Here are my eastern conference predictions. Basically there are 6 teams that I think should make the playoffs followed by another 6 teams that will battle it out for the final two playoff spots followed by 3 pretty bad teams.
1. Washington Capitals, 116pts – Washington is far and away the best team in the eastern conference. They had 121 points last year and will come close to that again. Playing in the worst division in hockey helps too.
2. New Jersey Devils, 105pts – A first line of Parise-Zajac-Kovalchuk has the potential to be as good as any in hockey. Offensively at least. I like the addition of Jason Arnott as well making the Devils strong down the middle. They need an offensive defenseman but otherwise they are a solid all-round team.
3. Boston Bruins, 97pts – They will get to 97 points if they maximize the usage of their two goalies, Rask and Thomas, because they are probably going to struggle offensively again, especially if Savard doesn’t get healthy. Gets third seed as top northeast team.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins, 99pts – I am not certain the defense shuffle in Pittsburgh made them a better team, but probably not a worse team either. They will come close to their 101 points from a season ago. If Fleury plays better in goal they might challenge the Devils.
5. Philadelphia Flyers, 95pts – The Flyers could be a great team if only they had a good goalie. Instead they have chosen to go with a pair of backups in Boucher and Leighton in hopes they can maximize the ‘ride the hot goalie’ theory. Unfortunately that doesn’t often work and a potentially great team will be merely good.
6. Buffalo Sabres, 94pts – Ryan Miller had an exceptional year last year pushing the Sabres to 100 points. Miller will still be good, but can he repeat that? Probably not so expect a small fall back in the standings.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs, 89pts – This is predicated on Giguere/Gustavsson providing reliable, if unspectacular, goaltending resulting in a team save% above 0.900 which still isn’t great but a significant improvement from the .892 save percentage from a year ago.
8. Ottawa Senators, 88pts – Last season the Senators rode an 11 game winning streak to 94 points and the fifth seed in the eastern conference. Make that an 8-3 stretch and they end up with 88 points which is what I am predicting this year. Their PP might improve with Gonchar but their PK might fall back without Volchenkov and goaltending has to be the big concern. Might have one of the worst goalie tandems in NHL.
9. Tampa Bay Lighting, 87pts – There will be improvement in Tampa this year. They are certainly going to score goals but defense and goaltending could be issues yet again. They will be in the playoff hunt though.
10. New York Rangers, 87pts –Unlike many, I think they will miss Redden. Not having him on the team makes them a worse team though they now have cap space to add another forward if one comes along which could help them score more goals which has been their main problem the past few years. They are a playoff bubble team. Might sneak in, might just miss.
11. Montreal Canadiens, 85pts – If Carey Price can have a break through season Montreal should end up higher in the standings but from pre-season there is little evidence that will happen based on his pre-season performance. The potential is there to be a playoff team, but I’m not predicting it. Getting and keeping Markov healthy is key too.
12. Carolina Hurricanes, 85pts – They have one star forward in Eric Staal and then a bunch of hope for the bests. Mark Cullen is gone, Ray Whitney is gone, and I am not sure we can expect Jussi Jokinen to repeat as a 30 goal scorer. Truth is, they might struggle to get to 85 points.
13. New York Islanders, 77pts –This is probably a bit optimistic considering Mark Streit is out for most or all of the season but their goaltending might be OK and Tavares and the other young forwards should take another step forward in their development.
14. Florida Panthers, 76 pts – They are not a great team despite having a very good goalie. They just lack a go to guy up front to be a leader for the younger forwards coming along. That makes it difficult develop young talent.
15. Atlanta Thrashers, 73 pts – Lets see, they lost Kovalchuk, Afinogenov, Armstrong, White, Kozlov, and Kubina and didn’t adequately replace any of them. I do like Chris Mason in goal but my fear is they are going to have him split duty with Pavelec who isn’t very good. This could be a disaster year in Atlanta which doesn’t bode well for the health of the franchise in Atlanta either.
League MVP: Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
Vezina Trophy – Roberto Luongo, Vancouver Canucks
Norris Trophy Winner – Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
Rookie of the Year – Tyler Ennis, Buffalo Sabres
Stanley Cup Finals – Detroit Red Wings over New Jersey Devils
Other Predictions – Sheldon Souray will eventually find an NHL team, Wade Redden won’t (this year anyway), Tomas Kaberle ends the year as a Devil or a Bruin, Mike Comrie scores 30 goals again playing with Malkin, Washington and San Jose both fail in the playoffs again and Gary Bettman is finally forced to pull the plug on NHL hockey in Phoenix.