The 2010-11 NHL Season is only a few weeks away, and naturally, every team’s fanbase is very optimistic about the upcoming season. The toughest thing to do before any season is to try and project where teams will finish in the standings. It’s very difficult to account for which players are on the cusp of a breakout season, which star players will start to decline in terms of production and which teams will go through the most injury problems. As part 1 of a 2 part feature, here is a look at the projected standings of the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
1 – New Jersey Devils
The Devils should be the best team in the East this year. Brodeur will play fewer games and have the best backup he has had in years. The additions of Volchenkov and Tallinder on the blueline will help immensely; and having 2 potential 50-goal scorers in Parise and Kovalchuk is dangerous. The Devils window is closing and if they are going to win a Stanley Cup, it has to be in the next 2 years.
2 – Washington Capitals
While I don’t believe the Caps are the second best team in the East, they still have a relatively easy division which makes it likely they will finish at this spot, or even #1, this season. There will always be questions in goal in Washington with Varlamov and Neuvirth expected to battle for playing time this year; but by adding Karl Alzner and John Carlson as regulars on D, expect Washington’s team defense to improve. Up front, expect Ovechkin and Backstrom to both put up close to if not more than 100 points each; and you know Alex Semin is good for 40 goals until games start to mean something.
3 – Boston Bruins
The Bruins are clearly the best team in the Northeast and barring injury, I expect them to run away with the division. They have a great goaltending tandem in Rask/Thomas, Chara is in a correct year and remains an elite player at his position; and with the addition of Tyler Seguin it’s going to be very difficult for opposing teams to match up against Krejci/Seguin/Bergeron down the middle. In my opinion, the addition of Nathan Horton will prove to be one of the best moves of the offseason.
4 – Philadelphia Flyers
If only Philly had a legitimate #1 goalie, they would be at the top of this list. Their depth on defense is better than any team in the league after adding Meszaros, Walker and O’Donnell this offseason; and assuming they sign Bill Guerin, imagine having to gameplan against a team whose top 3 lines are Leino-Richards-Carter, Hartnell-Briere-Zherdev, JVR-Giroux-Guerin.
5 – Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins addressed one of their 2 major needs this offseason by adding Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek on D. They could legitimately start the year with a top 6 of those 2, plus Goligoski, Letang, Orpik and rookie Simon Despres. With so much money tied up in Crosby, Malkin and Staal, their problem remains their depth on the wing. Despite that, Pittsburgh will continue to be an elite team in the East this year.
6 – Montreal Canadiens
You can call me a homer or biased, but after the top 5, there is a significant drop off, and this ranking has more to do with the mediocrity of the conference, not the strength of the Habs. I like the Habs’ D going into the year with Markov-Subban, Spacek-Hamrlik and Gill-Gorges. Cammalleri, Plekanec, Gomez and Gionta are more than capable of carrying the load up front. If Carey Price plays well, Montreal could conceivably challenge for the division. If Carey Price is inconsistent, this #6 ranking will seem very generous by season’s end.
7 – Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres will struggle to replace the stability that left with the departures of Tallinder and Lydman, but they always seem to have players from within that can step in and contribute. They do have the best goaltender in the world in between the pipes (Ryan Miller) and they have enough depth up front to grab a playoff spot.
8 – New York Rangers
With so many improving teams in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers desperately need to unload Redden and Roszival in the very near future if they want to remain competitive in the long run. In the short run, with Lundqvist in net, some good young defensemen and much improved depth up front, the Rangers should be a playoff team this year, unless of course, Marian Gaborik reverts to his old ways and gets hurt.
9a – Tampa Bay Lightning / 9b – Atlanta Thrashers
Both Tampa and Atlanta will challenge for playoff spots, but in the end, I feel both will come up short. If you combined Tampa’s offense and Atlanta’s defense and goaltending, you would have a very good team in the eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the Lightning need to stabilize their goaltending situation and improve their personnel on the blueline before they can be considered a legitimate threat in the East. Atlanta is closer than Tampa right now, they are just lacking the star power up front. The Thrashers have a lot of good, useful forwards; but I don’t really see any elite top line players just yet.
11 – Ottawa Senators
I might be one of the only people that really doesn’t like this Sens team at all. You have the Spezza distraction, an inconsistent Kovalev, an aging Alfredsson, an injury prone Michalek and a #3 center posing as a #2 center in Fisher. On the backend, after Gonchar, Karlsson and Phillips, there really isn’t much there, especially with Kuba having to start the year on IR. Their goaltending is ok, but I don’t trust either of them to carry a team into the playoffs. I think fans in Ottawa should get ready for a rebuild.
12 – Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina is one of those teams that is right on the cusp of becoming a playoff team, but they don’t have the horses to do it this year. They are set with Cam Ward as their goalie, they have a tremendous group of young prospects on forward (Skinner, Sutter, Boychuk, Bowman) to compliment Eric Staal; the one thing they do need to address (and this will ultimately be their downfall this year) is the quality of their defensemen. With quite a few expiring contracts, expects Carolina to be one of those teams actively trading players this season to improve their already impressive group of young talent.
13 – Toronto Maple Leafs
I’m sorry; I just don’t buy the Toronto Maple Leafs contending for a playoff spot. Kaberle’s heart is no longer in Toronto. They overpaid for Komisarek and Beauchemin who are both one dimensional players at this point in their careers. They throw pout arguably the worst top 3 centers in the East (Bozak, Kadri, Grabovski) and “high profile” additions such as Versteeg and Armstrong have never had more than 22 goals in a season.
14 – Florida Panthers
I really like what the new regime in Florida is trying to accomplish, but they will need to wait at least 1-2 years before they can be officially considered “on the rise”. Vokoun will in all likelihood be traded this season to make room for Jacob Markstrom; I can also see high priced vets such as Bryan McCabe and Cory Stillman being shopped as well. There are just too many holes and too many marginal players on this roster for the Panthers to be successful this year.
15 – New York Islanders
The Islanders are getting closer to being a good team, but their defensive corps and their big question mark in goal (DiPietro) will ultimately hold this team back. Having said that, I do expect the Islanders to be a fun team to watch offensively. Between John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Nino Neiderreiter, Josh Bailey and Matt Moulson – this team is headed in the right direction, just very slowly.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.