Oh, this is amazing. It’s like a combination of Christmas morning, and waking up to find that your pet that ran away has come back home. I’ve never been so excited for school to start, because the NHL is back! Without further adieu, lets preview the season.
Lets start with the Western Conference.
Anaheim Ducks: Can the Ducks rebound from a poor 2011-2012 season? That answer is going to hinge on two things- a happy Bobby Ryan, and their secondary scoring. Ryan’s name has been heard in trade rumors for over a year now, and even asked to be traded before the lockout. The man who was picked right after Sidney Crosby has been a steady scoring force for the Ducks, and if they were to trade him, they had better get a lot in return if they want to make the playoffs. The Ducks secondary scoring will also be huge. Everyone knows about Getzlaf, Perry, Ryan, and Selanne, but they need other players to step up if they’re going to have a good season. They need an aging Saku Koivu to have another solid year and overall more contributions from the 3rd and 4th lines in 2013. My Prediction: 12th in the West.
Dallas Stars : The Stars are one of the more interesting teams for me. They made big additions in the offseason, bringing in Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Derek Roy. I love all these moves, and with a core of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, and Michael Ryder, they look to be a big threat offensively. But can Dallas’ defense hold up and can Kari Lehtonen stay healthy? They lost Sheldon Souray in July, leaving a rather nonchalant group of defensemen. With the defense being nothing special, can Lehtonen stay healthy and get the Stars back to the playoffs? He’s had a history of injury, and I believe the Stars are only going to go as far as he takes them this year. My Prediction: 9th in the West.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are largely the same team that won the Cup last June. They didn’t really lose anyone to free agency, and didn’t really sign anyone either. Having said that, the Kings were very average during the regular season last year, and Jonathan Quick is the only reason they won it all. I’m looking forward to seeing what Slava Voynov can do this season. He was quietly very good for the Kings down the stretch last year. But how much of a cup hangover will they have? The lockout certainly will have helped with that, but a pattern of recent cup winners the following year has been of disappointment. Anze Kopitar recently hurt his knee playing in Europe, and while the extent of the injury is not known yet, that would certainly been a huge loss for them. My Prediction: 3rd in the West.
Phoenix Coyotes : The Coyotes made the Western Conference Finals last year, lets not forget that. They are always solid defensively, and somehow find a way to win a lot of their games. But to continue a tradition, I’m going to undervalue the Coyotes this year. They lost Ray Whitney, Shane Doan is a year older, and there is just no way Mike Smith can do it again. They did make a solid acquisition of Zbynek Michalek from Pittsburgh, and I believe Oliver Ekman-Larsson could still be the best player drafted in 2009, a class which includes John Tavares, Matt Duchene, Brayden Schenn, and Victor Hedman. I’m really high on Ekman-Larsson, but I don’t know if Phoenix has enough offensively to get the job done. My Prediction: 13th in the West.
San Jose Sharks : I think the Sharks are done. If it were up to me, I would start rebuilding the Sharks right now. Despite them having a number of good players, I think there core is too old to compete for a Stanley Cup. Does anyone think they have what it takes to compete with the best teams in the league? Trading Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle now certainly wouldn’t be very popular amongst Shark fans, but they could still get a lot of talent in return, and build around Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brent Burns. They’re a good team now, but if they want to win a cup, I think they need to consider trading some of their older stars. My Prediction: 11th in the West.
Calgary Flames: What can I say about the Flames that hasn’t already been said? They insist on trying to win a cup for Iginla and Kiprusoff, but are nowhere close to having a cup contending team. Do I think they have a chance at making the playoffs? Sure, everyone has a chance. They have a better team than I think they get credit for. I simply think they are going to struggle because the Western Conference is going to be very competitive, not because they are poor. Everyone knows about Kiprusoff and Iginla, but Jay Bouwmeester is still solid, despite the criticism he gets based on his salary. Adding Wideman and Hudler were decent moves, if you don’t look at the contracts they signed. And I think they have decent 2nd tier scoring. Having said all those nice things, yes, it’s time to rebuild. My Prediction: 15th in the West.
Colorado Avalanche : The Avs will be an interesting team this year too. They’re so young they should get better simply by having aged over the summer and lockout, and they signed PA Parenteau, which was a very good move in my opinion, but did they do enough? It seems like a number of teams in the Western conference improved more the Avs in the offseason (Dallas, Columbus, Edmonton, Minnesota) and those are all teams that didn’t make the playoffs last year. I think losing Jay McClement is really going to hurt the Avs, and I think it was a mistake not signing Peter Mueller. However, Semyon Varlamov is having a great year in Russia, and Duchene is healthy, but like I said, I’m just not sure they did enough to get into the playoffs. My Prediction: 8th in the West.
Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers had the #1 pick again this summer, and are looking pretty strong going into the shortened season. So many good, young players: Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Gagner, Paajarvi, Lander, and then if healthy Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff will be solid contributors, and to top all of that off, they luck into signing Justin Schultz after his classless move in Anaheim. The consensus seems to be that the Oilers will be much better than previous seasons, but I’ll take it a step further, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team make a run in the playoffs. If Devan Dubnyk can have a solid year, this team is going to be dangerous. My Prediction: 6th in the West.
Minnesota Wild : The Wild received a lot of talk during the lockout after signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to huge contracts. The Wild are going to be better next year with the signing of those, and they have a very solid prospect base coming up, but they still have their holes. After Suter, there is not a ton of talent on the blue line, and if goalie Niklas Backstrom struggles for any reason, their other options are not great. I do really like what they have going offensively with Koivu, Parise, Heatley, and Setoguchi, but I’m not convinced they are a lock for the playoffs like a lot of people seem to think. My Prediction: 10th in the West.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks should continue to be one of the best teams in the Western conference this season. The biggest change will be in goal, where they will be turning to Cory Schneider in favor of Roberto Luongo. I’ve always thought Luongo received a lot of unfair criticism and it will be interesting to see if Vancouver ships him to another team, or maybe uses one of the amnesty buyouts on him. I still think it was a poor decision to trade Cody Hodgson, but Vancouver is in win now mode, and they look at strong as ever. They did spend a lot of money on Jason Garrison over the summer which I don’t think was a great move, but I don’t see a lot of weakness on their roster. I believe Ryan Kesler is going to have a bounce back year too, which will help them make a run at a 3rd straight Presidents Trophy. My Prediction: 1st in the West.
Chicago Blackhawks: A year ago, people were talking about how the Blackhawks were poised to make another run at the Stanley Cup, but shaky goaltending led to a first round exit from the playoffs. I still believe in Corey Crawford, and I think the Blackhawks could be a bit of an under the radar team to win the cup this year. They’ve got the talent offensively, they have a strong defense, a lot really just depends on how well Crawford holds up between the pipes. I think Patrick Kane is going to have a big year, I’m also high on Duncan Keith this year, and of course you still have Toews, Hossa, Sharp, Bolland, and Seabrook. The Blackhawks should be a very dangerous team this year. My Prediction: 2nd in the West.
Columbus Blue Jackets: I actually think the Blue Jackets are going to be better this year. I like the moves they made in the offseason. To start, I thought bringing in Sergei Bobrovsky was a great move. He’s underrated in my opinion, and he has a solid defense around him. I’m a big believer in Jack Johnson, I think James Wisniewski is going to have a better year, and Fedor Tyutin, and Nikita Nikitin are both underrated. That’s a solid defensive core. I think they did decent in the trade with the Rangers, and I liked the trade for Nick Foligno. Overall, I don’t think Columbus is going to be the worst team in the league this year. My Prediction: 14th in the West.
Detroit Red Wings: And the post Nicklas Lidstrom era begins. The Wings really struggled without Lidstrom in the lineup last year, so it will be very interesting to see how they fare this year. They did get better by bringing in a better backup goalie (Jonas Gustavsson) and Carlo Colaiacovo, but there is no way to replace what they’re losing. They still have Datsyuk and Zetterberg and a strong supporting cast, but I’m fulling expecting a dip in the number of wins. The team is getting older, and with what I would imagine is going to be a lot of back to back games, that could hurt them in the shortened season. And if there you were thinking about rooting for them, remember, they still have Todd Bertuzzi. My Prediction: 7th in the West.
Nashville Predators: It was quite the offseason for the Preds. They lost Ryan Suter, and almost lost Shea Weber. Nashville retained their captain after matching a huge 14 year, $110 million offer sheet from the Flyers. They also have one of the best, if not the best goalie in the NHL, in Pekka Rinne. They are a lot like the Coyotes, you always tell yourself this is the year they have a bad year, and are going to miss the playoffs, but come April they always seem to make it. They lost some nice players with Suter, backup goaltender Anders Lindback, and Jordin Tootoo, but it’s too hard to bet against them. They don’t really have a star on offense, but Barry Trotz just continues to get the job done. My Prediction: 5th in the West.
St. Louis Blues: The Blues were the biggest surprise in the Western Conference last year, after firing their coach early and bringing in Ken Hitchcock, they quickly rose to the top of the Central division. Look for Alex Pietrangelo to continue to become one of the best defensemen in the NHL, as well as for Kevin Shattenkirk to continue to improve. The Blues have a lot of solid offensive players as well: David Backes, TJ Oshie, David Perron, Andy McDonald…and the list goes on. However, maybe the strongest part of the team is the goaltending. Halak is one of the best in the league, but look for Brian Elliott is have a drop in production. I’m not saying he can’t be effective, but I expect his numbers to come back down to earth. In fact, I expect the Blues as a whole to come back down to earth a little. They’re still a very good team, but I think they overachieved a little in the regular season last year. My Prediction: 4th in the West.
Carolina Hurricanes: I get to start off the Eastern Conference with probably the most interesting team in the conference this year. They made some bold moves in the offseason, trading for Jordan Staal, and signing Alex Semin. Add in Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Chad Larose, and Jussi Jokinen and you understand why Caneiacs are excited to see the offensive show this team could put on. But the big question for the Hurricanes is will the blue liners hold up. The defensive core of this team is nothing to write home about, and while Cam Ward will keep them in games, I don’t know if they can make the playoffs with their current D. My Prediction: 10th in the East
Florida Panthers: The Panthers won the division last year. That’s almost hard to believe. They are another team that made some interesting moves over the offseason. They lost Jason Garrison, but for what he got in Vancouver, I can’t say I blame them. I love the Peter Mueller signing. He is finally healthy, and easily could turn into Tomas Fleischmann 2.0. I’m also excited to see what happens in goal for the Panthers. Jose Theodore was solid last year, but everyone knows Jacob Markstrom’s time is coming. I’ve been hearing about this kid for a while, and really am looking forward to seeing what he can do. But will that permanent role on the Panthers come in 2013? The Panthers are a tough team to forecast, they are going in the right direction, but there are a lot of teams that have improved in the east. My Prediction: 8th in the East.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Southeast division is full of intriguing story lines! I’m very interested to see how Tampa fares this year. I love the Anders Lindback trade, I think he’s going to be a very good goalie for them. They also solidified the blue line by bringing in Matt Carle and Sami Salo. And of course they still have Steven Stamkos, Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, and Victor Hedman. This also brings me to my annual, “This is the real Lecavalier returns to form” prediction. He’s due, and has a good supporting cast! It’ll be interesting to see how Teddy Purcell continues to develop, and if Ryan Malone can stay healthy. This team was a game away from the Stanley Cup finals 2 years ago, and with the defensive and netminding additions, they could make another playoff run. My Prediction: 3rd in the East.
Washington Capitals: The story lines just continue with Washington! Can Braden Holtby become the #1 goalie we saw in the playoffs last year? How will Mike Ribeiro fit in on the 2nd line? Will the Capitals finally make a run in the playoffs? The Southeast is not the cakewalk it was for them a couple of years ago. I don’t like the Ribeiro move, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it works out really well. I think throwing another guy on that team with a big ego could be a very bad decision, but they really needed a 2nd line center, and he should be productive. An under the radar signing is Wojtek Wolski. Another guy with a big ego, but after the trade to Florida last year, he was semi productive, and I think he will have a chip on his shoulder. The biggest question mark for the Caps is what kind of goaltending they’ll get. If Holtby regresses, they could be in some trouble. My Prediction: 5th in the East.
Winnipeg Jets: Winnipeg is the least interesting team in the division by far, for me. They didn’t make any huge splash in free agency but I don’t think the Olli Jokinen signing will be too bad. I think the biggest hurdle for the Jets could be there work ethic/decision making. The offseason was a rough one for some of the Jets biggest names. Evander Kane was cut from his KHL team, there were questions about Dustin Byfuglien’s physique (Kane’s too), and goaltender Onderj Pavelec was arrested for DUI in the Czech Republic. Those are not the kind of offseason updates I would want to hear if I was a Jets fan. With the improved division, I can’t see the Jets making the playoffs. My Prediction: 14th in the East.
New Jersey Devils: The winner of the Eastern conference last year was in the headlines quite a bit during the offseason, but mostly for the loss of captain Zach Parise. The Devils really didn’t get anyone of note in the offseason either making the Parise loss even worse. I do believe the Ilya Kovalchuk is going to have a big year, much like some of his in Atlanta, but with Martin Brodeur getting another year older (see Dwayne Roloson) and the Devils playing so many tough division games, it could be a long, short season for New Jersey. I am interested in how Adam Larsson, and Adam Henrique continue to develop, and a lot of the Devils success this year could depend on them, and the health of Travis Zajac. My Prediction: 7th in the East.
New York Islanders: The Islanders also made some nice additions. They made a nice trade for Lubomir Visnovsky, and picked up Brad Boyes. They also have some decent pieces in place with Tavares, Matt Moulson, and Michael Grabner. But Boyes is going to have to return to his 40 goal scoring self, and guys like Moulson, Grabner, and Kyle Okposo are all going to need huge years if the Islanders are going to see the playoffs this year. The future is bright on Long Island (and Brooklyn) though, and it will be interesting to see how prospects Ryan Strome, and Nino Niederreiter factor into the 2013 squad. My Prediction: 15th in the East.
New York Rangers: The biggest move of the offseason was Rick Nash going from the Blue Jackets, to the blue shirts. Nash, for the first time in a while, maybe even his NHL career, will be surrounded with all star talent and a winning team. Nash will join Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Henrik Lundqvist to form one of the most lethal all around teams in the NHL. The shortened season could hurt the Rangers as the chemistry with Nash will probably not be there right away, but adding Nash to a solid offensive group, a strong defensive core, and maybe the best goalie in the league means the Rangers are prime for a long playoff run. My Prediction: 1st in the East.
Philadelphia Flyers: The powerhouse teams in the Atlantic division just keep coming. The Flyers biggest offseason move was bringing in Luke Schenn to join forces with his brother and add depth at defense. The questions for the Flyers are not about their offense, which sports a solid group including: Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and Matt Read, but rather the defense and goaltending. Schenn certainly will help, and if they got Chris Pronger back (unlikely) they would be all but set for a playoff run. Some (all) Flyer fans seem to question Ilya Bryzgalov in net, but he will be fine! He actually had a much better year than people give him credit for (2.48 GAA, .909 save percentage) and really had a strong end to the season before that odd playoff series with Pittsburgh. My Prediction: 6th in the East.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Healthy Sidney Crosby, check. Add him to a team that includes Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Sutter, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and Marc-Andre Fleury, and you get one of the best lineups in the NHL. When this team is healthy it makes you wonder who is going to stop them. And that is a very valid question. Fleury is nowhere near at bad as everyone makes him out to be after the Flyers playoff series. He could come into the season with a chip on his shoulder too. I don’t really see a weakness on this team, they have the biggest stars in the NHL, and quality role players (Kennedy, Sutter, Niskanen etc.) When healthy, I feel like this is the last team another team would want to play in the playoffs. My Prediction: 4th in the East.
Boston Bruins: Boston won the cup 2 years ago, and really haven’t lost that many pieces from that team. Tim Thomas decided to quit on his team, but Tuukka Rask is more than capable of being the starting goalie. Tyler Seguin will have another year under his belt for the B’s, and I think David Krejci will have an even better year, toss than in with “Mr. Everything” Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara on the blue line, and Boston could be as dangerous as ever. I think Boston’s biggest strength is their depth. I’ve named 5 players already and haven’t even named Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton, or Johnny Boychuk. The Bruins have the defense and physicality to match up with any team, but can they keep up with a Pittsburgh, New York or Philadelphia offensively? I don’t think so, but solid years from Seguin, Krejci and Lucic could make it a lot closer. My Prediction: 2nd in the East.
Buffalo Sabres: Before last season started, people were talking about Buffalo as a potential Stanley Cup team, well 1 season, and 1 Ville Leino contract later and the optimism has vanished. Sure, the Sabres could buy out Leino free of the cap space charge, but I don’t know if Buffalo got any better in the offseason. Steve Ott was their biggest offseason acquisition, and will certainly add toughness and grit in response to some soft play last year *cough Lucic/Miller* but I don’t like the trade. I’m big on Derek Roy, and I don’t see where Buffalo’s offense is going to come from. I think Jason Pominville overachieved last year, and Vanek also had a decent year. Cody Hodgson will help, and Drew Stafford needs to bounce back, but with many quality teams in the east, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them miss the playoffs again. Also, will the real Ryan Miller please stand up? The hero of the 2010 Winter Olympics probably wouldn’t even make the team if the games were this year (Jimmy Howard, Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider). My Prediction: 9th in the East.
Montreal Canadiens: After a very disappointing campaign last season, the Canadiens didn’t change much. I think there biggest move was drafting Alex Galchenyuk. Injuries did influence the poor results last year, but couldn’t you say that about every team? They should be able to rid themselves of the infamous Scott Gomez contract, and young players like PK Subban, Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Louis Leblanc should continue to improve simply by aging and developing their skills, but I’m not sure that will be enough for the Habs to contend for the playoffs. Simply put, they will go as far as Carey Price takes them. My Prediction: 12th in the East.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators were supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but fought their way into the playoffs last year, and took the Rangers to the brink in a 7 game series, but will they continue to improve? They lost some decent defensive players from last year (Filip Kuba, Matt Gilroy, Matt Carkner) and didn’t replace them with much better (Mike Lundin, Marc Methot) but Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson is coming back, and so is Jason Spezza, who was 4th in the NHL in scoring last year. Who is going to play goalie for the Sens? Craig Anderson is the easy choice, but Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner both deserve a shot in my opinion. If Kyle Turris can keep improving and put up a 50 or 60 point season, I think they have a real shot at returning to the playoffs. My Prediction: 11th in the East.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Is it an omen, that without planning it at all, the Maple Leafs are the last team on this list? All kidding aside, I like the most the Leafs made…after all, this is their year, right? I like the trade that brought in JVR, but I think playing him at center would be a mistake. Also bringing in Jay McClement was a good move for the Leaf’s PK. The biggest question the Maple Leafs have is in goal. Will they trade for Luongo? Maybe they give Scrivens a chance at the starting role. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Phil Kessel continues to develop. He takes WAY too much flack for something that he had no control of. AND HE’S A GOOD PLAYER. By no means, right now, has Boston won that trade. Kessel was 6th in the NHL in both goals and points last year, without a #1 center! If nothing else, it is always fun to watch the Toronto media overreact to everything the team does. My Prediction: 13th in the East.