The Eastern Conference playoff picture is certainly an easier one to figure out than the Western Conference. However, it's far from set in stone. Here's my picks for what the standings will look like come playoff time.
I'll also identify the MVP of each team for the season, specifically down the stretch run.
Not a surprise. The Senators are straight up terrible this year. They're 18 points out of the playoffs and their chances of reaching the final spot are all but gone. They also spent the trade deadline trading away some big names, like Alex Kovlev, Chris Kelly and Chris Campoli. They recognize their position and are now assumedly playing for a lottery pick.
A bright spot in an otherwise dreary season has been defenseman Erik Karlsson. While his -32 plus/minus is rather dreadful, his team leading 33 points are no joke. He'll look to up his plus/minus next season on a hopefully better Senators club.
The New York Islanders are in the midst of another terrible season. This is partly due to the injuries to Kyle Okposo, Mark Streit, and Rick DiPietro. It's also partly due to the incompetence of their general manager. But with the potential talent on this team, it's hard to believe that even Mr. Snow could hold them back in the upcoming years.
For MVP, I have to go with their star, number one overall pick, John Tavares. He currently leads the team with 53 points and will eclipse his totals from last season easily. Moulson, Grabner, and Montoya are the other key contributors here.
The Florida Panthers once again will finish out of the playoffs. Although only 10 points out, they traded away half of their defense and are in a perennial rebuilding mode. Hopefully Dale Tallon will help them become the team they need to be, before they end up moving to Canada.
Their MVP this year, as well as the past several years, is Tomas Vokoun. Without his incredible play, they'd be even worse. His .922 save percentage is on par with his career average and he's sure to be one of the catches of this free agent class if he isn't resigned before then.
The Atlanta Thrashers started off brilliantly this season and looked as though they were going to challenge for the division title. Unfortunately, after Dustin Byfuglien's unreal production wore off and Ondrej Pavelec turned human again, the Thrashers turned back into who we expected them to be. Meh.
But Dustin Byfuglien has given them something to be proud of. As the MVP of this team, he replaces Ilya Kovalchuk as the face of the franchise. It was a brilliant move putting him back on defense and he looks to be the leader of their relatively strong defense for years to come.
The Sabres have made an admirable push for the playoffs these last few weeks, however, they'll fall short and start to trail off soon enough. While new owner Terry Pegula is certainly a sign of good things to come for this franchise, I believe those good things won't come til next year. Brad Boyes just isn't a big enough transaction to propel this team into the playoffs.
Once again, although not having the stellar season he had last year, Ryan Miller is this team's MVP. He's the backbone of the organization and they wouldn't even be in the position they are now without his superb play.
The New York Rangers currently hold the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, I doubt they'll hold that for long. McCabe isn't enough to change the way this team is playing. Even their star goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, is having a weak season. They're trending down, sadly.
The Rangers MVP? Brandon Dubinsky. Although his offensive numbers wouldn't make him a star, he leads the Rangers in points and is one of their only forwards who's been healthy and productive all season.
Unfortunately, the New Jersey Devils will fall just short of a miracle. After their incredible ascension up the standings, the Devils will miss out on the last spot by just a point. However, the second half of the season has been nothing short of brilliant, so they will look to have a strong season next year.
The Devils MVP? The person who has led the dramatic rise up the standings, Ilya Kovalchuk. He started off the first year of his ridiculous 100 million dollar contract terribly. However, he's fought back to appear to be the star he once was, with a bundle of game winning goals along the way.
Toronto will end their five year absence from the playoffs this year in dramatic fashion. They'll cling onto the last spot for their dear lives, but they'll make it. They've been steadily and somewhat quietly,trending upward these past few weeks and it's going to pay off.
Leafs MVP? Phil Kessel. No one had worse treatment than Phil in Toronto, with taunts of what might have been if they'd had their first rounders back. While some of that was deserved, there is no question that he has been spectacular recently. To make the playoffs, they need him to be just that good for the rest of the year. He will be.
The Carolina Hurricanes were out of the playoff picture for most of the beginning of the year. After Atlanta started to lose, they took over the eighth seed and have held that position ever since. Look for them to kick things up another notch and gain a solid seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Canes MVP? Their captain Eric Staal. He leads the team in goals, assists, and points. He's also the emotional leader and the star that mostly gives this team their credibility,
The Montreal Canadiens will once again make the playoffs in a lower seed, hoping once again to upset a division leader. They've had a solid, if not somewhat disappointing year, but have been good enough to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference.
Habs MVP? Carey Price. Has he been perfect? No, by no means. But he's been far better than his traded counterpart, Jaroslav Halak, proving that the right decision was made in net in Montreal.
The Penguins are a very good team. Without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they're just a good team. The problem is that two players don't make a team. The Penguins have shown that regardless of injury, they can fight through and take on whatever comes in their way. Plus, Crosby might be coming back this season.
Penguins MVP? Barring his injury, Crosby would've been the league's MVP and had one of the better seasons in history. But, that didn't happen, and the MVP is therefore Kris Letang. He's second on the team in points and is the best defenseman on this team. He's been the backbone since Malkin and Crosby went down.
The Capitals are in the midst of a disappointing season by their standards. At the time of this writing, they don't seem like they'll challenge for the division lead and fourth place might be what they settle for. Fortunately, this could help them come playoff time, as they won't underestimate their first round opponent.
Caps MVP? Even in his personal worst season, Alex Ovechkin is the MVP here. He leads the team in goals, assists, and points. He's still the Ovechkin we used to know, and hopefully he can find himself come playoff time.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been pretty good this year. It'll be the first year they make the playoffs since 2006-2007. But they're not quite convincing enough to make me feel they deserve their division lead. When they lose, they lose big and they still have some improving to do until they are a legitimate contender.
Bolts MVP? Martin St. Louis. While Steven Stamkos has the goals and points to place him among the leagues best, he's streaky. St. Louis isn't, not as much at least. He's a veteran leader on this team, and his play is more effective than Stamkos flashy play. Hey, he's got 75 points too. That's not bad at all.
The Boston Bruins are for real this year. After a total embarrassment in the playoffs last year, the Bruins have come back "with a vengeance." With the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle, they are making a statement that they believe this is the year...and it very well may be.
Bruins MVP? Obviously, it's Tim Thomas. Not only the obvious choice for his second Vezina, Thomas will challenge for the Hart Trophy this season. He stole the starting role back from Tukka Rask, and is back on track to have himself his finest year yet.
The obvious choice for the number one spot, the Flyers have been fantastic. After losing in the Finals last year, the Flyers did all the right things in the offseason and came back to be the best team in the NHL. They still lead the league in wins and could challenge for the President's Trophy as the best regular season team in the league.
Flyers MVP? Claude Giroux. This could've gone to any of five or six players, but Claude has been the most consistent throughout the year. He leads the team full of stars in points and looks to have another great long playoff run when the regular season ends.