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Eastern Conference Mini-Preview

When Ilya Kovalchuk scores, Atlanta was six games over .500. When he doesn't, they were five games under. Even Nicklas Bergfors, who averaged a point per game with more quality in ice-time since his departure from New Jersey, is re-signed, expecting 40 goals out of him is like hoping Sami Salo's body can stay intact for an entire season. The rest of the roster is filled with former Chicago depth players and a bunch of inconsistent youngsters like Bryan Little and Angelo Esposito. Nik Antropov can't carry a team. Rick Dudley has a long road ahead of him to turn this franchise around but he already has a great building block with Zach Bogosian, who I think will end up being better than either Erik or Jack Johnson. Offense: C+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B-

<img src="http://www.boston.com/sports/hockey/bruins/extras/bruins_blog/2010/06/29/Bruins.jpg"class="imageFloatCenterFramed">

The Bruins won't have any scoring problems this year with Nathan Horton, who I think just needed a change of scenery. There's been talk that the Bruins offense could be potent enough that they can afford to send Tyler Seguin back to Plymouth, given their cap troubles. David Krejci is poised to have a bounce back season and Milan Lucic is healthy. I think Dennis Seidenberg is an upgrade over Dennis Wideman and Tuukka Rask could give Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Brodeur a good run for their money as the best goalie in the East. Offense: B+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: A

If you expect Ryan Miller to repeat what he did last season, history is working against him. Miller's .929 SV% last year is 15 points higher than his career SV%. Even when Martin Brodeur posted his best SV% in 1997 with a .927 mark, he regressed 10 points the following season to .917, which is closer to his career average of .914. The same goes for Roberto Luongo, with a .931 mark in 2004 then .914 the following season. Brodeur has only managed to post back-to-pack seasons of .920 SV% or greater only once. Looking at that defense, and given the trends that work against Miller, I have a hard time believing the Sabres' defense will hold. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A

Heading into his first full NHL season as team captain, Staal doesn't have a heck of a lot to work with. Only Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen could be considered scoring threats but neither are top line players. Erik Cole is a lost cause and Sergei Samsonov lives in his own little world. Joni Pitkanen is great offensively but can only count on Tim Gleason to save his butt. Cam Ward has yet to replicate his Conn Smythe performance. However, GM Jim Rutherford has collected a good group of young talent that should make a significant impact this season, including Drayson Bowman, Zach Boychuk, and early Calder candidate Jamie McBain. Offense: B, Defense: B-, Goaltending: B

This is a transitional year for the Panthers who are preparing to give their entire organization an overhaul. Over half the roster are impending free agents and unless they impress Dale Tallon the majority of them will be gone, possibly by the trade deadline. David Booth is a potential franchise cornerstone but has yet to play a full season. There isn't much in the pipeline to speak of although there are three players (Dmitri Kulikov, Jacob Markstrom, and Evgeni Dadonov) that look to be keepers. The only constant for this team will be Tomas Vokoun's play and Bryan McCabe's giveaways. Offense: B-, Defense: C+, Goaltending: B+

<img src="http://committedindians.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/sharks_canadiens22b.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">I'm probably one of the few people out there that believe the Habs' decision to go with Carey Price is the right one. Out of all their young players I think him and PK Subban have the most upside. If anyone thinks the Habs can repeat what they did last year is delusional. What this team lacks in size they make up for in feistiness and toughness but the season is an 82-game grind and the little guys will wear down. Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Markov are probably the only two players on this roster that are paid what they're actually worth. Offense: B, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B

Ilya Kovalchuk or not, the Devils always manage to make the playoffs when everyone writes them off. No one's making that mistake this time after GM Lou Lamoriello made a big splash signing Anton Volchenkov, who combined with Colin White may give the Devils the biggest intimidation factor since Scott Stevens. For once they are also to afford to give Martin Brodeur some rest with the more-than-capable Johan Hedberg. The only problem I see with this squad is the transition game from their blueline which features mediocre puck-moving ability when Paul Martin wasn't adequately replaced. Offense: B+, Defense: A-, Goaltending: A+

Like the Panthers, the Islanders have a slew of players set to become free agents in 2011, which means many of them are going to be motivated. Matt Moulson has to prove he's no one-hit wonder, Kyle Okposo really wants to be the East's premier power forward, and Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp both have something to prove. But this team is still too green to make the playoffs. And you can forget about Rick DiPietro – it's about time Snow looks in a different direction. Offense: B, Defense: C+, Goaltending: C+

Asides from that ridiculous contract to Derek Boogaard, I like what GM Glen Sather has done. Adding Alex Frolov takes some pressure off Marian Gaborik's shoulders and Todd White adds some defensive presence. There isn't anything too spectacular about the Rangers' offense other than Gaborik but if Mats Zuccarello-Aasen, the 5'7" Swedish Elite League MVP can deliver the Rangers might have a legitimate second scoring threat. Wade Redden will dress on Opening Night and Marc Staal is still un-signed but Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Matt Gilroy could improve by leaps and bounds this year. Offense: B+, Defense: B-, Goaltending: A+

For a guy who loves playing in Ottawa, the media sure want to run Jason Spezza out of town. A lot of the blame rests on his shoulders, sometimes rightfully so, but he's a talent that can't be easily replaced. If Alex Kovalev can learn to play hockey again things would go much smoother for Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson. The blueline has plenty of talent, highlighted by the emerging Erik Karlsson, but asides from Chris Phillips, whether or not this group can defend their own zone consistently enough to help out Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott is questionable. Offense: B+, Defense: B, Goaltending: B-

If I had to put money on either Chicago or Philadelphia to make the finals again, it'd be the Flyers. They didn't lose much over the summer, save Chris Pronger's injury and the oft-injured Simon Gagne, and realized they have a potential superstar in Claude Giroux and salvaged a talent in Ville Leino. The blueline could use some work and we'll have to see if coach Peter Laviolette can work some magic on Andrej Meszaros. I expected the Flyers to go with a Michael Leighton-Brian Boucher tandem and they did, so there's no way I'm giving them a thumbs down for not going after Jaroslav Halak or whoever. Offense: A-, Defense: A-, Goaltending: B+

The Penguins didn't have any trouble scoring goals after Sidney Crosby decided to do it all himself rather than wait for Ray Shero to find the right wingers. Defense, however, was another story as the Pens allowed 237 goals, second-most out of the eight playoff teams. That was quickly fixed by signing Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, two of the best signings this summer. Coupled with Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski, the Pens have the most well-rounded and capable six-man group in the East. Marc-Andre Fleury, never a fantastic regular season goalie, will get all the help he needs to notch a 40-win season, his first since his sophomore year. Offense: A-, Defense: A, Goaltending: A-

<img src="http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/8912889/tampa-bay-lightning-vice/tampa-bay-lightning-vice.jpg?size=380&imageId=8912889"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">A testament to how much Steve Yzerman is respected in Tampa Bay shows in the names he's managed to haul in: Pavel Kubina, Simon Gagne, and the underrated Brett Clark. Guy Boucher is a big step up over former head coach Rick Tocchet and he'll most certainly build his offense around Steve Stamkos, arguably the East's second-best centre. But let's be realistic here – the Bolts aren't making the playoffs with that roster. They are, however, going in the right direction. Offense: A, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B-

The Leafs severely underperformed last year and this team isn't as bad as many people think. J-S Giguere is no Vesa Toskala so at least there's some solace in that. The blueline isn't bad either if you exclude Jeff Finger. (I met a guy once who tried to rationalize that signing when it was announced – I'd love to see him do it now). There are some question marks up front but you have to give Phil Kessel some credit – he did score 30 goals with zero help. If the Leafs make the playoffs they'll sneak in as the eighth seed. It's plausible because after the top six spots the field is wide open. Offense: B-, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+

Whatever question marks the Capitals had heading into last season were erased when Semyon Varlamov emerged as a capable number one goalie. Now with Michal Neuvirth pushing him he'll have to stay focused. Alex Ovechkin must be motivated as ever, losing both the Art Ross to Henrik Sedin and Rocket Richard to arch rival Sidney Crosby so watch out, he's shooting for 60 goals. The team's ability to play defense will determine how far they will get in the playoffs but for now pencil them in as the President's Trophy winner. Offense: A+, Defense: B+, Goaltending: B+


  • 1. Washington
  • 2. Pittsburgh
  • 3. Boston
  • 4. New Jersey
  • 5. Philadelphia
  • 6. Ottawa
  • 7. Buffalo
  • 8. Montréal
  • 9. NY Rangers
  • 10. Carolina
  • 11. Toronto
  • 12. Tampa Bay
  • 13. NY Islanders
  • 14. Florida
  • 15. Atlanta


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So nobody in the Eastern conference has anything less than a C+ in ANYTHING???

Why wouldn't the Islanders get a D for defence? Why are Florida's pack of rag-tag forwards in the B's for offence? The Habs currently have Alex Auld in net, and the rights to a basketcase who doesn't even want to play there, and you give them a B for goaltending?

Somebody needs to learn the concept of grading on a curve...

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I should've mentioned the grading scale goes only from A+ to C-. I don't think any team deserves a D because no team is THAT bad. A D grade is something you give to a franchise team in year one.

As for the Islanders, Panthers, and Habs it's just a matter of opinion. I don't think the Islanders defense is terrible because Streit, Wisniewski, and Eaton isn't a bad. The Panthers have Booth, Weiss, and Stillman. I gave the Habs a B in goaltending under the assumption that Carey Price will sign. Alex Auld is a good backup and Price posted some decent numbers but was overshadowed by Halak.

All the grades are relative.

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If a D goes to a franchese team in year one, then what would get an F? How about an E?

Florida was 27th in the league in offence last year. In the offseason they traded their top offensive forward (Horton), and didn't add anybody to replace him. Stillman and Reinprecht were already showing severe decline, and are now are a year older. I would say they are likely the worst in the league. And yet...they get a B-?

Outside of Streit, Islanders don't have anyone who would crack a good team's top-4 - Wiz included. And their bottom 3 are even worse.

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No team gets an F. They would if they somehow signed me. And I've never seen E as a letter grade.

Yes, the Panthers' offense was horrendous last year but did score 234 goals the year before that. Their best offensive player is not Horton, although he may be the most talented, he was never the best player on the ice. Their best offensive player was David Booth and he played just 28 games last year after playing 70+ in the previous two years. Their second-best player was Weiss and he's still there. I think the Panthers' offense this year is better than last year's even without Horton. They added Grabner, Bernier, and Higgins, and they're certainly upgrades over the likes of Greg Campbell. Michal Frolik looks better every year (albeit marginally but he's on the cusp of a breakout) and they also added Dennis Wideman who isn't a bad second unit powerplay QB. Dmitry Kulikov and Dadonov can both be electrifying.

The Isles' defense won't scare anyone, except on the PP, but they do have six legitimate NHL defenseman, something that can't be said about other teams' defense, like the Ducks.

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Not a bad breakdown.  I do think you will see Tampa higher than 12th though.  Two potent scoring lines and although they dont have a legitimate top D man they have 7 guys i would rather have ahead of Andrew Alberts.  

1:Washington 2:Pittsburgh 3:Boston 4:Buffalo 5:New Jersey 6:Philadelphia 7:Tampa Bay 8:Montreal 9:Ottawa 10:Carolina 11:NYR 12:Toronto 13:Atlanta 14:NYI 15:Florida

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Decent breakdown of all the teams, but I think there's quite a bit of bias on some teams. I'm a Canuck fan so my most hated teams are Toronto and Calgary but I think people will be shocked this coming up season, Toronto looks to be a team that will almost be guaranteed to make the play offs. Why? What they needed most since the departure of Mats Sundin was a new leader who could lead them back into playoff contention and I think Dion Phaneuf can do just that and this guy is bound to have a bounce back season. Also don't forget they have a Stanley Cup calibre goalie in JS Giguere.

Rangers are a bit high on your standings, I see them choking again next season and at best make 8th if they manage to pull their asses together.

I do agree with you on the Panthers, they have become more rounded offensively but will still have problems scoring on regular basis.

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My eastern standings predictions:

* 1. Washington

* 2. New Jersey

* 3. Boston

* 4. Philadelphia

* 5. Pittsburgh

* 6. Toronto

* 7. Ottawa

* 8. Montréal

* 9. Buffalo

* 10. Carolina

* 11. NY Rangers

* 12. Tampa Bay

* 13. NY Islanders

* 14. Florida

* 15. Atlanta

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abnk2, if Vinny Lecavalier can be as effective as Steve Stamkos, watch out. That duo could be better than the Pens' Crosby-Malkin duo. Malkin takes too many nights off, even though he was injured for parts of last season and did play hurt too, to be a consistent threat.

bahz, the Rangers' success will fall on Lundqvist's shoulders. Despite the great numbers he puts it he's prone to streaks and the odd 6-goal game but if the Rangers catch fire at the right time they are a playoff team. Chris Drury is still one of my favourite players and I wouldn't trust him to lead a team that will finish any lower than 10th.

The Leafs are an interesting team. On paper, they look great but they can't seem to do anything right under Ron Wilson. I don't particularly think Wilson is a good coach and has been really a benefactor of great teams. He's had talented players for so long in SJ sometimes I think he's forgotten how to work with some of the no-talent hacks on the Leafs roster. He clearly had no idea what to do with Jeff Finger. I've never been a fan of Phaneuf and I don't intend to start anytime soon either. I think he's a very talented player who plays with real emotion but also lacks any resemblance of poise or hockey smarts. He's the logical choice for captain of the Leafs because no one else is as qualified as he is. Like Luongo, he was merely the logical choice because he is the team's best player, but not necessarily the right choice.

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