It is time to unveil the final power rankings for the 2007-08 season, and there's no surprise at the top. The Detroit Red Wings, Presidents' Trophy winners as the best team during the regular season and, more importantly, Stanley Cup winners for the 11th time in franchise history, are an uncontested No. 1 choice.
The Wings were ranked either first or second in the power rankings all but four of 26 times during postings every Tuesday during the regular season. Detroit was on top of the rankings 15 times, and never fell further than fourth, which happened only four times. The headline for the Dec. 18 rankings served as a hockey fortune cookie, if you will: "Wings and everyone else."
With that backdrop, the final rankings focus on the big issue immediately facing each team going forward. Power rankings will be updated throughout the summer until resuming on a weekly basis for the start of the 2008-09 season in the fall.
1. Detroit Red Wings – The offseason motto is enjoy the fruits of your labor, but get your rest. Recent history suggests teams with aspirations to repeat as Stanley Cup champs find that basically only two months off is not enough time to recuperate from the longest of postseason runs, not to mention the possibility of offseason medical attention that might be required for a number of players. For the record, the Wings were the last team to repeat (1997 and '98).
2. Dallas Stars – How long does the honeymoon period last for co-general managers Les Jackson and Brett Hull, both recently rewarded with three-year extensions? And we're not attempting to criticize them already, it's just a matter now of seeing exactly how well can this two-headed monster work during a busy period that includes the draft and opening of free-agent period in rapid-fire fashion. Sounds like both will have to be on the same page throughout for this unique setup to flourish.
3. San Jose Sharks – Let's hope Doug Wilson has trimmed his initial list of 40 coaching possibilities to at least 35 by now. Seriously, this will be an interesting hire because it will be Wilson's first as GM in terms of a head coach. He says he wants someone who will make it uncomfortable for players on occasion. Wilson has also hinted his eventual choice could come from anywhere, including the minors, college or even the junior ranks.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins – Clearly the focus shifts from the disappointment of losing in the finals to seeing who does and does not fit in the payroll for next season and beyond. GM Ray Shero has his hands full with 12 potential unrestricted free agents, and another set for restricted status either this summer or next (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal) in which he can't even start negotiations with until July 1.
5. Anaheim Ducks – Popular GM Brian Burke says he's committed to fulfilling the final year of his deal with Anaheim despite persistent rumors of Toronto wanting to lure him away, and Burke is said to be in talks with Anaheim with regards to contract extension. In the meantime, he planted seeds at the June 2 GM meetings in Detroit for a possible trade to move up or down at the upcoming draft.
6. Philadelphia Flyers – While Sami Kapanen's versatility may be missed, the $1.25 million that now comes off the payroll thanks to his recent retirement can be put to good use in the team's efforts to re-sign Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger, or to pursue the top free-agent priority of a puck-carrying defenseman.
7. Montreal Canadiens – The team is on the lookout for an impact forward, and if the Canadiens don't make a move at the draft to acquire one in trade they'll be aggressive come July 1 to try to lure Mats Sundin or Teemu Selanne off the open market. It seems like both would be a long shot. Sundin may only return to Toronto if he plays again at all, and Selanne loves where he lives in Orange County. And it just so happens the Ducks are there, too.
8. New York Rangers – GM Glen Sather assembled the front-office personnel, coaches and the team's scouting staff at his Palm Springs home for a week in mid-May, and what came out of that meeting is a well-guarded blueprint for the future. Likely discussed and decided upon was what to do about potential unrestricted free-agent Jaromir Jagr, and how the team will go about getting talent on the wings since it is set at center.
9. Minnesota Wild – Is the team in pursuit of Alexei Yashin? They deny it, but they did last year, too, when in fact there were discussions that did not break off until the former NHLer made ridiculous demands. Other immediate concerns include deciding whether to re-sign Brian Rolston or risk losing him on or after July 1, and the prospects of getting Marian Gaborik to sign an extension before he enters the final year of his current deal next season.
10. New Jersey Devils – No surprise here, the team has an obvious need or two for scoring up front so GM Lou Lamoriello is said to be trying to strengthen the defense. The team missed Brian Rafalski – and the Wings say "thank you" – and when Martin Brodeur is still your best player then putting as much help around him remains the priority.
11. Colorado Avalanche – GM Francois Giguere says he's starting to feel "anxious" while waiting to hear from Joe Sakic. The face of the franchise has yet to say whether he will return for a 20th NHL season, and if so he still needs to sign again with the Avalanche or become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Giguere is afraid to ask for a decision now, fearing Sakic may lean toward retirement if faced with a deadline.
12. Calgary Flames – The team faces decisions with key veterans who have been helpful in the past, but you have to wonder how much they have left? We're talking about Owen Nolan, Craig Conroy and Stephane Yelle, all good, popular contributors who figure to play reduced roles even if they do return.
13. Washington Capitals – Long-time starting goalie Olaf Kolzig said he won't return, but his replacement at the trade deadline – Cristobal Huet – is also due to be an unrestricted free agent, and if he doesn't re-sign in Washington the Capitals will be looking once again for a No. 1 goaltender.
14. Boston Bruins – The B's haven't been making a lot of noise of late, but it's easy to get overshadowed by the Celtics, Red Sox and Patriots in this town these days. No doubt Boston wants and needs to find more scoring help. The draft isn't going to solve immediate needs unless GM Peter Chiarelli can wheel and deal in Ottawa. Otherwise, it's wait until July 1 and put your best recruiting foot forward when it becomes open season on NHL unrestricted free agents.
15. Ottawa Senators – Like a number of other teams, the search for a head coach continues. GM Bryan Murray, however, has talked to three who may be the finalists – former NHL bench bosses Bob Hartley, Craig Hartsburg and Kitchener Rangers coach Pete DeBoer. Murray is looking for a coach who will give the players the occasional pat on the back yet knows the time to deliver a kick in the rear.
16. Nashville Predators – Well, well, just when you thought we've heard the last of the on-again, off-again transfer of sale of the team, along comes a report that co-owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio III, has filed for bankruptcy. Makes you wonder how thorough the league investigates these guys before rubberstamping these deals. Hopefully this doesn't complicate the matters at hand, signing restricted free-agent defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to long-term deals, and deciding what to do about upstart goalie Dan Ellis, who could be an unrestricted free agent next month.
17. Carolina Hurricanes – With Glen Wesley having announced his retirement and Bret Hedican saying he won't re-sign with Carolina, the Hurricanes are suddenly in the market for help on the blue line. … Join the crowd.
18. Vancouver Canucks – The Canucks first have to respect the time it will take to come to grips with the loss of promising young defenseman Luc Bourdon. Then they must turn their attention to the hockey side of the equation, and that is replacing one of the few bright prospects who was clearly ready to take on a regular role next season. New GM Mike Gillis will find the first challenge he faces an unexpectedly delicate and emotional one.
19. Chicago Blackhawks – They've been saying it for a long time, and now we'll see if the team is ready to put its money where its mouth is. Come July 1, the 'Hawks will be looking to lure a veteran puck-carrying defenseman to the Windy City – whether their target is Brian Campbell, Wade Redden or someone else is not known. The team has a very good group of young stars on the blueline, Chicago would just like to add a veteran leader to show the way.
20. Buffalo Sabres – The team could be busy at the draft considering it has two first-round draft picks, 15 NHL forward plus three highly-regarded prospects up front. And, considering the departure of Brian Campbell, the defense could use some fortification. Do we smell a deal or two in the offing?
21. Edmonton Oilers – With little in terms of in-house free-agent situations to take care of, the Oilers can broaden their scope and are expected to delve into the trade market this offseason. The question is how many GMs will want to deal with Kevin Lowe and how many will shy away due to a lack of trust and respect over the fact Lowe successfully lured Dustin Penner away from Anaheim last summer via a controversial offer sheet.
22. Phoenix Coyotes – The Coyotes stuck to their plan to develop what they have last season despite the temptation to deal for veterans at the deadline since they were still in the race. The consequences of sticking to their guns means Phoenix is excited to have the No. 8 overall pick and three second-round selections in the upcoming draft. That means the opportunity to stockpile four good players or GM Don Maloney has ammunition to make trades.
23. Florida Panthers – Jacques Martin is another league GM taking his time to make a decision on a head coach. He was reportedly interested in talking to old friend Andre Savard, but the Pittsburgh assistant coach was quoted in a Quebec publication that he's more interested in a front-office job than one behind an NHL bench. Martin still thinks he might have a coach in place by the end of this month.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets – Because the Jackets have two first-round picks (Nos. 6 & 19) and a need at center ice, and the San Jose Sharks have no first-round picks and possible motivation to move captain Patrick Marleau, the two could be dance partners in a trade at the draft. It's a hot and juicy rumor, but while Doug Wilson was ready to fire Ron Wilson, it doesn't mean he's ready to break up a 1-2 combo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, especially when it means trading a prime-age forward to a conference rival.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs – If anyone thinks securing the services of Ron Wilson to coach for four seasons paves the way for Providence College buddy and current Ducks executive Brian Burke to soon follow as the Leafs' GM, guess again. They may be the best of pals, but it doesn't mean Wilson is the coach Burke wants, and this is all backward anyway.
26. St. Louis Blues – The Blues hired Doug Armstrong to be their director of player personnel, but the former Stars GM is actually being groomed to be current Blues GM Larry Pleau's replacement in two years. It's only Armstrong's second franchise in 18 seasons. Pleau, meanwhile, has personal issues to deal with, including needing time away from the team to help his wife battle cancer.
27. New York Islanders – One of the great fears in Rick DiPietro's 15-year contract has to be the prospect of injury, and sure enough the goalie had a recent procedure to repair what the team termed a "minor meniscus injury" to his left knee. DiPietro has undergone surgeries to each hip over the past two summers and is about to enter only year three of the record deal in the fall. Oh, and thanks to bungled negotiations with Wade Dubielewicz, the Isles are also in need of a new backup.
28. Atlanta Thrashers – Don Waddell's long relationship with Ron Wilson in USA Hockey figured to mean the two would work together soon in Atlanta with Wilson getting hired as the team's new bench boss, but that just made too much sense. That, or the fact the Thrashers didn't have the money to throw at Wilson the Leafs managed. Or maybe Waddell is going to finally give minor-league coach John Anderson a shot. He coaches Atlanta's perennial AHL power Chicago.
29. Los Angeles Kings – Not only do the Kings currently have the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft, they have 15 more picks in the seven rounds as well. Now, it's not expected GM Dean Lombardi will walk out of Ottawa with 16 new prospects, but he sure has a lot of options in terms of trades and quality at the top of the draft if he wants to hear others out.
30. Tampa Bay Lightning – Barry Melrose? Just don't do it. Trade Vincent Lecavalier? Don't do that either. Looks like we're going to find out real fast how smart this new ownership group is … or isn't.