The NHL season gets underway tomorrow as 26 of the league's 30 teams are in action. Many teams enter the year with legitimate Stanley Cup dreams in the league's 48-game season.
The shortened season means a variety of things for teams around the league. The teams with high percentages of returning players and staff would seem to have an advantage. New coaches and signings will need to avoid adjusting slowly or risk losing plenty of ground early on.
The New York Rangers look to build on last year's success of a conference finals appearance and advance into the Stanley Cup finals. They played great defense, but flamed out with an inability to score goals.
They added Rick Nash in an attempt to push them over the edge and boost their goal scoring ability.
The Rangers finished third in goals allowed with only 2.28 goals per game. That defense will continue to be the driving force of the team, but the offensive improvement shouldn't be ignored. As a more rounded team than last year, expect the Rangers to compete for the cup.
The Boston Bruins have dominated the Northeast Division of late, winning three of the last four division titles. They look to continue that trend and hold off improving division rivals—the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.
They will do just that and earn a high seed in the East.
The focus this season won't just be on winning a third straight division title, but on having playoff success. After getting beat in the first round by the Washington Capitals last season, the Bruins have plenty to prove. They return most of their core and will benefit from that chemistry during the shortened season.
The Washington Capitals suffered through injuries last season, but got hot down the stretch and into the playoffs. They will look to continue that momentum and build upon it as they get players back from injury.
After an inconsistent year from Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals will get a lot more from him and they win the division.
They have the disadvantage of trying to adapt to a new coach during the condensed season. That could be an issue early in the season against a much-improved division. They will need to beat out the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning for the crown, and they will narrowly do so.
The Chicago Blackhawks suffered through a disappointing season, finishing sixth in West and losing in the first round of the playoffs. They have a ton of work to do to get back to Stanley Cup form and beat out the St. Louis Blues for the division title.
It starts in goal for the Blackhawks, who ranked No. 22 in goals allowed with 238 goals. They need starter Corey Crawford or Ray Emery to improve immensely and hope their goal scoring ability can carry them.
Crawford will play well enough to get the Blackhawks back to Cup form.
The Los Angeles Kings will look to complement their Stanley Cup win with a division title and another run this season. They have to be careful to avoid the "championship hangover" that has become prevalent in sports.
The Kings have most of their group back in place, which should be a big factor in the shortened season. As many teams try to build chemistry, the Kings will have an opportunity to showcase theirs from the start.
The Kings will handle the pressure of being defending champs and win the division. How they do in the playoffs is another story.
The Vancouver Canucks were far and away the best team in the Northwest Division last season, and they will win it once again. Depending on the health of Ryan Kesler, they may not start as fast as some other West contenders, but they will be a force at full strength.
Though the division may be closer, the Canucks will win it handily.
With Daniel and Henrik Sedin back, the Canucks have the playmakers to make them a contender. Ryan Kesler pushes them over the edge, but his health is definitely a factor. The Canucks will get healthy as the season progresses and win the division.