According to NHLNumbers.com the NHL is made up of players with eighteen different nations of origin. Slovenia, Norway, and Lithuania sitting at the bottom of the representation chart, and Canada resting at the top with more than half of the National Hockey League’s players. Of the sixty three goalies to enter a game this season eleven of those men are Americans. In the post lockout era, four of the six times the award has been handed out have gone to Americans. Tim Thomas has twice won the award and made Flint Michigan, the University of Vermont and Boston Bruins fans proud. Ryan Miller of East Lansing Michigan, Michigan State and the Buffalo Sabres is the other American to lift the Vezina.

But they are hardly alone among the elite level goalies hailing from the US of A. Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings has hovered in the Vezina picture over the last few years as well. Hobbled by being on a west coast team that until very recently was only so-so he’s still managed to pile up some highly creditable numbers. Last season, he put up numbers comparable to the last non-American to win the Vezina (Martin Brodeur, 2008) and did it in a system less favorable to goaltenders. This year he’s setting a ridiculous early pace with three consecutive shutouts in his first seven games. At twenty five the pride of Milford Connecticut is likely to keep improving for several more years, and is probably the favorite to win the Vezina at this point in the season.

Tim Thomas the reigning Vezina trophy winner is at 37 years old today, but only like most goalies his age has not logged the huge minutes at the NHL level that might be expected. He’s logged just 7000 more minutes than Quick who is 12 year younger, and 5000 less than Miller who is six years younger. Given the ages we’ve seen goalies such as Hasek and Brodeur play to while playing enormous amounts of games, its entirely possible that the man who last year set a regular season save percentage record, and followed it up by bettering that number and setting a record for number of saves in the Stanley Cup playoffs could be around for several more years.  He’s won the Vezina twice now a third is entirely possible.

Ryan Miller is considered by many to be the best goalie in the world, and even the people who believe he’s overrated don’t list him outside the NHL’s top five. He’s won the award in the past, has a much better team in front of him now and right of the gate he’s putting up numbers that are better than the season he won the Vezina. With a new owner who has thrown the purse wide open enabling better players around him, and potentially a better level of backup that will let him play 55-60 games a year instead of the 65-74 he has played in years past the sky is the limit.

Arguably the best backup goaltender in the NHL is another American. Tucked away behind Roberto Luongo’s lifetime contract in Vancouver is Marlbehead Massachusetts native son Cory Schneider. Although, given recent events and the comparative numbers of the two goaltenders this season, it is arguable which of the two is the number one goaltender. Schneider who is listed behind Luongo on the depth chart has started four games to the “number one goaltenders” seven, come in to relieve the other guy once, and not given up a single special teams goal in five appearances. He also boasts far better numbers, with a Sv% .058 better and a goals against average 1.57 lower. The ousting of Luongo has been called for numerous times in British Columbia, with numbers like that it’s not hard to see why that is.

Nor is the pipeline exactly bare.  Jack Campbell of Michigan and John Gibson of Pennsylvania were both high draft picks in recent drafts. Jeff Zatkoff is another American goaltender in the Kings system currently working the crease in the AHL. Also filling the crease in the AHL is Nashville Predators prospect Jeremy Smith (yet another) Michigan native who is among the league leaders in Sv%.

As players like Thomas, and Miller continue to win Vezinas or guys like Schneider and Quick emerge from the shadows of in widely spread parts of the continent you can expect to see more and more great athletes taking to the highest pressure position in team sports. As the west coast is exposed to Quick and Schneider, the east coast to Miller and Thomas, and the heartland gets to know Campbell and Smith in the near future don’t be surprised if the next generations NHL creases are predominantly patrolled by men with the stars and stripes on their shoulder.

In two months the division standings will tell you which teams are good, which are bad and which are bubble teams. With the Bruins, Sabres and Canadiens picked preseason to make the playoffs, right now all the division standings tell us is which teams are off to a  poor start.

Senators:

  • The Senators have a surprisingly bright future for a team with such a dismal roster. Yes Alfredsson and Spezza are capable of amazing hockey play, but take the two out and you’d be hard pressed to be a good ECHL team.  Eleven of the teams 20 goals through seven games have been scored by Spezza, Alfredsson or Michalek. Butler and Filatov, two of their most highly skilled prospects have only played two games each, Filatov as a +1 with an assist in nearly fifteen minutes against the still undefeated Detroit Red Wings.  At 2-5-0 they are unlikely to get higher in the standings than they are now.

Canadiens:

  • If you ask some hockey fans they might say the injury bug has developed an unnatural love for the boys of the Bell Centre, others might say its years of karma over diving, faking injuries and encouraging malicious prosecution coming home to roost. Either way, the Habs have been dinged and damned from the word go. Markov is out, Gomez left the game the other night for an MRI, their leading goal scorer from last year missed time with a skate cut, P.K. Subban’s ability to produce points is broken, and on and on. The bright spots in Habsville arepretty limited, but Max Pacioretty has emerged to climb within one goal of the total he had in two of his previous three seasons with the team, and Yannick Weber who is playing more minutes in all situations this year is currently leading the team in +/- at +3, an impressive number when you realize the team has given up 19 goals and only scored 13 through six games.

Maple Leafs

  • Until the teams visit to Boston in which he was held to just one shot and no points, Phil Kessel had to feel like he was on top of the world. He was the leader in points and goals, the team was undefeated and the Bruins were to put it mildly, struggling mightily. Then the game started. The Leafs were not only routed, Tyler Seguin, the first return on the three draft picks Toronto gave up to get him had a three point night. The Thank You Kessel chants reigned down and the Leafs bench had no answer. The Leafs faceoff with the Canadiens tonight for the second time this season and have a chance at regaining the division lead.

Sabres

  • If there is a more popular man in Buffalo right now than Terry Pegula you’re gonna have to point them out to me. Unless that is, it’s Ryan Miller. Through five games teams biggest star and arguably the worlds best goalie has a GAA of 1.61 and a Sv% of .950 which helps explain why the team leads the division. The other end of the ice isn’t anything to complain about either. In the teams six games they’ve scored twenty goals, all of this without Boyes, Leino or Ennis showing any signs of life. Anyone who is surprised if this team is still playing in May just isn’t paying attention.

Bruins

  • The bad news is what with Krejci, Mcquaid, and Kampfer all missing time already the team has had to ice some players for whom the value has yet to be determined. This has been part of a sluggish start has them looking up at both the powerhouse Sabres and the unproven Leafs. The good news is that Kampfer and Krejci have both made returns and contributed in them. The team finally found both its focus and emotion, sadly not in that order and managed to derail the spunky Toronto team. The question of how well they can and will play in front of Tuukka Rask has yet to be answered in a satisfactory way, leading many fans to question if the players know something about the backup goalie the rest of us don’t.

Today’s schedule:

The Boston Bruins host 1997 number one draft pick Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks.

The Montreal Canadiens will look to even up the season series against the visiting Maple Leafs.

The Ottawa Senators are hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets in what is probably the only game of the month in which the odds makers will favor Daniel Alfredssons team.

The Buffalo Sabres will charge into Lightning territory tonight where for the first time in a long time Lecavalier is making fantasy hockey owners are just as happy to have him on their team as Stephen Stamkos.

The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.

Southeast division:

Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team.  If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.

Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.

Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything.  Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.

Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.

Atlantic division

This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.

The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.

The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.

The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.

New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.

Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.

Northeast division

If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.

Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.

Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland.  Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.

Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.

This series will cover all thirty teams and go over the most important player, and player who’s performance most needs to improve to help the team succeed.

 

On paper the team that hails from Pegulaville is one of the most improved teams in the NHL. Given that they were just seven points behind the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the standings when the regular season ended, this should ring alarm bells in a lot of locker and board rooms.  Brad Boyes, Robyn Regehr, RegehrVille Leino are just some of the players to arrive since Terry Pegula purchased the team he’s had a lifelong love affair with.

High Card:

Ryan Miller is a no brainer in this slot even after a stepback from the numbers that saw him earn a Vezina Trophy two season ago. Ryan Miller is simply put the most talented goalie on the planet. Healthy he’s proven nearly unbeatable even with defenses that have proved aggressively mediocre in front of him. Regehr will help block shots and steady play in front of him, Ehrhoff should help get the puck out of the zone making Millers job easier.  This team can’t go anywhere without him.

 

Wild Card:

Can Ehrhoff go from being one of six roughly equal defenseman to shouldering a larger share of responsibility and remain the player that helped take his team all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver?  The northeast division is a lot tougher than the northwest was last year. Not the least of his problems will be facing goaltenders like Price and Thomas twelve times over the season. Together with Miller they give the division the best goaltending in the NHL. Almost worse is having had the entire hockey world focused on two pivotal weeks of his career that they will use as a blueprint for containing him.

Today is the day. By the time the last and most enduring hockey fan has wound down and gone to bed, we’ll know who managed cowboy up and get’erdone, and who more greatly resembles the Joe Thornton of Playoffs Past. The three different series will be played in two nations but the lingua franca of the street is success at any cost.

In the Bell Centre, we’ll see the Boston Bruins face down their rivals and personal demons when they take on the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs jumped out to a two game lead in this series and looked like they would dominate it the way they did the regular season series. Then came game three right in the Bell Centre where tonights game will be played. The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the first, and maintained their lead the rest of the night for a 4-2 win. The next game was a much closer affair that featured both amazingly good, and amazingly bad goaltending in each cage.  Michael Ryder opened and closed the scoring with the type of goals that will always make highlight reels.

Then the teams returned to the Garden. Boston has had a well covered weak performance at home all season. Despite the momentum of two wins up north, no one was certain what would happen.  It took almost three quarter of regulation for someone to find the back of the net as both Thomas and Price shined in net and performed at the level their fans hoped they would. Halpern would tie the score ten minutes later. What followed capped off the best game of hockey I’ve seen since the first match between the USA and Canada at the Vancouver Olympics. Regulation was not enough. A single overtime, was not enough. The game took over Twitter, Facebook and other social media. In double overtime in front of millions of fans, Nathan Horton proved he had the chops to get it done in the playoffs.

 

Vancouver is the Presidents Trophy winner, The Chicago Blackhawks, despite being the defending champions squeaked into the playoffs when the Minnesota Wild failed to qualify on the last day. The Canucks started the playoffs out with a blast, shutting out the Blackhawks in game one, and winning games two and three without the need for overtime. No one has seen that team since. In game four Chicago would fill the score sheet with seven goals and six different goal scorers. Game five was as five nothing pasting that saw Hossa and Keith draw blood twice and Kane light the lamp. Game six was at least a better showing, the game went to overtime, but they coughed up a lead after the first period.

 

The two versus seven matchup in the east couldn’t have greater contrasts if you’d designed them in from the ground up. While both teams have their superstar leaders, Miller and Pronger, that’s about all they have in common. The Sabres are as blue collar as teams get in the current NHL.The well traveled Mike Greier is just as heavily relied upon as rising defenseman Tyler Myers. The Flyers were among the elite in scoring with six players who had twenty or more goals. The Sabres were more towards the middle of the pack with just four. Pronger is known as an abrasive, sometimes dirty and physically imposing figure. Miller has always been more contained, cool and focused.

The series has swung back and forth between the two teams with Philadelphia picking up games two and three between to 1-0 shutouts, games five and six were both split in overtime and tonight we find out which team has the stones to advance.

While the Boston-Montreal series is only at game six, in this case momentum wears a spoked-B. The Bruins will need leading scorer Patrice Bergeron to continue his dominance, and the Canadiens will need Mike Cammalleri to assert himself and be accountable defensively in order to succeed. The Buffalo-Philadelphia series will be won by whichever team puts in a complete game effort tonight. The question in the Vancouver-Chicago matchup is if the Wonder Twins and Ryan Kesler can snap out of their funks and rise to the occasion or if they will continue to be out scored by the likes of David Bolland and Corey Crawford. Whichever way each game goes, there is zero chance of it being boring.

 

The eastern conference is deeper than the west this year, and I can’t really see any of the top six in the east falling out. Carolina and Atlanta may have a dog fight until game 82 is in the books, and the New York Rangers just need to stay healthy. The new wild card will be the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Malkin likely out for six month they could buy, sell, or do nothing. Any of the three could set off an avalanche of movement.

Carolina Hurricanes, they have a bit of a history of movement around the deadline. With the most goals allowed of any team currently in the eastern conferences top 8, it’s a no brainier what they should add. Where they are going to add a solid blueliner is a mystery, but one they probably need to solve. With Staal, Skinner, and Ward pulling the train they are unlikely to to get embarrassed in the playoffs. With less than a handful of others making an impact it’s hard to see them getting to the promised land.  Sending off one or two of their forward prospects for an NHL roster defenseman might be the best way to tighten up the back end and provide a mentor for Jamie Mcbain.

Atlanta Thrashers, despite their improvements on defense, their defense is still worrisome with 178 goals allowed, only the last place Edmonton Oilers have allowed more goals. It is highly unlikely they can somehow morph into the best defense in the league through any possible combination of trades and promotions between now and the playoffs. The good news is that with the tenth best offense in the NHL they probably don’t need to. With even a slight upgrade and the firm ministrations of coach Craig Ramsay, a better defense is more than just possible it’s highly likely.  The other area the team is lacking is in commitment. People just aren’t in it to win it. This can probably be traced back to a game against the Bruins in which they had their mojo broken over their heads. They need to get it fixed or see if they order some on Amazon or Ebay.

Despite the disappointing year for Ryan Miller and company they are just five points out of 8th place, and have four games in hand on Atlanta, and two on Carolina.  With new ownership, a ton of cap space and a great goaltender anything is possible. Trading Connolly to say Pittsburgh or Calgary or another team needing a center for the post season might be a good thing long term. If it could bring them back a solid pick, if a trade and sign deal could be worked a deal that exchanged him for Ottawa’s Karlsson might serve both teams well. This may just be the most interesting team to watch over the next three and a half weeks. Tweaking either their offense or defense a little probably gets them over the hump and in but not very deep, so it becomes a question of long term vs short term strategy.

I bet you didn’t know the Florida Panthers were 11th best in goals against right now. If you did, see the man at the door for a gold star. Sadly they are also 19th in goals for. The question of what this team does is anyone’s guess. Dale Tallon has shown a willingness to make moves that could lead just about anywhere. Maybe he swings a deal to send Vokoun out west to the San Jose Sharks, or goes digging for some former BlackHawks in Atlanta or Toronto. It’s even conceivable a team with enough injuries might decide they need Denis Wideman.  The team hasn’t made the playoffs in a very long time and was conversely widely criticized for holding on to Bouwmeester too long when his contract was ready to expire just a short time back. With little to offer but prospects and depth forwards, trades might be pretty hard to come by.  A little judicious movement could see the team slide back into the lottery where they could land next years Jeff Skinner or Kevin Shattenkirk.

New York Rangers need only stay and get healthy to stay in a nice spot. The with Fedetenko set to be back before the deadline, and Christensen having just climbed off the IR, they could be movers at the dead line upgrading here and there. With 3 million and cap space and a few movable assets, the blue shirts are in a position at least a dozen NHL teams would like to be occupy. With the part-time demotion of Michael Del Zotto to the AHL, one can’t help but wondering if he’d be available to teams shopping for a mobile blueliner.

So, last spring during that ignoble dive into the wrong history records, how many of you believed the reason Thomas wasn’t put in was that Julien had no confidence in Tim Thomas? I know some of you simply expected it was Julien’s well known, occasionally excessive, stubborn loyalty to a player that kept Rask in net as it kept certain skaters on the ice? I also know some of you never expected Thomas to play another game as a Bruin. I have just one question for you all now.

Are you done doubting Thomas yet? Right now, Tim Thomas has all of the Boston Bruins wins this year. He has the National Hockey league lead in goals against average, saves percentage, and shutouts. He’s just one win behind several goalies who have played more games. To top that off he’s also currently tied for the most wins for any Bruin’s goalie to start a season since the days when the NHL was about one fifth its current size. To put it in perspective, the Red Sox drought was still not old enough to vote, and Germany had yet to be split by the Iron Curtain.

At 36 years old Thomas is out playing Martin Broduer who many consider the best goalie ever, and even those less enamored of him will call a top 25 all time goalie. He’s outplaying last years Vezina winner Ryan Miller, and any other goalie you can name and scores you can’t.

Thomas has smacked down the assumption he’d spend most of the season opening the bench door for Rask and robbing the team of cap space to no good. Instead he’s walked back into the limelight by stonewalling some minor goal scoring talents like Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Semin, Daniel Alfredsson, and some guy the Bruins fans thanked during the last Leafs game. He’s employed the whirling dervish style that until Thomas ascended to a full time NHL player had been unseen since Hasek’s hayday. Its unconventional to say the least, uncomfortable for the weak of bladder (and brain) to watch, and has an elegance roughly equivalent to a demolition derby, but it is undeniably effective. Former college team mate Martin St Louis has said there is no book on Thomas and you just have to shoot well and hope for the best. If someone who’s known and played with and against Thomas for decades and who has had much better than average goal totals is convinced of Thomas’s quality, who are you to doubt it?

Ladies and gentleman, it’s the early season in the NHL. I can tell, you can tell because teams are winning and losing in ways improbable. Does anyone, anywhere ever expect Martin Brodeur to give up five goals in a game? Much less to give up all five of them on a paltry twenty shots and get yanked in just his second game? Much less to start the season 0-1-1? Not me, probably not you either.  And if the best goalie of the last decade, and arguably all time is having such a bad night, that the man who is currently the best goalie on the planet would also give up five goals on a hardly better 27 shots? Much less that Ryan Miller would give three of those goals up to the New York Ranger’s rookie center David Stepan and not to thirty and forty goal scoring Frolov and Gaborik?

To take a look at the southeast predictions for the year, how many of you predicted that Evander Kane would out score Alex Ovechkin in a head to head duel and have more hits? I didn’t even predict that and I spent a lot of time hoping the Bruins would trade up to draft Kane two years ago.  Kane had two goals,  and was a plus 2 with five hits to Ovechkin’s lone assist, and three hits with an even plus minus.  That season opener may not be indicative, of the whole season, but the Caps getting just two goals? That happened in less than ten percent of their games last season.

Anyone who told me on October first that the season would open with peach fuzz brigade that makes up the bulk of the Oilers talent snuffing the Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekule Tig Junior Elvis Iginla and Jay Bouwmesster led Calgary Flames? A 4-0 shellacking with no of the home fires burning in this Battle of Alberta or the Calgary contingent? When looking for things unusual in the National Hockey League this early in the year, one need look no further than Ilya Kovalchuk’s annual fight against the oh-so-deserving Norris Candidate Mike Green.

Northeast

Buffalo Sabres:

This season comes down to three thrings, and two of them are Ryan Miller. One he must be healthy, and two he must be Ryan Miller, also known as the best goalie on the planet. The rest is pulling together consistent play. I doubt even a small percentage of fans realize they were tenth in goal scoring last season. No big changes, they did resign a few guys, and added Rob Niedermayer to help flesh out the penalty kill. Still weak down the middle, and not great on defense either.

Ottawa Senators:

This seasons edition is weaker than last years. With the departure of their best defenseman, and a giant question mark between the pipes Alfredsson and Spezza will have to work miracles at least once a week to get this team into the playoffs. While Gonchar will, when healthy, add to the teams offense the team was utterly average in both offense and defense last year and lost more talent off it’s blueline than offensive core.

Montreal Canadiens:

The boo birds are clearly year round residents of La Bella Province, they had their distinct calls aimed at Carey Price early in the preseason and will likely find cause to keep the noise level high, even when it’s undeserved. The splashiest move in Habland in the off season was the departure of playoff powerhouse Halak. To fill his void they brought in the well traveled Alex Auld. In the category of addition by subtraction the seditious Sergei Kostitsyn was sent packing for packing peanuts,

Toronto Maple Leafs

Despite having one legitimate first line forward, and a half dozen marginal second line forwards, Toronto will not be an easy two points if they have anything like cohesion this season. With the additions of Versteeg, Armstrong, they can’t be worse offensively or in energy. While it’s clear the leadership has a plan, how confident of it can we be when they pay Colton Orr a cool million a year, and let Komisarek rake in about twice what he’s worth? I don’t expect this team to either make the playoffs or land in the lottery.

Boston Bruins:

Despite all the off season hot air, Tim Thomas and Marc Savard are still members of the Boston Bruins. With Savard and Sturm starting the season on the LTIR, and Thomas recovering from off season injury, its clear the Bruins have some work to do. With the addition of fist rounder Tyler Seguin, and former first rounder Jordan Caron, not to mention one Nathan Horton its going to interesting here in the Hub to see if these three can give the team some of the bounce it had in the 08-09 season. The off season also saw the eviction of Denis Wideman from the Bruins roster this change alone is probably good for adding 10 points to the Bruin’s total of last season.

Northwest:

Vancouver

The Canucks may just be the best team in hockey. They upgraded their defense, already had a solid offense and if they can give Luongo less starts than he had last year, winning the division won’t be a question. The biggest question will be how much they win a pretty thin division by. The Flames and Avalanche should provide enough pressure to keep them honest, but the Canucks are the class of their division at the very least.

Minnesota:

The state of hockey is probably in for another year of a sad state of hockey. Mikko Kiouvu was their most important signing of the off season, and about the only one that will have an impact on the roster this year. They were twenty first and twenty second in goals against and for last year and with only the hopeful heath of “No Luck Chuck Kobasew” added to the offense and late season trade acquisition Cam Barker woven into the defense there’s not much to hope for aside from good drafting or a blockbuster trade or three.

Calgary:

What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. It would be one thing if Olli Jokinen had proved useful in his first stay, but that was hardly the case. The team lacks a legitimate first line center and without that they probably can’t expect to much improve on last seasons bare three twenty goal scorers. Who knows, maybe youngster Mikael Backlund will rise to that position and help Jarome Iginla hoist the cup before he retires.

Colorado:

Will the “Babylanche” grow up after their short and painful playoff run? Who knows! The team has been up and down as injuries and inconsistency robbed them of any momentum in the last three seasons. Maybe the Avalance are the plucky team that will duplicate the Chicago phenomenon. They have the talent and have a similar makeup with a better goalie, although a weaker defense. I think one of the things that made the Blackhawks run possible was the positive knowledge that they would not be together the next year no matter what happened thanks to intriguing cap management. The same pressure doesn’t exist for the Avs, but they are not a team to write off, especially not with the weakening of San Jose, Chicago and Detroit.

Edmonton:

Yee-ha they drafted well! Make no mistake about it, even if Hall, Eberle, and Paajarvi are the three names on the Calder Trophy finalist list, the Oilers aren’t going anywhere this year. Their defense is still not going to strike terror, or even tepid respect into the hearts of opposing forwards, and Khabibulin’s back and legal problems leave them with a backend that is wholly uninspiring. Almost certainly still a lottery team.

Coming up ranking the playoff locks, bubble teams, and lottery bound…