The season is back, and so are the Super 16 power rankings. Which teams are among the best entering the 2012-13 campaign? Let's take a look:
|1||There's a lot to like about the 2011 champions heading into this season. Tyler Seguin, 20, has the potential to blossom into a point-per-game player after jumping from 22 points as a rookie to 67 points last season. Nathan Horton, a lock for 20 goals (pro-rated) when healthy, is back from a concussion. Tuukka Rask has Vezina potential playing behind one of the game's best blue lines.|
|2||They enter the season in a rare position -- with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang healthy at the same time. General manager Ray Shero solidified his goaltending by signing Tomas Vokoun to back up Marc-Andre Fleury. The wheels came off in a major way during the postseason against the Philadelphia Flyers, but there's no more offensively gifted team in the East than Pittsburgh.|
While the Penguins are built on offense, the Rangers are all about the back end. They added forward Rick Nash in the summer at a minimal cost after the scoring dried up in last season's playoffs. They lost key depth players via free agency (Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust), but they're still among the NHL's elite teams entering the season.
|4||Ken Hitchcock took over as coach after a slow start and guided the Blues to the second-best mark in the Western Conference last season. That team returns almost entirely intact, making it the favorites in the West. Sure, the defense is sure to regress somewhat after allowing 155 goals in 82 games, but with forwards David Perron, Alexander Steen and Andy McDonald healthy, and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko in the fold, the offense should carry more of the load this season.|
|5||The Stanley Cup champs are here and not up top only because of their so-so regular season prior to their dominance in the postseason. Also, leading scorer Anze Kopitar (knee) isn't expected to be ready to open the season, and goaltender Jonathan Quick, though healthy now, is coming off back surgery that would have held him out of the lineup if the season began in October. They're still among the best in the West, but they have questions entering the season.|
It's almost forgotten that this team finished with 101 points last season with captain Jonathan Toews out of the lineup for 23 games. Patrick Kane is back on the wing, and Dave Bolland is assuming second-line center duties for now. The Blackhawks have a solid top-four on defense, and goalie Corey Crawford got it together down the stretch last season.
Many are writing off the Predators with Ryan Suter gone to the Minnesota Wild, but if there's any team that knows how to recover from free-agent defections, it's Nashville. The Predators still have Pekka Rinne in goal, and coach Barry Trotz's track record of success with his system. With defenseman Shea Weber signed long term, and perhaps with the distractions of Weber/Suter gone, it'll be a blessing.
When GM Doug Wilson acquired defenseman Brent Burns and forward Martin Havlat two summers ago, it was expected to be the boon the Sharks needed to reach the Stanley Cup Final. Instead, they struggled all season and made a strong push late only to be bounced in the first round of the playoffs. The window is closing in San Jose, but it's still one of the most-talented teams in the NHL.
|9||A 92-point season always is a pretty good one, but when you consider the Capitals did it without a healthy Nicklas Backstrom (42 games) and Mike Green (32 games), it's pretty remarkable. Both are 100 percent entering the season, and with new coach Adam Oates sure to have a more offensive system than Dale Hunter, things look bright for Washington.|
|10||This ranking is all because of the injury statuses of Ryan Kesler and David Booth, leaving the Canucks severely weakened up front. But with the NHL's best goaltending duo -- Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider (at least for now) -- and a blue line as deep as any, the Canucks should be able to hold the fort until both forwards return.|
|11||Perhaps this is a little high for a team that finished 23rd in last season's standings, but they have a lot going for them at the start of this season. Jeff Skinner is healthy and locked up for the long term, and Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin have been added to a team that finished 16th in goals per game last season. It's fair to consider the blue line a question mark, but Cam Ward can be the difference as the Southeast Division's best goaltender.|
|12||Gone is Ray Whitney, the Coyotes' leading scorer from last season with 77 points in 82 games. It's yet another reason to dismiss them, but they still have a Vezina-worthy goaltender in Mike Smith and coach Dave Tippett behind the bench. Their defense is enough to keep them in the mix to open the season, but it will be up to Steve Sullivan, Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker to pick up the offensive slack as the season progresses.|
|13||Most of the talk about a young, talented team with a chance to make a playoff push this season revolves around the Edmonton Oilers, but the Avalanche might be next up to crack into the playoffs. They just missed last season, and goaltender Semyon Varlamov was sensational in the KHL this season (for whatever that's worth). They need to get Ryan O'Reilly signed, and Erik Johnson must play like a No. 1 defenseman in order to reach the postseason.|
|14||It wasn’t exactly the offseason the Flyers wanted, with defenseman Shea Weber signing an offer sheet only to have it matched by the Predators, defenseman Matt Carle signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and forward Jaromir Jagr heading to the Dallas Stars. Center Danny Briere (wrist) won't be ready to start the season. There have been a lot of changes for the Flyers, but considering their penchant for changes in the recent past, it's no reason to write them off.|
Yes, Jamie Benn remains unsigned and the longer that drags, the worse it is for the Stars' hopes of cracking the postseason. But they made some nice moves this summer, adding veteran scorers Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney along with getting Derek Roy in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres. Brenden Morrow missed 25 games last season with injuries, so perhaps the extra rest of the past few months will be beneficial. The Stars have gotten off to really good starts the past two seasons and they're in line to do it again.
|16||The Senators came out of nowhere last season and were a bounce away from knocking the top-seeded Rangers out in the first round of the playoffs. This season, captain Daniel Alfredsson is back, as is most of the cast that won 41 games. The Senators will have the services of Kyle Turris as a second-line center for a full season; last season, the Senators went 26-17-6 (a 97-point full-season pace) after acquiring Turris in December. The Sens have a good chance at a second straight trip to the playoffs.|