2013 NHL Season Preview

Daniel FriedmanCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2013

2013 NHL Season Preview

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    Well folks, we survived. 

    It took several months and game cancellations, but the NHL and NHLPA eventually shook hands on a new CBA. Hockey is back and, hopefully, we'll get to see some great action in this 48-game lockout-shortened season.

    As for what happens once the puck drops, here's how I think things will play out.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Prediction: Fifth in Pacific Division, 13th in Western Conference

     

    The scoring talent is there; Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and the ageless Teemu Selanne will lead the way. 

    But what the Ducks have on offense they lack on defense, and goaltending is always a question when you consider Jonas Hiller's health over the last few years. 

    Don't expect much success from Anaheim this season.

Boston Bruins

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    Prediction: First in Northeast Division, Third in Eastern Conference

     

    Out goes Tim Thomas, in goes another top-of-the-line goaltender in Tuukka Rask. It's just not fair, right? 

    Also, the Bruins still have one of the deepest, more well-rounded lineups in all of hockey. They could contend for the Presidents' Trophy this year, though they'll have some competition in that department. 

Buffalo Sabres

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    Prediction: Third in Northeast Division, Seventh in Eastern Conference

     

    Last season wasn't a particularly good one for the Sabres, who finished shy of a postseason berth despite their offseason shopping spree. 

    Ryan Miller should bounce back from what was a down year by his standards, and I expect his teammates will follow suit. 

    If Cody Hodgson can finally break loose, Buffalo will forget all about the loss of Derek Roy, faster than you can say "La La La La La La Lafontaine."

Calgary Flames

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    Prediction: Fifth in Northwest Division, 14th in Western Conference

     

    One of hockey's more disappointing teams over the last few seasons, the Flames won't buck that trend in 2013.

    You know Jarome Iginla will show up and score goals on a regular basis. Neophyte Sven Baertschi has a chance to become Iggy's successor as the future sniper on this team, and he impressed when called upon last year. 

    Mike Giordano leads a paper-thin defensive corps that includes overpaid and overrated newcomer Dennis Wideman. 

    It also helps to have veteran goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, a model of consistency and hard work, between the pipes. 

    I don't expect the Flames to do much in the "playoff contention" department this year; neither should you.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Prediction: Fifth in Southeast Division, 12th in Eastern Conference

     

    Another team that just missed the playoffs last year, the Hurricanes knew they needed to improve going into 2012-13. 

    They have certainly done that, adding Jordan Staal and Alex Semin. Couple those two with Jordan's brother Eric, Jeff Skinner and Jussi Jokinen, and the 'Canes have something going offensively. 

    Defensively, however, the story's a bit a different. Other than Jamie McBain, Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen, there isn't much depth there. 

    Cam Ward has always been a stalwart in the crease for Carolina and I see no reason why that shouldn't continue. 

    This team will compete for a playoff spot in 2013, but I think they fall short in a deep conference and an ever-deepening Southeast Division. 

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Prediction: First in Central Division, First in Western Conference


    Chicago was eliminated early in the playoffs and will be looking for redemption. 

    Not only that, but they're talented enough to be the class of the conference. I don't really need to sit here and explain to you who they have or don't have, because none of you live in a cave (I assume).

    The only doubts I have about the Blackhawks are in goal. Can Corey Crawford rebound from a disappointing year? He's the key. If Crawford regains his focus, the 'Hawks are going to be downright impossible to stop. 

Colorado Avalanche

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    Prediction: Second in Northwest Division, Ninth in Western Conference

     

    The Avalanche continue to accumulate good, young talent and the pieces are meshing together quite nicely. 

    New kid on the block P.A. Parenteau won't produce quite as much as he did last year with the New York Islanders, but he'll still be a contributing factor.

    The nucleus of Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly is a strong one.

    At times, goaltender Semyon Varlamov looked spectacular; at other times, not so much. If he can solve his consistency woes, the Avs will be in the hunt all the way down the line. 

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Prediction: Fifth in Central Division, 15th in Western Conference

     

    To say that the Columbus Blue Jackets have been an abysmal, horrifically-subpar hockey team over the last few years would be a ginormous understatement. 

    It's almost a running joke at this point, isn't it? 

    Now that ex-franchise player Rick Nash has been traded to the New York Rangers, things only get worse from here, not better. 

    Brandon Dubinsky should have a bounce-back season, but I'd be shocked if both he and fellow newcomer Artem Anisimov can have as many points combined as Nash will have by himself this year. 

    There's just no depth anywhere on this roster. Absolutely none. 

    Ryan Johansen, Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner will be future studs, but that is quite some time away from coming into fruition and only one of those three currently plays for the Jackets. 

    All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put these Columbus Blue Jackets back together again. The only thing keeping this season from being worse is the fact that it's only 48 games long. 

     



Dallas Stars

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    Prediction: Third in Pacific Division, 10th in Western Conference

     

    The Stars are going to be competitive this year, and have the pieces to do so. 

    Kari Lehotonen emerged as a not quite elite, yet still very good netminder for Dallas last season and, assuming he keeps that up, his team will be in the thick of things for as long as he's part of it. 

    Nothing will change the fact that Jaromir Jagr in a Stars jersey is going to look weird as anything. He is, however, one hell of a hockey player. 

    As is the case with Jagr, Ray Whitney is still a productive, ageless wonder. 

    Derek Roy, acquired from Buffalo for Steve Ott, should help offset the loss of Mike Ribeiro, who was traded to Washington during the draft. 

Detroit Red Wings

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    Prediction: Second in Central Division, Fourth in Western Conference

     

    Nicklas Lidstrom's retirement presents the Red Wings with perhaps their toughest challenge in over two decades. For the first time in nearly an eternity, the Wings do not have an elite presence on the blue line.

    Fellow Swede Nicklas Kronwall is a good defenseman, not a great one. He'll likely be on the top pairing with Jonathan Ericsson, who is neither unimpressive or overly-impressive.

    Ian White and Jakub Kindl are also reliable, but the bottom line is, this year's squad isn't as good as last year's. 

    Henrik Zetterberg was a deserving choice for the captaincy, and I think he'll fill that role admirably.

    Detroit still has more than enough talent, depth, experience, leadership and all the intangibles to be a playoff team. I fully expect them to be one. 

Edmonton Oilers

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    Prediction: Fourth in Northwest Division, 11th in Western Conference

     

    There isn't an organization in this league with more young talent than the Edmonton Oilers.

    I'd list the names of recent draft picks, but that would be a tremendous waste of everyone's time. It's simply unnecessary (for your convenience, there's a picture above showing three of 'em). 

    Look out for Justin Schultz, the spoiled, yet supremely-gifted defenseman who signed with the Oilers this past summer. He tore up the AHL and is poised to do the same at the next level, though the transition might not be quite as smooth as some anticipate. 

    Devan Dubnyk has a bright future as an NHL goaltender and gets better and better each night. That trend should continue in 2013. 

    The Oilers will be a much-improved hockey club this year. They might not make the playoffs, but don't worry: They will get there soon enough. 

Florida Panthers

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    Prediction: Second in Southeast Division, Eighth in Eastern Conference

     

    The Florida Panthers made the playoffs last year, something that they hadn't done in the previous twelve: 

    Even better, they captured the Southeast Division, beating out a superior Washington Capitals team for those accolades. 

    Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida's third overall pick in 2011, will give them the offensive juggernaut they've been missing, arguably since Pavel Bure (or, if you want to stretch it, Olli Jokinen).

    Additionally, the continued development of rearguard Erik Gudbranson and goaltender Jacob Markstrom will benefit the Panthers to a significant extent.

    I like the moves GM Dale Tallon made in the offseason; particularly the signing of defenseman Filip Kuba. 

    His decision to invite forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexei Kovalev could turn out to be a stroke of genius as well. 

    The Panthers are on the way up, and I see no reason why they can't land a second straight postseason berth. 

Los Angeles Kings

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    Prediction: First in Pacific Division, Second in Western Conference

     

    Ah, the defending champs. 

    I don't believe in Stanley Cup "hangovers," so let's just throw that argument into the discard pile right away. This is an excellent hockey team and, for the most part, is the same exact one that went to and dominated the playoffs.

    There's nothing to say here, nor is there anything else that really needs to be said. L.A. will be a threat all season long.  

Minnesota Wild

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    Prediction: Third in Northwest Division, Seventh in Western Conference 

     

    The Kings may have won the postseason, but the Wild won the post-postseason. 

    Minnesota successfully reeled in the two marquee free agents on the market in Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, and is a much improved hockey team because of that. 

    There is, however, another player who perhaps hasn't gotten nearly as much attention since the arrival of Parise and Suter. Not to worry, that should change when the puck drops tomorrow night. 

    His name is Mikael Granlund, and he's a sure-fire candidate for Rookie of the Year.

    Granlund's a dynamic forward with a ton of potential and though Parise is undoubtedly Minny's "can't-miss" offenseman, Granlund's the one you won't want to. 

    Though it's unlikely he'll stick around all season, it's worth noting that 2012 first-round pick Matt Dumba will be on Minnesota's opening night roster. He, along with Jonas Brodin, is expected to be a future anchor on defense in St. Paul. 

    Nicklas Backstrom is still one of the more underrated goaltenders in the NHL, and backup Josh Harding would be a starter himself on quite a few teams. 

    The Wild are going to be a playoff team, but expectations should be probably be tempered just a bit. This is still a work in progress, even if it doesn't appear to be right now. 

Montreal Canadiens

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    Prediction: Fifth in Northeast Division, 15th in Eastern Conference

     

    For Habs fans, pretending last season never happened is probably something that's in their best interests. 

    I'd love to be able to say that 2013 will be different. Unfortunately, that's not something I can, because the Canadiens are still very much the train wreck that they were the year prior. 

    Even without Scott Gomez, yes. 

    Carey Price is the main reason why Montreal will be remotely competitive, though they do have a few bright spots in David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Erik Cole and Brian Gionta.

    Lars Eller and Louis Leblanc have plenty of untapped potential, though neither has been able to utilize it on a consistent basis. 

    On defense, P.K. Subban and Josh Gorges lead a defense corps that is, for lack of a better term, subpar.

    If 2013 top-pick Alex Galchenyuk makes the team, he could provide a spark, though not one big enough to transform the Habs into something they currently are not: a playoff team. 

Nashville Predators

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    Prediction: Fourth in Central Division, Eighth in Western Conference

     

    The Predators will certainly miss Ryan Suter, but thankfully, they still have Shea Weber and a supporting cast that is quite impressive. 

    Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, Hal Gill, Kevin Klein, Jonathan Blum, Roman Josi and Scott Hannan are all reliable; there's not a single one of those guys I wouldn't take on my hockey team.

    There are no scoring stars on this team but there are plenty of quality forwards. Collectively, this is a very solid offense and one that was high-scoring even before Alexander Radulov's late-season arrival. 

    Radulov's gone now, but the Preds will survive. 

    Of course, having Pekka Rinne between the pipes is just an added bonus. After all, he's only one of the best goalies in the league. 

    Nashville has what it takes to make the postseason. I don't expect them to contend for a Stanley Cup this time; they were in better position to do that last year. 

    They will get back there soon enough, though. They're headed in the right direction.

New Jersey Devils

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    Prediction: Fifth in Atlantic Division, 13th in Eastern Conference

     

    Some of you might call me insane for predicting a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals last season to finish 13th in their conference the following year. 

    I'm not insane, I assure you I've been tested. I'd like to think I know a thing or two about hockey, however. 

    The loss of one Zach Parise is really going to hurt New Jersey.

    Adam Henrique, who I hold in tremendous regard and do honestly believe has "Chris Drury" (the good one) written all over him, is going to miss a decent amount of time because of his injury and that's going to hurt this team even more. 

    I chalk it up to this: The Devils have a capable, yet aging netminder in Martin Brodeur. They essentially have just one line that can actually produce offensively and though on defense they're fairly sharp, there's simply not enough depth here. 

    Making matters more difficult, most of the teams they're competing with got better over the offseason, while New Jersey took a step back with Parise's departure. 

    The clock has struck midnight on the New Jersey Devils. 

New York Islanders

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    Prediction: Fourth in Atlantic Division, 10th in Eastern Conference

     

    You're probably going to laugh at me for saying this, but I wholeheartedly believe the Islanders have a shot to make the playoffs this season. 

    It's hard to tell based on their draft position over the last few years, but the Isles have absolutely made progress over the course of that timespan. 

    The nucleus of this team continues to mature, led by John Tavares, who's no longer well on his way to being a top-10 forward in the NHL: He is one. 

    Between Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner, Brad Boyes and Frans Nielsen, the Islanders have enough scoring talent to be competitive. 

    Defensively, they're still lacking, but they do have Travis Hamonic and Mark Streit, and if Lubomir Visnovsky ever shows up, he'll make a difference as well.

    Thomas Hickey, who was L.A.'s fourth-overall pick in 2007, could prove to be GM Garth Snow's latest waiver wire steal. He's a very talented defenseman with offensive upside. Hickey had a tough time cracking a deep Kings roster but, then again, who the hell wouldn't? 

    Evgeni Nabokov proved down the stretch that he's capable of stealing hockey games. If the Isles let him play more often and allow him to be "the guy," he will not disappoint. 

    Do I think the New York Islanders will make the postseason this year? I don't. But they're a lot closer than they've been in years, and that's a very positive sign. 

New York Rangers

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    Prediction: First in Atlantic Division, First in Eastern Conference

     

    If you were to ask me who I believe to be this year's favorite to win the Stanley Cup, I'd tell you that the New York Rangers, in my opinion, are best positioned to do so. 

    Why? Because there's not a single aspect of their roster that lacks depth. 

    New York's blueline is probably the most well-patrolled in all of hockey right now, and though the Rangers haven't exactly been an offensive juggernaut, they certainly haven't been anemic.

    The addition of Rick Nash will be a tremendous a boost, and having Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin in the lineup from the start should help as well. 

    Oh, and they have Henrik Lundqvist. 

    I might be an Islander fan, but I'm not delusional. The New York Rangers, in my opinion, are the class of the Eastern Conference this year. 

Ottawa Senators

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    Prediction: Second in Northeast Division, Sixth in Eastern Conference

     

    I'll admit, I picked Ottawa to finish dead last in the conference last season, a prediction the Sens took out back and shot it to death.

    Needless to say, I won't be making that mistake again. Not only because of what happened last year, but because the Sens are simply a much better hockey team than I gave them credit for.

    Though I was vehemently against Erik Karlsson winning the Norris Trophy because the defensive aspect of his game isn't particularly developed yet, I'm still aware that he's nothing short of a puck-blasting point-accumulating dynamo on the blueline.

    Daniel Alfredsson's age has really started to show, but he's still got something left in the tank and enough to be a contributing factor in Ottawa. You know what you're going to get out of Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. 

    Look for Kyle Turris to have a breakout year. Turris impressed during the Sens' first round series against the Rangers last season and, now that he's truly been given a fresh start, I expect him to come storming out of the gate.

    Craig Anderson has shown he can be a reliable puck-stopper and, should he continue to be one, the Senators will be just fine. If he struggles, however, that might be problematic.

    Short of that, this team will make the playoffs.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Prediction: Third in Atlantic Division, Fifth in Eastern Conference

     

    Philadelphia will be a competitive team this year, though perhaps slightly worse than they were in 2011-12.

    Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk have been cast away, but the continued maturation of Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Matt Read should help the Flyers cope. Newly-appointed captain Claude Giroux is poised for another dominant season. 

    The addition of Brayden's brother Luke Schenn on defense should help shore up Philly's defensive corps, assuming Luke can perform at the level he's capable of. 

    But not all is right in the universe. Unless Ilya Bryzgalov can find a way to fix that "humongous big" goals-against average, the Flyers are going to be in for a wild ride. 

    All in all, they're certainly a playoff team. How far beyond that point they go really depends on their part-philosopher, part-goaltender. 

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Prediction: Fourth in Pacific Division, 12th in Western Conference

     

    2011-12 was a banner year for the Phoenix Coyotes; a trip to the Western Conference Finals and a new agreement to keep the team in Glendale. Things couldn't possibly go downhill from there...could they? 

    Turns out, they could indeed. 

    Losing Ray Whitney is a big deal, especially for a team that struggles to produce as much as Phoenix does. Whitney led the 'Yotes in assists and points. They'll have a tough time replacing that production, and I don't think they really have the personnel to do so. 

    Mikkel Boedker is a breakout candidate, as is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Either or both of those guys turning loose would be a major benefit, but it'll still be a rough go for Phoenix.

    I'm not worried about their goaltending situation. The Coyotes are in good hands with Mike Smith between the pipes.

    At the end of the day, I think there are other teams in the conference that have improved to the point where they've surpassed this Phoenix squad, which in my opinion, has now taken a step back with the loss of Whitney. 


Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Prediction: Second in Atlantic Division, Fourth in Eastern Conference

     

    The Penguins appear to be the consensus pick to win the Stanley Cup this year, and though I expect them to be very good, I respectfully disagree with the popular vote. 

    I don't think people quite realize how much of a role Jordan Staal played in Pittsburgh. He was always overshadowed by someone, whether it was Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, both Crosby and Malkin, Marian Hossa or even James Neal. 

    Not to say Staal went unnoticed, because he certainly did not, but to think that his departure is something the Penguins can simply shake off is just foolish.

    This was a guy that did all the little things, was strong on the penalty kill, could play in all situations and produced quite well for a second-line center, let alone a third-liner. Brandon Sutter is going to be a real solid hockey player, but he's no Jordan Staal. Don't kid yourself.

    It's really not necessary for me to sit here and explain why the Penguins are a contender, because you all know the story.

    Don't misunderstand me; I expect them to be one. I just don't think they're as well-rounded as Boston or the Rangers.

San Jose Sharks

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    Prediction: Second in Pacific Division, Sixth in Western Conference

     

    I honestly believe this is the Sharks' last hurrah. 

    Should they fail to deliver serious damage in the postseason (assuming they get there, of course), it would be irresponsible of management not to tear down the sandcastle and rebuild. 

    The Sharks have underachieved for six straight years now; a seventh has to be the final straw. 

    Theoretically, San Jose has everything you look for in a Cup contender; a well-balanced offense, fairly-solid defense and quality goaltending from Antti Niemi, who turns his game up a notch or two in the playoffs, much like Chris Osgood did for so many years with the Detroit Red Wings. 

    It's time for the Sharks to put up or shut up, there's just no avoiding it anymore. 

St. Louis Blues

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    Prediction: Third in Central Division, Fifth in Western Conference

     

    In a way, the St. Louis Blues are the Rangers of the Western Conference. 

    Though not quite as deep as the Blueshirts, they're very solid on both offense and defense, with rising stars sprinkled throughout the roster. 

    The Blues are already one of the better teams in the West. Once the youngsters mature, they're going to be dominant. 

    I love the way Alex Pietrangelo's raised his game; he'll be an elite defenseman within the next two seasons. Jaroslav Halak brings competitiveness and consistency between the pipes, as does his backup Brian Elliott. 

    Don't be surprised if St. Louis goes deeper in the playoffs than you expected them to. 

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Prediction: Third in Southeast Division, Ninth in Eastern Conference

     

    Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier lead a dynamic offense that will show up for Tampa Bay. You know this team's going to score goals, that's never been their issue. 

    On defense, however, there's still a lot of work to be done. It's time for Victor Hedman to take the next step in his career. I think it's still a bit early to call him a bust, but we're not far from that point. 

    I think Anders Lindback is going to surprise people, but even still, the lackluster defense in front of him will make matters very difficult. 

    The Lightning can make the playoffs, but Lindback must come through and GM Steve Yzerman must find a way to shore up his team on defense. 

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Prediction: Fourth in Northeast Division, 14th in Eastern Conference

     

    It's going to be another mediocre season for the Leafs.

    I really thought they'd be improved by now, but some of the youngsters they've drafted (see: Kadri, Nazem) haven't exactly materialized into quality NHL talent. 

    Hopefull, Kadri will make the team out of training camp and prove me wrong. I'm not going to hold my breath, though. 

    Phil Kessel, along with the trio of Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MaCarthur and Nikolai Kulemin, should give the Leafs some assistance in the attacking zone. Ditto for newcomer James van Riemsdyk, who brings size and skill to the table. 

    James Reimer's a good young goaltender and he'll keep Toronto in games, much like Carey Price will do for the Canadiens, but as will be the case in Montreal, the Leafs aren't going to make the playoffs. 

Vancouver Canucks

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    Prediction: First in Northwest Division, Third in Western Conference

     

    We might not know who's going to be in goal for the Canucks by season's end, but whether it's Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, Vancouver will be just fine, as far as the standings are concerned. 

    Jason Garrison should provide some offense from the blueline, but don't be surprised if it's not as much as you were anticipating, or as his contract suggests he should be producing. 

    The 'Nucks will have to fare without Ryan Kesler until he recovers from his injury, but I think they have enough depth to take the hit. 

    Vancouver will make the playoffs; it's just a question of what happens once they get there. 

Washington Capitals

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    Prediction: First in Southeast Division, Second in Eastern Conference

     

    To be honest, I really thought that the Capitals would win the Stanley Cup at the start of last season. 

    I still think they can, though the competition both within their division and conference has definitely intensified, and the Caps will have to be up to the challenge if they want to win. 

    This should have happened last season, but Alex Ovechkin will bounce back. There's little doubt in my mind. He's also a more complete hockey player than he was before, as he demonstrated in the playoffs. 

    The acquisition of Mike Ribeiro was a very smart one, because it gives Washington a ton of depth down the middle. Ribeiro's been added to a mix that already includes Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson. 

    Look for Karl Alzner, who's turning into quite the complete defenseman, and John Carlson to be even better this year. 

    Lastly, keep any eye on Braden Holtby, the wonder-child goaltender who led the Caps through the postseason as a 22 year old this past Spring. 

Winnipeg Jets

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    Prediction: Fourth in Southeast Division, 11th in Eastern Conference

     

    It's a good thing Winnipeg fans cheer their team whether they win or lose, because they won't be winning much this year. 

    Though the Jets are absolutely getting better, so did their division and that's going to spell disaster for 'em in 2013. I like the fact that they brought in Olli Jokinen. I think that was a good move.

    I also think that the young guns like Evander Kane, Mark Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov, Zach Bogosian and Spencer Machacek are getting better every night.

    Ondrej Pavelec isn't an upper-tier goaltender yet, but give him another year or two and he'll reach that level. 

    There will be several wins for the Winnipeg Jets this season, just not in the standings. A year of maturation and improvement is a positive year for a young team, the Jets being no exception.

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