Eastern Conference Outlook

Now that the draft is over and the major part of free agency concluded, it’s a good time to take an early look at how the Eastern Conference is shaping up. This isn’t a prediction of where teams will finish necessarily, but just a look at how teams will fare in the upcoming season.

Northeast Division

Boston Bruins – The Bruins finished last season near the bottom in both goals scored and team GAA, and that’s not likely to change for this season. They have some good forwards in Savard, Bergeron, Sturm, and Kessel, but lack depth. The defense is big, but slow, and won’t provide a lot of scoring. Goaltending should be improved with the acquisition of Manny Fernandez, but he isn’t good enough to turn the whole team around. There also isn’t much cap room to add any big name players. Expect the Bruins to miss the playoffs, but be about a .500 team.

Buffalo Sabres – With the loss of Briere and Drury, the Sabres simply will not be as good as last season. Unless they receive spectacular years from Connolly and Roy, their championship window has closed, at least short term. The forwards are fast and play a team game, and they have a steady defense that can contribute offensively. And with Ryan Miller playing net, the Sabres will have a chance in every game. The Sabres should definitely make the playoffs, probably in the 5th to 8th seed, but they have a young team that likely won’t advance very far.

Montreal Canadiens – The Canadiens season will probably go very similarly to the 06-07 season. They will be a middle of the pack team in most categories. If they get good goaltending from Huet, they might sneak into the playoffs, but won’t make it very far. They have good scoring depth, but the big name players, particularly Kovalev and Koivu, won’t have enough points to push them to the next level. The defense is improved with Hamrlik, but it’s made up of a number 1 and 2 defensemen, and then four 5th or 6th defensemen.

Ottawa Senators – The Senators lost Preissing and Comrie, but still have the same core group of players. Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson will have another great season, and the defense won’t miss Preissing that much. They need to re-sign Emery, and they will have solid goaltending. Ottawa is clearly the best team in the division, and should finish in one of the top two seeds. Even though they made the Finals, this year’s team probably won’t be as good as last year’s, and their playoff performance will be questioned yet again, whether it’s deserved or not.

Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs had a decent offseason, acquiring Toskala and Bell, and signing Blake. But they still remain an average team. The offense should continue from last season, but the defense will probably be the downfall again, unless Toskala proves he can save them when Raycroft couldn’t. The Leafs will be a bubble team, and should probably slide into the playoffs, as the 5th to 8th seeds will finish very close like last season.

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils – With the losses of Rafalski and Gomez, the Devils should be expected to drop in the standings. But it seems like that’s supposed to happen every season and it never does. They need to get the coaching situation figured out as soon as possible. It’s rumored that they are pursuing Souray, but I fail to see how he fits into their system. As always, the Devils will be a hardworking team with an excellent defense, and as long as Martin Brodeur is in net, they can’t be counted out.

New York Islanders – Smyth, Kozlov, Yashin, Blake, and Poti are gone. Guerin and Comrie are in. DiPietro has about 34 years left on his contract. The Islanders will definitely miss the playoffs, but will be an aggressive team that no one likes to play against. And with Nolan coaching, they will perform better than they should, but it won’t be enough to push them into a playoff spot.

New York Rangers – The Rangers made the biggest offseason splash in getting Gomez and Drury. Personally, I think the Rangers would have been better off keeping Nylander and not signing Gomez. Nylander is a better goal scorer than Gomez, and is a much better stickhandler. Gomez might be a better passer, but he still only amassed 13 goals and 60 points playing with Elias and Gionta. Drury is a good signing, as he is the best 2nd line center in the league. They have plenty of depth and great goaltending. The only flaw is the defense, which doesn’t have any spectacular players, but should play well in front of Lundqvist. They will compete for the Atlantic Division crown with the Penguins, unless there are chemistry problems or major injuries.

Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers are the biggest question mark in the East. Some think they have turned things around and will be a good team, while others see them in the same place as last season. Briere and Gagne should definitely light the lamp a lot, and they could potentially play with Knuble, Lupul, or Hartnell, going with power, speed, or both. They have good young depth in Umberger, Carter, Richards, and Upshall, and the defense should be improved from last season with Timonen and Smith. Finally Biron gives them solid goaltending and eliminates the one goal handicap they had playing Esche or an injured Niittymaki. The Flyers should make the playoffs as a lower seed, but could also miss the playoffs depending on how the team meshes and how the young players perform.

Pittsburgh Penguins – With Crosby and Malkin, the Pens have the best young duo in the league. Recchi and Roberts, and now Sykora, provide some veteran leadership, and the defense should be better with Sydor and Whitney having another year of experience. Fleury isn’t an all-star goalie yet, but he’s good enough to keep the Pens in games. The Pens and Rangers will compete for the division title, and probably the number 1 seed in the Conference. If they are good enough to make it far in the playoffs remains to be seen. But with a series of experience, they now have a better idea of what to expect come May and June.

Southeast Division

Atlanta Thrashers – As always, the Thrashers are unpredictable. They have the offense and the goaltending to win the division and compete in the playoffs, but can never seem to put things together. The defense looks slow and doesn’t pack much of a punch offensively, and could be the downfall of the team. Additionally, too much of the offensive responsibilities are placed on the first line, even though they have performed well under that pressure. The Thrashers will compete for the division and have a chance of making the playoffs, but they don’t have the defense or the experience to make it very far.

Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes are just a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and the team has not changed that drastically. They should return to form and make the playoffs and will have a chance of advancing far. They have one of the best group of forwards in Staal, Brind’Amour, Whitney, Cole, Stillman, Williams, and Walker. The defense is aging and doesn’t provide much offense. Ward needs to show his playoff run wasn’t a fluke. If the defense and goaltending can hold it together, the Hurricanes should win the division and have a chance at a long playoff run.

Florida Panthers – With Vokoun playing net, the Panthers should improve upon last season, but probably not enough to make the postseason. They have a good group of young forwards, and some promising defensemen, but they haven’t done enough to be a legitimate playoff team.

Tampa Bay Lightning – The Lightning are another question mark in the East. They clearly have a great trio in Richards, Lecavalier, and St. Louis, but the rest of the forwards are mediocre
, and the defense is merely adequate beyond Boyle. Goaltending is the biggest issue here, as they are basically stuck with Denis. The Lightning could linger in the Eastern Conferences basement, or surprise with some good goaltending and compete for the division.

Washington Capitals – The Capitals improved their offense with Nylander and Viktor Kozlov, and with Ovechkin, Semin, and a surprising Chris Clark, shouldn’t have a problem putting the puck in the net. The defense is still shaky, and the addition of Poti doesn’t change that. Kolzig will play his usual game and keep the Caps in many games they have no right being in. They should be better than last season, but playing in a strong offensive division, their poor defense should keep them out of the postseason hunt.


59 Responses to Eastern Conference Outlook

  1. flyersfan10897 says:

    Marleau would be, but he's a second line center by circumstance, that would not be his intended role on a hockey team.  Before Thornton showed up, Marleau was the first line center, and just got bumped.  Drury is the guy thats a perfect mix of first line center and third line center.  He can rack up the points, still play a sound defensive game, and performs when it counts.  But he's not a dominant scorer, or a dominant checker, he just gets his job done.

  2. flyersfan10897 says:

    I didn't say the Islanders were a terrible team, I fully expect them to play hard every night and be tough to battle against.  But they lost their top goal/point scorer in Blake, their best overall center in Kozlov, a player that didn't really fit in but still had 50 points in 58 games in Yashin, and their highest scoring defenseman, until Bergeron arrived, and leading assister, in Poti.  Those might not be the character players of the team, but they won't be easily replaced.

    Thats 83 goals lost among forwards, and Yashin only played 58 games.  Comrie and Guerin will help make up for that, but they are unpredicable.  And losing Poti and Hill, 62 assists from the blueline, will be tough to take as well.

    As for Boston, Fernandez has never proven to be that great.  He performed well in the playoffs once, but other than that has battled with Roloson and now Backstrom.  He is a good goalie, and better than what Boston had, but he's not going to single-handedly turn them around.  And for Ward, he was not exactly the defenseman that brought in those Cups.  He helped, but Detroit could have easily won with someone else, and Carolina probably could have too.  He's never been a scorer, and has been a minus player almost every season, even with Detroit.

    And Chara is quick for a 6'9, 255 lb. monster.  But he isn't going to win any speed contests or be able to catch a Heatley, a Blake, or a Vanek.

    And trades or free agency can solve a lot of teams problems, but they haven't happened yet, so I can't say anything about them.

  3. Glucker says:

    yea it was c ocky… y that was bleeped i dont know…

    imo between the rangers, leafs and habs the rangers have the best single goal tender, toronto has a 1a and a 1b and mtl has a 1 and a 2. Raycroft shouldn't be traded, he was actually excited that Toskala was brought in… I don't know why.. but both goal tenders seem to think they will be the #1 with the other as a back-up, so leafs have good compitition between the pipes. Raycroft was shit last year because he is a 50-game MAX guy who played 72… if he plays 36 games this year with Toskala covering another 36, and with Pogge brought up from time to time to fill in the remaining 10… all 3 will put up good numbers. personally i'd rather have Lundquvist then either Toskala or Raycroft. IMO goaltending is Rangers>Leafs>Habs.

    Hartnell seems overpaid, but you never know, he's only 25, by the time his contract expires he may be up for a 3 mill raise, he's got plenty of potential. Timmonnen and Smith are very good defensemen and very good leaders. Lupul is full of goal scoring potential from what i hear, and lets face it, Miller is an awesome goal tender…Biron is slightly less skilled, Buffalo had an amazing goal tender tandem… only reason Biron was a backup.

    Leafs will make the playoffs, unless they get another season of killer injuries, they'd have to be worse then this year's, they are a lock for the playoffs. 2nd seed, hell no. 5th-8th, 5th if there are no injuries, 8th with last year's type of injuries, just because their goaltending has gotten much better.

    I have to agree about there being no elite team this year… other then the Sens unfortunately… Rangers would be an elite team if not for the lack of chemistry at the beginning of the year.

    Ottawa will be the East's  top team IMO…
    Sabers won't be anywhere near the top…6th at best… yes i am saying the leafs potentially have a better team then the sabres right now.

    Leafs are a much-improved team this year, better goal tending, better offense, not that they needed any more offense… and more physicallity up front. Kubina will come in better then last year, he finally got into Maurice's system near the end of the year… and we will start having Colaiacovo… remember last year the Leafs had no Colaiacovo for the first half(a bit less) and Kubina dealt with a suspension, having a child born in europe, which he left for, and 1 or 2 injuries… he even played injured down the strech, when he was most impressive. there was not 1 single game last year that had every single player that was penciled in at the beginning of the year… they where never a 100% team… if they find a way to bring back Peca… i will be extremely happy…  and it won't take much either, move Woz for a conditional pick and waive Belak to the minors, and we have enough to resign Peca… simple as that.

    Wellwood Sundin Blake
    Tucker Peca Bell
    Antropov Stajan Ponikarovsky
    Steen Pohl Deveraux

    Kaberle Kubina
    McCabe Colaiacovo
    Gill White

    Toskala
    Raycroft

    thats a great team… remember looking back at last year's stats, toronto's d, which is oft-critisized, and rarely complete, turned out to be one of the top in the league… imagine now that Colaiacovo is going to be on from the beginning, Kubina knows the team(finally), McCabe MAY be better, last year's shittiness may have just been pressure from the big contract, he to showed some of the previous year's form near the end of the year. I honestly believe that Toronto will suprise this year, with or without Peca(W/O Peca, our forward lines will be like this:

    Steen Sundin Blake
    Tucker Wellwood Stajan
    Bell Antropov Ponikarovsky
    Kilger Pohl Deveraux)

  4. Glucker says:

    no, ottawa is definately a better team then TO, Buffalo, maybe, MTL, not likely… Leafs will be a 5th, 6th seed

    Kubina and Gill are kinda slow, but they are excelent positionally, and really big, making up for their lack of speed… TO had one of the best defensemen last year, and the stats prove it

  5. Glucker says:

    LEAFS 😀

    seriously though, it's gonna be in the west again… the East is made up of a bunch of mediocre teams at this point…. I wouldn't be suprised if 1st and 15th are seperated by 10 points, lol, well, 14th… 15th belongs to Boston, and they are gonna bomb :P… Tavares to wear the spoked B !

  6. GoLeafs13 says:

    they probably will cuz montreal is a light team to face.  they're soo much worse now. they could never really score 5 0n 5 and now that they lost pretty much their only powerplay scorer in souray they got nothing going for them.  the only reason they were doing soo good at the beggining on last season cuz they would get at least 8-12 powerplays per game.

  7. Glucker says:

    Leafs=overrated by idiot fans and underrated by idiot haters…

  8. 92-93 says:

    i was one of the few people on this site who did not write them off and predicted their 8th place finish.

    that being said, this year they will NOT make the playoffs, the signings they made were really a drop in the bucket.

  9. 92-93 says:

    yikes.

    am i reading this right?

    there are leaf fans who are picking the team to finish 5th or higher – even a divisional leader?!?! well, we had at least one year where the predictions from some of the leaf fans around here were reasonable. now it looks like its back to the way it used to be, lol. the leafs will not finish above 6th and will be in a dogfight to make the playoffs. simple as that.

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