It's Nice to See Ice: NHL Ready to Skate
Right smack in the middle of college football season, with the NFL getting into full swing and the baseball playoffs starting, here comes the NHL and hockey in October.
The season opens Tue 1 Oct with the league's best rivalry when Montréal hosts Toronto, the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks raise their banner before playing Washington, and Winnipeg travels to Edmonton.
The big news this season is the NHL's new alignment. Detroit and Columbus have moved to the Eastern Conference, which now has 16 teams, and Winnipeg has finally moved into the Western Conferece, which has 14 teams.
These are the new Eastern Conference divisions:
|Boston Bruins||Montréal Canadiens||x||Caroline Hurricanes||New York Rangers|
|Buffalo Sabres||Ottawa Senators||Columbus Blue Jackets||Philadelphia Flyers|
|Detroit Red Wings||Tampa Bay Lightning||New Jersey Devils||Pittsburgh Penguins|
|Florida Panthers||Toronto Maple Leafs||New York Islanders||Washington Capitals|
And here's the new line-up in the Western Conference:
|Colorado Avalanche||Nashville Predators||x||Anaheim Ducks xxxxx||Phoenix Coyotes xxxxxxxx|
|Chicago Blackhawks||St Louis Blues||Calgary Flames||San José Sharks|
|Dallas Stars||Winnipeg Jets||Edmonton Oilers||Vancouver Canucks|
|Minnesota Wild||Los Angeles Kings|
The top three teams in each division make the playoffs, accompanied by the two in each conference with the best record. Even though the East has two more teams, this had to be done as Winnipeg could no longer play in the Eastern time zone.
Of course, this alignment will keep expansion speculation front and center, and the league office is perfectly fine with it.
With 16 teams making the playoffs and teams like the Kings coming from the eighth seed to win the championship in 2012, there is no way to predict who is the actual Cup favorite. However, Bovada likes the Blackhawks (6:1) to meet the Penguins (15:2). Teams like the Canadiens (28:1), Red Wings (16:1), Blues (14:1), and Sharks (18:1) could be right in the mix, while teams like the Islanders (33:1), Blue Jackets (40:1), Stars (40:1), and Oilers (20:1) are rising from the ashes and ready to make a run to the playoffs in 2014.
Many think this is the Year of the Canuck (16:1), and maybe it is, but the Bruins (10:1) are as dangerous as ever.
No matter how the season unfolds, it's going to be a season. A full season. And that is the best bet of all.