I won't say I'm late writing up previews/predictions because "I have a life", since a big chunk of that life involves watching hockey; but I will say I have a kinda stupid amount of work going on, combined with intermittent internet connections (Yay for rural communities!) which meant, well, I'm late with this sort of thing. Because life. We cool?
Excuses out of the way, here's what is up on the populous half of the continent:
Eastern Conference Preview
Biggest hello: Jerome Iginla. "Veteran presence" is actually not his best attribute, even at 36 years old.
Biggest goodbye: Nathan Horton. Putting up 56 goals in 159 games in less than 17 minutes of ice time is pretty dang good.
Watch for: With Iginla and Loui Ericsson in town, the power play is going to be better than last year's 25th.
Watch out: Should Tukka Rask go down, who is Chad Johnson? Unreal numbers in Phoenix... but only in 4 games.
Note: With the trading away of Tyler Seguin, will the fans now chant "Thank you, Kessel!" whenever Loui Eriksson scores?
Biggest hello: Henrik Tallinder... probably. The idea is to bring back Tyler Myers' former defense partner in hopes of inspiring the young player.
Biggest goodbye: Andrej Sekera. Losing their second highest defensive scorer would probably make more of an impact if he had more than 12 points.
Watch for: Tyler Ennis is the new Martin St. Louis (Official Small Guy Who Scores), and this year he's getting all the ice time he wants as the second line centre.
Watch out: The 29th best penalty kill is going to be taxed even more if the fourth line is actually going to have Patrick Kaleta and John Scott on it...
Note: Should Ryan Miller play well enough to regain what was his assumed Olympic spot, you can expect him to get moved shortly after they're over. The same can be said for Tomas Vanek, who should get a better return.
Biggest hello: Anton Khudobin. After trying to rely on Brian Boucher, Dan Ellis, and Justin Peters to spell off starter Cam Ward, the Hurricanes now have a back up who is a threat to take the starting job.
Biggest goodbye: Joe Corvo. High-risk power play specialist.
Watch for: With Corvo gone, Justin Faulk is going to add offensive numbers to match his ice time.
Watch out: ...But if he doesn't, there's not many others here that can with Joni Pitkanen out for the season.
Note: It's easy to see where the Hurricanes finished last season, but tougher to remember they were in a playoff position through the first half. When Ward went down, so did the team.
Biggest hello: Nathan Horton. Eventually.
Biggest goodbye: Leading scorer (!) Vaclav Prospal. He remains unsigned as of the season's opening, so that could have been the right decision.
Watch for: A healthy James Wisniewski is going to be a higher scoring James Wisniewski.
Watch out: Sergei Bobrovski is going to have to hold the fort again, as goals are going to be hard to come by unless Marian Gaborik plays his eyeballs out. Bobrovski has yet to play 55 games in a season.
Note: Ending the season on an upswing and missing the playoffs by the narrowest of margins provides optimism entering the new season.
Biggest hello: Other than a shiny new division? How about a shiny old Daniel Alfredsson! Savvy, hard working, and determined to win NOW.
Biggest goodbye: Valtteri Filuppa. Solid, two-way centre and 60-point player gone from a team that doesn't score all that much (19th last season).
Watch for: Stephen Weiss should bloom on a second line, away from drawing the opponent's top defenders.
Watch out: Compressed schedule + increased age = loads of potential for injury trouble during the season. Lots of players could be in the Olympics this year, too.
Note: I think we can safely say any doubters of Jimmy Howard's starting position have been silenced by now. The guy's good.
Biggest hello: Aleksander Barkov. Much as I hate listing rookies here, Florida needs him in the line up. On the plus side, he already has two years professional experience in Finland.
Biggest goodbye: Stephen Weiss, one of the much-touted "youth movement" for the Panthers.
Watch for: Joathan Huberdeau showed he could handle the NHL last year and doesn't seem likely to backslide.
Watch out: With heavy reliance on a lot of young players, they have to avoid the injury bug from hitting the vets or shell shock could set in.
Note: Barkov takes pride in his defensive play, which makes you wonder if he could find time on the penalty kill as an 18 year old.
LONG ISLAND (New York)
Biggest hello: Cal Clutterbuck. He adds some serious bite to an otherwise gentle forward bunch, Matt Martin notwithstanding.
Biggest goodbye: Mark Streit. It's hoped Travis Hamonic can build on his offense this season to help take Streit's place sooner rather than later; specifically, now. Until then, the Islanders are hoping Lubomir Visnovski regains his fading scoring touch.
Watch for: John Tavares and Matt Moulson are one of those great duos that work so well together. Absolute murder on the power play.
Watch out: Behind the 38 year old Evgeni Nabokov is the 23 year old Kevin Poulin. Nabokov is good - but he's not playing 75 games this season, much as he'd like to. Can Poulin take a bigger role?
Note: Pierre-Marc Bouchard just might be the most important player on the team: if he can stay healthy, his offense could be the tipping point into the playoffs. Unfortunately, his concussion history is a major concern.
MANHATTAN (New York)
Biggest hello: Benoit Pulliot. Yes, the Benoit Pulliot.
Biggest goodbye: Who else? John Tortorella. Will it be a sigh of relief and more relaxed play, or "party like it's 1699" time?
Watch for: If Pulliot can get his act together - he has massive talent, but miserable work ethic - he'll get the chance for second-line ice time.
Watch out: There's a reason Pulliot is on his fourth team in five years.
Note: Where will the numbers go with the more offensively minded Alain Vigneault taking the reins? Henrik Lundqvist was frustrated last year by a lack of goal support; will he be frustrated this year by a lace of defensive support?
Biggest hello: Danny Briere. Moderate-to-good regular season numbers and gold in the playoffs, should they get there.
Biggest goodbye: Michael Ryder. Yes, he's a wildly inconsistent scorer, but he's a scorer.
Watch for: Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, and Lars Eller are building up to being a deadly second line.
Watch out: That second line is two sophmores and a 4 year pro.
Note: The results from last season and from two years ago are likely both off the mark.
Biggest hello: Cory Schneider. Unless the coach DeBoer becomes blinded by nostalgia, Schneider will be the official starter by January.
Biggest goodbye: David Clarkson. Had the most goals on the team, but cash was a problem for this season.
Watch for: Igor Kovalchuk would often play the entire 2 minutes on the power play, and managed all of two goals there. New blood should improve the 21st ranked PP this year.
Watch out: Kovalchuk and Clarkson were two of the top three scorers on a team that was 29th in scoring last year. They are replaced by the erratic Michael Ryder and the old Jaromir Jagr.
Note: Travis Zajac is being paid like a first-line centre, but hasn't produced like one for a couple seasons now; there's no one else ready to carry that load yet.
Biggest hello: Bobby Ryan. A 30-goal scorer who got second-line ice time, it's time to see how he does as up top.
Biggest goodbye: Daniel Alfredsson? Heard of him?
Watch for: Kyle Turris is finding his game after a rocky start to his career, and should be improving in confidence to fill the second-line role being asked of him.
Watch out: Last year there were injuries to the top forward, defenseman, and goalie; this year has a similarly compressed schedule.
Note: This is a young team who got younger in the off season, which is why they felt they could trade away some youth and a draft pick to Ryan; but Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar were huge parts of special teams, so they will bear watching.
Biggest hello: Vincent Lecavalier. The impression is that he's old, but he's actually only 33 and is at this point an excellent second line centre.
Biggest goodbye: Danny Briere. Big time playoff scorer, but the bigger focus is on getting there.
Watch for: Mark Streit is a good puck carrier and point producer.
Watch out: Shame they actually need to replace Chris Pronger, not Kimmo Timonen.
Note: The two additions are both former captains with their previous teams, which should give Claude Giroux ample support in keeping the room focused - something that's been a problem in the recent past.
Biggest hello: Rob Scuderi is back, probably for the express purpose of giving Letang a stable, defensive partner.
Biggest goodbye: Jerome Iginla did what he could, producing 12 points in 15 playoff games and being a force on the power play.
Watch for: Marc-Andre Fleury actually had a good regular season last year (.916 SP, 2.39 GAA), and is likely to have another behind an improved defense.
Watch out: Okay, so the goalie they got for the playoffs (let's not mince words, here) is out with a potentially career-ending blood clot. What could possily go wrong?
Note: As for Fleury, we all know that's not what people are looking at come May.
Biggest hello: Valtteri Filppula. He's not being asked to replace Lecavalier, but 55-60 points is expected.
Biggest goodbye: The aforementioned Lecavalier, one of the oddly few scoring threats on a high scoring team.
Watch for: Ben Bishop is ready to anchor the goal until Anders Lindback works out the kinks in his game.
Watch out: The good news is that a frequently-battered blue line was more-or-less healthy last season! The bad news is that the defense still wasn't very good, and they haven't changed at all for this year.
Note: There is some hope that Mattais Ohlund will announce his retirement, despite being signed for another three years at $3.6 million per year. The Lightning brass is crossing it's fingers.
Biggest hello: David Clarkson. An agitator with good finish, there's hope his recent scoring numbers are the new standard for him; though the Leafs say they'll be happy for his usual game to go with 20-25 goals.
Biggest goodbye: Mikhail Grabovski, though it was clear Coach Randy Carlyle had no interest in using him.
Watch for: Jonathan Bernier is the first serious challenge to James Reimer's starting goal position; they both really, really want the starter's job, and either could take it.
Watch out: If Nazem Kadri falters at all, Dave Bolland may be forced into a second line centre role he's not suited for; good on the wings, but centre is still paper thin for the Leafs.
Note: Replacing the offensively minded John-Michael Liles with Paul Ranger is as much a financial decision as a hockey one, but it's not a bad move over all.
Biggest hello: Mikhail Grabovski. Creative goal scorer and passer the Capitals hope can bring Martin Erat back from whatever dark place he's occupied since he came to town.
Biggest goodbye: Mike Ribeiro. A (sometimes) point-per-game scorer is going to be hard to replace.
Watch for: Coach Adam Oates got the Capitals to play offensively or defensively when called for, getting strong numbers from both the goalies and forwards and the best power play in the league.
Watch out: The penalty kill was atrocious, and the defense has two scorers (Mike Green and John Carlson), one steady defender (Karl Alzner), and...? Any of those three go down and that could doom playoff hopes.
Note: Oates got the Alex Ovechkin to buy in to his systems, and the results were solid; even with the move out of the so-called "easy" Southeast division, I don't think they'll step back.
And no previews would be complete without the foolish commitment to season-end rankings:
1) Pittsburgh Penguins
2) Boston Bruins
3) Ottawa Senators
4) Detroit Red Wings
5) New York Rangers
6) Washington Capitals
7) Philadelphia Flyers
8) Toronto Maple Leafs
9) New York Islanders
10) Montreal Canadiens
11) Columbus Blue Jackets
12) Carolina Hurricanes
13) New Jersey Devils
14) Florida Panthers
15) Buffalo Sabres
16) Tampa Bay Lightning
The usual disclaimer applies, of course: the middle few teams can go dang near anywhere if a single player gets hot or goes cold. That, plus the new conference/division makeup this year means some new opponents are showing up, throwing tradition out the window.
West up (hopefully) tomorrow!