Penguins, Rangers, Capitals, Islanders, Devils, Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Flyers
Bruins, Senators, Red Wings, Canadiens*, Maple Leafs*, Lightning, Panthers, Sabres
Blackhawks, Blues, Jets, Wild, Stars, Predators, Avalanche
Kings, Ducks, Canucks, Sharks*, Oilers*, Coyotes, Flames
The way the NHL's new alignment works is that the top three in each division make the playoffs, with two more wild cards coming from anywhere in the conference to fill out the postseason bracket. Also, the conferences aren't being ranked 1-8 based on record, there are intra-divisional playoff matchups to survive first. So for simplicity's sake, here's what I think the Stanley Cup playoff bracket will end up looking like….
Penguins vs. Maple Leafs
Rangers vs. Capitals
Bruins vs. Canadiens
Senators vs. Red Wings
Blackhawks vs. Oilers
Blues vs. Jets
Kings vs. Sharks
Ducks vs. Canucks
The winners all move on to face each other in that order, so there's no more reshuffling of seeds after a round, either. So if, for instance, the Blackhawks and Blues end up posting the two highest point totals in the NHL, they'll be facing each other only in the second round, rather than a conference finals.
It's going to a weird season given these new divisions, some new rivalries created, some old rivalries (Red Wings against three of their old Original Six foes!) renewed and basically, the Eastern Conference teams getting hosed since there are 16 of them fighting for eight playoff spots while the Western Conference has 14 teams fighting for eight spots. Not that I'm suggesting the NHL expand when they still have a number of teams in shaky markets, but just for conference balance alone, they should get the Seattle Hipchecksters and the Albuquerque Heisenbergs up and running as soon as possible.
I'm down on my Leafs and frankly, I kind of doubt that they'll have another season of everything going right. I'm picking them to make the playoffs solely based on heart and nostalgia, rather than logic. Maybe the hockey gods had enough fun screwing the Leafs in Game Seven last year and are now content to just let them play. If nothing else, at least the Leafs will get some bad karma in the form of Dallas Eakins finally getting the Oilers to gel while Randy "Two Goons" Carlyle continues misusing young talent. I've got an old couch in my garage that apparently I could've traded for Joe Colborne last week except the Flames beat me to it.
From that aforementioned Stanley Cup bracket, I'm going to be as uncreative as possible and predict a Blackhawks vs. Penguins final, with Chicago taking down its second straight Cup and third in five seasons. The Hawks' young core is the envy of the league and they might have two or three more championships in them before they're through.