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The top seven spots in the Eastern Conference will be held by—in no particular order—Pittsburgh, Tampa, Boston, Washington, NY Rangers, Buffalo and Philadelphia.
The leaves one spot to be fought for.
After having read a bunch of articles and comments on B/R, it seems that most people think it will be a fight between the Habs, Leafs, Devils and Hurricanes.
Regarding the Devils, I think last season's miracle run was a bit of a fluke. Yes, Zach Parise's back, but aside from him and Ilya Kovalchuk, who have they got? A 35-year-old Elias, a 39-year-old Martin Brodeur, a 38-year-old Johan Hedberg, and an 18-year-old Adam Larsson. Sorry, but that is not a scary lineup at all.
Regarding the Canes, the entire team revolves around Cam Ward, Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner. The loss of Erik Cole was significant while the additions of Alexei Ponikarovsky and Tomas Kaberle were relatively insignificant.
But hey, what do I know? I'm neither a Canes fan nor a Canes expert. I am somewhat familiar with Poni and Kaberle, however, and these are not guys that push your team to the next level. Much as I like Kaberle, it seemed like he was actually holding the Leafs back last year.
To me, it will be a bitter dogfight between the Canadiens and the Leafs for the eighth and final playoff spot; Montreal's goaltending is far stronger than that of the Leafs.
The Leafs' D situation is looking a little better however—especially with the Canadiens' health concerns.
I personally think the Leafs' group of forwards is better than theirs, but the Habs forwards are extremely annoying to play against, and they have a lot of playoff experience (not to mention some success).
Of course, plenty of people will disagree with me on some of these points, but I truly believe the Leafs have got a chance at making the playoffs, and that's exciting for me.
Burst my bubble if you must, but do it gently.