NHL Eastern Conference Preview

NHL Eastern Conference preview this season is provided by Washington Capitals’ columnist, Michael Hoffman so grab a Molson and take a look at the East. BTW, he didn’t go “homer” on us. . . he actually picked the Devils to edge out his hometown Caps and represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Here is his in-depth and fearless prediction on how the Eastern Conference will look.

1. New Jersey Devils- The Devils are just a very complete team. Not only do they have one of the best forwards in the NHL, in Ilya Kovalchuk, they also have a defender who has the potential to be the most disruptive in the NHL in Anton Volchenkov.


While the star power is certainly there, the Devils are strong because of the full sum of their parts, as the Devils carry a number of centers in Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott and Danius Zubrus who are battled tested and have good skill in all aspects of the game. Oh, and they still have some guy named Martin Brodeur and 38 years old or not, he still may have more than a few good years left.

2. Washington Capitals- As elite a player as Alexander Ovechkin is, from watching this team almost every game last season, the guy you really need to start talking about is Nicklas Backstrom who makes the kind of passes that most others can only dream about. With seven guys who scored over twenty goals last year, the Capitals can run with anyone in the league. However their goaltenders, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are still relatively inexperienced.

3. Buffalo Sabres- The Northeast again is not a stacked division at all this year, but this year we expect Tomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Jason Pominville to come back from a slightly disappointing 2009-10 and lead the Sabres charge. If that’s not enough, the Sabres are the only team that starts Ryan Miller in goal. If you haven’t heard, Ryan Miller’s really good.

4. Pittsburg Penguins- Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek were excellent offseason pickups for the Penguins on defense as both of them are excellent puck moving defenseman, and in Martin’s case, just as good in his own end.

On offense the Penguins are stacked at center with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The pickup of Aaron Asham should also help, as he is a tough-noised agitator who will be a good role player.

5. Philadelphia Flyers- The same tough team they were last year but is Brian Boucher really be the answer in net? The Flyers might be the most annoying team to play in the league. They hit and at time, leave very little room to operate. Not a team you ever look forward to playing.

6. Carolina Hurricanes- The Carolina Hurricanes are quietly on the move, a funny thing for a team that comes at you fast. Patrick Dwyer was only twenty last year, when he reached the drinking age in goals, and this year he and the other young Canes like Anton Babchuk will only get better. Eric Stall will also want to prove he is worthy of the job in his first season as captain. We think we can do it.

7. Montreal Canadiens- As the Washington Capitals saw, the Canadiens have some of the best role-players in the league like Travis Moen, Scott Gomez and Maxim Lapierre who fight on the boards, and get the job done in the clutch. However this year, Montreal no longer has Jaroslav Halak who was traded to the Blues.  Expect to see a lot of angry Frenchmen come playoff time, but Montreal still has more than enough depth to make the playoffs.

8. Boston Bruins- Great defense but scoring is still a problem. Somehow I think last season’s shocking playoff collapse will still affect this team. They may only barely hang on to a playoff spot, if at all. Just a hunch.

9. New York Rangers- The Rangers were surprisingly quiet this offseason, as Alexander Frolov was their only major pickup. Still, the Rangers with Alexander Frolov and Marian Gaborik now should be okay in the goal scoring category. They also have a number of ‘gamers’ here like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinksy, but overall the Rangers defense still leaves much to be desired.  They’ll just barely fall short of the playoffs.

10. Tampa Bay Lightning- A lot of great new pieces. The acquisition of Simone Gagne may be a game-changer but at least for this season, Tampa Bay will have a tough time getting all the new parts in line together.  Dan Ellis is hardly elite at this point either in net.

11. Atlanta Thrashers- Definitely on the right track but not there yet.

12. Ottawa Senators- The Senators are hoping for a comeback season from Jason Spezza and it certainly is possible, but while Spezza and guys like Mike Fisher certainly push the pace, it never last season looked like Ottawa was a team you would mind playing.

Outside of Chris Neil and the irascible Jarko Ruutu, this just isn’t a very physical team. Not only that, but starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire isn’t scaring anybody. Last year he had an adherent 3.20 GAA.

13. New York Islanders- When John Taveras puts it all together, the NHL better watch out. For now though the NHL has little to fear from an Islanders squad that lacks depth on offense. An injury to Kyle Okposo that should keep him out 2-3 months, won’t help matters either.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs- Toronto’s hit a tough spot lately. No playoffs  since 2004, the second least goals in the NHL last season and some guy named Tyler Bozak may be centering the first line. Suffice to say this season’s team is unlikely to bring back any memories of the 1967 squad that won the Stanley Cup. Dion Phaneuf will however continue to make this team better on defense but it simply won’t be enough.


15.   Florida Panthers– If you can name more than two members of this team, I give you all the credit in the world.

Eastern Conference Finals- Devils over Capitals in 6 games. It will be a match-up of the two deepest teams in the conference, but in the end the Devils have Martin Brodeur while the Capitals have two goaltenders who are barely over drinking age.

Ovechkin and company are great, but in the end experience counts. At the most important position, the Devils have it, and a superior defense to boot.

Used with permission of the author.

Based in Washington, D.C. Michael Hoffman has covered D.C. sports for numerous publications and is the Washington Redskins columnist and Washington Capitals columnist for Examiner.com. Hoffman is also an NFL and NHL contributor to Sports Climax.

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