Well Pens’ fans, the moment we have been waiting for has finally arrived, and all it took was the NHL and NHLPA to finally realize how senseless and useless this lockout was to finally bring back the game we love. Though I’m not sure they actually realize just how pointless the last four and a half months really were, but I digress. To kick off the season I wanted to throw out some predictions on what we could witness over the course of 48 games. I will break the predictions down into two separate categories, one geared specifically towards the Pens season and a broader category focusing on the entire league. I’m sure I speak for most fans when I say it’s good to have hockey back and it’s even sweeter to write a post that doesn’t involve “make whole”, contract term limits, and/or HRR. There will be ups and downs but seeing those guys on the ice really got my blood pumping and the hate returns right off the bat with the Pens opening against the hated Flyers. It’s good to be back.

We will start our predictions by looking at what could lie ahead for our hometown Penguins…

—The Atlantic division will be decided between games 45-48 as the Pens and Rangers will be neck and neck throughout the season. Ultimately the Rangers come out on top by one point.

—With that said, the Pens grab the fourth overall seed in the East for the fifth consecutive season.

—Tomas Vokoun will get his fair share of starts in relief of Marc-Andre Fleury who will bounce back from a brutal playoff performance of a year ago. Together they will solidify the best goaltending duo in the league and will be leaders in save percentage and goals against average.

—Kris Letang will stay healthy, finish in the top three in scoring among defensemen, and be a finalist for the Norris Trophy.

—Brandon Sutter slides seamlessly into the Penguins lineup and becomes a serious offensive threat on the third line along side Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. A huge plus to go along with his strong play in his own zone and on the penalty kill.

—The Pens defense doesn’t present itself as big as an issue as we all originally thought, anchored by exceptionally strong play from Letang, Orpik, Martin, and Niskanen. Engelland, Lovejoy, and Bortuzzo all contribute as well.

—Going along with the previous prediction, Paul Martin has a bounce back season and makes that mega deal seem not so painful to look at.

—Eric Tangradi gets his shot along side Malkin and Neal on the second line but fails to establish himself as a top six guy within the first 10 games. He will be replaced by Tyler Kennedy who tones in his accuracy.

—Beau Bennett gets his shot and makes an impact.

—Even with a solid defense, Ray Shero makes a deadline deal to get a true shut down guy to play in the top four.

—The Pens will not go three or more games without at least registering a point in the standings.

And last but not least..

—...Sidney Crosby leads the league in scoring with Evgeni Malkin not far behind in second.

Now onto our second part, predictions for the entire NHL...

—One surprise team from each conference will take advantage of the short season and sneak into the playoffs. I like the Colorado Avalanche out of the West and the Tampa Bay Lightning from the East.

—Detroit seriously struggles to replace Nick Lidstrom on the blue line and are in a season long fight to continue their streak of making the playoffs.

—The Minnesota Wild follow up their big summer where they landed Zach Parise and Ryan Suter by making the playoffs. However, they will bow out in the first round.

—The Vancouver Canucks will outlast the Kings, Blues, and Rangers to won their third consecutive President’s Trophy but mostly due to playing in the weak Northwest. They will follow all of this up by again not winning the Stanley Cup come June.

—The Southeast is wide open again this year and the winner could be a sleeper to cause problems come playoffs.

—Adam Oates helps reassert Alex Ovechkin as one of the premier players in the league with his up tempo offensive approach.

—The New Jersey Devils quickly discover that life without Zach Parise is none too bright and miss the playoffs a year after going to the Finals.

—The Bruins don’t miss Tim Thomas.

—Jarome Iginla is finally traded out of Calgary so he can get a shot at winning the Stanley Cup.

—Teemu Selanne does what he normally does and decides to give us all one more year. The Ducks still don’t decide what they want to do with Bobby Ryan.

—Rick Nash will struggle with the Rangers but find his chemistry in the final stretch.

—Edmonton will score a boatload of goals. Unfortunately, they will give up more than they score.

—Some random player (i.e. John Tavares) will be in the mix for the Art Ross.

—Most overrated player of 2013: Matt Duchene

—Most underrated player of 2013: Loui Eriksson….again.

—Breakout Star: Gabriel Landeskog. Yeah he kind of broke out last year as a rookie but he was named captain this offseason and will be looking to carry the Avs back to the postseason.

—You will still hate the Flyers.

—My division winners: Canucks (Northwest), Kings (Pacific), Blues (Central), Rangers (Atlantic), Panthers (Southeast), Bruins (Northeast).

—Playoff teams from the East in order from 1 to 8: Rangers, Bruins, Panthers, Penguins, Capitals, Flyers, Senators, and Lightning.

—Playoff teams from the West in order from 1-8: Canucks, Kings, Blues, Blackhawks, Predators, Wild, Sharks, Red Wings.

—My trophy winners: Hart Trophy (Sidney Crosby), Norris Trophy (Alex Pietrangelo), Vezina Trophy (Jonathan Quick), Calder Trophy (Vladimir Tarasenko), Selke Trophy (Pavel Dastyuk), and Lady Byng (who cares…..but Loui Eriksson).

And finally, my Stanley Cup Final prediction for 2013 is…

...The St. Louis Blues triumphing over the New York Rangers in seven games. David Backes emerges as the newest American hockey hero and takes home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Hockey is back baby and the hate is set to resume at 3 PM when the Pens roll into the city of Brotherly Love to face the hated Flyers and seek vengeance for the humiliating playoff beat down they handed us last season. Buckle up Pens fans, this is going to be one crazy ride.

As always, I would love to hear back from you guys in the comments and for you to share some predictions of your own.