The end of the season is still seven months away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about how the standings might shake out. We’ve pored over new-look rosters and offseason transactions, and have decided that next season could come down to the wire in wild fashion yet again.

Plenty of familiar faces in new places will keep the races exciting in each division, especially with Sergei Bobrovsky down in Florida and the improved rosters for the Rangers and Devils that are hoping to revitalize the Hudson River rivalry. Out west, Phil Kessel could give the healthier Coyotes that extra push they need to secure a playoff spot and the Central Division still looks tough enough to get into the Salty Spitoon.

Each season always brings its own surprises, but here is how we see things finishing at the season’s end:

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Boston Bruins
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
4. Montreal Canadiens
5. Florida Panthers
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Detroit Red Wings
8. Ottawa Senators

The top of this division is as strong as any in the league. The bottom of this division is as bad as any in the league. There are three legit Cup contenders up top, and two strong playoff candidates in Montreal and Florida. Buffalo is a wild card. Last season there were signs that the Sabres could have a bright future. There were also signs that they were awful. Watching Tampa and Boston beat up on Ottawa will be painful.

Metro Division

1. Washington Capitals
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Carolina Hurricanes
4. Philadelphia Flyers
5. New Jersey Devils
6. New York Islanders
7. New York Rangers
8. Columbus Blue Jackets

The top three seems pretty set, though it is possible we see a regression from Carolina. But those three teams clearly have the most talent. After that, it’s a bit of a jumble. It’s easy to imagine the Rangers playing above their station, and it’s also easy to see them hit growing pains. Same thing with the Islanders or Devils. Only thing that seems certain is that Columbus is going to take a significant step back.

Western Conference

Central Division

1. Nashville Predators
2. Colorado Avalanche
3. St. Louis Blues
4. Dallas Stars
5. Winnipeg Jets
6. Minnesota Wild
7. Chicago Blackhawks

There’s no escape from the NHL’s toughest division. The Predators, Avalanche, Blues, Stars and Jets all seem like locks to make the playoffs and each of those teams, minus Winnipeg, made improvements over the offseason. The Wild, clear of the Paul Fenton nightmare, and the Blackhawks aren’t terrible, but they’re going to struggle to sustain success with a strong group of contenders in front of them.

Pacific Division

1. San Jose Sharks
2. Calgary Flames
3. Vegas Golden Knights
4. Arizona Coyotes
5. Edmonton Oilers
6. Vancouver Canucks
7. Anaheim Ducks
8. Los Angeles Kings

The Flames outperformed expectations and claimed the division title last season, but the Sharks should end this year on top. The Brent Burns–Erik Karlsson combination is too good and even averaging goaltending from Martin Jones would be a huge improvement. The middle of the division is a toss-up. Even though the Oilers need to dress 12 forwards, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins might be enough on their own to sneak into wild-card race. Decimated by injury last year, Arizona’s forward group should be better with Phil Kessel. As for the rest? It’s best for Ducks and Kings fans to remember their Stanley Cup years.