Here are my predictions for the upcoming 2013 shortened season for the Eastern Conference.
1. New York Rangers
Forward - The Rangers have a great blend of superstar forwards, emerging youngsters and strong role players. Injuries are going to be the only thing stopping this group. Newest Ranger Rick Nash will help in the goals for category.
Defense - No high end superstar, but a team filled with all around, solid defenders. Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Giradi eat up most of the minutes.
Goaltending - Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top 3 goaltenders right now in my book. With the Rangers improving the offense, they will be tough to handle.
2. Boston Bruins
Forward - A fresh Nathan Horton will enhance this forward group that includes the likes of Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin. A great of blend of strength, skill and grit.
Defense - If Zdeno Chara isn't the best Dman in the league, he is the 2nd best. A lot of returning vets for this group that will break in highly touted prospect Dougie Hamilton.
Goaltending - Tim Thoams is taking a break from hockey meaning Tuukka Rask gets a chance to tend twine on most nights which isn't much of a downgrade. Anton Khudobin will back him up.
3. Washington Capitals
Forward - Group still being led by superstar Alexander Ovechkin. Different supporting cast with the addition of Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski. Lost Alexander Semin to free agency.
Defense - Another year of John Carlson and Karl Alzner will help this group. A healthy Mike Green would also help matters. Roman Hamrlik plays the role of battle tested veteran.
Goaltending - Braden Holtby has emerged as the go-to netminder last year in the playoffs. Michal Neuvirth is still around if Holtby falters.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Forward - The Penguins forwards are among the most skilled in the top 6, but over the years it has started thin out. Will rely more on the health of Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin is an excellent 1B option. James Neal has emerged as All Star with the Penguins.
Defense - Not as deep as it once was either. Will rely heavily on Kris Letang mobility and puck movement. Have servicable defenders in Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik to play roles.
Goaltender - Marc-Andre Fleury has his moments of greatness and his moments of flakiness. Pens brought in Tomas Vokoun as the insurance policy.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Forward - The addition of Jordan Staal to go along with brother Eric is a huge. It gives them legitimate 2nd line pivot. The addition of Alexander Semin will help enhance the offense.
Defense - Essentially the same group from last year. Looking for Justin Faulk to really emerge as an all around defender.
Goaltender - Cam Ward has really played well over the last few seasons even though the defense hasn't been as strong as they would like it to be. Dan Ellis looks to back him up.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Forward - Could use a little more production from its stars. The addition of Steve Ott will help out in the grit factor. Mikhail Grigorenko looks to break camp with Sabres to start the season. Cody Hodgson gets his shot at being the 1st line center.
Defense - The 2nd year for Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr should help them find comfort and therefore help the Sabres. Could use a rebound year offensively from Tyler Myers.
Goaltending - Speaking of bounce back year, they could use one from Ryan Miller. Miller needs to start the season strong for the Sabres to have success. He is backed up Jhonas Enroth.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Forward - Claude Giroux established himself as one of the top players in the game last season. Super youngsters Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier look to make bigger impacts this season. A forward group filled with big bodies that are hard to play against.
Defense - The loss of Chris Pronger really hurt this group and leaves them short on all around defensemen. Kimmo Timonen is as close as it gets. Otherwise it has, for the most part, a defensive defensman type flavor to its group.
Goaltending - Need a bounce back season from Ilya Bryzgalov. It will be interesting to see if the defense holds up enough to allow him to do so.
8. Ottawa Senators
Forward - The duo of Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are back again for another season. The top end is decent enough but its a group that lacks depth overall.
Defense - Erik Karlsson is the straw that stirs the drink on this team. Looking for another big season from him. Addition of Mark Methot will help out defensively.
Goaltending - The inconsistant goaltending of Craig Anderson returns for another season. Times he has been great and times he has not been great. He's a goaltender that faces a lot of rubber. Ben Bishop will likely back him up.
9. Tampa Bay Lightning
Forward - Essentially its Steven Stamkos, Martin St.Louis, Vincent Lecavlier, Ryan Malone and whole bunch of forwards that don't score much. High end talent with not much in the middle or the bottom.
Defense - The Lightning desperately need Victor Hedman to emerge as the all around defender that he was projected to be. Without it, their just isn't enough to cover all the bases. They added Matt Carle and Sami Salo to the fold.
10. New Jersey Devils
Forward - The departure of Zach Parise really hurts this club as he was the leader by example. Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique return as the core of the forwards.
Defense - Not sure how they got to the cup finals with this defense. Bryce Salvador played out of his mind during that run as did Anton Volchenkov. Marek Zidlicky picks up the slack on the offensive side of the puck.
Goaltending - Battle tested veteran Martin Brodeur comes back for what might be his final hurrah. Between Brodeur and Hedberg, they are a combined 79 years old. Has to be the oldest tandem in the NHL.
11. Florida Panthers
Forward - A lot of returning players with the addition of super prospect Jonathan Huberdeau. A good blend of forward without having anything I would consider high end. Peter Mueller also joins this group.
Defense - A lot of the offense flows through defenseman Brian Campbell. Filip Kuba and Ed Jovanovski provide experience and defensive depth.
Goaltending - The returning tandem of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen should give them goaltending that will give them a chance to win, night in, night out.
12. Montreal Canadians
Forward - 2102 #3 Overall Draft pick Alex Galchenyuk will likely make his debut with the Habs. Vets such as Erik Cole, Rene Bourque, Brian Gionta will be reiled upon to create offense. A group that is still trying to find its identity.
Defense - The Habs may be starting the season without P.K. Subban who remains without contract. Without him they will rely on the oft-injured Andrei Markov to play big minutes. A D corps without a lot of physicality.
Goaltending - Carey Price is now starting to establish himself as a top flight goaltender. He figures to face a lot of pucks this season. Peter Budaj will back him up.
13. Winnipeg Jets
Forward - Forwards are a work in progress with stop gaps such as Olli Jokinen, Nik Antropov and Alexei Ponakarovsky holding down spots. Looking for more of the same from Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd.
Defense - Led by the enigmatic Dustin Byfuglien. Tobias Enstrom also creates offense. Still looking for Zach Bogosian to emerge as a legit top pairing defenseman.
Goaltending - Ondrej Pavelec looks to build upon his numbers from last season after playing a career high 68 games. Al Montoya looks to back him up.
14. New York Islanders
Forward - Another year for John Tavares to attempt to establish himself as a superstar. The supporting cast is looking to get better albeit, it is getting younger. Matt Moulsen had a career high 36 goals last season.
Defense - Not having Lubomir Visnovsky report to the club really hurts the depth. It will be up to Mark Streit and Travis Hamonic to be the cornerstones of the defense this season.
Goaltending - Evgeni Nabokov returns for a 2nd season to tend twine for the Islanders. Should give them stable goaltending.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs
Forward - Blessed on the wings but very thin at center, to the point where newcomer James Van Riemsdyk may get some looks there. Phil Kessel is the clear offensive leader of club and Joffrey Lupul looks to repeat last season's success.
Defense - Dion Phaneuf is the main man of this group, although his play is fleeting. John-Michael Liles will pitch in on the offense with Phaneuf. Jake Gardiner is dealing with injury and may not be ready for the start of the season.
Goaltending - James Reimer and Ben Scrivens will be battling for supremacy of the Leafs crease. Whomever wins figures to see a lot of rubber.