Random Thoughts: Hockey time once more

Cold weather is starting to seep into our collective consciences. Polo shirts, sandals and shorts are out. Sweaters, boots and flannels are in. And the National Hockey League's eight-month marathon is underway again.

Much of the off-season talk centered, as usual, around contracts. Especially the 15-year, $100-million monster the New Jersey Devils gave to Ilya Kovalchuk that was signed, voided, then signed again as most of the other franchises watched in horror.

Granted, talking about a player and a contract sure beat the Phoenix nightmare of a year ago, but given that the Coyotes turned into a big surprise in 2009-10, maybe having drama will serve the Devils well once the puck drops for real.

Division-by-division, here's how it lines up:

Northeast - Only now will we find out if Boston has healed from blowing that 3-0 playoff lead to Philadelphia. If the hangover doesn't persist, the Bruins should win the division. If it does, Buffalo, fully restored to its old-school jerseys (much to the relief of Sabres fans), can finish first behind Ryan Miller's expert goaltending. Montreal's stunning run to the final four isn't likely to repeat itself with Jaroslav Havak out of the picture. Toronto is rebuilding the right way, but contention is a year or two away. Ottawa has redefined itself, too, but can the Senators defend?

Atlantic - Really, it's a Keystone State narrative here. Philadelphia went from making the playoffs at the last moment to the epic Bruins comeback to getting within two wins of the Stanley Cup. The Flyers shouldn't be as schizophrenic this season, but Pittsburgh, with the Crosby-Malkin combo, is still more potent and now has a new arena to replace the Igloo. In New Jersey, the whole story is Kovalchuk, and whether he's worth that kind of money. The Rangers still throw bad money around, and won't contend again until they stop. You'll hear a lot of rumors about the sad-sack Islanders and a possible relocation. ANY place would be better than Nassau Mausoleum - er, Coliseum.

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