So I did this last year and enjoyed it so I thought I would try it again. Here is my best guess at how the standings will look by the end of this season. This is assuming that key players don't go down via injury, even though we all know that will happen. So have a look. Tell me what you think.
1.) Washington Capitals - This is by far the easiest pick. Weakest division in the Eastern conference and a dominant offense equals a first place finish for Alex Ovechkin and company. Additionally my gut says that between Semyon Varlamov and Michael Neuvrith that the goaltending is going to be superior to years past.
2.) Boston Bruins - This one was a bit tricky but makes sense to me. Tuuka Rask is an excellent goaltender and Tim Thomas is no slouch either. Additionally they have depth down their lineup. I'm convinced that this year they will refind their mojo and score at a much better rate. Add to that a solid blueline led by Zdeno Chara and what's not to love.
3.) New Jersey Devils - I know they are going to lose a few bodies in the near future. But seeing that line of Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk is more than enough to make up for any depth loss. Adding Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder to the blueline was a great move by Lamouriello. And I think that Martin Brodeur has at least one more Vezina qualifying season left in him.
4.) Pittsburgh Penguins - Missing Jordan Staal to begin the season will sting a little bit. There is a very high probability that if Evgeni Malkin is healthy that Pittsburgh will take the Atlantic crown from New Jersey. I expect it to come down to the end of the season. But New Jersey wins in one major category to me and that is goaltending. Marc Andre Fleury is not Brodeur.
5.) Buffalo Sabres - Ryan Miller made his name seriously known last year and I'd expect that he continues to win games. If key players perform well they could give Boston a run for its money. To do so they will need Thomas Vanek to step up his game and play like he did in 08-09 and less like he did last year. Additionally they'll need a full season from Tim Connolly and for Tyler Myers to repeat/improve on his Calder winning performance.
6.) Philadelphia Flyers - The goaltending is a mess but this team has lots of offensive weapons and serious grit. Add to that an impressive blueline with Chris Pronger leading the way and they will have no problem making the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how Ville Leino and Nikolai Zherdev do, however. Will Leino repeat his playoff magic and can Zherdev ever escape being an enigma?
7.) Ottawa Senators - The big question in my mind is who will be in goal. Brian Elliott or Pascal Leclaire, neither is a terrible option but one of them needs to up their game. Aside from that the Sens added Sergei Gonchar who should definitely help their powerplay, which was a slight weakness last year. Losing Volchenkov will hurt a little but this team should still make the playoffs.
8.) New York Rangers - Honestly there are a few teams that could possibly fill this spot. But seeing as I'm a Rangers fan and I like to be optimistic I'm putting the Rangers here. There are a lot of good pieces on this team. Henrik Lundqvist is an elite netminder. Marian Gaborik is a game-changing scorer. Marc Staal is a premiere defensemen. They just need to find offense outside of Gaborik and play smart hockey.
9.) Tampa Bay Lightning - This is my dark horse pick in the east. There are still questions about just how good their goaltending and defense is but there is no doubt about the offensive potential this team has. If Simon Gagne can light a fire under Vincent Lecavalier then there is the potential to have a potent one two punch. The problem is that I get the feeling they will give up just as many goals as they get. But maybe they will prove me wrong.
10.) Montreal Canadiens - I know that they were a playoff team last year and they are putting out a similar unit this year. My problem lies with Carey Price. I think he is going to melt under all the pressure and Bob Gainey is going to look like an idiot for getting rid of Jaroslav Halak. Their offense will win them enough games to keep them competitive but I just don't see how they make it unless Price proves all his pundits wrong.
11.) Atlanta Thrashers - The addition of Chris Mason was good. I also like all the scraps they managed to scavenge from the champion Chicago team. But this is the year for them to tread water I think. Unless some of the young guns on this team really step up I just don't see how they make the playoffs. They will be a pain in the ass to play against but I think they are a year away from really making a run.
12.) Carolina Hurricanes - If Carolina can avoid losing two of its best players for significant time this season they will do better. But it seems like it will be a year of middling for the Hurricanes. After Eric Staal the best scorer on the team is Jussi Jokinen and I have my doubts about Jokinen having another season like last years. They will not be total pushovers but they will be in a rebuilding phase this year.
13.) Florida Panthers - Florida still has Tomas Vokoun who is a legitimate elite goalie. But they have a lot of youth on their blueline. There are questions abound about what they can produce and they traded away Nathan Horton who was one of their top scorers.
14.) Toronto Maple Leafs - The Phil Kessel express can only carry this team so far. Dion Phaneuf will definitely make an impact. You know that any team assembled by Brian Burke is going to be a major headache to play against, but they are a star or two away from making any kind of splash.
15.) New York Islanders - They are in one of the toughest divisions in hockey. They have a great youthful core. But they will be without their number one defenseman in Mark Streit for the majority of the season and now have lost Kyle Okposo for two months possibly more. Its not looking good for the Fish Sticks.
1.) Vancouver Canucks - Two healthy Sedins will make a world of difference especially if Henrik continues to put up the points he did last season. They have a solid offense and a serviceable defense along with Roberto Luongo. They have the opportunity to win the west, its on them to capitlize on it. Which I think they will.
2.) Detroit Red Wings - They will benefit from the blowout sale that was the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason. With a full season from rookie phenom Jimmy Howard and hopefully more of a season from Johan Franzen they should be able to win the division. If they can stay healthy they have every chance to make a run for the cup.
3.) Los Angeles Kings - This was the toughest division to pick a winner for. But with a lot of depth with players like they have. The next great defenseman in Drew Doughty and a goaltending duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. They will have every opportunity to take Pacific division crown.
4.) San Jose Sharks - The only reason they don't take the Pacific crown is because their defense will be in transition mode. I say that referring to both the goalies and the defensemen. They will still be an excellent team that can score with the best of them. It's just hard to pick them to win the division when they have Antero Niittymaki and Antti Niemi minding the crease(despite the fact that Niemi won the cup).
5.) Phoenix Coyotes - As long as Ilya Bryzgalov plays like he did last year this team should be just as good. They did lose Zbynek Michalek which is significant but they upgraded their offense and have more than enough suitable replacements on defense. Dave Tippett worked his magic once all ready its no stretch that he'll be able to do it again.
6.) Chicago Blackhawks - They just can't be as good as they were last year. They lost way too many pieces. However, it does not mean they will miss the playoffs. The core is still there. The defense is incredibly solid. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are always a threat. I'm curious to see how Marty Turco does, my guess is a whole lot better than last year.
7.) Nashville Predators - They swapped out Dan Hamhuis for Ryan Parent. They added Matt Lombardi after he had a breakout season in Phoenix. They always find a way to make the most out of very little. It's just hard to bet against them. All though its unfortunate that a perennial playoff team is never good enough to win a playoff series.
8.) Colorado Avalanche - Last year I was very wrong about them. This year I'm more of a believer in Craig Anderson being capable as a starter. They have a lot of young talent that will need to at least match last year's performances. But if they surpass expectations like they did last year there is no reason they won't make the playoffs.
9.) Calgary Flames - They brought in the old this offseason. Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay were the big names added. If Tanguay finds his chemistry he once had with Jarome Iginla then he could definitely make up for a dissappointing season in Tampa. I just don't see how they can be much improved over last season. But they will definitely be waiting in the wings if someone stumbles.
10.) St. Louis Blues - This is my dark horse pick for the western conference. They have a young core, that if they step up as expected, will be a great group of players. Add in Jaroslav Halak, who has proven he can win games on his own and they may surprise some people. I'm just not overly confident that they can pull it all together this season.
11.) Anaheim Ducks - They play in a tough division. Scott Niedermayer retired. They still have one of the most potent lines in the whole NHL. Jonas Hiller has played well enough. But they are just not good enough to compete with LA, San Jose and Phoenix.
12.) Columbus Blue Jackets - Columbus is hoping Steve Mason is not the next Andrew Raycroft. I am not yet convinced he isn't. They have some talent but they fail continually to win consistently. It remains to be seen how they will really play under their new coach but odds are they won't be making playoff appearance number two.
13.) Minnesota Wild - Niklas Backstrom is due for a bounce back season. Minnesota added some interesting pieces. But they truly lack a game changer. Mikko Koivu is no slouch but he is not the game changer they really need. Additionally the additions they made were more supporting characters not the main attractions.
14.) Edmonton Oilers - They have people talking. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Magnus Paajavari look like they could seriously do some damage. It will be interesting to see how Khababulin does. They could be the Avalanche of this season to come. But my money is on them spending another year in the western conference basement.
15.) Dallas Stars - It was the end of an era in Dallas this offseason. Marty Turco and Mike Modano are out and they will be missed. Kari Lehtonen is the new number one, and is all ready hurt. I honestly don't know who his backup is and that is a little scary for them. Their defense has to improve this year or it will be a long season in Dallas.
So there you have it. My "predictions," let me know what you all think. And as a last prediction I say that San Jose will finally raise a cup at the end of this season.