Let’s be real for a second here, puckheads.  Aside from a few hardos making their brave stand against “the man” by cancelling their season tickets, no one’s gonna boycott this season.  No one’s gonna to ignore their team’s games.  No real fanatic is planning on downgrading to casual fandom.  We love NHL hockey too much, and like a scared, lost soul in a cult’s trailer park compound, we’re too thirsty not to drink Gary Bettman’s kool-aide.  So sure the league and player’s association put us through hell in 2012 and we can no longer stand on our soap boxes saying how under-appreciated the whole sport is, but the NHL is back baby.  So let go of the anger, hockey fans.  Let go of the shameful stigma that came on so hard this summer, because hockey will be there for you now.  When you have jack shit to do after a long ass day and want nothing more than to watch the world’s greatest game played at its highest level.  They may mock us for our Micky Mouse league.  They’ll cry “Nobody Cares!” as we celebrate our sport’s return.  But the haters don’t matter.  Hockey matters.  And on Saturday, we finally drop the puck on this long overdue season…

Welcome to the long overdue Barstool New York NHL Season Preview – where the season may be short, but the blog is fucking long as hell.  48 games is going to be an all out sprint-from-the-starting-line shitshow.  No room for error; no time to ramp up or find your groove.  Every stride matters twice as much and the race is half as long.  So in the spirit of not waiting any longer for hockey, let’s jump right in to the local team focus and my regular season predictions…

New York Rangers

Big Addition:  Rick Nash.  I’m sorry, were you expecting maybe Aaron Asham here?  No ifs, ands or buts about this signing – if he doesn’t prove to be the final piece to our Stanley Cup puzzle, then we should just ritualistically sacrifice Glen Sather in the middle of Times Square as an offering to the hockey gods.  If investing tons of cap space to bring in superstars like Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, AND Rick Nash doesn’t get us to at least game one of the finals, then there may be no hope beyond ceremonially killing our general manager and using his blood to repaint the redlines.  Cup or bust, Nashty.

Key Loss:  Brandon Prust.  Smoking hot girlfriend aside, we’ll certainly miss Prusty’s brand of hockey here in New York.  From day one after being acquired from Calgary, Prust proved that grit, determination, and a willingness to sacrifice the body is exactly what this Rangers team is made of.  Dude never backed down from a fight despite frequently being outsized, and for a guy whose hands have been damn near mangled by multiple punches into padded plastic, he sure could chip in important points in tight games.  He’s moved on to Montreal and is now technically an enemy, but we still wish him and his super-hot girlfriend the best of luck.  C’est la vie in the NHL…

Last Year’s Result: Conference Finalists (don’t remind me…)

This Year’s Prediction: Stanley Cup Winners

Reasoning:  Everyone under the sun is picking our Rangers this year and it’s not tough to figure out why.  A shortened season couldn’t possibly benefit any other team as much as it helps the Blueshirts.  For a group that ran the league before running out of gas about seventy games into the season, hearing that it’ll only take a total of 64 games to win the cup must be music to their ears.

Guy To Watch: Henrik Lundqvist.  Despite the love affair this city has with our sexed-out, Swedish, guitar-wielding goalie, the defending Vezina winner still has a lot left to prove in this league.  Like a quarterback looking to cement his reputation as one of the best (I was going to say “elite” there but I know how controversial that word can be), it takes winning a championship to prove you’re among the greats.  One cup under his watch ensures that no Ranger goalie will ever wear #30 again.  Is this his year?

New Jersey Devils

Big Addition:  Scott Stevens.  If this guy was suiting back up for the Devils at age 48, I’m willing to be there’d still be a shit load of NHL forwards scared for their brain’s safety, just practicing stick-handling through the neutral zone with their heads up hoping their not the next Eric Lindros or Paul Kariya.  Thankfully he’s only re-signed with New Jersey as an assistant coach, but I can see him making a positive impact on a Devils blueline that includes a young stud in Adam Larsson.  If anyone can show this defense how to get from being whooped in the finals to winning said finals, it’s #4.

Key Loss:  Zach Parise, duh.  The Minnesota man went back home in the summer, leaving the Devils without their young gun captain.  Can they really expect to replicate last year’s success without the 30+ goals and 30+ assists that Parise usually brings to the table?  Not likely, but at least they’ll have a good excuse when it comes time to rationalize why they didn’t even make the playoffs.  You had your ’94 revenge last spring, Devils fans, now wallow in the sadness that is your pathetic, Parise-less team!

Last Year’s Result: Eastern Conference Champions, unfortunately.

This Year’s Prediction: Won’t even make the playoffs.  9th, I’m betting.

Reasoning: Aside from losing Parise, the Devils are pretty much the same team that skated off the ice watching LA lift Lord Stanley.  But let’s remember that they came in 6th in the East, and will have to face a schedule heavy with games against Atlantic division rivals Philly, Pittsburgh and the Rangers.  Add in the fact that Toronto, Carolina, Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Montreal will all be making big pushes towards those bottom 3 spots and you have a recipe for letdown, Devils fans.  Sorry, but I see this team just missing the bubble thanks to a tough, Atlantic-heavy schedule.

Guy To Watch: Ilya Kovalchuk.  Can Kovy be the savior now that Zach is gone for good?  Will his apparent desire to stay in the KHL despite his massive contract hurt his already shaky reputation with Devils fans?  I don’t know exactly, but I do know one thing – this video of Ilya going all Kenny Wu during the KHL All-Star Game will forever live on in infamy.

This happened, people.  Never forget…

New York Islanders

Big Addition: Lubomir Visnovsky.  Traded from Anaheim to the Islanders this past summer, this 36 year old defenseman has literally done EVERYTHING he can to get out of playing in Nassau.  First he argued that a no-trade clause he once waived in order to leave Edmonton was actually still a part of his contract so he could veto the move.  No dice.  Then he basically gave Garth Snow the finger by refusing to come home from the KHL once the lockout ended, eventually skipping out on a booked flight in order to stay with his Russian team.  Despite all his efforts, the K and the N came together and decided to Lube was Long Island’s property, and yet three days later he STILL hasn’t shown up for training camp.  The team has suspended him indefinitely, which I guess is kind of like grounding a kid for successfully running away from home.  Jeez, first Nabokov then Visnovsky.  What won’t people do to get out of playing for the Islanders?

Key Loss: PA Parenteau.  The former Ranger cashed in big this past summer after putting up 18 goals and 49 assists with the Islanders last season.  Did he benefit from playing on a line with Tavares and Moulson?  Of course, but whoever fills his spot at right wing sure has a big hole to fill in terms of chemistry.  Any drop in production from that first line and it’s hello draft lottery for Long Island.

Last Year’s Result: 14th in the East, 27th in the league.

This Year’s Prediction: 15th in the East, 29th in the league.

Reasoning: With the shortened season’s schedule putting more emphasis on games within the division, these guys are the little fish in a big fucking shark tank.

Guy To Watch: John Tavares.  The Islanders may be a flat out mediocre hockey team, but they do have a verified star in John Tavares.  He’s like the East Coast’s Rick Nash, really.  So you Isles fans should enjoy watching this guy while you can because I can guarantee you that, if by the end of his new 6-year deal the Islanders aren’t real contenders, he’ll be inking with a real team before you can say “Brooklyn”.

Regular Season Standing Predictions
EAST
1) NYR
2) BOS
3) CAR
4) PIT
5) WAS
6) PHI
7) TB
8) TOR
9) NJD
10) MON
11) BUF
12) OTT
13) FLA
14) WPG
15) NYI

WEST
1) STL*
2) VAN
3) LA
4) SJ
5) MN
6) CHI
7) ANA
8) NSH
9) DET
10) PHO
11) DAL
12) COL
13) CAL
14) EDM
15) CLB

Hart – Stamkos (TBL)
Vezina – My heart says Lundqvist, but my head says Quick (LAK)
Norris – Weber (NSH)
Calder – Schultz (EDM)
Adams – Adam Oates (WAS)
Rocket – Filthy, Filthy Stamkos (TBL)
Ross – Malkin (PIT)

Alright, enough with the prediction guess work bullshit; let’s get this goddamn season started already.  Because the sooner they get playing, the sooner we can start planning the parade down the Canyon of Heroes.  This weekend is going to rule.  LGR.  @Osgood_StoolNYC