I admit, the season’s already started, and I should have already entered this little discussion beforehand, but hey, life gets in the way…
As I have done with my Western Conference preview, I won’t discuss all the teams, just a few highlights, and then follow it up with a guess at the standings come season’s end. So away we go…
New York Rangers
The Blueshirts did a little dancing this past summer, letting some guys go and picking up others. Obviously the big deal was the acquisition of Brad Richards from the Stars. I believe that Richards should bring the positive injection of goals and points that the Rangers have needed in the past few years to help solidify their position as a playoff team. The loss of Chris Drury will have to be counted in as well, but as long as the rest of the Rangers’ forwards perform well, Gaborik, Fedotenko, Dubinsky Wolski, the Rangers should be able to win that many more games. The X-Factor is going to be getting Marc Staal back from injury and as long as Lundqvist stays solid in net. The Rangers shouldn’t have anything to worry about come playoff time. In my opinion, one of their best moves was getting rid of Sean Avery, and his mountain of penalty minutes. There’s always a place for a pest to try and score a few more power plays by aggravating opponents, but lately, Avery’s purpose has been backfiring. With him out of the way, they can bring up another cleaner goal scorer.
The Penguins are still in limbo from last season as to whether or not Sydney Crosby will be back. He missed half of last season and is only now just practicing with supervised contact. Concussions are sneaky injuries, and no matter what the reports and predictions are saying, these injuries are going to heal in their own timeline. Obviously the Pens would be a lot better off with their Golden Child, but at least they’ve been able to bring back Evgeni Malkin, who had one hell of a pre-season. I was a little surprised when Pittsburgh traded Max Talbot, but not so surprised later when I learned that he went to the Flyers. Perhaps after last season’s brawls with the New York Islanders, the Penguins are looking to clean up their image a bit by moving one of their biggest instigators. Pittsburgh should continue to have a strong season with the development of their depth. And if they get Crosby back in any kind of short timeframe, they’ll be dangerous. Names like Letang, Kennedy, and Kunitz are going to be thrown around a lot this season. Crosby’s absence is a bit of a blessing, allowing these guys to step up…and they have.
They Flyers had a fire sale this summer and moved pretty much half of their goal scorers. The situation in Philly of late has been the lack of a dependable goaltender. So this summer, they spent the money and picked up Ilya Bryzgalov from Phoenix. I suppose this is a small step in the right direction, but I’m not so sure that Bryz is the answer to the Flyers woes. He’s a better goaltender than they’ve had in previous seasons, but not better enough to move so goal scorers just to afford him. Moving the likes of Brad Richards, Jeff Carter, and Ville Leino, and replacing them with Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr, to me, sounds like a rather large step back. I don’t think this will end well for them. Their saving grace will have to come from guys like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk, but that’s an awful large hill to climb, and they’ll need Hartnell and Briere to stay strong too. There’s not a whole lot of room for error here.
This is the team to watch out for, right here. A huge splash was made picking up Christina Ehrhoff from Vancouver and a nice surprise signing Ville Leino from the Flyers. With these, the Sabres have made tremendous improvements in both scoring and defense, neither of which have been “terrible” but always room for improvement. Not to mention getting rearguard Robyn Regehr from the Flames. Ryan Miller is, well Ryan Miller. Let’s just leave it at that. Let’s pretend for a minute that Tyler Ennis has a breakout season, and Jason Pominville and Derek Roy top their personal bests in points this year…you’re looking at a very deep playoff run.
So after all that, here’s my guess at how the conference will pan out.
Pittsburgh Penguins (assuming Crosby comes back sooner than later)
Tampa Bay Lightning
New York Rangers
Toronto Maple Leafs
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
As with the Western Conference, I’ll revisit come the All-Star game. Thanks for reading…the floor is now open for comments, but let’s keep the lynching to a minimum.