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They were a mess this morning, and they are a mess now. This isn't a new thing. Over that time, they have won a Stanley Cup and played in the Western final three more times - most recently in And he deserves it after the career he has had and the year he put together last year. Popular Sports

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The Sabres are saying they plan to be this year's Colorado, and they might even believe it. After finishing dead last in the NHL two years ago with just 48 points, the Avalanche jumped all the way into the playoffs last year.

The difference, though, is that the Avs had won their conference three years before and were reasonably competitive the two years after that. This is one of the easiest previews to write this year and every year.

That's all you really need to say. They have won two of the last three Stanley Cups, they were tough in defeat last year, and they are icing basically the same team again. It seems almost certain that no player has ever had more fun after winning the Cup than Alex Ovechkin did this year. And he deserves it after the career he has had and the year he put together last year. Now we have to figure out if there is going to be a Stanley Cup hangover for this team - or if they are still actually hungover after their celebrations, for that matter.

I was going to make Ottawa the first of Eastern Conference previews I wrote this morning. But after reading Twitter for a bit it seemed like I should hold off a few hours. And it's a good thing I did. Ottawa finally made the trade that has been rumored and anticipated for months. And the return is, to be kind, underwhelming - which is pretty much what we have come to expect from the franchise.

They were a mess this morning, and they are a mess now. Some things never change - even when they change dramatically. Here is the Islanders' offseason in a nutshell - they made big upgrades in the front office and behind the bench, had real hope, and then lost all of that hope when their superstar center, who they nurtured into the player he is since drafting him, bolted for Toronto.

Now everyone is sad, the future is cloudy, and maybe playing home games in two different arenas will help. I should have given a spoiler alert before that, because you pretty much know everything you need to about the team right now.

But I won't leave you there, faithful readers. We will look into things in much closer detail. I'm here for you - unlike the fans in Barclays Center have been for the Islanders since their disastrous move there.

This is the last of my Western Conference previews, and it's no coincidence that I put this off as long as I could. Like everyone else, I grossly underestimated this team last year. I thought they'd be last in the conference, and they played for the Cup. You can't be more wrong than that. I feel like I have a little better sense of them this year, but then I thought I had them figured out last year, too. So, I put this preview off so I didn't have to deal with it. Avoidance at the finest.

What I am about to write about the Kings is very similar to what I have written about seven or eight other Western Conference teams - and that is what makes this conference both brutally-tough and compelling. The Kings were a playoff team last year, had a solid offseason and are fully capable of being a playoff team this year.

But they are not of the caliber of top teams like Winnipeg or Nashville in the conference. Instead, they are in a large group of teams that are playoff ready - far more teams than there are going to be spots. The Habs dealt their captain to the desert in a deal that will have long-term implications for both clubs.

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