#1 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins moved up one spot in the Eastern Conference this season going from third place in 06-07 to second place in 07-08. They did this even though they finished the season with three points less this past season. With a star studded cast including, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Fleury and possibly Marian Hossa, if he re-signs, the Penguins have a potent team.
Under the watchful eyes of Michel Therrien, the young Penguins picked up their game and marched to the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to a much more talented Detroit Red Wings team in 6 games. They have skill, speed, defense and goaltending, all the factors needed to win a Cup. With a new arena on the way, it would be nice if the Penguins could break it win with a Stanley Cup.
But first they have some things to work on. This season their goal production dropped but so did their goals against per game average. With hockey starting to grow in steeltown and the kids in Mellon Arena getting a new room, it seems that it won't be too long until we see captain Crosby receiving hockey's holy grail from Gary Bettman.
#2 Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens made an incredible jump in the standings this season, going from ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 06-07 to first place in 07-08. Led by their rejuvenated superstar Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens were one of the most exciting teams to watch this season.
With their lightning quick speed, creative plays, quick passes, and great young players, the Canadiens seem to be a team of the future. But their future cant be that far away.
With the change in character of Alex Kovalev, it seemed that the Canadiens were a dormant beast, leading the NHL in goals. Montreal was also the only team to have seven players with 50 points or more. The Habs were very able to get it done in the offensive zone.
The Habs young players like Carey Price, Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn, Ryan O'Bryne and many others are built for the future, but if they could get that big superstar centerman, their future might be 2008-2009.
#3 Washington Capitals
The Wasington Capitals went from last place early on in the season to third place in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals were led by the NHL's best player Alexander Ovechkin and head coach Bruce Boudreau.
When the Capitals acquired Cristobal Huet, Sergei Fedorov and Matt Cooke at the NHL's trade deadline, they went undefeated for ten games straight.
The Caps late-season drive pushed their divisional rivals the Carolina Hurricanes out of the division lead and right out of the post-season. With the experience the Capitals gained in the playoffs this year, it will be no surprise to see the Capitals in the late rounds of the post-season in 2009.
They have all the skills to go deep, except for the goaltending. Cristobal Huet is not the answer in net. With young talent like Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green, the Caps have a skilled young core for to build on for the future. We will definitely see these young guns firing deep into the post-season in 2009.
The Top 2 Threats to the Top 3
It really seems like there isn't a team to knock these contenders of their respective divisions. The only other teams I could think are the Philadelphia Flyers and Ottawa Senators (if they do not choke).