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Eastern Conference Predictions

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Check out below to see the Western Conference predictions as well.  I did the East last because I’m sure I’ll suffer some backlash for it:

1.  Boston Bruins  I realize Phil Kessel is gone, but I’m putting the Bruins here anyways.  Top to bottom they still might have the best roster in the league.  They should have never let Kessel go, but he’ll be replaced by one of Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew, or Blake Wheeler……all 20+ goal scorers last year.  If Wheeler continues to develop, he could switch from his ever-shuffling role from last year and possibly even replace about 80% of Kessel’s goal total.  Again, they still should’ve found a way to keep him, but they can still fill out their roster and score enough goals.  The defense is stellar, and Tim Thomas doesn’t look pretty but the stats are there.

2.  Philadelphia Flyers  I almost couldn’t bring myself to do this, but I did.  I don’t think Ray Emery is good enough to make the Flyers Cup contenders, but I also don’t think he’s as bad as everyone assumes.  Remember, he was jettisoned from the NHL more because of attitude and antics than poor play.  He had his share of that too but he also played very well when Ottawa had a competitive roster.  As for their skaters, the forwards are excellent top to bottom, and Chris Pronger bumps up their defensive lineup into that category as well.  The only question mark is goaltending, but Marty Biron was a question mark, and he didn’t have Chris Pronger in front of him.

3.  Washington Capitals  Their defense still stinks in my opinion, but the Caps are overloaded with offensive firepower just by the simple fact that they have Ovechkin.  How their goaltending will shake down is the X factor:  they insist Theodore will be the starter with Varlamov getting worked in gradually.  It would seem he’d have to be the starter at some point though.  Goaltending questions combined with being below average in their own zone will probably end their season when the going gets tough in the playoffs, but for the regular season they’re ability to score and a little luck keeping some pucks out of the net will allow them to rack up wins.  Oh, and their division STILL stinks.

4.  Pittsburgh Penguins  Fourth place seems right for the Penguins.  For as much top end talent as they have, it comes at the expense of depth in other areas.  For every Crosby or Malkin, they settle for a Fedotenko or Guerin instead of a Knuble or Havlat.  That’s obviously not a bad thing, but over the course of 82 games it’d be surprising if lack of support didn’t bite them at least a few times.  It will probably be something as little as the odd rough patch throughout the season, but it’ll result in them not winning the division.  For as many points their elite players put up, there will be games where mistakes are made or streaks run cold.  These patches may not last long enough to notice much, but it’ll be enough for the Flyers to edge them out in the win/loss column.

5.  Carolina Hurricanes  It’s strange, but Erik Cole seems to pick up his game when playing in Carolina.  That acquisition, along with unexpected contributions from the likes of Tuomo Ruutu and Sergei Samsonov helped the Hurricanes get back on track and bolster a playoff spot last year.  Cam Ward is as solid as you can ask for in a goaltender and in general I think that although they fizzled out against Pittsburgh, Carolina realized last year that they might have something here.  It’s a solid, if unspectacular roster but everyone plays their game and fill their role nicely.

6.  New Jersey Devils  File this one under the “Somehow They Always Get It Done” category.  Myself and many others thought the Devils were on a slow decline as of the last few years, but there they are comfortably in the middle of the playoff pack every season.  Their defense has gone from hard-hitting to nothing special, but the forwards are good enough to score their share and while I really do think Martin Brodeur is on a slow decline himself, the Devils have done it all in the past and nothing surprises them.

7.  Montreal Canadiens  I went from not liking this team, to thinking I underestimated them, then back again.  Despite all the free agent noise they’ve made, there’s just not enough here to make them a legit Cup contender.  I like Cammalleri, but taking on Gomez’s salary probably wasn’t very smart and relying on him to mesh well with Gionta again is a major gamble.  The rest of the forwards are pretty pedestrian, with a little potential in spots.  The defense will rely a lot on Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik, and Habs fans will be praying they can keep it together in their own zone or it’ll be another rough year for Carey Price in the media.

8.  Buffalo Sabres  The Sabres should thank their lucky stars because the Rangers have screwed their team up probably more than it already was and that leaves Buffalo as really the only complete team I haven’t listed yet, and therefore the eight best.  Thomas Vanek will lead them in scoring, Derek Roy is a valuable asset…….Ryan Miller is good, but probably not as great as the hype he was getting a couple years back……..the team is just so very average.

9.  Toronto Maple Leafs  I’m still in shock, but it looks like Brian Burke made some really nice moves to improve this team and in only one summer.  In the blink of an eye their defense is tough, battle tested, and skilled from top to bottom.  The acquisition of Phil Kessel gives them a real go to forward, although the rest leave a lot to be desired.  If Blake, Stempniak, Ponikarovsky and Stajan can all supply 60-point seasons the playoff race could get interesting.  This would all be contingent upon Toskala staying healthy in goal however, and I’m not sold on “The Monster,” a 25 year old undrafted netminder from Europe.  

10.  New York Rangers  I’ve seen them as low as 13th, but I’d be surprised if that happened.  Sure, they took one horrible contract (Gomez) and replaced it with one that may be worse in Gaborik’s, but he’ll be playing a good many games for them too and he’s a great weapon when healthy.  Lundqvist will do his thing and provide sure-handed goaltending, and the defense is good enough to get by, but the forwards overall are fairly dreadful.  Sean Avery, Brandon Dubinsky, Chris Drury, and Ales Kotalik are not names you can rely on to provide the bulk of your scoring, nor should they be.  

11.  Ottawa Senators  When Ottawa was forced to trade Dany Heatley, they lost their biggest and most consistent scoring threat.  Personnel-wise the only mentionable they got in return was Milan Michalek, who will fill a top six spot at least.  They also signed Alexei Kovalev during the summer (was the writing on the wall with Heatley?), so he’ll provide goals as well.  The problem is there’s just not enough of anything in any part of their roster.  I’m in the minority who thinks Pascal Leclaire is a starter in this league, but even then he still has to keep from getting hurt.  The defense has a good blend of 2/3 experience and 1/3 youth and potential, but Mike Fisher as a second line center is a stretch that defines their entire forward roster.

12.  Florida Panthers  I don’t blame them for keeping Bouwmeester past the trade deadline.  At the time everything was aligning correctly and the Panthers looked like if they just stayed the course a playoff berth would become a reality.  Unfortunately for them the gamble just didn’t pay off.  With Bouwmeester gone, they’re left with a team that’s more of a nuisance than anything else.  Vokoun is a very good goaltender, but the void left on defense will mean serviceable players like Ballard and McCabe will be taken out of their comfort zones, and there’s no guarantee everyone can pitch in to fill the gaps.  David Booth and possibly Michael Frolik and Rostislav Olesz represent the future on offense, but Stephen Weiss has probably topped out at 61 points, Nathan Horton can’t do it by himself and Cory Stillman’s career is winding down.

13.  Tampa Bay Lightning  The Lightning made all the wrong moves last year when they could’ve righted the ship.  There’s still some great pieces here though, and acquiring Mattias Ohlund and Kurtiss Foster will do a lot to stabilize an incredibly young defensive corps who last year collectively were infants by NHL standards.  Alex Tanguay brings his under-achieving self into town as well, but he’ll help nonetheless.  It looks okay on paper, but the defense is still raw and Mike Smith isn’t quite good enough to nullify that.  Also, despite some spectacular players up front the Lightning can’t seem to score.  Maybe getting rid of all the distractions will rectify that problem, and if so I’ll regret not putting them a little higher.

14.  Atlanta Thrashers  They deserve to be the lowest, but they’re not.  ’09-10 will be another season of Kovalchuk skating around like mad desperately trying to pop off shots because well, who else is going to help?  Actually Bryan Little could.  He had 31 goals last year out of nowhere and it seems like he’s on track to be a regular contributor.  Enstrom and Hainsey are serviceable on defense and Bogosian and Valabik should be good in the years to come, but that’s about it.  The rest of the roster is a mish-mash of  “oh, I remember him” names and for how many years they’ve been around this just doesn’t cut it.  I’d say they should explore other goalie options outside of the injury-riddled Kari Lehtonen, but this team has enough problems.

15.  New York Islanders  Getting the right (I won’t say “earning the right”) to draft John Tavares will help the Islanders on the ice and at the gate.  I’m not convinced it’s the start on the road to success because it is the Islanders after all, but building around Tavares at least gives them a visible starting point.  For now they’re wallowing in the basement as usual, but if they play their cards right the fans COULD have something to look forward to.  Mark Streit is incredibly underrated on defense (56 points and a plus 6) and hopefully forwards Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo can pan out so supporting scorers can be acquired.  Aside from Streit though, the defense is a black hole and in general the Islanders will have to stick their necks out and find some gems as opposed to having AHL/NHL ‘tweeners like Sean Bergenheim and Trent Hunter simply standing in as warm bodies.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Kraig
    September 29, 2009 at 6:05 am

    Didn’t Zherdev go to the KHL recently? The Rangers will be even worse off now without him…hahaha…I agree with you out of the playoffs ranking.

    • September 29, 2009 at 4:01 pm

      Yeah that sounds about right, I was going by The Hockey News Yearbook, which was probably a month or two out of date at press time. Thanks I fixed it.

  2. Uncle Tom
    October 2, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I’d like to pick the Pens higher, but 4th looks about right. It doesn’t really matter as long as they make the right moves before the playoffs.

  3. Dan
    October 3, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    Can’t really argue the top 4 cause pretty much everyonehas them there in some order although I still believe that people think Boston is a lil better than people think. Plus now they are minus Kessel. I would put Florida and Tampa way higher, especially Florida. They lost J-Bo but overall I think their defense is better and a little birdy told me they are going to open up the offense a bit. I actually think they will be in 1 of the last 2 spots with Buffalo even if it’s by default. Ottawa, NY, and Montreal all have a lot more question marks.

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