Eastern Conference Predictions

Im going to start my predictions for the 2010-11 season with how I think the Eastern Conference will unfold. The East has been in a post-lockout slump, with the skill level and goaltending barely even comparing to the West, but that doesn’t mean things won’t be competitive for those final few spots once again:

15. New York Islanders

They would have been a lot higher a week ago, but with the recent loss of Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo for long periods, this team is going to struggle all season long. You have to expect that Matt Moulson will digress after last season’s 30 goal break out, which will leave John Tavares with not much to play with.

14. Florida Panthers

The 15 year rebuild continues in 2010. They really aren’t that bad of a team, but the loss of Nathan Horton and the improved Southeast is going to sting, and they will need breakout years by Michael Frolik and Rostislav Olesz as well as continued improvement from Kulikov if they want to finish any higher than this. Tomas Vokoun is a UFA after the season and I still think he will end up in Philly before the end of the year. That means two things; they would get some of the Flyers’ wealth of offensive and defensive talent, and Jacob Markstrom will take over in goal.

13. Atlanta Thrashers

No Kovalchuk, no problem? Unfortunately it won’t be that easy for Atlanta. They have the makings of a good core of players with Antropov, Little, Bergfors, Kane and Bogosian, and the addition of some championship experience from Chicago won’t hurt them either. I just don’t think their goaltending of Pavelec and Mason will hold up in what should be a very offensive division. Aside from Antropov, they have a lot of players who will probably be around the 40-50 point range. Another reason is that a new coach in town usually means somewhat of an adjustment period (still can’t believe they fired John Anderson and not Don Waddell).

12. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs have improved this offseason; no question about it. Their defense should be one of the best in the League and their goaltending, while isn’t above average, shouldn’t hurt them too much. Regardless of the Versteeg and Armstrong additions, their downfall will be their offense. Yes, Tyler Bozak looked great for the time he was up last season, but that was when the games didn’t necessarily matter and other teams may not have been paying much attention to him. This year, their success is going to be directly on the shoudlers of him, Phil Kessel and whoever lines up with them. They will be lining up against the opposition’s best on a nightly basis! Kris Versteeg has looked great in camp, but again this was a third line player in Chicago. Now he is expected to be an offensive leader. The biggest problem with the rest of their roster is that it is full of very streaky players; Grabovski, Kulemin, Mitchell; streaky streaky streaky. Phil Kessel himself is very up and down and has been often criticized for his competitiveness. They’re going to be heavily relying on Kessel and the last time he played in a meaningful game, he barely saw the ice and Canada won gold. Wasn’t Ron Wilson his coach that game?

11. New York Rangers

Any team with Henrik Lundqvist in net should be in it until the end and I like really like the addition of Frolov on a line with Gaborik, but there isn’t enough offensive depth…yet. I think the Rangers are in great shape for the future as an offensive team, but their heartbreak losing out of the Playoffs in 2010 is going to last one more year.

10. Ottawa Senators

The Sens are a difficult case for me, but in the end I think they will be one of the teams from last year that won’t be in the Playoffs in 2010. Sergei Gonchar should greatly improve their powerplay. No question about it. I also think that Jason Spezza will threaten 90 points once again. But captain Alfredsson and Alex Kovalev aren’t getting any younger, and while secondary players Nick Foligno and Peter Regin look great in preseason, it is afterall only preseason. I can’t put my faith in them until I see it in the regular season. I hope they do make it though, because god Canadian teams suck lately.

9. Carolina Hurricanes

First, remember that Carolina is notorious for their up and down season trajectory. Cup in 2006, then missed two straigh Playoffs; Conference Finals in 2009, then missed again last year. Second, remember that Cam Ward only started 47 games last season and was in and out of the lineup all year. Third, remember that after starting with an abysmal two wins in their first 18 games and a record of 5-17-5 over the first two months, the Canes finished very strong going 30-20-5 over the rest of the season. Pro-rate that to 82 games and it’s 96 points, good for 5th in the East alst season. I really want to put Carolina in the playoffs because I like Paul Maurice, and I like Eric Staal, but for some reason I think it will come down to the wire with them, Ottawa and the team I have seeded 8th in the East.

8. Montreal Canadiens

I really don’t like Carey Price and I hope he fails miserably and the whole Montreal fanbase comes down extremely hard on the their management for dealing Jaroslav Halak; but I don’t think he will, and while teams often regress after an out of the ordinary showing in the Playoffs, the East just isn’t strong enough to make them do that. The Habs and their powerplay are going to benefit from a full season from Michael Cammalleri (he only played 65 games last year) and PK Subban. They just have a little more depth and a little more experience than the last four teams I listed, and that puts them in in my books.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning

I guess I’m a sucker for hype. The Lightning added Simon Gagne, Pavel Kubina, a solid third line centre in Dominic Moore and a more reliable goaltender in Dan Ellis and should have the real Vincent Lecavalier back in their lineup after a two year absence. The Vinny-Stamkos one-two punch down the middle should only be rivaled by Crosby-Malkin in Pittsburgh. Their powerplay should be among the League’s best, and shouldn’t even worry about a second unit.

6. Buffalo Sabres

The jersey changing Sabres are back to their blue and yellow roots in 2010-11 (their home jerseys fail big time though). The Sabres surprised many last season by taking the Northeast Division crown away from the heavily favoured Bruins and will need another stellar season from Ryan Miller to do that again. Their offense should be improved with Tyler Ennis and a fresh Thomas Vanek, and Tyler Myers won’t fall for the sophomore slump like so many rookies do.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins

I was really disappointed in the Penguins’ offseason. Yes they addressed the departure of Sergei Gonchar in adding both Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin, but two players cannot win you a Stanley Cup. I know there weren’t too many wingers available on the market, but ANYONE is better than what they have; Kunitz, Dupuis, Tangradi and Talbot. Now with Staal out for the first bit, their plan of moving Malkin to the wing doesn’t work yet. Speaking of Malkin, he will be back up over 100 points this season. Mark my words. But it won’t be enough, and there are two other teams in their division that are better.

4. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers will win their division if they land Tomas Vokoun just after the new year. Their goaltending won’t be good enough if they don’t. Their offense on the other hand, doesn’t have a match throughout the entire league. They have eight top six forwards and four point men who can run a solid powerplay. If they can protect the Leighton/Boucher combination, then I think we see them in the Finals again.

3. Boston Bruins


The Bruins would drop further because of the Savard uncertainty if they didn’t have incredible depth at centre. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Tyler Seguin will all be more than good fill-ins in an offensive role. I think Tim Thomas bounces back a bit and steals some wins from Rask and Nathan Horton will set a career high in points. They are going to need big years from wingers Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler and Milan Lucic has to stay healthy; he was barely effective last season. Even with all of these ifs, the Northeast may be the weakest division in the East, and I like them to win over Buffalo.

2. New Jersey Devils

Every year I want to say “this is the year they fall off” (I actually think I did two years ago). I definitely don’t think this will be the year though and I hav reasons to back it up. They could potentially have the most productive live in hockey with Kovalchuk-Zajac-Parise. Their depth is good enough with veterans Elias, Rolston, Langenbrunner and Zubrus (although one will be gone soon). They lost Paul Martin on the back end, but added second goalie Anton Volchenkov and other second goalie Johan Hedberg, who should let Brodeur rest up a bit for the postseason.

1. Washington Capitals

Knowing Ovechkin and how he probably feels after last season’s disappointment, he will probably win the Hart, Art Ross, Richard and somehow the Norris, on route to scoring 70 goals and three suspensions. In all seriousness, for the first time in this team’s run, the pressure is seriously on in 2010-11. Yeah last year they were favorites, but them be considered ‘chokers’ never crossed anyone’s mind. If they don’t at least make the Conference Finals this season, there will be changes in Washington next year. Alex Semin is a UFA again at the end of the year, and they have two bright, young goalies who will be vying for the job all season (it’s Varlamov’s now, no question). The emergence of John Carlson is eventually going to make Mike Green expendable. This is the year for the Capitals. It’s Cup or nothing.

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