My predictions of where each club will finish in the standings of each division are just that: predictions. If you disagree with my assessments, no problem, write in and tell me why and I'll post your comments in "The Fans Speak Out".

But please, folks, if I rank your team lower than you expect, don't get wrapped around the axle about it, ok? Insult-laden e-mails will be treated with howls of derisive laughter prior to my hitting the "delete" key, as those comments won't see the light of day on this site!

Remember, this is based on what the rosters looked like as of late September, 2006. Injuries, trades and call-ups will obviously have some impact on their outcome.



1. NEW YORK RANGERS. Expect another standout season by superstar forward Jaromir Jagr once he shakes off his nagging shoulder injury. Off-season acquisition Brendan Shanahan and promising sophomore forward Petr Prucha could help Jagr carry the offensive load. The addition of Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen could bolster the Blueshirts' overall defensive game. Young star goalie Henrik Lundqvist should pick up from last season's outstanding performance.

2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS. Plenty of depth up front should provide the Flyers with a potent offensive attack. Expect improved performances from Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Getting Peter Forsberg back healthy will provide a significant offensive boost. Goaltending battle between Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki should only benefit Flyers. Concerns about speed and health of blueline could be a factor as season progresses.

3. NEW JERSEY DEVILS. Veterans like goalie Martin Brodeur, defenceman Brian Rafalski and forwards Patrik Elias will continue to make the Devils a competitive club. Expect youngster Zach Parise and David Hale to bolster the veterans. Salary cap problems, however, could force GM Lou Lamoriello to cut into his club's depth to get under the cap before the start of the season, which could have a serious impact upon the Devils roster and their playoff hopes.

4. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS. As young superstar Sidney Crosby goes, so goes the Penguins, but he should have more help this season. Promising rookie Evgeny Malkin and sophomore Colby Armstrong should help Crosby carry the offensive load. Expect better seasons from veteran blueliner Sergei Gonchar and forward Ryan Malone. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be expected to step up his performance. Lack of skilled defensive depth should still be a problem for the Pens but the club should improve over last season.

5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS. Head coach Ted Nolan will have his hands full getting this roster to significantly improve over last season's poor showing. If he can motivate Alexei Yashin and Miroslav Satan to better performances the Isles could finish higher than this. If they don't, Mike York, Jason Blake and Trent Hunter will have to step it up. Addition of veteran blueliners like Sean Hill, Tom Poti and Brendan Witt may bolster the defence. Rick DiPietro will have to prove himself among the league's elite goalie to give the Isles a legitimate playoff shot.


1. BUFFALO SABRES. Despite losing a few key players to free agency the Sabres still retained most of its core players. Overall team speed and aggresive checking style should continue to make them a difficult opponent and a Cup contender. Plenty of depth in good young players throughout the roster who have yet to reach their prime. Expect big seasons from Daniel Briere, Maxim Afinogenov, Ryan Miller and Henrik Tallinder. The Sabres should not only lead the division but also challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.

2. OTTAWA SENATORS. First line of Heatley-Alfredsson-Spezza could be one of the league's best. Considerable blueline depth led by Wade Redden, Chris Phillips and sophomore Andrej Meszaros. Goaltenders Ray Emery and Martin Gerber should battle it out for starter's role but remains to be seen if they can carry Senators deep in the playoffs. There is some concern about left wing depth but that could be addressed from within or via trade later in the season.

3. MONTREAL CANADIENS. Speed to burn with this year's Habs. Addition of Sergei Samsonov and Mike Johnson should provide valuable veteran forward depth. Promising sophomores like Chris Higgins and Tomas Plekanec could also bolster offensive attack. Average blueline corps but should play hard for new head coach Guy Carbonneau. Concern over lack of sizeable depth at center. Where they finish could ultimately depend on goalie Cristobal Huet repeating last season's heroics.

4. BOSTON BRUINS. First line of Bergeron-Sturm-Boyes should provide considerable offensive punch. Off-season additions of Zdeno Chara and Paul Mara considerably bolsters blueline depth and effectiveness. Concerns over Marc Savard effectively centre the second line and Tim Thomas and Hannu Toivonen carrying the goaltending duties throughout the season could determine where the B's finish in this year's standings.

5. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS. New head coach Paul Maurice will give plenty of playing time to promising youngsters like Kyle Wellwood and Alex Steen. Blueline will have plenty of offensive punch from Bryan McCabe, Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina but appear to be lacking strong defensive presence. Concerns about forward depth, especially on Mats Sundin's line. New starting goalie Andrew Raycroft will have to return to his 2004 Calder winning form for Leafs to have a serious shot at the playoffs.


1. CAROLINA HURRICANES. Early injuries to some key players and the potential for a "Stanley Cup hangover" could affect Hurricanes early, but there's still plenty of talent on this roster to overcome these problems. Eric Staal is a young superstar on the rise and will be assisted by Erik Cole, Justin Williams and Ray Whitney. Smythe winning goalie Cam Ward should carry his playoff performance into this season. Blueline walloped by injury early but should recover by mid-season.

2. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING. Bolstered goaltending depth in Marc Denis and promising Johan Holmqvist. Blueline corps still average bunch but will be expected to work hard under head coach John Tortorella. Top three forwards Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis should carry offence but there are concerns about the forward depth beyond those three. The Bolts will have to work harder this season than last to comfortably make the post-season.

3. FLORIDA PANTHERS. Team captain Olli Jokinen should get plenty of help from off-season acquisition Todd Bertuzzi and promising youngsters Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. Blueline corps should significantly improve as Jay Bouwmeester and Mike Van Ryn continue to mature and with addition of veteran Ruslan Salei. Playoff hopes could rest on the goaltending tandem of Alex Auld and the aging Ed Belfour.

4. ATLANTA THRASHERS. Ilya Kovalchuk and Marian Hossa will provide the Thrashers with lethal offensive punch but there isn't much depth beyond them. Legitimate concerns over the absence of a skilled playmaking centre. No-name blueline corps will have its work cut out again this season. Playoff hopes could rest upon goaltender Kari Lehtonen, who'll need to play an entire season healthy for the Thrashers to have a real chance.

5. WASHINGTON CAPITALS. The young movement continues in Washington, centered around superstar Alexander Ovechkin, who should get some offensive help from Alexander Semin and newly-acquired Richard Zednik. Caps still lack experienced depth throughout the roster except in goal, where Olaf Kolzig and Brent Johnson will continue to see lots of work this season. The Caps should be better than last season but still has a long way to go before it competes for a playoff berth.



1. NASHVILLE PREDATORS. Off-season additions of Jason Arnott and JP Dumont will join Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan to provide more experienced scoring depth up front. Under-rated blueline corps among the best in the NHL. Well-coached by long-time bench boss Barry Trotz. Only true area of concern between the pipes, where long-time starter Tomas Vokoun is coming back from a blood condition that knocked him out of last year's playoffs. If he's back at full health, the Preds are in excellent shape.

2. DETROIT RED WINGS. Concerns over retirement of Steve Yzerman and departure of Brendan Shanahan unfairly overshadowing the fact this is still a talented team. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will power the offence, the checking lines are still manned by warhorses like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby and the blueline remains anchored by Norris winner Niklas Lidstrom. Potential problem area is in goal, where the Wings hopes rest on an aging, injury-prone Dominik Hasek.

3. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS. Rick Nash led the Jackets to one of the better records in the NHL in the second half of last season, and if he stays healthy throughout the season could carry this team toward playoff contention. The additions of Fredrik Modin and Anson Carter should bolster their scoring depth, whilst promising Gilbert Brule could be a factor. The defence corps is average at best and it remains to be seen how Pascal Leclaire holds up in his first full season as the Jackets starting goalie.

4. ST. LOUIS BLUES. Nowhere to go but up for the Blues after a horrific 2005-06 season. Keith Tkachuk is coming into this season in better shape and with newly acquired veteran linemates Doug Weight and Bill Guerin should power the Blues offensive attack. The blueline corps should be bolstered by the addition of Jay McKee and look for Eric Brewer and Barrett Jackman to have strong seasons. As with all the teams in this division, goaltending is a question mark as Curtis Sanford and Manny Legace split the duties.

5. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS. Former Senators Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski and former Flyer Michal Handzus should go a long way to improving the 'Hawks depth. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin should bounce back from his forgettable '05-'06 debut as a 'Hawk. Promising Tuomo Ruutu could be a big offensive factor if he can avoid the injury bug. A team with lots of promising young players, but youth also make mistakes as they develop, especially on defence, and that could hold back the 'Hawks this season.


1. SAN JOSE SHARKS. Expect the lethal offensive punch of Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo to pick up where they left off last season. Strong second line centered by Patrick Marleau. Off-season acquisitions of forwards Mark Bell, Mike Grier and Curtis Brown could help make the Sharks one of the league's deepest teams at forward. Deep in goal with Evgeny Nabokov and Vesa Toskala with Nolan Schaefer knocking on the door. Young blueliners Matt Carle and Christian Ehrhoff showed amazing poise in last year's playoffs. All around depth have the Sharks poised to challenge for the Western Conference crown.

2. ANAHEIM DUCKS. Off-season addition of Chris Pronger to play alongside Scott Niedermayer give the Ducks an all-star blueline pairing. Rejuvenated Teemu Selanne should have another strong campaign. Promising youngsters Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf should step up this season. Goaltending duel between JS Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov should only benefit the Ducks. Expect the Ducks to jockey for position with the Sharks in the division and the conference throughout the season.

3. DALLAS STARS. A veteran club that at times showed its age last season but still not one to be taken lightly. Goalie Marty Turco can be relied upon for strong regular season netminding. Plenty of experience blueline depth, although there is concern about its ability to adapt to speedy forwards under the new rules. Modano-Lehtinen-Morrow will carry the bulk of the offensive load this season as it may be expecting too much of a fragile Eric Lindros to play through most of the season on the second line.

4. PHOENIX COYOTES. The addition of Ed Jovanovski should provide a welcome boost to the blueline corps, and look for young Keith Ballard to move up the depth chart. If Ladislav Nagy can stay healthy and Jeremy Roenick rediscover his scoring touch the 'Yotes could make some offensive noise this season. While David LeNeveu is being touted as the Coyotes goalie of the future, this season's hopes will once again rest on an aging Curtis Joseph. If "CuJo" can bounce back from an inconsistent '05-'06 campaign, the Coyotes might challenge for one of the final playoff berths in the Conference.

5. LOS ANGELES KINGS. The rebuilding has begun in LA. New GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Marc Crawford have their work cut out for them with a fragile Kings team that has been walloped by injuries and inconsistency in recent years. Veteran Dan Cloutier should provide stability in goal, while Rob Blake's return will further bolster an already solid Kings blueline. Offence, however, is a question mark this season, as the Kings look for improvement from Alexander Frolov and Mike Cammalleri. Without it, the Kings could find goals tough to come by.


1. CALGARY FLAMES. With Vezina winner Mikka Kiprusoff and arguably the best blueline corps in the NHL, the Flames should once again be the best defensive team in the league. Adding Alex Tanguay to Jarome Iginla's line could give the Flames a potentially lethal offensive one-two punch. Still, concerns remain about the offensive depth beyond the first line. The Flames are so good with their aggressive defensive game that they should win their division and challenge for the Conference crown, but lack of offensive depth could hamper their Cup aspirations.

2. VANCOUVER CANUCKS. The Canucks will be changing their strategy from an all-out offensive attack to a more defensive one. The off-season addition of Roberto Luongo finally gives the Canucks the superstar goalie they've lacked. Willie Mitchell's addition to the blueline should add more defensive strength. Expect the Sedins to carry over their strong offensive performances from last season while Markus Naslund should also continue to be the lynchpin of the offensive attack. It may take some time to adjust to the new style but the Canucks have the horses to return to the playoffs.

3. MINNESOTA WILD. Finally addressed their lack of offence by acquiring Pavol Demitra to play alongside young scoring star Marian Gaborik whilst Mark Parrish should provide offensive depth to the second line. Look for under-rated Pierre-Marc Bouchard to have a good season. Goaltending is solid with Manny Fernandez and promising Josh Harding. The blueline corps appears average but under head coach Jacques Lemaire should round into one of the better ones in the West. If the offence takes off as hoped the Wild could challenge for first or second in this division.

4. EDMONTON OILERS. Their offense is explosive and exciting. Expect big seasons from Ales Hemsky, Jarret Stoll, Shawn Horcoff and Raffi Torres. Should Dwayne Roloson shake off his playoff ending knee injury and return to form the Oilers won't have any worries between the pipes. The major problem area, however, is the blueline, where the losses of Chris Pronger, Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom will be felt. They'll need Marc-Andre Bergeron, Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene to step it up if they're to return to the playoffs.

5. COLORADO AVALANCHE. Governed by the "if" factor. "If" Jose Theodore can overcome a horrific '05-'06 season, "if" Tyler Arnason can finally prove to be an consistently effective NHL forward, "if" the blueline can adapt to the off-season departure of Rob Blake, "if" an aging Joe Sakic can still perform at a high level, "if" Marek Svatos doesn't succumb to a sophomore slump and "if" promising Wojtek Wolski can have a rookie season like Svatos did last season, the Avs could finish higher than this. For the first time, Avs fans will be seeing a team in transition, and against tougher, deeper opponents, could face a real struggle to make the playoffs.

 The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material copyrighted (C) 2006 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author is prohibited.