NHL Regular Season Predictions: Eastern Conference

Predictions, predictions… some will seem crazy to you but here we go for the Eastern Conference:

Metropolitan:

  1. Washington Captials – I’m not sure there is an adjective in the English language to describe how lethal this offense truly is. If the thought of TJ Oshie on a line with Alex Ovechkin doesn’t make you giddy, then you must not like watching goals. Brian MacLellan deserves a platinum-gold star for his tremendous offseason. He basically stole TJ Oshie from St. Louis and then convinced Justin Williams to sign in Washington even though other teams were offering the 3-time Stanley Cup Champion more money. Joel Ward left town and long time rover Mike Green was let go to free agency after a love-hate relationship with the Capitals. I think this year’s Caps finally have the right mix of high-octane offense, defensive stability and experience to finally make a long playoff run, perhaps even into the 4th round. Washington should easily go over 100 points this season. Rookie to watch – Stanislav Galiev is yet another slick young forward who loves to score that the Capitals have drafted. Much like Backstrom, Johansson and Kuznetsov, this young Russian has a nose for the net but his vision and passing ability make him an elite force. He stands 6’1″, and weighs 187lbs, and played very well last year for Hershey of the AHL. Look for Galiev to split time in the NHL and AHL this year.
  2. New York Rangers – This roster is very solid and well-rounded. Each forward line is big, fast, and even. The Ranger Blueline is probably one of the best in hockey and if you are able to exploit it, then you have to beat Henrik Lundqvist. Many of the perennial contenders have made subtle tinkering changes to their line ups and New York is no different. Emerson Etem was brought in from Anaheim in exchange for Carl Hagelin. Veteran Stanley Cup Champions Viktor Stalberg and Jarret Stoll give head coach Alain Vigneault depth and leadership to the blueshirt’s bottom-6 forwards. Two Rookies also made this Ranger squad as efensman Dylan Mcilrath and forward Oscar Lindberg made noise at camp and forced the hand. Don’t be surprised if Derick Brassard goes on a tear this season and scores 80 points; he’s just hitting his stride. It’s impossible to see the Rangers not in the top of the league yet again, they easily hit 100 points. Rookie to watch – At 6’5″, 220lbs you wont be able to miss this beast on the ice. From Winnipeg Manitoba, Dylan Mcilrath is a towering force on the blueline. You want to talk consistency? In Dylan’s first full year in the AHL for Hartford, he posted 6 goals, 11 assists, a plus- 2 rating, 165 penalty minutes and 76 shots in 62 games. Last season he suited up for 78 games while scoring 6 goals, 11 assists, a plus- 5 rating, 165 penalty minutes and 78 shots on goal. Mcilrath is going to have a monster year for New York this year.
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins – Obviously. Even though I already said the Dallas Stars would lead the league in goals, I have the Pens at a close second. Regardless if Kessel spends the entire year on Crosby’s wing or not, he’s still going to play the powerplay with both Crosby and Malkin. Phil the thrill will pot well north of 40 goals this year. After a year where the Penguins almost became extinct due to a mumps apocalypse, GM Jim Rutherford has assembled a group of forwards that has tremendous depth. Rutherford absolutely robbed Jim Benning by acquiring Nick Bonino and Adam Clendenning for Brandon Sutter. Matt Cullen also came in on a cheap deal to centre the 4th line. I’m not convinced that the defense is any better than last year, though. And as long as Marc-Andre Fleury is in net, the Penguins will never go far in the playoffs again. Surely the Penguins will outgun most teams by scoring lots of goals, but that defense and goaltending tandem lead me to predict a lot of 4-3, 5-4, 6-5 games are coming this season for Pittsburgh. I think they will hit 100 points flush. Rookie to Watch – Daniel SprongHow the hell he fell to 46th overall in the draft is beyond me. This kid is oozing with skill and grit and good on him for proving all his doubters wrong. Perhaps won’t stay the entire year with Pittsburgh but he’s going to be an exciting player to watch. The Amsterdam, Netherlands native stands 6′ and weighs 180lbs, and always seemed to have an attitude problem which is why many believe he fell so far on draft day. He’s defied the odds for most of his life, maybe people should stop doubting him and just enjoy his play.

Atlantic:

  1. Canadiens de Montréal – This is the year… the Habs make it to the Stanley Cup Final, I think. Of course I’m a homer and biased and the Habs suck. Blah blah blah, all I hear is wahhhhh. Look, when your GM signs Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann to contracts of less than $2million combined, you win. Semin had a terrible year last year, but if flanking Alex Galchenyuk in preseason is anything to judge by, he looked a lot like the Washinton Capital of old times that scored 40 goals. Add in Fleischmann on the 3rd line to a team with so much NHL depth, the Habs shouldn’t struggle with offense. On the defense, it’s quite a young blueline minus Andrei Markov who would be better suited to play less minutes on the 2nd pairing alongside Jeff Petry to save himself for a long playoff run. The biggest problem on defense is the cancerous blackhole Alexei Emelin who rarely hits as he was made famous for. The Russian struggled mightily in preseason, making numerous bad pinches, needless icings and bad reads. It would be in the Habs best interest to try to move Emelin to allow Jarred Tinordi to take his place on the 3rd defense pair. In goal, well the reigning Hart, Vezina, Ted Lindsay and William M. Jennings trophy winner Carey Price is still in net so there’s that. His back up however is no longer Dustin Tokarski as he was waived in favor of undrafted Princeton grad Mike Condon who shone in camp. As long as the Habs powerplay improves and Carey Price is himself, Montreal will win their division and conference easily while collecting 110-plus points. Rookie to watch – Still considered a rookie by the NHL, 6’6″, 230lbs Jarred Tinordi is a monster and will finally get his chance to stick with the big club for the entire year. A decent camp forced GM Marc Bergevin not to waiver or trade him because he knows Tinordi has all the tools to one day be a top-4 defender in the NHL. A concussion and wrist injury cut his season short last year and so training camp was really his only exposure to hockey that he’s had in over 5 months. He just needs to play some games to get back to his best. As of right now, Emelin is ahead of Jarred on the depth chart but that shouldn’t last too long. Watch for Tinordi to lock down a permanent spot on the blueline by Christmas.
  2. Detroit Red Wings – The ageless motorcity will be back in the spring dance for a twenty-fifth time this year – book it! I don’t know why the hockey world continues to be surprised when the Wings keep making the post-season despite their aging core players. Datsyuk is injured and likely wont be back in the line up until November. But Detroit will continue to chug along because of their amazing depth and young players. Obviously the Red Wings enter the season with a change of epic proportions, Mike Babcock is no longer the coach, this is Jeff Blashill’s team now. In a bit of a surprise, GM Kenny Holland signed not one but two free agents. Detroit is a team that rarely makes trades and prides itself in drafting all of their own players, so two free agents is a bit of a different approach. Nonetheless, Mike Green and Brad Richards are great adds to this Red Wings squad. Green adds an offensive flare to the blueline, but his best asset is that he is a right-hand shot. Goaltending hasn’t really ever been exceptional here but it also hasn’t ever been bad. I would bet on Mrazek to come away as the starter this year by getting 60% of the nods. Detroit looks skilled and fast as usual. Leading scorer you ask? Gustav Nyquist could likely score 30G and 40A this year. These Red Wings will collect well over 100 points. Rookie to watch – Typically, this section is usually blank because it’s rare that a Red Wing ever has a rookie crack the linenup. On the rare occasion one does make the team, he’s usually 23 years old or more. However, for the first time in over 25 years, Dylan Larkin becomes the first Red Wing to make the opening night roster as a teenager. This kid can play some great hockey, a coaches dream. Dylan is such a coachable player. He’s 6’1″, and 190lbs and boy did he stand out in preseason. I doubt you see him sent to the minors.
  3. Tampa Bay Lightning – I suppose this is the same roster that made it to the Cup final last spring. With a year of that experience under the belts of those young guys, there’s no way they miss the playoffs this season. Tampa will regress a little bit this season because with the unbelievable year the Johnson-Palat-Kucherov line had, they cannot duplicate their performance. Stamkos had an off year at least according to his standards, but the emergence of Victor Hedman made the lightning a quality hockey team. Ben Bishop played decent but I’m almost positive that the goal post stopped more pucks than he did. As Brandon Prust would say, “That guy has a horse-shoe up his butt”. Adding Jonathan Drouin to the team full-time on a line with Stamkos will be huge for the Lightning and will keep the offense much more balanced. This team made only one subtraction as Brendan Morrow was let go. It’s hard to take the Lightning out of the playoff picture, they’re just better than most teams in the East. They will hit 100 points. Rookie to watch – Slater Koekkoek from Winchester, Ontario is the young gun who impressed Steve Yzerman and Jon Cooper this year. Slater is one complete defender who is a great skater, has decent offensive skill, and also enjoys playing the physical game. As the 10th overall pick in 2012, his size (6’2″, 198lbs), skill and progression have him making the opening night roster for the Bolts. I surely doubt Yzerman and Cooper will keep him as their 8th defenseman and not play, so he’s likely to be sent down to the AHL to play some games until injuries come.

Wildcard:

  1. New York Islanders – Probably the most balanced group of forwards in the league. John Tavares is obviously a top centre in this league, but as you look down their line up, you realize that the Islanders have 3 lines of 2nd-3rd line hockey players. Every single line has elite skill and talent able to score on any shift. I really love the goaltending trio as New York claimed J-F Berube from the Kings. Berube led the AHL in wins last season with 37, and won the Calder Cup. Thomas Griess is a very good backup goalie and I have a soft spot for Jaro Halak, but he’s still a great goalie. Last year the Islanders acquired Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk just days before the season and those trades catapulted the Isles from average to cup contender. After an embarrassing playoff exit, I would expect the Isles to be even more complete and experienced this year. I also think they will collect 100 points. Rookie to watch – A 21 year-old from Dauphin, Manitoba, Ryan Pulock is going to be a mainstay on the Islanders blueline this year. Ryan scored 17 goals as a defenseman last year for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL; this kid can shoot the puck and he shoots it a lot. He averaged 2.5 shots last year with 134 in 54 games. At 6’2″, 215lbs this kid rarely gets a penalty. All he does is help his team win hockey games, that’s why he’s staying up with New York.
  2. Florida Panthers – The Jagr-Mullet is coming back, if that’s not reason enough to see the Panthers back in the post- season then I’m not sure what is. One of the best teams after the All-Star break was the Florida Panthers, they almost made the playoffs last year. Dale Tallon has really done a fine job assembling his team here and by naming Gerrard Gallant Head Coach last summer, the Panthers have become relevant again, and their fans have returned. Florida boasts so much young talent on both offense and defense which makes them so dynamic. I think you will see Barkov and Huberdeau both hit 60 points this season. I also believe you’ll find Aaron Ekblad sneak his way into the Norris conversation. Surely Roberto Luongo has more gas in the tank, and if Al Montoya can play some solid hockey and give Luongo some rest, these Panthers could do some serious damage this season. Florida will come away with 97 points. Rookie to watch – This is the year Quinton Howden finally sticks with the Panthers and beomes an impact player in the NHL. He had a very difficult year last season as he battled through injuries and only scored 3 goals in the 33 games he played in. The offense from the 23-year old Winnipeg, Manitoba native has struggled since he turned pro back in 2012. Quinton has always been more of a 3rd line centre energy guy than an offensive top line centre, but as a former 1st rounder, his offense was expected to be a bit better. Hopefully Howden is able to stick this year, Gallant seems to like him so watch for his 6’2″, 189lbs frame to be hitting everything that moves.

Golfing:

  1. Columbus Blue Jackets – I know most of you expect the Jackets to make the playoffs, but I see 8 better East teams than Columbus. To add a Brandon Saad to a Ryan Johansen seems more like a NHL16 trade than reality but my goodness did those two ever light it up in preseason. Columbus is full of character players who will battle for every inch. Sergei Bobrovsky is definitely one of the best goalies in the league, and he’s coming into the season healthy and ready to chase down another Vezina trophy. Where this team lacks for me is on the blueline. It’s a decent defensive group but it’s not elite by any means. Watch for Brandon Saad to hit the 40-goal plateau. Todd Richards will have so much fun coaching this team, I suspect they come just one point behind the Panthers. Rookie to watch – It’s got to be difficult to spend your first full year in North America as a 22-year old playing for 4 different teams, but that was William Karlsson’s year. I can’t imagine as a 22-year old living out of a suit case in a new country and meeting hundreds of new players, coaches and managers. This Marsta, Sweden native is a slick offensive threat that should be a great player for years to come. It’s unlikely that he spends the entire year in Columbus but he should spend a lot time there.
  2. Philadelphia Flyers – At the end of the day, defense doesn’t win you games, you win games by scoring more goals than the other team. I expect the Flyers to score a whole whack-tonne of goals this season. Vincent Lecavalier and Matt Read will have bounce back years, and Sam Gagner will benefit from playing with the best players he’s played with in his entire career. I really like the addition of Evgeny Medvedev on the blueline; his first year in the NHL will be a good one. If Steve Mason can stay healthy then the Flyers will surely have a great goaltending tandem because Michal Neuvirth is a serious upgrade to Ray Emery. At the end of the day though, Philly has a lot of old and washed-up players and a rough defense. This team will score a lot of goals but they will also allow a lot as well, I think they hit 90 and miss the playoffs by about 4 points. Rookie to watch – To be clear, I don’t think a single rookie will dress for the Flyers this season, but since I have to pick just one, I’ll go with the only one playing professional hockey this season. He stands 6’7″ and weighs 227lbs at the age of 20, Samuel Morin is a monster of a man. He definitely needs time to develop, and he’s going to get to do that for the Phantoms of the AHL. He will one day be a top defender in the NHL, but this is not that year.
  3. New Jersey Devils – When you look at the remaining teams in the East, the Devils defense and more specifically, their goaltender are well above the rest. Cory Schneider had the best season as a goaltender last season considering the team he had in front of him, I would even argue he deserved the Hart trophy. Only 26 wins isn’t that impressive and with 38 (31 Regulation, 7 Overtime/shootout) losses to boot, yet Cory still posted a stat line that read 2.26GAA, .925SV% and 5 shutouts. New Jersey has a keeper in Schneider and his group of defensemen. The question as per usual facing the Devils is offense. New GM Ray Shero made quick work in overhauling his new look Devils since long-time Owner, CEO and GM Lou Lamorello decided to step down and then sign on as the newest GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs. This certainly isn’t an old team anymore, New Jersey let go of aging veterans such as: Michael Ryder, Danius Zubrus, Scott Gomez, and captain Bryce Salvador (who retired). Such a sharp contrast compared to the team that started last season for the Devils. For instance, the oldest player on the roster is Mike Cammalleri at 33 years. New Jersey has a lot of young talent here and I would predict them to be a very good team under new Head Coach John Hynes. You will also see Adam Larsson take a major step forward in his development this year. The Devils won’t be the boring trap Devils of old, I think they will be very exciting and should gain 90 points. Rookie to watch – Reid Boucher, the ex teammate of Alex Galchenyuk for the Sarnia Sting. Boucher has some slick mitts, has that wow factor and the ability to stick-handle in a phone booth. Boucher should have a very strong season this year. If he hit less than 40 points on the season, both him and the Devils would be very disappointed.
  4. Boston Bruins – A disaster of epic proportions is the only way to describe what happened in Boston this summer. Shortly after missing the playoffs, GM Pete Chiarelli and the Bruins parted ways in order to name Don Sweeney the newest GM of the Bruins. It didn’t take long for him to make his mark as GM. Dougie Hamilton was sent to Calgary for a draft pick. Milan Lucic was sent to LA where they got a decent defensive prospect and goaltender Martin Jones, who they then flipped for another draft pick. Also traded Reilly Smith to Florida for Jimmy Hayes. And signed playoff hero Matt Beleskey to a huge contract. Oh and actually gave up a THIRD 3RD ROUND PICK to acquire ZAC RINALDO from Philly. Thank goodness he didn’t trade Tuukka Rask as well. The Bruins are going to be bad, but just how bad will they be? Well as I eluded to, Rask is still here, along with Bergeron, Krejci, Chara, Krug and Marchand so I mean they wont be great but they’re better than the rest. Don’t forget about David Pastrnak, Seth Griffith and Ryan Spooner as the young talent on the roster. Hard to believe this team once won a Stanley Cup and also lost a Cup final 3 years ago. CRAZY. Boston is going to be bad, but good enough to wind up with 88 points. Rookie to watch – I cannot believe the Kings gave this guy away after he won the hardest shot and fastest skater awards at last year’s AHL All-Star game, not to mention winning a Calder Cup. Colin Miller is going to be a stud defenseman in the league sometime soon. At 6’1″, 196lbs the 22-year old from Sault Ste. Marie had an astounding season last year for Manchester of the AHL where he notched 19 goals and 33 assists in 70 regular season games, and then another 2 goals and 8 assists in 19 games on the way to winning the Calder Cup. With Denis Seidenberg out and the rest of the Bruins blueline looking very inexperienced, expect Miller to get lots of playing time.
  5. Ottawa Senators – Because Cinderella stories happen once in a blue moon, does not mean they will happen again. When you look at this roster, you see an All-star defenseman and a handful of good young players mixed into a team with mostly average players. In goal you have a very unproven goalie battling with a Jeckyl & Hyde veteran for the starting job. On the blueline, Ottawa has a mobile d-man and a stay-at-home guy on each D-pair which makes for a decent defense corps. Offensively speaking Bobby Ryan simply cannot have another invisible season if the Sens plan on making the playoffs. As long as Mark Stone doesn’t micro-fracture himself again, I predict both him and Hoffman to net 30 goals this year. As for help, there’s not much else up front to produce goals for this club. As long as Ottawa stays healthy, they should go over 85 points. Rookie to watch – Shane Prince is coming off of a monster year in the AHL where he potted 28 goals and 65 points in 72 games for Binghampton. At 22 years of age, from Rochester New York, Shane has 3 years of pro experience and he’s eager to get going in the NHL. His 5’11”, 185lbs frame makes him very quick and slippery which helps him create space for himself in the offensive zone. I doubt he spends any time in the AHL this year.
  6. Buffalo Sabres – Vastly improved hockey team. Something every contending team has is depth at centre. In Buffalo, the middle of the ice is their greatest asset. Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Zemgus Girgensons, David Legwand, and then you throw in Tyler Ennis, Cody McCormick and Sam Reinhart as natural centres who will be forced to play wing; all of a sudden the Sabres look half decent. Credit where credit is due, GM Tim Murray has done a mighty fine job in resurrecting his club from the grave. Buffalo won’t have issues scoring goals. As of now, with the injuries to Bogosian and Gorges, the Sabres are going to struggle defensively. It’s quite the young and inexperienced blueline, but as they continue to rebuild, there’s bound to be growing pains. I sure hope Robin Lehner turns out for them because Buffalo sure gave up a lot to get him. He’s been a complete disappointment in Ottawa, so it’s believed that a change of scenery will be the best thing for the young Swede. However, with his recent injury, it’ll have to wait. With a new coach, Dan Bylsma will help turn the Sabres into a competitive club again. I’m predicting them to exceed 80 points. Rookie to watch – Just like Edmonton, I don’t have to tell you about Jack Eichel, so instead, I’ll tell you about Sam Reinhart. A world junior Gold medalist, and a 2nd overall pick in 2014, Sam is going to have a big year for the Sabres. A 6’1″, 189lbs centreman from North Vancouver, BC has all the tools to become a perfect compliment to Jack Eichel. Sam will be forced to play the wing this season, but he’ll do everything he can in order to not get sent down to Rochester of the AHL.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – In Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer film, there’s an island of misfit toys, little did you know, the island from the movie was filmed in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Hurricanes will go into this season with both Captain Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward entering the final year of their contracts and all things would suggest them to be trade bait come the trade deadline. The cup run of 2006 is entering it’s ninth year anniversary, it’s well past time to turn the page. Carolina is ready to hand the reigns off to Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, Justin Faulk, Noah Hanifin and Victor Rask. Cam Ward should have his best season of recent years as he tries to raise his value, and Eddie Lack is a great goalie so don’t be surprised to see them share the crease. I think Jeff Skinner will score 45 goals (if he doesn’t get another knock to his noggin). GM Ron Francis would be wise to maximize his assets before the deadline while giving his young players time to develop. Carolina should earn 75 points. Rookie to watch – Noah Hanifin is an NHL ready defenseman with size (6’3″, 206lbs), skill and skating. This guy comes to a Hurricanes squad that has an older, thinner blueline than most in the league. He will be a Calder trophy finalist.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs – Hello Auston Matthews. The circus came to Toronto and it came to stay. It’s going to be a revolving door of players in Leaf land. The entire organization was flipped. Lou Lamorello is now the GM. Mike Babcock is the new Head Coach. Phil Kessel is a Penguin. Toronto is quite the different team than they were a year ago. I mean other than the goaltending, Dion Phaneuf and Tyler Bozak being the main points of this team, everything else is new and…. not improved. This is going to be offense by committee. I do like how the team in Toronto is built because obviously they aren’t going to be a great team, so come trade deadline, they are going to be able to flip half of the roster for draft picks. Smart move by Shanahan, Lamorello, Dubas and company. A year of developing the culture and systems is how Babcock is going to approach this season. I think the Maple Leafs will be very competitive and better defensively, but they are still a step behind the rest of the league. They will hit 70 points. Rookie to watch – The only rookie who has a chance of playing any games before the trade deadline is Scott Harrington. A Kingston, Ontario native with decent size 6’2″, 201lbs, he’s going to be a Leaf for a long time. A classic stay-at-home defender who makes a good first pass and has good skating, this guy is a talent. Mike Babcock is going to love this kid.
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