Here Is Your Guide To The 2011-12 NHL Season

Alex Ovechkin Hockey NHL Washington Capitals

Photo: Dan4th Nicholas

Pucks are dropping on centre ices everywhere starting Thursday night as the 2011-12 National League Hockey season gets underway.With seemingly no basketball on the horizon, sports fan will need their athletic viewing fix in some fashion. And what better way than with this fast-paced, end-to-end sport.

And we’re here to prep you for the upcoming season.

So for those uninformed on the art of the cross-check or the difference between a high stick and roughing – here’s a quick rundown of the NHL’s top teams.

1. Boston Bruins

Who else? The Bruins are the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason. Repeating as champs presents a difficult challenge. But when you have Tim Thomas in net and 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara on the backline, opponents' goal-scoring will be at a premium. And keep your eye on up-and-coming Tyler Seguin throughout his sophomore campaign.

2. Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks reached the Stanley Cup Finals for a reason. And it starts with their all-everything twin brothers, Henrik and Daniel Se din. They may not actually possess psychic powers when it comes to knowing where one another are on the ice -- but it sure seems like it. And centre Ryan Kesler has emerged as one of the league's top stars.

3. Washington Capitals

When you have Alex Ovechkin on your team, you're always a contender. But the Capitals have been sent home early from the playoffs all too often and have retooled in an effort to buck this trend. Veteran Tomas Vokoun was signed to mind the net and hopefully stabilise a position that has been in great flux in recent years.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

5. San Jose Sharks

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. That's how things seem to turn out annually for this potential contender. But an upheaval of the Sharks' roster hopes to change that. Gone are mainstays like Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi. They've been replaced with faces like Brent Burns, Michal Handzus and Martin Havlat.

6. Chicago Blackhawks

The 2009 champions spent an entire season adjusting to a rapidly-revamped roster. After coasting for much of last season, expect captain Jonathan Toews to curb that approach. And with Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks talent should take them as far as they want to go.

7. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers made drastic changes this offseason in hopes of erasing an extremely disappointing 2011 finish from the organisation's mind. Captain Mike Richards and centre Jeff Carter were shipped out. Ilya Brygalov was brought in to stabilise the goalie position. And Jaromir Jagr -- yes, that Jagr -- looks to recapture the fountain of youth.

8. Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings roster isn't getting any younger. But Detroit will always be 'Hockeytown.' Pavel Datsyuk remains one of the top centres in the league. Henrik Zetterberg can still score with the game's elite. And ageless wonder, 41-year-old Nick Lindstrom, still captains the backline.

9. Los Angeles Kings

The Kings are stacked with talent -- but can they put it together? Finally signing Drew Doughty to a long-term deal will go a long way in helping that. Anze Kopitar, just 24, could reach the 100-point mark. Jonathan Quick is a tremendous young goalkeeper. And the addition of veteran Mike Richards should stabilise things in the middle.

10. Buffalo Sabres

With Olympic hero Ryan Miller protecting the net, everything just seems easy. But Sabres' fans should breathe even easier this year thanks to the prudent additions of Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino. They'll join two fantastic youngsters -- Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis -- to complete a promising squad.

Even with hockey season's arrival, basketball fans will no doubt be left in the cold.

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