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SI's 2002-03 NHL Preview

 David E. Klutho
Sports IllustratedSay this for the NHL: It is beyond embarrassment. Despite past mandates from the league office to come down hard on the obstruction fouls that have constipated the game for almost a decade, the officials' resolve usually weakens by Christmas. Last month commissioner Gary Bettman called a meeting with all the teams, explained how strictly the rules would be enforced and promised a crackdown. The proof, however, will not come in October but in June, when the stakes are highest.

If referees drop the hammer on hooking and holding, and if the preseason parade to the penalty box continues unabated, the Stanley Cup will be won by a team with speed and a premier power play. Factor in the new hurry-up face-off rule, which will help increase the tempo, and the odds shift even more favorably to a speedy club that plays four lines and can count on a third defensive pair. All those changes should tip the balance in favor of the Colorado Avalanche, who have everything. By June that will include the Stanley Cup.

Eastern Conference  
Atlantic Division SI's ranking
  1    Flyers* 4
  2    Devils* 7
  3    Rangers* 14
  4    Islanders* 17
  5    Penguins 22
Northeast Division SI's ranking
  1    Senators* 8
  2    Maple Leafs* 15
  3    Canadiens 20
  4    Bruins 21
  5    Sabres 28
Southeast Division SI's ranking
  1    Capitals*10
  2    Hurricanes* 11
  3    Panthers 26
  4    Thrashers 29
  5    Lightning 30
Western Conference  
Central Division SI's ranking
  1    Red Wings *3
  2    Blues* 12
  3    Blackhawks 18
  4    Predators 25
  5    Blue Jackets 27
Northwest Division SI's ranking
  1    Avalanche* 1
  2    Canucks* 9
  3    Oilers 16
  4    Wild 23
  5    Flames 24
Pacific Division SI's ranking
  1    Sharks* 2
  2    Stars* 5
  3    Kings* 6
  4    Coyotes* 13
  5    Mighty Ducks 19
Eastern Conference Finals
Flyers over Devils
Western Conference Finals
Avalanche over Sharks
Stanley Cup Finals
Avalanche over Flyers

*Playoff team

Issue date: October 14, 2002