Hello again PPP. I am going to start a new preseason series of yearly predictions starting with this post: Eastern Conference Standings. Read on for my predictions for the East with an explanation for each. Please feel free to add your comments (or your predicted standings) in the comments section!
- Washington Capitals
- Boston Bruins
- Pittsburgh Penguins*
- Buffalo Sabres*
- Philadelphia Flyers
- New York Rangers
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Carolina Hurricanes
- New Jersey Devils
- Winnipeg Jets
- New York Islanders
- Ottawa Senators
*I think that the Sabers will have more points than the 3rd place team (which I think will be Pittsburgh or Philly)
1) Washington Capitals
Washington has been consistently one of the best regular season producers over the last few years. Bringing in Thomas Vokoun, who I believe is arguably one of the best goalies in the game (3rd in overall S% over the last 4 years with a ridiculous 0.923). While their team scoring was inflated 2 years ago (playing off the percentages), I think it was overly deflated last year and will see a bit of a bounce back. They have rounded out a pretty solid defense this year and have a strong young core of forwards. I think they will win the presidents trophy.
2) Boston Bruins
This is simply based on goaltending. They have a pretty damn good (and young) corps of forwards, with Horton, Bergeron, Krecji, Lucic; less established prospects like Marchand, Seguin, and Caron; and good role players in Peverley and Kelly. There D is not great: while it is led by potentially the best defenseman in the game (Chara), I don't much like their depth beyond that. Seidenberg and Corvo are solid top 4 players, but I don't think they're more than that. McQuaid may develop into something. They seem to like Boychuk but I am not sold. Regardless this is a pretty silly discussion, because what will make this team great is goaltending. The top two goalies by overall S% over the last 4 years are Thomas and Rask. Further, if you look at the best single season S% of all time Thomas has the first and fourth best and Rask the eighth. So even if Thomas shows his age, Rask is right behind him.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins
This is the one team I am unsure of. In the end of last year they played very well as a team (and had great goal tending by MAF) to get over 100 points without Crosby or Malkin for a large part of the season. With Crosby unlikely to start the season, but Malkin back, many think them to be a top team in the league and I have trouble disagreeing. They have a very good D corps with many very good, but not great players (Orpiks, Martin, and Michalek) and a potential star in the making in Letang. They have a improved their forward corps even more with the addition of Neal and will now have Malkin to potentially feed him the puck. If Crosby returns they could go on a real tear. All that being said what makes me hesitant on Pittsburgh is MAF. While he carried that team in the second half of last year, he had a pretty poor first half (lost his starting job to Johnson for a while). He is 22nd over all with S% over the last 4 years. Over those 4 years he has had a 0.921 (in 35 games), 0.912, 0.905, and 0.918. I just don't trust his year-year consistency (for interests sake his playoff S% over that time has been 0.933, 0.908, 0.891, 0.899 with him winning the SC on the 0.908).
4) Buffalo Sabres
Simply put: I think they are going to be a very good team. First off their forwards: Derek Roy is an indisputable #1 C, being a player that consistently flirts with PPG. Thomas Vanek is one of the best goal scorers in the league. Over the last 4 years he is 11th in goals (2 goals behind Marleau and Perry who are tied for 9th). Pomiville is basically the epitome of a good, but not great, first line winger. He can consistently score above 60 points and around 25 goals (I realize he scored only 52 last year but he was slow coming back from an injury). While Brad Boyes goal scoring has diminished, he has still cracked 40 points in each of the last 4 seasons and 50 points in 3 of the 4. If he can score 15-20 G and 50+ points (which I think he can) he is a good second liner. While I agree that Leino is overpaid, it doesn't mean I think he is a bad player. I think he is definitely a top 6 forward. While it took him a while to get used to NA ice, since he found his stride in the playoffs 2 years ago (and was given minutes to reflect that, by increasing from ~13 minutes to more than 16 minutes/GP) he has scored 29 G and 79 points in 111 playoff and regular season games. Thats a 21 G 59 point pace over an 82 GP season. Drew Stafford scored at half a goal a game last year and while I don't believe that is sustainable, he has increased his shots on goal in nearly every season and I definitely believe he can crack 25 G if healthy. Tyler Ennis scored 20 G and 49 points, while Gerbe scored 16 G 31 points in 64 GP (40 point pace). With role players like Gaustad and Hecht, and prospects like Kassian and Adam they have a very deep and strong forward corps.
There goaltending is pretty simple. They have an incredible goaltender in Ryan Miller and a pretty damn good prospect/back up in Enroth. This should make a difference for them as Enroth can actually win games, while in the past they lost quite a few whenever Lalime was playing.
While there D is not spectacular it is improved. They have a very good (but again) defensive-D-man in Reghyr. A young up an comer who looks like he is good for 10/40 at least who can eat minutes in Myers. While Ehrhoff's defensive game is not special (and his contract is a joke (good cap hit though)) he is very good offensively. I am personally a large fan of Leopold's as a good defenseman who can do everything well but nothing great. As a number 3-4 defenseman thats a good thing to have. Sekera is also an up and coming defenseman who belongs in a top 6.
I think they have the potential of overtaking Pittsburgh based on there young forwards play. Ignoring what happens with top prospect Brayden Schenn they have legitimate top 6ers in Giroux, Briere, Voracek, JVR, and Hartnell. Jagr is a bit of question mark at his age, but if he can come back strong he can be dangerous. Add in Schenn as a top prospect and Simmonds, Powe, and Talbot as legit top 9-ers. While there D is definitely aging it has 2 incredible players in Timmonen and Pronger, as well as 3 very good defenseman in Carle, Cobourne, and Mezsaros. While he may have gotten a ridiculous contract, Bryzgalov is inarguably a very good goalie and Bobrovski had a good rookie season.
6) New York Rangers
Any team goaltended by King Henrik should never be taken lightly. By bringing in Brad Richards they will likely improve their offense a lot (at least in the short term). I love their C depth in Richards, Dubinsky, Stepan, Anisimov, and Boyle. They have a great winger in Gaborik and a very good one in Callahan. While their D isn't incredible it is not something to laugh at either. Girardi is a good young defenseman and Mcdonough and Del Zotto look like they can be really good players. They stole Calgary's top prospect in Erixon and of course have one of the leagues top defensive defenseman in Staal. Add in an incredible goaltending tandem of King Henrik and Biron and you have a pretty damn good team.
7) Tampa Bay Lightning
These guys are a hard team to predict. They have explosive firepower in Stamkos, Vinny, and St. Louis. With solid depth in their forward ranks with Malone, Purcell, Downie, Moore, etc. My only concern on the forward front is that at 36 MSL may start showing his age. Their D is okay but nothing special. They have3 good veterans in Brewer, Kubina, and Clarke and an older veteran in Ohlund (who will likely be losing some strides). Obviously, they have a very good young player in former second over all, Victor Hedman. What makes me hesitant on them is that they are relying on a career back up (Garon) and a 42 year old (Roloson) who's last 5 years (playoff heroics notwithstanding) has been mediocre at best (0.909, 0.901, 0.915, 0.907, 0.914).
8) Montreal Canadiens
Montreal was basically the same as Toronto last year besides goaltending. They were tied with Toronto and Nashville for 21st for Goals with 213 while being tied with Toronto at 18th for Shots Against with 31/GP. There highest scoring player (Plekanec) would have been tied for 4th on Toronto. Simply put they were carried by Carey Price posting an excellent 0.923 S%. The problem for them is that over the last 4 years he has posted a 0.920, 0.905, 0.912, and 0.923. If he regresses at all they are screwed.
9) Toronto Maple Leafs
I think they have improved since last year and will have a respectable top 6 with Lupul, Connoly, Kessel, MacArthur, Grabovski, and Kulemin. With a 3rd line that can actually score some goals of Kadri (?), Lombardi, and Armstrong, the forward corps is at least good. With an influx of offense to our D with Liles and Franson I think our D should be improved from where it ended. The big question mark for the Leafs of course is...goaltending. Can Reimer repeat his incredible rookie season? Here's hoping.
10) Carolina Hurricanes
Simply put I don't think they improved all that much this off season. They retained Jussi Jokinen but lost Cole. They traded Corvo but added Kaberle (an improvement for sure). Skinner was damn good last year but something tells me he'll fall back some. I won't discount them though simply because a team with Staal up front and Ward in net never should be.
11) New Jersey Devils
This is probably the hardest team to predict. Last year they started ice cold, then found their stride last winter (when they went back to Lemaire behind the bench) and went on an incredible tear. That tear, having two of the best forwards in the game (Kovalchuk and Parise), and having one of the best goaltenders of all time (Brodeur) at first led me to want to say playoffs. However, the rest of their forward corps is either aging (Elias), not that good (Clarkson/Zubrus), young and unproven (Palmieri/Joseffson/Teddenby). Further there number 1 C, Travis Zajac, is expected to be injured through most of the fall. I have no idea who is supposed to play C for this team. Add to that that Brodeur is getting pretty damn old and I think they are in trouble.
12) Winnipeg Jets
They are a team that is moving in the right direction, by acquiring good young players and letting a lot of them grow together. Young forwards like Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Andrew Ladd, and Blake Wheeler, combined with young defenders Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, and Dustin Byfuglien, and their young goal tender Pavelec, together make a good core for the future. With some veterans like Oduya, Hainsey, Antropov, and Chris Mason I think they'll be able to win a few games, but I just don't think they are there yet.
13) New York Islanders
Similar to the Jets I think they are a team that has been doing a good job of stockpiling young talent, but just isn't there yet. It'll take some more time, and settling out of their goaltending situation for this young team to make the playoffs.
14) Ottawa Senators
Ottawa had one player crack 50 points and one player crack 20 goals. Spezza was the player to do both of those. Ottawa is a team that realized they had problems half way through last year and nuked there team. They are left with a couple very good players (Karlsson and Spezza), a goal tender who I think is very good Anderson, and a handful of veterans who either have injury problems (Michalek has no knees left), is very old (Alfredsson and Gonchar), or is a second liner or second pairing defenseman at best (Campoli). They have some good youth/prospects in Butler, Da Costa, Runblad, Lehner, Zibanajed etc. but I don't think they are going to be turning around Ottawa's future this season.
15) Florida Panthers
This was a team that has been carried by one of the best post lockout goaltenders and still couldn't make the playoffs. Not only did they lose him, but they have lost basically their entire team except for Weaver, Harrison, Kulikov, Weiss, Booth and their backup goaltender Clemmenson. They added one very good piece (Campbell), a bunch of good but not elite pieces (Versteeg, Theodore, Upshall, Fleischmann) and some questionable ones (Kopecky and Jovonovski). Ignoring the stupid prices they paid for most of these players, they have built an odd team that is simply not very good.