This years playoffs have so many interesting matchups it is going to be hard to call a best series even if you see every minute of ever game.

The Chicago Blackhawks vs the Nashville Predators

This is the western conference’s David versus Goliath matchup. While the Blackhawks aren’t quite as formidable as they were when Kane, Toews, Seabrook, and Keith first hoisted the Cup, they are still one of the strongest, best balanced teams in the NHL. If the Predators do win this matchup it will be because the team refused to be intimidated, and everyone grabbed the rope and leaned. The Preds do have the players to be dangerous, Subban, Ellis, Arvidsson, and Forsberg are more than a handful themselves.

Biggest Strength

  • Blackhawks: Explosiveness
  • Predators: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Blackhawks: Special teams
  • Predators: Discipline

Ottawa Senators vs Boston Bruins

This is a first. The Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins have never met in the playoffs. The Sens have been in the NHL 26 years, and they and the Bruins have never gone eye to eye. The Senators ran the tables on the Bruins in the regular season. Both teams will enter the second season with banged up bluelines. Both coaches are relatively new to their posts. Each team has some very gifted players. Marchand, Bergeron, and Chara will need to shoulder the load for the Bruins to have a hope. Karlsson, O’Reilly, and Anderson can just be themselves so long as the rest of the squad shows up. This could be the best series to watch from an “x’s” and “o’s” point of view. This matchup probably has the highest regular season PIM total.

Biggest Strengths:

  • Senators: The ability to triple the gravity in the neutral zone
  • Bruin: Team defense and penalty kill

Biggest Weakness

  • Senators: Special teams
  • Bruins: Wildly inconsistent goaltending

 

Washington Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs

Everything versus nothing. That is this series in three words. The Toronto Maple Leafs are at least two years ahead of projections. The Washington Capitals should have had at least one Cup in the last five years. Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner, and Kasperi Kapanen are all years from being able to drink (legally) in the US. Alex Ovechkin, John Carlson, and Nicklas Backstrom are all well into their second half of a decade or more chasing the last win of the season and not even coming close.

Biggest Strengths

  • Caps:  Total package
  • Leafs: Special teams

Biggest Weakness

  • Caps: Mental composure
  • Leafs: Defense

 

Predictions:

Boom or bust players are the players who’s performance have the ability to tilt the series.

Hawks vs Preds

For the Predators to win they need to stay out of the box they were penalized almost 50% more than the Blackhawks, for Chicago its pretty much a case of stay calm and be the Blackhawks. – Chicago in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series: Ryan Johansen

Caps vs Leafs

The Caps have more playoff experience, at least as good a coach, better performance at almost every measure. – Caps in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series: Alex Ovechkin

Ducks vs Flames

Goaltending wins championships, and the difference between Gibson’s season and either Johnson or Elliot is noticeable, but the Flames are not going to go down easy. – Ducks in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. – Johnny Gaudreau

Penguins vs Jackets

Repeating is tough, if I were ever going to pick a team to do it, this might just be it. Jackets in 6

Boom or Bus player of the series. – Cam Atkinson

Oilers vs Sharks

This Oilers team is pretty compelling. How the defense of the Sharks is matched with McDavid and company will decide the series. – Oilers in 7

Boom or Bust player of the series. Milan Lucic

Wild vs Blues

This series is not as even as some people would have you believe. Wild in 5

Boom or Bust player of the series. Alex Peitrangelo

Habs vs Rangers

These teams have recent history, but one team is on the rise, and one of them has crested. Canadiens in 6

Boom or Bust player of the series. Derek Stepan

Sens vs Bs

This series will come down to how consistently the coaches can impose their will on their team and get them to execute the system. Sens in 6

 

Each year we as 30 teams go careening through the grueling season hell bent on playing at least sixteen more when it is over, we have the chance to see the most difficult and most subtle position played by the good, the bad, the forgettable and the elite. Getting the Norris trophy (normally) means you are an elite defenseman. Here’s the guys to watch this year.

  • Shea Weber, he’s long overdue, his team has a shot at the playoffs with the improvements up front, and the return to health of Pekka Rinne.
  • Ryan McDonagh, a new name to watch, he’s got two solid tenders to play in front of, a decent squad even without Stepan or a few weeks, and his team is fresh off a deep playoff run.
  • Drew Doughty, I’d have been much happier to see him win last year than the guy who did, and I don’t expect his performance to dip this season, top level defenseman with the most Ray Bourque like mix of skill and skating of any player in the NHL.
  • Zdeno Chara, the elder statesmen of the top end defensemen in the NHL, he’s go one Norris, and the defense crew he plays with now just got younger and less experienced.
  • Alex Pietrangelo, this is one of the players who doesn’t get recognized because he doesn’t have one outstanding area of strength that’s easy to pin down, however he also doesn’t have any areas where he’s average or below average.
  • Ryan Suter, top shelf defenseman who was suffered mutual penalization with Shea Weber for playing together, now playing with a rather young mostly nameless defense.
  • Victor Hedman, consistent producer of points, while his actually defensive numbers don’t fall into the same league as the rest of he watchlist, he’s still more worthy than certain recent winners.

NHL.com released a list of the top 14 defensemen in the NHL. While I’m not surprised by any names on the final list, I am a bit dismayed by one or two or at least where they placed. And I’m pleased as can be about one semi-notable exclusion. One name I’d put in, instead of one of the person who did make it without any real merit is quite often overlooked and I’m hoping that this season that comes to an end.

Debating the exact position of each player on the list is futile. Four people voted, and I think that if you had fourteen people vote, you’d get very nearly the same results. There are however three things I can’t wrap my head around.

Too High:

For all that he’s been on two cup winning teams, and for all his admitted prowess, Duncan Keith is not, and has not in the last two or three years been a top five defenseman in the NHL. You can’t be considered among the elite of the elite if you don’t play against the top of the food chain. Keith does not. He shouldn’t be any higher than seven or eight. Still an impressive player, still someone everyone wants on their roster, but not in the conversation for best defenseman in the NHL.

Too Low:

Alex Pietrangelo is far too low. When you consider how much worse the goaltending talent he’s played his career in front of is than the guys Doughty, Weber, and Chara have spent the same years in front of, things take on a different tint. No, he hasn’t won a Norris (neither have Doughty, which he probably deserves, and Weber which is an outright crime) but a measurable chunk of that is the city he plays in. He does all things well, and plays hard minutes. Part of his lack of public affection may just be how few games he’s played, only one player above him on the list has fewer NHL games and Subban plays in a much, much more scrutinized market. For well rounded play, Pietrangelo is Subban’s superior for both defensive prowess and levelheadedness.

Are You Sure About That Name:

Why Erik Karlsson makes the list at all is a mystery. There are sixty or seventy wingers in the NHL with less than 100 games played who have better defensive instincts and ability than Karlsson. I could (barely) swallow him coming in at 13 or 14, assuming their were no better choices. There are however, at least half a dozen that don’t even need a sniff test and probably six three to five more that can be made to work. One of the better choices is John Carlson who has a better differential between zone starts and finishes, a better on ice save percentage, but is actually more productive per minute of powerplay time than Karlsson.

My delight upon mature and sober consideration was unmitigated upon not seeing the name Kris Letang on the list. Having heard of his unjustly vaunted prowess for year after year, it is nice to see his exposure in the playoffs the last two years doing some good. I am surprised to Giordano so high on the list especially with only one real season the spotlight to himself, but he does deserve a spot on the list.

This series could be described as “A Tale of Two Cities In Freefall” by someone who particularly loved Dickens. That writer would no doubt treat their readers to a wordy, drawn out description of the teams records fillled with references to the a book most people never bothered to suffer through; that writer isn’t me. Neither the Blues who ended the season on a zero for six slide, nor the Blackhawks who played mediocre hockey have much to shout about coming into the post season.

Saint Louis Blues

The list of players dinged up over the last month of the regular season for the Blues reads like a who’s who of the team. David Backes spent time on the shelf, Olympic sharp shooter T.J. Oshie was down-checked, faceoff stud and defensive stalwart Valdimir Sobotka is down and out. Vladimir Taresenko hasn’t taken the ice since mid march, and both Brenden Morrow and Patrik Berglund found themselves in need of time to heal. Which makes it remarkable that the team was still within striking distance of the President’s Trophy until the final games of the regular season. This is a very talented team when healthy, who work hard and are coached well.

Best Players

On a team this deep, it is hard to winnow the list. Backes and Steen have gotten a lot of attention, but Oshie was second on the team in scoring. On the backend, it is hard to argue that the a more talented group has hit the ice for a playoff run since Bourque and Roy were in Colorado together. This team has three defensemen who could be considered number ones in Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, and Kevin Shattenkirk. In net they have Vezina winner and Olympic medalist Ryan Miller who is having one of his better years despite how much of the year he spent on the woeful Sabres.

X-Factor

This team has all the talent in the world, how well the execute and stay focused will determine how deep they go. Two years in a row they ran into the Kings and produced two brilliant, beautiful series which they lost. This year its the Chicago Blackhawks on the agenda.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

The defending champions had a very fast, very talented roster. Where the Blues thrive in games that are ultra physical and play a counter punch style many nights, the Blackhawks are quite happy to win on pure skill and determination. This team can make lots of great passes, the core group has been together a long time, and know each other very well. Of that core, Hossa, Toews, and Kane have all missed time due to injuries.

Best Players

Like the Blues, this is a pretty deep roster. Sharp led the team in scoring in the regular season, Seabrook is a very effective defensive-defenseman, Keith might be on the shortlist for the Norris, and not many GM’s would take too long thinking about a trade package coming their way that included Toews or Kane.

X-Factor

How much will fatigue and the physicality of the Blues affect this team? The Stanley Cup finals didn’t end until just before the draft in late June and most of this roster was part of that win, many of their top players played in the Olympics, and they do not have home ice advantage in this series.

We’re a week into the new NHL season. Teams have played between two and four games, and several possibly sustainable surprises have come out of the first seven days.

 

Anaheim Ducks: Secondary scoring may actually be a factor this year, the top two in points through three games were added since last year, Mathieu Perreault and Jakob Silferberg.

Boston Bruins: We know that this should be Jordan Caron’s last opportunity to carve out a roster spot in the top 9 of the team. What we don’t know is if he can.

Buffalo Sabres: We know that with four games played, and just one point in the bank, Ron Rolston and company are going to have to eventually get around to supporting their goaltenders who have done everything they could (Ryan Miller .963Sv% and Jhonas Enroth .912sv%).

Calgary Flames: While being tied for the points lead in your division is great, 18 year old rookie centers statistically don’t maintain a 1.2 ppg pace all season very often, and that’s what Sean Monahan is doing. Monahan is tied with Jiri Hudler for the teams points lead.

Carolina Hurricanes: What do we know about Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, and Ron Hainsey? Other than taking up 1/4th of the Canes cap space they are exactly 3 points behind Justin Faulk and Jeff Skinner who lead the team in points.

Chicago Blackhawks: The champs enter the second week of the season with an odd vulnerability to Alex Steen and one of just two teams with a 1-1-1 record sitting in fourth place in their division.

Colorado Avalanche: 3-0-0? Great start for the Avalanche, but the team is averaging over 30 shots against per game, and Varlamov’s .963 sv% is more than just fighting out of his weight class.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Six goals through their first pair of games and twelve players have been involved in the scoring.

Dallas Stars: We know that with the possible exceptions of an over indulgent aunt of their no one picked Alex Chaisson and Brenden Dillon to lead the team in scoring through two games, certainly not management.

Detroit Red Wings: The Wings have points from ten different skaters through three games, and are winning 55.6% of their faceoffs.

Edmonton Oilers: The good news is that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made it into a game, and that David Perron has contributed three points. The bad news is a 1-2-0 record that has them in the Pacific basement.

Florida Panthers: We know distinguishing yourself by playing the worst defense on this team will take a monumental effort of will.

Los Angeles Kings:  We know that Jeff Carter’s 36% of the teams goals is not a good sign for an offense that should be better than this.

Minnesota Wild: At 0-1-2 they are one of just three teams not to have a win yet. On the plus side Zach Parise has three goals.

Montreal Canadiens: Anyone who picked Lars Eller and Alex Galchenyuk to lead the team in scoring, and be in or tied for a top ten spot in the NHL scoring race, raise your hand.

Nashville Predators: We know this team needs more from fifth year forward Colin Wilson and third year man Craig Smith if they are going to be playing in the third week of April.

New Jersey Devils: While this team is far more balanced than last years both financially and on the ice, they are 0-1-3 through four games.  We also know this team needs to get younger real soon, of the six players with two points or more only soon to be 28 year old Damien Brunner is under 30.

New York Islanders: We know after a decade in the dumpster, the vertigo that goes along with finding themselves in 2nd entering the 2nd week of the season will leave some fans a bit giddy. Michael Grabner and his two point game per pace are a bit noteworthy as well.

New York Rangers: There are three bright spots to this season so far: Brad Richards is scoring, Marc Staal is playing, and Derek Stepan is signed and on the ice. Everything else from Henrik Lundqvist’s .897 sv% to 6th place in the Metropolitan division are ungood.

Ottawa Senators: If the playoffs were to start today, the Pesky Sens would own one of the two wildcard spots in the east, despite only winning one of their three games. At some point they will have to improve in one or both ends.

Philadelphia Flyers: When the Flyers signed former Tampa Bay Lightning captain Lecavalier, they appear to have signed his old teams basement lease as well.  Through four games they have just 2 points and are being outscored two to one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Just about nothing is going right for the team right now, their defense and penalty kill are both well below last years pace.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Marc-Andre Fleury has a career sv% of .910, so we’re all sure he can maintain his current .963 through and beyond this year, aren’t we? He should probably buy a $1000 savings bond for a defenseman’s kid every game he allows less than three goals.

San Jose Sharks:  So, Tomas Hertl. Launched 1000 puns, and leads the NHL in goals and points. He might manage to hold a place in the NHL for a bit.

Saint Louis Blues: Not a sad note in town as the David Backes, Vlad Sobotka, Alex Pietrangelo, and company open the season 3-0-0.

Tampa Bay Lightning: While its only October, and the first week is just wrapping up, they currently hold the first eastern wild card spot. That fact becomes truly amazing when you realize that through three games Stamkos and St Louis only have one goal between them.

Toronto Maple Leafs: This team might have a perfect record through four games if they hadn’t dumped Grabovski who is tied for 3rd in the NHL in scoring.

Vancouver Canucks: What is with Bobby Lou? He looked back to Olympic form in the preseason, and  since then its been mostly fizzle. At least the Sedins are producing again, its pure coincidence that this is their contract year.

Washington Capitals: The defense and goaltending have evaporated on this team since spring. Ovechkin appears to be back to world beating form.

Winnipeg Jets: Tobias Entrom and Dustin Byfuglien have four assists each through three games, the team is 2-1-0 and on the sunny side of the goal differential for a change. Evander Kane is on a point per game pace, lots to cheer about.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Chicago Blackhawks Captain, keystone, and bubbly play maker*, is slightly dinged up with the highly contagious “lower body injury“. Please remember to wash your hands after interviewing.

 

One of the Dallas Stars summer reinforcements is going to be down-checked for almost a month. Rich Peverley, former Boston Bruin, Atlanta Thrasher, and Nashville Predator had surgery to repair a heart condition. The former St. Lawrence Saint came over with Tyler Seguin as part of the effort to establish depth at center.

 

The war is over now, and Alex Pietrangelo is signed to a new seven year deal with the Saint Louis Blues. Capgeek lists his hit at $6.5m per year, and that gives the Blues the 9th highest payroll in the NHL, with six teams still having to make moves to bring them under the cap by opening night.

 

Darryl Sutter was understood to utter the word “awesome” at the Los Angeles Kings training camp. He says this years camp has guys playing for jobs. With at least four forwards, and two defensemen who saw light if any use during the post season last year, we expect the competition to be awesome.

 

Also caught by the dastardly “lower body injury” is Nashville Predators goaltender prospect Magnus Hellberg. Viktor Stalberg is said to being fitting in great after one training camp practice by Barry Trotz who will no doubt be shamed into upping the superlative compete level when he hears what Darryl Sutter said.

 

*One or more of these may require additional verification.

The NHL has surprises here and there, injuries unexpected firings, and ridiculous hirings. But the for the most part, NHL observers can expect exactly the train-wrecks and triumphs that are written in the stars just waiting to be read.

7:  Jarome Iginla & Brendan Morrow

Both Morrow and Iginla ended up as part of the augmentation of talent for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they made a run towards the Cup. The team fell short, and what came next, should surprise 0.0% of hockey fans. Brendan Morrow who’s offense has fallen off the cliff since the 2010-11 season is without a contract. He performed like a third line rookie in the playoffs, and his skating was not impressive. Iginla on the other hand is signed to a contender having put up nearly a point per game despite the Pittsburgh Penguins season ending a lot like David Carradine, only without the consent or fun.

6: Nathan Horton Bolting Boston

When players who spend a lot of their career in very laid back markets without a strong (and occasionally vicious) media presence suddenly get dropped into the crucible of a major hockey market, the result is often less than pretty. Players have flamed out in Toronto, Montreal, New York and Boston. For Horton who spent most of his career in Florida where on an average day the training staff outnumber the media contingent Boston was destined to be uncomfortable. Add in six seasons of never getting to the playoffs and then suddenly winning the Cup, and he literally had no reason to stay. Columbus is about as close to southern Ontario as Boston, a quieter town, and as much as the team has improved, it will be a playoff team most of the next seven years so he wasn’t giving up much.

5: Bryzgalov goes Bye-Bye

Speaking of guys going from small markets to major hockey markets, witness the rise and fall of one Ilya Bryzgalov. Was all of his disastrous stay in Philadelphia his fault? No. Are the Philadelphia Flyers the kiss of death for goalie talent? Yes. Did everyone outside the Philadelphia Flyers front office see this coming? All the way across the humongous big universe. The buyout of Bryzgalov was both needed and inevitable. Sadly, he and his contract were not the biggest issues with Flyers, otherwise know as the home of things that make you go hmmm.

4: Russians Mute On Anti-Gay Laws

Whatever they think, Russian players in North America aren’t going to speak up about their government’s further encoding homophobia into the nations culture. If they agree with their home nations laws, they risk ostracizing here.  If they publicly disagree with the laws, the risk legal censure at home and possibly even being barred from the Sochi Olympic and other international competition. Here groups like You Can Play would keep them busy defending themselves, and well, National Geographic has convinced me I don’t ever want to see a Russian prison.

 3: RFA Contract Disputes Dragging On

The swallows return to Capistrano, and NHL teams drag their heels and try and sweat young players. Both happen with enough regularity that they cease to be amazing. Last year P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations dragged into camp, the year before it was Drew Doughty, this year it is Alex Pietrangelo. All of them are great young defenseman who any team should be happy to have and want to keep happy. But, these are NHL teams we’re dealing with.

2: Unsupportable Ranking of Sidney Crosby in NHL Fantasy Column
The NHL marketing department, which seems to have a super majority of the brain trust in league HQ, simply can not help itself, or the league. No matter what happens they keep beating the same drum over, and over in the same pattern. In the last three season Sidney Crosby has missed (113) more games than he’s played (99). His injury history should lead no one to think he’ll be healthy the majority of the season. Marc-Edouard Vlasic who was taken 34 picks after Crosby and started his NHL career a year later has played 49 more NHL games, Patrick Kane who was drafted two full years later and has suffered his own injuries has played just 36 games less. Alex Ovechkin, Andrej Meszaros, Andrew Ladd, Johan Franzen, Mark Streit and Travis Zajac several of whom have had serious injuries entered the league the same year or later have all played more games as well. Yes that includes 9th round pick Mark Streit, who missed an entire season.  So why is Sidney Crosby the #1 ranked Fantasy Hockey property? Because it sells jerseys.

1: Big, Dumb Contracts

Leaves fall from trees, cats chase mice, Matt Cooke is surprised when he is sent to the penalty box, all are slightly less predictable than a general manager in the NHL handing out incredibly dumb contracts sometime in the first two weeks of July. This year immediately after he was bought out Vincent Lecavalier was able to make it big (again) thanks to the generosity of Paul Holmgren Philadelphia Flyers General Manager. But Holmgren couldn’t help himself, he also made sure Mark Streit didn’t starve in the streets. Between the two he tied up $10,000,000.00 in cap space, Streit’s is a +35 contract and Lecavalier has a full no movement clause.

But Holmgren is hardly alone there. The Boston Bruins joined in by signing a goaltender who has never one a championship, not in World Juniors, World Championship, Olympics, AHL, ECHL, CHL or any place else to a contract they gave him $8,000,000.00 a year despite the lack of success and injury trouble. Tuukka Rask can thank Peter Chiarelli and Can Neely for buying a nice bill of goods.

Not to be outdone, Ray Shero’s golden handshake with Kris Letang was arguably the worst contract given to a defenseman since Dennis Wideman signed in Calgary. Letang’s playoff performance this year makes it doubtful to many people that he’s a $5m defenseman. Shero clearly believes that Letang is a $7,250,000.00 defenseman.

The time until camps open is draining remorselessly away. There are still some high quality restricted and unrestricted free agents who don’t have contracts going into the season. Teams are walking into a trap that not only will leave them short of talent, but deprive them of merchandise sales. With the RFA’s teams that don’t want to make a deal should make a trade and bring in replacement assets or sign a deal and live with it. UFA’s at this point need to either swallow their pride or head for Europe because the number of teams with cap space, and the money to pay veterans isn’t that high.

Mikkel Boedker: RFA Forward

The new Coyotes owners have committed to staying in Glendale, they should make the same commitment to the quality of the roster. Boedker has proven to be a clutch player in the playoffs, has improved year over year. As one othe beter young talents on the team,  he can either be a strong trade piece or further developed into a cornerstone for a Stanley Cup contender.

Ron Hainsey UFA Defenseman:

At 32, Hainsey has more than a little tread left on the tire. He averaged just under 23 minutes a night last year, and picked up his points per game over the previous year. Currently the Winnipeg Jets are looking to go into the season without last years ice time leader, who stood tall for three minutes a night of shorthanded time.

Carlo Colaiacovo UFA Defenseman

Last season was pretty unpleasant for the 30 year old Colaiacovo. Between injuries and the lockout he managed a slim six regular season games, and an additional nine in the playoffs. If healthy, theres no reason not to pay this solid points producer in the same neighborhood as the $2.5m he made the last two seasons. Historically he picks up north of 40% of his points on the powerplay.

Tim Thomas UFA Goalie

Hands down the best goaltender on the market. Yes he took a year off, yes he’s one of the older players in the free agent market, but who else comes close to his resume? Two Vezina’s, a Jennings, an Olympic Silver Medal, a Stanley Cup and an impressive set of career statistics. As a backup or bridge to a new starter, teams could make a short term investment with a great return.

Cody Hodgson RFA Forward

The Buffalo Sabres haven’t been deep in high end talent in a very long time, Cody Hodgson’s upward trajectory continues to impress. All the more so for being on a team with questionable commitment and highly deniable talent. In 2012-13, he was the teams second leading goal scorer and second in points overall. If Myers can be brought back to form, he two togetehr could transform the offense of the Buffalo Sabres for a long time to cove.

Derek Stepan RFA Forward

Arguably the best forward as yet unsigned, Stepan has been a mainstay of the New York Rangers for the past three seasons. He broke onto the scene as a rookie and scored 21 goals on a team not gifted with offensed. In the two seasons since there has been no retreat from the promise shown then. Last season he handily beat Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and the rest of his team in scoring. He plays almost six minutes of special teams time a night split between the powerplay and penalty kill. It is hard to come up with a good reason why he isn’t already locked up longterm. If the cap is the issue, there are plenty of players who can be jettisoned to make room.

Alex Pietrangelo RFA Defenseman

Hands down Pietrangelo is the most valuable piece on the board. There are exactly 29 general managers around the league who would snatch him up in a heartbeat if he hits the market. But on September fourth less than a month before opening night Pietrangelo sits unsigned. Last season he spent over 25 minutes a night on the ice, with nearly seven minutes of special teams time each game.

So what gives? Are these teams not committed to winning? Are the owners just cheap, or are the players floating contract demandst just to get out of dodge? Either way, where’s the deal?

With the diverse origins of the teams former divisions, the central division might as well be the called “the melting pot”. Two former Northwest teams, a former pacific team, three of the former central division’s teams and an alumni of the southeast division just for good measure. While some teams know each other pretty darn well, the intensity of long time rivalries might just be lacking.

Chicago: We know the Blackhawks didn’t have a fire-sale this time. Who knows, they might escape a cup hangover too. Not likely, not as late as the season ran and as many people as they retained. On the plus side, there were no injuries to key players that will shorten the returning roster going into training camp. We know that with cross conference play, the BlackHawks will have to play more good teams next season than last season.

Colorado: We know Patrick Roy has a new job with the Avalanche. We know this is the longest predicted hiring in the history of the NHL. We know they still have nothing that resembles an NHL defense. We know the franchise has yet to put into evidence a viable plan for a return to relevance. We know Cory Sarich and Alex Tanguay are the biggest additions to this team. We know its gonna be another ugly season.

Dallas Stars: We know the team believes they’ve addressed their needs at center. We know the team dumped a first round pick defenseman, an All Star quality forward and some b prospects to get a guy who was playing third line wing, and a guy with epic scoring droughts. We know Jamie Benn is still the best player on the team, and that Alex Goligoski is still the most underrated player on the team. We know that Rich Peverley is likely to improve the penalty kill 2-3% all by himself. We know that Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley are a remarkable uptick in foot speed over Jaromir Jagr and Michael Ryder.

Minnesota: We know that after a run to the playoffs last year with a very, very young and inexperienced crew the team should be better this year. We know that with little in the way of real losses in players team chemistry should be good. We know the team needs to hit the playoffs and win a round to be financially viable. We know they really, really need to find a goalie who can be healthy for a whole season. We know the team is just about a shoe in for a playoff spot in a bottom heavy conference.

Nashville: We know the teams defensive top four is set well into the next collective bargaining agreement. We know Pekka Rinne will play close to seventy games. We know they still need a backup goalie. We know they haven’t done a thing to improve their forward core group in years. We know they will make the playoffs in Rinne, Weber, and Ellis are healthy and productive. We know that without upgrades to complete a viable top six they will eventually be beaten by a playoff team that can score consistently.  We know most people would be shocked to know the Predators were the prey on the penalty kill last year ending up 29th with a 75.5% effectiveness.

St Louis: We know the Blues traded out odd duck David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi who they still haven’t signed. We know they have 14 forwards signed. We know that despite it being as close to the end of their last season as it is to the beginning of the new one, their franchise corner stone Alex Pietrangelo is still not signed. We know they will return two goaltenders to the crease whose inconsistency is the one thing you can count on.

Winnipeg: We know that with their first season playing as a western conference team many of the teams players will have to get used to a different traveling and playing schedule. We know that with eight defenseman signed, UFA’s Mark Stuart and Paul Potsma may not want to renew their magazine subscriptions too soon. We know that Devin Setogouchi isn’t a big enough offensive upgrade, but that Michael Frolik might be the perfect solution to their penalty kill woes. We know Olli Jokinen will continue to baffle and befuddle people across the hockey world.