Puck Daddy - NHL

With all due respect to the good people of Stockholm and Prague, the NHL season begins today.

We didn't feel this sense of giddy euphoria last weekend; today, we're wearing a jersey at 9 a.m., eating hockey cereal (we went with Fruit Lupuls, rather than Don Cherry-o's) and listening to Def Leppard's "Hysteria" on a continuous loop in preparation for tonight's NHL Face-Off Rocks 2008 in Detroit.

Happy Hockey Christmas Morning, puckheads. As Def Lep once sang: "Love is like a bomb. Baby, c'mon get it on."

The season standings predictions for Puck Daddy and for Yahoo! Sports NHL editor Ross McKeon have been available on our season previews page, but without comment. We're presenting our predictions here with some explanation, including what we believe will be the Stanley Cup final. (Yes, the photo gives it away. Yes, you still are required to read the whole post.)

When you're done talking about how much these predictions stink, please use the comments to make your own prognostications for the 2008-09 season: Standings, playoff teams, Cup finalists and/or awards.

It's a great day for hockey.

Northeast Division

1 * Montreal Canadiens
2 * Boston Bruins
3 Ottawa Senators
4 Buffalo Sabres
5 Toronto Maple Leafs

Ottawa will not make the playoffs. The goaltending situation is a farce, but even if and when it's corrected I just believe they're going to lose the numbers game: Four teams from the Atlantic, two from the Southeast and a healthy Boston Bruins club that will strangle the offensive life out of every team it plays until it makes the postseason.

The "*" indicates that I believe this will be a playoff team, in case you haven't figured out the intricacies of standings predictions shorthand by now.

Atlantic Division

1 * Philadelphia Flyers
2 * Pittsburgh Penguins
3 * New Jersey Devils
4 * New York Rangers
5 New York Islanders

I believe these predictions were made before the Sergei Gonchar surgery, and I may have flip-flopped the Penguins and Devils because of that. But even with the limitations of their defensive corps, the Flyers impress the hell out of me up front and Martin Biron is in his prime right now. The Rangers appear to be passing the chemistry test, but they still can't put the puck in the net enough.

Southeast Division

1 * Washington Capitals
2 * Carolina Hurricanes
3 Tampa Bay Lightning
4 Florida Panthers
5 Atlanta Thrashers

Even after their European vacation, I'd still slot the Bolts as the No. 3 team in the Southeast. Too much talent up front. The Capitals are the favorites here for a reason, as they're one of the best-rounded lineups in the NHL ... provided Jose Theodore comes through as the starter.

The Carolina Hurricanes were two points off the division lead in an injury-plagued season, and should be back in the postseason by virtue of the points they'll snag from the Panthers and Thrashers.

Central Division

1 * Detroit Red Wings
2 * Chicago Blackhawks
3 Columbus Blue Jackets
4 Nashville Predators
5 St. Louis Blues

The Red Wings are like Madonna during the "Sex" book years: As sure a thing as you'll find. Some aren't ready to put over the Blackhawks because of their youth, but this team is ready to compete now and management will do what it takes to capitalize on the momentum the franchise has in the city.

My heart breaks for the Blue Jackets, who would be a playoff team in the East and still could be one in the West if the defense carries them. The fact that Rick Nash still doesn't have a No. 1 center to play with is a crime against the Hockey Gods.

Nashville will remain competitive, but will miss the cut. If St. Louis were a game of NHL 09, they'd have hit the reset button already.

Northwest Division

1 * Calgary Flames
2 * Edmonton Oilers
3 * Colorado Avalanche
4 Minnesota Wild
5 Vancouver Canucks

This is going to be one hell of a dogfight. The Flames get the nod because Miikka Kiprusoff will play a complete season rather than two pudgy months and several Vezina-worthy ones. They've got the defense, and they've got arguably the best captain in hockey leading the way.

Edmonton has to prove that there's no sophomore slumps for the kids. I believe they will. They're too deep not to make the postseason.

Colorado may be a surprise, but its goaltending is better than most fans give it credit for being and, when healthy, this could be a dynamic offensive team should Coach Granato let them play.

The Wild take a step back, which should make those Marian Gaborik contract negotiations fun. The Canucks still have a $20 million offer out to Mats Sundin.

Pacific Division

1 * Anaheim Ducks
2 * Dallas Stars
3 * San Jose Sharks
4 Phoenix Coyotes
5 Los Angeles Kings

While not encouraged by the changes on defense, the fact that Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne will spend a full season in Anaheim is enough to elevate this team to the top of the division.

Dallas is a glamour pick right now, and rightfully so. Deep at the forward slot, steady in goal and well-coached. They'll be a contender.

Something completely underestimated in the Ron Wilson departure from San Jose: The fact that not every coach can get you 187 wins over four full regular seasons. The Sharks will be contenders, but they won't have the same kind of success before the playoffs as they've had. But hey, maybe they'll be better in the postseason, sans Ronnie.

The Coyotes and Kings just aren't ready to take the next step, despite some positive signs. If one of them is the sleeper, it might actually be the Kings.

Finalists

I have the Montreal Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings in the finals. Dallas was tempting. But the Red Wings still have that amazing balance of veteran savvy, offensive weaponry and systematic defense.

Montreal, on the other hand, is putting its entire season in the hands of a sophomore goalie. Maybe I'm a believer in Jesus Price. Maybe I'm bamboozled by all the centennial fanfare surrounding the team. Maybe I'm still hoping Sundin ends up there to cement them as the favorites.

Whatever the case, the Montreal Canadiens are my pick to win the Stanley Cup this season.

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