Yesterday, we tackled the Western Conference with our predictions and today we move to the Eastern Conference.
As we mentioned, the Western Conference was much tougher last year while the East was wide open. The playoff participants were not decided until the Flyers beat the Rangers in a shootout and moved into seventh place and in turn moved Montreal into the eight slot, where they played so well for the first two rounds.
The East should be more difficult to predict again this year as there is more parity. We will give it our best shot, so here we go.
1. Washington - The Capitals seem to be a consensus pick for first in the East during the regular season. They have plenty of firepower, a decent defense, and can overcome goaltending questions by scoring goals in bunches. They also play in a fairly soft division.
2. Pittsburgh - The Pens did not like falling out of the playoffs early last season and it will not happen again. I feel Sidney Crosby has another gear that we have not seen, and Evgeni Malkin will comeback with a career year. I'm still not a big M. A. Fleury fan but I do like the Pens offseason moves.
3. Boston - The Northeast division will be highly contested, but I am giving the nod to the Bruins due to a balanced lineup with two-deep, quality goaltending. At this point, if Savard returns it should be considered a bonus.
4. Philadelphia - While the Flyers may suffer from a hangover from last year's long run, I think they got a taste of the finals and will play hard hoping to return. Goaltending is their main question mark, as it was last season, but quality defense will help the net deficiencies.
5. New Jersey - After the summer of Kovalchuk and the Devil's struggle to get under the cap, it is hard to predict how the team will react. I don't see the Devils playing as well as they did last season and the team will be heavily dependent on Marty Brodeur carrying the load once again.
6. Buffalo - The Sabres are another team that will rely on their goalie to carry them past other deficiencies. The Sabres are the Predators of the East where you aren't sure how they get it done but end up in the playoffs every year.
7. Tampa Bay - It has been surprising the last couple of years that the Lightning have played as poorly as they have. This should be the year that they return to the playoffs if they get adequate goaltending to supplant their lineup that is full of scoring threats.
8. Ottawa - The Senators will battle several other teams for the final playoff slot. They are also a difficult team to figure out. Their goaltending is not stellar and their defense will take a step back, but they seem to be better than the other teams in the middle of the pack.
9. Montreal - Just because I am feeling charitable, I'm picking the Canadiens to finish in ninth, just outside the playoff picture. I think a potential scenario for the Habs is that Carey Price loses all confidence and Alex Auld becomes the number one netminder which would lead to a much lower finish.
10. Toronto - The Leafs will be better after a huge turnover from the beginning of last season. A ten point increase would move them into tenth place and I think that is probable. They have made moves in the right direction but are still a year away from playoff contention.
11. Atlanta - The Thrashers probably have a better team that last year but will not make headway in the standings because other teams around them have also improved. They are without Kovalchuk and will have to score by committee. I have always liked Chris Mason and I am disappointed that he ended up in Atlanta.
12. New York Rangers - The Rangers did nothing in the offseason to improve a declining team. The worst signing of the year was Derek Boogaard to a long term contract. If pointless fights and PIMs counted in the standings, it would be a decent move, but they don't.
13. Carolina - The Hurricanes are another team that did little to improve during the offseason. Cam Ward will have to return to the form of his Cup run season and the rest of the team will have to stay healthy and improve on last season's performance for the Canes to have a chance to move up.
14. New York Islanders - A month ago, I really thought the Isles would have an outside chance for a run at the eight seed in the East. No other team has had the series of injuries and bad breaks during camp that has decimated the fabric of the team. I'm a closet Isles fan so I hope I am wrong on this prediction.
15. Florida - I feel sorry for Panther fans that they will have to suffer through another season of mediocrity and the spectacle of playing in an arena where some sections are blocked off. The future is brighter because they had a banner year at the NHL Entry Draft and they should get another top pick next summer.
1. Washington Capitals – The Caps offense will make up for their defensive and goaltending struggles. Again, they have their eyes set on the ultimate goal, the President’s Trophy. What, wrong one?
2. New Jersey Devils – Now that off season distractions are gone, it’s time for this stacked line-up to prove their worth on the ice.
3. Boston Bruins – A solid blue line and one of the better goaltending tandems in the league should be able to make up for the lack of goal scoring.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with the departure of Sergei Gonchar, the Penguins will be a strong contender in the conference and even for the Cup.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning – With Steve Y coming into the picture this off season and shaking things up, it should be a fun year in Tampa.
6. Buffalo Sabres – Another stellar season from Ryan Miller and this team could repeat last year’s performance.
7. Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers have a very capable defense and offense, but goaltending troubles will plague them.
8. Atlanta Thrashers – With some new blood in the system, Atlanta will look to enter the postseason for only the second time in franchise history.
9. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes are going to be right on the bubble all year long and very well could end up in the playoff picture.
10. Ottawa Senators – It’ll be a close one in the battle for eighth, but I’m not too confident in Ottawa's goaltending.
11. Montreal Canadiens – How well Carey Price can handles the pressure this year will be the deciding factor in whether or not the Habs will make it into the post season.
12. New York Rangers – Offensive struggles will again make it very difficult for the Rangers to advance into extra games.
13. Toronto Maple Leafs – I can actually see the Leafs being competitive this year for the first time in a while. Though, in the end, their solid defense and decent goaltending tandem still won’t make up for their lack of offense.
14. New York Islanders – An injury riddled team heading into the season is not a recipe for a successful season.
15. Florida Panthers – The Panthers are in the rebuilding stage and will more the likely be in the running for 1st overall pick next summer.
The Chase for Stanley
Buddy's Road to the Cup...
In the West, I see first round winners being the Wings, Canucks, Kings and Predators. The Kings will exorcise demons and move on to defeat the Predators in the finals.
In the East, the Caps, Pens, Bruins and Flyers will advance to the second round. The Pens and Caps will meet in the finals to help the league in their negotiations with NBC and the Pens will reign.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, we will see Sidney Crosby end any speculation about who the best player in hockey is as the Penguins will beat the Kings in a fun series to watch.
Jackson's Road to the Cup...
First round winners out of the West will be Vancouver, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Then, it'll come down to Vancouver and Los Angeles. Vancouver will take out the Kings and move on to the Finals.
In the East, first round winners will be Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh, and New Jersey. Advancing from there, it'll be New Jersey and Pittsburgh. New Jersey will move on to the finals.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, Vancouver will sweep the Devils.
There you have it. We won't be shy in June about revisiting this list to see how we did. OK now, time to drop the puck.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass