The National Hockey League lockout is now over, and its time to play hockey. The Western Conference is always very competitive, and I expect nothing less this season. It may even be tighter than previous years because of the 48 game lockout shortened schedule. Here is a quick preview, and the predictions to how Inside Edge Hockey News sees this season unfolding in the Eastern Conference.
1 - Pittsburgh Penguins – Its almost impossible to not to think this team will have a great year when you look at their roster. With a healthy Crosby back in the mix , and Malkin coming off a career year, things look great in Pittsburgh. The one weak point in the playoffs was Fleury in net. That shaky play will probably not be an issue this season, but if it is the off-season acquisition of Tomas Vokun solidify any questions.
2 - Boston Bruins – The Bruins have all the pieces in place to have a great year. Tim Thomas is gone but I am not sure that matters with Tuukka Rask ready to take over as the starter. He is a solid goalie and will not have any problems filling Thomas’s void. The Bruins have at least six players that will have thirty plus points in this shortened season. This team is deep, really deep. I look for them to roll through the Northeast Division.
3 - Tampa Bay Lightning – It will be a bounce back year for the Lightning this season. Last season was a bit of a struggle, but I look for the Lightning to take charge this season and win the new improved Southeast Division. It looks like Stamkos will be ready to carry on his torrid goal pace of last year, and St. Louis will also add his share of points. The question mark is in net. Will Anders Lindback have what it takes to be a quality starter in the NHL.
4 - New York Rangers – It always seems like just when you think the Rangers are poised for a cup run something goes wrong. The addition of Rick Nash to the line-up definitely adds more scoring punch up front, but will he live up to the high expectations. The Rangers have always been known for adding all the high dollar stars, but also not winning with all the high dollar stars. The Rangers will have a good year, but will not live up to expectations.
5 - Washington Capitals – The question is what Capitals team will show up this season. The roster looks solid and fairly deep, but what type of emotion will this team have with Adam Oates behind the bench. The two main question marks are. Will Ovechkin regain his scoring power, and is Braden Holtby ready to be a starting goalie in the NHL.
6 - Philadelphia Flyers – This team is gritty, and a tough team to play against. The Flyers are pretty solid on offense, and will be led by Claude Giroux. His point totals last year surprised many, and it is critical to this teams success for him to repeat these numbers. The loss of Chris Pronger will be difficult for the defensive depth, and Ilya Bryzgalov’s inconsistent play is a cause of concern.
7 - Buffalo Sabers – The success of the Sabers depends on if Ryan Miller bounces back from a sub-par season last year. The addition of Steve Ott will add toughness up front, which is something the Sabers needed. I look for Buffalo to have a pretty solid year, and make the playoffs.
8 - Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes will slip into the playoffs this season. The addition of Alexander Semin and Jordan Staal will add some much-needed depth up front. The Hurricanes will not go without their struggles this season, but the experience and consistency of Cam Ward will pull them through.
9 - Florida Panthers – The Florida Panthers are a team without too many stars, and a team that will have its struggles at the gate, but this team is close, very close. The question marks in Florida are scoring depth, and how successful Jonathan Huberdeau will be in his rookie season.
10 - Ottawa Senators – Last season the Senators shocked the hockey world with their success. This year may be a different story. There is just too many question marks in Ottawa. Is the offense deep enough? Will Jason Spezza continue to put up numbers, and what will happen with Craig Anderson in net? It may be a long season for the Senators.
11 - Winnipeg Jets – The Jets continue to improve, but the process is not moving as fast as their fans would like. The additions of Ponikarovsky and Jokinen will help, but the Jets will still struggle. That will probably be the case until they finally get transferred out of the Southeast Division. Hard to be successful with all that travel.
12 - New Jersey Devils – How quick teams fall. The Devils came up just a few games short of winning the Stanley Cup last season and this year they will not make the playoffs. The loss of Zach Parise will be huge. He is one of the NHL’s top players. The second biggest question is Martin Brodeur. He has actually struggled quite a bit of late (with the exception of the playoffs). Should he have retired on top last season. I guess we will have to what happens this year.
13 - Toronto Maple Leafs – I cannot figure this team out. They fire their general manager just days before the season starts. How can this be good timing. The mess will continue on the ice this season. This is a young team without a proven goalie, and this does not look like a recipe for success. More a recipe of disaster.
14 - Montreal Canadiens – Not sure what to think here. They have the potential to slip into a playoff spot, but it just does not seem likely this season. The no contract situation with PK Subban will not help matters. That situation may last longer than expected. This is one pick where I could be proven wrong.
15 - New York Islanders - This is another franchise that is in disarray. The Islanders hope that the announcement that they are moving to Brooklyn will change their results. Unfortunately this will not help their on ice success. This team needs improvements on offense and defense. Also, will this team ever recover from the DiPietro signing?
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Tampa Bay Lightning versus Boston Bruins
STANLEY CUP FINALS
St. Louis Blues versus Tampa Bay Lightning
STANLEY CUP CHAMPION - St. Louis Blues