Three weeks is all it takes
San Jose (Champs)
I'm pretty confident with the Atlantic, though Philly could win it just as easily as the Rangers. But with the way Lundqvist is playing and the way Esche has played his entire career, I wouldn't bet on it. I don't like the Devils because this cap turmoil undermines the team feeling that NJ relies on, and can make players feel expendable. Which of course they are, but you don't want your players to feel that way. Pittsburgh will improve its point total, but I'm not confident it will overtake the Devils. No comment on Long Island. What a fucking joke.
The Northeast is a toughie, mostly because I'm most familiar with all five teams, but I still think Buffalo is the one team to advance the farthest in the post season thanks to Ryan Miller, with Ottawa winning the regular season battle. I thought the Leafs had a chance to take third up until last night when I saw Chara play for the B's. He gives them 5-10 more wins, mostly of the not-losing-the-lead variety. Montreal, I'm not worried about at all.
The Southeast is the Canes' to lose, especially if Cole can play 70+ games. I originally ranked the Panthers high because of the forward depth (Bertuzzi, Olli's Olympic linemate Peltonen, Joe and Gary, Horton,Olesz, Weiss) but I'm not sure Martin is the man to bring out the offense in this squad. Now I'm thinking Atlanta with a healthy Lehtonen will be chasing the Canes. If they can reduce the GAs, Hossa and Kovalchuk can win alot of games on the PP all by themselves. Tampa is too top heavy, and Washington is...Washington.
But in the West, I think I messed up the Pacific and Northwest. The Central is a dogfight between Nashville and Detroit, with the edge resting in Vokoun. I thought Columbus had a shot before the Zherdev soap opera and the Fedorov injury. I'm less confident, but a full season out of Nash should be enough to beat out a rebounding Chicago squad and a Blues team led by the U.S. over-50 Olympic team.
In the Pacific, I think I doubted Dallas after their implosion last May, and moved LA too high. I suppose I don't see enough of these two to have a good read. SJ and Anaheim are obviously the cream. Phoenix might be better, but Cujo's reflexes are starting to wane.
The Northwest is even more congested than last year. You've got the Flames trying to score more, the Oilers with a real NHL goaltender for an entire season, the Canucks giving up fire-power for goal-tending but seemingly indecisive in team direction, and Minnesota with possibly the best offensive tandem in the division. Then there is Colorado.
But really, who the eff really knows?