ArmchairGM Wiki

Last season marked the NHL's full transition into the next generation. The league emerged from a 2004 lockout with an abnormally strong group of young prospects, and when 21-year old captain, Sidney Crosby hoisted the Stanley Cup, that group had officially come of age. No longer "Sid the Kid," players like Crosby, reigning MVP (from Washington) Alexander Ovechkin, New Jersey's Zach Parise, Philadelphia's Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf, and Calgary's Dion Phaneuf rule the NHL; all of them highlighted the rookie class of 2005. Pittsburgh became a powerhouse when it added Evgeni Malkin in 2006, while the Chicago Blackhawks debuted stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in 2007. All these players, and many others who deserved to be mentioned, have helped the NHL recover from the lockout and bring on a new era for hockey. With all this young talent finally matured, it makes for an exciting 2009-10 season to see which young guns can lead their team to the top of the league.

Here's a preview of the NHL season:


Atlantic Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins - The reigning Stanley Cup Champions should be right back in the mix again this season. After making it to the Cup Finals in 2007, the Pens learned a valuable lesson last season when they stumbled through the first half of the season out of the playoff hunt. A strong second half propelled the team to its eventual Cup win. With the core group of last year's Championship returning, including 100-point scorers Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and role players like Brooks Orpik, Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, and Pascal Dupuis, this team won't struggle like it did last year. Expect the Penguins to be one of the league's finest for all 82 games.

2. Philadelphia Flyers - If there's one team that will rival the Penguins every step of the way, it's the Pennsylvania arch rival Flyers. Like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia has young stars in Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. It will also receive a boost from the return of a healthy Daniel Briere and the addition of hard-nosed defenseman Chris Pronger. The biggest question, and the thing that could hold this team back, is the netminder. Current starter, Ray Emery, played in Russia's KHL last year, and was never regarded as a top goaltender in Ottawa before that.

3. New Jersey Devils - The Devils should fight neck and neck with the nearby rival Rangers for this spot in the Atlantic Divsion, and the two teams could likely be battling for some of the last playoff spots in the East. Why advantage Devils? Two words: Martin Brodeur. Brodeur missed significant time for the first time in his career last season, and at the age of 37, he's moving into the twilight of his career, but, at this point, he's also the consensus "best" goalie of all-time. The return of coach Jacques Lemaire, who led this team to the Stanley Cup in 1995, should mean good things for the Devils, although it will mean the opposite for all us fans who loathe his neutral zone trap techniques.

4. New York Rangers - As previously stated, the Rangers should be right there with the Devils. New York added Marian Gaborik this offseason, which could mean a lot of offense for the Rangers. I say "could" because Gaborik played in just 17 games due to injury last season, and excepting the 77 games he played the year before, he hasn't been healthy enough to play in more than 65 since the 2002-03 season. A healthy Gaborik could bump this team into the league's top tier, an unhealthy Gaborik could leave this team fighting for the playoffs in late March.

5. New York Islanders - The post lockout has been great to many teams, not the Islanders. New York's "other" team hasn't won more games than it's lost since the year before the lockout. The only thing this team seems good at is locking down unhealthy players to ridiculously long contracts. Goaltender Rick DiPietro is in the middle of an absurd 15-year deal, but he's been so injured that the Isles actually brought in two starting goaltenders from last season (Philadelphia's Martin Biron and Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson). Needless to say, this team isn't looking to confident in itself this season.

Northeast Division

1. Montreal Canadiens - Interestingly, the Northeast Division has had the top seed in the conference in six of the last seven seasons, but not once has a team won the division in back-to-back seasons. In the four post-lockout seasons, this division has had four different winners, all of whom finished with the East's best record. In fact, since 1998-99, when the three division conference was created, no team has ever won the Northeast in consecutive seasons. Speaking of teams that got the top seed in the Eastern Conference, I give you the 2007-08 Canadiens. Montreal has reshuffled much of a lineup that couldn't seem to come together last year and underachieved to an eighth place finish. With a talented, young goalie yet to come into his own (Carey Price), and an entire new first line of talented players (Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Michael Cammalleri) this team should look more like the 2007-08 one than last year’s debacle.

2. Boston Bruins - Despite the best record in the conference, I'm not overly excited about the Bruins this year, and when a Boston guy is down on his team, he's usually right. It was very costly that the B's traded Phil Kessel to Toronto. Seriously, all that stuff I was saying about the "young stars" that were beginning to lead their teams falls on deaf ears in Beantown. In typical B's fashion, Boston shipped its best young player, instead of signing him to a long term contract like the better teams in the league have done. The simple fact about the Bruins is that they matured last year and figured out how to win games, and the Northeast Division is open for the taking. I don't see the Bruins making a big spray in the postseason, but they should be good enough to make a run at the division. Even so, the statistical trend of different division winners for the last decade can't really be ignored.

3. Ottawa Senators - Post lockout success? Coming out of the lockout, it was the Senators that posted the best record in the Eastern Conference. The following year, the Sens made a run to the Stanley Cup Finals before being beaten by the Ducks. But, then the success abruptly ended. Ottawa was swept out by Pittsburgh in the 2008 playoffs and finished in eleventh in the Conference last season. Skeptics think the trade of star Dany Heatley to San Jose will hurt the team, conversely, I think the acquisition of Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo in that deal will help the team more than the loss of Heatley will hurt, because it fills out a roster in need of depth. The addition of the underappreciated Pascal Leclaire in net will also put the Senators in contention.

4. Buffalo Sabres - And, then we have 2006-07's top Eastern Conference seed. The Sabres have fallen off greatly since that season. However, they still have one of the better goaltenders in the league in Ryan Miller. Their first line of Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek are also much better than they are given credit for. However, there isn't a whole lot of depth here. This team was inconsistent last season and, ultimately, underachieved because of that. If Buffalo can find consistency, it could be a playoff contender, but that's a pretty big "if".

5. Toronto Maple Leafs - Finally, we get to the team that hasn't been a top seed in the East in any of the last seven seasons, so it's fitting that they're in last. The Maple Leafs might be better off putting a "Shooter Tutor" in goal than any of the choices of unproven or proven-to-be-bad options they have for netminders. Outside of the crease, Toronto has little depth on offense. The addition of former Montreal defenseman, Mike Komisarek, gives the Maple Leafs a competent defense. The adage might be that "defense wins championships," but it takes six players to play defense in hockey, not just two!

Southeast Division

1. Washington Capitals - The Capitals officially arrived last season, and star Alexander Ovechkin won the MVP as a result of his leadership. Ovechkin has a unique leadership quality not stereotypical of older Russian players, and it wears off on his team. It's hard to let down for a shift, when you see the best player in the league going as hard as he does and playing as gritty as he does every time he's on the ice for your team. The biggest question for the Capitals comes between the pipes for a team that finished in the bottom half of the league last year in goals against. Jose Theodore was shaky enough that he was relieved from his post after a bad Game 1 in the playoffs last April, but his replacement (and current back up) Semyon Varlamov is just 21 and it remains to be seen if he was just a playoff sensation last year. Luckily, the Caps will score enough goals to give its goaltending time to sort itself out.

2. Carolina Hurricanes - The Hurricanes aren't the flashiest team in the league. But "not that flashy" brought this team to the Eastern Conference Finals last season (and a Stanley Cup championship in 2006). With a tough-to-score-on defense, and a consistent offense highlighted by the likes of Eric Staal, this will again be a team that gets it done without making the highlight reels like some of their other counterparts in the East.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning - Barry Melrose only lasted a month as Tampa Bay's coach last season, but it wasn't Melrose, nor his mullet's, fault that this team wasn't any good. The Lightning finished in the bottom third in goals scored and bottom sixth in goals against, that's a recipe for a lot of losses! The Lightning (like the Penguins in the early part of the decade) is beginning to benefit from top draft picks each year. First overall pick in 2008, Steven Stamkos developed as the season went on and second overall pick this year, Victor Hedman, should help give some direction to the defense, as will the free-agent acquisition of Mattias Ohlund. Tampa still has the cornerstones of its 2003 Stanley Cup championship in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, and while it'll be far from the Cup this season, it'll be a lot closer than last season!

4. Florida Panthers - Florida finished tied with the Canadiens for eighth place but lost the tiebreaker and missed the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season (eight “years” when you include the Lockout). Still, the disappointing finish overshadowed a return to relevancy for a team that hadn't been close to the postseason since a fifth-place conference finish in 2000. The problem now is improving on last season; it's unlikely the Panthers will do that. The offseason trade of All Star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and a lack of noteworthy acquisitions could send this team into oblivion again. At some point, you start to wonder just how much longer this failing experiment of the NHL in Miami can go on.

5. Atlanta Thrashers - Like most of its Southeast Division counterparts, a hockey team in this city fits in about as well as a white guy at an NAACP convention. Hockey has just failed to take hold in Atlanta, and this season will be the real test for the Thrashers, as it's the last year on All Star Ilya Kovalchuk's contract. It remains to be seen if Atlanta will have the resources to bring him back. The addition of defenseman Pavel Kubina should help a defense that gave up the second most goals in the league last season, but that's certainly not going to be enough to plug all the holes for this team.


Central Division

1. Detroit Red Wings - The Red Wings failed to win at least a share of the Presidents' Trophy (awarded to the team with the best regular season record) for the first time since 2002-03 last year. That didn't really seem to phase the 2008 defending Champions, aside from a seven-game series with Anaheim, the Wings needed just nine games to dispatch of Division rivals Columbus and Chicago to make a second straight Cup appearance last spring. Detroit took a three games to two lead on Pittsburgh in the Cup before suffering two straight 2-1 losses to lose the Cup. In a league with few constants and high turnover, Detroit, like the trucks its city produces, is "like a rock." Until proven otherwise, this is still the team to beat each season, especially in the West.

2. Chicago Blackhawks - Chicago ended a five-season playoff drought in impressive fashion last season, finishing with the third best record in the West and making it to the Conference Finals before being outplayed by Detroit in five games. With its young players gaining a year of experience and getting some playoff time under their belt, the Blackhawks could be poised to make another deep run into late spring. The question is, as always though in this midwest city, can it better Detroit?

3. Columbus Blue Jackets - There was little talk about the Blue Jackets first-ever playoff appearance last year, perhaps because it only lasted four games, or perhaps because they play in one of the league's smallest markets. However, this team has quietly gone from a guaranteed victory for opponents to a solid, defense-oriented team that'll battle every night. The team also showed its gaining its footing in the league by extending All Star Rick Nash for eight years.

4. St. Louis Blues - The Blues streaked into the playoffs last year by closing the season at 8-1-1. They were then quickly shown the door in a four-game sweep by Vancouver. Aside from that hot stretch, this team was extremely mediocre. It won 41 games and lost 41 games, while scoring 233 goals and giving up 233 goals. To its credit, it has a good number of young players and is more likely to go up than down this season. However, without the impressive end to the season, this team would have missed to the playoffs, so adjust expectations and realize that even if it improves, it'll still be fighting for the playoffs.

5. Nashville Predators - The song in Nashville has gone sorely out of tune. Once one of the better teams in the Conference, the Preds missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year. Sports Illustrated lists Nashville's "Key Additions" as "None," the only one of the thirty teams to be given such a distinction. It's no secret that the team is in economic trouble, but, for the time being, it's committed to Nashville. Unfortunately, being a struggling team in a city without a lot of hockey smarts, that commitment isn't a good thing for the Predators.

Northwest Division

1. Calgary Flames - The Flames have become a mainstay in the Western Conference through a simple plan: a solid goaltender (Mikka Kiprusoff), tough defense, and timely scoring. A team's style is usually exemplified by its captain, and, in Calgary, that's certainly the case. Jarome Iginla doesn't put on the skills clinic that captains like Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby do, but he's always up near those league leaders in scoring despite playing with a cast of supporting actors. He's more renowned around the league for his hard-nosed style that batters opponents to win games.

2. Vancouver Canucks - The Canucks were an overlooked three-seed in the West last season after winning this division. They're anchored by one of the stronger goalies in the NHL, Roberto Luongo, and are led on offense by the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel). Like the division rival Flames, this isn't the highest scoring team in the league, but, like the Flames, it doesn't need to be. The Canucks should again contend for the division.

3. Minnesota Wild - The Wild missed the playoffs by just two points last season, but were unable to re-sign their best player, Marian Gaborik, after the season. However, as I said about the Rangers (with whom Gaborik signed), Marian's health was always an issue, and he played in just 17 games for the Wild last season. It's never good when you lose your best player, but, by that logic, his loss shouldn't affect the team as much as expected. It certainly doesn't make them better without Gaborik, but the addition of Martin Havlat should help temper the loss. Minnesota is far from a playoff lock, but, like last season, it should be in contention all year long.

4. Colorado Avalanche - The Av's looked awful last season! They finished last in the conference and with the third worst record in the league. The team’s downfall came from an offense that finished last in the league in scoring. The offseason retirement of Joe Sakic and loss of Ryan Smyth certainly won't help the offense, but the return of a healthy Paul Stastny, who missed half the season, will. The Avs have almost always been a contender since moving to Colorado in 1995, so last year was a huge disappointment. Colorado won't make it back this season, but at least it's on its way up.

5. Edmonton Oilers - The Oilers upgraded at goaltender, brining in Nikolai Khabibulin to replace Dwayne Roloson, but that wasn’t the biggest concern for Edmonton. The Oilers, like Canadian rivals Calgary and Vancouver, are defensively oriented, but unlike those two, they lack any go-to forwards that can help them win the defensive battles. Alex Hemsky led the team in scoring last season with 66 points, tied for 45th in the league. Edmonton's offensive woes will leave something to be desired from this team.

Pacific Division

1. San Jose Sharks - If only there weren't any playoffs in the NHL, the Sharks might be working on somewhat of a dynasty right now. The reigning Presidents' Trophy winners managed to improve during the offseason by trading underachieving Jonathan Cheechoo and the developing, but never-destined-for-greatness, Milan Michalek for All Star Dany Heatley. Heatley makes an already good offense into a great one. The Sharks will again be a top team in the league, and hope that the addition of Heatley can give them more bite in the playoffs.

2. Anaheim Ducks - Ducks and Sharks are very different creatures, and the NHL only proves that. Whereas, the Sharks feast on the regular season, the Ducks tend to paddle along for 82 games before taking flight in the postseason. Nothing exemplified this disparity more than last season, when, despite finishing 26 points behind San Jose, Anaheim harpooned the Sharks in the first round. Just for good measure, the Ducks then pushed Detroit to seven games before getting knocked out. Honestly, Anaheim's playoff success wasn't as shocking as it was made out to seem ( I even picked them to beat San Jose!). The Ducks were a lot better than their eighth seed suggested, and simply performed under expectation in the regular season. If Anaheim decides to show up before April, it should finish much higher this year; if it doesn't, it'll probably knock out some team that's a little too enthusiastic over a great regular season finish (Sharks beware!).

3. Los Angeles Kings - Living just two miles from the Staples Center (home of the Kings) for the last four years, I always heard about how the Kings were young and developing. Every year I heard that! Sooner or later, you know, you gotta s*** or get off the pot, right!? This should finally be the season that the Kings make their move. The addition of veterans Ryan Smyth at forward and Rod Scuderi on defense will provide some leadership for a team led by youngsters like captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Jack Johnson (who, I'm sure we all know has been "sitting, waiting, and wishing" for a better season). Don't worry Jack, now that this team is a little older things will be "better when you're together".

4. Dallas Stars - The Stars waived goodbye to Brendan Morrison, Steve Begin, Darryl Sydor, and Sergei Zubov and didn't bring in a whole lot to replace them. They do get a fully healthy Brad Richards, who missed a good third of the season last year, and Mike Modano returns for his 20th year in the organization (he's been around so long, he played half a decade in Minnesota, when they were still the North Stars). Aside from that, however, there's not a whole lot to get excited about in Dallas. Once a perennial contender for the Cup, the Stars have faded significantly. They'll still be competitive, but that's just a nice way of saying they won't stink, but they aren't good enough to make the playoffs.

5. Phoenix Coyotes - The best thing that happened to Phoenix this offseason was that the Coyotes weren't moved to another city, but when I say "Phoenix," I mean the city of, not the hockey team. The worst thing that happened to the Coyotes is that they weren't moved. This team has failed to make a profit since it moved to Arizona in 1996, and the economic struggles are reflected in the team that Phoenix puts on the ice. Not even Wayne Gretzky could help this program, and finally called it quits shortly before this season started. Arizona is no place for a hockey team! It's sad, but this team won't be competitive until it's moved to a more supportive city, which, unlike Dallas above, is a nice way of saying they’ll stink!


(Based on final point total. Division winners are automatically seeded 1, 2, 3 for playoffs, and * denotes Division winners. ^ deonotes Presidents' Trophy for best record.)
1. Washington*
2. Pittsburgh*
3. Philadelphia (Playoff 4 seed)
4. Montreal* (Playoff 3 seed)
5. Carolina
6. Boston
7. New Jersey
8. New York Rangers
9. Ottawa
10. Buffalo
11. Tampa Bay
12. Florida
13. Toronto
14. Atlanta
15. New York Islanders

1. San Jose*^
2. Detroit*
3. Chicago (Playoff 4 seed)
4. Calgary* (Playoff 3 seed)
5. Anaheim
6. Vancouver
7. Columbus
8. St. Louis
9. Los Angeles
10. Minnesota
11. Dallas
12. Colorado
13. Edmonton
14. Phoenix
15. Nashville


(1) Washington over (8) New York Rangers - 6 games
(2) Pittsburgh over (7) New Jersey - 5 games
(6) Boston over (3) Montreal - 6 games
(4) Philadelphia over (5) Carolina - 5 games
(1) San Jose over (8) St. Louis - 4 games
(2) Detroit over (7) Columbus - 5 games
(3) Calgary over (6) Vancouver - 6 games
(4) Chicago over (5) Anaheim - 7 games

(1) Washington over (6) Boston - 6 games
(4) Philadelphia over (2) Pittsburgh - 7 (+OT) games
(4) Chicago over (1) San Jose - 7 games
(2) Detroit over (3) Calgary - 6 games

(4) Philadelphia over (1) Washington - 7 games
(2) Detroit over (4) Chicago - 6 games

Detroit over Philadelphia - 5 games

--Originally posted at --