TavaresThe puck drops for real on the 2013-14 NHL season on Oct. 1 when the Montreal Canadiens host the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s still far too early to start making predictions about which teams will contend this year and which teams will be on the outside looking in when the Stanley Cup playoffs start next April.┬áBut one wrinkle to keep in mind is the minor geographic realignment that’s occurred with the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets shifting from the Western Conference to the Eastern Conference and the Winnipeg Jets, who were formerly based in Atlanta, shifting from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference.

The realignment will result in a degree of inequality as in the East 16 teams will vie for the eight available playoff spots while in the West only 14 teams will contend for eight playoff spots. But for the three teams that are switching conferences the shift will be a godsend as it will enable them to significantly reduce the amount of travel and changing of time zones that they do during the long 82 game NHL season.

Following the devastating flooding that Calgary endured in June, which saw the lower level of the Saddledome swamped, there was speculation that the Flames might have to play some of their regular season home games in Saskatoon. But it seems that the facility has been repaired and the Flames will be able to open at home on Oct. 6 as scheduled. They are, however, playing some pre-season games in Saskatchewan. And tonight they’re in town to play the New York Islanders at Brandt Centre at 7 p.m.

Being a pre-season game, it’s difficult to know what the line-ups for the two squads will look like tonight. But based on last year’s performance during the strike/lock-out shortened 48 game season, the Islanders would appear to be the superior team. They qualified for the playoffs in the East, after all, while the Flames finished out of the running in the West. Led by captain John Tavares (pictured), the Islanders would seem to be on the rise, while the Flames are struggling and recently hired former Maple Leaf GM Brian Burke as president of hockey operations in the hope of turning the franchise around.