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They were always competitive, always in the playoffs, and always a nightmare to play against. The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a place that many teams would envy, but they probably aren't too happy about it. I thought they'd be last in the conference, and they played for the Cup. Where The Odds Are In Your Favor

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But that era has ground to a serious halt, and now they are just a team that seems to be floundering and trying to figure out where they are going. The Sabres are saying they plan to be this year's Colorado, and they might even believe it. After finishing dead last in the NHL two years ago with just 48 points, the Avalanche jumped all the way into the playoffs last year. The difference, though, is that the Avs had won their conference three years before and were reasonably competitive the two years after that.

This is one of the easiest previews to write this year and every year. That's all you really need to say. They have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, they were tough in defeat last year, and they are icing basically the same team again.

It seems almost certain that no player has ever had more fun after winning the Cup than Alex Ovechkin did this year. And he deserves it after the career he has had and the year he put together last year. Now we have to figure out if there is going to be a Stanley Cup hangover for this team - or if they are still actually hungover after their celebrations, for that matter.

I was going to make Ottawa the first of Eastern Conference previews I wrote this morning. But after reading Twitter for a bit it seemed like I should hold off a few hours. And it's a good thing I did. Ottawa finally made the trade that has been rumored and anticipated for months. And the return is, to be kind, underwhelming - which is pretty much what we have come to expect from the franchise. They were a mess this morning, and they are a mess now. Some things never change - even when they change dramatically.

Here is the Islanders' offseason in a nutshell - they made big upgrades in the front office and behind the bench, had real hope, and then lost all of that hope when their superstar center, who they nurtured into the player he is since drafting him, bolted for Toronto. Now everyone is sad, the future is cloudy, and maybe playing home games in two different arenas will help. I should have given a spoiler alert before that, because you pretty much know everything you need to about the team right now.

But I won't leave you there, faithful readers. We will look into things in much closer detail. I'm here for you - unlike the fans in Barclays Center have been for the Islanders since their disastrous move there. This is the last of my Western Conference previews, and it's no coincidence that I put this off as long as I could.

Like everyone else, I grossly underestimated this team last year. I thought they'd be last in the conference, and they played for the Cup. You can't be more wrong than that. I feel like I have a little better sense of them this year, but then I thought I had them figured out last year, too.

So, I put this preview off so I didn't have to deal with it. Avoidance at the finest. What I am about to write about the Kings is very similar to what I have written about seven or eight other Western Conference teams - and that is what makes this conference both brutally-tough and compelling. The Kings were a playoff team last year, had a solid offseason and are fully capable of being a playoff team this year. But they are not of the caliber of top teams like Winnipeg or Nashville in the conference.

Instead, they are in a large group of teams that are playoff ready - far more teams than there are going to be spots. You know how as you get older there are things you see that remind you that time is passing, and you get a little sad for a moment?

This preview is one of those for me. For many years, writing a preview of the Leafs was an easy and repetitive process. Regardless of the expectations, all I had to say is that the Leafs suck because they always suck, that they were going to disappoint because they always do, and that they weren't making the playoffs.

Stop me if you have heard this before - the San Jose Sharks are a very good team that could easily win the Pacific but could almost as easily find themselves out of the playoffs entirely if their luck is bad because the Western Conference is so brutally deep this year. Rarely has we seen a conference so deep and, aside from the top two teams, so hard to differentiate. You can make a case for 12 different teams to be playoff teams, and you don't have to try too hard in any of the cases.

As I have written in almost every Western Conference preview, the West is a tight and tough as it has been in a long time, with 12 teams poised to be very legitimate playoff contenders and at least nine of those very hard to distinguish from each other in real ways. It is going to be a brutal dog fight, and some very good teams are going to be hitting the golf course much sooner than they would like.

Luckily, I guess, the Canucks don't need to worry about any of that. Growing up as a Canadian hockey fan, I hated the Montreal Canadiens because they were better than us my hometown team is the Calgary Flames. They were a proud franchise that used tradition as fuel, and they were always dangerous. They played in a holy temple, they revered their past heroes, and they won. The Ducks have been a stable conference fixture. They have made the playoffs six years in a row and 11 times in the last 13 years.

Over that time, they have won a Stanley Cup and played in the Western final three more times - most recently in Or maybe even the Montreal Canadiens. A total of 21 analysts, writers and editors made their predictions; 11 picked the Capitals to win it all, and nine picked the Blackhawks. Braden Holtby , Capitals. Duncan Keith , Blackhawks.

Alex Ovechkin , Capitals. Patrick Kane , Blackhawks. Nicklas Backstrom , Capitals. Capitals clinch the Presidents' Trophy, top seed. Carey Price , Canadiens. Jonathan Toews , Blackhawks. Panarin finishes Kane's cross-ice dish. Corey Crawford , Blackhawks. The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. Expert Picks Stanley Cup Playoffs staff predictions. Eastern Conference WSH vs.

Washington Capitals PIT vs. Pittsburgh Penguins MTL vs.