We're less than a week away from Opening Night of the 2006-7 NHL Regular Season, so it's time to start laying some predictions out there. Today's dose - your division winners:
Atlantic: I'll take the New York Rangers in
a typically tight race. They've made some nice additions, and if Henrik Lundqvist can avoid a sophomore slump, the Rangers should fare well.
Northeast: This division is a bit of a mess, as Ottawa and Buffalo have each lost key components from last season. Boston and Montreal have some encouraging new faces, but plenty of holes yet to fill. Toronto is a bit of a basket case, so not much different there. In the end, I'll go with the Ottawa Senators to repeat, based on their superior offensive production, which over the course of a regular season should gain them consistent points.
Southeast: I keep waiting for the Thrashers to make that great step forward, but until their defense steps up, it's just not going to happen. Signing Vitaly Vishnevski was a positive, but I like the Carolina Hurricanes to take this division again.
Central: The times, they are a changin' in the Central. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the Nashville Predators will take the division over Detroit, ending a run of five straight division titles for the Red Wings. Nashville has (for them) unprecedented offensive depth this year, and elite goaltender Tomas Vokoun has a clean bill of health after an unusual blod clot condition that popped up last spring.
Northwest: This one should belong to the Calgary Flames in a relative cakewalk - their elite defensive numbers will now be nicely balanced by the acquisition of Alex Tanguay, who is just entering the prime of his career.
Pacific: This may well be the toughest division of all, with Dallas, San Jose, and Anaheim all potentially contending for Western Conference supremacy. In a tight three-horse race, I'll take the Anaheim Ducks to win it. Dallas is going to miss Jason Arnott, and San Jose has to prove that last year's remarkable stretch run can carry over to a new season.
Next up - the individual awards...