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Predicting the Unpredictable: A forecast for the 2013 NHL season

One hundred thirteen days. Two thousand seven hundred twelve hours. One hundred thousand seven hundred twenty minutes. Nine million seven hundred sixty-three thousand two hundred seconds.

However you want to break it down, I think we'll all agree we've waited way too long for the 2012-13 hockey season to begin.

After the NHL lockout put puck drop on ice for more than three months, it's all over now, and I felt I would be remiss in my duties as Buffalo Wins' self-proclaimed hockey guru if I missed an opportunity to predict what will happen over this unpredictable 48-game season.

We’ve waited long enough. Let’s get right to the good stuff.

Eastern Conference:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (70 pts) Last season: 51-25-6, fourth place

Jordan Staal’s departure will have little, if any, effect on the league’s best team. Sidney Crosby’s healthy. Evgeni Malkin is, well, Evgeni Malkin. I do think Marc-Andre Fluery is capable of putting last season behind him, and having Tomas Vokoun as a safety net will only help.

Breakout player: Tyler Kennedy // MVP: Sidney Crosby

2. Boston Bruins (66 pts) Last season: 49-29-4, second place

Yes, I do think less of myself for putting the Bruins in the No. 2 slot. Yes, I am heading to the shower as soon as I finish this paragraph. But, as a current J-school go-er, I suppose at some point you have to do this thing called objectivity or something like that. Fact is, there’s no way in the world any team will ever miss anything Tim Thomas. It’s the system, people. Tuuka will be just fine (regrettably).

Breakout player: Tuuka Rask // MVP: Tyler Seguin

3. Tampa Bay Lightning (58 pts) Last season: 38-36-8, 10th place

Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are old, but the torch has been passed. They’re practically ancillary units at this point. Sami Salo is one of the league’s most underrated defensemen, and his addition will help the rest of the blueline is coming along. Corey Conacher is a good local story. As long as Steven Stamkos continues being Steven Stamkos, Tampa will surprise many in the wide-open Southeast.

Breakout player: Victor Hedman // MVP: Steven Stamkos

4. New York Rangers (64 pts) Last season: 51-24-7, first place

You’ll see what I really think of the Rangers if you scroll past all this garbage to the bottom of this post. They wore themselves out after a long season of hipchecks and blocked rubber. During this 48-game season, will anyone be better when it matters most? Oh, yeah. And they added Rick Nash. Boy, all the Nash drama looks like peanuts now compared to that lockout mess.

Breakout player: Chris Krieder // MVP: Henrik Lundqvist

5. Philadelphia Flyers (60 pts) Last season: 47-26-9, fifth place

I debated putting the Flyers lower, but then I remembered what they did to Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year. The loss of James van Riemsdyk will hurt just as much as the addition of Luke Schenn will help… which means it won’t. As far as I’m concerned, this team is as loaded at forward as any. As long as Bryz is slightly above average — and sane — they’ll always be right there.

Breakout player: Sean Couturier // MVP: Claude Giroux

6. Buffalo Sabres (55 pts) Last season: 39-32-11, ninth place

You look through the roster and there are a ton of “ifs”. You’ll get more of my thoughts on the Sabres in tomorrow’s season preview, but let’s not forget that everyone’s preseason rankings last season had this team winning the Northeast. They certainly won’t do that. But, with some new faces and a clean bill of health, I don’t think teams will be lining up to play this team come playoff time.

Breakout player: Cody Hodgson // MVP: Ryan Miller

7. Washington Capitals (54 pts) Last season: 42-32-8, seventh place

There’s a pretty good chance I have them too low, but with how things have gone the past couple years, I can’t justify giving them much more than this. Ovie has all the talent in the world. We all know that. The question is whether he — and rookie coach Adam Oates — are capable of leading a Capitals team oozing with talent.

Breakout player: Braden Holtby // MVP: Nicklas Backstrom

8. Carolina Hurricanes (51 pts) Last season: 33-33-16, 12th place

They still can’t play defense, but I do think pairing Jordan Staal with his brother and adding Alexander Semin will give the ‘Cane enough pop to get by with a mediocre d-corps. Plus, It’s hard to imagine Eric Staal having another dreadful season last last year, and I’m certain Jeff Skinner is capable of putting his sophomore slump behind him.

Breakout player: Ryan Murphy // MVP: Eric Staal

9. Ottawa Senators (50 pts) Last season: 41-31-10, eighth place

Erik Karlsson takes a step back and Jason Spezza won’t be capable of doing everything himself for the second year in a row. I think we saw the Sens’ true colors toward the end of last season. Milan Michalik? Please. They just miss out on the dance.

Breakout player: Kyle Turris // MVP: Jason Spezza

10. New Jersey Devils (48 pts) Last season: 48-28-6, sixth place

I really feel for the Devils, who essentially lost their heart and soul when Zach Parise left them at the altar and returned home to Minnesota. I wouldn’t want Ilya Kovalchuk leading my team. You just get the sense that the Devils’ relevance will die as soon as Marty Brodeur hangs ‘em up, which might be 48 games from now.

Breakout player: Adam Larsson // MVP: Travis Zajac

11. Toronto Maple Leafs (46 pts) Last season: 35-37-10, 13th place

If there’s one punch line in the world that will never get too old, it’s the Leafs and their non-existent playoff appearances.

Breakout player: Joe Colborne // MVP: Phil Kessel

12. New York Islanders (43 pts) Last season: 34-37-11, 14th place

Sometimes I get the sense that the Isles are set to turn a corner, then stuff like this happens and I remember who their owner is. Sad. At least now they get a spiffy new arena to look bad in.

Breakout player: Ryan Strome // MVP: John Tavares

13. Florida Panthers (42 pts) Last season: 38-26-18, third place

How could it get more fluky than 18 overtime losses? 18! I give the players on this team a ton of credit, though. Seriously, how long before the Panthers are in Quebec City or Seattle?

Breakout player: Jonathan Huberdeau // MVP: Stephen Weiss

14. Montreal Canadiens (39 pts) Last season: 31-35-16, 15th place

What better way to begin a rebuilding project than to draft Alex Galchenyuk? Kid’s going to be a stud. The Canadiens, however, will need more than just Carey Price and Max Pacioretty to get by.

Breakout player: Jarred Tinordi // MVP: Carey Price

15. Winnipeg Jets (38 pts) Last season: 37-35-10, 11th place

When you give Ondrej Pavelec $20 million, you know you’re going nowhere fast. Solid core of young guys to build around in Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian, just not enough. I also think the crazy travel schedule takes a toll on them.

Breakout player: Mark Scheifele // MVP: Andrew Ladd 

Western Conference:

1. Los Angeles Kings (65 pts) Last season: 40-27-13, eighth place

Anze Kopitar. Dustin Brown. Drew Doughty. Jonathan Quick. Mike Richards. Jeff Carter. Amazing how this team became an “underdog” last postseason.

Breakout player: Slava Voynov // MVP: Dustin Brown

2. Chicago Blackhawks (64 pts) Last season: 45-26-11, sixth place

The Blackhawks severely underachieved last season. With Jonathan Toews presumably healthy, I think Patrick Kane has a monster season and the defense pulls itself together.

Breakout player: Andrew Shaw // MVP: Jonathan Toews

3. Vancouver Canucks (62 pts) Last season: 51-22-9, first place

The window is beginning to close on the Canucks and their shot at a Stanley Cup, but they’ll still have a strong season and be very much in contention come playoff time. Maybe a short season and a No. 3 seed is just what they need.

Breakout player: Corey Schneider // MVP: Henrik Sedin

4. St. Louis Blues (59 pts) Last season: 49-22-11, second place

There’s no way this team was a fluke last year. Of course Alex Pietrangelo is the name that pops into your head, but the most underrated name in the NHL is David Backes. He’s as good a captain as there is, and that Hitchcock defense looks impenetrable once again.

Breakout player: David Perron // MVP: David Backes

5. Minnesota Wild (57 pts) Last season: 35-36-11, 12th place

With the offseason they had, I think some might say a No. 5 seed isn’t selling them short. I was thinking it might be giving the Wild too much credit. Zach Parise and Mikku Koivu will put up a ton of points together, but even with them and Ryan Suter, I do think there are some holes here. Lots to look forward to in the State of Hockey, though.

Breakout player: Mikael Granlund // MVP: Mikku Koivu

6. San Jose Sharks (54 pts) Last season: 43-29-10, seventh place

Talk about a closing window for the Canucks, if the Sharks don’t put together a strong run this season, they may as well kiss their chances at a Cup goodbye for a while. You’ve got to wonder how much Joe Thornton has left in the tank.

Breakout player: Jason Demers // MVP: Joe Pavelski

7. Detroit Red Wings (50 pts) Last season: 48-28-6, fifth place

The Red Wings are by far the toughest team to figure out. Half of me is very, very worried about that defense without Nick Lidstrom. The other half wonders how this team could fail with Big Z wearing the “C”. Regardless, I have a feeling Jimmy Howard will look pretty human this season and, against my better judgment, they sneak in because, well, they’re the Red Wings.

Breakout player: Damien Brunner // MVP: Henrik Zetterberg

8. Dallas Stars (49 pts) Last season: 42-35-5, 10th place

This is the point where I consider the next four teams dead even heading into this season. I gave the Stars the edge because I like the mix of vets and young talent on the roster. Somehow the 40-plus years of NHL experience between Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney will put the Stars just over the top.

Breakout player: Radek Faksa // MVP: Jamie Benn

9. Phoenix Coyotes (49 pts) Last season: 42-27-13, third place

Like the Panthers, I can’t give these guys enough credit, playing through everything they do. Having no idea where their homes will be long-term, the Coyotes remain competitive year after year the old-fashioned way, led by class act Shane Doan.

Breakout player: Oliver Ekman-Larsson // MVP: Shane Doan

10. Anaheim Ducks (48 pts) Last season: 34-36-12, 13th place

I do think the Ducks are a much better team than they showed last year, and I do think Bruce Boudreau will encourage more offense. That top line of Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan should definitely rebound. Let’s just hope for the sake of the Sabres’ trade deadline they don’t rebound enough.

Breakout player: Cam Fowler // MVP: Ryan Getzlaf

11. Nashville Predators (48 pts) Last season: 48-26-8, fourth place

It seems obvious Shea Weber wishes he were in Philly right about now. That’ll hurt the Preds the most this season. The big question is who’s going to score for this team? They won’t do it nearly enough to offset the loss of Suter.

Breakout player: Ryan Ellis // MVP: Shea Weber

12. Edmonton Oilers (47 pts) Last season: 32-40-10, 14th place

After each season the Oilers draft No. 1, it seems everyone says, “Man, imagine how good this team will be in a few years.” Well, it’s been a few years. And while there are still some piece that need to be put into place, we’re beginning to see the progress. At least they’ll be fun to watch.

Breakout player: Justin Schultz // MVP: Jordan Eberle

13. Colorado Avalanche (46 pts) Last season: 41-35-6, 11th place

The Avs are such a strange team to gauge. Remember a few seasons ago when they looked to be on the rise, only to fall flat on their faces the next season? I don’t know what it is, but something has to change there. Is there a more overrated “prospect” than Matt Duchene after last year?

Breakout player: Semyon Varlamov // MVP: Gabriel Landeskog

14. Calgary Flames (41 pts) Last season: 37-29-16, ninth place

The offseason moves of Jay Feaster are just begging to blow up in his face. And they will. Let’s just hope Jerome Iginla gets out in time before it comes crashing down in Calgary.

Breakout player: Sven Baertschi // MVP: Jerome Iginla

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (36 pts) Last season: 29-46-7, 15th place

It was cool to hear a ton of fans showed up for the team’s first practice on Sunday. I’ve never truly understood why Columbus can’t be a better hockey market. Then again, that probably starts with a winning season, which doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.

Breakout player: Ryan Johansen // MVP: Jack Johnson

Way-too-Early Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions:

First round:

1 PIT over 8 CAR; 2 BOS over 7 WSH; 6 BUF over 3 TB; 4 NYR over 5 PHI
1 LA over 8 DAL; 2 CHI over 7 DET; 3 VAN over 6 SJ; 4 STL over 5 MIN

Second Round:

1 PIT over 6 BUF; 4 NYR over 2 BOS
4 STL over 1 LA; 3 VAN over 2 CHI

Western Conference Champs: Vancouver Canucks in seven

Eastern Conference Champs: New York Rangers in six

Stanley Cup Champs: New York Rangers in six

Don't agree? Leave your opinion in the comment box or let Brandon hear about it on Twitter @B_Schlag.

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