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.

Since arriving in Boston Peter Chiarelli has made moves that rewrote the franchises future history, and others that merely changed the roster. Today the Boston Bruins extended their general manager for another four years. With seven seasons behind him, there is more than enough to look at to evaluate him as general manager and hockey mind.

Coaches:

The Bad:

Upon landing in Boston Chiarelli’s first verifiable move was to pill the bench bosses job. For that position he picked arguably the worst coach in Boston Bruins history. Dave Lewis came in, glued the gloves on Zdeno Chara, left him on the ice too long, and designed a defensive scheme that led to the worst GAA in the Tim Thomas era. Fortunately for Bruins fans, and likely several players this would prove to be a mistake that lasted just one season.

Power play coaching. The Boston Bruins powerplay has been a disaster for years. Not since before Matt Cooke nearly killed Marc Savard has the team had a viable powerplay. The team has shuffled several (recent) 30 goal scorers through the power play including Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton to little or no effect. It has used guys with enormous slap shots like Chara and Boychuk, and guys who zip around the offensive zone like Marchand, Kessel and Seguin. There hasn’t been any change in this area, and it reflects one of the fundamental components of Peter Chiarelli’s personality.

The Good:

Claude Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for the last several seasons. He’s rehabilitated guys like Rich Peverley and Daniel Paille. He’s taken rookies like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci and given them a chance to play up to their full potential while bringing them along slowly. He’s also recognized who the teams core guys are and used them to the teams best advantage. His campaigning for Patrice Bergeron’s inclusion on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team was notable, his support of Zdeno Chara for Norris candidacy and wins likewise. Further he’s show the ability to adapt as needed and make the right calls in the playoffs.

Drafting:

The Bad:

There hasn’t been much good to come out of the 2007-present drafts. Tyler Seguin failed to live up to the hype, and is now gone. While Tommy Cross’s injuries were not something anyone could predict, the rest of the 2007 draft was horribly unimpressive. Zach Hamill has all of the NHL games to date for the Bruins that year. Denis Reul played just five AHL games, Alain Goulet hasn’t escaped the ECHL for the past two years, Radim Ostrcil hasn’t played a minute in the Boston system at any level, and lastly Jordan Knackstedt departed the system almost before anyone learned who he was. Most subsequent drafts have been little better. The 2008 draft saw two NHL games in return for more than a years labor, one to Jamie Arniel and the other to Max Sauve, no one from that draft is in the system any longer.

The Good:

Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton. That’s pretty much it. Yes, I and others hold out hope that Jared Knight, Zane Gothberg, Colton Hargrove, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner, Rob O’Gara, Malcolm Subban and the several others will turn into legitimate NHL players, but that’s all we can do at this point. O’Gara, Hargrove, Grzelcyk, and countless others are college kids who will be a long time getting to the NHL, if ever. If you’re feeling optimistic you can count Jordan Caron in the “win” column, if not ad the 25th overall pick in the 2009 column to the other end of the ledger.

Free Agents:

The Bad:

Derek Morris counts as possibly the biggest miss of the Chiarelli era for free agents. He wasn’t a horrible Bruin, but he was not what was needed. From the same year if one must nitpick there is Drew Larman. While Josh Hennessy and Steve Begin weren’t unmitigated successes, they hardly grew legions of fans. The second tenure of Shane Hnidy.

The Good:

Torey Krug is the most recent player who has worked out, at least short term in the system. Remaining open to Jarome Iginla is another one that has to count as a win. Shawn Thornton is one the very quiet successes that no one ever talks about as a good free agent signing. The late season signing of Miroslav Satan was a master stroke. He didn’t have to be great, but he made people feel he was in being pretty good.

Trades:

The Bad:

Manny Fernandez wasn’t picked up for a bad price, but between his various injuries and Tim Thomas solidifying his hold on the starting goalies job, he was paid about $290,000 per game. Brandon Bochenski was brought in for Kris Versteeg. Versteeg would go on to be a contributor to the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup win and remain a valued NHL commodity, Bochenski would have trouble sticking to the NHL and end up in Europe. Vladimir Sobotka for David Warsofky, the Saint Louis Blues got the guy who led them in playoff scoring and hits last spring, and Warsofsky has yet to see a single NHL game.  Traded Petteri Nokelainen for Steve Montador who along with Wideman would eventually help cost the Bruins a playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Good:

Moving good guy with bad luck Chuck Kobasew for Alexander Fallstrom, Alexander Khokhlachev and Craig Weller. Kobasew was on the roster as part of a sluggish team and the Bruins would then flip Weller along with Bitz for Seidenberg and Bartkowski. Dennis Wideman and a 1st round pick were traded for immediate help, and possibly attitude in exchange for Gregory Campbell and Nathan Horton, Florida would jettison Wideman for glass trinkets, the Bruins would win the Cup with their new boys. Picking up Danile Paille for essentially nothing was one of the sneakier good moves in his tenure. Adam Mcquaid and Johnny Boychuk were picked up in similar trades.

Draws:

Phil Kessel for the picks that turned into Seguin, Knight and Hamilton. Seguin was on a cup winning squad but hardly a huge factor, Hamilton was displaced for AHL callups, Knight has yet to have a healthy season. It is hard to say Chiarelli had a choice in trading Kessel, but the direct return has yet to be better. The Tomas Kaberle trade might count as win, but the Bruins gave up a 1st round draft selection, Joe Colborne, and a pick they would eventually trade. Kaberle failed to distinguish in his tenure, was not extended, and actually hurt the already woeful Bruins powerplay arguably making their path to the Cup harder than it would have been without him.

The two biggest hallmarks of the Chiarelli era to date have been his loyalty to the people he picks, and being more comfortable with low and midlevel deals than the franchise shaking ones. Those less charitable than myself would count conducting media availability as if each word he spoke cost him a $5 deduction from his salary as one of those hallmarks, but given the mental perambulations of certain elements of the local media, it is hard to be surprised this happens. With a Cup win, and a second team that took a juggernaut to six games despite being hobbled by injuries it is hard to call his tenure anything but a success.

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.

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.

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.