In the Avalanche’s second outing of the year, goaltending Semyon Varlamov made 30 saves to shut-out the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.

I’ve been in the camp of people who didn’t expect Semyon Varlamov to end up being remotely worth what the Avalanche gave away to get him during the off-season. I thought the Avs were signing themselves up for a second consecutive season of cellar-dwelling hockey.

But after today’s game, a thought hit me: what if he actually develops into a premiere NHL goaltender? The Avs have enough offensive talent on that roster that their team could actually be decent.

Then I checked another score.

Back from last year’s tumultuous bout with invisibility.

The New Jersey Devils got a win today courtesy a pair of goals from their star Zach Parise (who was absent all of last year) and one from another big name in Ilya Kovalchuk (who was absent all of last year).

If Brodeur can have one more quality season, Zajac comes back and helps, Tedenby develops…a thought hit me: maybe that team could actually be decent.

A sample size of two games teaches us next to nothing, but honestly, there have been times since October 6th where I’ve thought “hey, the Wild could be good this year,” and “hey, the Leafs could be good this year,” and “hey, the Isles could be good this year.”

There’s nary an NHL team I’d write off after a couple games of the season.

I don’t remember seeing parity like this in any league ever before. Has the NHL ever been close to this competitive from top to bottom before? It certainly wasn’t when I grew up.

So, a contest:

Readers of Backhand Shelf have until Wednesday night at midnight (EST) to list in the comment section the teams who DIDN’T make playoffs last year that WILL make it this year. One entry per person, obviously.

Full disclosure: I also work in social media for Easton, so I should be able to dig up some pretty slick prizes for our winners. If it’s just one person who nails it, I promise a fancy one-piece stick. It’s like winning the lottery – the more winners, the thinner the prize, so don’t be afraid to get adventurous.

As you’ve seen from my previous prediction posts, I have three teams: St. Louis (nice), Florida (sure), and Winnipeg (wait, what?). You can pick as many or as few teams as you like.

Best of luck to all of you!