With the NHL season set to begin on Thursday, here's a quick read on the league's 30 teams, ranked from best to worst:

1: Detroit Red Wings

Injuries torpedoed a third straight Finals run, but defensive stalwarts Nicklas Lidstrom and former Badger Brian Rafalski return hungry and optimistic. Detroit's recipe for success includes a deep offense and solid goaltending.

2: Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh's makeover plugged gaping holes on defense by adding Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. The question mark is the offensive supporting cast behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal.

3: Vancouver Canucks

With the Sedin twins and a defensive overhaul, the Canucks are a popular Stanley Cup pick this season. But Vancouver's success requires better goaltending from Roberto Luongo in the playoffs.

4: Washington Capitals

Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals will rack up the goals and run away with their division. However, Washington's youth in goal and porous defense spells troubles for the playoffs.

5: San Jose Sharks

The Finnish tandem of Antti Niemi and Antero Niittymaki should improve the team's goaltending. The question is whether ex-Badgers Joe Pavelski and Dany Heatley can help the Sharks overcome past playoff debacles.

6: Chicago Blackhawks

The defending champs' concerns include toughness and offensive depth, but the Blackhawks' blueline remains stout. Can ex-Badgers Jack Skille and Jake Dowell, up from the minors this season, makeup the difference?

7: Los Angeles Kings

The young Kings are explosive and have an unquestioned leader in Drew Doughty. The only hurdle that remains is finding out whether Jonathan Quick is the man in net.

8: Boston Bruins

A top defense and goaltending tandem steadies the Bruins. Boston's offense should improve with a healthy Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and newcomer Nathan Horton. Is rookie Tyler Seguin an X-factor?

9: New Jersey Devils

The Devils are thin on the blueline, but Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise trigger a talented offense. A deep playoff run requires a return to greatness from Martin Brodeur.

10: Philadelphia Flyers

Chris Pronger and Mike Richards lead a team hungry to return to the Finals. The only question is whether goaltenders Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher will keep enough pucks out.

11: Phoenix Coyotes

Last year's surprise club remains solid on defense and in goal with Ilya Bryzgalov. A healthy Shane Doan should help a young and improving Phoenix offense, which needs to upgrade.

12: Buffalo Sabres

Ryan Miller in net makes Buffalo competitive, but few issues from 2009-10 were addressed in the offseason, including a lack of toughness. Tyler Myers is an emerging defensive star.

13: St. Louis Blues

This should be a comeback year for the Blues as their core matures. Adding goaltender Jaroslav Halak helps immensely, but offense talents like David Backes must rebound from poor showings.

14: Ottawa Senators

Jason Spezza and Sergei Gonchar should trigger an explosive power play, but Ottawa's success hinges on improved netminding from ex-Badger Brian Elliott or Pascal LeClaire. Losing defenseman Anton Volchenkov hurts.

15: Nashville Predators

Despite losing some key cogs during the offseason, Nashville remains gritty and well coached. Therefore, if Hobey Baker winner/ex-Badger Blake Geoffrion gets called up, he should feel right at home.

16: Tampa Bay Lightning

All signs point to a revival in Tampa thanks to new management's acquisitions, including forward Simon Gagne. Defense and goaltending remain a crutch, but both should be improved.

17: New York Rangers

Hopes are high on Broadway as offensive sparkplug Marian Gaborik's supporting cast improves with the addition of sniper Alexander Frolov. But the team's focal point remains netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

18: Montreal Canadiens

A healthy season should reap rewards for Montreal's improving offense and young defense, but questions revolve about Carey Price in net. Sniper Michael Cammalleri and Andrei Markov remain team catalysts.

19: Calgary Flames

A questionable offseason leaves Flames fans reeling. This could represent the last stand for the team's leadership behind Miikka Kiprusoff, Jarome Iginla and GM Darryl Sutter.

20: Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim's a veteran club experiencing a decline, but has playoff-caliber talent. The play of veterans like Ryan Getzlaf, plus young stars Bobby Ryan and goaltender Jonas Hiller, will determine success.

21: Carolina Hurricanes

Aggressive retooling has the 'Canes headed in the right direction. Eric Staal and Cam Ward provide the new leadership, but a playoff trip requires big things from defenseman Jamie McBain, a former Badger.

22: Colorado Avalanche

Prime candidate for growing pains, but Avs are one of the NHL's risers. Continued success rides on maturing the offense and whether goaltender Craig Anderson duplicates his amazing 2009-10 season.

23: Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto's finally moving upward after a full-blown makeover. Verona native Phil Kessel is healthy and should score 40 goals, but improved goaltending with Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Dion Phaneuf's leadership keys the resurgence.

24: Columbus Blue Jackets

This once steady upward mover now seems stuck in neutral. Rick Nash remains the go-to guy, but he needs offensive help. Can goaltender Steve Mason rediscover his magic from 2008-09?

25: Edmonton Oilers

After Ales Hemsky's devastating injury, Edmonton hit bottom in 2009-10. Improving players like ex-Badger Tom Gilbert, Sam Gagne, and Andrew Cogliano should spring a recovery, along with future superstar Taylor Hall.

26: Dallas Stars

Ownership transition has wreaked havoc on the Stars. Former Badger Adam Burish adds grit and leadership, but Mike Modano's departure looms large. The club's major issue is its suspect — at best — goaltending.

27: New York Islanders

The Isles' foundation is finally on solid footing thanks to young stars John Tavares and Kyle Okposo, but defenseman Mark Streit's severe injury is crippling. Goaltending problems remain a crutch.

28: Minnesota Wild

Minnesota's reassembling project remains a work in progress, evolving to more of an offensive-first style. The Wild hope forward Martin Havlat and goaltender Niklas Backstrom can expedite the process.

29: Atlanta Thrashers

Major roster/management changes spell trouble for the Thrashers, who lack star appeal. Youngsters like Evander Kane will see plenty of ice, while goalie Chris Mason will see plenty of rubber.

30: Florida Panthers

New GM Dale Tallon instituted full-scale changes as the Panthers cleaned house. Florida will suffer through severe growing pains, but this organization is started back on the right path.


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