NHL Eastern Conference Predictions

The+NHL+preseason+has+given+just+a+taste+of+how+teams+will+look+in+the+regular+season.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

The NHL preseason has given just a taste of how teams will look in the regular season. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Chris Hennessy, Staff Writer

As we approach the beginning of October, it is that time again to provide my predictions for this NHL season, which will be brutally wrong as always but if you are not trying, you are not having fun. 

Last year I correctly picked 10 of the 16 playoff teams, two of the final four teams — Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders — and zero out of the six major trophies: Stanley Cup, Hart, Norris, Calder, Adams and Vezina.

This year, let’s start in the Eastern Conference, where there are 12 legit teams vying for eight playoff bids. The only teams I will eliminate off the bat are the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Sabres, Red Wings and Blue Jackets are actively trying to lose games, and I doubt Ottawa’s claim that the rebuild is over.

Six of the teams have playoff expectations and a local improved dramatically in the Metropolitan. Four teams made the playoffs last season: New York Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals. In addition, the Flyers are looking to avenge a late season collapse with a retooled defense, and the Rangers have playoff expectations. 

The Devils had a bad season last year, but they did not sign Dougie Hamilton to be left out of the playoff discussion. The belief in Mackenzie Blackwood will push them to make a run at the wild card spots. These outside teams need to make a push early though, as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will both miss the beginning of the season, and the Islanders will spend over a month on the road while their building gets its finishing touches. This will be a contentious division that might just command both wild card spots. 

There will be a team in the Atlantic division looking for one of those wild card spots as well. The Florida Panthers had a great regular season last year and are looking to enter the conversation with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay and Boston as the class of the Atlantic division. Montreal represented the North in the Stanley Cup Final last year but now find themselves as the clear fifth team in the division after losing two centers and their top defenseman. Boston will look to keep their window open in Patrice Bergeron’s final year under contract, but they might have to do so without Tuukka Rask. Rask has yet to sign a contract with anyone and it does not appear that the veteran will rekindle a relationship with Boston at this point. 

It will be a disappointing season for the Capitals. There are currently three players — Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek and Daniel Sprong — under the age of 26 on their roster. Many of their players are on the wrong side of thirty, and they did not get any younger this offseason. 

Many are picking Montreal to miss the playoffs after what was a great run last year. After a disappointing regular season that led to their coach getting fired, they made a miracle run through a fluky postseason format and got clobbered against Tampa Bay. Then, they lost Shea Weber, Phillip Danault and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Carey Price is only getting older too and has not proven he is the consistent goalie he was in his prime. Personally, I would be more surprised if they made the playoffs than the alternative. 

The East will come down to the final days of March and April to decide and they promise to provide drama, potentially with local teams involved. 

Here is how I see it playing out: 

Metro: Islanders, Hurricanes, Penguins, Flyers

Atlantic: Lightning, Panthers, Maple Leafs, Bruins