Of the two eastern divisions, this one has the most teams who turned in a middling performance last year and put together the points needed to make the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils:

Good news: One of the most changed teams in the NHL since last year, they have a much deeper forward pool than we’ve seen in the Garden state in a long time.

Bad news: The defense is still iffy a lot of games, and we still don’t know what Schneider will look like as the #1 goalie playing full time or even an 50/50 split.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Good news: Claude Giroux is back earlier than expected. The possibly complacent group has been refreshed.

Bad news: A lack of injuries is about the best think that can be said for this “Frankenteam”, the roster is studded by buyouts, players past their prime, journeymen…

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Good news: For the first time in the careers of most of the draft picks on the roster, the team is moving in the right direction.

Bad news: High priced gun slinger Nathan Horton is out for a while, and Vinny Prospal is no longer on the roster, and for good or ill, when Horton returns it will affect team chemistry.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Good news: The big names are all back; Crosby, Malkin, Neal. The team didn’t have a lot of turnover in the off season, they let go of their trade deadline reinforcements, demoted Bennett (and then they recalled him) but are pretty much the group we saw last year.

Bad news: Goaltending, goaltending, goaltending. Marc-Andre Fleury has been in a state of melt down for a while, Vokoun is out for who knows how long, and Jeff Zatkoff is a complete unknown at the NHL level,.

New York Islanders:

Good news: Lots of growth last year, Casey Cizikas is poised for a good year, Thomas Hickey and Griffin Reinhart will push each other and the rest of the blueline for ice time.

Bad news: in what may become the perennial question; who will play and succeed on John Tavares wing. There is also the question of goaltending.

New York Rangers:

Good news: The defense is the strength of the team. Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi are more blueline gifts than most teams own it.

Bad news: Brad Richards is still an unknown, and how well the coach works with this team is also an unknown, and Henrik Lundqvist’s preseason looked a lot like Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes:

Good news: They have all the offense they need to succeed, adding Hainsey will help, and Anton Khudobin is one of the best backup goalies in the NHL.

Bad news: The defense overall is pretty mediocre. Cam Ward hasn’t been healthy of late, and they are in a division that has all sorts of teams that could make the playoffs.

Washington Capitals:

Good news: Ovechkin, Laich, Carlson, Green, Backstrom is enough talent to tilt the ice in most games, adding Grabovski is almost cheating.

Bad news: We still don’t know if this roster can produce for a season and more importantly the post season.

Top three teams:

Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers

These three have the best mix of talent, grit, and balance. It would not be surprising if the Rangers were edged out by another team, but who does that, if at all, is a matter of who is healthiest.  I would not be surprised at all to see five teams from this division make it to the post season.

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

After years, and years of futility, questionable contracts, and slow incremental improvement, the Toronto Maple Leafs finally made the playoffs. Better still, they didn’t even back in on a last game overtime loss, they snagged the five spot in the conference, in regulation or overtime wins they were tied for second in the east.

Which makes the dismantling of the team even more baffling. They dumped Matt Frattin and Ben Scrivens and picked up Jonathan Bernier. They shipped out 3 picks for the Dave Bolland. Former New Jersey Devil David Clarkson was signed to a weighty deal. And most puzzling of all, Mikhail Grabovski was bought out. This is a guy who wanted to retire there, never took nights off, and was one of the better two way player in the NHL last season.

This year the team once know as the Toronto St Patrick’s, will open on the road against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday October first, then head south to square off with the Philadelphia Flyers the next evening. A two set will open their season at home when they host the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. Game five sees them back on the road against Seth Jones and the Nashville Predators.

Number of days 1-5: 9

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Colorado Avalanche

Home games: 2

Projected points: 4+

With all the changes on the roster, chemistry will take time. New lines are the order of the day, and new defensive pairings as well. Jonathan Bernier will have to learn the habits of all his defensemen, and they his. James Reimer will need to show he has bounced back completely from the late game collapse against the Boston Bruins. Whatever you may think of their talents, Nazim Kadri and Tyler Bozak are going to be known quantities as the likely centers of the first and second lines, that will make a difference in how teams play them. How will they adjust? Who will end up in Randy Carlyle’s dog house this year? The answers to those questions will tell us if the Toronto Maple Leafs have games after April 12th. The other weighty questions for the team are how well will Kessel and Phanuef play in their contract year? Phanuef is 28, he can reasonably expect to play at or near his current level at least five to seven more years. Will he play conservatively so as not to risk injury? Will Kessel play selfishly trying to inflate his goal total so he can sign a another long deal? For Phil Kessel if he stays healthy he could be contributing as much as much as Chris Kunitz or more in 8 years. If the team feels the can’t sign one or both players and trades them, how is that going to affect the dressing room?

The Brooklyn New York Islanders will be going into this season with something many of their young stars have never had; NHL playoff experience. Last years six game set with the Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t end the way they wanted, but to steal a line from Iron Man 2 “they made god bleed” and the sharks, or in this case Boston Bruins came. Travis Hamonic emerged out of the shadow of John Tavares and Mark Streit to stand in his own light and nearing 30 minutes a night. Brian Strait earned respect tripling his own playoff experience and playing about 22 minutes a night against his former team. Thomas Hickey went from punchline to punching his time clock in the playoffs in just one season. John Tavares went out and put up points at the same rate he did in the regular season.

This season Kyle Okposo, Casey Cizikas and Matt Moulson will be part of the effort for a return to the playoffs and not just an 8th place finish. The opening fistful of games provides plenty of variety for a team that goes in overconfident to get TKO’d, and at the same time will show them every variety of opponent they’ll see all season. The season opener sees them visit Michael Ryder and the New Jersey Devils, the next two games they are home to welcome Marian Gaborik and the Blue Jackets to the east, and square off with the Phoenix Coyotes. Then they have a two game set on the road to visit the Chicago BlackHawks and Nashville Predators.  With two back to back sets in the five game set, there won’t be any easy games and no time to nap on the ice.

Number of days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Chicago BlackHawks

Weakest opponent: Nashville Predators

Home games: 2

Projected points: 5

The opening set isn’t going to be easy, the defending champs headline the card, the Coyotes and Blue Jackets are always scrappy and the Devils and Predators both have the tools to win a good number of games. The only positives in the two back to back sets and five games in eight days are short travel distances from the first city to the second and it being early enough in the season fatigue and injuries should be minimal. While only one in five of their opponents were the playoffs last year, it has to be counted as an anomaly for the Predators and Coyotes. The Blue Jackets in their own right were a tough nut and finished with identical points to the Islanders.

Goaltending and leadership are the two big questions this year. They did as well as could be expected against the Penguins in the playoffs last year. This year in order to hit the playoffs again they have to get better results from Evgeni Nabokov, Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin or whoever ends up their starting and backup goaltenders. It is highly unlikely the  Islanders can climb back into the post season if they can’t knock their goals against under the 2.83 that was just barely good enough last year. Someone, Tavares, or Okposo or another player will need to step into the leadership void created by the exit of Mark Streit.

The Edmonton Oilers were a very interesting team to watch last season. Many of the younger players have a low enough NHL game total they could, and did play in the AHL during the lockout. This made them one of the more cohesive teams when the season started. Over the course of a year that ended with a lot of changes in the front office, they improved from 23r to 19th in goals against year over year. Their goal differential was just a couple short of Minnesota and San Jose who both made the playoffs. They took a step forward, a small one and it remains to be seen if all or even most of the changes work out favorably.

The Oilers schedule to start the year is a bit odd, they open the season October 1st at home against the Winnipeg Jets then have four days off before going to Vancouver who will also be under a new head coach. They then head back to Edmonton to defend their ice against the New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens. Last of their opening fistful of games is trip east to throwdown with the new look Toronto Maple Leafs.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: Montreal Canadiens

Weakest opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Home games: 3

Projected points: 4+

With a new coaching staff, a new general manager, and new editions to the roster, there will be a longer than normal shakedown cruise at the beginning of the season. Dallas Eakins will certainly want to get to know all his players and how the work best under his system. Andrew Ference and Denis Grebeshkov will certainly have a word or two to drop into the ears of their teammates. David Perron will be adjusting not just to a new coach, but an entirely new city, and team as well. The younge players will be adjusting to the trade of Shawn Horcoff.

With the experience and quality added to the blueline, the biggest factor in where this team is on April 13th will be who, if anyone steps up and claims the team as their own. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner led the team in scoring last year and are by almost any measure the best players on the team if the or others can get the team all pulling in the same direction before Thanksgiving, the team has a reasonable chance to make the playoffs for the first time in the career of all to many of this teams young players. Two, or even three of the teams players emerging not just as stars but as superstars is will put this team in the post season and on the right path for years to come, if not, it will be same old same old.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a wildly up and down season that saw them in 14th in the West on February 1, in dead last on the 26th, up to 11th and just 3 points out of the playoffs on April 7, in 8th place on April 19th, and ultimately falling short of the playoffs on a tie breaker. On April third, they brought in Marian Gaborik to be the focus of their offense. After the Gaborik acquisition, Brandon Dubinsky would gain 11 points in the teams final 10 games, and Sergei Bobrovsky put the finishing touches on a Vezina winning season going 9-3 in April while giving up just 12 even strength goals in that time.

This year will start off with a lot of new things. They’re in a new division in the newly created unbalanced conferences. Their general manager will have his first full year. Nathan Horton signed during free agency to a long term deal will be one of the new faces in town. As things stand now it will either be new not to see #22 on the ice, or someone else will be wearing it, as Vinny Prospal who lead the team in scoring last year is not signed. Jack Skille is at this moment preparing to take his first strides as a member of the Blue Jackets. Fans and media will only have one Derek (MacKenzie) whose name they’ll have to remember the spelling of.

The Blue Jackets will start the season with a schedule that will tell us as much as is possible to learn about teams in the first few days of October. The schedule has two teams they should beat, two teams that will be very competitive, and only one team that is on paper clearly better. There is only one back to back set in the first five, and those are games one and two in Columbus against the Flames, and then in New York against the Islanders, then the boys have five days to get ready to visit the Sabres.

Number of days 1-5: 11

Number of cities: 4

Best opponent: Boston Bruins

Weakest opponent: Calgary Flames

Home games: 2

Projected points 5+

This year will be an interesting test of the current composition of the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’ll start the year without Nathan Horton, and have to get used to an entirely new division. The good news is that the division is largely mediocre. Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia missed the playoffs last year, the Islanders accumulated exactly as many points and wins, and the Rangers only had one more point. If the team can tread water and stay no more than a game or two below .500 until Horton is back, they can make a late push for a playoff spot.

The unknowns on this team are:

  • Can Bobrovsky play at or near the level he did in the last half of last season?
  • Which Marian Gaborik will we see this year, the 40 goal man or the fragile floater?
  • Can a defense that leans heavily on offensive defensemen keep the team above water in a tougher conference?
  • Will Ryan Murray and or Ryan Johansen emerge to carry a large portion of the teams weight?

The abbreviated 2012-13 season was perhaps a blessing for Calgary Flames fans. They finished 25th in the NHL. Living legend Jarome Iginla departed for playoff pastures, and defensive stalwart Jay Bouwmeester skipped town to play for the Saint Louis Blues. The rebuild began under the same hands that have guided the franchise the last several years. Also subtracted from a fairly week roster were Alex Tanguay, and Cory Sarich who were pushed even further down the ladder of NHL success to the Colorado Avalanche.

This season is unlikely to yield pretty results. On the plus side, Calgary fans will get a chance to watch the development of the next generation. Carter Banks, Max Reinhart, and others will look to make their spot n the roster and a permanent home in the NHL The team starts the season with four eastern conference teams on its schedule, and only the Canucks as a conference rival.

Number of Days 1-5: 8

Number of cities: 2

Best Opponent: Canucks

Weakest Opponent: New Jersey Devils

Home games: 3

Projected points: 3

There isn’t much to look forward to in this season. The team is unarguably weaker even than it was last year. The defense is worse, the goaltending is only so-so and unless two of this years squads centers make a massive leap, they don’t have a first or second line center. If the team is very lucky, they can draft well in June. It will be interesting to see the season holds, and how many of the older players are moved out before the next NHL draft.  Who and what come back in a season of obvious rebuild is anyone’s guess.

The new Metropolitan division combines all five of the teams from the old Atlantic Division, two teams from the thoroughly shattered Southeast division, and one former central division team. After last season this will hands down be the hardest division to predict.

Carolina:We know that with a healthy backup the team is already better than it was last year. We know that adding Mike Komisarek (assuming he can stick to the NHL) will add a touch of belligerence. We know that the defense as a whole is suspect. We know it will be a lot of fun to watch a full season of Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Jeff Skinner, and Alex Semin as the teams nucleus.

Columbus: We know that they decided to take their move into the eastern conference seriously. With the addition of Nathan Horton and Marion Gaborik in the last several months, the team added to a solid defensive foundation. We know teams that underestimate them are in for a rough night. We know that even with the two year contract he signed that there is no certainty Bobrovsky will finish the deal in Columbus. We know if Ryan Murray makes the squad he’ll be in the perfect position to garner Calder consideration.

New Jersey:We know The Devils had the sort of negative off season attention that can sink the sales of a team. We know that the additions of Clowe, Jagr, and Ryder will give the team a different look than it had last season. We know that since Kovalchuk and Clarkson couldn’t drag the team into the playoffs this might not be a bad thing. We know someone has their head up their backside because Adam Henrique is still unsigned.

New York Islanders: We know this team made the playoffs last year, kept all its major components and added the physicality of one Cal Clutterbuck. We know that with defensive prospects like Griffin Reinhart, Calvin De Hann, and Scott Mayfield waiting in the wings the guys currently on the roster should keep one eye on the puck and the other looking over their shoulder. We know the team really needs to figure out a long term solution in net.

New York Rangers: We know the Rangers will have new coach this year. We know the new coach has an entirely different persona than the last coach. We Brad Richards needs to have a banner year while there is still time. We know sooner or later someone will figure out you don’t go deep in the playoffs playing your starting goalie 65+ games a season.

Philadelphia: We know that with the injection of Lecavalier and possibly Laughton into the lineup fans might be excused an excess of hope. We know the defense is still without an impact player. We know Ray Emery will battle his heart out between the pipes. We know no one knows what to expect out of Steve Mason. We know the Flyers will likely miss the playoffs.

Pittsburgh: We know the team didn’t do anything to correct its playoff attitude issues; same coach, same captain, same mix of ‘leaders’. We know that having the goalie see a sports psychologist is a step, but we also know complete rebuilds of a persons psyche can take years if they occur at all.

Washington: We know the Capitals have a limited window to win with the current core of Ovechkin,  Backstrom, Laich, Greene, Alzner, and Carlson, We know some of them might not be in D.C. if/when the Cup is hoisted by the local boys. We know Adam Oates is still on a short leash because in any sane universe George McFee is on an even shorter one. We know that the Capitals (probably don’t operate in a sane universe.

Some teams have continued to have a strong off season, others have spiraled into irrelevence through the attrition of free agency.

Best:

Washington Capitals: Locking up Karl Alzner at a very club friendly price was one of GMGM’s best movies. Last year he was second in time on ice for the team, and in the playoffs he was the second leading blueline scorer.

New York Rangers: Familiar face Carl Hagelin was locked up at a reasonable price, and new comer Justin Falk was signed at a bargain basement rate. With Falk’s arrival and the departure of several pieces the Rangers blueline will be younger next season.

Los Angeles Kings: Jake Muzzin is pretty solid young defenseman, and the Kings locked him up for two years at rate that will have some questioning the quality of Muzzin’s agent.

Montreal Canadiens: Michael McCarron, from the scouting reports I’ve gotten, McCarron is desperately in need of a situation where he isn’t the biggest body on the ice and strength and size won’t get him by, if he lands in either the AHL or NHL this year and doesn’t slide into Juniors he’ll get that.

Boston Bruins: Extending Patrice Bergeron and saving the world 25,000 columns on what the team would do without him ought to be counted as a Nobel Prize level act of humanitarian behavior. The NMC is irrelevant, I’m not sure how many general managers or team presidents would be foolish enough to move a player that well regarded and that talented who wanted to stay in the city.

Phoenix Coyotes: Max Domi has the potential to help transform the Coyotes offense, without being the type of defensive liability some of the players on the UFA market have historically been. If he lands in the NHL great, if he doesn’t he’s only played two years in the OHL and I’m sure the London Knights will welcome him back.

Worst:

Toronto Maple Leafs: Joe Colbourne? Why? This is a guy who hasn’t even excelled in the AHL.

Colorado Avalanche: Where is the defense?

Saint Louis Blues: Not getting Pietrangelo under lock and key or (much less desirably) traded for a stellar return is playing with fire, immediately after dipping your hands in gasoline.

New Jersey Devils: Arguably they can replace 27% of their offense from within and on the hopes that Ryder and Clowe can fill the production lost with Parise and Clarkson. I don’t happen to think they’ve own a productive enough offense, and they’ve left some quality hanging about on the free agent market.