Best Eastern Race in Years

2003-2004 has done something that no one really could have predicted- given us huge excitement out of the Eastern Conference. In years past, New Jersey was the dominant team, with minor challenges from the likes of Philly, Toronto, and Ottawa. Now, The typically “phone it in” Devils stand small, at the 6 seed. Now, I am not fooled by this, as they are still considered the class of the east, until someone proves otherwise; however, the 5 teams above them are for real, for a nice change. A quick breakdown, from an unbiased perspective: 1- Toronto- Tons of offense and veteran leadership make this team formidable in the post season. One has to think they will pick up something in the way of D (my guess is either Wesley or Boughner, with a lean toward Wesley). Spotty D and Belfour’s injury are the question marks.

2- Philly- A powerful offense (that seemingly awoken from years of slumber) has been decimated with injury. If- IF – they are healthy before the post season, they match up well with anyone. A blend of speed, and power, coupled with the ability to roll 4 lines is the biggest assett a team can have. D is powerful- question mark- gee, this is new- GOALTENDING.

3- Tampa- 5-0 vs. Philly says something! Speed and youth makes the energy on this team enough to be a real contender. They have games in hand on the entire conference, and if the top two falter, they might just come knocking! Goaltending is tough, but not yet battle tested….

4- Boston- Who would have guessed this? Questions in gaol for the past several years, and they finally fid their guy in the form of Andrew Raycroft? Talented offense is why people watch, but team defense and surprising goaltending are the reason for success. Tough team in the East, as the top 2 lines can challenge anyone in the league. Depth and experience are the biggest questions. Interested to see how the youngster handles big time games.

5- Ottawa- Do not take stupid penalties here! PP is a monster. With the addition of Bondra, this team is a scary Offensive machine…. are they tough enough? Haven’t we heard this before?? No, they do not match the grit of Toronto (not sure who does), or the size of Philly, but skill conquers much of this.- Remember, you cannot hit what you cannot catch! Lalime is a bit shaky, but this team can virtually outscore any opponent to win a game!

6- NJ- well…… the best active goalie in the league, continued success, balanced offense, and intimidation make this team what it is. I do not feel like I have to keep going…. question mark lies in the health of Scott Stevens- they look like a lost puppy without him right now. Still a contender for Lord Stanley, but if Stevens cannot return, this race is up for grabs!

Well, this is just my thought on the real contenders- 6 powerful, well balanced teams, that can beat any one on any given day. As a Philly native, and Flyer fan, I hope this was an unbiased look at things.

Just consider this- a first round match up of Boston vs. Ottawa (or NJ replacing either of these teams) at the 4/5 proves the added depth. The spectacular offense in the West will get a real challenge from any of these well balanced teams. In a year where CBA has overshadowed most, we may get our best playoff treat in years. There is no clear cut favorite in this league- everyone has weakness, which makes more excitement. If they sit out next year, at least we can all say we got one fine farewell..

16 Responses to Best Eastern Race in Years

  1. The_Coach says:

    First off I would like to say that this was a good post and you did it without any bias towards your Flyers; well done!

    For the most part I think that you have fairly represented each team but here are a few of my suggestions and rankings.

    1. Phily, if this team gets healthy they can be pretty scary. Although I can’t stand Clarke, I will give credit where it is due, he has been a monster GM this season and has upgraded the Flyers in every position. The biggest question mark with this team is always going to be their goaltending and so far, Burke hasn’t done anything to alleviate those fears.

    2. Ottawa As a Leaf fan I absolutely hate the Senators but who can argue with the talent on the leagues most explosive offensive team. They are solid through their entire lineup, except of course goaltending. Lalime has not been good this year and needs to rebound if the Sens hope to go deep into the playoffs. I still believe that they could use some sandpaper, especially if they face three rounds of teams like the Bruins, Flyers, Leafs and Devils.

    3. Toronto. Of course I love this team, I grew up 10 minutes from MLG but I am also realistic and unless they upgrade their defense, they are not getting through the East. Even with the trades of Zhamnov and Bondra, I still like the current lineup of Leaf forwards, they are as skilled and more importantly in playoff hockey, as tough and gritty as they come. Another point to consider with the Leafs is that unless Belfour’s back problems go away, the Leafs will not see round 2.

    4. Devils. Solid team that has played playoff hockey since their first preseason game and until coaches learn to beat the trap, this team will always have a chance come post season. Stevens return is the biggest issue facing this team and will go a long way in determining how far this team gets.

    5. Boston. I am not really sure about this team. Lately all they seem to do is win and their first two lines can match up with anyone in the East. The biggest question marks for the Bruins is their depth ( I doubt that they can roll 4 lines come playoff time) and their rookie goaltender.

    6. Tampa Bay. This team is definitely headed in the right direction but I still feel that they are to young and inexperienced for post-season play.

    7. Islanders. On paper, this team should be a monster. They have a nice blend of speed, scoring and grit and would actually match up quite well against the Leafs. Their defense should be better than it is and like a few teams in the East the goaltending is suspect.

    8. Montreal or Buffalo. I have put these two teams together because, well, does it really matter? Either team will be a nice warmup for whoever finishes first.

  2. nskerr says:

    I think the thing that makes the East so interesting is that it seems on any night, a team can move from a 4-5th seed close to the top. Just a week or so ago, Toronto pounded Ottawa, but then Ottawa reels off a few wins putting them back in contention. The Devils win a few in a row making it look like they are going to force the Flyers hand, but then lose to DC. Philly gets a ton of injuries and finds ways to win, but then Boston comes in and beats them. I don’t think there is a clear favorite.

    NJ without Stevens and Brodeur at his best aren’t a lock by any means. Philly is big but I agree goaltending might be their downfall AGAIN. Ottawa is definitley the most talented team, especially with Bondra, but I am not sold on Lalime. He has choked too many times as evidenced by big comebacks by Toronto and Dallas. Boston has great goaltending and could really be the team I think that makes it out of the East. They have balanced scoring and the addition of Slegr has been huge. Tampa has good goaltending as well and a really hot player in St. Louis, but defense wins in the playoffs and I don’t know if they have enough.

    One thing though. Don’t look past the Islanders, Montreal or Buffalo. 2 of those 3 will make the final 2 spots. Forget about how poorly the Isles play against the Rangers. They won the season series against Ottawa, 3-1-0-1 against NJ, are 0-0-2-1 against Boston, are 2-1 against Toronto, are 1-1 vs Tampa and 1-3 vs Philly. Other than Philly (and the Rangers), the Isles have played very well against the tougher teams in the East and could surprise someone if they are slightly off, especially considering Parrish and Yashin will be back in the next month.

    It seems Montreal lives and dies with Jose Theodore, Sheldon Souray and Michael Ryder. As soon as Souray went down, the team fell apart aside from last nights win over Calgary. Theodore was giving up 4 goals a game. If he turns it around, Souray comes back strong from injury and Ryder continues to score, they could also be a danger in the East, but not as much in my opinion as either the Isles or Buffalo.

    Buffalo has very good goaltending. They are getting scoring from their top players, averaging 7 goals a game over a short stretch against some of the better teams in the league. The are a hard workin grinding team that loves to trap you if they get the lead. Satan and co. are dangerous on the power play and they seem poised to slip in to the 8th spot and make some noise. They play the Isles twice in the next week. They currently are out of the 8th spot by 5 points. If they manage to split or win both, they easily can overtake the Isles. If the Isles win both, then Buffalo will need Montreal to fall. The only danger is that Buffalo has had to play in such a high gear just to stay in contention, they might start to tire as the season ends. However Buffalo still has 2 games with Montreal including the final game of the year in Montreal which could be HUGE.

    The East I think has made hockey very interesting and entertaining this year and like in the past few years, might have a surprise or two up its sleeve.

  3. nskerr says:

    For some reason, my Toronto comment got taken off. Toronto has that “thing” that makes you hate them. Almost a cockiness, but not quite. They have talent and a lot of it. They have depth and grit and just about everything you need to win. If the cards fall the right way, they could go to the cup. I think it comes down to goaltending. Belfour is hurt. If his back doesn’t fully heal, they are in trouble, especially if they play Ottawa. If he is healthy, the East is in trouble. But make no bones about it, either way the Leafs will make noise as they dish out their cheap, old time hockey against someone making for an interesting playoffs to watch.

  4. kingbobert says:

    Need i remind you that montreal was in the 8th place in 93?

    Need i remind you how they obliterated the Bruins last time they were in the playoffs only to get knocked out by carolina who knocked everyone else out?

    Montreal is a playoff team…

    with a few upgrades to the line up they’ll go far

    as for mister leafs fan…before calling montreal a warm up make sure your team doesnt choke AGAIN….but they probably will because crashing in the net my get you goal in the season (ie Tucker last night…so dirty) but it wont in the playoffs…

    if montreal and ottawa are out i’ll root for the leafs…

    i wish leafs finshed first and montreal 8th…now that will be a playoff matchup….

  5. Treva says:

    What I like about the East this year, like you said, is that there is not one clear contender, with many of the lower seeds looking like they could upset the top ones. The Islanders have enough grit to grind any team into submission over a seven game series. I am saying that they are a potential upset team, not stanley cup bound. If, that’s if people, theodore heats up for the canadians, they could go deep. Then the other two lower seeds could be any of NJ, Toronto, Ottawa, Boston or Philly.

    In the words of Goldmember: Toight, very toight.

  6. HabsNick says:

    The Habs are almost a mirror image of their ’93 counterparts, a great goalie and not much else.

    Theodore is in a cold streak right now, but if he can get a few games rest and come back kicking, the Habs could very well be a Cinderella team come playoff times. We all know what good goaltending can do in the playoffs to a very average team? (last year’s Anaheim)

  7. Next_Semenko says:

    Good Post!

    I read some talk about what about the lower seeds…and the mentioning of montreal..what about Buffalo??

    They seem to be absolutely on fire, and if they stayed hot up until the playoffs, do you think they could knock off one of the top Eastern favourites? Or will they cool down and just go away…

  8. hitznsticks says:

    Honestly, I just do not see the lower seeds as strong enough to contend with the big boys of the top six…. good showing for Buffalo, especially, just one year removed from bankruptcy issues, but I just think depth will be a huge issue in the playoffs.

    This does not rule out any possibility of upsets, but I was more focused on Cup contenders…….

  9. dkball7 says:

    LeClair, Brisbois, Damphousse, Dejardins, Chelios, and the rest of the gang were alot better than what the Habs have now. Then again the goalie then was alot better than what they have now.

  10. OldNord says:

    Chelios was traded in 1990, LeClair was a rookie, brisebois and desjardins were in their young twenties but overall I agree that they were better than now.

  11. dlo44 says:


    I can’t believe it, an unbiased article. Unbelievable.

    Good job man.

    I wonder if Leaf”expert” is going to take notes.

    I think that other guy who wrote an article saying that Stajan, and Coliacovo will make the Canadian World Cup team should definatly take notes.

  12. greatlife15 says:

    i wrote that article, and i said that this was my opinion, everyone has a different opinion, ok? so stop hating on me.

  13. desertdog says:

    Best race in the East or not, who cares? It’s all about the West. The West is like a long, sensual woman with grace and style. And the East? Like a short, fat aunt with a mustache. BAAAHHHH!!!

  14. mojo19 says:

    tucker scored before he crashed into weekes, the puck already hit the back of the net. It wasn’t dirty at all. montreal has to make sure they get in the playoff’s before you start saying anything else, i think buffalo will beat them out.

  15. Serdy says:

    the west sucks. To boring, except for Colorado, Edmonton and maybe a couple others. The east is where its at

  16. leafs123212000 says:

    hehe…don’t take offense to it. Just try to leave the bias out, it had me shaking my head as a leaf fan. Although other than the leaf players, it was a good article, keep your head high.

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