We are just hours away from ending this entirely too long offseason and beginning a short 48-game season. This season could be very interesting with teams having players who are in game shape after playing overseas and some who haven’t played at all.
Let’s start in the Eastern Conference
1. New York Rangers – The Blueshirts have maybe the best goalie in the game in Henrik Lundqvist and the addition of Rick Nash will help them stay atop the Atlantic.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pens only had Sidney Crosby for 22-games and still managed to finish one-point out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Some questions on blue line are the only thing keeping the Pens from taking the division.
3. Philadelphia Flyers – This is officially Claude Giroux’s team, turning himself into a household name last season. He is now the cover boy of EA Sports’s NHL 13 and now the 19th captain in team history. Glaring holes on defense and questions between the pipes keep the Flyers third in the division.
4. New Jersey Devils – I can’t see the Devils duplicating the success they had last season in the playoffs, if they make it at all. The loss of Zach Parise will loom large this season and could we see the final run of the legendary Martin Brodeur?
5. New York Islanders – This is only team keeping the Devils out of last in East. Garth Snow maybe the worst GM in the entire league. The only chance they have at being competitive is if Evgeni Nabokov can continue his stellar play from last season.
1. Boston Bruins – With Tim Thomas taking the season off it’s Tuukka Time. Tuukka Rask has put up nice numbers in the league so far, so that might not be a bad thing. The B’s will stop atop the Northeast but this is going to be a very competitive division.
2. Ottawa Senators – They arguably have the best young corp in the game and are led by savvy veterans Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. Erik Karlsson is developing in one of the best defensemen in the game, mediocre netminding keeps them from taking the division.
4. Buffalo Sabres – Look for a rebound year from Thomas Vanek and strong second year from Cody Hodgson. The Sabres cannot afford another slow start in this lockout shorten season, if they hope to make the playoffs again.
5. Montreal Canadiens – The Habs continue the changes that their fans have grown accustom to over the last ten-years. P.K. Subban still has yet to receive a contract, a slow start puts pressure on management to get a deal done.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs – With Brian Burke gone the Leafs may be a better position to negotiate with the Vancouver Canucks to get Roberto Luongo. Until then they are stuck with James Reimer.
1. Washington Capitals – Last year was an off-year for the Caps in which for the first time since the 2006-2007 season they didn’t capture their division crown. Superstar Alex Ovechkin had an off-year as well. Expect Washington to turn that around this season and be back atop the Southeast.
2. Carolina Hurricanes – A team who failed to make the playoffs made a flurry of offseason moves signing Alexander Semin and Joe Corvo. They also pulled of the huge Jordan Staal trade, who will now play with his brother Eric Staal.
3. Florida Panthers – The surprise team from last season, will look to continue their success this season. I’m not so sure that Jose Theodore at 36 will be able to stop the added fire-power the division has added.
4. Tampa Bay Lightning – Tampa went and added Andres Lindback and that will determine how far the Bolts can go this season. Vincent Lecavlier and Martin St. Louis are getting older, but they do have one of the best goal scorers in the NHL right now in Steven Stamkos.
5. Winnipeg Jets – They just missed the playoff last season and they are hoping the addition of Olli Jokien will help them this time around. Evander Kane is one the best kept secrets in the NHL. He tallied 30-goals in his third season in the league.
Eastern Conference Finals New York Rangers over Washington Capitals
Now looking at the Western Conference
1. Vancouver Canucks – One of the main things helping the Canucks win this division is that it easily the weakest division in the NHL. The move to start Cory Schneider was the best move as the team will look to move to move Lou now.
2. Minnesota Wild – Easily the biggest story of the offseason, minus the lockout, was the Wild signing Ryan Suter and Zach Parise to huge paydays. With a division this weak that is enough to finish second.
3. Colorado Avalanche – A young team that is slowly on the rise, in two or three years they could be a playoff team. They have a young stud Gabriel Landeskog who is poised to be a superstar in this league.
4. Calgary Flames – Age is catching up the Flames fast. If Calgary is out of it look at them to move some pieces and go into rebuilding mode.
5. Edmonton Oilers – The perennial bottom feeders of the league, they just added another first overall draft pick in Nail Yakupov. They just can’t seem to put it together, maybe another year or two things will start to gel.
1. St. Louis Blues – They have the best goalie tandem in Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak. They have returned their 50-plus point guys, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, and Alex Pietrangelo.
2. Nashville Predators – Pekka Rinne is the reason the Preds will finish ahead of the Black Hawks. The biggest offseason move was matching the offer sheet the Flyers offered for stud defenseman Shea Weber and the biggest loss was of course Suter to the Wild.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Corey Crawford is shaky in the net and they have average defense. They have a stellar set of forwards but they rest of the team drags them down.
4. Detroit Red Wings – It looks like the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom is changing things in Hockeytown. Usually you see free agents coming in, not going out.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets – Where to start with this club? Sergei Bobrovsky could become the starter, but it won’t take much to accomplish that. Their only superstar, Rick Nash, was traded in the offseason.
1. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings are bringing back their entire lineup, why would anyone expect less than a division crown. Anze Kopitar might miss some games at the start of the season.
2.San Jose Sharks – This team is getting older, guys like Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle could be looking at their final run together. Is this the year the team everyone picks year-in and year-out finally puts it all together.
3. Phoenix Coyotes – Mike Smith was a pleasant surprise last year for the ‘Yotes. Shane Doan is coming back which is a boost for the team who almost made the Cup Finals last season.
4. Anaheim Ducks – This a team that can go either way. Teemu Selanne is probably entering his final season and Bobby Ryan seems unhappy. The team had an amazing second half and if they play like that they could take the division.
5. Dallas Stars – Jaromir Jagr in Dallas seems pretty weird on the surface, until you look deeper. After seeing what he did for Giroux in Philly and the fitness he brought, maybe Dallas thinks he can do the same for them.
Western Conference Finals St. Louis Blues over Los Angeles Kings
Stanley Cup Finals New York Rangers over St. Louis Blues
John is the NHL Editor-in-Chief for The Inscriber. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyMacNHL.
E-mail John JohnnyMachurek@theinscriber.com