It's summertime, which means baseball is in full swing, pro and college football seasons are right around the corner, and the NBA's free agency drama is heating up. But there's another sport out there that you may have heard of... No, not jai alai, I'm talking about hockey -- you know, the NHL, North America's 4th-most beloved sport?

Anyway, as you may or may not have noticed, the NHL's free agent frenzy has basically come and gone, so now seems like as good a time as any to take stock of the offseason's biggest changes and how they affect your favorite teams. Without further ado, here are the early power rankings for the 2008-09 NHL season:

Rank '08 Rk Team Comment
DetroitRedWings 1. 1 Detroit Red Wings The rich only got richer this offseason, adding Marian Hossa for sub-market value and locking up good role players in Brad Stuart and Ty Conklin. Once again, they're the clear favorites to hoist Lord Stanley's Mug.
DallasStars 2. 3 Dallas Stars After pushing the Champs to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals, they're banking on an agitator (Sean Avery) to put them over the top. Claude Lemieux notwithstanding, when has that ever worked out?
SanJoseSharks 3. 4 San Jose Sharks Brian Campbell? Who needs him? Dan Boyle, Brad Lukowich, & Rob Blake will pick up the slack. Or so they say. Either way, this is a core that is capable of challenging Detroit and Dallas.
PittsburghPenguins 4. 2 Pittsburgh Penguins Retained most key Cup-run assets (Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury), but losing Hossa, Ryan Malone & co. has them down a notch.
AnaheimDucks 5. 5 Anaheim Ducks Still need to dramatically improve their scoring (27th in G) if they really want to get back in the Cup discussion.
MontrealCanadiens 6. 6 Montreal Canadiens Largely the same as '08, despite the egg they laid against Philly in the playoffs; Alex Tanguay does little to address their defensive shortcomings.
PhiladelphiaFlyers 7. 12 Philadelphia Flyers Shuffled a lot of players in and out this summer, but without a lot of impact. It remains to be seen whether or not they'll regress after '08's turnaround.
CalgaryFlames 8. 10 Calgary Flames Spent the offseason treading water, replacing the departed (Owen Nolan, Alex Tanguay) with similar parts (Michael Cammalleri, Todd Bertuzzi).
NewJerseyDevils 9. 14 New Jersey Devils Lou Lamoriello is apparently attempting to re-create the 1995 Devils' roster. Still, moving up because a lot of the teams around them are trending down.
MinnesotaWild 10. 9 Minnesota Wild Added vets like Owen Nolan & Andrew Brunette, but in all honesty they're the same team they always are: one that can't get over the playoff hump.
NewYorkRangers 11. 8 New York Rangers Underwent radical personnel changes over the summer (cough, Jagr to Russia!), so don't surprised if it takes a while for the new pieces to fit together cohesively.
ChicagoBlackhawks 12. 15 Chicago Blackhawks Made a splash this offseason by signing (overpaying?) Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet. That will at least get them to the playoffs, but how far can they go once there?
BuffaloSabres 13. 13 Buffalo Sabres Didn't bolster their roster much this offseason, even after watching inferior teams pass them over for playoff spots. Still, expect a rebound in '09.
OttawaSenators 14. 11 Ottawa Senators They've been bleeding talent ever since losing the '07 Cup Final. Ottawa's still a decent team, mind you, but they're nowhere near Cup contention anymore -- the Pittsburgh series proved that.
NashvillePredators 15. 16 Nashville Predators Did virtually nothing this offseason, aside from re-signing Ds Shea Weber & Ryan Suter. That might not be a bad thing, given some of the deals other teams made, but it's not going to help the Preds be any better than the mediocre team they were in '08.
WashingtonCapitals 16. 17 Washington Capitals Dynamic young offensive team is counting on new G Jose Theodore to replicate the magical run that Cristobal Huet had during their playoff push. Anybody else think that's a little unrealistic?
ColoradoAvalanche 17. 7 Colorado Avalanche It hasn't been a good offseason in Denver, where Jose Theodore skipped town and Peter Forsberg/Joe Sakic might very well hang them up for good.
CarolinaHurricanes 18. 19 Carolina Hurricanes Bolstered a leaky D by adding Joni Pitkanen, Josef Melichar. They were close to the playoffs last year, so a little improvement on defense could go a long way for the '06 champs.
BostonBruins 19. 20 Boston Bruins Really overachieved last season, but their anemic offense should at least be helped in '09 by newcomer Michael Ryder & the long-awaited return of Patrice Bergeron.
EdmontonOilers 20. 23 Edmonton Oilers Re-tooling Oilers added Lubomir Visnovsky and Erik Cole, among others. The health of Sheldon Souray will be important, as will the play of a D which allowed the 7th-most goals in the league last year.
VancouverCanucks 21. 18 Vancouver Canucks Wheeled and dealed over the summer, picking up Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra, Steve Bernier, and others. Still, this group bears little resemblance to the Canucks' strong 2002-04 roster -- both in personnel and quality.
PhoenixCoyotes 22. 21 Phoenix Coyotes Big move was the trade for Olli Jokinen, but that only addresses their need for size and another top-line scorer. They're still a wreck defensively, and now they must replace blueliners Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton.
TampaBayLightning 23. 29 Tampa Bay Lightning No team overhauled themselves as much as Tampa, who added a new coach (Barry Melrose) to go with tons of new players. The offense is still there, but the goaltending was very weak in '08, and the question is whether Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig can improve it.
ColumbusBlueJackets 24. 22 Columbus Blue Jackets Slowly remaking the team in Ken Hitchcock's image (9th-fewest GA in '08). Too bad Hitch's teams never could score, and this team is the poster child for offensive ineptitude.
FloridaPanthers 25. 25 Florida Panthers Markedly improved their weak D by adding Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton in the Olli Jokinen deal... but now they must count on guys like Cory Stillman to pick up the offensive slack, and that's never a position you want to be in.
StLouisBlues 26. 26 St. Louis Blues Is newcomer G Chris Mason one of the best ('07) or one of the worst ('08)? Does it even matter? This offense is still as horrendous as ever.
LosAngelesKings 27. 28 Los Angeles Kings Youth will once again be served, and if the D improves, Los Angeles could surprise some people. However, Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky are gone, and there aren't really any promising replacements to be found.
TorontoMapleLeafs 28. 26 Toronto Maple Leafs For the first time since 1994, franchise stalwart Mats Sundin will be suiting up for an NHL team other than the Leafs in the fall. Meanwhile, Toronto's idea of a big acquisition was former Avs D Jeff Finger. Yep, that pretty much says it all about the Leafs right now.
NewYorkIslanders 29. 29 New York Islanders Simply a franchise in total flux, having freshly ousted coach Ted Nolan. Basically, the team with the 2nd-fewest GF in '08 is counting on 38-year-old Doug Weight to carry the offense. But at least offensive D Mark Streit was a good pickup.
AtlantaThrashers 30 30 Atlanta Thrashers Ron Hainsey, $22.5 million over five years? Seriously?

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