It's the best time of year!
Here is a rundown of how I see the Eastern Conference shaking out this season…
1. Washington Capitals
Difference-maker: John Carlson… The 2008 first-rounder had 37 points and a +21 rating in his first full NHL season in 2010-11 – and he’s only going to get better. If the Caps are going to be as good as everyone thinks, Carlson will play a big part on the blue-line.
Final outlook: On paper, Bruce Boudreau’s gang is the real deal. The off-season additions make them deeper, bigger and better. If I had to pick a Presidents’ Trophy favorite, Washington would be it. But can they rid the playoff demons?
Prediction: 113 points; 1st Southeast Division; Eastern Conference Finals
2. Buffalo Sabres
Difference-maker: Derek Roy… Buffalo’s top-line center only played in 35 games last year, but had 35 points. When he’s on top of his game, the Sabres offense can get rolling. A healthy season from Roy should lead to a big year from Thomas Vanek.
Final outlook: Ever since Terry Pegula has taken over as owner, the Sabres have had a lot of optimism surrounding the franchise. After a summer of improvement, I expect that to continue. Look for Ryan Miller to carry the Sabres to a division title.
Prediction: 104 points; 1st Northeast Division; One-and-done
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
Difference-maker: Evgeni Malkin… ‘Geno is locked and loaded for a bounce-back season. All he has done in training camp and preseason is raise eyebrows. The old Malkin appears to be back in the saddle, which is bad news for the rest of the conference (and league).
Final outlook: The Penguins are deep at every position, which means they should be fine if Sidney Crosby’s return extends past October. And if Crosby does come back and produce like usual, this is a team that will be very dangerous.
Prediction: 103 points; 1st Atlantic Division; Eastern Conference champion
4. Boston Bruins
Difference-maker: Tyler Seguin… The Cup hangover is often talked about, but one player that shouldn’t be affected is Seguin. He only played in the final two series and displayed his potential in the conference final. His inclusion in the top-six will reap immediate benefits.
Final outlook: The B’s didn’t have much off-season turnover, and the schedule is set up for a potential quick start. That said, Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara aren’t getting any younger and spent all summer celebrating/recovering. Keep in mind that, under the current format, no Northeast team has ever won back-to-back division titles.
Prediction: 101 points; 2nd Northeast Division; Eastern Conference Semifinals
5. New York Rangers
Difference-maker: Brad Richards… I don’t think the Richards signing necessarily puts the Blueshirts over the top, but it’s certainly an upgrade at center. He also may be the perfect playmaker to get goal-scoring winger Marian Gaborik back on track.
Final outlook: I see the Rangers surprising some people this season and competing for the division. Henrik Lundqvist is as good as they come, while the team is otherwise well-built. If they can grab another forward at the trade deadline, they’ll be in good shape.
Prediction: 99 points; 2nd Atlantic Division; One-and-done
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Difference-maker: James van Riemsdyk… We all saw JVR’s potential in the postseason, when he scored seven goals in 11 games. Power forwards usually take longer to develop in the NHL, but his game is ready for the next level – especially since he’s playing alongside Claude Giroux.
Final outlook: One of the more intriguing teams to watch this year will be the Flyers, who reloaded on the fly this summer. Will Jaromir Jagr succeed in his NHL return? Is Ilya Bryzgalov the solution to Philly’s goaltending woes? There are so many question marks, which will make them so fun to watch.
Prediction: 98 points; 3rd Atlantic Division; One-and-done
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
Difference-maker: Victor Hedman… The towering Swede hasn’t had the instant success like some expected, but the Bolts have been patient. Look for Hedman, in his third year, to make a difference on a well-rounded defense corps.
Final outlook: Guy Boucher’s bunch was last spring’s Cinderella story, per se, as they advanced to the conference final. Steven Stamkos will score in bunches, but this team won’t surprise anyone this time around and have (much) higher expectations than at this point last year.
Prediction: 96 points; 2nd Southeast Division; Eastern Conference Semifinals
8. New Jersey Devils
Difference-maker: Zach Parise… New Jersey certainly missed Parise in 2010-11, who was out most of the season with a knee injury. If he returns to his old form, the Devils will likely be a playoff team.
Final outlook: The biggest question surrounding the Devils is Martin Brodeur, who has shown some durability issues in recent years. Peter DeBoer has some work to do behind the bench, but last year was truly an off-year for this perennial contender.
Prediction: 93 points; 4th Atlantic Division; One-and-done
9. Montreal Canadiens
Letdown player: Scott Gomez… Gomez had a 21-point drop-off in 2010-11 and I don’t think it’s going to get much better for the former All-Star. The Canadiens need him to produce as the second-line pivot; look for Gomez to continue to disappoint.
Final outlook: A few breaks have helped the Habs get into the playoffs in recent years. This may be the year the hockey gods turn the tables. With a hit-and-miss offense and fragile defense, they are relying on Carey Price to do too much.
Prediction: 92 points; 3rd Northeast Division
10. Toronto Maple Leafs
Letdown player: James Reimer… Reimer got on a roll late last year when the Leafs made a last-ditch push towards the playoffs. However, he’s still a young goalie playing in a pressurized market. Reimer will have some growing pains in 2011-12.
Final outlook: I really like the job GM Brian Burke has done since taking over. This off-season was no different. They have depth at center and defense, more so than recent years. Are they a playoff contender? Absolutely. But in a deep conference, they may have to wait another year.
Prediction: 91 points; 4th Northeast Division
11. New York Islanders
Letdown player: Michael Grabner… Anyone who is expecting a repeat of his 34-goal output may be disappointed. Grabner was extremely streaky last year, scoring 16 times in a 15-game stretch. Look for the Calder finalist to take a step back.
Final outlook: Some believe this Islanders club is a deep sleeper this season. Why not? They have a lot of youthful energy and a promising coach in Jack Capuano. The uncertainty between the pipes could keep them out of the playoffs, though.
Prediction: 88 points; 5th Atlantic Division
12. Carolina Hurricanes
Letdown player: Jeff Skinner… Skinner, the Calder winner from a year ago, was awfully impressive en route to 31 goals and 63 points. But opponents are going to key in on him more this season, knowing how important he is to Carolina’s attack.
Final outlook: GM Jim Rutherford made some nice moves this summer, more so by just re-signing his prospective free agents. They’ll be in the playoff picture all year, but I have a hard time seeing them surviving in an improved conference.
Prediction: 87 points; 3rd Southeast Division
13. Winnipeg Jets
Letdown player: Dustin Byfuglien… ‘Big Buff’ hasn’t exactly had the most ideal summer. His 2010-11 season was a tale of two halves, where Byfuglien was a Norris contender at the midway point. Expect a consistently inconsistent campaign, if you catch my drift.
Final outlook: The Jets, making their return to Manitoba, are another big storyline to watch this year. Their support at home will be unbelievable, but will that translate to on-ice success? Don’t count on it. After all, these are still the Thrashers.
Prediction: 81 points; 4th Southeast Division
14. Florida Panthers
Letdown player: Jose Theodore… The Panthers are fooling themselves if they truly believe Theodore is still a No. 1 goalie in this league. He’ll struggle, especially with a below-average defense in front of him.
Final outlook: GM Dale Tallon has pretty much rebuilt this entire franchise, personnel-wise. And while there is a lot of new energy in the locker room, they still aren’t very good on the ice. Florida’s playoff drought continues.
Prediction: 75 points; 5th Southeast Division
15. Ottawa Senators
Letdown player: Daniel Alfredsson… Captain Alfie, who will be 39 in December, is on his downward career trend and can no longer carry the Sens on the ice. To make matters worse, he is coming off back surgery.
Final outlook: It is clear that the Senators are in full rebuild mode. Players can say the right things and that the team wants to prove the doubters wrong, etc. The fact of the matter is, this Sens team is awful on paper. They appear destined for the cellar.
Prediction: 68 points; 5th Northeast Division
Photo credit: Getty Images
at 9:30 AM
Tauchen Sie in der Welt von blackjack online ein und lassen Sie sich mit online casino spielen vergnügen.