There are still a few more free agents to sign and decisions to be made in training camp, but for the most part, rosters are set. So this week, we'll look at some of the best teams by position, starting today with the 10 best forward groups in the NHL.
In addition to my own thoughts, I've checked in with an NHL talent evaluator to provide another angle on each group.
General manager Ray Shero was remarkably efficient in tackling his offseason to-do list after the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs by the Boston Bruins. But looking back, it's still incredible he was able to bring back everybody he did in a cap system. Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz have annual cap hits under $4 million per season, which is great value. Matt D'Agostini, who scored 21 goals with the Blues in 2010-11, might end up being a sneaky good signing.
This forward group has everything you want in an elite unit -- starting with strength down the middle with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Brandon Sutter. James Neal brings size on the wing, Dupuis the speed. Beau Bennett has great patience with the puck for a young player (he's 21) and is a great passer. There are not a lot of weaknesses here.
NHL talent evaluator's take: "I think the guy they'll miss the most because he's been there is Matt Cooke. Say what you want about Cooke, but he was an effective player for them. I thought [Brenden] Morrow was really good for them in the playoffs. He was excellent. But with all the injuries and everything else, one thing they've had consistent there is that third line, and Cooke had been an effective player there."
The reigning champs lost depth up front with the departures of Dave Bolland and Viktor Stalberg, but GM Stan Bowman has done a good job cultivating talent in the AHL, and there will be players ready for an expanded role this season. The foursome of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are the pillars of this forward group, and Bryan Bickell emerged during the playoffs as a winger with needed size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds) and scoring ability. Whether he can continue that pace during an 82-game season -- and the expectations that come with a new contract -- will be a big question.
Brandon Saad had a strong rookie season, although 15 of his 27 points came in March and he had just one goal in 23 playoff games. He's still just 20 years old, and consistent production eventually will happen.
NHL talent evaluator's take: "Ultimately, you can't deny what Bickell did in the playoffs. I think he's an important guy on that team in the sense that he's a good player, a big body and they're built around speed and tempo. He gives them some weight in the top six. The only thing I get concerned about is that he had a good six weeks. He's going to be playing with one or two of Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Toews. He's going to be an effective player. I'm going to be mixed to say at $4 million, does that equate to 30 goals next year? I don't think that's going to happen."