The NHL season is here, and its time to take a quick look at all 30 teams and how they will start the season.

Anaheim Ducks: On paper, if their goaltending can be sorted out they might just be the best regular season team in the NHL. That said, the regular season is nearly meaningless when you start off this damn good.

Arizona Coyotes: Maybe the return of the distractions that hung over this team for half a decade will push it back into playoff position. Ekman-Larsson may be getting better every year, but Shane Doan isn’t getting any younger.

Boston Bruins: This is a solid team but the entire right side of the team is questionable, and with the trade of Boychuk the defense becomes much less steady.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are working very hard at getting better while getting worse, the addition of Josh Georges makes the defense better, the loss of Ryan Miller leaves two goalies shaped question marks in the crease. Almost certainly a lottery team.

Calgary Flames: This team could have two legitimate All-Star’s this year and still be 10+ points out of the playoffs, no matter how good Giordano and Monahan are the rest are not.

Carolina Hurricanes: With Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner down and out, things look grim for this season’s point total. Last year they hit 34 ROW’s, the same as the Detroit Red Wings, might not be achievable. Noah Hanflin or Oliver Kylington might not be the distant dream they seemed just a few weeks ago.

Chicago Blackhawks: Take a good long look at the core opening night, unless the cap goes up about ten million, they are really likely to be broken up, Hossa is almost 36, and Seabrook only has this and one more year left on his contract.

Colorado Avalanche: Regression to the mean is what all the advanced stats folks are expecting this season. I’ll just say that the new additions to the team, are going to slow it down…

Columbus Blue Jackets: With Johansen starting late, Horton’s career is in doubt, and Dubinsky is on the injured reserve, that said they still have a solid shot at the playoffs.

Dallas Stars: The off season fairy was kind to the Dallas Stars forward depth but their defense and goaltending could still use a gift or two.

Detroit Red Wings: Injuries, aging players, and a coach who might not return next season, what a recipe for success.

Edmonton Oilers: The Nikitin injury should accelerate the development of Darnell Nurse, add in the other injuries and it makes starting the season off on a good note difficult, on the plus side they only play three road games in October.

Florida Panthers: Willie Mitchell,, Roberto Luongo, and Jussi Jokinen are nice adds, I’m not sure the team escapes the bottom five but games will be closer.

Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blackhawks, this team is likely to be very different at the start of next season, is that enough to push them over the top into being the first team to repeat in the salary cap era? They didn’t add anyone, but this year, they also didn’t lose any of the core.

Minnesota Wild: Only four of the nine October games are at home including an opening night rematch with the Avalanche, and a visit to the defending Kings early on will tell people more about the healthy version of this team than anything else.

Montreal Canadiens: No captain, contract years for two key, young forwards, a reliable member of the defense gone, the much relied upon backup gone, this year could indeed be interesting times for the men in the CH.

Nashville Predators: For the first time in team history the Predators will have a new head coach and a new playing style, to compliment that James Neal, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy were added up front. General Manager David Polie has to hope he’s found the right way to make sure he’s not the next out the door.

New Jersey Devils: The End of The Brodeur Era is what is being talked about, some interesting additions have helped mask the other question; How much longer will the Lamoriello era last? On October 21st he’ll be 72 years old.

New York Islanders: The additions of Boychuk and Leddy at the end of training camp are the single most disruptive preseason moves in recent history. Fans, players, and executives have to hope upsetting balance in the standing follows.

New York Rangers: Depth and balance helped the blue shirts make the finals last year, this year they start off without Stepan, Pouliot, Richards, Dorsett, and Stralman are gone. An argument can be made that those voids are all filled, but that doesn’t mean the team is as good.

Nashville Predators: Rinne is healthy, Weber is ready, Neal and Roy are part of the squad, a better year is  ahead.

Ottawa Senators: If this team gets great goaltending they likely finish eight to ten points outside the playoffs, if they get average or bad goaltending they are in for a very long season. There just is much depth here to work with.

Philadelphia Flyers: This is a team with a lot of opportunity to change peoples minds. Mason, Simmonds, Giroux, Voracek all had solid seasons last year, but the rest of the squad is more question marks than answers.

Pittsburgh Penguins: In the off season they lost a third of their defense, a top six winger, and will enter the season with at least one of their best players below 100%.

Saint Louis Blues: The Blues have a really interesting team, and have a really good good shot at playing in the second half of April and beyond, the big question about this team is goaltending as it has been for years.

San Jose Sharks: This team is imperfectly mixed concrete. With all the outside pressure, maybe, just maybe the team will come together and like that imperfect concrete hold for just long enough.

Toronto Maple Leafs: In the first 10 games we’ll see if the team has fixed their penalty kill, if they have they are a notably better team they were last year on that alone.

Vancouver Canucks: More stability in net is great, but up front this team is clearly not as good as last year, GM Benning still has a long road ahead.

Washington Capitals: Picking up a solid pair of defensemen is good, taking them off the hands of a division rival is better. Wrapped up in that is the addition of someone who can arguably improve their mushy penalty kill.

Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane is the only player on the team making over four million a year without a no trade clause, if he’s there at the end of the season is anyone’s guess.

The Pacific division is probably the murkiest to forecast, you’ve got the defending champs last seasons top team in the western conference, an several teams that made changes that could add up to a better or worse finish.

Top Shelf

Anaheim Ducks

Last season they were one of two teams to finish with more than 50 regulation or overtime wins. They addressed the need for a second line center when they acquired Ryan Kesler, and solidified the third or fourth line by adding Nate Thompson. They did get a bit more questionable in goal moving on from Hiller and bringing John Gibson into the mix. One can ask how much of a distraction the absence or even the potential return of Sheldon Souray is, but it is impossible to know. They were handily the best regular season team in the league last year, if the coach can keep from jostling the elbow of the goaltenders, they might just finish with even more points this year.

San Jose Sharks

California’s only team not to win a Stanley Cup enters the season in a unique position among contenders; they have cap space. The only other major differences from this time last year are the departure of Boyle, the ‘lack’ of a captain, and Burns going back to defense full time. If the Sharks were to help themselves out in the early season by swindling one of the cap strapped teams like say Chicago out of Kris Versteeeg, they could be more than a handful in the regular season and still have cap space to work with when the trade deadline rolls over the horizon. At first look Boyle’s departure would appear to be a big loss to the Sharks powerplay, as it is, they were 20th in the NHL last year with the man advantage.

Wild Cards

Los Angeles Kings

The defending champs are returning a very high percentage of their Cup winning roster. Which is good in the sense that there’s a high level of ability to work together successfully and feed off each other emotionally. It is bad in the sense that you have to have something to feed off of. Most of this roster has now won two Stanley Cups. Many of them have played in the Olympics as well. That’s a lot of hockey, a lot of travel, and not a lot of rest. More good news is that this year they enter with Martin Jones ably backing up Quick. The two are a great one-two punch in net.

Arizona Coyotes

They were so close to making it into the playoffs last year. This despite a rather poor overall season by Mike Smith, and the distractions surrounding Mike Ribiero at the end of the year. If the team as a whole can turn three of the overtime losses from last year into wins (preferably in regulation) they make it in. If its five they are in comfortably. A full season of Sam Gagner and Tippet willing, Domi could add a lot more finesse than the roster has seen years.

The Rest

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have a new General Manager, a new goalie, and are almost certainly worse off than last season. No Kesler, and a cut rare replacement. The Sedins are past their prime. To put it in perspective, last year despite less games played Mikko Koivu finished with more points than either twin. While Ryan Miller is probably a better goalie than Roberto Luongo, it remains to be seen if he can catapult the team into the playoffs given how patchy the roster is. The good news I suppose, is that when the trade deadline rolls around they have some depth players who can be dealt for picks and young prospects.

Calgary Flames

This team has an inside lane to the draft lottery. They lost Mike Cammalleri to free agency. Even with the young, and talented players who may be added to the roster for the season this is not a good team. Between Giordano and Hiller they’ll likely stay in a lot of games. but beyond that there’s not a lot in the way of difference making talent on this team. There are some solid players like Hudler and Glencross who will be a help to younger players like Sean Monahan,  Johnny Gaudreau, and Lance Bouma.

Edmonton Oilers

The Oilers on paper are better than they were last year. Hockey is played on ice. I happen to consider Nikita Nikitin a bit under rated league wide. He’s a solid second pairing defenseman who finally got a tastes of the playoffs last year. I’m not quite as high on Aulie or Fayne, but they are at least serviceable. Benoit Pouliot joined them for the opportunity to become a highly paid third line winger who has never scored twenty goals. Not a great decision, especially he length of the contract. Even if you consider all the additions worth twelve points and the maturation of the core talent worth another five, come April they’ll still be looking up at more teams than they are looking down at.

An NHL coaching job is nothing if not a reminder that all things are temporary. The Philadelphia Flyers made a coaching change, and improved. The Florida Panthers who are a lesser talent made a coaching change and they too improved.  There are teams struggling now, some because of talent, others because of execution.  And while trades, demotions and benchings have and will happen, the person who pays most for poor performance of a team is the head coach.

Todd Richards:

With the NHL’s reigning Vezina trophy winner, and blue chip picks in Jack Johnson, Tim Erixon, Ryan Murray, and Marion Gaborik studding the roster ably complimented by James Wisniewski, RJ Umberger, Nikita Nikitin, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno a team shouldn’t struggle. They won’t be a world beater, but being tied for last in a mediocre division isn’t where they should be. Yes, once he’s healthy getting Nathan Horton into the lineup should help, but entering action on the 25th the team is 9 points out of the last wildcard spot in the east and only eight points off the league basement.

Jack Capuano:
Capuano may end up being a victim of his own success. Last year the team proved they were capable of playing their way into the post season. They went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins and gave an excellent showing. By comparison, this years on ice product is putrid. In overtime or regulation they’ve lost two thirds of their games. John Tavares, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo are doing their part but it seems Capuano is either misusing or not motivating the other warm bodies on the roster. While it can be argued that Garth Snow failed him by not securing better goaltending, general manager’s are a lot less disposable than coaches.

Scott Howson takes a lot of heat. Some of it deserved, some of it just plain silly. Could things with Nash have smoothed over? Possibly. But even for a hockey player who’s the face of a franchise Rick Nash played an unbelievably passive aggressive game with the media, the fans, the Columbus team and well anyone not his agent. No one can blame him for wanting to go to a place that will improve his chances to win.  The way he did it probably half a step below Dany Heatley’s methodology and without having ever faced the pressure of a long established hockey market.

So what do we know about Scott Howson’s plan going forward. Well, he’s nailed down three of the planks any good team is built on. Depth is number one. As the Sedin twins, Stamkos and company, and others have well illustrated over the years you can’t win with just one or two elite talents and a roster full of four-A players. With Dubinsky who might prove to be a top center if given room to grow but is already comparable to Kesler or Plekanec they have one undeniable top two center. Anisimov gives more offensive talent at a younger age than second and third lines have seen in Columbus.

Defense is the tricky one to build. Defensemen as rule take longer to mature than forwards, but they tend to stay at their top level longer. With Wisniewski and Johnson as two veteran mentors to younger players Tim Erixon and Ryan Murray are less likely to get thrown into the deep and and left to flounder like Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. Taking that two hundred games to learn defense at the NHL level will give the Blue Jackets a more dynamic defensive unit in the near future than much of the central division can claim. Don’t overlook Nikita Nikitin as part of this defense. He’s an all situations defenseman who’ll end up playing top four minutes.

The model that has worked best in the last decade for building teams has been draft your core and fill in the rest later. The Penguins, BlackHawks, Bruins and Kings all boasted a lot of home grown talent when they hoisted the cup. This year the team will have three first round picks. While they could flip one or all of those for NHL players or NHL ready prospects, I would in no way be surprised if Howson uses all three selections. Hockey’s Future gives them a very low rating for total prospect pool talent and three first round draft picks of the right kind will go a long ways toward reversing that.  With the talent that is expected to be available in the first round next year, they could be a contending team in not too long if their goaltending can settle in and produce at an average level.

Some may not like Howson. Some make not like the Howson plan even if it didn’t have his name on it. That said, it does appear there is a plan, and he’s certainly demonstrated he won’t be deviating from it for anything less than direct godly intervention.