â†µNew York Rangers -- Yes, the Rangers have some severe cap constraints to deal with, as the team has committed a little more than $29 million in salary to just four players. But after seeing them up close in the first round of the playoffs against the Washington Capitals, it was pretty clear to me that the team had wholly adopted the sort of style demanded by new head coach John Tortorella. If this team is going to win, it's going to have to do it Tortorella's way, which means that opponents traveling to Madison Square Garden are going to be in for a far tougher time than they had in the past. â†µâ†µ
â†µToronto Maple Leafs -- While the Habs look like a disaster in the making heading into next season, it seems pretty clear that Toronto GM Brian Burke is rounding his program into shape around a core of tough two-way players. The Leafs don't have a lot of cap room to play with, but they have more than enough to address a few concerns and build out their roster while the team continues to adapt to head coach Ron Wilson. â†µâ†µ
â†µWill they make the playoffs? This season it took 93 points and the tiebreaker to qualify in the East, so that would mean a 13-point improvement for Toronto, a single-season improvement that's not exactly unheard of. I say the Leafs will be in the race to the end, and will knock the door down in 2010-11. â†µâ†µ
â†µSt. Louis Blues -- That late season run that qualified the Blues for the playoffs was no fluke -- the 2008-09 edition of the Blues really was that talented. Want some more proof? Nobody in the Central Division had a better record in intra-division games this past season than the Blues, and they managed to pull it off without Paul Kariya, who ought to be back for the start of next season. â†µâ†µ
â†µIt wasn't long ago that most folks would say that life in the Central was pretty easy for the Detroit Red Wings. But now, it's simply looking like the most competitive division in all of hockey. â†µâ†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.