Brandon Sparks, Fredericton, N.B.
I never thought I'd say this, but I had the pleasure of watching the Florida Panthers on their season-opening trip across Western Canada.
Despite only getting two of the possible six points, I saw an exciting, hard-working team that easily could've gone 3-0 on the trip. With that being said, I see more reasons for optimism among the sunbelt franchises.
Tampa Bay leads the Southeast, boasting current and future stars, with Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman at the reins. Atlanta is having success with their recent draftees and brought over several cogs from the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks. Los Angeles just keeps getting better and better and may have the next Nicklas Lidstrom in Drew Doughty. Phoenix made the playoffs for the first time in years last season and sold out its final eight home contests.
To add to this, Nashville is ever-consistent, Anaheim won the Cup a few years ago and San Jose is always a Presidents' Trophy candidate.
There's a long way to go , but the NHL is on the right track.