The long awaited — though necessarily delayed — NHL season finally begins tomorrow night.
The condensed 56-game regular season includes a one-year realignment of divisions — bolstered by corporate names — in order to cut down on travel and to adhere to the restrictions established by the Canadian government.
So, how might the season play out?
Here’s one guess:
Scotia NHL North: Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, Ottawa. Toronto and Ottawa seem certain to finish where they are predicted. The other five teams will be closely bunched, and only three can make the post-season. Chances are one of them will become the clear second best team by season’s end. Or maybe not.
MassMutual NHL East: Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Buffalo, New Jersey. The top three could end up in any order, while the next two will contend for the division’s last playoff spot. After that? Not much. Is any flight to any game involving these eight teams longer than 75 minutes?
Discover NHL Central: Tampa Bay, Dallas, Carolina, Columbus, Nashville, Florida, Chicago, Detroit. The Stanley Cup finalists from one season ago sit atop this division, with the always pesky Hurricanes right behind them. Finishing first should mean a much easier opening round playoff opponent. Average to awful describes the other five teams.
Honda NHL West: Colorado, Vegas, St. Louis, Minnesota, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim. The only division where the top four and the bottom four seem clear. And there appears to be a clear gap between the top two and the next two. Professional hockey in California this season will be, well, not good.
Intra-division games highlight the first two rounds of the playoffs, meaning one team from each division is guaranteed to make the semifinals. At that point, the four teams will be seeded based on total points from the regular season.
My guess is the semifinals will be:
(1) Colorado vs (4) Toronto
(2) Tampa Bay vs (3) Philadelphia
If this is correct, then I believe the Stanley Cup Final matches
Colorado and Tampa Bay, with the Avalanche winning the Stanley Cup.
If I were ranking the top 10 teams right now, they’d be: