The 2013 NHL season kicks off tomorrow and is headlined by some big matchups. Penguins-Flyers and Blackhawks-Kings kick things off early, followed by Rangers-Bruins, Maple Leafs-Canadiens and Red Wings-Blues later in the day. That’s certainly a stacked deck and a full day for hockey fans who have been waiting for the lockout to end. But first, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference and how its teams will perform this season.

1) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pens have their critics, but they forget that the team was one point from the top seed in the East, and that was without Sidney Crosby for most of the season. He’s healthy and should get back to his scoring ways, as should Evgeni Malkin. They traded Jordan Staal, but Brandon Sutter slots in nicely as the No 3 center. Other guys such as James Neal and Chris Kunitz don’t get enough attention with the focus on the two megastars. If goalie Marc-Andre Fleury can replicate last season’s performance he could be a Vezina finalist. The team also has enough cap space to address any needs during the season, though have a large collection of talent.

2) Boston Bruins
The Bs return pretty the same roster that won the Cup in 2011, so they’re sure to be contenders and heavy favorites to win the Northwest division. The team has a deep set of forwards led by Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and emerging star Tyler Seguin. Perennial Norris contender Zdeno Chara leads a blueline group that will only get better with the addition of top prospect Dougie Hamilton. The only glaring issue is the situation in goal. With Tim Thomas sorta-kinda retired or just taking the year off, backup Tuukka Rask will fill in and with no other options there might some struggles for him.

3) Washington Capitals
Last season was a down year for the Caps, but shouldn’t have much of a problem taking back the Southeast crown with no clear contenders. Alexander Semin bolted for Carolina, but as long as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are on the roster, the team will score, though guys like Troy Brouwer and Marcus Johanssen will need to step up. If high scoring D-man Mike Green can stay healthy, then the blueline will greatly improve. After impressing in the playoffs last season Braden Holtby should hold down a situation in goal that has been unsettled in the last few.

4) New York Rangers
The Blueshirts will be beat out for the Atlantic not because of talent but because the Pens are that much better. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is a rock in goal but won’t really need to save games all by himself on some night due to a strong D in front of him. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto are as strong a top 4 as any in the league. Full years from Chris Kreider and Rick Nash will only help the offense and a top line of Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik certainly will make others teams uneasy. This team is built for a deep run in the playoffs.

5) Philadelphia Flyers
The one guarantee from Philly this season is there will be a relentless attack that scores goals in bunches. Claude Giroux is a star, but Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds are other productive scorers. There’s depth past the first line, which will be needed because questions abound on the backend. Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros are big questions marks on the blue line, while there appears to be no one to take their places. Ilya Bryzgalov is solid in net, but doesn’t inspire much confidence. At least the team will be exciting to watch on offense.

6) Tampa Bay Lightning
There is no doubt the Bolts will be able to score, with Steven Stamkos competing for the league lead in goals every season and franchise stalwarts Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The team added Matt Carle and Sami Salo to a blueline that will have a nice mix of steady vets and emerging youngsters. The team’s Achillies heel is in net and it was pretty messy last season. Bringing in Anders Lindback, who was a little used backup in Nashville, doesn’t really shout #1 goaltender. Then again the team will be firing pucks at opposing netminders, so it may not matter that much.

7) Buffalo Sabres
High expectations for last season were quickly dashed by an early season stumble, so the Sabres will looking to avoid that this time around. Ryan Miller will be his usual steady self in net and Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers lead a blueline that should do its job as well. The big questions for the team surround the offense. Can Cody Hodgson be a true #1 center? Can Thomas Vanek rediscover his big time scoring touch? Will first round draftees Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons crack the roster? Will new addition Steve Ott’s grit provide a boost?

8) Carolina Hurricanes
In one fell swoop the ‘Canes became the league leaders in Staal brothers after acquiring Jordan from the Pens. He’ll most likely play on the top line with older brother Eric and newly signed Alex Semin, which should help improve a middle-of-the-pack offense that had only Eric and Jeff Skinner score 20 or more goals. An underwhelming blueline that has no true #1 D-man could be buoyed by Cam Ward in net just enough to get the team back into the playoffs.

9) Ottawa Senators
The Sens surprised the hockey world by making the playoffs last season, but won’t be able to sneak up this time. Reigning Norris winner Erik Karlsson had a monster offensive season, and Jason Spezza was 4th in the league in points. Milan Michalek and Daniel Alfredsson had productive seasons as well, so the challenge is for those guys to repeat. Netminder Craig Anderson has depth behind him, so goal is not a concern. The team needs its young guys to step up, though they’ll be fighting for a playoff spot down to the wire.

10) Florida Panthers
An even bigger surprise then the Sens was the Panthers coming out of nowhere to win the Southeast division. However, they faded down the stretch and will have to do without Jason Garrison who was a big part of last season’s success. Even with productive seasons from Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg, the team was near the bottom of the league in goals scored. They have a pair of very promising young players in Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau, but it’s hard to believe they can replicate last season’s success.

11) New Jersey Devils
The Devils went from Stanley Cup finalist to losing Zach Parise to likely missing the playoffs this year. Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias will have to pick up the offensive slack left by Parise, despite having productive years themselves. Martin Brodeur is back in the fold and he’ll keep the team in games all by himself, but a thin defense in front, that didn’t chip in very much offense, doesn’t bode well for the Devils’ chances this season.

12) Montreal Canadiens
The Habs’ top line of David Desharnais, Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty should lead the team in offense yet again. The only problem is that those guys are a majority of the offense and others just don’t score enough goals. PK Subban is an emerging star but there’s just not enough depth behind him on the blueline. Depending on Andrei Markov for a full season is not a good sign for the unit. At least the team has Carey Price in net, though there’s only so much he can do on his own.

13) Toronto Maple Leafs
Phil Kessel will be the lone bright spot on a team short on talent, but big on expectations. There’s no true #1 center and the team is so desperate they’re trying winger James van Riemsdyk in the position. There is no #1 goalie as well and James Reimer has proven unable to carry the load. Dion Phaneuf was the lone bright spot on a defense that was largely responsible for allowing the second most goals in the league. The Leafs will remain at the bottom of the conference unless something big happens.

14) Winnipeg Jets
The first season of hockey being back in Manitoba didn’t go as well as fans wanted. The team was horrendous on the road last season and beyond Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler there’s not much upfront. Signing Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky won’t help. Ondrej Pavelec is a mediocre goalie, but there’s really no one else to take his spot. The lone bright spot for the team is its blueline, which has both talent and youth. However, the Jets are far away from even competing for the playoffs.

15) New York Islanders
The problem for the Isles, besides and overall lack of talent, is playing in the tough Atlantic division, so that makes it that much harder for them to improve. Who knows what’s actually going on in net with Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov, but whomever it is won’t have much help from the blueline or the offense for that matter. The team ranked near the bottom of  the league in both goals scored and goals allowed. John Tavares is the team’s only star and could blossom into a major player in the years to come, he’ll just do it on a cellar dwelling team.