Four months after the Washington Capitals made history and won the Stanley Cup, hockey has finally returned, with the defending champions among eight different teams taking the ice on Wednesday night to begin the 2018-19 NHL season.

The offseason had no shortage of big-name headlines, what with John Tavares leaving New York for Toronto and Erik Karlsson finally finding a new home amid Ottawa's hectic rebuild. But now the games can begin, and with them, the hunt for the Stanley Cup.

As we debut this season's first edition of NHL Power Rankings, you'll notice that last year's champs are not No. 1 on our pecking order. In fact, they're not even close. And that's because, while the Capitals deserve every ounce of respect for their unprecedented and unpredictable journey past the Vegas Golden Knights over the summer, they certainly aren't the favorite entering the new year.

While the Caps return most of their Cup-winning contributors, it's hard to look at the powers of their conference, let alone the entire NHL, and declare definitively that Washington is best suited to repeat as champions a la their division rival Pittsburgh Penguins a few seasons earlier. The Tampa Bay Lightning are simply stocked with scorers, the Nashville Predators still tout the league's best depth, the Toronto Maple Leafs now have Tavares to go with their speed and the San Jose Sharks added Karlsson to a defense already among the best in the game.

The road back to the Stanley Cup Final, then, will be challenging. And it should be greatly contested. As that road begins Wednesday night, here's our first rundown of all 31 teams for the 2018-19 season:

Biggest Movers
7 Blues
7 Avalanche
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Lightning Maybe this is boring because they've been Presidents' Trophy favorites for a while, but who outranks them in pure talent across the board? 2 30-14-2
2 Predators Sorry, but the depth here is still astounding. The question mark, again, centers on Pekka Rinne's stamina and durability. 2 25-21-1
3 Jets If these were power rankings based solely on upside, the Jets are No. 1. Patrik Laine can still get better, and that's danger for the rest of the NHL. 2 27-15-3
4 Sharks This defense is absolutely incredible. With Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and now Erik Karlsson, they're going to be like the 2016-17 Senators, except with 10 times the scoring ability. 5 18-22-5
5 Maple Leafs John Tavares coupled with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner is a match truly made in heaven. They should never be lacking for offense. 3 28-13-5
6 Golden Knights It'll be hard to replicate their inaugural magic, but Marc-Andre Fleury is still reliable, and the additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty are nothing to sneeze at. 4 32-11-2
7 Capitals No disrespect, Caps fans. The team is still intact, but other teams just got better. Let's see how Todd Reirden handles the challenge. 6 29-13-4
8 Bruins Ryan Donato is back, and they've got a heck of a first line. But that conference is going to present problems in the playoffs. 2 26-12-6
9 Penguins As long as they have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, the Penguins will be competitive. But what about Matt Murray? 2 29-14-3
10 Blue Jackets This ranking is aided by the assumption that Artemi Panarin will step it up in a contract year. They've still got a top-five goalie, too. -- 15-24-9
11 Blues If Jake Allen can be less streaky, this team has a real shot to do damage. Adding Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron and Tyler Bozak are all underrated moves. 7 19-18-6
12 Kings We're hesitant to stand by this one just because this club is getting older and slower in a league increasingly built on speed. But Ilya Kovalchuk is intriguing. 4 17-20-6
13 Flyers They're enigmatic as anyone, but James van Riemdsyk gives the offense some juice. Oh, and we love us some Gritty. 2 20-18-7
14 Ducks Corey Perry's long absence will sting, but the veteran pieces are still there, and John Gibson is back in the fold. They should be getting a little more love. -- 14-26-7
15 Panthers This could be the year the NHL welcomes the Panthers back to the playoffs. They had a hot finish to 2017-18 and only got better offensively with Mike Hoffman. 2 30-12-5
16 Wild This is exactly what they are: Middle-of-the-road. The pieces are there for another run, but they've yet to explode in clutch time. 5 28-13-3
17 Devils There are two ways to take Taylor Hall's MVP breakout: The Devils are serious, or they're now due for regression. Defensive questions remain. 4 14-25-6
18 Flames James Neal has been like a good-luck charm for playoff contenders of late, and the Flames are a sleeper with their improved top six. 3 19-23-3
19 Avalanche They have the potential to shoot up this list. Nathan MacKinnon is the real deal, and Philipp Grubauer could own the net at some point. 7 30-9-4
20 Stars Their top line is still worthy of playoff talk, which dominated the 2017-18 preseason. But their depth leaves something to be desired. 1 19-14-12
21 Oilers It'd be fun to predict a big turnaround two years after Connor McDavid's playoff run, and Cam Talbot should be better, but still, it's too early to believe. 1 27-15-2
22 Blackhawks Corey Crawford and the other vets should stabilize the team, but at what point does management decide whether it's time to deconstruct and start fresh? 2 21-20-5
23 Coyotes They were better than you think in 2017-18, and they've got just a little bit of that Golden Knights castoff vibe to play spoiler again. 5 20-21-5
24 Hurricanes If anything, their defense should be fun to watch. Dougie Hamilton gives the group life, but the jury's still out on Scott Darling in the net. 4 30-10-5
25 Islanders So long, John Tavares. Hello, Barry Trotz. The Isles' defense should improve under their new coach, but there's not much else to fawn over. 2 29-13-4
26 Sabres Rasmus Dahlin alone should give Buffalo hope. After years of complete ineptitude, they have enough depth alongside Jack Eichel to at least be scrappy. 5 12-27-7
27 Rangers Remember when the Rangers sent a letter announcing they'd be rebuilding? That's what kind of year this will be. 2 23-17-6
28 Red Wings Filip Zadina is the name to watch. Until his emergence, this year is (again) all about offloading any remaining, aging contracts. 1 16-25-7
29 Canucks Elite talent is lacking, especially on defense, but between Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, they have a few exciting building blocks. 3 18-18-3
30 Canadiens It's hard to put a team with Carey Price this low, but he's coming off a rough go, and now Pacioretty is gone, as is Shea Weber until December. 1 19-15-9
31 Senators Yikes. Put yourself in Matt Duchene's shoes, going from a really bad Avs team to a really bad Sens team in just a few years. 1 16-26-4