Now that the 2012-2013 NHL lockout is over, we can get back to business. First up, we will do our yearly Eastern and Western Conference predictions.
The season will be a short one. Yes, we may even see unexpected teams make the playoffs where as they probably wouldn’t if this was a full season. So taking that into consideration this is how I expect the Eastern Conference to pan out before the playoffs.
Rick Nash will become a game breaker once again, while he is paired with Brad Richards. Fact is that Rangers were winning without him and were very, very good. Nash gives them another explosive option and that scoring threat to help Gaborik that they desperately lacked.
Tim Thomas was the sole reason why the Bruins were knocked out of the playoffs last season. Tuukka Rask will be very good, he has no reason not to be. The team in front of him is almost identical to the one that won the cup.
Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backstrom, that is all. This team will go as much as these guys will. I think Adam Oates is the right man for the job to jump-start the red machine.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
Malkin and Crosby make everyone around them shine, including dusters and grocery stick players. The problem here is the back-end. Fleury is not the goalltender Pittsburgh is waiting for and the defense is not enough to win the division either.
5.) Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres can really flourish if Tyler Myers and Thomas Vanek return to form, if Cody Hodgson can develop as a true first-line performer and if Ryan Miller returns to being one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders.
The Hurricanes reunited the Staal brothers, Eric and Jordan, to an already-solid bunch and added Alex Semin in free agency. The hope is that the enigmatic Russian Semin can thrive in Carolina and silence the character whispers that have been circulating throughout the league over the past few seasons.
7.) Philadelphia Flyers
Bryzgalov is the main question. If he plays a bit better than he did last year, we are looking at a very scary team. It is crazy how in just one year we are questioning Bryzgalov’s goaltending instead of praising it, but that is how this story goes. He was awful iu the playoffs last year, but can be brilliant at times. That’s if he ever comes back from space.
8.) Ottawa Senators
Spezza resurrected himself last season and rose back to that elite status. If he does not get hurt and stay healthy, he is deadly. If Craig Anderson can continue to have Ottawa’s faithful fall in love with his consistent play, we can count on this team being more than a playoff bubble team.