NHL Picks: Projecting the Eastern Conference Playoff Picture

Ross Benjamin

Monday, November 30, 2015 2:20 PM GMT

Monday, Nov. 30, 2015 2:20 PM GMT

With several sportsbooks offering Futures odds to win the 2016 Stanley Cup, now is the perfect time to place early NHL picks. Here I will detail my early choices of Eastern Conference teams.

What Eastern Conference Teams will Make the 2016 NHL Playoffs?
It still may be a bit premature to start making predictions in regards to the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, as the old adage goes, “no guts then no glory”. I’m going forecast the eight Eastern Conference teams that I see making the postseason at this early juncture. The following listed Stanley Cup Futures odds courtesy of William Hill sportsbook.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning: +800
I alluded to the Lightning in one of my recent articles as being an Eastern Conference dynasty. Considering the short amount of time between that article and this one, not a heck of a lot has changed to alter my thinking. This will be a roster of very little if any turnover from the one that advanced to the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. They possess a brilliant young head coach in John Cooper, and 25 year old Steven Stamkos is a bona fide superstar for many years to come.

 

New York Rangers: +900
Alain Vigneault has done a terrific job since becoming the head coach of the Rangers in 2013. All the Rangers have done with Vigneault is advance to the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, and were eliminated in seven games during the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals. If Henrik Lundquist is able to stay relatively healthy all year, there’s no reason not to believe that they won’t be vying for a #1 seed in the East once again.

 

Washington Capitals: +1800
First and foremost, the Capitals must put aside another disappointing playoff result and move on. The gut wrenching way in which their season came to an end, must unequivocally be erased from their memory banks. They’ve been a franchise that’s been plagued by blowing 3-1 playoff series leads, and it transpired again during the 2015 postseason versus a resilient Rangers team. Make no mistake, this is a very talented team heading into this season, and Braden Holtby is developing into a world class goaltender. Unless something unforeseen occurs, Washington should be an absolute lock to be a playoff qualifier. What takes place beyond that point will have to do more with what’s between the ears, and less about raw physical ability.

 

Montreal Canadiens: +1200
If Carey Price maintains his health, Montreal should be good enough to secure home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Montreal star goaltender is coming off a spectacular 2014-2015 regular season campaign in which he had a superb 1.96 GAA, excellent .933 save percentage, and recorded 9 shutouts. I’m a big fan of defensemen P.K. Subban and firmly believe a Norris Trophy is somewhere in his immediate future.

 

New York Islanders: +2000
The only hesitation for me pertaining to making NHL picks on the Islanders, involves my lack of belief in Jaroslav Halak’s ability to elevate his team into elite status. I touched upon Halak being an overvalued goaltender in a recent article having to do with the importance of save percentage versus GAA. There’s no doubt the plethora of offensive firepower this team possesses led by John Tavares. I also love Johnny Boychuck and Nick Leddy on defense. Unless Halak proves me wrong, or a trade takes place for a top notch goaltender, I see this club as good enough to get invited to the party, and being one of the first to leave. Maybe playing in their new home at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn will change their recent run of playoff bad fortune.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets: +2500
You can be rest assured the Jackets will be cognizant of getting off to a better start this year. A horrible first half to the 2014-2015 campaign cost Columbus dearly. They were the hottest team in the Eastern Conference down the final stretch of last season, but couldn’t overcome the steep uphill climb they cast upon themselves. They were also hindered by #1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky being out for an extended period due to injury, and which ultimately limited him to just 49 starts. They’ll have a bit more luck on their side in this go around.

 

Philadelphia Flyers: +5000
Steve Mason is a vastly underrated goaltender. He was hindered by the injury bug a season ago. However, you can’t ignore the impressive numbers he compiled in 48 starts, and especially considering he did so with a club which failed to reach the playoffs. His 2.28 GAA and .928 save percentage should’ve have been good enough to win much more than 18 games. They possess enough offensive firepower to contend for a postseason berth in 2016, the biggest question mark pertains to team chemistry.

 

Buffalo Sabres: +8000
After finishing with the worst overall record in the NHL the past two years, Buffalo is primed for a dramatic turnaround for this upcoming season. It remains to be seen if that will be good enough to shock many NHL observers and get to postseason play. The additions of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, Jamie MgGinn, and goaltender Robin Lehner gives Buffalo a much needed and formidable facelift. That doesn’t include the second overall picks in the last two NHL entry drafts, Sam Reinhart (2014) and Jack Eichel (2015). Both of those youngsters should be immediate impact players. The biggest concern heading into this season is in regards to their defensemen corp. If that group is able to hold serve, or even exceed expectations, then this team is capable of being a monumental surprise. General Manager Tim Murray has done a terrific job of executing his plan of trading assets in order to obtain young and proven NHL talent. Murray was also able to bring in a top notch head coach in Dan Bylsma. This may seem like a bit of a stretch to most, but one I’m willing to risk my reputation on.

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