Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs
Winners : Boston Bruins (10/11 Ladbrokes)
The Bruins have kept the majority of their roster from the last two seasons intact and welcome Dougie Hamilton, the 9th overall pick from the 2011 draft to the big team after spending a year bulking up physically in Juniors. After Benoit Pouliot joined the Lightning, there is an open spot on the third line, which looks most likely to be filled by Chris Bourque, son of Bruins legend and Hall of Famer Ray Bourque. Bourque will face competition through the season for his spot, but as Jordan Caron in injured to start the season, the man acquired from Washington will get the nod.
The Bruins had 12 players playing in Europe during the lockout, including both goalies, their first choice defensive pairing and their top two centers. Tyler Seguin impressed while at EHC Biel in Switzerland, almost averaging a goal a game and leading the Swiss league in goals before returning to the Hub. Bruising power forwards Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton stayed at home, Lucic stayed in Boston during the lockout and celebrated the birth of his first baby Valentina on Thursday, while Horton returns after missing the majority of last season with a concussion. Both have looked sharp in training camp and the top line with David Krejci at center could be one of the most destructive in the league.
Tim Thomas is sitting out the season “to reconnect with the three F's. Friends, Family, and Faith.” I have three F's for Thomas but they're all the same word and are followed by off. Tuukka Rask takes over as the number 1 goaltender and will be back up by Anton Khudobin. Rask has put up fine numbers behind Thomas and even led the league in GAA and save percentage in 2010, but he has struggled with injury the last two seasons, so if he can remain healthy, the Bruins won't miss Thomas at all.
Playoff Contenders : Ottawa Senators & Buffalo Sabres
The Senators have solid goaltending and veteran leadership along with a young defensive corps and stability within the organization. Daniel Alfredsson has been a model professional throughout his career and at the age of 40 this must be his last shot at winning the Cup.
The Sabres have bulked up during the lockout and picked up agitator Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy to help them compete with the Bruins after being pushed around by the Big Bad Bs in the last couple of seasons, especially after Lucic's collision with Ryan Miller. Although they have great goaltending in Miller, they still lack toughness and with the schedule taking place in conference, they will struggle with the more physical Eastern Conference style of play
No Hopers : Montreal Canadiens & Toronto Maple Leafs
The Canadiens are dreadful, and have done nothing on the ice to change that. Off the ice, they've brought in Marc Begevin as the new GM and Michel Therrien as head coach.
Toronto are even worse than Montreal, a situation which will be compounded if they trade for Roberto Luongo. Brian Burke was fired as GM after years of hopeless trades and that won't be solved by the acquisition of James van Riemsdyk from the Flyers.
New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins
Winners : New York Rangers (9/4 Victor)
The Rangers have one of the youngest teams in the league and those fresh legs will help with the compressed schedule of the 48 game season. They were very consistent last season and were rewarded with the number 1 seed in the East. I expect the same level of consistency this season and John Tortorella will not allow his players to slacken off in their pursuit of the Cup. The Rangers made the biggest offseason acquisition in the league, finally prying sniper Rick Nash from Columbus. They could put out a line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Rick Nash, God help their opponents if they do. The Rangers can also call one of the best goalies in hockey with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. They have a young defense and plenty of experienced players that should take them deep into this postseason.
Playoff Contenders : Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers & New Jersey Devils
The Penguins have Sidney Crosby back after a nightmare two seasons with injury and the league's best player will once again propel his team into the playoffs. Evgeni Malkin had to step into a leadership role last season and he walked with with the Hart Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy. Pittsburgh traded Jordan Staal to Carolina, but they won't miss him too much as he's missed a lot of games in the past few seasons. They have solid goaltending and Dan Bylsma always has his troops ready for a battle.
The Flyers knocked off the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs last season and should be competitive once again. They've re-signed Brian Boucher as back-up to Ilya Bryzgalov and acquired Luke Schenn from Toronto to give Bryzgalov some help as it doesn't look like Chris Pronger will return after suffering a nasty concussion last season. Claude Giroux takes over as captain and he can continue to grow into a superstar of the league in his fifth season with the Flyers.
The Devils will have Martin Brodeur back for his 20th season with the Devils and having lost in the Stanley Cup Finals last summer, they should be well placed to make another assault on the playoffs. Although they lost Zach Parise to Minnesota, they signed Krys Barch and re-signed or extended most of their squad before free-agency.
No Hopers : New York Islanders
The Islanders can't move to Brooklyn quick enough because they are garbage
Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets
Winner : Washington Capitals (3/1 Paddy Power)
Newly enshrined Hall of Famer Adam Oates is the new coach of the Capitals after Dale Hunter was shown the door despite knocking off the reigning Stanley Cup champions in last year's playoffs. Oates prefers to play a much more attack oriented free flowing game than Hunter's defensive shutdown hockey. All of that is good news to Alexander Ovechkin who got himself engaged to Maria Kirilenko during the lockout, and Ovi enjoys offense. He struggled towards the end of Bruce Boudreau's tenure in Washington and reportedly clashed with Hunter several times and was not impressed when asked to play a more defensive style of hockey. The play-making freedom he will be awarded under Oates should be the spark he needs to re-ignite his career and although the Caps have lost Alexander Semin to Carolina, they should have enough offense to compensate ($7 million was too high a price for any self-respecting GM to pay for Semin) Braden Holtby impressed at times during last season and especially in the playoffs, out-dueling Tim Thomas in the first round and going close against Henrik Lundqvist in the second round. So long as he can maintain that form as a starter, Washington will have the best goaltending in the division as Michael Neuvirth is an able backup.
Playoff Contenders : Carolina Hurricanes & Tampa Bay Lightning
Carolina were very busy during the offseason, picking up Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin as mentioned they also re-signed defenseman Joe Corvo and picked up Kevin Westgarth from the Kings. Along with Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner and Cam Ward, the Canes already have a good core to their team, and with Corvo becoming the oldest member of their squad and only player over 31, they have plenty of youth on their side.
Tampa are another one of the “last chance” teams and have stocked their side with veterans for another tilt at the Cup after missing the playoffs last season and coming up just short of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. The Bolts brought in Sami Salo and Matt Carle in free-agency and executed a trade-and-sign for Benoit Pouliot. The one thing they lack of cohesive goaltending and that will be their downfall.
No Hopers : Florida Panthers & Winnipeg Jets
Florida are rebuilding and will be ready to challenge in a couple of seasons, but not yet.
Winnipeg are in the wrong division, the wrong conference and as soon as the NHL can figure out what to do with them, they'll start winning. At the moment, they serve as a distraction as a road-trip.
FINAL EASTERN STANDINGS