss should allow coach Mike Babcock to play Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together (with Justin Abdelkader), but will he be an upgrade over Valtteri Filppula?
It could be an interesting case of where other factors (role, overall talent on the team, etc.) make up the difference in the raw numbers. Here's a chart with Corsi for percentage and quality of competition for both players the past four seasons (stats compiled on advanced stats sites run by David Johnson [http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/index.php] and Gabe Desjardins [http://www.behindthenet.ca/index.php]):
One takeaway from that data is Filppula was really good in 2012-13, even if the stats on the back of his hockey card (nine goals, 17 points in 41 games) won't show it. He also gradually earned playing time against tougher competition.
The Red Wings also are a much better puck-possession team. Weiss could face easier competition now that he won't be centering the No. 1 line, and it should be noted his 2012-13 season was cut short by injury. If Weiss is able to match Filppula's production, or better it, then the other improvements Detroit made, combined with the development of the club's younger players, can make the Red Wings a title contender.
MUST READ: The Red Wings are one of several teams who will begin the season trying to dance perilously close to the salary cap ceiling, and Helene St. James detailed how the final roster [http://www.freep.com/article/20130930/SPORTS05/309300077] was set.
4. St. Louis Blues (1-0-0)
The Blues have built one of the deepest rosters in the League, and could very well challenge for the Presidents' Trophy this season. Adding Derek Roy and having a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko could add some creativity, though both of the veteran goalies need to bounce back. It likely would be the conference finals before they get another crack at the Kings, and that's certainly a plausible matchup to predict.
MUST READ: The Blues have the talent and depth to score more [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=684384], but won't sacrifice on defense, writes Louie Korac
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (1-0-0)
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009 after being the runners-up in 2008, and it wasn't hard to see a potential dynasty forming. In the four years since, Pittsburgh has had plenty of regular-season success, which is an even greater accomplishment considering Sidney Crosby has missed 114 games and Evgeni Malkin has missed 78 in that span.
Of course, there is one area where the Penguins have not been among the League leaders once the postseason began the past four years, and the news that goaltender Tomas Vokoun will miss 3-6 months won't calm any nerves about the position in that city.
MUST READ: Penguins forward Craig Adams played a role in this amazing story [http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/10/01/3246273/decock-hockey-diplomacy-was-his.html] about the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes television analyst Tripp Tracy from Luke DeCock of the (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer.
6. San Jose Sharks (1-0-0)
The Sharks added a second wave of players to their core when Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture arrived, and now there is another rookie duo potentially joining the lineup -- forwards Tomas Hertl and Matthew Nieto. Hertl, the 17th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, is the one to watch and the one most likely to have a big impact.
MUST READ: People have written about the "window" in San Jose for years, but is this the last kick at the can [http://www.mercurynews.com/sharks/ci_24217293/san-jose-sharks-enter-2013-14-season-team] with this group? David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News investigates.
7. Boston Bruins (1-0-0)
The Bruins should be higher, but don't rule out a slow start considering a few key players spent most of the summer rehabilitating injuries. Watch to see how defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug are used on the power play. They could help unlock the one real weakness on this team the past few seasons.
MUST READ: Still Number 4, Bobby Orr, and still doing great things [http://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2013/09/28/number-bobby-orr-still-number/2QgHMeTyFcjwgoIKj2mlJL/story.html], from Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe.
8. New York Rangers (0-1-0)
Derek Stepan signed (but didn't have much prep time) and Ryan Callahan might only miss one game. The Rangers still are without the (somehow) underrated Carl Hagelin, but this team could flourish with a fresh start from a new coaching staff.
MUST READ: Henrik Lundqvist is set for an eventful year, [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=683955] writes Tal Pinchevsky.
9. Ottawa Senators (0-0-0)
Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek and Erik Karlsson combined to score 12 goals for the Senators because of injuries. Over the course of a full season, that's a pace for 20.5 goals. If they stay healthy this season, those three could combine to push 100, plus Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur could be an upgrade on Daniel Alfredsson and Jakob Silfverberg. Toss in a full season from Jared Cowen and this team is going to be dangerous.
MUST SEE: Ryan had some fun with the people of Otttawa shortly after signing this summer [http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=35&id=443592&lang=en].
MUST READ: ESPN The Magazine's Gare Joyce wrote about the obstacles [http://espn.go.com/espnmag/story?id=3782270] Ryan overcame growing up.
10. Washington Capitals (1-1-0)
It only was one game, but fans in Washington already were panicking about the porous defense, soft goaltending and shaky even-strength play. Then Martin Erat went public with concerns about his role. It's never dull in D.C., but the real takeaway from an opening-night loss to the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks is Mikhail Grabovski is going to help this team and that power play is downright scary.
MUST SEE: Alex Ovechkin enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience [http://www.monumentalnetwork.com/videos/behind-the-scenes-ovechkins-olympic-journey-10-1-13] just before the start of the season
MUST READ: Katie Carrera of the Washington Post wrote about Adam Oates and his love of the details [http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/capitals/washington-capitals-season-preview-coach-adam-oates-thrives-on-attention-to-detail/2013/09/30/b2cb5684-29e3-11e3-97a3-ff2758228523_story.html].
11. Vancouver Canucks (0-1-0)
Between Roberto Luongo and John Tortorella, the Canucks certainly are a fascinating group. If Luongo and the Sedin twins stay healthy, Vancouver will be a good team. If Ryan Kesler stays healthy and a few other supplemental scorers produce, this still can be a great team.
MUST-READ: Kevin Woodley wrote about the Canucks getting used to their new boss [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=684155].
12. Minnesota Wild (0-0-1)
The team has two elite players (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter), four near-elite players (Jonas Brodin, Mikko Koivu, Jason Pominville and Niklas Backstrom), and a group of young players that will determine if the Wild can challenge for a conference crown or hold steady as a second-tier playoff team.
MUST READ: If everyone isn't rooting for Jake Dowell to get back to the NHL with the Minnesota Wild, they should be after reading this [http://www.startribune.com/sports/wild/224964322.html] from Michael Russo of the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.
13. Montreal Canadiens (0-1-0)
Montreal's goal prevention in 2013-14 had a similar trajectory to the FX show "The Bridge": A promising beginning, the foundation for an outstanding season and then … a letdown. A strong start could seal Carey Price's place in net for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but the fragility of the defense corps threatens the Canadiens like another long, boring standoff with Kenneth Hastings.
MUST READ: Eyes On The Prize previewed every Montreal Canadiens player -- start with this one [http://www.habseyesontheprize.com/2013/9/30/4780250/2013-14-habs-season-preview-alex-galchenyuk/in/4541729] by Andrew Berkshire on the guy who could be the breakout star of the 2013-14 season and go from there.
14. Anaheim Ducks (0-1-0)
The Ducks should have been both encouraged and disappointed by the first-round Stanley Cup Playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. A few young forwards, who will be critical to replacing Bobby Ryan, looked like future stars, but Detroit's top players took over in the final two games. There's plenty of concern about the defense corps, but there's little doubt coach Bruce Boudreau's bunch will be entertaining to watch.
MUST READ: Read everything you can about Teemu Selanne this season, like this [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=684970] from Curtis Zupke.
15. Phoenix Coyotes (1-0-0)
The stability off the ice for the Coyotes might be a real thing in helping the team play well, even if they've used the adversity of the situation as a rallying point in the dressing room in the past. So too could the long-term deal for goaltender Mike Smith, and the addition of a playmaker like Mike Ribeiro to help what could be a sneaky-good power play with defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson involved.
MUST READ: SB Nation's NHL season preview is wonderful, so without a specific place to give it some love, it ends up here [http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2013/9/30/4784288/nhl-season-preview-2013-14]. Spend some time with it, and please check out the advanced-stats primer.
16. Carolina/Columbus/New Jersey/N.Y. Islanders/Philadelphia
When realignment was announced, the Metropolitan Division looked like it could be the strongest of the four. Take the teams from the old Atlantic (which has been one of, if not the strongest, for the past few seasons) then add the Washington Capitals and a team on the rise like the Columbus Blue Jackets? Yikes.
That may prove to be true in the long run, but in the first season of the new format there are a lot of teams with a lot of questions in this division. In fact, it looks like any of the bottom five could finish anywhere from fourth to eighth.
Hey, that leads us to an idea. Let's assume if the top three teams in this division avoid catastrophic injuries, that they will be the top three teams in … the Metro? The Met?
Anyway, here's a case for and against each of the other five teams:
Will finish 4th: Players like Jeff Skinner and Jordan Staal provide strong scoring support to the top line (which doesn't regress), and goalie Cam Ward stays healthy, which helps prop up a mediocre defense corps (that Ron Hainsey, Andrej Sekera and eventually Ryan Murphy help improve).
Will finish 8th: The defense corps remains a mess and the offense falls apart from a lack of depth scoring or a shooting percentage regression from the top players.
Will finish 4th: Sergei Bobrovsky remains an elite goalie with an even better defense corps (hello, Ryan Murray) in front of him, while a full season of Marian Gaborik (and Boone Jenner) and a half-season of Nathan Horton boosts the offense. Oh, and they're not in the West anymore.
Will finish 8th: Bobrovsky invokes Steve Mason comparisons, Gaborik can't stay healthy and Horton takes longer than expected to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. The #Lumbus magic is gone.
Will finish 4th: The addition of Damien Brunner gives the Devils some real offensive depth. If Jaromir Jagr can stay healthy and Adam Henrique can prove last season was a one-time sophomore slump, this team can score enough to help one of the top goaltending tandems in the League.
Will finish 8th: Jagr barely has practiced because of an injury, and he can't be an impact player anymore. There is depth but little dynamism without Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. The two Adams, Larsson and Henrique, don't progress the way they should. The goaltending tandem can't cover the mistakes of a middling-at-best defense corps.
Will finish 4th: Pierre-Marc Bouchard is another frugal find for general manager Garth Snow, players like Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo recognize they're in danger of being recruited over and find some consistency, and a couple of the younger players take steps forward to become NHL regulars.
Will finish 8th: John Tavares misses a chunk of the season, the wings beyond Matt Moulson remain inconsistent and the Olympic year gives Evgeni Nabokov too many reminders of his first period against Canada four years ago.
Will finish 4th: Claude Giroux and a revived Vincent Lecavalier lead an offensive resurgence and the Flyers pour in goals while either Steve Mason's seven-game sample in Philadelphia or Ray Emery's 21-game sample in Chicago prove prophetic.
Will finish 8th: The old, slow defense is riddled with injuries again and the worst-case fears about the goaltending are realized, which results in a lot of 5-3 losses.
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