The following are my predictions for the eastern and western conference final standings. Note that teams are ordered in terms of points and not playoff seeding where division winners get seeded 1, 2 and 3 no matter what their records are. The western conference was quite tough to pick because there are so many teams who I think could make the playoffs and fewer really bad teams like the east. Feel free to add your season predictions in the comments.
1. Ottawa Senators – Lots of talent. A bit short of experienced depth, particularly on defence. Hasek must play well or else they won’t finish in top spot.
2. Philadelphia Flyers – Made a ton of changes, but I am not sure they are any better. But they are still good.
3. Boston Bruins – Have a good mix of talent, size, speed, toughness and goaltending.
4. Atlanta Thrashers – Most improved team in the NHL, but only if Kovalchuk signs. If not, they will have to battle for a playoff spot.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – Lost a lot in goal and on defence, plus other teams in division will be better.
6. New Jersey Devils – They lost Niedermayer but filled out their defence nicely, and they still have Brodeur.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs – Will be higher if they can avoid injuries and Allison can reach 70+ points which isn’t out of the question.
8. Montreal Canadiens – Borderline playoff team since they play in the toughest division in the NHL.
9. Pittsburgh Penguins – Will score goals, but can they keep them out of their own net. I am not convinced they are a playoff team.
10. New York Islanders – Yashin is their captain. Need I say more?
11. Florida Panthers – Have improved if Roberts and Nieuwendyk can play 70 games each, but their defence still looks pretty bad. Luongo is going to face a lot of shots again.
12. Buffalo Sabres – Have some really nice young talent but will rely on youth too much to make a playoff push this year.
13. Carolina Hurricanes – Does anyone really care about this team?
14. Washington Capitals – Aside from Ovechkin there isn’t much in Washington worth watching. He and Kolzig will keep them ahead of the Rangers.
15. New York Rangers – Once again they are horrible, but being horrible will only cost them half as much under the new CBA.
1. Vancouver Canucks – Lost some depth on defence but still a very good team.
2. Calgary Flames – Kipprusoff and Iginla will lead this team just like they did in the 2004 playoffs.
3. San Jose Sharks – Not spectacular at anything but do everything well. Offence, defence and goaltending.
4. Nashville Predators – Will be improved if Kariya returns to form. Also in a weak division.
5. Anaheim Mighty Ducks – Good defence, inexperienced up font, Giguere will suffer from smaller goaltending equipment.
6. Colorado Avalanche – Lost some top tier talent but still in good shape if Aebischer can repeat his good 2003-04 season.
7. Dallas Stars – Turco will get them into the playoffs.
8. Detroit Red Wings – Will finish ahead of Colorado and Dallas if they get good goaltending, but I am not convinced they will.
9. Edmonton Oilers – Questionable goaltending and weak at center ice position makes them a playoff bubble team.
10. Chicago Blackhawks – Have improved dramatically but still a year or two away from being a top-tier team.
11. Los Angeles Kings – I like them except for in goal. If Garon has a good year they could be a playoff team.
12. Phoenix Coyotes – They have some good players up front, defence is alright but goaltending is a huge question mark. CuJo has been horrible so far.
13. Columbus Blue Jackets – Made some improvements but they aren’t great in goal and are still lacking in talent after Nash and Zherdev.
14. Minnesota Wild – They are filled with second/third line type players but no one to really lead their team to success.
15. St. Louis Blues – Lost a lot of talent and depth and goaltending is a question mark. This is a transition year.
I’d predict stanley cup champions but it is impossible to predict playoffs before the season, especially after so many teams made so many changes. That said, the favourites in my mind are Vancouver and Calgary in the west and Ottawa and Philadelphia in the east.