How will the realignment work?
The NHL underwent a somewhat major re-alignment after last season. The League went to a realigned format for geographic purposes and has decided to stick with geographic names for the four new divisions. Three of the four names are carryovers from the old six-division alignment, but the League added a new name to the mix. The four division names are Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions make up the Eastern Conference and each division has eight teams. The Central and Pacific divisions make up the Western Conference and have seven teams in each division. The 2013-14 schedule ensures that all 30 teams play in all 30 arenas at least once during the season.
What about the new playoff system?
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will still consist of 16 teams, eight from each conference, but it will be division-based and a wild-card system has been added. The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference — regardless of division — based on regular-season points. It will be possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends three. The seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined by regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points. The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. The winners of each series will play for berths in the conference championship series. The winners of the conference championships advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Can the Blackhawks become the first team since the Devils in ’97 and ’98 to win back to back Stanley Cup titles?
The Blackhawks are returning most of its Stanley Cup winning roster from last season which includes captain Jonathan Toews, Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane and goaltender Corey Crawford. Chicago should easily finish in the top 3 spots of the Central Division to get into the playoffs and with Duncan Keith leading a capable blue with, Joel Quenneville’s team seems to have as good a chance as any recent NHL champion to repeat. The Blackhawks are looking to win their third Cup in five years.
Can the Islanders continue their momentum from last season and make a run in the playoffs?
The New York Islanders have long been considered as one of the brightest young teams in the league and we finally began to see some of that potential last season. In the lockout shorted season, the Islanders finished in 8th place in the Eastern Conference and made the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The Islanders pushed the 1st place Penguins hard in all 6 games and made the league take notice that the Islanders are here. The Islanders are returning most of their young stars including newly named captain John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. The main problem with this Islanders team will be defense and goaltending. Veteran goaltender Evgeni Nabakov was very up and down last season and will need to prove that, even at 38, he can still be a serviceable NHL goaltender. If the Islanders can solve their goaltending situation, look for them to be a tough out come April.
Playoff Predictions (* DIVISION WINNER)
1. Pittsburgh Penguins*
2. Boston Bruins*
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Montreal Canadiens
6. New York Rangers
7. New York Islanders
8. Washington Capitals
1. Chicago Blackhawks *
2. Los Angeles Kings *
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Anaheim Ducks
5. Vancouver Canucks
6. San Jose Sharks
7. Edmonton Oilers
8. Minnesota Wild
Eastern Conference Finals: Penguins over Red Wings
Western Conference Finals: Blackhawks over Blues
Stanley Cup Final: Blackhawks over Penguins
President’s Trophy: Pittsburgh Penguins
Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Seth Jones (Nashville Predators)
Norris Trophy (Top Defenseman): Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins)
Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player): John Tavares (New York Islanders)
Vezina Trophy (Top Goaltender): Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles Kings)