It was a very weak free agency period for the Eastern Conference, and I don’t see the playoff picture changing much this coming season. I have seven of the eight same teams returning to the party minus the New York Rangers, who are replaced by the New Jersey Devils.
1. Boston Bruins
Even without Jarome Iginla, the Bruins are still one of the best teams in the league. They allowed the fewest goals in the conference (second-least in the NHL). They’re built on defense, and goaltending, and they’ll go back to their roots, and win the conference on their strengths.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Definitely a team on the rise. Their defense looks strong with Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison joining a corps including Victor Hedman, and Matt Carle. A full season with Ryan Callahan should do wonders.
3. Montreal Canadiens
I don’t think the Montreal Canadiens will fall-off as much as some people expect. Yes, they lost Thomas Vanek, Daniel Briere and Brian Gionta but they can live without those guys. This is still a talented young team that will be in the mix for the top spot in the conference.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Some people see the Pens as losers in free agency but do you really want to spend $67 million on Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik? Definitely not. Instead, they snapped up Christian Ehrhoff, who is much better than the two guys who left, at $4 M for one year. As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the roster, they’re a top-four team in the East.
5. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings were beset by injuries last season. If they can stay healthy, they should climb the standings a little bit. They are hurting a bit on the blue line, but the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference are weaker than them. They can get to fifth if they stay healthy.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets gained some valuable postseason experience and should be stronger because of it. It’s time for them to move up the standings and stop being a fringe eighth seed. If some of their young forwards can produce a bit more offense, getting to sixth or fifth is reasonable for this team.
7. New Jersey Devils
The Devils should be a playoff team if they stick with Cory Schneider from the get-go. Their forwards units are built with veterans, but are still decent. Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias, Mike Cammalleri, Ryane Clowe, Adam Henrique, Tumo Ruutu, Martin Havlat…you could do much worse. As long as their defense is steady, this will be a playoff team.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers weren’t able to do much to improve themselves in free agency, but they should still be back in the playoffs. They have too much offensive firepower not to be a top-eight team in the Eastern Conference. How high they climb in the standings depends on how their often-fragile goaltending an defense perform.
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