EASTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS
1. Pittsburgh Penguins: Don't forget they had to rally just to win the Cup. Lots of young talent in the right places.
2. New Jersey Devils: Losing Brian Gionta and John Madden will hurt their always-tremendous depth. They picked up Rob Neidermayer and new coach Jacques Lemaire with his passive offense. Expect offensive production to decline and defense to go up.
3. N.Y. Rangers
4. Philadelphia Flyers: The only trade they made was the Chris Pronger deal and he's old. They flipped him and his massive salary at the expense of youth, which went back to an already good Anaheim team. Bad deal.
5. N.Y. Islanders: Not a lot here to build off of. The kids will have to step up and surprise to fill holes. Dwayne Roloson is going to be busy, solid vet signing that he was.
1. Boston Bruins: Tim Thomas anchors a solid goaltending situation. The Bruins have many weapons on both sides of the puck but seem to be "Shark-bitten," always falling short, despite their talent level, much like San Jose. I expect nothing different this year. Good regular season team—that's all.
2. Montreal Canadiens: I love the under-the-radar additions. They added Gionta, Scott Gomez, Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara. All are good vets who know how to play and win. Losing 16-year Hab Patrice Brisebois will hurt in the locker room. Expect them to take the next leap toward the postseason. Probably a year away but moving in the right direction.
3. Buffalo Sabres: Nice scorers, good depth. Didn't lose a lot of significant players. Always seem to overachieve despite payroll limitations and small market. Why would this year be any different?
4. Ottawa Senators: How the mighty have fallen. Traded one marketable player in Dany Heatley in a market where few are stars for a used Jonathan Cheechoo, former 56-goal scorer who needed a change of scenery.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs: Love the potential of the Kessel steal but it was their only move. Too little too late.
1. Washington Capitals: This is Alexander Ovechkin's division to lose. How many goals will he get? 65? 70? Can't wait to find out. 150 points?
2. Carolina Hurricanes: Don't want to play them in the playoffs when they always have deep runs into May. Getting Aaron Ward back from their 2006 run will be huge. Tinkered by making only minor, final tweaks to a strong roster. Stephane Yelle is a proven winner. When you are good as they are, you don't have to do much. Just don't screw up what you have.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: Signed a 40-goal threat in Alex Tanguay who I've always liked. Playing next to Lecavalier and St. Louis should boost his production again in a new environment. No real big losses. Expect a first-round fizzle if they get there at all.
4. Florida Panthers: The Jay Bouwmeester trade was flashy but only got Leopold in return and a weird one-year deal for the defenseman? No depth here.
5. Atlanta Thrashers: Talent is defunct. Who's going to step up? Sat out free agency. Long term viability in Atlanta in flux.
WESTERN CONFERENCE STANDINGS
1. Detroit Red Wings: The machine keeps rolling. The only question is, will they get 105 or 110 points on way to the Presidents' trophy? Lost Hossa and a lot of wing depth, but Russian kids you've never heard of will step up and fill the void seamlessly, just like they always do on this playoff-savvy team.
2. Chicago Blackhawks: Hossa for Havlat basically was a flip so not much gained or lost there. But they didn't lose anyone big and the Madden signing was a nice move. The only thing I worry about is, did they overachieve last year? How much of it was a legit run?
3. Nashville Predators: Still have Steve Sullivan so they have a chance and I don't expect Columbus to repeat their "success" last year so they'll pick up a few more divisional wins right there.
4. St. Louis Blues: Not sure how they did as well as they did last year, but the formula's there. Why mess with it?
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: Nash and Co. will fall back down to earth. They aren't the putrid Jackets of old but they aren't a playoff team like last year, either.
1. Calgary Flames: Lost 40-goal threat Tanguay but not much else. Core is still there and they are the team to beat.
2. Vancouver Canucks: Smartly re-signed the Sedin twins and Luongo to a (soon to be) ridiculous, over-the-top 12-year deal. Still solid.
3. Minnesota Wild: Basically flipped Marian Gaborik for Martin Havlat and added perennial 20-goal scorer Petr Sykora late. And they say offense will be down? If anything, the "D" is weak.
4. Edmonton Oilers: Lost out on the Dany Heatley trade. Lost steady vet Dwayne Roloson for solid but unspectacular Khabibulin. Expect goal scoring to be lacking.
5. Colorado Avalanche: No major free agents come here any more. Patrick Roy turned them down for coaching and GM signaling no desire to join this mess. Good to see the once-mighty fall and new teams get a chance.
1. Anaheim Ducks: Team to beat here even without Pronger. Welcome back Joffrey Lupul. Good veteran presence minus the Niedermayer split. Stole solid 50-point center Saku Koivu from Montreal who, believe it or not, had no use (read: place) for him any more. Both teams got better by the move.
2. San Jose Sharks: April's best team can't get over the hump. They won't again this year to no one's surprise. Best regular season team money can buy. The Anaheim Angels of the NHL. Same-state coincidence? I think not.
3. L.A. Kings: The scrappy kids will continue to impress. Quietly got Ryan Smyth from the fading Avs. More vet presence needed to truly put this team at the next level.
4. Dallas Stars: A few aging stars in Turco and Modano. Not much else.
5. Phoenix Coyotes: Would be in Ontario or back to Winnipeg if I ran the NHL. No business being where they aren't wanted (or needed). Joke of an operation here. I hope they lose millions forcing Bettman to move them to Canada where the best offer will be made, and thus, accepted. At the end of the day, its all about money and revenue.
Playoffs: Eastern Conference
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Buffalo. (Pittsburgh in four.)
(2) Washington vs. (7) Carolina (Carolina in six.)
(3) Boston vs. (6) NY Rangers (Boston in four.)
(4) New Jersey vs. (5) Montreal (Montreal in five.)
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Carolina (Pittsburgh in five.)
(3) Boston vs (5) Montreal (Montreal in six.)
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Montreal (Pittsburgh in five.)
Eastern Conference Champions: Pittsburgh Penguins
Playoffs: Western Conference
(1) Detroit vs. (8) Nashville (Detroit in four.)
(2) Anaheim vs. (7) Minnesota (Minnesota in six.)
(3) Calgary vs. (6) San Jose (Calgary in five.)
(4) Chicago vs. (5) Vancouver (Chicago in seven.)
(1) Detroit vs. (7) Minnesota (Detroit in four.)
(3) Calgary vs. (4) Chicago (Chicago in six.)
(1) Detroit vs. (4) Chicago (Detroit in five.)
Western Conference Champions: Detroit Red Wings
Stanley Cup Finals
Detroit vs. Pittsburgh, Part III. (Detroit in six.)
Hart (MVP): Alex Ovechkin, Washington (67 goals, 150 points)
Conn Smythe (Playoffs MVP): Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh.
Vezina (Best Goalie): Chris Osgood, Detroit.
Norris (Best Defenseman): Lidstrom, Detroit.
Jack Adams (Best Coach): Jacques Martin, Montreal.