The Eastern Conference is so much harder to predict than the west this season for one hugely important reason: goaltending. I don’t think there has been such a concentration of high end talent in net in either conference before. If you made a list of the top ten starting goaltenders in the NHL you’d probably find seven on your list from the eastern conference, and likely two of the top three backups as well. That one position can be the difference between a team that does good and does great.
Florida Panthers hands down the most remade team in their division. They are certainly better than they were last year but there’s not a lot of hope of chance of them getting to the playoffs.
Carolina Hurricanes, these boys were right there all season and with the off season tweaks to their roster they should be a better team. If they are going to make it in someone else needs to falter or they need to all hit their peak at once.
Tampa Bay Lightning, Roloson and Lecavalier will be the players who make the difference in how far this team goes. Playoff bound is not really a question, quite likely they will be second in the division.
Winnipeg Jets are victims of their ownership issues. They drafted Scheifele, Alexander Burmistrov will be in his second season, and the venerable and creaky Evander Kane will enter his third season in the NHL. They have plenty of upside but they need consistency more than anything. Bubble team if they are inconsistent and other teams falter, playoff team if they put it all together.
Washington Capitals have, on paper the chance to run away with the regular season points race at least in the east and possibly league wide. Great new goaltender, good defense, and an offense that’s capable of otherworldy numbers. Easily the best of the division.
This one is hard to call because of the number of changes made by some of the teams.
The New York Islanders have a scary amount of very young talent, a questionable amount of elder statesmen and the most likely to be injured goalie brigade in known history. They will be entertaining to watch.
The New Jersey Devils are a very curious team after the injury bug was evicted from their locker room and a coach lost his job they went on a strong run. Zach is back to lead the pack, but the defense is another question mark, as is curiously enough the goaltending. May be the third team to sneak into the playoffs from this division.
The Philadelphia Flyers are a chemistry experiment conducted in the dark and behind the back of the mad scientist in the GM’s office. Some huge potential was brought in, some huge talent, and Brian Boucher were sent packing. Given the age and injury history of some of the key components to this team theres a lot that can go wrong on a trip to not winning the division but playing into a 5-8 slot.
New York Rangers, mama Staal is probably even more disgusted at the injury to Mark, caused by Eric than Tortarella is. Mark is still suffering the post concussion effects from last spring, and if he should have a long recovery time the Rangers are sunk before they start. If he comes back reasonably healthy soon its a whole different story. With Brad Richards in the lineup, and Gaborik (hopefully) healthy, a lot could happen for this team.
Pittsburgh Penguins. Marc-Andre Fluery had a career year last year, and was the teams second best goalie. All three top centers missed about half the season. On the plus side James Neal came over late and will be in town the whole season, Malkin is ready to go, Jordan Staal looked great from his return to the end of the year, and the defense is surprisingly potent. Even if Crosby doesn’t return a very strong team.
If you count Rask you have four of the ten best goaltenders in the NHL in this division. Not surprisingly the three teams in this division with great goalies will probably make the post season if they play in their normal range.
Ottawa Senators, this could be a very entertaining team to watch skate to last in the division.
Toronto Maple Leafs, some deceptively good low level moves by Burke in the off season and late last year should see this team notably improved if they can get all the misfit toys to march in the same direction. Phaneuf, Kessel, Komisarek, Lupal all need to pull their weight this season for the team to succeed. Will bite at the heels of whoever is third in the division.
Montreal Canadiens, not much change in Habsland. Wiesnewski out and Cole in. Odd, but ok. Maybe the have better health from their players, but they essentially stood still while the Sabres got better. They should still be a playoff team but its not gonna be pretty.
Buffalo Sabres, have changed a lot since Pegula took over mid season last year. New forwards, new defensemen, and best of all, Ryan Miller still in the crease. The defense should be more reliable, the forwards are hoped to be more durable and creative than some of the the players they replaced. A lot of people have made picks for coming out of the east, I have yet to hear anyone pick this team. Anyone surprised if they are in the eastern conference finals or beyond.