The only original six matchup of the first round could send the victor to a second round matchup with another original six team. For now the Boston Bruins, the team that has dominated the east for the last few years faces off with the Detroit Red Wings the model franchise of the west for many years. The contrast in syles, club directions, and cities couldn’t be greater. One similarity is that both teams have enormous, passionate fans all over the globe. You can’t follow either the team on the road and not spot jerseys for the visitors and hear the chants urging them on.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins did something they haven’t done in a while, finished the regular season with home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. They have had a lot of turnover since they last raised Lord Stanley’s Cup; gone are Michael Ryder, Andrew Ference, Rich Peverley, Tim Thomas, Mark Recchi, Tomas Kaberle, and Tyler Seguin. In their place are Reilly Smith, Jarome Iginla, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Dougie Hamilton, Loui Erikson. The structure is the same, the mind behind the bench unchanged but the attributes of the men in the spoked-B is rather different.

Best Players

Patrice Bergeron who scored the cup clinching goal not long ago has had his second highest goal scoring season, Zdeno Chara is still the best shutdown defenseman in the league. Jarome Iginla enjoyed yet another 30 goal season, Tuukka Rask had stellar numbers, and David Krejci and Milan Lucic are proving it almost doesn’t matter who is on their line that they will succeed with whoever.

X-Factor

The young Bruins have to stay focused on the very quick, highly talented stars of the Wings and not be dazzled or rattled by Datsyuk, Zetterberg (if he plays) or otherwise fall into Babcock’s inevitable plan to pull the Bruins out of their physical, space denial game.

 

Detroit Red Wings

It was an open question if the Red Wings would make it into the playoffs at all. The fact that they did means Mike Babcock is likely to come up short on votes but still have a great claim to the Jack Adams award for best coach. This roster was riven with injuries, is aging, and no one would have been surprised if their playoff streak finally expired. The good news for the Red Wings is that the Bruins are a good matchup for them.

Best Players

Pavel Datsyuk is not the man he was five years ago, but he is still capable of breath taking plays. Gustav Nyquist was an unknown a fistful of months ago, today he’s the guy who led the Red Wings in goal scoring despite playing just 57 games. Kronwall is one of the best hitters in the NHL and woe to anyone who doesn’t keep their head up. Daniel Alfredsson at 41 is still showing there’s gas in the tank and led the team in scoring, his 121 NHL playoff games, with 100 points in them, is more than many of the Boston Bruins defense total NHL games.

X-Factor

With the injuries they’ve suffered, and the ones they will no doubt collect in the opening games, can this team hang with a deeper squad that is just as well coached? This team had one player crack 20 goals in a Wings uniform, while the opponent had two cross 30 and two more over 20. If as the road team Babcock can consistently create the right matchups to win the series, it will be his finest coaching job to date.

This may be the best first round matchup for hockey. The Kings have won a cup recently, as have have the Ducks. The Sharks spent half a decade as the favorites to win it and still haven’t. A first round meeting of two California teams where the winner will quite likely play the third California team is likely to catapult the youth hockey enrollment numbers. And yes, seeing guys like Carter and Richards go toe to toe with Thornton and Pavelski will be more than a bit fun to watch too.

San Jose Sharks

The Sharks a very interesting mix of household names and guys no ones ever heard of. They have arguably the deepest six defensemen in the NHL, without having a guy currently at an elite level back there. Thornton and Marleau will get most of the media attention, but Vlasic, Pavelski, and Couture have worn out some boots this season getting them here.

Best Players

While Joe Thornton is still the best pure passer in the NHL, he’s not getting any younger, Joe Pavelski is a different case. They younger Joe is clearly at, or possibly just reaching the height of his powers, and Marleau just keeps trucking along.

X-Factor

Do they want it? This team has not ever reached its potential. Some years they went into the playoffs very damaged, others they got hurt early, and some years they just showed up and expected to win. This year they need to go attack the ice like it is their last chance at glory and their only hope at salvation, because it just well may be.

Los Angeles Kings

Same story, different year. The Kings enter the playoffs this year with bottom tier scoring and top end defense. The backup goalie could be a starter on many teams, and the late season trade piece (in this case Gaborik) are expected to scare up offense for the whole team. If you’re looking at recent history, that was what happened their Cup year. Can it happen now? Who knows?

Best players:

Jonathan Quick is having a solid, if not spectacular year, Drew Doughty is still improving in his own zone, and Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar are the only two players who managed to break 20 goals this season. For the team to make a deep run, they are going to need help from all over the roster.

X-Factor

Goaltending. If Quick can regain his cup winning form, or Martin Jones goes in and makes people look as foolish as he did in the regular season, the Kings will likely be playing in May. They will still need to score goals however and that has been a problem in LA for at least half a decade.

The Pittsburgh Penguins enter the playoffs this year after being ignobly dumped in last years Eastern Conference Finals. The Columbus Blue Jackets missed the playoffs last year by the slimmest of margins and the city will see NHL playoff hockey for just the second time. The Penguins almost have to win the Stanley Cup this year to protect the jobs of Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma. The Columbus Blue Jackets have had their bench and front office shuffled repeatedly since they were last in the playoffs, and advancing almost certainly means contract extensions not just in the suits but for ice level backbone Sergei Bobrovsky.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

If there is a NHL team or player that gets more attention on or off the ice than the Penguins and Crosby, I’m not sure I know who they might be. The Captain of the Penguins is Sidney Croby, Olympian, 1st overall pick, MVP winner and a regular part of the NHL scoring race, when healthy. Evgani Malkin is another highly talented forward who floats between wing and center for the Penguins, he’s expected to be back on the ice for game one. Which version of the team will we see when the puck drops? The composed heavyweight contender we see in the regular season or the strung-out jobber that has ended their season in chaos more years than not since they won the cup?

Best Players:

Crosby, Malkin and Neal will likely have to carry even more of the burden than normal. Kris Letang, will be in the lineup after recovering from his stroke, but at what percent? His timing will be off, and he’s never been known as a staunch defender.

X-Factor

While pointing at Fleury would be accurate and easy, it isn’t going to be the biggest factor. The Penguins are used to scoring just about at will. When they don’t they come unglued, in this series they are facing one of the best goaltenders in the world with a very mobile defense in front of him. If they can’t solve Bobrovsky early and often and lose their composure they will be watching the second round and not playing it.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

It would be an overstatement to say they are just happy to be here, but; they are just happy to be here, at least until they hit the dressing room. For an organization without a lot of playoff experience, the roster has quite a bit. 155 games among their forwards alone led by the currently injured Nathan Horton who has a Stanley Cup run behind him, and RJ Umberger one of the teams best known veterans. More importantly there is some playoff experience on their backend with Fedor Tyutin a holdover from the Jacket’s only other playoff experience, Jack Johnson’s resume has been endorsed with some time from his Kings days, and Bobrovsky’s with his time as a Flyer.

Best Players:

Ryan Johansen, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Jack Johnson are the names that spring to mind, but this team could almost be called “starless” simply because of how little media attention the team gets.

X-Factor

Execution. The offensive and defensive stats of the the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins aren’t that far apart, just seven goals separated their goals for at even strength in the regular season. Defensively they were again very similar. Once you look at how much better the team did with Bobrovski in net over backup McElhinney, you realize the Blue Jackets aren’t as over matched as some might believe.

At multiple points this season a matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens was unthinkable. Carey Price was injured, Steven Stamkos was injured, and the teams downfalls were predicted at those points and others. Yet here we are, the oldest club in the NHL is facing off with a team that while significantly less steeped in history has etched their names on Lord Stanley’s Cup more recently.

Atlantic Division

To date this has hardly been the NHL’s fiecest rivalry, by virtue of geography, history, and games played against each other the two teams can probably count at least five or six teams with whom they have developed a higher level of passion about. The two teams enter the series very evenly matched. The Lightning finished with 101 points in the regular season and 38 regulation or overtime wins. The Habs take the second season stage having finished the year with 100 points and 40 ROW’s.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Bolts finished 2nd to the Boston Bruins in the division despite losing Stamkos for an extended period and an irreparable rift between General Manager Steve Yzerman and then captain Marty Saint Louis. This years team is not the old style “We’ll win 6-4″ rendition that many fans were familiar with. Cooper’s team finished the regular season 9th in goals for and 11th in goals against.

Best players:

Steven Stamkos is hands down the biggest name in the series, but Eric Brewer must hit household name status for the Tampa Bay Lightning to make a deep run. He’s a key cog defensively, and the road doesn’t get easier if they make it past the Canadiens.

X-Factor:

A lot of how well the Bolts do in the post-season this year will rest on the shoulders of Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson. The two rookies have played remarkably well this year but neither has played a single NHL playoff game and they will be facing a team who knows how to get under peoples skin.

Montreal Canadiens

Finishing third in the division this season has to be at least a little bit of a disappointment after winning the division in the lockout shortened season last year. Given the injury to Price, and the need to further reinforce their offense at the deadline by acquiring Tomas Vanek, it is actually something of an accomplishment. As they enter the playoffs, the Habs are a bit oddly constructed. Of they guys who spent all season in the “CH”, two of the top four scorers are defenseman (Subban & Markov), and only two players finished the year with 20 goals or more, Pacioretty and the woefully under appreciated Tomas Plekanec.

Best Players:

Carey Price has finally emerged as the type of goalie that Montreal expects every netminder who pulls on their jersey to be. 59 games played and a career high .927sv% coming as part of a matched set with a career low 2.32 GAA. Subban needs to continue to show that unlike some other recent Norris winners he can get it done in the part of the ice his position was named for.

X-Factor:

Secondary scoring, secondary scoring, secondary scoring. It is a given that the Tampa Bay defense is going to be all over Pacioretty and Vanek, what the other players due to generate goals will determine if the team ends the year with gnarly playoff beards or assertive stubble.

The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are hear, and the best matchups are always the teams that are closest in talent, health, and drive. In the past that meant the four versus five matchup and the three versus six. With the changes in playoff format, the second and third place teams in each division will square off.

Metropolitan Division:

New York Rangers vs Philadelphia Flyers

As pure dyed in the wool rivalries go, there isn’t another first round matchup that comes close to this. Both teams have a different coach than they did at this time last year, but nothing has changed about how these two teams go at each other.

The Rangers as the #2 team have home ice advantage, they are mostly healthy, with only Kreider out and McDonagh dinged, they have a roster full of men who want to be winning in June.

The Flyers are equally healthy, and have a coach who didn’t even get a training camp. They have a star in Claude Giroux who predicted they would make the second season, an a guy in Steve Mason who has his mojo back.

Best Players:

NYR: Ryan McDonagh and Martin St Louis have to be the guys to carry the mail. St Louis is a first ballot hall of famer with a lot of games left in him. McDonagh is the guy who makes their rather talented backend work and pushes things at both ends of the ice.

PHI: Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds are the men of the hour in Philadelphia. Simmonds for his part needs to play a slightly better two way game, Giroux needs to stay healthy and focused.

Series X Factor: Coaching.

Neither of these coaches has won much. Neither has any professional hockey championship wins. Vigneault has spent more time coaching in the NHL with several playoff runs. Berube played over 1000 NHL games, and 89 playoff games. Whichever coach can control the locker room and bench will win the series.

Three years ago the first chapter of the Taylor Hall vs Tyler Seguin saga came to a close as the NHL entry draft closed. Both gentlemen went home with a team, they were in fact drafted one and two. In the steeplechase that is an NHL career, each has had his own obstacles to deal with. Hall has had to play on a team that has a lot of talent at forward but has proven enormously bad as a collective. Worse, Hall has battled injuries that have caused him to miss 41 games. Tyler Seguin’s career has seen him win the Stanley Cup, and be exiled not much later.

This season a new chapter begins. Both Taylor and Tyler will be playing center. And for the first time in three years they will be playing the came competition on a regular basis. With the injury to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the trade from Boston to the Dallas Stars the two will faceoff three times this season. Both will have training camp and the early part of the season to adjust to the new role as Seguin slides in from the right, and Hall moves in from the left.

November 13th when the Dallas Stars visit the Edmonton Oilers will be the first time these two faceoff in the NHL playing the same position. To date, the comparisons are stark. Taylor Hall has been the better offensive power plant. Despite the lost games, Hall eclipses Seguin in all offensive categories. Seguin has had far better health, and more career accomplishments. At 21 he’s already been part of a Stanley Cup win, and collected 42 games of playoff experience.

This season represents the best head to head comparisons fans have gotten since they joined the NHL. Their teams are about equal in quality, each will be learning the center position at the NHL level. Both have new coaches as well.

The New York Rangers have six players signed beyond the 2013-2014 season. That does not include a goaltender, and does include one center who many consider a buyout candidate if he doesn’t return to all star status this year. As of right now, it also does not include Derek Stepan who has been their best forward over the last two years. For Rangers fans, this should be a cause for something slightly stronger than concern.

Two years ago the Rangers were in the Eastern Conference finals, they were beaten by the New Jersey Devils. That was the high water mark for recent Rangers history. Glen Sather who just celebrated his 69th birthday, has been at the helm since June of 2000. In that team we’ve seen lockouts, new CBAs the retirement of an entire era of greats, and not a single cup win.

Without sugar-coating it; Glen Sather has specialized in paying the wrong players huge amounts to come to New York and fail in the Rangers system and scapegoating coaches. Sather’s early years included finishing out of the playoffs with the aid of Pavel Bure, Mark Messier, and other highly paid players. Of all the coaches he’s booted, John Torterella had the best winning percentage, and Sather’s own 2003-2004 season in which he turned in a .428 winning percentage as coach was the worst. Tom Renney was a victim of Sather’s questionable decision making as well.

Wade Redden is perhaps the best example of players who were paid well beyond their ability to produce in New York, but he’s just one name on a long, long list. Scott Gomez was signed to a contract that may have been more responsible than any other for owners wanting limits to contract terms. Marian Gaborik is another of the standout examples of talented players who for whatever reason are unsuited to life in the Big Apple. Brad Richards has yet to flourish in the Garden, Rick Nash who was the most sought after trade piece for more than a year, didn’t silence his critics with a rather anemic post season this year, it is hard to to put him into the success category for Sather.

In terms of reliability and durability, the two best players signed to the New York Rangers after this season are Ryan McDonagh and Carl Hagelin. The two are fierce competitors, undeniably talented, and yet I doubt they’d make a top 10 list at their positions if the NHL’s head scouts are polled, certainly they would not if you poll the media.

While the cap is certainly a consideration when it comes to who is and isn’t signed, leaving 75% of your roster unsigned is a sign of one of three things; 1:  someone seeking leverage for their own contract extension,  2: someone contemplating massive turnover or 3: something that bears no resemblance to competence.

The 2010 draft class was universally viewed to possess two elite forwards, and numerous quality NHL players. Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin were talked about all year long, and at the draft the pair were selected first and second. Both launched their careers the autumn of their draft year, and both had international celebrity status before they ever took a shift. The other 208 men taken in that draft are determined not to be afterthoughts.

Jeff Skinner vs Tyler Seguin

Entering the year Skinner leads Seguin in goals, assists and points with a line of 188gp 64g 67a 131p to Seguin’s 203gp 56g 64a 121p. Over the course of the season, assuming both play a roughly equal number of games: Expect Skinner to increase his goal lead.

To date, 40 players drafted in 2010 have played at least 1 game in the NHL.

This season: 15 more players drafted in 2010 will play in the NHL.

Quinton Howard of the Florida Panthers: Scores 5+NHL goals.

Ryan Johansen of the Columbus Blue Jackets doubles his career point total with 33 or more points this season.

Charlie Coyle of the Minnesota Wild has as many goals this season, as he had points (14) last season.

Carolina Hurricanes defensmen Justin Faulk scores 10 goals.

Anaheim Ducks forwards Emerson Etem and Devante Smith-Pelly combine for 25 goals.

Taylor Hall gets his first NHL 30 goal season.