Training camp is starting and that means speculation begins. Without further ado, I give you what I think the end of the season will look like in the Eastern Conference.
2.) Pittsburgh Penguins- Too much talent in two players alone. Two scoring wingers for each, a few talented players in the line up as supporting cast, and an above average plus defense. Also a goaltender who may or may not be coming into his own. Satan and Crosby, Malkin and Sykora will be point monsters. They'll also be getting back one of the better young defensemen in Ryan Whitney around the deadline.
3.) Washington Capitals- Someone has to win this division and it will be the Caps. Ovechkin alone gives them the edge. While they will miss what Huet brought them in net during the playoffs, a decently able defense and offensive talents like Mike Green, AO, Semin, Niklas Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov, and Sergei Federov they'll be able to score their way through the weak South Eastern division.
4.) Philadelphia Flyers- A team with depth that made a great bounce last season from worst to Eastern Conference Finals. Offseason moves and injuries have made them lose some of the offensive punch they had, but they remain steady in the top six. The "loss" of Darian Hatcher will only help the team become more mobile. Biggest question lies in the health of Simon Gagné.
5.) New York Rangers- Henrik Lundqvist. Prepare to hear a lot about him this season. He will be the main catalyst for this team's success. A large roster turn over with the loss of Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka, the additions made in offseason result in a lot of question marks. Will Nik Zherdev finally produce as expected? Will Markus Naslund regain his old form? Will Wade Redden produce?
6.) New Jersey Devils- Marty Brodeur's decline continues, but his talent alone and a boost in offense is still enough to see them sneak into the playoffs. Their thin defensive core continues to be masked by the team's overall defensive play, especially with the return of former stars Brian Rolston and Bobby Unibrow who know the trapping system employed and will pop in a few goals to go with their ability to cover for the young and less talented defenses mistakes.
7.) Boston Bruins- Claude Julien surprised everyone last season, taking an offensively starved team to the playoffs and then leading them to the brink of upsetting the team with the best record in the East in the first round. This season starts with the return of Patrice Bergeron. Early reviews have him back in fine form, providing a huge boost to the meager offense that accompanies a superb defense headed by My Giant Zdeno Chara.
8.) Buffalo Sabres-A team torn apart by free agency in the last few years still finds a way to squeak in. Super Coach Lindy Ruff pieces together a roster with youth and talent. Ryan Miller, a high quality goalie, will be the backbone for their run toward the playoffs while Derek Roy looks to be the go-to star along with long time Sabre Maxim Afinogenov.
9.) Tampa Bay Lightning-They're a more talented version of the post lockout Pens. Enough young players will establish chemistry to not make them in the basement, but too many questions on the back end, in net, and in scoring depth. In the end their thin blue line and lack of true role players and solid goaltending will do them in.
10.) Carolina Hurricanes- Early season injuries and lack of goaltending will sink the team. They will miss Eric Cole more than they realize, especially with the loss of Justin Williams to a ruptured Achilles Tendon. Joni Pitkanen is not an upgrade on the blue line and they made little other moves. Tuomo Ruutu is a question mark and injury prone, but could have a huge year if healthy. Another "almost" year harmed by injuries.
11.) Ottawa Senators- The mighty continue to fall. Not much done in the offseason to right a quickly falling ship and the loss of Wade Redden on the blue line. The big three will still produce, but not much beyond that will fill the net. The blue line takes a big hit and while Ray Emery is gone, look for goaltending to continue to be an issue.
12.) Florida Panthers- Another year of almost. They'll be in the race until the trade deadline when someone will wow them and pry away Jay Bouwmeester who is riding his one year contract. While the return may be something decent, don't count on it being enough to get the Panthers to the top eight. Poor Nathan Horton.
13.) Atlanta Thrashers- Ilya Kovalchuk. Kari Lethonen. Who else? True talent is hard to find on this team. They have nothing in the cupboard. Kovalchuk is in the final year of his contract and has been the face of the franchise from the start. For a team talking about having Angelo Esposito and this years No. 3 pick Zach Bogosian in the line up, it doesn't look pretty.
14.) Toronto Maple Leafs- They finally came to their senses and decided to actually play poorly for a high pick. They're anxious to get in the Tavares lottery to really draw them in and upper management finally decides that they need to rebuild. Or they'll just suck that badly. The latter is more likely.
15.) New York Islanders- Garth Snow continues his reign of terror as the Islanders once again toil in mediocrity. The only thing keeping this team relevant is Rick DiPietro coming off of hip surgery. That's bound to not last. And for the sake of any Isles fan, hopefully neither will Snow.