Barring a rash of injuries, there's no doubt in my mind the Boston Bruins are going to win the Northeast Division again this season. And anything less than a berth in the Eastern Conference finals will be considered a major disappointment after advancing to the second round last season.
However, I'm still not satisfied enough by Boston's ability to finish in the offensive zone or keep the defense as air-tight as it was last season to pick them to end their Stanley Cup drought.
Here's a capsule look at my conference and postseason predictions for the 2009-10 season:
Too much depth down the middle and on defense to not have a great regular season, but that doesn't mean goaltender Ray Emery won't crack under the postseason pressure.
2. Boston Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas will lead a division-title repeat in pursuit of a second straight Norris and Vezina.
The offensive firepower can overcome the question marks in goal in the regular season.
After getting over the Stanley Cup hangover, Sidney Crosby & Co. rally for home-ice advantage.
Improved defense corps will help Cam Ward make a case for Olympic playing time and keep the 'Canes in the divisional hunt.
6. New Jersey
Jacques Lemaire's return means boring -- but winning -- hockey is back in the Garden State.
The post-Dany Heatley era allows everyone to buy into Cory Clouston's program and some young reinforcements return the Sens to formidable status.
There are a lot of similarities between these Leafs and the '08 Bruins, who made being tough to play against a mandate and then did it enough to get in the dance.
9. New York Rangers
A lack of scoring and the inevitable physical problems of Marian Gaborik keep the Blueshirts out of the postseason.
Jacques Martin's philosophy just doesn't fit his personnel.
The penny-pinching ways finally catch up to the Sabres, who just can't match the rest of the conference's depth (especially on the ever-important back end).
Just not enough depth up front and Tomas Vokoun won't be able to withstand the probable barrage of shots.
Once they re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk, there will at least be hope for the future for the Thrashers.
15. New York Islanders
Another season of ugliness that will force them to stay on Long Island because no other city will take them.
1. San Jose
With Heatley in the mix and the right character additions on the depth chart, the Sharks should be dominant again in the regular season.
Might be rundown after two lengthy playoff runs, but there's just too much talent here to not at least win the division.
3. Calgary Brent Sutter hockey and the best top-three on D in the conference push the Flames to the top of the Northwest.
The league's best goaltending duo makes up for any drop-off on the back end and Ryan Getzlaf takes another step toward elite status.
5. St. Louis
The talent is a year a more experienced and you add a healthy Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson to create a true contender.
When a team has such a large question mark in goal, it's destined to take a step back.
That Olympic-caused road trip in the middle of the season will take its toll.
8. Los Angeles
It's time for the Kings to be this year's Blues, as the prospects finally mature into a team (assuming they can find a goaltender that won't bury them).
New coach and philosophy, plus Vezina-worthy goaltending, just can't push the Wild into the final eight.
Still not dynamic enough on the back end, and Steve Mason has to take at least a baby-step backward from his ridiculous rookie season.
The failure to land Heatley leaves the "Oil Slick" without enough offensive firepower to reach the postseason.
Still can't figure out if they're rebuilding or trying to win, but there's no doubt Marty Turco will take the blame.
Sooner or later they'll have to trade one of their blue-chip D-men to gain scoring.
Maybe they can film a hockey version of "Major League" in the desert with a next-to-last finish providing the surprise ending.
15. Colorado Joe Sakic knew it was the right time to get out, and there's still no one who can stop the puck in the Mile High City.
Stanley Cup pick
Washington over Anaheim. I have a feeling the Capitals won't finish the year with the same goaltender that starts the season between the pipes and that'll make the difference.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. He has been on the Bruins beat since the lockout for numerous publications and has been covering the Boston sports scene for a decade. Send any questions for Matt to his mailbag and he might answer them in his Bruins mailbag.