The Brooklyn New York Islanders will be going into this season with something many of their young stars have never had; NHL playoff experience. Last years six game set with the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t end the way they wanted, but to steal a line from Iron Man 2 “they made god bleed” and the sharks, or in this case Boston Bruins came. Travis Hamonic emerged out of the shadow of John Tavares and Mark Streit to stand in his own light and nearing 30 minutes a night. Brian Strait earned respect tripling his own playoff experience and playing about 22 minutes a night against his former team. Thomas Hickey went from punchline to punching his time clock in the playoffs in just one season. John Tavares went out and put up points at the same rate he did in the regular season.

This season Kyle Okposo, Casey Cizikas and Matt Moulson will be part of the effort for a return to the playoffs and not just an 8th place finish. The opening fistful of games provides plenty of variety for a team that goes in overconfident to get TKO’d, and at the same time will show them every variety of opponent they’ll see all season. The season opener sees them visit Michael Ryder and the New Jersey Devils, the next two games they are home to welcome Marian Gaborik and the Blue Jackets to the east, and square off with the Phoenix Coyotes. Then they have a two game set on the road to visit the Chicago BlackHawks and Nashville Predators.  With two back to back sets in the five game set, there won’t be any easy games and no time to nap on the ice.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Nashville Predators

Home games: 2

Projected points: 5

The opening set isn’t going to be easy, the defending champs headline the card, the Coyotes and Blue Jackets are always scrappy and the Devils and Predators both have the tools to win a good number of games. The only positives in the two back to back sets and five games in eight days are short travel distances from the first city to the second and it being early enough in the season fatigue and injuries should be minimal. While only one in five of their opponents were the playoffs last year, it has to be counted as an anomaly for the Predators and Coyotes. The Blue Jackets in their own right were a tough nut and finished with identical points to the Islanders.

Goaltending and leadership are the two big questions this year. They did as well as could be expected against the Penguins in the playoffs last year. This year in order to hit the playoffs again they have to get better results from Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin or whoever ends up their starting and backup goaltenders. It is highly unlikely the  Islanders can climb back into the post season if they can’t knock their goals against under the 2.83 that was just barely good enough last year. Someone, Tavares, or Okposo or another player will need to step into the leadership void created by the exit of Mark Streit.

Last season saw the New York Rangers advance to the second round and then fire their coach. The replacement coach was also fired for the same offense. What Alain Vigneault brings to the table remains to be seen. Some observers have questioned his ability to hold players accountable. This will be a notable departure from the coach he replaced, who also replaced him in his former organization, who some think was a touch too critical.

Between new to the organization players like Benoit Pouliot, and as yet to stick to the regular season players like Chris Kreider shaking down into a the New Coach Order will not be easy. Prospects like Samuel Noreau, Josh Nicholls, Michael St. Coix, and New York City native Michael Kantor will be fighting not just for scanty roster spots but to be early callups. Brad Richards who both won a Cup and sputtered spectacularly under former coach John Tortorello will need to find his game this season if he expects to be an NHL player next season. Rick Nash had a solid regular season last year but needs to find his way to success under yet another new head coach. Only six skaters on the New York Rangers have contracts beyond this season, with Derek Stepan as yet unsigned that’s a lot of uncertainty.

The Rangers will open their season on the road, for all five games. That five games without last change, and five games where they will likely travel the day before or immediately after the game. Four of their first five opponents were playoff teams last year, and it is hard to imagine any of them as worse off than last year.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 5

Best opponent: Anaheim Ducks

Weakest opponent: Phoenix Coyotes

Home games: 0

Projected points: 4

The month of October could be very, very frustrating for New York Rangers and New York Rangers fans.  There are only two home games all month, and the first isn’t until the 28th. Of the twelve games in the opening four weeks there’s only two you can look at and say the team has no excuse not to win. With a new coach, several new players, a likely trade or two, and the limited practice time available with so much early travel if October is the best month of the season for the Rangers, blueshirt friends are in for a long, unpleasant year.

Last season was a distinct retreat from the pre-lockout trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. The injury report reads like a who’s who of New Jersey Devils players; Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryce Salvador, Adam Henrique, Martin Brodeur, and more. Worse, the players on the ice didn’t execute. The Devils finished 28th in goals for, without a solid defense, the team would have finished even worse.

The off season was a very mixed bag. The NHL Entry Draft saw the Devil’s select blueliner Steven Santini with their second round pick, and forwards Ryan Kujawinski, Miles Wood and Myles Bell in the middle rounds. Draft day was highlighted in the hockey sense by Lou Lamoriello stunning NHL observes by uprooting Cory Schneider for a single first round pick (which the Canucks used on Bo Horvat). The emotional highlight was Lou Lamoriello acquiring a 7th round pick and passing off the microphone so that Martin Brodeur could make the call to draft his son Anthony into the Devil’s family.

With the ‘retirement’ of Ilya Kovalchuk, and Henrik Talinder, Johan Hedberg among others exiting the organization as well, there will certainly be some new jersey numbers on display this season. Continuing his tour of the old Atlantic division is Jaromir Jagr who enters on a one year deal, Michael Ryder, and Ryane Clowe join the squad. If the roster currently on the Devils site is any indication they intend to make camp very competitive. Twenty-six forwards, sixteen defensemen and five goaltenders grace the roster.

The opening five games will be challenging. They contain two different back to backs, four road games and three teams who were in the playoffs last year. The New Jersey Devils challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road to open the season, then travel home the next night for the Brooklyn New York Islanders. Then they set out for an extended road trip that starts with the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks back to back before a pair of off days and a date with the Calgary Flames.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 1

Projected points: 4+

The opening fistful of games will likely be rough. The schedule is as tight as last years compressed schedule, there are a lot of new players, and two back to back sets. If the Devils  win two of three against the Penguins, Islanders, and Canucks they are likely bound for the playoffs. On the other hand if there’s one thing decades of October hockey has taught us it is that the standings don’t much matter until late November.

The departure of Ryan Suter hit the Predators hard. Their defense went from 9th in the NHL to 20th, their offense was 30th in the NHL as well. Despite the star power and impressive talents of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, the team finished 27th in the league. Injuries were a problem and only Shea Weber, David Legwand, and Roman Josi played the full 48 games. No one on the team broke 30 points, and only three players even managed double digits in goals; David Legwand with a dozen, Gabriel Bourque with eleven, and Mike Fisher with ten. Even promising sophomore center Craig Smith regressed in the abbreviated season.

For the Nashville Predator’s retooling includes bringing Matt Hendricks to music city. The left shooting center is an alumni of St. Cloud State, the Colorado Avalanche and most recently the Washington Capitals. Another college boy graces the roster in the form of University of Michigan left winger Eric Nystrom who has since played for the Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars. Filip Forsberg was added to the organization April 3rd via the Washington Capitals, the 2012 1st round  played in Sweden’s 1st division last year. It is likely Austin Watson, Joonas Rask and Taylor Beck will push for full time roster spots with the departure of Martin Erat. A backup goaltender will need to emerge to spell Pekka Rinne as well.

The season opens to a mixed schedule. The Blues are tough defensively and will open the season with a visit from the Predators, the Avalanche will be next on the opening two game road set the next night. Then they are home for five straight games at home. The home stand opens with Mikko Koivu, Ryan Suter, and the Minnesota Wild. Next to visit will be Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak, and the Maple Leafs. Next up are John Tavares and his New York Islanders. Their opening five have four team who were in last years playoffs, but all four were eliminated in the first round.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

If Barry Trotz can get all his meat eaters hungry and hunting together when camp ends the Predators opening sortie will tell us a lot about this years edition of the team. No one is particularly worried about Shea Weber or Pekka Rinne and their ability to bring their “A game” in the new season.  The questions revolve around Mike Fisher who’s frequently inform, Colin Wilson and the status of his recovery, as well as the integration of new players.

The Montreal Canadiens had an impressive regular season edging the Boston Bruins for the division title. Second place in the east was their reward for a job well done. By April the injury bug was already on first name basis with the whole organization. A decimated team went up against the Senators in the first round and bowed out in five games. The playoffs certainly didn’t end the way they wanted, but the regular season has to be counted a ringing success. P.K. Subban went from a contract dispute to a Norris Trophy winner in less than 50 games, Andrei Markov did the seemingly impossible and remained healthy for 48 straight games as well. Max Pacioretty led the team in scoring. Rookies Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchnyuk brought intensity, skill, and much needed scoring to the team.

When you enter a season looking to bounce off the eastern conference floor, you can’t ask for much more. This off season they added Danny Briere with a two year deal, and former San Jose Shark and Pittsburgh Penguin Douglas Murray on the defensive end. Looming over the team is an impending cap crunch. If the salary cap stays roughly the same, they are going to need to shed salary to be cap compliant in 2014-5. We saw that work to the advantage of the Blackhawks in the first of their most recent championships, can the Canadiens do that?

This season opens with a divisional rival visiting. The Maple Leafs pay a visit on October 1st, and the bleu, blanc, and rouge next host the Philadelphia Flyers before a three game tour of Western Canada. The Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks will all play host to the Habs. The only back to back set is in Alberta, and that’s after four days off and then there’s a two day break before meeting the other team named for residents of Canada.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Canucks

Weakest opponent: Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

October promises to be a character test month for the Canadiens. There aren’t many top tier teams on their schedule. Only five of the teams they square off with were in the playoffs last year. Eight of their games are at home, with just five away in the seasons opening 15%. In the opening month, of those non playoff teams the Flyers and Oilers can be said to have improved, while the Flames and Stars are arguably only different than last year.

The biggest obstacle to this teams success lies within their own organization. The conflicts at ice level that received so much attention two seasons ago, did not appear to have been resolved at the end of the playoffs. The rumor mill insists those are not the only conflicts in the organization either. If the majority of the gentlemen working in the CH can pull together, there really isn’t a ceiling on what this team can do.

I was not among those surprised the Wild made their return to the playoffs last season. Mikko Koivu has long been one of the most underrated players in the NHL, and adding Suter, Parise as well as several young and talented players to the team was only going to do good things for the team. Jonas Brodin was lauded right and left, but no less of a success was Jared Spurgeon. The late season addition of Jason Pominville wasn’t quite enough to get them a division title, or keep them from being bounced in the first round, but the playoff experience will do them good this year, and for years to come.

In the off season they added Keith Ballard. At best he can contribute as a top four defenseman, at worst he’ll be a voice of experience on an inexperienced blueline. The most controversial signing of the off-season was former Pittsburgh Penguin and Washington Capitals forward Matt Cooke. Cooke is well know for the numerous injuries he’s caused, and the disdain which his claims of reform draw in many quarters. Also looking for a new start is former New York Islanders first round pick Nino Niederreiter. Unfortunately for Wild faithful, none of these players will be the biggest question mark of the year. That distinction will as it has for years reside in the crease as Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and others fight for good health and crease time.

As soon as they cross the starting line this season their ability to score on good goaltenders will be put to the test. The Kings and Ducks both pay visits to the Twin Cities before the Wild play their one road game in the opening set in Nashville against Shea Weber, Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators. The Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars will complete the Wild’s first set of the season. No back to back games, and playing four of five at home is a good sign for the opening stretch.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities: 2

Best opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest opponent: Dallas Stars

Home games: 4

Projected points: 6

The Minnesota Wild enter the season as one of the top three teams in their division. Staying healthy and avoiding running into a buzzsaw in the first round of the playoffs have to be their priorities. With a little confidence and a dash of machismo the Wild have the tools and talent to play in the second round. Fans looking for a more exciting brand of hockey than this franchise was once known for should keep their eyes on Pominville, Coyle, and Niederreiter.

The Los Angeles Kings were cheated of much of their time in the limelight by the dragging, soul sucking lockout. They made their return to the ice with a strong regular season. Finishing seventh overall in the NHL, in a very top heavy western conference. To the surprise of no one Anze Kopitar again led the team in scoring. Jeff Carter racking up 26 goals in 48 games was eye opening and clearly signals good things to come. Dustin Brown played his usual game popping in 18 goals and dishing out 156 hits. Slava Voynov garnered further attention leading the blueline in scoring, and Drew Doughty erased the last of the viable criticisms of his defensive game.

The post season saw them and the Saint Louis Blues batter each other to bloody and bruised ruin for six games. When the first round ended it was time for a dance with the San Jose Sharks. This back and forth series sent the rivalry to a new level, and went seven games. In the western conference finals they faced the retooled Chicago Blackhawks, and were dethroned in double overtime. Very little has changed for the Kings. Jonathan Bernier was traded away while Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi were lost to free agency.

The first five games for the Los Angeles Kings don’t contain any juggernauts, there aren’t even any trap games. They’ll open up in Minnesota against the Wild, then fly north to face the Jets. The next two games are at home against the Rangers and Senators, and they finish the opening five with a trip to Raleigh to square off with the Carolina Hurricanes. No back to back games anywhere in the opening set, and only one team with a fair chance of winning their division this year.

Number of days 1-5:

Number of cities:

Best opponent: Minnesota Wild

Weakest Opponent: Carolina Hurricanes

Home games: 2

Projected points: 7

The Kings don’t have a particularly difficult October schedule. If they can integrate the new additions quickly, they have a better than even chance of leading the division when the month is over. Tyler Toffoli had his baptism by fire late last season and in the playoffs, but with Simon Gagne gone, and Dustin Penner elsewhere as well, he Matt Frattin, and anyone else who can earn a roster spot in camp will have an open door to making themselves a fixture of the game time roster.

Inglorious is the most fitting word to describe the Florida Panthers of the lockout shortened 2012-13 season. In a normal season finishing 59 goals less than your opponent would be bad, in just 48 games in exposes the weaknesses of the team. They were tied for last in goals for. They owned the worst penalty kill in the league. They allowed the most goals. As winning recipes go, that one goes to the bottom of the stack. Almost worse than the season for the club as whole was managing to lose the draft lottery to the Avalanche. Then too there was the injury bug, Scottie Upshall, Stephen Weiss, Kris Verseteeg, and Erik Gudbranson are just the biggest names on the list.

For all the bad things that happened, their were bright spots. Jonathan Huberdeau reset the team record for most points as a teenager and finished second  on the Panthers in scoring and picked up the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. Tomas Fleischmann turned in a strong season with 35 points in 48 games.  Perhaps surprisingly the Sultans of Sunrise had the 6th best powerplay in the NHL. Clearly there are building blocks, here. How well team develops Aleksander Barkov, Quentin Howard, Nick Bjugstad and other youngsters like Jacob Markstrom will either set the table for a return to the playoffs in the not too distant future or result in more of the same.

The first five games are a mixed bag. There’s a team with exceptional defense in the Saint Louis Blues, two teams with high end offensive stars in their cross state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Filling out the rest of the early season are the Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities:  5

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning

Home games: 1

Projected points: 3

If the team beats my projection for the opening five game, they will be set for a better finish than most are willing to project for them. They have a steep hill to climb to make it to the playoffs, but with better health, and some development out of the youth, they are unlikely to finish as poorly as last year and likely climb into range of the bubble (7-12) versus being 13-16 in the east this year. With almost 12 million in cap space to start the year, the team will at least on paper be able to make moves during the season to add talent in key positions. Dale Tallon is unlikely to get much rest this season as he evaluates the system.

The Edmonton Oilers were a very interesting team to watch last season. Many of the younger players have a low enough NHL game total they could, and did play in the AHL during the lockout. This made them one of the more cohesive teams when the season started. Over the course of a year that ended with a lot of changes in the front office, they improved from 23r to 19th in goals against year over year. Their goal differential was just a couple short of Minnesota and San Jose who both made the playoffs. They took a step forward, a small one and it remains to be seen if all or even most of the changes work out favorably.

The Oilers schedule to start the year is a bit odd, they open the season October 1st at home against the Winnipeg Jets then have four days off before going to Vancouver who will also be under a new head coach. They then head back to Edmonton to defend their ice against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Last of their opening fistful of games is trip east to throwdown with the new look Toronto Maple Leafs.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4+

With a new coaching staff, a new general manager, and new editions to the roster, there will be a longer than normal shakedown cruise at the beginning of the season. Dallas Eakins will certainly want to get to know all his players and how the work best under his system. Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov will certainly have a word or two to drop into the ears of their teammates. David Perron will be adjusting not just to a new coach, but an entirely new city, and team as well. The younge players will be adjusting to the trade of Shawn Horcoff.

With the experience and quality added to the blueline, the biggest factor in where this team is on April 13th will be who, if anyone steps up and claims the team as their own. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner led the team in scoring last year and are by almost any measure the best players on the team if the or others can get the team all pulling in the same direction before Thanksgiving, the team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the career of all to many of this teams young players. Two, or even three of the teams players emerging not just as stars but as superstars is will put this team in the post season and on the right path for years to come, if not, it will be same old same old.