2013 NHL Season Preview

As the nation has gotten caught up in the beginning of football season and the dramatic conclusion of the regular season in baseball, sports is back in a big way. But all of a sudden, people wake up today and BOOM, it’s October, yes that means playoff baseball but it also means that the NHL drops the puck on their regular season tonight… what? yep, that’s right it’s hockey season already. Perhaps a bit sooner than normal, gotta find a way to squeeze some extra games in with the Olympics this year, but alas the zambonis are movin’, sticks are taped, and clean sheets of ice await 30 teams across North America. It’s hockey season!

Let’s get right to it, lots of new faces in new places, but the real story here is division realignment. Detroit’s no longer in the West, Columbus too, and somehow Boston and Montreal find themselves new local rivals in… FLORIDA? yes, it will take some getting used to, but new rivalries will take shape, and we’ll all get used to Washington and Carolina being in the same division as the Atlantic teams from PA, NY and NJ. Enough already, let’s jump into some pre-season picks:

METROPOLITAN
1. Penguins*
2. Rangers*
3. Capitals*
4. Devils*
5. Flyers*
6. Islanders
7. Blue Jackets
8. Hurricanes
* indicates playoff team
This division combines some intrastate rivalries with some new blood. The Ovechkin v Crosby thing will get new life, but my sense is that the newcomers will be a bit surprised at how competitive things are in this division. Teams like Pittsburgh, New York and Philly are all used to grinding out games late in the season against division rivals. The Caps have simply coasted through the Southeast in recent years. Perhaps Adam Oates and pick up where he left off and get that offense back to prominence.

ATLANTIC
1. Canadiens*
2. Bruins*
3. Senators*
4. Red Wings
5. Maple Leafs
6. Lightning
7. Sabres
8. Panthers
Yes it seems like a mish-mosh of teams but the original 5 from the Northeast simply get an O-6 team in Detroit, plus two from the Southleast. The Tim Thomas tending the net across the team he won a Cup with is the most tantalizing storyline for me, but Alfredsson v Ottawa is another juicy one. This looks like it could be a really physical division night in and night out.

CENTRAL
1. Blackhawks*
2. Blues*
3. Predators*
4. Stars*
5. Wild
6. Jets
7. Avalanche
This seems like an easy division to call, but after the Hawks, we don’t really know what to expect from a lot of these teams. Many pundits are high on St. Louis, but they also were last year and that season saw more than a few highs and lows. Nashville and Dallas look like revamped clubs to me. Deeper lines make for better hockey teams and I think both are ready to compete in 2013-14.

PACIFIC
1. Kings*
2. Ducks*
3. Sharks*
4. Canucks*
5. Oilers
6. Coyotes
7. Flames
This could be the most difficult division in hockey to predict. The Kings and Ducks SHOULD be good, and the Sharks are a sleeper pick for many (as always), but in the end there are so many question marks surrounding Vancouver, Edmonton, and the rest of the bunch.

After that we come to the post-season. In the East, the Penguins are a popular pick to make is back to the conference finals, while the Capitals would be a team I think could get over the hump this year. While the Hawks are a really solid team, it’s just going to be really hard for these guys to do it again. This time around I like the Sharks defeating the rival Kings in the Western Finals. I really think Pittsburgh will be punching through teams to battle to the Cup this year especially after the embarrassment of getting swept in the Conference Finals last season, so I’ll take the Pens over the Sharks in the Cup Finals

Finally, instead of making boring prognostications like “Stamkos will win the Rocket Richard” or “Jose Theodore will win the Vezina” (it happened folks), I am going to do something a little different this year:

10 BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2013-14 NHL SEASON
– No Penguin player will lead the NHL in scoring
– Brad Richards finds new life on the wing and returns to scoring ways
– Martin Brodeur retires at the season’s end
– Blues go into the season as a potential Cup contender, but lose in the 1st round of the playoffs
– The Sharks squeeze into the playoffs, and then make a deep run
– Alex Ovechkin makes another run at 60 goals (with more than half coming on the PP)
– Maple Leafs start a new streak of season’s without a playoff appearance
– Marc Andre Fleury leads the league in wins
– Luongo will be in Vezina talk at season’s end
– Peter Laviolette is the first NHL coach fired, but the Flyers still make the playoffs

1 NOT SO BOLD PREDICTION
– The NHL has ice problems at the outdoor game between the Ducks and Kings

Well, that about wraps it up folks. I hope everyone enjoys the season, and that the Olympics are a welcome addition to the hockey calendar as always.

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