The NHL returns on Tuesday, this time for a full season, a new time-zone friendly realignment, smaller goalie pads and to add more intrigue, it's an Olympic year.
So on the eve of the 2013-14 season, here are some Monday morning musings as the Chicago Blackhawks get set to defend their Stanley Cup championship.
Playoff and Stanley Cup predictions are as much a part of the NHL pre-season as internal debates between coaches and managers on which players should make up the opening-day 23-player roster.
Elliotte Friedman, Mike Brophy and I offer our picks for the playoffs:
Brophy's Picks Wharnsby's Picks
Eastern Conference Eastern Conference
1. Washington 1. Pittsburgh
2. Pittsburgh 2. Boston
3. Toronto 3. Ottawa
4. Boston 4. Detroit
5. Ottawa 5. N.Y. Rangers
6. Detroit 6. Montreal
7. Philadelphia 7. Toronto
8. N.Y. Rangers 8. N.Y. Islanders
If I'd the guts: Tampa Bay If I'd the guts: New Jersey
Western Conference Western Conference
1. Los Angeles 1. Chicago
2. Chicago 2. Los Angeles
3. St. Louis 3. San Jose
4. Minnesota 4. St. Louis
5. San Jose 5. Vancouver
6. Vancouver 6. Dallas
7. Anaheim 7. Nashville
8. Edmonton 8. Edmonton
If I'd the guts: Colorado If I'd the guts: Phoenix
Stanley Cup champ: Kings Stanley Cup champ: Bruins
6. N.Y. Rangers
7. N.Y. Islanders
If I'd the guts: New Jersey
2. St. Louis
4. Los Angeles
5. San Jose
If I'd the guts: Colorado
Stanley Cup champ: Washington
Realignment playoff format
Making the playoffs will be primarily division-based, with the top three finishers in each division qualifying. The two additional playoff spots in each conference, designated as wild cards, will be awarded to the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference ranked on the basis of regular-season points and regardless of division.
Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The first-place finisher with the most regular-season points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest regular-season points and the first-place finisher with the second-most regular-season points in the conference matched against the wild-card team with the second-fewest regular-season points.
The playoffs will proceed as follows:
Stan the Hockey Night in Canada stats man (give him a follow on Twitter @smn013) informs us that, since 2004-05 cancelled season, the NHL has seen a minimum of three new teams in the playoffs a season and a maximum of six, like in the 2009-10 campaign.
Last year, Anaheim, Minnesota, Montreal, N.Y. Islanders and Toronto made it to the post-season after missing out in 2011-12.
Longest current playoff streak
Longest current playoff-less streak
Honey, I shrunk the goalie's pads
NHL goalie cop Kay Whitmore is packing a tape measure this season and, as a result, the NHL hopes goal scoring will increase.
It will be up to Whitmore, a former netminder whose real title is senior manager of hockey operations, to keep goalies honest.
In the summer, the league and the NHL Players' Association agreed on a formula in which pads now can extend 45 per cent of the way from the centre of the knee to his pelvis.
On average, Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and their goalkeeper counterparts will be wearing pads two inches shorter.
Will this result in more scoring? We'll see. The game received a boost when the standard of officiating was altered for the 2005-06 season. But in the last four seasons, there has been a decline in goal scoring.
Average goals per game
Speaking of goalies, each week the Monday musings will put together a goalie power rankings, leading up to Canadian executive director Steve Yzerman's decision in December on who will be Canada's three goalies at the Sochi Games.
This promises to be the most hotly debated position for Canada in the next three months. Here is our rankings entering the season:
Dallas (5-0-2), Chicago (4-0-2) and Washington (4-0-4) were the only teams that skated through the pre-season without a regulation loss. Boston also finished with a decent record at 6-1-0.
But how a teams does in preseason means absolutely nothing when it comes to Stanley Cup success 8½ months later. Here are the records of the last eight Stanley Cup champions:
Follow Tim Wharnsby on Twitter @WharnsbyCBC
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