Each and every year, I decide it is humorous to put myself on the line here (and at the wrath of every single individual), and put forth my predictions for the final standings. While I am only a blogger, I like to think of myself as somewhat of a smart hockey-mind, and I understand that I will be ripped apart by fans of all backgrounds who feel that I betrayed them by not putting their teams at the top of each conference or in the playoffs. That being said, here are my Eastern Conference predictions for the 2009-2010 National Hockey League season.
1. Washington Capitals
: This was a tough choice, considering the Boston Bruins and their tremendous season last year, however, I feel that Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Green, and company are ready to come through and finally take it to the top of the Eastern Conference this year. The only question I have for the Capitals is whether or not Jose Theodore or Simeon Varlamov will be the starting goaltender for them.
2. Boston Bruins
: The entire Northeast has changed dramatically over the offseason, with the exception to that being the Bruins. The loss of Phil Kessel’s speed and scoring is a big reason that I pushed the Boston Bruins to number two in the conference, and I feel they will have one hell of a year again.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
: The Atlantic Division, besides the Islanders, holds four teams that all can make the playoffs this year, however, the Pittsburgh Penguins seem to be the powerhouse team who has the ability to make it out of the Eastern Conference. The loss of Rob Scuderi, Miroslav Satan, and Peter Sykora are not the end of the Penguins, however, I just believe that both the Bruins and Capitals are better teams all around. They could win it all again this year if everything falls into place.
4. New Jersey Devils
: They won the Atlantic Division last year behind stellar goaltending from relatively unknown Scott Clemmensen and a hardcore defensive system, and this year will prove to be the same situation in New Jersey as Jacques Lemaire brings his old-fashioned, defense-first system back to New Jersey. The loss of Brian Gionta and John Madden do not effect the Devils standing too much, and Parise, Zajac, and Clarkson are all ready to have stellar years once again. They will perform well in the regular season, but can Brodeur hold up into the postseason this time around?
5. Philadelphia Flyers
: The Pronger trade goes to show you that the Flyers believe they can take it all now. With their true number one defenseman now on the roster, the Flyers are going to have a great year. Another great year can be expected from Jeff Carter, whose offensive output last season was fun to watch. Mike Richards, the captain of this team, will again prove why he is going to be a Selke candidate every year for the next decade. The only question on this team is whether or not Ray Emery can keep his head straight and display his talent on the ice.
6. Carolina Hurricanes
: The Hurricanes proved they were for real last year when they not only upset the New Jersey Devils, but also the Boston Bruins on their way to the Eastern Conference finals. A quick, aggressive, and young team, they will have another good year and should find themselves returning to the playoffs behind solid goaltending from Cam Ward.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning
: Victor Hedman was an excellent pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning, who immediately addressed their need for a defensive prospect who can turn into a number one defenseman. He will be ready for this upcoming year, and I would not doubt seeing him on the top shutdown-unit with Mattias Ohlund, who was the other big name acquisition this offseason. With a year of experience behind Stamkos, and the return of all-stars Lecavalier and St. Louis, it is going to be a return to the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
8. New York Rangers
: As much as I hate to admit it, I feel that the Rangers are going to find a way to squeak into this year’s playoffs. Tortorella is just the no-nonsense guy that the Rangers need behind the bench, and if their skill alone doesn’t get it done, the Rangers conditioning will help them win games late into the season. They lack a true first-line center, but Dubinsky and Prospal will do their best to fit that position. The biggest question marks for the Rangers will be the health of Marian Gaborik, and whether or not Redden and Rozsival remember how to play hockey.
9. Toronto Maple Leafs
: I know I am going to take a lot of heat for this one, however, I just do not see the Leafs making it this year. Brian Burke proved he’s a strong-minded general manager by going after Kessel and getting what he wanted. Kessel’s return to the Leafs in November will be a nice boost, however, there are still too many questions surrounding the Leafs for them to crack the line-up this year. They have one of the most solid defenses in the conference, however, next year will be the year they make it, unless they have a surprise for us all this season!
10. Ottawa Senators
: After finally unloading Dany Heatley to the San Jose Sharks, the Ottawa Senators finally are on track to building up a solid winner. With two good lines leading the attack, a solid defense featuring Campoli, Volchenkov, and Kuba, and a number one goalie in Leclaire, there will be a slight adjustment period this season for the Senators. It will be a tough season again in Ottawa, but hopefully for them it will all fall into place soon.
11. Montreal Canadiens
: After last year’s horrid collapse, the Montreal Canadiens had a complete roster overhaul this offseason and seem to be a team searching for their identity. They got completely hosed on the Gomez trade, giving up promising, young defenseman McDonagh in the trade. Hopefully the Canadiens can pull it together going into this season, otherwise they are going to find themselves in a long rebuilding process.
12. Buffalo Sabres
: A team who had a tremendous number of questions surrounding them last season just simply did not improve enough this offeseason to answer those questions. Ryan Miller is their only hope of making it into the playoffs this season, and even that is going to be a long shot. The Sabres had their best days two and three seasons ago, respectively, and need to find an identity before they can proceed forward.
13. Florida Panthers
: Another year, another playoff-less ending for the Florida Panthers. Jay Bouwmeester is not an easy player to replace, by any means, and his presence will be sorely missed by a team that is only somewhat strong up front. Bringing in Clemmensen to back up Vokoun was a smart move, but unfortunately, it was the only smart move this offseason by the Panthers. There is still a long way to go in Florida, and hopefully they can get it right soon.
14. Atlanta Thrashers
: Although they have brought in Antropov (for a ridiculous salary), and Afinogenov will most likely make the team thanks to the Thrashers lack of depth, the Thrashers will once again struggle this season. Bogosian will demonstrate why he is going to be an elite defenseman in this league for a long time, and he will get plenty of help from Kubina, Hainsey, and Enstrom, however, it will not be enough to take the Thrashers out of the Eastern Conference basement.
15. New York Islanders
: The drafting of John Tavares was a move in the right direction for an organization sorely lacking any type of identity, however, it was their only positive offensive move as the Islanders focused on bringing in Mathieu Biron and Dwayne Roloson to fill in the goalie vacancy until DiPietro is ready to return sometime in November. It will be fun to watch Bailey and Okposo develop further this season, along with the rest of the Islanders youngsters, however, they will still find themselves in the basement of the Eastern Conference and with a chance to select first-overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. As my partner Glen Miller said in his predictions blog, the lottery watch for 2010 begins on Long Island on October 3rd.
Well, there you have it, my personal predictions for the 2009-2010 Eastern Conference. I know you will not agree with every single team and their placement, however, I do believe these will be somewhat close to the final standings.
As always, comments and questions are greatly appreciated and can be emailed to me at [email][email protected]
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