NHL Eastern Conference Breakdown


The Washington Capitals have had a slightly disappointing season in their defense of the Stanley Cup. (Courtesy of Flickr)

By Chris Hennessy

With about 20 games remaining for each team, it’s time to go through and look at the surprises, disappointments and interesting storylines coming out of the NHL Eastern Conference.

Let’s start with the division closest to home, the Metropolitan. The biggest surprise is the New York Islanders. Their defense, goaltending, fourth-line play and coaching has propelled them into the top spot in the division and has them in a great position to make the playoffs.

Columbus is currently in second place, but the Blue Jackets might trade their best players, Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, which would completely change the playoff picture.  Panarin going to the Islanders or Bruins would leave Columbus in the dust come the Feb. 25 trade deadline.

The defending champion Washington Capitals have not had as great of a regular season as they did last year due to having to adjust to a new coaching system. However, the Capitals are always a threat come playoff time due to their experience and skill.

The Penguins have had a similar season to the Caps and also can’t be counted out come June.  Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and coach Mike Sullivan create too good of a leadership group to falter late in the season.

These four teams are the ones currently in a playoff spot, and the only team currently on the outside that could sneak in is the Carolina Hurricanes. They need to make a couple of trades, specifically for a goaltender, to try and get in. I do not believe they will.

The Atlantic has had interesting storylines off the ice in the past few weeks, as well as housing some of the best teams in the league.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are by far the best team in the league. They were the first team to 90 points earlier this week and have a firm grasp on the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular season record. The only test left for the Lightning is to win the Cup for the first time since 2004.

The second-place team in the Atlantic is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Recently, they signed their number one overall pick and best player in generations Auston Matthews to a five-year contract worsth over 50 million dollars. Add that to John Tavares’ 77 million dollar, seven year contract, and the Maple Leafs have very little cap room remaining to sign their other young forward Mitch Marner. The Leafs should have an interesting offseason ahead of them, and they will certainly be a team with the talent to beat the Lightning.

The Bruins have had a great season, with the line of Bergeron-Marchand-Pasternak propelling the team into the playoffs. Their secondary scoring has been absent all season long, and David Pasternak recently injured his thumb and will be out for at least two weeks. This next few weeks will be a great test for the Bruins’ role players such as Charlie McAvoy and Ryan Donato.

The Canadiens are another surprising team in the East that currently occupy a playoff spot. I wouldn’t expect them to win a playoff series, especially if they play the Lightning, but a great season for Claude Julien and the Habs nonetheless.

I still expect the Lightning to win the East in the regular season and represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Final, but the Leafs, Islanders and Bruins all provide great competition for the playoffs.