As we're just 48-hours away from the North American start of the 2008-09 NHL season, and I just wrapped up the season previews with the Toronto Maple Leafs, I figured it was a fine time to recap.
Side note: I don't think I've ever done one of these so early, but the season isn't 48 hours away if you're just reading this now. In fact, it took me three hours to write this, so already we're down to 45 hours. If you drink heavily and pass out in a gutter somewhere you could even cut it down to maybe 15 hours—not that I'm condoning that.
As for the rest of the time? Well you could cook 60 fifteen-minute meals in that time, or 30 half-hour meals. Or (if you're like me and terrible at video games) you could beat Star Wars: The Force Unleashed...twice. Yes it took me seven hours to do, but I like collecting collectibles. These are things I think you should know.
We'll start with the division leaders. In the Northeast, it's a pretty common expectation that the Montreal Canadiens are going to resume their dominance from last season, and increase the pace just a bit as they're driven by the emotions behind their centennial anniversary.
Rounding out the Eastern Conference will be two of the top young teams of recent memory. The devastating trifecta of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal will help keep the Pittsburgh Penguins afloat in the Atlantic Division despite the losses of Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney, while Alexander the Great is eyeing a second consecutive trip to the promised land with the Washington Capitals.
Across the Conference border, the Detroit Red Wings only got stronger in hopes of defending their Stanley Cup championship. They lost only two players (Dallas Drake and Dominik Hasek) to retirement, and gained Marian Hossa, Ville Leino, and Ty Conklin, while re-signing key cogs from last year, cementing the fact that they're the cream of the Central Division.
The Dallas Stars surprised a few teams last season, making it all the way to the conference finals last season, and in a season of adjustment for San Jose, the Stars will look to slip on the divisional crown in the Pacific. The Northwest Division is anything but wide open, but the Calgary Flames will look to fend off an upstart Edmonton Oilers team and the defending champs, the Minnesota Wild.
As far as playoffs go, however, I'm a little wary of making predictions. The league is getting closer and closer each year, so making predictions this early is pretty useless.
In that light, there are teams that are more likely to make the playoffs then others, so I present to you the NHL Hollywood Rankings of 2008!
The Johnny Depp Category
You're sure to get a solid performance out of these teams!
It's their Centennial, and they've got one of the best up-and-coming goalies and a strong offense. A lot of people sense something pretty special going on.
We know all about their offense, but it's their defense that raises questions. If Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang can step up, then they'll be fine.
Alexander Ovechkin turned Sergei Fedorov into a player again. Need I say more?
Detroit Red Wings
They're a powerhouse that only got stronger over the offseason.
Momentum is a powerful thing, and the Dallas Stars will be riding it after last season's success. Add super-pest Sean Avery and Fabian Brunnstrom on to a well-rounded corps led by Brenden Morrow.
The Flames are cooking with grease now, with the combination of Mike Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla.
New York Rangers
Chris Drury and Scott Gomez should settle into the Rangers' offense after last year's debut. If Nikolai Zherdev can get motivated, New York may have two "Big Blue Wrecking Crews."
San Jose Sharks
With Evgeni Nabokov in net, and Joe Thornton—one of the best regular-season playmakers—you can't discount them. We'll see what happens come playoff time.
Anchored by Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, the Ducks have one of the strongest defenses. They will have a solid offense if Teemu Selanne returns to form and some of the other youngsters step up.
The Nicolas Cage Category
They'll be up and down all year, a lot like his films.
Although they'll probably be a strong team once again, some of the younger Flyers may be a bit streaky—especially with Gagne just returning to the ice.
New Jersey Devils
Martin Brodeur is still one of the best—and he'll hold the records to prove it after this season. But the Devils need an offense to help him out.
It's all up to them to put last year's dysfunctional circus behind them.
Patrice Bergeron is back and ready to prove he's recovered from a concussion. If he can combine with Milan Lucic and Marc Savard, the B's could be dangerous.
With some added firepower from Brian Campbell and even more youth, the 'Hawks have an energetic, in-your-face attitude.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets hope that they've finally got an offense to support superstar Rick Nash.
The Predators are always dangerous, but they'll have to overcome an energetic Blackhawks team and a revamped Blue Jackets team to survive in the Central.
Are the Hurricanes deep enough and healthy enough to challenge the Washington Capitals?
Will the lack of scoring finally catch up with the Wild in the Northwest Division?
The influx of young talent has to avoid the sophomore slump. If they can, they'll be dangerous.
This team has many people wondering if they can again be the contenders they once were.
The Shia LaBeouf Category
Up and coming, but some parts aren't quite there.
Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, and Thomas Vanek are the next big three for this team—and they'll be dangerous.
The addition of Oli Jokinen to Peter Mueller, Kyle Turris, Martin Hanzal and Daniel Carcillo will only help these young guys reach their peaks that much faster.
St Louis Blues
Lars Ellers is still a few years away, and Erik Johnson is out with a torn-up knee—Tiger Woods anyone? But the Blues still have Alex Pietrangelo, Patrik Berglund, and T.J. Oshie coming up to the bigs this year.
Within the next few years, Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton will combine to create a solid core for this team for a very long time.
The Canucks will be looking for offense from a variety of places this season, and some of the sources might surprise you.
Los Angeles Kings
There's too much promising youth here to throw them in the next category. Although they probably won't compete much this season, they'll be plenty powerful two or three years from now.
The Mitch Hedberg Category
This joke is better than they will be this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
This is going to be a hard year for Leafs' fans. As Ron Wilson says, it's going to take a lot of patience.
New York Islanders
Like the Leafs, it's a year of growth down on Long Island.
Ilya Kovalchuk is the only bona-fide star, but if Kari Lehtonen can stay healthy they may have an outside shot at the Southeast Division title.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Too much offense and not enough defense. And if the offense is anything like what we saw in their overseas display, there may not be enough of that either. Oh, and Barry Melrose is still crazy. In the immortal words of Jim Rome: FUH-NOMINAL.
So now that I've avoided making a preseason prediction about the Eastern and Western Conference playoff picture, you're probably wondering how I'll avoid making a Stanley Cup prediction too.
Well I'll tell you what, I won't. I'll even divulge how each team will get there too:
In a surprising twist of events, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will face off in the Eastern Conference finals, after each fought the hard fight to get there. The series goes seven games, but Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals stage a miraculous comeback in the third period of Game Seven to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals, scoring the winning goal (ironically) off of Ryan Whitney's foot.
The Dallas Stars and the Detroit Red Wings, meanwhile, match wits in a rematch of last season's Western Conference final. The Red Wings exert their dominance once again early in the series, but Sean Avery sneaks into the Red Wings' hotel and slips Chris Osgood's hand in warm water, forcing him to wet his bed.
The ensuing embarrassment leaves the Wings' goalie locked in his room, unable to face the maid with his dirty sheets.
To ensure that Ty Conklin doesn't emerge from the shadows once again and steal the show (like last season in Pittsburgh) Avery replays Conklin's gaffe in behind his net during Game One of the 2006 Stanley Cup finals against Carolina. Conklin doesn't move more than two inches from his goal line at any time during the remaining games of the series, and the Wings lose the next four games.
The Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals face off in a epic battle in the Stanley Cup Finals, which surpasses each of the past three finals combined, excitement-wise. The series goes seven games, with Brooks Laich pulling a Sidney Crosby-lacrosse style goal off for the game-winning tally late in Game Seven.
Irate, Sean Avery attempts to dropkick Laich, but misses, giving him the closest shave he's ever had. Avery interns that summer at Cosmo Magazine, advising women on how to get that "perfectly shaved feeling" on their legs with skate blades.
That, and Kyle Wellwood wins the Rocket Richard Trophy.
In all seriousness though, I do see Dallas and Washington as two teams that could meet in the finals, but a lot of things will have to go right for both teams, so I wouldn't put too much money on that matchup.
EA Sports has the more likely final pegged, as a simulated NHL '09 season has the Red Wings facing the Montreal Canadiens in the final—quite fitting, that two of the NHL's oldest rivals would face off in one's 100th year of existence.
That's the final I'd put my money on. As for which team I'd take? The champs are the champs until they're unseated. It's up to the rest of the teams in the league to show that the Red Wings aren't the class of the NHL.
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can do so through his profile. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.