Let the madness begin.
The NHL is back, and with a shortened season no team can be counted out of making the playoffs.
A 48 game season will be interesting because if a team can get hot for 15-20 games they may be contending for the Cup come April.
On the flip side, any team that starts off slow can be eliminated from playoff contention early.
A shortened season will give some teams an advantage, and others a disadvantage. Although, these six teams will most likely be found on top of their respective divisions once the season ends.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Atlantic Division, which will be the most competitive of all NHL divisions this season.
The New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders will give the Penguins a run for their money, but the Penguins will prevail.
The reason being… Sidney Crosby.
Without Crosby for almost all of the past two seasons the Penguins have found themselves as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference twice. In 2011 they finished in second by the means of a tiebreaker to the Flyers, and last year, they were only one point behind the Eastern Conference Champion, New York Rangers.
If they can play that well without the best player in the game, then imagine what they can do with him healthy.
In the 63 games that Crosby has played in over the past two seasons, he has recorded 103 points.
The team that will give the Penguins the biggest challenge will be the New York Rangers. After acquiring Rick Nash in the offseason the Rangers have been called the best team on paper coming into this season.
While that may be true, the best team on paper is not always the best team on the ice. Nash won’t have much time to adjust to the Rangers play, and although the Rangers are on the verge of becoming the best team in the NHL, they are not there just yet.
It’s a no-brainer that the Boston Bruins will win the Northeast Division.
Even without goaltender Tim Thomas, the Bruins will fare just as well with Tuukka Rask between the pipes. Rask is relatively young, so he will not be as drained as other NHL goalies towards the end of the season.
The Bruins will be returning almost all of their depth from last season, and a large part of their Stanley Cup roster from 2011.
Zdeno Chara still remains a dominant defenseman, and he has a solid defensive core to back him up. Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk will all see some major minutes at the blue line for the B's this season.
The Bruins will not see much competition from the rest of the Northeast Division. The Ottawa Senators will be their biggest threat, but Daniel Alfredsson’s time is running out. A compact schedule with not much rest in between games will not be kind to Alfredsson.
Last seasons poor performance by Alex Ovechkin will not be repeated, and the Washington Capitals will thrive off their captain’s success.
Ovechkin only scored 38 goals last season and had his worst statistical season of his career. But, the Capitals still found a way into the playoffs as the seventh seed and were able to knock off the defending champs in the first round.
The Capitals will also have some stability this year, they will have a coach that will bring their offense back to where it was a few years ago.
Adam Oates, who was the assistant coach for the Devils last season, did some great work with their offense. He brought the most defensive minded franchise in the history of the sport from last place in the NHL in scoring up to 15th place in one season. Imagine what he can do with one of the best offensive teams in the NHL.
Oates is the stimulus that Ovechkin needs to get back to scoring 100 points per season.
Mike Green will also be back to anchor the Caps defense after signing a three-year contract extension.
Green is two years removed from his 76-point season and now that he is past all his injuries, he will become a dominant defenseman once again.
As for goaltending, the Capitals will rely on Braden Holtby, who amazed the NHL during last year’s playoffs. If it so happens that Holtby was only a fluke, the Capitals will have Michal Neuvirth, who is a more than capable backup.
The Central Division is the Western Conference’s version of the Atlantic Division. It is home to four competitive teams that will all be in contention for the playoffs.
Picking a clear-cut winner isn’t easy, but the Chicago Blackhawks have the edge with the Detroit Red Wings close behind.
St. Louis and Nashville won’t be too far behind either.
The Blackhawks will once again have a core group of players returning. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane will anchor their offense while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will work the blue line.
Johnny Oduya will be an under-the-radar player too. He is a great defensive defenseman that also sees the ice well.
Since he only played in 18 games wearing a Blackhawks sweater last season, the Blackhawks still have yet to see his potential.
The Canucks have won the Northwest Division four years in a row, and although they will face a competitive team in the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks will still end the season on top.
Even with the acquisition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter this offseason, the Wild will not be ready to advance to the next level. The two new assistant captains will have no time to adjust to the Wild in the short season. By time Parise and Suter start to come around, the Canucks will have already run away with the division.
The Canucks are returning the Sedin twins, both of who have been dominant over the past few years. They will also have a great goalie tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.
Although, there have been talks of Luongo being traded, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis will do what is best for the team and Luongo. Being that the season is short and compact, it may be of his best interest to keep Luongo and have a great one-two goaltending punch.
If Luongo ends up being traded, the Canucks will gain a lot of assets for him.
The bottom line is, the Canucks have the depth that they need to compete with a weak Northwest Division.
The Los Angeles Kings barely squeaked into the playoffs last season, but ended up winning the Stanley Cup.
This year, they will win the Pacific Division and make another deep playoff run.
They are well rested from the lockout, so a cup hangover is unlikely, and they have momentum from last season to start this year off well. A great start can be the difference between making the playoffs or not in a 48 game season.
The team hasn’t changed much since winning the Stanley Cup just seven months ago. Losing Anze Kopitar to a knee injury for the first few weeks of the season won’t hurt the Kings too much. They have depth at the center position and should do just fine without him.
As for goaltending, Jonathan Quick’s excellence goes without saying; he will have one of the best years of his career after coming off a Stanley Cup Championship. Jonathan Bernier can handle the backup duties without a problem too, his ability to step in for Quick has gone unnoticed over the past two years.