Face-off 2014-15: NHL season preview and predictions

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By DAVE TURNER
Devils Insiders

One thing is for certain, there are no guarantees in the NHL. With the competition level so close in this league, a few games either way may mean the difference between a playoff spot or an April tee time.

(* – denotes wild card team)

PREDICTIONS

Atlantic Division

1. Boston Bruins

2. Tampa Bay Lighting

3. Montreal Canadiens

4. Detroit Red Wings

5. Ottawa Senators

6. Florida Panthers

7. Toronto Maple Leafs

8. Buffalo Sabres

Tampa Bay has been the trendy pick here, but until I see it from the Lightning, I don't think they have enough to finish ahead of Boston, at least in the regular season standings. This is the year that Detroit misses the playoffs for the first time in twenty four years, as both wild cards will come out of the Metropolitan Division. Though they won in four games last year, another Bolts/Habs series would be some very entertaining hockey. Florida will be surprisingly competitive and the lack of defense will doom Toronto. Buffalo will be improved, but then again, after a 52-point season, an improvement wouldn't be too hard to come by.

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

2. Columbus Blue Jackets

3. New York Rangers

4. Washington Capitals*

5. New Jersey Devils*

6. New York Islanders

7. Philadelphia Flyers

8. Carolina Hurricanes

The first thing that comes to mind is that this division is as close at it comes. Positions two through six may have only six to eight points separating them. Expect a flurry of a finish as teams jockey for positioning. As much as the Penguins are in flux with rookie head coach Mike Johnston, as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both healthy, they'll still be the class of the division. The Caps will be much improved under Barry Trotz and the Devils will sneak in as the eight seed, crossing over to play Boston. With the moves that the Islanders have made, they could be the team that makes a big jump. With some key losses the Rangers will struggle at times, but will ride Henrik Lundqvist to another playoff appearance. Columbus will take yet another step forward after making the playoffs last year.

Central Division

1. Chicago Blackhawks

2. Minnesota Wild

3. Colorado Avalanche

4. Dallas Stars*

5. St. Louis Blues*

6. Nashville Predators

7. Winnipeg Jets

This is undoubtedly the deepest division in the NHL. The Nashville Predators will be improved and in any other division they'd be a playoff team. With the offseason acquisition Jason Spezza, the Stars will build on last year's return to the playoffs. The Blues goaltending situation will keep them from finishing higher. The Wild are a deep team that will benefit from the addition of Tomas Vanek. It might be a stretch for the Avalanche to match last year's total of 116 points, but they will be a better team than last year in terms of experience and maturity. The Blackhawks will once again be the class of the division.

Pacific Division

1. Anaheim Ducks

2. Los Angeles Kings

3. San Jose Sharks

4. Calgary Flames

5. Arizona Coyotes

6. Vancouver Canucks

7. Edmonton Oilers

The Ducks have the firepower to win the division, but they'll need to find steady goaltending from Frederik Andersen or John Gibson. The Kings tend to take it easy at times during the regular season, but they'll be right in the mix and poised for another deep playoff run. Though the Sharks may struggle after the tumultuous offseason they had, there's still a ton of talent there. Calgary is the surprise team in this division, as Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan begin to show a glimpse of big things to come.

PLAYOFF PICKS

Eastern Conference

First Round

Bruins over Devils

Lightning over Canadiens

Penguins over Capitals

Blue Jackets over Rangers

Second Round

Bruins over Lightning

Blue Jackets over Penguins

Conference Finals

Bruins over Blue Jackets

Western Conference

First Round

Stars over Ducks

Kings over Sharks

Blackhawks over Blues

Avalanche over Wild

Second Round

Kings over Stars

Blackhawks over Avalanche

Conference Finals

Blackhawks over Kings

Stanley Cup Finals

Blackhawks over Bruins

RELATED LINKS
Team-by-team breakdowns
Preseason award predictions
Three bold predictions for the West
Three bold predictions for the East

AOL.com and Devils Insiders have teamed up to provide extensive hockey coverage throughout the new campaign. For more, visit DevilsInsiders.com and follow them on Twitter: @DevilsInsiders

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