In part II of my 2013 NHL season preview, check out previews and predictions for the entire Eastern Conference.
Part II –> Eastern Conference Preview
Part III –> Hockey Independent Roundtable: Preseason Stanley Cup Predictions
Part IV –> 2013 Boston Bruins Roster Predictions
1) New York Rangers
- Even after taking home the top spot in the East last season, the New York Rangers weren’t ready to stand pat with their roster over the summer, making a couple of key additions that will likely get them right back to the top of the conference. Superstar power forward Rick Nash should make an immediate impact up front for New York, likely skating alongside playmaking pivot Brad Richards (pictured). The additions of Taylor Pyatt and Aaron Asham should also make up for the grit and effort lost when Brandon Dubinsky was sent to Columbus.
2) Boston Bruins
- Without the dreaded “Stanley Cup hangover” that seemed to really hurt them last season, the Boston Bruins look ready to make another run at a championship. The return of injured forward Nathan Horton will only add to what is already one of the deepest forward groups in the entire NHL. With No. 18’s return, Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly will slide into their normal positions on the strongest third line in the conference.
3) Carolina Hurricanes
- Outside of the free-spending Minnesota Wild, the Carolina Hurricanes were the biggest movers-and-shakers of the 2012 offseason. The addition of Jordan Staal to a roster that is already playoff-caliber could put the ‘Canes over the top in what looks to be an incredibly tight Southeast division.
4) Pittsburgh Penguins
- With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both back at full health to begin the year, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in great shape. Hard-working centerman Brandon Sutter is one of the most underrated players in the league and will provide a tremendous compliment to Crosby and Malkin as Pittsburgh’s No. 3 pivot.
5) Washington Capitals
- Dale Hunter may have left Washington, DC, but his wisdom will live on through the players in Capitals’ sweaters. Before his arrival early last year, the Caps were known as an excellent regular season team who just couldn’t get the job done when the playoffs rolled around. However, under Hunter, Washington was able to knock off the defending champion Bruins and nearly take down the top-seeded Rangers. There’s no telling how the Caps will react under new bench boss Adam Oates, but the experience of last season can only help Washington’s chances of finally winning the Stanley Cup.
6) Tampa Bay Lightning
- Matt Carle and Sami Salo will help stabilize one of 2011’s worst defensive units and young goaltender Anders Lindback looks ready to carry the load as Tampa’s No. 1. I’d expect the Bolts to be back in the postseason this spring after missing the cut last year.
7) Philadelphia Flyers
- Missing out on Ryan Suter was absolutely huge for the Flyers. General manager Paul Holmgren knew it. It’s why he took a run at Suter’s teammate, Shea Weber, via a 14-year offer sheet back in July. With Chris Pronger’s career likely over, Kimmo Timonen likely following suit within the next season or two and Matt Carle departing for Tampa Bay, the Philly blueline is in rough shape. Ultimately, there’s just too much offensive talent on that team for Philly to miss the playoffs.
8) Toronto Maple Leafs
- Surprise, surprise. Yes, I believe that the Toronto Maple Leafs – who were the only one of the NHL’s 30 teams to NOT qualify for the playoffs even once between the 2004-05 lockout and the most recent one – will finally end the drought and get back to the postseason. The Schenn-for-JvR deal was absolutely a brilliant one on the part of general manager Brian Burke as power-forwards with that type of scoring ability are certainly a rare breed in the NHL. With a strong blueline and a skillful young core of forwards, the Leafs may be able to catch fire and take advantage of the shortened season by making a charge towards the playoffs.
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9) Ottawa Senators
- The Sens surprised everyone last season by squeaking into the postseason and taking the No. 1 seeded Rangers to the brink of elimination. This year, I think the team from Canada’s capital may take a small step back. Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson will continue to put up points, but Ottawa will just miss the playoffs.
10) Buffalo Sabres
- Buffalo may have lost one of their top scorers in center Derek Roy, but the deal came with the much needed addition of grit and strength up front via Dallas agitator Steve Ott. Between Ott and former Ranger John Scott, Buffalo will be a lot tougher to play against in 2013.
11) New Jersey Devils
- Ilya Kovalchuk will likely take over as captain in New Jersey and the Devils may be able to benefit from the shortened season after their Cup run last summer. However, without Zach Parise, I don’t think a trip to the playoffs is in the cards for New Jersey.
12) New York Islanders
- The Islanders have one of the league’s most skillful groups of offensive talent. Between John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, Ryan Strome and Michael Grabner, the Isles will score with the best of ‘em. Still, they haven’t been able to put much together in goal or on defense, likely leaving them on the outside looking in, this spring.
13) Florida Panthers
- Last year was a remarkable one for hockey on South Beach and the Panthers proved their legitimacy by nearly eliminating the Cup-bound Devils in round one of the playoffs. However, this is another young team that may need to take a step back before making the giant leap forward.
14) Montreal Canadiens
- The Habs enjoyed a phenomenal draft back in June and new boss Marc Bergevin seems to have the franchise back on the right track. However, this year may be another long one up in Montreal as the Habs continue to work their way back towards NHL relevancy.
15) Winnipeg Jets
- The Jets didn’t qualify for the postseason last season and really didn’t do much about it in the offseason. Outside of veteran pivot Olli Jokinen, the Jets made no major acquisitions. It could get real ugly in Winnipeg.
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Michigan Fan. Street Hockey Agitator. My work has been featured at the New England and New York Hockey Journals, The Hockey Guys, and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com!