In a severely shortened season, health will be more important than ever in the quest to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup. Look for the Blueshirts and Blue Notes to tangle in the final games for hockey's Holy Grail.
The Rangers, with newly acquired Rick Nash ready to ride shotgun for Brad Richards, have to be considered the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. With Henrik Lundqvist in goal, there could be no stopping the Broadway Blueshirts.
The Western Conference is up for grabs, especially after the way things shook out last season with Los Angeles knocking off No. 1 seed Vancouver en route to the Kings' first Cup. Vancouver certainly has the juice during the regular season, but St. Louis has the goaltending talent necessary to make a playoff push.
Repeating the feat is very difficult in the NHL, but the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings have nearly their entire roster intact from the team that skated to the 2012 title and will emerge from the Western Conference.
Once healthy, the Kings will be able to roll four lines, play solid defense and have a goaltender who can handle the pressure in Jonathan Quick.
The Rangers already had plenty of offensive talent in Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan and have added Rick Nash. The hulking winger figures to blossom now that he has escaped the NHL dungeon in Columbus. Add in a strong blueline and arguably the top goaltender in the NHL in Henrik Lundqvist and that will carry the Rangers out of the Eastern Conference.
In case anyone forgot, about seven months ago the eighth-seeded Kings and sixth-seeded Devils were surprising Stanley Cup finalists. Neither will repeat, especially with the financially strapped Devils letting captain Zach Parise skate off to the Wild and with goalie Martin Brodeur collecting Social Security instead of pucks.
The Canucks, sans injured Ryan Kesler, seem to prefer winning the Presidents Trophy instead of the postseason goblet. They still have enough firepower to overthrow the Kings.
The Penguins had 108 points with Sidney Crosby playing only 22 games. Throw in Pittsburgh's tissue-soft travel schedule in the Eastern Conference and they will rule.
If Crosby is healthy, no one will be able to compete with the Penguins'arsenal. They range from Crosby and Malkin to James Neal (40 goals last season) to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (42 wins) to solid defenseman Kris Letang.
It isn't as clear-cut in the Western Conference but the Canucks still occupy a sweet spot, having come within one game of winning the Cup two years ago. The window is starting to close for the tirelessly efficient Sedin twins and the supporting cast. The long-running saga surrounding goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to be resolved shortly.