The final preseason write up is here as Isles Talk concludes with the Eastern Conference preview. As I did last year, I do things a little different. I will categorize teams into certain groups and make a quick analysis on each team. I have to admit, this one was tough to predict because it is wide open this year. Having said that, here are the teams in their categories.
The Core: These teams will make the playoffs even with a rash of injuries. No questions or gaps.
Boston Bruins: They won’t miss a beat as they’ll continue another good run during the regular season. The playoffs however will be a different story.
Pittsburgh Penguins: If it wasn’t for the quality of this team, they’d be a wild card this year. Defense will be tested with Niskanen and Orpik gone, but as long as Crosby and Malkin stay healthy, Pittsburgh is in.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Other than the Islanders, the Lightning overhauled during the off-season and Jonathan Drouin has arrived. Going to give Boston a run for their money all year long.
New York Islanders: Upgrades were made and enough talent/depth are on this team that there won’t any long losing streaks. The playoffs are for the Isles to lose. Can they turn the Coliseum into “Fort Never Lose” one more time?
Montreal Canadiens: This team will get better as the season progresses as the younger players take reign of the team and begin what could be another long run.
New York Rangers: Almost didn’t put them in here. Losing Stepan will hurt, but when you have the goaltending like the Rangers do, the Rangers have a chance to win every night.
Wild Cards: These are the teams that will give the Core a run for their money and have legitimate shots at the playoffs. However, with wild cards, there are always questions.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils went out and got some more offense. The big question is: How will Corey Schneider do this year? They are gonna ride him all season long, can he even come close to what Martin Brodeur accomplished, because that’s what it will take for this group to get in. A few shoot out wins will also help.
Washington Capitals: Barry Trotz as coach, Matt Niskanen & Brooks Orpik come to strengthen the defense. Who’s scoring for this team other than Ovechkin and Backstrom? If they do find it, they’re in the playoffs. Period.
Detroit Red Wings: Health. If they stay healthy, they’re in. Enough talent and depth to make a run, but cannot lose 400 man games to injuries again.
Columbus: Speaking of health, Columbus drops out of my core category because of the long-term injuries to Jenner and Horton. Johansson missing training camp will hurt as well early on. Gonna need your Vezina goalie to save them in the beginning of the season.
Sophomores Just like in high school, they’re just there, the middle child, I don’t know where to put them. **Just a note: last year 2 out of 3 (Tampa, Columbus) made it to the playoffs while in this category, so it’s not so bad.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Haven’t made the playoffs in a full season for a decade. We’ll believe it when we see it. Time to step up.
Philadelphia Flyers: Mason had an outstanding year in net last year. can he do it again? Their defense is also questionable, but with the improvements the Isles, Devils and caps have made, Philly could be in for along year.
Ottawa Senators: Young team, good set of skilled players, just may not have enough of them. Both Goalies need to be phenomenal this year.
Florida Panthers: Damned if I know. Last time they did a quick change over, they won the Division. Probably won’t happen this year, but enough talent to not be put in the next category.
Basement Dwellers The name says it all.
Buffalo Sabres: To be fair, last year was the first for the new Atlantic Division. Could some team get a rash of injuries and be in last and not the Sabres? See Ottawa or Florida, or even Toronto. For now, the Sabres are down here by default. Take the positives and build on them.
Carolina Hurricanes: I smell a rebuild coming very soon. If their goalies can’t stay healthy, they don’t have Peters to save them, pun intended. Stall also out and the improvements from other Metro teams means it’s a long year for Carolina.
My regular season champs: Boston Bruins