The Winnipeg Jets lost three of their last five games to end the season. Two of them were to the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders who they were chasing for a playoff berth. They finished four points short of returning post season hockey NHL to Manitoba. In the process, some things became clear. Their depth at center was inadequate. Their goaltending was something short of iffy, and their resolve wasn’t quite enough to make them a playoff team.

Since last season the two most notable on ice changes are the loss of Ron Hainsey on their blueline, and the addition of Devin Setoguchi. There are youngsters like Mark Schiefele and Jacob Trouba vying for roster spots but the off season saw more in the way of extensions than big new contracts. Off the ice, their transition to the revamped western conference was completed in time to start this new year. With Hainsey gone, this could be the year Zach Bogosion jumps into the spotlight. Evander Kane only needed 74 games to notch his first 30 goal season, it would not be surprise to see him surpass that mark this year.

The Winnipeg Jet’s first season in the western conference opens when they travel just a bit further west to visit the Taylor Hall, Andrew Ference and Jordan Eberle led Edmonton Oiler on October first. They nights later they will be home to host the Los Angeles Kings and then the Anaheim Ducks. October 10th has them in Minnesota to trade chances with the Wild before returning home the next night to engage Alex Goligoski and the Dallas Stars.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cites: 3

Best opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest opponent: Edmonton Oilers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

The Anaheim Ducks who have Teemu Selanne in the fold for another year, and the Los Angeles Kings who have a very, very crowded blueline will present stiff challenges to the Dustin Byfuglien, Blake Wheeler and the rest of the squadron. The other three teams are playing at about or slightly below the Winnipeg Jets level. If one or two of the young players can not just make the roster but make a difference early, the Jets have a very solid chance at claiming one of the West’s eight playoff spots. For not just Zach Bogosian, but Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, and Eric Tangradi the future is now.

The Washington Capitals welcomed the sixth coach of the George McPhee era. This one is hall of fame inductee Adam Oates. With no real training camp or exhibition period, the Capitals were trying to absorb their new system for at leas the first month of the season. Among his other innovations was moving Left and Right Wing All-Star Alex Ovechkin from the former to the latter. The first half of the season was not pretty.

With guile, wisdom and no doubt some threats Oates got the team to the playoffs. Since last season, the Capitals have waived good-bye to Roman Hamerlik, Tom Poti, Mike Ribeiro and a few other well known faces. Perhaps the best signing this off season was the Capitals picking up Mikhail Grabovski. As compelling in terms of addition is having Brooks Laich and Mike Green both entering the season healthy.

Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson and the crew will open the season with a roadtrip to the windy city where they’ll get to watch the Chicago Blackhawks raise their newest banner. After returning home for a game they will hows the Calgary Flames who start the season without Jarome Iginla for the first time in well over a decade. The Dallas Stars will be their next port of call and they’ll face Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the revamped forward group in the Lonestar state. Back home they will have showdowns with Eric Staal and his Carolina Hurricanes and Gabriel Landeskog’s Colorado Avalanche.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Chicago Blackhawks

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7

The Metropolitan division will be brutally tough.  I have no doubt Adam Oates will do everything he can to motivate the team and let them jump on the division lead early. They don’t have any really stiff competition other than the Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Dallas Stars are no longer pushovers, and even the Avalanche aren’t a gimmie, this is a better team than four of their first five opponents on paper. They need to prove it on the ice.

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

After years, and years of futility, questionable contracts, and slow incremental improvement, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made the playoffs. Better still, they didn’t even back in on a last game overtime loss, they snagged the five spot in the conference, in regulation or overtime wins they were tied for second in the east.

Which makes the dismantling of the team even more baffling. They dumped Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens and picked up Jonathan Bernier. They shipped out 3 picks for the Dave Bolland. Former New Jersey Devil David Clarkson was signed to a weighty deal. And most puzzling of all, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out. This is a guy who wanted to retire there, never took nights off, and was one of the better two way player in the NHL last season.

This year the team once know as the Toronto St Patrick’s, will open on the road against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday October first, then head south to square off with the Philadelphia Flyers the next evening. A two set will open their season at home when they host the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. Game five sees them back on the road against Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With all the changes on the roster, chemistry will take time. New lines are the order of the day, and new defensive pairings as well. Jonathan Bernier will have to learn the habits of all his defensemen, and they his. James Reimer will need to show he has bounced back completely from the late game collapse against the Boston Bruins. Whatever you may think of their talents, Nazim Kadri and Tyler Bozak are going to be known quantities as the likely centers of the first and second lines, that will make a difference in how teams play them. How will they adjust? Who will end up in Randy Carlyle’s dog house this year? The answers to those questions will tell us if the Toronto Maple Leafs have games after April 12th. The other weighty questions for the team are how well will Kessel and Phanuef play in their contract year? Phanuef is 28, he can reasonably expect to play at or near his current level at least five to seven more years. Will he play conservatively so as not to risk injury? Will Kessel play selfishly trying to inflate his goal total so he can sign a another long deal? For Phil Kessel if he stays healthy he could be contributing as much as much as Chris Kunitz or more in 8 years. If the team feels the can’t sign one or both players and trades them, how is that going to affect the dressing room?

The most engaging opening round series game for game last spring was the Saint Louis Blues squaring off with the Los Angeles Kings. Unfortunately for the Blues the series ended with them breaking down and not packing for another series. The bottom line was a lack of scoring, their regular season average was cut almost in half when the playoffs rolled around. In a six game series they scored just nine goals, and only TJ Oshie and Alex Steen had more than one.

In the off season they took care of some business. Alex Pietrangelo was extended, as was the new guy Jay Bouwmeester. One look at the roster, and with one exception, it becomes clear the team is looking to improve from within. The most notable change for fans will be the absence of David Perron who was moved for Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, and a draft pick. Also new to the lineup is former Buffalo Sabre, Dallas Star, and Vancouver Canuck Derek Roy. Those players were brought in to augment David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Stewart, and maybe, just maybe drag the teams offense into the top half of the NHL.

As an opening fistful, the Blues can’t complain. They have their first five games spread out over twelve days, and are home for all five. Games one and two are against the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. As of right now the goal situation for both franchises is iffy. Next up are the Chicago Blackhawks, a team they know well even if they now have several new faces on their roster. Rounding things out are the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks. All five games are at home.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 1

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 5

Projected points: 5+

These first five games are a great opportunity for the Blues. If they can get manage to get three goals in three or four of their first five, they are aimed straight at the post season, and arguably challenging for the division crown. With their three netminders and stringy defensive style, they don’t really have an excuse not to be in the playoffs. Of the other teams in their division, only the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks were in the playoffs last season, and while the other teams have made changes it is hard to say any of them are better teams than the Blues.

The San Jose Sharks ended last year the way they do almost every season. They showed lots of flash and polish, but eventually ended up disappointing everyone on the ice and in the corner office. They made the playoffs, and swept the Vancouver Canucks, then went to the mat with the Los Angeles Kings. Patrick Marleau was again smothered, failing to register a single point in the final five games against the Kings. Logan Couture didn’t tally a single goal in the final three games of that second round series, and Niemi did all that could be expected of him giving up more than two goals in the series just once. Per usual, Joe Thornton got too much blame and little to no credit.

Then the off season came, and went. No major changes. The forward additions are Tyler Kennedy and possibly one of the half hundred young and unknown quantities like Tomas Hertl, Freddie Hamitlon, or James Livingston. The long anticipated breakup of the team core never happened. At least part of that is due to the contracts or performances making players unmovable. A new backup goalie will need to emerged as Thomas Greiss has vacated the scene.

The first five games of the Sharks season will be very interesting. They meet up with the Vancouver Canucks and their new coach John Tortorella  twice, Raffi Torres, Thomas Greiss and the Phoenix Coyotes, and then play host to the Daniel Alfredsson-less but Bobby Ryan enriched Ottawa Senators.  With four of their first fist-full at home and no back to backs, they have a good shot at swimming to the front of the division early.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 2

Best opponent: New York Rangers

Weakest opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Home games: 4

Projected points: 7

With three of their opening five games against teams with new head coaches, the Sharks have the chance to jump on teams not quite used to a new system. The team has been in “win now” mode for at least the last half decade, it is time to produce or get off the pot. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dan Boyle are all on contracts that expire at the end of the season. As things stand today, they are slightly over the salary cap so an early season, or late preseason trade if one or two of the younger players push someone out the door isn’t out of the question. They have the tools to have a good regular season, but that hasn’t been in doubt for many years.

The 2012-13 season had highs, lows and surprising blows. Sidney Crosby jumped out of the gate and pounced on the scoring lead. Then out of no where a puck breaks his jaw and puts him on the shelf. Elder statesmen Craig Adams and Chris Kunitz led the way appearing in all 48 games while Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Paul Martin and Kris Letang all missed extended stretches. When all was said and done, with their backup goaltender turning in better stats, the Penguins were the eastern conference champions when the final regular season game was played.

The playoffs saw the Penguins escape the New York Islanders in the first round, no thanks to Marc-Andre Fluery who allowed 17 goals in 5 games and turned in his second worst playoff performance. Thankfully, there was Tomas Vokoun. In eleven games, and making his first playoff appearance since his long ago days with the Nashville Predators, Vokoun won six games, carrying the team through the second round against a depleted Ottawa Senators squad and holding the fort in what would prove to be Daniel Alfredsson’s last game in a Senators jersey. Against the Boston Bruins, Vokoun was the most blameless of the teams top players as they were swept out.

Of the core components to start last season, all are returning. None of the playoff reinforcements remain, and a mistake that was made in years past was corrected, Rob Scuderi is back in Pittsburgh. The opening five games of the season represent a chance to jump out on top of their division against not very stiff competition. Not one of their first five games is against a team that made the playoffs last year. The only set of back to backs is the last pair of games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. All five of their opening games are also in the eastern time zone.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points: 7+

There are several big questions looming over the team despite their undeniable collective talent. Will the Sochi Olympics cost the team any players lost to injury or fatigue? How much of a distraction will head coach Dan Bylsma’s Olympic coaching duties distract from his job as behind the bench in Pittsburgh? Will the teams official player leaders develop their leadership to a point where Ray Shero won’t feel the urge to bring in two other teams captains to help right the ship for the playoffs? And of course, when the playoffs start, will the team remember how to play in both ends of the ice? Getting to the playoffs is almost a given, even with two more playoff quality teams in the East is almost a given, but recent playoff failures raise the question of their exact nature of their mental fortitude.

The City of Brotherly Love played host to three of the four horseman of the Apocalypse last season, or at least the Flyers locker room did. Players that weren’t injured were often ill, and despair cloaked the stands and fanbase days into the season. Four different goaltenders saw action during the season, and only one of those four, Steve Mason, is with the organization today. Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out as the end point of a debacle, the other two just went away.  Thirty-five skaters played for the team last year.  Thirteen of those skaters were defensemen and none of those played in every game. Of the 22 forwards, five were goalless, seven managed not even an assist. If you’re just tuning into hockey, it will not surprise you to learn the Philadelphia Flyers did not make the playoffs.

The off season saw Bryzgalov bought out, and also the wizrd of playoff points Daniel Briere. Thanks to a cap situation that looks like Medusa, the list of players signed in the off season reads like a who’s who of has beens and almost weres. Vincent Lecavalier was bought out by the Tampa Bay Lightning and yet it only took the Flyers days to decide he needed a five year contract with a no movement clause big enough to make him their second highest paid forward. In the 11 years since Kris Newbury was signed he has totaled no more than 11 games in the NHL in any season. Jay Rosehill possesses no qualities that don’t exist elsewhere on the roster, and where they do exist they come with more skill. While Mark Streit isn’t a bad player, he’s a +35 contract for four years at more than five million a year. This is a guy who is going to be 36 before the winter holidays, and owns very little playoff experience.

The first five games for the Flyers season aren’t all that bad as schedules go. They start the season at home hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs before jetting north to face the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are the first half of a back to back that ends in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. Then the Broad Street Bullies head home for games against the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Florida Panthers

Home games: 3

Projected points : 3+

Players like Wayne Simmonds, Scott Hartnell, and the often injured Claude Giroux mean the Flyers have a chance to win any game on the strength of their offense. The depth of the defense, the adaptability of their coach Peter Laviolette, and the quality of play of netminders Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the key points of the season. Youngsters like Scott Laughton, Nick Cousisns and Mark Alt will take aim at the heavens, but for this team to succeed they need good health and veteran contributions in their own zone.

Injuries were the definition and demise of the Ottawa Senators season 2012-13 season. Players who made it through the regular season healthy were as rare as honest politicians. Scoring was perhaps even rarer with only three players crossing the ten goal mark and a 27th place finish in goal for. As bright spots go, aside from unexpected depth at goaltending, there wasn’t much to speak of. Certainly, when you consider that half the games were played not by starter Craig Anderson but by two backups it is safe to say none of the shine on this season would require you to shade your eyes.

The off season saw the aging face of the Senators Daniel Alfredsson leave in a huff for a team just across the border.  General Manager Bryan Murray brought in the long scapegoated Bobby Ryan in exchange for depth. Arguably if the Senators had managed to massage Alfredsson’s ego enough to get him to stay the team would have had the most offensive depth it had seen in at least half a decade. But for now, this team belongs to Craig Anderson, Jason Spezza, Kyle Turris, Cory Conacher, and whomever else can carve themselves a piece of the pie. Among the most curious moves of the NHL off season was the signing of Joe Corvo, even at the rate he’s signed for, there are better uses for money.

The regular season opens with the Senators on a six game road trip. The Buffalo Sabres are the first team they will try to beat on the road, then fellow Ontario team the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that a tour of California, facing the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and finally a home coming for Bobby Ryan in Anaheim to drop the puck against the Ducks. Four out of five made the playoffs last year, and two back to backs will keep things lively for Paul MacLean and company.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 0

Projected points: 4+

October does not have a pretty schedule in store for the Ottawa Senators. That said, many coaches like early road trips as both a bonding aid, and a way of eliminating home life distractions. Paul MacLean is one of the best coaches in the NHL, and while most of the team is the same as last year, the loss of Alfredsson’s leadership will make a difference. If the team manages to find time to sign Jared Cowen and return him to the line up, Cowen, Eric Gryba, and Patrick Weircioch can apply those hard earned lessons from last season and go about making up for the defensive deficiencies of the offense only Erik Karlsson.