2012-13 Eastern Conference Prediction

The NHL is still in the midst of a lockout due to a CBA dispute between the NHL and the NHLPA. There have been rumors that a season could start around the beginning of December, TCL's Shane Blackburn provides a preview of the Eastern Conference should the lockout end. 

1. New York Rangers: The Rangers will once again come in ahead of the pack in the Eastern Conference, however this season it will be with more ease. Although they had to give up Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky the Rangers made the move of the off season by aquiring offensive super star Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nash will round out the Rangers top six of; Gaborik, Richards, Callahan, Hagelin and Stepan. The Rangers are also strong on defense with an impressive top four of; McDonagh, Staal, Del Zotto and Girardi. Last but not least "King" Henrik Lundqvist will once again stop opposing offenses in their tracks, the King is quite possibly the best goalie in the NHL.

2. Ottawa Senators: The Ottawa Senators battled all season in 2011-12 and earned the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff birth, before being eliminated in the first round to the New York Rangers. With the emmergence of young defensman Erik Karlsson taking the focus of the 2011-12 season many of the othe Senators were over looked, big mistake. In the 2012-13 season Ottawa's offense will take front stage, look for the Jason Spezza who played 80 games for the first time in three seasons will continue his offensive ways and along side Senator favorite Daniel Alfredsson will lead the Senators to first place in the North East Division and second place overall in the Eastern Conference. 

3. Florida Panthers: The Panthers have something to prove this season. Florida had suffered many seasons with little to no success, but after many years of rebuilding and some key off season transactions the Panthers returned to the post-season and did so in impressive fashion. The Panthers went from dead last in the East to a third place finish in one season, and in 2012-13 the offense lead by Stephen Weiss, Marcel Goc, Tomas Kopecky and ex-Islander Sean Bergenheim will need to prove that last season was not just a fluke.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: Claude Giroux.

5. New Jersey Devils: After a disappointing end to the 2011-12 post-season the Devils will look to return to the playoffs once again. As long as offensive superstar Ilya Kovalchuk returns from the KHL when the NHL season begins the Devils have a strong chance of returning to the post-season.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins: If Sidney Crosby stays healthy a six seed finish in the Eastern Conference is easily attainable and even "disappointing" for the Penguins. This may also boil down to whether or not Evgeni Malkin returns to the Penguins from the KHL, should the season start.

7. Boston Bruins: Although it appears that Tim Thomas did not need to announce a sabatical from the game for he 2012-13 season, if the season should start goaltender, Tuukka Rask is up for the challenge. With a defense lead by, big man, Zdeno Chara and  Dennis Seidenberg the Bruins will be a hard team to eliminate from playoff contention come March and April.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning: The eighth and final playoff spot will go to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is coming off an unbeliveable 60 goal season and Martin St. Louis had an impressive year as always. The Lightning season will come down to the play of goaltenders, Mathieu Garon and Anders Lindback, but I believe they will nab the final spot.

9. New York Islanders: The Islanders have been streaky and inconsistent over the past few seasons, but I believe this is the season where they begin their push to the playoffs; although they fall just short this is where it all begins. The Islanders' rebuild players such as Okposo, Bailey, and Hamonic are all starting to mature and this is the year that they all start to mesh. Add in a new home for Brad Boyes and the incredible John Tavares the Islanders will prove that in the coming years they will be a force in the Eastern Conference.

10. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres just missed the playoffs last season, by 3 points to be exact. However this season they will drop a little further behind as the Islanders and Tampa Bay surge to impressive seasons. They have a strong goaltender in Ryan Miller, but they lack the neccessarry fire power to break the competitive top eight.

11. Washington Capitals: After a season full of struggles and let downs the Caps made a push to secure the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. With the risk of losing Alexander Ovechkin to the KHL and the inconsistency of the rest of the team, Mike Green, the Capitals will find themselves fumbling and struggling and will end the season three spots shy of the playoffs.

12. Carolina Hurricanes: Will bringing Jordan Staal help his older brother Eric, yes. Will it happen immediately, no. The Staal brothers will eventually help bring the 'Canes back to the playoffs but it will take at least another season of restructuring and learning. Look for the Hurricanes to be very inconcsistent, looking phenomenal in some games while looking dreadful in others.

13. Winnipeg Jets: While the Jets continue to look good on paper, their struggles will continue for at least one more season. Adding Al Montoya may help, but they need to look to improve as a whole before focusing on making a push to the playoffs. 

14. Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs have potential, but much like the Islanders of late they have been inconsistent and are in a "rebuilding" phase. If James Reimer can prove to be a quality NHL goalie they may finish slightly better than 14th however they still lack the firepower to break the top 10.

15. Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens still lack the firepower and talent to win enough games to make the playoffs.