Welcome to the first edition of the Hockeybuzz Fanstove.
This series, inspired by the successful Hockeybuzz Hotstove, will share the views of regular posters.
For our first question, we will tackle the Hotstove’s most recent question: who will win the Eastern Conference?
I think it will be a toss-up between the Rangers, Bolts and Penguins if they can stay healthy. I would not be surprised at all if the Isles or Caps are right there too.
Since I have to pick one, I will go with my bias and say the Rangers, but any one of the other teams I listed would not surprise me at all.
My Pick: Washington Capitals
I think Washington is finally poised to make a big move out east. The Caps made great strides last season in their first year under the tutelage of Barry Trotz, but I expect to see the real fruits of their labour come to fruition this season. The Capitals normally live and die by their ability to score goals, but closer inspection of their 2015 lineup will reveal a much more balanced team. Braden Holtby will be a steady force between the pipes behind a strong core of defencemen which boasts a great mix of shutdown ability, toughness, and offensive prowess. These defencemen have the ability to move the puck up ice to a still high powered group of forwards which includes newly signed free agent Justin Williams and trade acquired TJ Oshie. Combine all of this with the more mature leadership of Alexander Ovechkin, I think it may be time once again to see the Eastern Conference banner hang in the USA Capital.
I still think it will be a two team race in the East. TB and NYR are still the ones to gun for in my opinion.
I love the blueline and back with a slight advantage to the Rangers but the offence has the advantage going to the Bolts. TB finishes first.
My three teams that I have in the thick of it after them are the Caps Isles and the Blue Jackets if healthy.
Teams that will drop back are the Habs and the Bruins. Habs finish 7th, Bruins finish 10th.
The last playoff spot will be Pens or Flyers and the bottom of the list are Leafs Devils and Canes.
I don't like the direction of the Pens at all and think they are still safe for one more year, but in trouble.
Wings are the Wings, they finish 6th.
This is a lot more difficult of a choice than one would think. Despite improved competition in the division and Tampa Bay seemingly having a leg up on everyone in theirs, it's hard not to look at the Penguins offense as almost completely overwhelming.
There are questions about the youth of the defense and the fragility of M.A. Fleury's game in net, but the offensive depth should be more than able to make up for those potential shortcomings.
Eastern Conference Champions: New York Rangers
Well aware this selection comes off homerish but there is a method to this madness.
Henrik Lundqvist is coming into this season more determined than ever. For those that haven't been paying attention, over the last decade, Henrik Lundqvist is a really good goaltender. This season, more than ever before, he is a really good goaltender well aware of the urgency in which the Stanley Cup window doesn't stay open for too long in the modern NHL. The New York Rangers are amongst various teams that are considered cup contenders and have been in the mix for the last four years. Coming close is not good enough and he knows the time is now.
Luckily for Lundqvist, he is surrounded by a group of equally motivated teammates that have felt the pain of coming up short of the ultimate goal; especially in the last two seasons.
The loss of Martin St. Louis will need to be addressed, and it will have to come from within, but the Rangers do have some strong candidates to do just that in Kevin Hayes or JT Miller.
Other key departures include Carl Hagelin (traded for Emerson Etem) and Cam Talbot (traded for various draft picks to Edmonton) but the core of the 2014-15 President's Trophy winners remains generally intact.
Tampa Bay will be dangerous, as will several divisional rivals such as an improved (on paper) Pittsburgh Penguins team and the resurgent New York Islanders will have to be dealt with too.
Ultimately, the New York Rangers are a very deep, motivated and talented team. Youngsters will need to step up, newcomers need to establish their presence within the team structure, the veterans need to lead and Vigneault will need to make it all work. There are no guarantees but I find it hard to bet against a motivated, battle tested and hungry group like the Broadway Blueshirts.
From top to bottom they're still the best team in the East until proven otherwise. Rangers have great goaltending with King Henrik, solid defense lead by McDonagh and they can role four lines. That said, there's a few teams right there knocking at the door. The Capitals, Islanders and Lightning are all very good teams.
I’m going to go a little off the board here and pick the Montreal Canadiens.
Another Rangers regular poster, Pete V, has said that the Canadiens have inherited the reputation the Rangers had prior to their Stanley Cup Final run in 2013-14: a team who owes its success strictly to their goaltender. However, Pete goes on to say that similar to those Rangers teams, the Canadiens’ skaters are extremely underrated. The Canadiens are a flat out good team. They are well coached, have a franchise defenseman in Subban, one of the most underrated forwards in Pacioretty, and are deep in every position. Oh yea, they also have that guy Price in net.
While Price was a major factor in the Canadiens’ success last year, it would be foolish to assume he was the only reason for the team’s success. Price will have to be elite again for the Canadiens to win the Eastern Conference, but really any team that wins its respective conference has to have elite goaltending and all signs point towards the Canadiens taking a step forward rather than a step backwards.
Thank you for reading! We will be posting more of these as the season rolls on and will be contacting more posters to get involved.