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The NHL Season Begins Thursday: A Look At What To Expect In 2011-12

Another NHL seasons set to begin Thursday night in Vancouver

And so, with summer only a couple of weeks behind us, the National Hockey League kicks off (or rather, faces off) its 2011-12 season with three games on Thursday night.

For the first time in 39 years the Boston Bruins are defending champions, and Boston comes in knowing that no champ has repeated in the NHL since the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990s.

'The Hockey News' has an excellent prognosis of the upcoming season team-by-team, ranking the squads in each conference from 15-1. The 'News' has the Washington Capitals pegged as the best in the Eastern Conference, and the Vancouver Canucks (who lost the 2010-11 Finals) as the best in the West.

A big, big change in the league, obviously, for this season are the Winnipeg Jets, who used to be the Atlanta Thrashers, of course. And in a fine twist of geographic "fitting in", for this season the Jets are in the Southeast Division of the East.

Alrighty then. I always did consider a prairie province in Canada to be in the southeast -- didn't you?

As far as the Columbus Blue Jackets are concerned, the 'News' does not see great things for them in 2011-12. In fact, of the 15 teams in the West, the 'News' has Columbus tabbed as the 12th best team in the conference. And of course, if that were to hold true to form, that would leave the Jackets on the outside looking in come playoff time, as only eight teams from each conference make the postseason.

Here is what the 'News' has to say about the Blue Jackets specifically, and the "Why" of placing them 12th in the West:

Why: There's no doubt GM Scott Howson was swinging for the fences this off-season trying to get his team back to the playoffs. Ranking in the bottom one-third of the league in goals for and against last season, Howson's acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski certainly added an offensive tinge to the roster. Still, this club will live and die with its goalie Steve Mason who, after winning the Calder Trophy in 2008-09, has had back-to-back seasons with a GAA over 3.00 and a save percentage hovering around .900. The Jackets were last in the Central in 2010-11 and despite a couple of upgrades there's no guarantee they'll be able to climb out from that spot in a tough division.

I don't know about you, but I am happy to see hockey back, especially as there might not be NBA basketball for a while (if at all) in 2011-12.

And by the way, the Blue Jackets opens their season on Friday night against the Nashville Predators in Columbus.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.