The 2010-11 NHL season is finally underway and that means it's officially time to take a look at the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Will the New York Islanders make progress with the developing John Tavares? Will the Toronto Maple Leafs find their way out of the bottom spot? Will the Montreal Canadiens' signing of Carey Price be the team's demise?
According to the NHL commercial, these questions will become answers. These answers will ultimately display themselves in the final standings on April 10, 2011, the final day of the season.
Looking into the Eastern Conference, here’s how the final standings of the non-playoff contenders will stack up:
Here's part one of the list.
No. 9—Ottawa Senators
Ottawa is going to come close to making the top eight, but no cigar. Losing Anton Volchenkov will show on defense, despite the acquisition of Sergei Gonchar. He will bring the power play numbers up and an immeasurable amount of leadership in the dressing room, but his age has finally caught up to him and so has some sloppy play.
Backing up a weakened defense is a so-so goaltending situation. Neither Pascal Leclaire nor Brian Elliot have demonstrated special strength in their positions. Offense is in much better shape, but Jason Spezza needs to stay healthy.
No. 10—Montreal Canadiens
The seventh-seed Canadiens were the dark horse of last season’s playoffs, beating down both the Caps and Pens to appear in the shocking Eastern Conference Final with eighth-seeded Flyers. However, they did this on the glove of flaming hot goaltender Jaroslav Halak. After trading him to the St. Louis Blues and re-signing Carey Price, Montreal essentially signed its own death warrant.
Price has been average at best in net and is certainly not a fan favorite. The player with that title would have to be P.K. Subban who heroically stepped up in the playoffs with the loss of Andrei Markov. He has a legitimate shot at the Calder Trophy should his past play in the playoffs continue into the season.
No. 11—New York Rangers
The Rangers were one shootout goal away from making the playoffs, but they won’t be as close this season. I don’t see Marian Gaborik staying healthy and he’s their greatest asset up front. The only other bright stars on the team are Marc Staal, who is consistently one of the best defenseman on the team, and Derek Stepan, the newest (and best) rookie.
Henrik Lunqvist always provides solid goaltending, but he can only do so much for this team. The Ruslan Fedotenko signing should be an interesting test, but unfortunately for the Rangers, Fedotenko tends to turn on his game in the playoffs, something the Rangers will not see this season.
No. 12—Toronto Maple Leafs
GM Brian Burke is always up to something in Toronto and he certainly took advantage of free agency to rebuild the team. Notable new faces include Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong who hope to add some scoring and grit to the lineup.
The newly-crowned captain Dion Phaneuf should add strong elements of leadership that comes with some pressure, but there’s no doubt that Phaneuf should serve well as the team leader.
Overall, I don’t think the changes made will be enough for the Leafs to become a completely solid team, but they are certainly moving in that direction.
No. 13—Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina made an impressive run toward the playoffs at the end of the season, but the squad fell short of their goal because their rush started far too late. With Rod Brind’Amour retired, Eric Staal will take the leadership role and do a fantastic job as he has been doing.
If goalie Cam Ward can stay healthy, then the Hurricanes will have a decent defensive situation, but signing Corvo was a mistake. If Carolina can build off last season’s run, then the 'Canes can possibly move higher in the standings, but I feel this will not be the greatest season for them as their divisional counterparts have been more successful in building strong rosters. This team is good, but there isn’t much depth on the roster beyond the first two lines.
No. 14—Florida Panthers
The loss of Nathan Horton and Keith Ballard will sting the Panthers since they were arguably the two best skaters to dress every night. However, the Panthers still have goalie Tomas Vokoun for at least one more season and he is always a star in net and one of my favorite goalies in the NHL. He keeps the Panthers in games, but they cannot win if he’s seeing 30-plus shots a night.
Losing Ballard quite possibly made this much worse. I don’t think Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik will be able to carry the scoring for this team that doesn’t have many offensive threats. This could very well be a rough season for the Panthers, especially if they lose Vokoun at some point.
No. 15—New York Islanders
No Mark Streit? No Kyle Okposo? Big problem.
The other question is whether Rick DiPietro will be able to defeat the injury bug that has plagued him as of late. The Isles made some adjustments to their group, but nothing overwhelming.
John Tavares was well-hyped coming into the franchise as the 2009 first-overall draft pick, but he will need to work hard to prevent the sophomore slump which seemed to kick in halfway through his season. Injuries really hurt this team that is full of young potential, but I don’t see many reasons why they won’t drop to the bottom of the league. This Islanders team will need a few years to develop before they can be taken seriously.
Laura Falcon is a college intern for Bleacher Report and Featured Columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Follow her on Twitter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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