NHL Predictions: From the Season Standings to the Stanley Cup

Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic

Sep 23, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic (17) defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) and center David Krejci (46) celebrate a goal during the third period against the Washington Capitals at TD Banknorth Garden. Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL is back, and it’s time to find out who best used the summer to ready themselves for the grueling championship quest ahead. The Chicago Blackhawks paraded the Stanley Cup around the globe this summer, but now 29 teams will challenge them for the right to do the same thing in 2014.

Realignment has shaken things up quite a bit, and the new division dynamics will have a major impact on the final standings. The switch from six divisions to three should intensify playoff races and ignite rivalries. So who has what it takes to contend for the Cup? Here are my predictions for the 2013-14 season.

Read More: ’13-’14 NHL Team Previews

Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division: (click each team name to read the full season preview)

  1. Ottawa Senators
  2. Boston Bruins
  3. Detroit Red Wings
  4. Toronto Maple Leafs
  5. Montreal Canadiens
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning
  7. Florida Panthers
  8. Buffalo Sabres

The Detroit Red Wings have finally completed a long-desired move to the Eastern Conference, but they join four other 2013 playoff teams in the stacked Atlantic Division. The addition of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss give the Wings a good chance to extend their lengthy playoff streak, but there are no guarantees. The re-tooled Boston Bruins are probably the most balanced team in the group, but the young Ottawa Senators are on track to surprise the NHL once-again with the inaugural division title. If Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Craig Anderson can stay healthy, the defensively elite Sens will be very dangerous. New Ottawa winger Bobby Ryan projects to be the X-factor in this heated battle. Though Ottawa, Boston and Detroit look like the cream of the crop, don’t sleep on Toronto and Montreal. Both are capable of topping this very competitive group. Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis will keep Tampa Bay relevant, but this division is simply too deep for them right now. Former superstars Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas have almost no hope of getting very bad Buffalo and Florida teams in the hunt.

Metropolitan Division:

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. New York Islanders
  3. New York Rangers
  4. Washington Capitals
  5. New Jersey Devils
  6. Carolina Hurricanes
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets
  8. Philadelphia Flyers

The Metropolitan Division is certainly star-studded. However, these teams each have question marks in key spots. Marc-Andre Fleury‘s confidence in goal is a concern for the Penguins, but the presence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin makes them the easy division favorite. On Long Island, John Tavares makes the Islanders an offensive juggernaut capable of overcoming defensive questions. The well-balanced Rangers and Alex Ovechkin-led Capitals should round out the playoff spots. The Met’s bottom four is curious. The New Jersey Devils have welcomed plenty of new faces, but they may not be able to overcome the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk. Meanwhile, Columbus and Carolina will rely heavily on star goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Cam Ward to compete. With Vinny Lecavalier aboard, the Flyers have the talent to get back to the playoffs but in a deep division, their trade-mark instability could lead to another implosion.

Western Conference:

Central Division:

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. St. Louis Blues
  3. Minnesota Wild
  4. Winnipeg Jets
  5. Dallas Stars
  6. Nashville Predators
  7. Colorado Avalanche

The defending-champion Blackhawks are clearly the best team in this relatively weak division. If they aren’t too hung over from their second championship in four years, they ought to cruise to a top-two spot. They are the Presidents’ Trophy favorites until proven otherwise. However, the St. Louis Blues have a great mix of grit, young talent and goaltending depth that could shake things up. There offense isn’t exactly elite yet, but the Blues are serious contenders. Parise and Suter make Minnesota a good bet for third place, but after that all bets are off. Tyler Seguin could explode in Dallas and put the Stars in the playoffs, but I think an improved Jets team will finally crack the postseason bubble instead. Rookies Seth Jones and Nathan MacKinnon will keep things interesting for Nashville and Colorado, but those team are a ways away from contending.

Pacific Division:

  1. Los Angeles Kings
  2. Anaheim Ducks
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Vancouver Canucks
  5. Edmonton Oilers
  6. Phoenix Coyotes
  7. Calgary Flames

Who knew California could be such a hot bed of great hockey. The Kings, Ducks and Sharks promise to put the West Coast in the spotlight this season. John Tortorella’s Vancouver team will get to the playoffs because of the Sedin twins, but L.A., Anaheim and San Jose are a class above. Jonathan Quick and L.A.’s depth across the board should help the Kings emerge as the very best of the bunch. Edmonton will be a lot of fun to watch with all of their young talent, but Taylor Hall and company are at least a year away from the big time. Phoenix might be as good as the fourth place team in the Central Division, but the signing of Mike Ribeiro isn’t enough to get them back to the playoffs in the Pacific. Calgary is the odds-on favorite to finish with the league’s worst record. With Iginla and Kiprusoff gone, the Flames are looking deep into the future.

Playoffs:

Eastern Conference Playoffs:

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins
  2. Ottawa Senators
  3. Boston Bruins
  4. New York Islanders
  5. Detroit Red Wings
  6. New York Rangers
  7. Toronto Maple Leafs
  8. Washington Capitals

The New York Islanders are the only top-four team likely to lose in the opening round. Over seven games, their defense and goaltending won’t be able to beat Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings. The Wings will build off their first round victory by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two. Though the Pens will perform better than they did in the 2013 conference finals, Marc-Andre Fleury won’t give them enough to reach the third round. With the help of new stars Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla, the Bruins will top the Ottawa Senators in round two to advance to their third Eastern Conference Final in four years.

Eastern Conference Finals:

  • Boston Bruins over Detroit Red Wings

The new Bruins-Red Wings rivalry will be on full display in the Eastern Conference Final, and elite two-way centers Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk will take center stage. Bergeron and the Bruins will get the last laugh as the more physical team in the series.

Western Conference Playoffs:

  1. Chicago Blackhawks
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. Anaheim Ducks
  4. St. Louis Blues
  5. San Jose Sharks
  6. Vancouver Canucks
  7. Minnesota Wild
  8. Winnipeg Jets

The Western Conference is weighted heavily towards the top four teams, and all four should reach the second round. That’s when things will get interesting. Jonathan Quick will be the difference as the Kings beat the Ducks in a Southern Cal clash, and the St. Louis Blues will stun the heavily favored Blackhawks. The Stanley Cup has changed hands 14 times since it was last successfully defended. Though the Blackhawks are the most talented team in the NHL from top to bottom, it is nearly impossible to win eight straight post-season series across two years. Young X-factors Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz will help the Blues pull off the upset.

Western Conference Finals:

  • Los Angeles Kings defeat St. Louis Blues

After beating goliath, the Blues will run out of gas against the Kings. Jonathan Quick can be nearly unbeatable at times in the postseason, and he’ll be the Conn Smythe favorite as the Kings head into the Cup final for the second time in three seasons.

Stanley Cup Champion:

  • Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins came very close to winning their second Cup in three years last season, and they will be back and hungrier than ever. After nearly doing so in his first full season as the starter, Tuukka Rask will prove himself as the NHL’s best goaltender by out-dueling Jonathan Quick in seven games. Boston’s mix of veteran leadership and youthful energy on defense will also be a big factor as Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug put in big performances.

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Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013.
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