When the puck is dropped on the opening night of the 2011-12 NHL season, all teams will be starting from scratch. Every team is even on the scoreboard and in the standings.
Within just two weeks though, you will see teams starting to separate themselves from one another. You will see flashes of greatness in some teams. In others, you will see a not so bright future.
I think a lot of teams have very bright futures in the East. Not only are the top-tier teams going to have a good season, but I also think some teams will surprise us this year after spending last year in the cellar.
The Eastern Conference this season will be a battle every night, whether you are playing the current No. 1 seed or the team with the worst record.
At the end of the year, not only will the Eastern Conference be a better conference points-wise, but it will also be the better conference to watch come playoff time. Here is why...
Let's just start out with the defending champs from last year.
Whoever wins the Stanley Cup this year will probably have to go through Boston and that's not as easy as it looks.
Boston may not have the most talented team in the world, but it has a few guys that just cause nightmares for opposing players and coaches.
Tim Thomas showed why he is the best goalie in the league last year and Zdeno Chara is one big guy no one can seem to stop.
You beat those two guys, you beat Boston. I haven't seen it done yet so we'll just have to wait and see I guess.
Boston did it last year.
2011-12 will be another year where the Eastern Conference reigns as champions.
Look for Washington or Pittsburgh to come out on top next spring.
I know, I know. You're saying, "Washington? More like Choke-ington," but I think this is the year Alexander Ovechkin leads his team to the finals.
As for Pittsburgh, it is one scary team on paper, even without Sidney Crosby on the ice. Add him, and this team once again has the makings of another title run.
Florida, Ottawa, New Jersey, Toronto.
All these teams have, without question, improved their roster from last season.
Jose Theodore, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Tomas Fleischmann. The list goes on and on for the new Florida Panthers. Now, we'll see how well this new team gels, but don't be surprised if this team sneaks into the playoffs on the last day.
For Ottawa, just having a healthy Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfreddsson makes Ottawa a contender. Sure, its defense and goaltending is a little shaky, but when you have two superstars like this, anything can happen.
With the improvements that the Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers have made, I think the East is the deeper conference.
Sure, the West has some great rivalries like Colorado/Detroit and Detroit/Chicago, but nothing compares to the current rivalries in the East.
You've got your usual regional rivalries, for example the Philadelphia/Pittsburgh and Toronto/Ottawa.
But you've also got your current "playoff" rivalries, for example Boston/Philadelphia, Pittsburgh/Washington and Montreal/Boston.
These rivalries are just so much fun to watch. Each game is played so physical that it seems like at least one player is going to be carted off the ice.
My rivalry to watch this season has to be Pittsburgh and Washington again, assuming Sid the Kid makes it back.
The West has the skill players and the fast-paced game.
The East has the brutal physical play that usually ends with who has the better goalie each night.
Sure, the West is fun to watch when you want to see some high-scoring, but I am a fan of the low-scoring, old-school style of hockey.
When watching the East teams duke it out each night, you're almost waiting to see if someone will be carried off on a stretcher each game. Now, I'm not saying I want to see someone get injured, but that is just how physical these teams play—especially in the rivalry games.
It's playoff hockey every night of the season.