Last season’s Red Wings had to live with the reality of a Lidstrom-less existence. It showed more in their finishing 21st in goals for than other parts of their game. Datsyuk and Zetterberg put in heroic efforts over the shortened season that the two aging stars may or may not be able to duplicate in a full season. Jimmy Howard turned in a career year for GAA and nearly matching his previous best sv% as well. The Red Wing’s in the standings swung back and forth like a pendulum, bringing them back and forth from 11th to 4th and finally coming to rest with them in 7th place. In the opening round of the playoffs they squared off against the Anaheim Ducks, and quickly fell behind. The Ducks proved unable to put them away and then take the eventual Cup winners to seven games.

In the off season they added the soon to be 41 year old Daniel Alfredsson and former Florida Panther Stephen Weiss. They’ve also gotten their wish to shift from the west to the east. The travel schedule may be more brutal in the west, but the physicality of hockey isn’t quite the same. The Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders will all happily throw the body at a prodigious rate and there are other teams not far behind. To open the season, the Wings make themselves known to their new conference rivals interrupted only by a clash with the Coyotes. Opening night will have them hosting the Buffalo Sabres before packing up for Raleigh and a date with the Carolina Hurricanes. On the backend of a Friday/Saturday set on the road they face the new look Boston Bruins, before going home to the Coyotes and Flyers.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home games: 3

Projected points: 5

Alfredsson is quoted as saying going to Detroit was a selfish move because he wanted to win. Given the lack of difference overall in quality between his old franchise and new one, we’ll have to see how well that works out. The Olympics could also trip this team up. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will undoubtedly get tapped for their national teams, and Ericsson and Kronwall would be unsurprising choices as well, there is even a chance Alfredsson gets to pull on the national jersey one more time. What that means is almost all their best player could have extra strain, wear and tear, injuries and travel time or illness before the second half.

The lockout shortened season was another year of almost realized playoff hopes. Another year of almost succeeding, another year almost being memorable. February 17th with fifteen games in the record books saw the team glowing atop 7th place. By March 2nd they’d slide beneath the horizon into 10th place. Jamie Benn forced to center, a position he hadn’t played in the NHL struggled and missed 7 games. Ray Whitney missed 16, and the two still led the team in points. Jaromir Jagr would be gone at the trade deadline. Derek Roy was gone on April 2 despite piling up 22 points in 30 games. Michael Ryder who had 35 goals the year before was traded before the season was half over. Brendan Morrow, and Joe Morrow would both exit as well.

Overall, the confusion on ice would spell an 11th place finish for the team. Was it a “bridge year”? Was it a “rebuild on the fly”? Was it just someone wanting to be seen doing something? We may never know. What we do know is that two of the teams that finished ahead of them last year won’t be vying for any of the eight playoff billets in the west this year. In the off season the front office continued to spin the personnel kaleidoscope. They sent Loui Eriksson shooting off to Boston, and in return brought back Rich Peverley an experienced NHL center good in all three zones, and a demon in the faceoff circle, and Tyler Seguin a highly regarded talent who’s off ice life and maturity came into question in a system he never fit into. Shawn Horcoff was brought in from Edmonton as well.  The first five games feature an interesting mix with the Panthers and Avalanche book-ending games against the Capitals, Jets and Wild.

Number of days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Washington Capitals

Weakest Opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With the turnover in roster talent the team could either come out of the gate energized and ready to fight or tentative and feeling themselves out. Lindy Ruff will still be getting to know most of the players and the questions about if he can coach a team with high end talent is still unanswered. Kari Lehtonen’s health will be forever in question, multiple back and groin injuries make it difficult for him to get and stay in any sort of groove. On the plus side, youth has arrived. Tyler Seguin has speed, a fantastic shot release, and Valeri Nichushkin, and Alex Chiasson. The team isn’t remarkably better or worse than it was last season, it is just different. How well all the moving parts pull together will be the difference between this being a playoff team, an afterthought or a basement dweller.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a wildly up and down season that saw them in 14th in the West on February 1, in dead last on the 26th, up to 11th and just 3 points out of the playoffs on April 7, in 8th place on April 19th, and ultimately falling short of the playoffs on a tie breaker. On April third, they brought in Marian Gaborik to be the focus of their offense. After the Gaborik acquisition, Brandon Dubinsky would gain 11 points in the teams final 10 games, and Sergei Bobrovsky put the finishing touches on a Vezina winning season going 9-3 in April while giving up just 12 even strength goals in that time.

This year will start off with a lot of new things. They’re in a new division in the newly created unbalanced conferences. Their general manager will have his first full year. Nathan Horton signed during free agency to a long term deal will be one of the new faces in town. As things stand now it will either be new not to see #22 on the ice, or someone else will be wearing it, as Vinny Prospal who lead the team in scoring last year is not signed. Jack Skille is at this moment preparing to take his first strides as a member of the Blue Jackets. Fans and media will only have one Derek (MacKenzie) whose name they’ll have to remember the spelling of.

The Blue Jackets will start the season with a schedule that will tell us as much as is possible to learn about teams in the first few days of October. The schedule has two teams they should beat, two teams that will be very competitive, and only one team that is on paper clearly better. There is only one back to back set in the first five, and those are games one and two in Columbus against the Flames, and then in New York against the Islanders, then the boys have five days to get ready to visit the Sabres.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points 5+

This year will be an interesting test of the current composition of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ll start the year without Nathan Horton, and have to get used to an entirely new division. The good news is that the division is largely mediocre. Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia missed the playoffs last year, the Islanders accumulated exactly as many points and wins, and the Rangers only had one more point. If the team can tread water and stay no more than a game or two below .500 until Horton is back, they can make a late push for a playoff spot.

The unknowns on this team are:

  • Can Bobrovsky play at or near the level he did in the last half of last season?
  • Which Marian Gaborik will we see this year, the 40 goal man or the fragile floater?
  • Can a defense that leans heavily on offensive defensemen keep the team above water in a tougher conference?
  • Will Ryan Murray and or Ryan Johansen emerge to carry a large portion of the teams weight?

Last season was one of those years for the Colorado Avalanche where fans just covered their eyes and waited for it to be over. Matt Hunwick logged the most ice time, Stastny was not quite mediocre and missed 8 games. Tyson Barrie led the Avs defense in scoring, and Parentau and Duchene tied for the team lead in scoring. That was just about all. And then the inexplicable happened. Patrick Roy was signed to take over Coaching duties and seemingly anything else that amused him.  They cut, and then kept Hunwick, they traded for past glory in Alex Tanguay. After that they did the absurd, they passed on the projected number one pick a projected franchise defenseman in Seth Jones for a high quality forward to add to the depth they already have in high end picks at forward.

This season doesn’t project as much better than last. The biggest plus side is not any moves they made, but the fact that the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets who are both better teams are no longer in the conference. On the plus side there will be more of Gabriel Landeskog, more Tyson Barrie, and possibly even the debut of Duncan Siemens and Nathan MacKinnon. Patrick Roy is going into his first year an NHL coach, and perhaps his ability, force of personality, and legacy can push some of the more complacent members of the team into better performance. Don’t be surprised if the team has a very different roster after the trade deadline than it does opening night.

Number of days 1-5: 10

Number of cities: 4

Best Opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest Opponent: Nashville Predators

Home Games: 2

Projected Points: 2

This will be a tough season for a team with so little quality on defense, and they open it up in an ugly manner. The suddenly deeper Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators at home before three straight road games. The Maple Leafs are easily a better team, the Capitals are better at forward, better at defense and about equal in the crease. If they can open the season and get five points in their first five games they should count that as progress. If they do it will give the team something to build on. It is unlikely they will be as bad as last season, but they are still going to struggle in the competition for a playoff spot. Much of the Avalanche’s mystique this season will center around seeing if the rebuild plan is short term or long term.

The 2012-13 season wasn’t one Carolina Hurricanes fans are going to holdup as a sign of a great things to come. Despite the arrival of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin they finished 13th in the east, and 26th in the NHL overall. Injuries to Cam Ward, and Dan Ellis, and (of course) Jeff Skinner would have doomed them even if their defense had been up to supporting a playoff run. With the loss of Bryan Allen, it was not. On the positive side Jiri Tlusty emerged as a dominant offensive presence. Further, having iced 35 skaters in the abbreviated 48 game season the organization got to see a good deal of the depth it has. With only four draft picks they took Elias Lindholm in the first round. 

The Hurricanes schedule to open the season is not easy. They square off with the Red Wings to open the season at home before hosting the Flyers. Then they depart for a trip to Pittsburgh and Washington before coming home to host the Los Angeles Kings. Stylistically, the Penguins and Flyers might be the least difficult, but the Flyers are much more physical, and the Penguins have a (slightly) better defense. They also play their first back to back of the season with the Capitals and Kings on the road then home.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of Cities: 3

Best Opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home Games: 3

Projected Points: 3+

While I don’t expect the season to start well, they still have a formidable forward group, The blueline remains very interesting as well. With Faulk entering his 3rd NHL season we can expect more from him. Mike Komisarek is a complete wild card. Before his feud with Milan Lucic he was a very solid 4th defenseman, since then he has managed to slip entirely out of the NHL. If the prefeud Komisarek is evidence for a large part of the season  the Canes will likely have one of the better bargains in their locker room. Andrej Sekera is another player who could bring a big upside to the team. He’s capable of playing big minutes, he skates fairly well and the change of scenery could be all he needs to emerge as a name to know. As of now, they have 11 forwards and 6 defensemen listed on their roster, the fight for the other roster spots should reveal a great deal about the team.

The 2012-13 season wasn’t one Carolina Hurricanes fans are going to holdup as a sign of a great things to come. Despite the arrival of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin they finished 13th in the east, and 26th in the NHL overall. Injuries to Cam Ward, and Dan Ellis, and (of course) Jeff Skinner would have doomed them even if their defense had been up to supporting a playoff run. With the loss of Bryan Allen, it was not. On the positive side Jiri Tlusty emerged as a dominant offensive presence. Further, having iced 35 skaters in the abbreviated 48 game season the organization got to see a good deal of the depth it has. With only four draft picks they took Elias Lindholm in the first round. 

The Hurricanes schedule to open the season is not easy. They square off with the Red Wings to open the season at home before hosting the Flyers. Then they depart for a trip to Pittsburgh and Washington before coming home to host the Los Angeles Kings. Stylistically, the Penguins and Flyers might be the least difficult, but the Flyers are much more physical, and the Penguins have a (slightly) better defense. They also play their first back to back of the season with the Capitals and Kings on the road then home.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of Cities: 3

Best Opponent: Los Angeles Kings

Weakest Opponent: Philadelphia Flyers

Home Games: 3

Projected Points: 3+

While I don’t expect the season to start well, they still have a formidable forward group, The blueline remains very interesting as well. With Faulk entering his 3rd NHL season we can expect more from him. Mike Komisarek is a complete wild card. Before his feud with Milan Lucic he was a very solid 4th defenseman, since then he has managed to slip entirely out of the NHL. If the prefeud Komisarek is evidence for a large part of the season  the Canes will likely have one of the better bargains in their locker room. Andrej Sekera is another player who could bring a big upside to the team. He’s capable of playing big minutes, he skates fairly well and the change of scenery could be all he needs to emerge as a name to know. As of now, they have 11 forwards and 6 defensemen listed on their roster, the fight for the other roster spots should reveal a great deal about the team.

Last season was one for the record books. They ran through the regular season with an absolute vengeance. The took home the Presidents trophy. The beat second place by five points in a shortened season, and packed up 30% more wins than several teams to make the playoffs. Their forward momentum carried them through the first round against the overmatched and deeply inexperienced Minnesota Wild. The Red Wings fought out of their weight class and overachieved to take the Blackhawks to seven games helped along by the uncharacteristic slump of team camptain Jonathan Toews. Round three and four were shorter, and the parades and parties came after the cup went up. Since then they’ve lost Bolland, Frolik, and Stalberg upfront, Emery in net. Also gone is Daniel “@CarBomb13” Carcillo.

The BlackHawks will start their Stanley Cup defense with three of their first five against teams who were in the playoffs last season. They square off with the surprisingly plucky New York Islanders, a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that for the first time since the 97-98 season will not include Vincent Lecavalier. They also cross swards with the St Louis Blues and the Buffalo Sabres after opening up against the Washington Capitals.

Number of Days 1-5: 12

Number of cities: 2

Best Opponent: Saint Louis Blues

Weakest Opponent: Buffalo Sabres

Home Games: 4

Projected Points: 6

The two biggest challenges for the reigning champs will be recovering from a long playoff run with a compressed regular season, and of course trying to have overcome getting everything they wanted from their NHL careers. Just months ago all of the players not on the team 4 years ago put themselves in elite company, the returning putt themselves in the rarefied company of multiple winners. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and the others all made major contributions to both wins, and none of them are as young as they were. Overall the team is certainly a playoff team and probably the best team on the paper in the Western conference, but we don’t yet know what the physical and emotional toll on the winners will be.

 

The abbreviated 2012-13 season was perhaps a blessing for Calgary Flames fans. They finished 25th in the NHL. Living legend Jarome Iginla departed for playoff pastures, and defensive stalwart Jay Bouwmeester skipped town to play for the Saint Louis Blues. The rebuild began under the same hands that have guided the franchise the last several years. Also subtracted from a fairly week roster were Alex Tanguay, and Cory Sarich who were pushed even further down the ladder of NHL success to the Colorado Avalanche.

This season is unlikely to yield pretty results. On the plus side, Calgary fans will get a chance to watch the development of the next generation. Carter Banks, Max Reinhart, and others will look to make their spot n the roster and a permanent home in the NHL The team starts the season with four eastern conference teams on its schedule, and only the Canucks as a conference rival.

Number of Days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 2

Best Opponent: Canucks

Weakest Opponent: New Jersey Devils

Home games: 3

Projected points: 3

There isn’t much to look forward to in this season. The team is unarguably weaker even than it was last year. The defense is worse, the goaltending is only so-so and unless two of this years squads centers make a massive leap, they don’t have a first or second line center. If the team is very lucky, they can draft well in June. It will be interesting to see the season holds, and how many of the older players are moved out before the next NHL draft.  Who and what come back in a season of obvious rebuild is anyone’s guess.

Last season was not a banner year for the Buffalo Sabres. It was a year of great change. Gone was the longest tenured coach in the NHL. In his place is Ron Rolston took over after 17 games, and pushed the team hard but couldn’t take them to the playoffs. They lost a lot, they lost some quality players to trades. Gone is Jason Pominville and with him Nathan Gerbe, Jochen Hecht is a Sabre no more, and the short stay of Robyn Reghr is over, Jordan Leopold wears another uniform, and those aren’t the only departures. They finished 23rd in the NHL with a 21 and 21 record. Interestingly, they took two of three from the Penguins last lesson, both after the coaching change, last season. On the plus side Henrik Tallinder is back and Tyler Myers played his best hockey during Tallinder’s first Buffalo tenure. Luke Adam added a year of seasoning, as did Grigorenko, Hodgson, Foligno, and new comer Jamie McBain.

The season opens with five games in eight days. They pay a visit to the Red Wings to open the season before scooting across the Great Lakes for a game at home in the first half of a back to back against the Senators, after the game they go south to play the Penguins, and then pop home for games against the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Number of days game 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Weakest opponent: Tampa Bay Lightning

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4

The team can have a better season that last year if the young guns can pick up the pace and push some of the mote complacent members of the team forward. Uncertainty about how long Vanek and Miller will remain on the team, and serious questions about leadership will hold the team back. Also up in the air is the question of what this teams real identity is, they’ve been trying and trying to be tough guys, but I’m not sure there’s a team in the league who finds the Sabres physicality intimidating or even worth noticing. They could finish the season above 500, but will likely not make the playoffs as there are at least four better teams just in the new build “Atlantic Division”.