Thursday, January 10, 2013

NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

     It's about time that hockey returned, considering how much I can't stand watching the Detroit Pistons play. I'm positive that many of you share the same feeling that I do about the lockout ending. So I'm starting off with a little NHL preview with some predictions. Let's start with the Eastern Conference:

Atlantic Division:
  1. *Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins were one point short of having the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, and that was while having Sidney Crosby for only 22 games. However, Sid the Kid managed to score 37 points in these 22 games. Imagine how lethal Pittsburgh could be if Crosby could stay healthy for the entire season.
  2. *New York Rangers: On paper, they're one of the best teams in the NHL. Adding Rick Nash in the offseason to play alongside Brad Richards is a scary one-two combo. I also like John Tortorella as a head coach for the Rangers.
  3. *Philadelphia Flyers: Philly needs better goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov if they are to at least contend for the Atlantic Division this year. A GAA of 2.48 and a save percentage of .909 last season is simply unacceptable. The Flyers also have concerns on the blue line and led the NHL in penalty minutes last year with 1,318 penalty minutes. But Claude Giroux (93 points last season) will be one of many Flyers to light it up this year.
  4. New Jersey Devils: The Devils will be a playoff team if Ilya Kovalchuk decides to return from the KHL. Keep an eye on New Jersey's tandem between the pipes; both Martin Brodeur and Jonah Hedberg are at least 39 years old. 
  5. New York Islanders: This team is just John Tavares and nobody else. Perhaps the only team that could be worse than the Islanders this year would be the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Northeast Division:
  1. *Boston Bruins: How gritty and tough were the Boston Bruins last year? The top five in the plus/minus rating category consisted entirely of Bruins. Center Patrice Bergeron led the NHL in this category last year with a +36 rating, followed by center Tyler Seguin (+34), defenseman Zdeno Chara (+33), center Chris Kelly (+33), and left winger Brad Marchand (+31). Perhaps one of the more complete teams in the NHL.
  2. *Ottawa Senators: A young, defensive-minded team, Ottawa got some scoring from Eric Karlsson (78 points) as well as center Jason Spezza (30 goals, 84 points). 
  3. Buffalo Sabres: Obviously, the Sabres have a great goaltender in Ryan Miller. Adding both Steve Ott and John Scott to the team gives Buffalo some grit as well. They'll need some production from someone other than right winger Jason Pominville, though.
  4. Montreal Canadiens: If Andrei Markov can stay healthy for the Habs and Carey Price can exceed expectations, then Montreal will be in the playoff hunt. Otherwise, they'll need some offense from unexpected places in order to be taken seriously.
  5. Toronto Maple Leafs: The Maple Leafs faded down the stretch last season because they lacked a stud goalie. They still do, but at least they have someone who can score in right winger Phil Kessel (37 goals, 82 points).
Southeast Division:
  1. *Carolina Hurricanes: The new look Canes certainly look great. GM Jim Rutherford traded for Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal this offseason. He joins his brother, captain Eric Staal, on Tobacco Road. Carolina also added Alexander Semin for one year and $7 million. Speaking of Eric Staal, the center had fifty points in his last 43 games last season. Head coach Kirk Muller also bolstered the power play, raising Carolina's team efficiency up from 12.2 percent upon his arrival to 19.6 percent the rest of the way.
  2. *Washington Capitals: Washington is always in the Stanley Cup hunt with Alex Ovechkin. But if the Caps want to be serious contenders, they'll need center Nicklas Backstrom to get healthy from a concussion. Yes, they picked up Mike Ribiero in the offseason. But losing Alexander Semin to free agency hurts.
  3. *Tampa Bay Lightning: There's plenty of firepower for the Bolts. With young stud Steven Stamkos and veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, expect scoring to be abundant for Tampa Bay. But the Lightning need to fix their problems with the backcheck in order to be a serious threat.
  4. Florida Panthers: Florida relied on an offensive explosion from former Penguin Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann last season to win the Southeast Division title, in spite of fading in the regular season. Stephen Weiss will put up points and the Panthers could be in the hunt for the Southeast Division again this season.
  5. Winnipeg Jets: Bryan Little must score thirty or more goals the way he did in 2008-2009 in order to at least get the Jets in playoff contention. Winnipeg's offense is practically barren.

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