Predicting the Last East/West Playoffs as We Know Them: Eastern Addition
As most of you know, the NHL Board of Governors approved the realignment from two divisions to four. The new, still unnamed conferences will consist of two of eight teams and two of seven.
Along with the regular season differences, there will be a very different look in the playoff structure, which will now see the top four teams from each conference advancing to the playoffs.
With the NHL set to implement this new format in '12/13 season, this will be the last time we see the East/West playoff structure that we have grown used to over the years.
This is how I predict the Eastern Conference playoffs seeds to play out this post season.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
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Each Maple Leaf's game I watch, I am more convinced that they mean business this season.
While I still believe that Phil Kessel's production, as well as the team's success will fade before the end of the season, I do think they will manage to make the post-season.
The chemistry this team shows is one of the best in the league, resulting in both Kessel and Lupul in the top four point-scorers in the league (two very unlikely candidates).
When Tim Connolly is healthy, he adds to this chemistry. The only problem is to assume he will remain healthy for the rest of the season is a gamble, given his history.
The team is off to a good start this season, but the race is still tight with plenty of time remaining in the season. It will be tough, but they do have it in them.
7. New Jersey Devils
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The New Jersey Devils, after an atrocious '10/11 campaign, are off to yet another slow start to the season.
They've been offensively challenged for quite some time now, and you've to to assume something will give.
Whether the help comes from within or through a trade, the Devils have plenty of time to figure themselves out.
The end to last season is proof of how dominant this team can be.
Once Travis Zajac returns to the lineup—which appears to be coming soon—I expect the team's offense improve, as the team climbs their way into the playoffs.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
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There were many skeptics regarding the Philadelphia Flyers when they traded away their two franchise players last off season (Mike Richards and Jeff Carter).
Their moves are proving to be good ones, as they've been one of the most offensively dominant teams so far this year, lead by the deadly duo of Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.
Their goals against, however, are far higher than they would like to see.
That being said, I expect the Flyers to continue playing as they have thus far; as they are currently sitting in fifth place in the East.
5. Buffalo Sabres
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The Sabres made some major moves this past off-season, acquiring Ville Leino, Robyn Regehr and Christian Ehrhoff.
When you combine the additions to the health of Derek Roy, who played just 35 games last season due to injury, you would expect to see them much higher than where they currently sit.
Buffalo got off to a quick start, but have dropped a bit since. Despite their below .500 record in the last 10 games, the Sabres sit in seventh place in the East.
Down the stretch, I expect their chemistry to pick up as the team returns their game the form we saw at the beginning of the season.
4. New York Rangers
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The New York Rangers finally appear to be an elite contender.
The slow start to Brad Richard's season has heated up, along with the play of Lundqvist and Gaborik.
The Rangers have been playing like one of the best teams in the league as of late, and I expect them to keep it up.
The only thing putting them in fourth position is that in order to finish any higher they need to lead the Atlantic Division, which may prove to be a very difficult task.
3. Washington Capitals
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The Washington Capitals, along with a few other teams in the Southeastern division, are struggling. This is nothing new to the team, however.
We also saw how badly they struggled last season, and we all saw how Bruce Boudreau felt about it.
The point is, while they may be struggling right now as well as adjusting to a new coach, this team is far too talented to be in the position they sit right now.
I expect this team, as well as Alexander Ovechkin to adjust to Dale Hunter's way of doing things, and surge to the top of the division.
If they don't, we all know who's headed out: the oft rumored Alexander Semin.
2. Boston Bruins
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The Boston Bruins have been on a tear recently. They have recovered from the early Stanley Cup hangover, and now are back to form.
Sitting in second for G/G, and first for GA/G, and currently riding an unbeaten-in-regulation streak that stretches 15 games and five weeks, are proving to the league that a repeat is very possible.
While their current streak has to come to an end eventually, I expect the Bruins to lead the Northeast division for the remainder of the season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
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Now, those three players are all healthy and producing, Marc-Andre Fleury is shining, and even Matt Cooke is staying disciplined.
There is no telling what this team is capable of now.
They lead the East despite going just 5-4-1 in the past 10 games, and I expect them to stay there.