By Stephen London
After a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, the Washington Capitals and the rest of the NHL teams are getting prepared for an 82-game season. Here are some predictions about where teams will finish in the league's reconfigured divisions.
1. Detroit Red Wings -- The Red Wings picked up Daniel Alfredsson and have young talent in Justin Abdelkader and Damien Brunner, among others. The Red Wings also have one of the better goaltenders in the league in Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings usually manage to stay in the playoff hunt, and this year shouldn't be different.
2. Montreal Canadiens -- Having a 63-point season last year, the Canadiens surprised many hockey fans by beating the Bruins for the top of the Northeast Division. But Montreal does not match up well against the favorite in its new division, the Red Wings.
3. Boston Bruins -- Acquiring Loui Eriksson, but letting go of Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin, is a big step. The question is, in which direction did those steps take the Bruins? This season will determine whether their offseason moves were worth it. The Bruins still have solid players in Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara, but how long can these players keep it going? Still, Boston should make the playoffs.
4. Ottawa Senators -- The Senators gave up some of their best young talent to trade for Bobby Ryan, but he is worth the price tag. The Senators have a chance at making a late-season push to make the playoffs, but their division got tougher with another perennial playoff team coming in the mix in the Red Wings.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs -- The Leafs added David Clarkson, but Mikhail Grabovski left to the Capitals. This team did make the 2012-13 postseason, but goaltender James Reimer is suspect. Can he carry the Leafs when they are slumping in the scoring department?
6. Buffalo Sabres -- A big question when it comes to the Sabres is whether Ryan Miller will play the way he has the last two seasons (combined 48-38 record) or the way he did from the 2005-06 to 2010-11 seasons (215-115). Miller went from being one of the best goaltenders in the league to possibly not even being the backup goaltender on Team USA. Unless Miller returns to his previous form, the Sabres are unlikely to make the playoffs.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning -- There is so much talent between Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, not to mention the Lightning have one of the better general managers in the league in Steve Yzerman, but this team has done little with the expertise. The Lightning are moving into a more competitive division, and although they have a better chance of making the playoffs than the Panthers, that is not saying much.
8. Florida Panthers -- The Panthers had an unlucky 2012-13 season. Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg went down for the season early on, and Florida's playoffs hopes left with them. Although the Panthers will get those two studs back, this team doesn't appear bound for the postseason.
1. Chicago Blackhawks -- The reigning Stanley Cup Champions are primed to make another postseason push. In addition to their offensive prowess, their defensive core is one of the best in the league. If the Blackhawks do not win the division, it will be a surprise, but expect them in the playoffs either way.
2. St. Louis Blues -- Like the Blackhawks, the Blues have gotten to the playoffs each of the last two seasons. St. Louis has one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL (Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott) and has built the roster out from the net. The Blues should make a late-season push with players such as David Backes, Alex Steen and Chris Stewart.
3. Minnesota Wild -- The Wild were expected to make a bit more noise than they did during the 2012-13 season, but getting to the playoffs was a good start for the first season of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter being teammates. Minnesota has a shot at making the 2013-14 playoffs, but players such as Dany Heatley will have to prove themselves. The Wild have good goaltending, but they need the primary and secondary scorers to fill their roles.
4. Nashville Predators -- An up-and-coming team, the Predators have a lot of young talent, such as Filip Forsberg, acquired from the Capitals in April for Martin Erat. One of the best goaltenders in the league, Pekka Rinne gives this team a shot at a playoff bid, but the Preds need some scoring help. Players such as Marc Fisher and David Legwand are great building pieces, but Nashville needs more dynamic players on its roster.
5. Dallas Stars -- After acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Bruins, the Stars have gathered a roster filled with young, talented players. Jamie Benn, Seguin, Cody Eakin and Alex Goligoski, among others, provide youth and plenty of talent to build a winning franchise. But Kari Lehtonen is not the best goaltender in the league. If the Stars want to make a run in the playoffs, they should find a better goaltender.
6. Colorado Avalanche -- Other than the Florida Panthers, the Avalanche had the worst 2012-13 season, tallying 39 points during 48 games. But Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and P.A. Parenteau provide a young spark of a talented future to come. This team might be able to surprise a few people, but it is unlikely to have sustained success.
7. Winnipeg Jets -- The switch of divisions will be cruel to the Jets, who went from one of the easiest divisions to one of the hardest. The Jets may be able to make it to the playoffs if Ondrej Pavelec has a career year. Other than that, the Jets will probably be in the bottom half of the division.
1. Los Angeles Kings -- Having one of the best goaltenders in the league in Jonathan Quick sets up the Kings' season nicely. The Kings have not only kept their core of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty, but they are also rebuilding with players such as Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford. The Kings are going to be a solid team for a while.
2. Vancouver Canucks -- The Canucks fired their head coach in Alain Vigneault and traded their future goaltender in Cory Schneider, but their new coach, John Tortorella, may be able to bring a winning formula to British Columbia. Vancouver could take the division, but there are still questions about whether Tortorella's scheme will mix with the roster.
3. San Jose Sharks -- The Sharks haven't missed the playoffs since the 2002-03 season, but they have been labeled choke artists because they have yet to get to the Stanley Cup finals. Brent Burns and Dan Boyle are two of the better defensemen in the Western Conference, not to mention Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture give San Jose talent on offense. This team should make the playoffs, but how far will it get?
4. Anaheim Ducks -- Losing Bobby Ryan to the Ottawa Senators took a toll on the roster, but the Ducks received Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first-round pick for the 2014 draft. With Corey Perry and company, the Ducks could make the playoffs, but would probably be a fringe team.
5. Edmonton Oilers -- The Oilers have a young, talented group of forwards, including Nail Yakupov, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. What will define this team is whether its defense and goaltending can keep up with the dynamic offense.
6. Phoenix Coyotes -- The Coyotes should be decent, considering goaltender Mike Smith has been proving himself the last couple of years. But because their schedule got harder, the Coyotes will need an amazing run from Smith in order to contend for the playoffs.
7. Calgary Flames -- The Flames may avoid a last-place finish in their division, but do not expect much more than that. Trading Jarome Iginla in March took veteran leadership off the roster. Also, Flames goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff retired during the offseason. There are a lot of question marks when it comes to the Flames.
The next edition of the NHL Report will include step-by-step playoff predictions. Who will make the playoffs, and which team will win the Stanley Cup?
Posted Sept. 14, 2013