In this article I will outline the top three teams' in the Eastern Conference entering the 2015-16 season. There's some moves still to be made, but I believe that the majority of the blockbuster deals are completed.
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5. New York Islanders: ( 47-28-7 : 101 Points)
The Islanders finished the 2014-15 season with a first round elimination at the hands of the Washington Capitals. It was a bitter disappointment after an unbelievable regular season which had the Islanders accumulate 101 points. The Islanders will ice a nearly identical roster this season. Many of their young guns are looking even better after gaining pivotal experience from last season. They have three forward lines who can put the puck in the net. Not to mention, John Tavares, who was second in league scoring last season. If Kyle Okposo can stay healthy, they could easily combine for one of the league's most dangerous duo's. What really impresses me though, is the defense of this young Islander squad. The signings of Leddy and Boychuk was a great move for the team. They play a great well-rounded style which seems to have rubbed off on young stars: De Haan, Hamonic and Hickey. I expect the Islanders to have one of the best blue-lines in the entire league this season. The blue-line may not be the most dynamic offensively, but their defensive abilities will help the Islanders make a push for first in the Metropolitan.
4. New York Rangers: ( 53-22-7 : 113 Points)
Much like the Islanders, the Rangers will have an extremely dominant back-end. Their defense is one of the highest paid in the league, combining for approx. 26 million dollars per season. This is a lot of money, but they have compiled six defenseman who can all play top 4 minutes. On top of this stellar blue-line, they have one of the best goalies in the league. Henrik Lundqvist has been an elite goalie all his career, and should have upwards of four years of hockey left in the tank. The Rangers time is now, but the window is small. They are pressed right up against the cap, and have recently been forced to shed cap space. Brad Richards and Carl Hagelin were key contributors for the Rangers in the past several seasons. They were forced out of town, and the Rangers have had trouble filling that gap. Nonetheless, they have an offense which can still compete at a high level. Nash, Stepan, Brassard, Zuccarello and kreider will be the core of the Rangers offense this upcoming season. Winning the East will be tough for this squad. The best chance they have is if some young players can step up into larger roles for the team. Guys like Stalberg, Miller, Fast and Etem could possibly make that jump.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning: ( 50-24-8 : 108 Points)
The Lightning had an extremely successful season in 2014-15, which had them make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. They lost in 6 to the Blackhawks, but they gained significant experience moving forward. They have a stellar goal tending duo in Bishop and Vasilevskiy, which will keep that position steady all year for the squad. They have a solid back end with Hedman leading the way. For four million dollars, Hedman is one of the best bargain players in the league. He was impressive last season, and I would not be surprised if he is a Norris candidate in the near future. Despite the strong goal tending and defense, I believe the core of the team lies with the forward depth. They have two stellar scoring lines centered by Stamkos and Johnson. Stamkos had a strange season as he struggled at the dot and had difficulty finding consistent line-mates. Despite this, he still tied for the team lead at 72 points. The second line was the biggest story for the Lightning last season, as the young guns showed some serious offensive upside. Johnson and Kucherov both finished in the top 30 for league scoring, while Palat proved to be one of the better two-way forwards in the game. I expect the Lightning to do well in the playoffs once again.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: ( 43-27-12 : 98 Points)
The Penguins did some serious work this off-season, picking up the likes of Plotnikkov, Bonino and Kessel. It is fairly obvious that this revamped offense will be the main strength of the Penguins. The addition of Kessel and Plotnikov give the coaching staff a lot of options for the Crosby and Malkin lines. Plotnokov is a physical winger with a good shot, while Kessel is a pure offensive threat. Now more than ever, the Penguins will be icing a diverse, dangerous offense which may be the best in the league. The defense and goal tending have been criticized, but they have nothing to worry about. Marc Andre Fleury will be their starter and is due for a breakout performance in the playoffs. The defense core is highlighted with Letang, Maatta, Pouliot and Scuderi. Many are not household names, but they are consistent players who play within their limitations. Expect the Penguins to finish much better than last season.
1. Washington Capitals: ( 45-26-11 : 101 Points)
The reason the Capitals top the list is because of their depth throughout the lineup. The forward units consist of two dynamic offensive lines, and two responsible checking lines. If Washington didn't already have a strong enough offense; they do now with the likes of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. These guys will round out the top 6 for the Caps, and help them dominate offensively. The defense for the Capitals is quite strong as well. They lost Mike Green on the back-end, but the additions of Orpik and Niskanen make the team better in all zones. Both special teams will be top notch and I anticipate Ovechkin racking up the goals once again. However, I believe it is Braeden Holtby who will be the X factor for this team. He is only 25 years old, and already has 200 NHL games under his belt. He posted a .923 save % and a 2.22 GAA last season. I expect a repeat performance from the young goal tender.
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