In June, the Boston Bruins claimed the Stanley Cup.
Now we're entering training camp, and preseason games are right around the corner. While the Bruins might own the title of "defending champion" until their 2011-12 season is ended, when the puck drops, everyone has a chance.
But what are the chances of each team? Really?
Let's take a look at each team's odds of being there at the end, when (possibly) a new set of names is engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup.
Kudos to the Islanders for getting superstar-to-be John Tavares locked up for the better part of the next decade, but they have a lot more work to do.
There are just too many holes on their roster to end up in the playoff picture; their odds of landing the top overall pick are almost the inverse of these.
My advice to the Islanders: spend some money. There's a salary floor for a reason, and teams like the Florida Panthers used it as an excuse to improve this summer.
Anyone wanna buy a hockey team?
Jamie Benn is worth the price of admission, and Loui Eriksson is one of the best unheralded players in the game... but beyond those two, there really isn't much to like about the Stars chances.
The quicker they get through bankruptcy, the quicker they can find a new owner and the faster they can... continue being mediocre.
There will certainly be a nice pick-me-up with some butts in the seats for the team-formerly-known-as-the-Thrashers, but there are some long-term concerns this season.
Staying in the same division, the Jets will now have a rough travel schedule to deal with and there are still a lot of questions on their roster. The potential of legal issues surrounding Dustin Byfuglien could become an issue as well.
They're still looking for an owner, and until that issue is settled, there will be the cloud of relocation hanging over the franchise, but there are bigger problems for the 'Yotes right now.
No Ilya Bryzgalov likely means no chance this year for the team that, for now, is in Glendale. Furthermore, they lost a few grinders from last year and are still looking for top-tier players to fill the stat sheet each night.
The injury bug is already visiting the Sens in training camp, and they have a lot of holes to deal with. Beyond that, the rumor mill will continue to include Jason Spezza until he's dealt.
There is really very little chance they challenge for a playoff spot in a deep Eastern Conference this year.
Their goalies are a huge question mark, and could swing them from the 12-13 spot in the West into the playoff picture. But the injury histories of so many of their key players, including Peter Mueller, is too much of a concern to lock them up as a title contender.
With that being said, the Avs putting it together and jumping into the top eight wouldn't surprise.
Go back to the Colorado slide. Cut and paste to here.
Will Steve Mason return to the form that won him the Calder (and got him paid), or will he disappoint again?
Are James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter enough to turn around a team that has relied on Rick Nash for almost everything for the better part of the last decade?
Odds are that the bold moves made in Columbus this summer improve the team some, but they happen to play in the toughest division in the NHL. The cellar in the Central is more likely than a playoff spot.
Their scoring should jump this year, but there are still so many questions in Minnesota. They need to replace Brent Burns and (cough... chuckle) Cam Barker on the blue line, and must get a healthy season from Niklas Backstrom to compete.
Adding Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle should pay long-term dividends, though.
If you're sold on the 2011-12 Toronto Maple Leafs, I apologize for putting their odds at this far and gladly accept any gentleperson's wager on their winning the Cup next June.
Brian Burke is working hard to craft a winner in Toronto, and locking up Luke Schenn is a great place to start. But they need the team leader to have more than 64 points this year if the postseason is even a dream.
Based on last year's roster and performance, they're 120:1.
But remember the advice we gave the Islanders? Spend, spend, spend. There's a floor for a reason.
Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall and Ed Jovanovski will bring fantastic veteran (and championship) experience to the team, while youngsters like Erik Gudbranson and Quinton Howden could bring dynamic young speed to the roster as well.
These might not be Stanley Cup-caliber Panthers, but they certainly aren't the same disaster on ice that played for both of their fans last year.
The Oilers have some of the most dynamic young talent in the NHL, and are certainly building towards an impressive future. But they need to finish puberty before the Cup is within reach.
Check back at this time next year, and they might be a lot closer.
Poor Jarome Iginla. He's played without a legitimate center his entire, incredible career and will begin another season without someone to create with him.
They have enough veterans that they should be more consistent than teams like Edmonton, Minnesota, Colorado and Columbus, but better than 10th in the West might be too aggressive for my money this year.
The Hurricanes will certainly be in the mix for the bottom couple seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year, but the top tier teams in the conference are still too big and tough for these Canes to outlast in a postseason series.
Considering the moves made by other teams in the Southeast Division, they might have stayed put too much this summer.
The eighth seed in the East last year, the Rangers might be headed for a similar fate this season. As long as Henrik Lundqvist is healthy, they'll have a chance.
However, injuries could haunt this franchise. Marc Staal is reportedly dealing with post-concussion symptoms right now, which the hockey world knows too well is an awful grey area.
Small-market salary Armageddon is coming to Nashville.
In 10 short months, the Preds will be staring at their three best players (Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne and Ryan Suter) needing new contracts while the team is losing money.
If they decide to go for broke and see where the cards fall, this will be a desperate season. If they start struggling and appear to be on the outside of the playoff picture, a yard sale might happen in Music City.
Large-market salary Armageddon is coming to Jersey.
If the Preds are in trouble looking at Rinne, Weber and Suter being free agents, consider that the Devils are looking at making a decision on Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur next summer.
Oh, and the summer of 2013? Elias, Zajac, Zubris, Steckel, and Clarkson will all need new paper.
The injury to Zajac heading into the season is a tough blow, pushing Elias to the top center spot and making that position a question for the Devils.
There will be plenty of motivation in Anaheim if this Teemu Selanne's victory lap, but they must have a healthy Jonas Hiller to survive in the West.
It will be both fun and fascinating to see how young defenseman Cam Fowler progresses in his sophomore season.
The Habs have the pieces, especially on the back end, to make some noise in the East this year. As PK Subban continues to mature into his role in the NHL, and Carey Price's confidence grows, they'll become dangerous against anyone in a playoff series.
However, the ever-present scoring problem could haunt the Habs again this season. Will someone in Montreal break 60 points?
Quietly, the St. Louis Blues might be the most improved team in the NHL since Opening Night of the 2010-11 season. After an epic trade with the Colorado Avalanche brought them a power forward (Chris Stewart) and a second puck-moving defenseman (Kevin Shattenkirk), the Blues could make some noise in the Western Conference this year.
As has been the issue for the Blues the last few years, though, the training room will be the most important room at their facility. If TJ Oshie, Alex Steen and David Perron can stay on the ice this year, they have three lines of scoring and plenty of depth on the blue line. Jaroslav Halak, coming back to form and health this year could make a huge difference as well.
The headlines this summer came almost exclusively from Philly. They dealt away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, their captain and two of their top scorers, to begin a locker-room transformation they hope translates into success on the ice.
They added Ilya Bryzgalov in net, and named Chris Pronger their captain. Will their moves work? Or will they be looking to deal again in February?
These odds should read 87:1.
If Sidney Crosby can return at 100 percent, they can beat anyone in the NHL.
If Sidney Crosby returns at 80 percent, and plays in fewer than 55 games, the Pens might be in danger of missing the playoffs.
If Crosby's long-term future remains cloudy, so does the future of the Penguins.
This is in no way selling short the return of a healthy Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Stall, or making light of the other talented players on their roster. But a player as talented, and expensive, as Crosby must be the centerpiece of that franchise on the ice.
The Lightning piled up 103 regular season points last year, and Steven Stamkos continues to mature as a player.
The interesting changes coming from the players in their bottom-six forwards will create some growing pains early in the year, and the fact that both Pavel Kubina and Victor Hedman need new paper next summer could become an issue as well.
Perhaps only the Flyers will be more interesting to watch coming out of the blocks this year than the San Jose Sharks.
Apparently, looking to change the dynamics of his roster, San Jose GM Doug Wilson became good friends with the fine people in Minnesota. When the dust settled, the Sharks had signed Devin Setoguchi to an extension...and then traded him to the Wild.
The Sharks also moved Dany Heatley and top prospect Charlie Coyle in deals that brought back oft-injured forward Martin Havlat and All-Star defenseman Brent Burns.
Joe Thornton still has a monkey to get off his back, but the guys around him will look very different this year.
Yes, the Vancouver Canucks are the defending Western Conference champions.
But, whenever you get to the top, or wind up in second place, the ultimate question the following fall is simple: did you get better?
The Vancouver Canucks did not get better. They got worse.
Gone is their top defenseman, Christian Ehrhoff, and in his place is...nobody. The Canucks do not have a defenseman on their roster that played in more than 66 games last year, and Ehrhoff was a big part of their offense (50 points).
Gone is Raffi Torres, a troublemaker who was a big part of the grit on their roster. In 2010, the Canucks had no answer for the Blackhawks getting between their ears.
Torres lit up Brent Seabrook in the first round of the playoffs and changed that dynamic. He's now gone.
They aren't going to be bad, and they're still in a bad division. But the Canucks are no longer the best team in the Western Conference.
The Sabres should give hope to all the fans of teams that need an owner.
Once the ink was dry in Buffalo, the purse strings came open and money started flying. Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff got paid, and Tyler Myers has subsequently been locked-up long-term.
The Sabres will have to contend with the Habs and defending champion Bruins in their division, but once the postseason starts, anything can happen.
The biggest knock on the Caps over the last few years has been their lack of a legit goalie.
They added Tomas Vokoun.
Last year, the Caps got close to making a deep run, and did it without All-Star Mike Green.
He'll be back.
They've added veterans like Troy Brouwer, who had 20 goals and over 200 hits in Chicago last year.
And The Great Eight is still there.
This might be a go-for-broke year for the Caps with the moves they've made, but adding Vokoun and Brouwer with a returning Green could be the trick.
They're the Detroit Red Wings. Of course they're near the top of the list.
And if this is indeed the final season of Mr. Lidstrom, there will be extra motivation for the Wings to strike. They had injury issues last year, but have added some depth (especially on the blue line).
The Central Division will be as physical and competitive as any in the NHL this year, and health might ultimately be the determining factor in who wins the division.
But, as the Sharks and Canucks can tell you, a division crown doesn't mean a Cup ring.
If the Blackhawks lacked grit and depth last year, they certainly addressed it with a series of under-the-radar moves this summer to get the roster back to Cup-caliber.
Certainly the biggest change will be the departure of Brian Campbell, but adding Steve Montador to an already-deep group of defensemen should offset that move.
Up front, the biggest keys will be the health of Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Hossa played in three straight Cup Finals, so this was his first "long" summer in four years. Kane had summer wrist surgery, and Sharp had an emergency appendectomy last week that might cost him the first couple games of the season.
But the Hawks needed to replace the chip on their collective shoulder that left when they dealt Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and others last summer. So they added veterans Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo to the roster.
The talent and depth is there in Chicago.
When will Drew Doughty get paid?
That's the biggest question in LA right now, but they have certainly become a force in the West. Adding Mike Richards is a huge move, giving the Kings arguably the best center depth in the conference.
The Kings also added Simon Gagne and apparently have Dustin Penner in shape. They also have two solid goalies.
At least on paper, the Kings appear to be the class of the Western Conference to begin the season.
They are the defending champions who, unlike the Blackhawks the year before, bring back almost their complete roster from the spring.
Did they get better? The bank accounts of guys like Brad Marchand did.
Did they get worse? Depends on the hangover from the summer celebrations.
But the Bruins still have a roster that's as deep, physical, and efficient as any in the NHL. You have to beat the best to be the best, and right now the Bruins are the best in the NHL.