NHL Betting: Eastern Conference Preview

It's a belated puck drop on Saturday for the NHL as the 2012-13 season becomes the 2013 season thanks to the omnishambles that was its latest lockout. Teams have only been given a week to prepare with no exhibition games, so unpredictability is guaranteed. Here's my pick of teams to look out for in the Eastern Conference, and one to avoid.

Front runner: New York Rangers (10.00 to win Stanley Cup)

You can find the Pittsburgh Penguins at a shorter price, but many are picking the Rangers as the strongest team in the East. The core of the team is mostly unchanged from the one that topped the conference last year, with the major addition being former No.1 draft pick Rick Nash, who will be relishing the opportunity to play on a top team for the first time in his NHL career. It's tough to see a deficiency in their line-up, especially given that coach John Tortorella demands a great worth ethic from his players. They also have the superb Henrik Lundqvist in net to fall back on if anything goes wrong.

Dark horse: Washington Capitals (20.00)

Last season the Capitals underperformed and were surprisingly close to missing out on the play-offs considering the talent on their roster. However that didn't stop them making waves by knocking out Boston and pushing the Rangers to Game 7, so expect them to be resurgent. Nicklas Backstrom's return from injury coincided with that late upturn in fortunes and he is ready to go alongside the always entertaining Alex Ovechkin to give them an explosive edge. Just as important will be the form of young netminders Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth; the former in particular has shown he likes the pressure.

Much improved: Carolina Hurricanes (28.00)

Ambitious off-season acquisitions could well elevate the Hurricanes into play-off contention after a disappointing 12th last time out. Captain Erik Staal and goalie Cam Ward remain from the 2006 Stanley Cup-winning team and their roster also boasts young talents like Jeff Skinner and Justin Faulk. After adding Erik's brother Jordan Staal in a big trade with Pittsburgh and handing enigmatic wing Alexander Semin a hefty contract, they look a dangerous team on paper. Should those moves prove successful they will be a threat.

Struggler: Toronto Maple Leafs (45.00)

Goaltending concerns are the main reason behind this poor outlook for the Leafs, though things may change if they complete their long running efforts to get Roberto Luongo from Vancouver. Phil Kessel is vital to them as their leading forward and James van Riemsdyk looks a decent addition to their top 6, though they lack scoring depth from their 3rd and 4th lines - so often part vital to a winning team.