NHL: Eastern Conference Preview
We’re another week closer to the NHL season kicking off. It’s time to look at who’ll be making runs at the Stanley Cup and who’ll be getting set for a long season and an even longer offseason. I broke the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference into four categories and take a stab at who belongs in each category.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts were the best team in the east during the regular season last year and are returning with most of their roster still intact. They’re deep in every asset of the game and should easily qualify for the playoffs and make a deep run for the cup. To me, they’re the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs were one of the best teams in the league last season and then they went out and added the biggest free agent on the market. Between John Tavares, Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner they’re going to be a force on offense. They’re a little thin on defense and in goal, but that shouldn’t hold them back from being a contender in the east.
After a surprise season last year, the Bruins are set to be a threat again. With a balance of established veterans and talented youth, the B’s have a roster that can be very dangerous. They’re legit contenders for the cup, but will have to get out of the tough Atlantic Division along the way.
Long runs in 2016 & 2017 were probably part of the reason the Penguins slowed down last year and fell to the Capitals in the second round of the playoffs. With a longer offseason and a stacked roster, the Penguins are once again expected to be a threat to win the cup. Health is important for these guys, especially Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. As long as the Penguins stay healthy, they should be considered one of the favorites to bring home the cup.
The defending champions will be looking to keep the cup in D.C. and they’ve got the tools to do it. They’re returning with most of the roster from last season still together, which bodes well for them. The journey will be tougher this time around, but as long as they’ve got Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby leading the way, they’ll be in cup contention.
The Second Tier
The Panthers almost slipped into the playoffs last season due to a ridiculous stretch after the All-Star break. They’re sneakily deep in every position and will be a playoff team come April. The only thing holding them back from being a legitimate contender is the lack of star power. They’ve got tons of talent, but compared to the other teams in the conference it won’t be enough to get them to the Stanley Cup Final.
It’s the same old story for the Flyers again in 2018. There’s talent on offense and defense but they don’t have it in goal. Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth won’t get this team where they want to go. The lack of goaltending will hurt come playoff time, which puts the Flyers on the outside looking in as contenders in the east.
Columbus Blue Jackets
I’ve never bought into the Blue Jackets and I don’t think I ever will. The talent is there. They just somehow never get it done. They’ll once again be the Blue Jackets we’ve seen over the last three seasons during the 2018–19 campaign. Expect a solid regular season and a first round departure for the Jackets again.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils had a bit of a surprise season last year and have the ability to do it again. Due to a stacked division, they’ll once again be fighting for a wild card spot in the east. The reigning MVP, Taylor Hall, will lead these guys to a solid campaign, but much like the other teams in this group, they lack the overall depth and talent to be considered a legit contender in the Eastern Conference.
A young and skilled team should see some success this year in Buffalo. The issue for them will be their youth and inexperience. However, don’t sleep on the Sabres. They’re coming and they’re going to be a force very soon.
New York Rangers
I don’t even know what to say about the Rangers. They seem to be in a rebuild but they still have some talented pieces. They’ll win a few and lose a few more. With their overall talent they might be able to slip into the playoffs. Though if they do slip in it’ll be short lived.
New York Islanders
See above. The New York teams are both just stuck in neutral right now.
Again, look at the Rangers. The Hurricanes aren’t that good but they do have some talented players. They could easily slip into the big dance and then take a first round exit and continue on as a mediocre hockey club.
The Better Luck Next Year
Detroit Red Wings
The Wings are terrible. The only thing helping them this season is that there are two teams in their division that are worse than them. See below…..
It’s a full rebuild in Montreal so I hope Habs fans are ready for it. They traded away two of their best offensive players in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk and Shea Weber is going to miss half of the season. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually feel bad for Carey Price.
This organization is a complete mess. They lost Mike Hoffman and Erik Karlsson due to bad ownership and rumors now are swirling that Mark Stone also wants out. They’ll easily be the worst team in the league this season, which means they’ll have a great shot at winning the lottery. Oh wait, they traded their 1st round pick to get Matt Duchene last season. So they won’t even benefit from a terrible season. Things are just brutal in Canada’s Capital city right now.
Kevin Maggiore (@kevin_maggiore)