NHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Greg CaggianoSenior Writer ISeptember 3, 2008

The time has come for my official NHL Eastern Conference preview and predictions, which will be located in this article. I was originally going to wait until Mats Sundin signed somewhere but since it looks as if hell will freeze over before then, I figure I'll get busy with this.

Final Standings

1. Montreal Canadiens*

2. New York Rangers*

3. Washington Capitals*

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

5. Philadelphia Flyers

6. Boston Bruins

7. New Jersey Devils

8. Carolina Hurricanes


9. Tampa Bay Lightning

10. Ottawa Senators

11. Buffalo Sabres

12. Toronto Maple Leafs

13. Florida Panthers

14. Atlanta Thrashers

15. New York Islanders

Team Analysis

1. Montreal Canadiens

For the second straight season, the Montreal Canadiens will win the Eastern Conference. This team established themselves as one of the fastest and most exciting teams in the league last season and they are virtually unchanged coming into this season.

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The only difference in the lineup will be winger and former thirty goal scorer Alex Tanguay, who will only strengthen the offense. The team also got tougher and they now have a bonafide enforcer in the lineup with Georges Laraque.

The only question with this team will be the goaltending and I wonder how well Carey Price will hold up in what will be his first full season in the NHL. The offense should be enough to carry the team through the regular season but it will be up to goaltending and defense when the playoffs roll around.

2. New York Rangers

Two months ago I boldly predicted that the New York Rangers would win the Atlantic division and I'm sticking by that. The team went in the right direction by letting Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka go, and acknowledging that it will be Scott Gomez and Chris Drury who will be the future of this offense.

The additions of Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund will only improve the team as Zherdev is incredibly skilled and exciting, while a change of scenery will do Naslund good.

Also, look for big free agent acquisition defenseman Wade Redden to turn into a Brian Leetch-type figure for this team, as they have lacked a power play quarterback since his departure.

Their defensive core is young and solid; combine that with goaltender "King" Henrik Lundqvist, and this team can go deep into the playoffs.

3. Washington Capitals

In what is a very weak Southeast division, the Washington Capitals will once again come away the victors.

Their offense will rank among the best in the league with young players like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Niklas Backstrom leading the way. Add to that the veteran presence of Sergei Federov and Viktor Kozlov, and there are no worries on offense.

However, their defense and goaltending are questionable as the only D-man worth noting is sniper Mike Green. To say that Jose Theodore is an upgrade over Olaf Kolzig is a bit of an over-statement, but Theodore played well with the Avalanche last season and the offense of this team should keep the pressure off on most nights.

This is yet another team that will be carried by offense and not go deep into the playoffs.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins stormed all the way to Stanley Cup Finals and even won the Atlantic Division last season. However, Marian Hossa was a big part of that and he is no longer with the team. He won't be missed too badly, but losing a perennial 40 goal scorer can't help in any way.

Still, the team is strong on offense with guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way. Miroslav Satan, Ruslan Fedetenko, and Matt Cooke were all nice additions and will definitely add skill to the offense.

The defense is also virtually unchanged but the loss of Ryan Whitney for what could be the first month of the season will hurt the team. However, Brooks Oprik, Sergei Gonchar, and Darryl Sydor should keep them strong.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

If there is one team that may be a surprise to finish this high in the standings, it's the Philadelphia Flyers. They have the same team as last season and didn't make one major addition in the offseason.

Daniel Briere, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter will keep the offense strong along with a supposedly healthy Simon Gagne. Their defense is once again strong with players such as Kimmo Timmonen, Braydon Coburn, and Derian Hatcher.

Their goaltending may be shaky, as Martin Biron has yet to impress anyone, even though he played well in the playoffs. Look for backup goalie Antero Niittimaki to challenge for the job as No. 1 goaltender.

6. Boston Bruins

Last season, the Boston Bruins barely snuck into the playoffs and almost upset the No. 1 seeded Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. This season though, they will be featured a little more prominently in the standings.

The offense stayed the same except for the addition of Michael Ryder who will experience a renaissance with his new team. But with coach Claude Julien's defense style, the team will not have to rely on offense to win games. Add to that their solid defense of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Wideman, and Aaron Ward, and they will have a nice combination of offense and defense.

As for goaltending, Manny Fernandez should be healthy and will challenge the very reliable starting goalie Tim Thomas for the starting role.

7. New Jersey Devils

The one team that surprised me this offseason was the New Jersey Devils, as they went out and signed the players they absolutely needed: a speedy winger with offensive talent and a grinding center.

Those players, respectively, are Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik (who will be playing in his second stint with the Devils). Add those players to a decent offensive top six that includes Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, and Jamie Langenbrunner, and they have a chance to improve on offense from last season.

Also, look for Brian Gionta to be on the move before the deadline as his offensive ability has declined. This team also has what you would call a "no-name" defense. The only person who is known around the league is Colin White.

However, the system Head Coach Brett Sutter implements will allow them to win games. Additionally, Martin Broduer is still the last line of defense, as he continues his assault on the record books. However, the only way the Devils go far in the playoffs is if Broduer doesn't play in more than 75 games.

8. Carolina Hurricanes

The final team to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference will be the Carolina Hurricanes. They have a solid offense led by Eric Stall, Rod Brind'Amour, and Sergei Samsonov, while their defense is equally capable of putting up some numbers.

Joe Corvo is a solid offensive defenseman, and so is Joni Pitkanen. Goaltender Cam Ward is also strong and this team has a good chance of upsetting the Montreal Canadiens when the playoffs come around.


9. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lighting finished dead last a season ago and they will see a vast improvement, finishing over .500 and coming close to making the playoffs.

They added offense in Ryan Malone and Radin Vrbata, and grit with Gary Roberts. Combine them with Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, and this team will have a great offense.

Even with all of that, the main reason they will not make the playoffs is defense and goaltending. On defense, the most experienced player is Andrew Hutchinson, and at 28 he is virtually a career minor leaguer. In goal, Mike Smith has skill but is untested and Olaf Kolzig is on the downhill turn of his career.

10. Ottawa Senators

When you hear the phrase "one-line team," the Ottawa Senators have to come to mind. Other then Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley, this team's offense on the bottom nine forwards is incredibly thin.

On defense, they lost Wade Redden, and even though he had been struggling, I would still rather have him over Filip Kuba, who they just added in a trade with Tampa Bay.

If they made one good signing is was the rugged and tough defenseman Jason Smith who will shore up the defense. The goaltending is a question mark with Martin Gerber and Alex Auld between the pipes.

11. Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres are now a far cry from the team that won the Eastern Conference just two seasons ago. The only player on offense worth noting is Thomas Vanek, who never lived up to the gigantic contract he signed last year.

Their defense is steady, even with the loss of Brian Campbell. Craig Rivet and Jaroslav Spacek add experience to the blue line. Combine that with Ryan Miller, and they are the only reasons why this team will be competitive throughout the season.

12. Florida Panthers

If there is another team in the East that didn't make major changes, it was the Florida Panthers. They will sorely miss Olli Jokinen, but can look forward to the likes of Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, and new addition Cory Stillman.

On defense, they added Bryan McCabe, who desperately needed a change of scenery and he will help their power play.

Nick Boynton and Karlis Skrastins will also add experience to a young team. There is a bright spot on goaltending though, as Tomas Vokoun has proven himself to be more than adequate in the job he's done. Craig Anderson is also a solid and reliable backup.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a period that fans dread to hear, a period of rebuilding. It appears as they will not bring back Mats Sundin and have turned things over to Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan, and Nik Antropov.

Their offense will enjoy moderate success but the defense and goaltending will struggle. Pavel Kubina and Tomas Kaberle will be strong, but other than them, the defense is extremely weak.

Say what you want about Bryan McCabe, but I would much rather have him then Jeff Finger. In goal, the Leafs will ride out Vesa Toskala and Curtis Joseph, and when the team is out of contention, look for them to call up Justin Pogge. The only reason they will not finish last in the league is because of the two teams worse off than them.

14. Atlanta Thrashers

The team that will finish second to last in the East will be the Atlanta Thrashers. They used to be a team with a ton of offense and no defense. Well, now they don't have much of either.

Losing Marian Hossa last year hurt superstar Ilya Kovalchuk, who will still manage to score more than forty goals. Other than him, this team will struggle to score.

They are also weak on defense, with the exception of Ron Hainsey and Tobias Enstrom, who will provide much needed help to their power play. Goaltending is also very shaky as Kari Lehtonen has yet to prove himself as a reliable number one goalie.

15. New York Islanders

Finally, the worst team in the Eastern conference will be the New York Islanders. Their leading scorer will come from one of these three guys: Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, or Mike Comrie. If that's the case, it is a huge problem.

They lost Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedetenko during the offseason and even though they struggled, I would rather have the two of them instead of Frans Nielsen and Blake Comeau.

One would think their goalie position is strong because of Rick DiPietro, but he has been injured in each of the last two seasons. If that continues, one must ponder how bad the contract Garth Snow gave him really is.

Player Point Predictions

1. Alex Ovechkin: 72 goals, 53 assists, 125 points

2. Vincent Lecavalier: 45 goals, 54 assists, 99 points

3. Sidney Crosby: 30 goals, 64 assists, 94 points

4. Evgeni Malkin: 50 goals, 38 assists, 88 points

5. Jason Spezza: 40 goals, 47 assists, 87 points


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