Now that the 2012 NHL lockout is officially over, what can hockey fans expect in the 48-game NHL season?
The shortened season will be a cause for worry for some teams who rely on a longer season to remain in the running for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Getting off to a fast start is going to be imperative for any team that wants to remain a Stanley Cup contender.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (51-25-6)
The Pens will come out on top with a healthy Sidney Crosby paired on a line with Evgeni Malkin, who more than proved his worth for the team in Crosby’s absence.
2. New York Rangers (51-24-7)
Behind Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist and newly-acquired Rick Nash the Rangers are sure to be near the top again this season. And the lockout allowed Marian Gaborik, who was scheduled to miss much of the first half of the season, to rehab a shoulder injury.
3. St. Louis Blues (49-22-11)
Ken Hitchcock stepped in for the fired Davis Payne in November and earned Coach of the Year honors in leading the Blues to the Central title. Center TJ Oshie could become a star this season and the goaltending duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot should keep St. Louis in most games.
4. Boston Bruins (49-29-4)
Without Tim Thomas (who is sitting out this season on his own accord), Tuukka Rask looks to prove he is more than capable in net. Backed by intimidating captain Zdeno Chara and balanced scoring led by Tyler Seguin, the Bruins should contend for a Cup again this season.
5. Nashville Predators (48-26-8)
The Predators lost Ryan Suter, but managed to keep Shea Weber away from the Flyers. They have solid goaltending in Pekka Rinne, but they’ll need to look to the youth to fill the holes in their blueline.
6. Detroit Red Wings (48-28-6)
Henrik Zetterberg should continue to be dominant as the new team captain alongside Pavel Datsyuk. Both were a part of the team that retired ex-captain Nicklas Lidstrom led to a 23-game home winning streak last season.
7. Vancouver Canucks (51-22-9)
Goaltending will be questionable for the Canucks, especially with Roberto Luongo’s fate still undecided. With Ryan Kesler out with shoulder surgery and David Booth now out for 4-6 weeks on a groin strain, they’ll need the Sedins to provide a spark.
8. New Jersey Devils (48-28-6)
The last time the league ran an abbreviated season, Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur led New Jersey to a Stanley Cup title. Minus Zach Parise, who signed with the Wild, the Devils may run into trouble scoring, but Ilya Kovalchuk has finally returned from Russia and Travis Zajac will be looking to justify his just-signed eight-year deal.
9. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (47-26-9)
The Flyers will look to new captain Claude Giroux and the Schenn brothers for success. If Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek join Giroux’s line and mesh, the Flyers could legitimately contend. The biggest problem the team will face is the usual goaltending carousel.
10. Chicago Blackhawks (45-26-11)
Marian Hossa was cleared to play, so his return from the concussion he suffered in the playoffs is key as he, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane make the Blackhawks go. Corey Crawford will need to improve in net in order for Chicago to make a run this season.
11. Los Angeles Kings (40-27-15)
With every team gunning for them, the Kings will need to work hard to defend their championship. They'll start the season without Anze Kopitar, who is out with a knee injury. They will have an advantage against most teams with outstanding goaltender Jonathan Quick back in net.
12. San Jose Sharks (43-29-10)
The Sharks put up little fight in losing to the Blues in five games in the first round of the playoffs last year and will enter this season hurting on the blueline with Brent Burns, Jason Demers and Justin Braun all on the shelf.
13. Phoenix Coyotes (42-27-13)
The Coyotes won the Pacific Division last season and advanced to the conference final before falling to the eventual Cup-champion Kings. Behind solid goaltender Mike Smith and re-signed captain Shane Doan, the Coyotes will look to prove that last year wasn't a fluke.
14. Washington Capitals (42-32-8)
Alex Ovechkin had -- for him -- a poor season last year and the pressure will be on him to return to form under new head coach Adam Oates. The Caps will also need to fill the defense while Dmitry Orlov is out with an upper body injury.
15. Ottawa Senators (41-31-10)
Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson is dominant on the blueline, but he’ll have his work cut out for him. Defenseman Jared Cowen is out for the season, while fellow blueliner Mike Lunden is also injured. Luckily team captain Daniel Alfredsson decided to return for another season.
16. Dallas Stars (42-35-5)
The Stars went for veterans this season by signing Jaromir Jagr and Ryan Whitney. If Jagr plays as well as he did in Philly, it will be a good way for the Stars to find playoff success.
17. Buffalo Sabres (39-32-11)
With talented goaltender Ryan Miller in net, the Sabres should be higher on this list, but they have fallen flat in recent years. Enigmatic forward Ville Leino could find himself a casuality of the league's new buyout option.
18. Florida Panthers (38-26-18)
The Panthers won the Southeast last season and will rely on goalie Jose Theodore to keep them atop the division this time around. They are hoping rookie Jonathan Huberdeau can add some much-needed extra attack.
19. Colorado Avalanche (41-35-6)
The Av’s are a young team that need to develop before they can see a playoff run. New captain Gabriel Landeskog (at 20, the youngest in NHL history) showed his potential alongside Matt Duchene last season.
20. Tampa Bay Lightning (38-36-8)
Steven Stamkos led the league with 60 goals and Martin St. Louis is still dynamic, but the Lightning struggled with consistency last season. They added free agent Matt Carle to help on defense, but are likely to find out quickly why Flyers’ fans refer to him as “Turnover Carle.”
21. Minnesota Wild (35-36-11)
The additions of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter should make the Wild a better team, but it will be interesting to see if the team can mesh with all of the new bodies in a 48-game season.
22. Calgary Flames (37-29-16)
The Flames are attempting to make moves but they still are lacking a roster needed to make a playoff run. They did add defenseman Dennis Wideman and forward Roman Cervenka but it may not be enough.
23. Winnipeg Jets (37-35-10)
The Winnipeg Jets still play like the Atlanta Thrashers. They are without Zach Bogosian (wrist) so their blueline will likely suffer this season. They have some potential in Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele, but as with most teams, goaltending is going to be key for them.
24. Anaheim Ducks (34-36-12)
The Ducks main strength is their ability to keep veteran Teemu Selanne from retiring. They also have some key players like Bobby Ryan and Cory Perry and a decent goalie in Jonas Hiller, but their performance on the ice often doesn't match their potential.
25. Carolina Hurricanes (33-33-16)
Adding another Stahl (Jordan) to the team and signing Alexander Semin puts the Canes in a good position to improve but they also are relying on rookies which can be a risk.
26. Toronto Maple Leafs (35-37-10)
Toronto was expected to get somewhat of a break after trading Luke Schenn for James Van Riemsdyk, but JVR bruised his ankle so he may not get the start in the opener. The Leafs also surprised everyone around the league when they fired GM Brian Burke just after the lockout was lifted.
27. Edmonton Oilers (32-40-10)
The Oilers are a start-up team with potential in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and No. 1-overall draft pick Nail Yakupov. They just need to get out of the “Wayne Gretzky Shadow” and the bottom of the Western Conference.
28. New York Islanders (34-37-11)
Mismanaged for many years, the team will be moving to Brooklyn in 2015 and that might be the only reason for excitement. John Tavares is a budding star, but he doesn't have a whole lot of help.
29. Montreal Canadiens (31-35-16)
It looks as if only bad news comes out of Montreal right now. Restricted free agent P.K. Subban’s fate still hangs in the balance, as he has yet to re-sign with the Canadiens.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets (29-46-7)
The Blue Jackets have slowly replaced the Maple Leafs as the laughingstock of the NHL. They do have former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky, who should play well in the abbreviated season, but losing Rick Nash to the Rangers is going to make a bad team even worse.