On the heels of my Western Conference predictions, here is what I see happening in the East.
1. Boston Bruins - Divisional play will mean a lot, that is why the Bruins will be on top despite maybe being the 4th best team in the conference after the 3 Atlantic powerhouses
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Probably the East’s best, but 10 tough games against NYR and Phi eat away at some of the points in the standings.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning – Even adequate goaltending should get Tampa back to the playoffs in a close Southeast
4. Philadelphia Flyers – Tough sets with NYR and Pit
5. New York Rangers – Cannibalistic Atlantic division where Pens, Flyers and Rangers duke it out
6. Washington Capitals – Oates takes the leash off Ovie and company
7. Ottawa Senators – The captain’s possible last hurrah, but blue line questions
8. Buffalo Sabres – Good goaltending and some shrewd moves, but Ville Leino?
9. Carolina Hurricanes – 2 Staals are better than 1
10. Florida Panthers - Cinderella loses a step with the improvement of the Canes, Lightning and Caps.
11. New Jersey Devils – 81 years of goalie catches up with them, Parise’s leadership missed
12. Toronto Maple Leafs – No #1 centre and no #1 goalie…yet
13. Winnipeg Jets – Almost but not quite ready
14. New York Islanders – Building a young core, a couple of years away
15. Montreal Canadiens – Expecting Galchenyuk and Gionta’s return to be the difference is wishful thinking for Habs fans and management.
Essentially this conference comes down to the battle in the Atlantic Division between the Flyers, Penguins and Rangers. Each of those teams could lay claim to being the best in the conference, and along with the Bruins are clearly the top 4. After that, like the West, there is a jumble of teams that could be factors in the playoff race. Boston will get the edge over the other three in the standings because they play the Leafs and Habs so many times and they don’t have to face two elite teams 4 or 5 times each in the regular season.
However, unlike the West where I could only state that one team is out of the running before the puck even drops, there are 4 in the East that will be looking toward next year. The Leafs, Jets, Islanders and Canadiens will flounder for most of the season. The Leafs have an asterisk if they do address the goaltending issue before the season gets too old. If they add Luongo in the first 10 games then they have to be in the mix for a playoff spot on that basis alone.