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Ranking the NHL conferences for 2012-13 season; Penguins and Blues as champs?

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God bless The Hockey News for attempting to handicap the 2012-13 NHL season, given (a) that we don't know if there's going to be a 2012-13 NHL season and (b) the number of game-changing mysteries yet to be resolved, like Shane Doan's free agency and Roberto Luongo's employer for next season.

But THN has a preview to publish and made its best guesses. Here's the complete set of predictions for their Eastern and Western Conference previews, with justifications. And here are the Cliff's Notes for the East:

15. New York Islanders
14. Winnipeg Jets
13. Montreal Canadiens
12. Toronto Maple Leafs
11. New Jersey Devils
10. Florida Panthers
9. Carolina Hurricanes
8. Ottawa Senators
7. Buffalo Sabres
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
5. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New York Rangers
3. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
1. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Carolina Hurricanes are a playoff team. I'm not entirely sure if it will be at the expense of or in addition to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals in the Southeast, but the Staals, Skinner and Ruutu in the top six with Cam Ward between the pipes and a full offseason for Kirk Muller makes me a believer.

The rest of the also-rans seem about right, even if it stings as a New Jersey Devils fan. Would 12th place mean the end of Brian Burke in Toronto, mercifully?

As for the West …

Here's The Hockey News's valentine to the great people of St. Louis:

15. Columbus Blue Jackets
14. Colorado Avalanche
13. Edmonton Oilers
12. Calgary Flames
11. Anaheim Ducks
10. Phoenix Coyotes
9. Dallas Stars
8. Nashville Predators
7. Detroit Red Wings
6. San Jose Sharks
5. Minnesota Wild
4. Chicago Blackhawks
3. Los Angeles Kings
2. Vancouver Canucks
1. St. Louis Blues

Ken Hitchcock had a .703 winning percentage after taking over the Blues, and this prediction is not all that outlandish. The division winners seem spot on.

But the Minnesota Wild, not only as a playoff team but a No. 5 seed? First, it's ahead of schedule — they're on the right track, but it's a long way to the station. Second, this seems more like an indictment of the Northwest Division, which is going to be a tad better than THN is giving it credit. Which is to say that the Avalanche are not a [expletive] No. 14 seed.

THN on the Wild:

Why: One thing we know for sure is Minnesota's offense can't get any more anemic after hitting an NHL 10-year low last season. The free agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter will see to that. Having a stronger cast will surely squeeze more out of Dany Heatley. The Wild added a ton of grit as well (Zenon Konopka, Jake Dowell) and rookies Mikael Granlund and possibly Jason Zucker and Charlie Coyle provide skill and gumption. Minnesota effectively bolstered all four lines by adding five or six new faces and re-distributing others where they're better suited. There's still a question mark or two on the blueline.

Or two? How about four?

And the Edmonton Oilers are out of the money … again?

What say you on these?

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