The East needs a win – a Cup win. The last time the Stanley Cup came to the Eastern Conference was in 2011, when the Boston Bruins won it and left Vancouver in their riotous wake. Is this year looking any better for the East’s chances? The Bruins are once again a threat, and the New York Rangers will aim to replicate their Cup Final appearance last year. Montreal hopes its many leaders will direct the team to an even stronger finish, and maybe Pittsburgh has one more push left in them. What about upstarts Tampa Bay? Or even Columbus? Are any of them good enough against the formidable Western juggernauts?

Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division

Montreal Canadiens

Why have one captain when you can have four sort-of captains? After Brian Gionta left this summer for Buffalo, the Habs were tasked with awarding his captaincy to someone new. They deferred, and instead made four members of the team assistant captains: PK Subban, Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, and Max Pacioretty will share the leadership load. Perhaps it will make no difference in the end, but experiments with captaincy can sometimes put a bizarre twist on a season (see: Roberto Luongo). That’s probably not what Montreal is hoping for.

Instead, they’ll be looking to build on a solid playoff run last year that took them as far as game six of the Eastern Conference final. They’ve added a few names to help that happen. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau is a promising addition. He racked up 14 goals and 33 points last year with the Avalanche. Tom Gilbert joins from Florida, where he had a respectable 28-point season last year, to add to the Habs’ defensive core.

Most interesting to watch perhaps will be what happens to Dustin Tokarski, the man now behind Carey Price. Tokarski stepped into the goaltending role late last year, posting a 1.84 GAA and a .946 save percentage in his three-game regular-season run and holding his own in the playoffs against New York. With Peter Budaj now out of the picture, Tokarski has a chance to develop. But will that come back to bite the Habs when he’s picked up by another team as a starter, and they’re left with nobody solid willing to fill a secondary role? Time will tell. For now, it’s all good.

PK Subban is one of four Canadiens alternate captains.
Are four better than one? The Canadiens – who tapped PK Subban (left) as one of four assistant captains – certainly hope so. Photograph: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports/USA Today Sports

Possible goaltending drama following a weird captaincy choice … Well, let’s hope it ends better this time.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs should fire head coach Randy Carlyle. But they haven’t yet. Instead, they hired Brendan Shanahan as team president over the summer. There’s been some evidence that adding a former Detroit Red Wing to your management squad brings good results (see: Tampa Bay Lightning), but the Leafs may have issues that no man in an upper-level corner office can fix. For example, the Leafs can’t win in regulation – or haven’t been able to, anyway. Last year, it was the shootout that saved them. As Scott Stinson reminded everyone this summer, the Leafs were able to mask a “long stretch of ineptitude in the middle of their season by going to seven shootouts in a 15-game stretch in which they won twice in regulation.” Stinson presents this as an example for why the NHL must kill the shootout. We’ll leave that argument for now, but suffice it to say it offers a compelling argument against the Leafs’ chances.

That is, unless things change. Things like allowing too many shots on net. Things like possession (they came last in that category in 2013-14). And things like goaltending, where drama and indecision are bound to erupt again as the Jonathan Bernier–James Reimer saga continues. Maybe Shanahan can change all that. But probably not.

A fan shows displeasure with Maple Leafs missing playoffs
Unfortunately for this fan, this won’t be the year the Maple Leafs end their Cup drought. Photograph: Adrian Wyld/AP

Ottawa Senators

Once again, the word from Ottawa this summer was ‘goodbye’. The Senators offloaded Jason Spezza to Dallas and crowned Erik Karlsson their new captain. That’s a lot more pressure on the young defenceman, but there’s no reason to think he can’t handle it (he seems invincible, after all). And despite Spezza’s absence, there’s plenty to like about the Sens’ top line of Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Bobby Ryan. But the question remains whether there’s anyone on that line at the moment who can replicate Spezza’s output (he’s a point-per-game kind of guy).

And what about between the pipes? Craig Anderson signed a three-year contract extension with some big numbers in it ($12.6m). Unfortunately, Anderson’s goals-against average was also rather large last year: 3.00, to go along with a .911 save percentage. That’s partly a function of the fact that Ottawa allowed so many shots on goal. That has to improve. On the plus side, the Sens also re-signed backup goalie Robin Lehner, too, which means there’s potential for a great goaltending tandem. But it won’t look so hot if nobody else is playing well. My guess: the Senators miss the mark again this year, and coach Paul MacLean is given the boot.

Boston Bruins

Last year Boston was cruising. They finished the year with 117 points – good enough for top of the East – but fell out of they playoffs in round two to their mortal enemies, the Montreal Canadiens. One suspects that had they passed the Habs, they would have given New York a very good run for their money. But by that point, the Bruins were looking tired and Montreal frustrated them. After a glorious season, they were finally off their game.

They will want to prove themselves this year. While the Bruins did bring Simon Gagne into camp, they dropped Jarome Iginla. That might hurt them. Iginla brought both goals (30) and leadership to the Bruins, especially at the end of the regular season. Who’s going to fill that void this year? And who will fill Iginla’s spot on the wing? Another question: is Zdeno Chara past his prime? Is the Boston defence still solid if he is?

Where there are fewer questions is in goal. Tuukka Rask was the league’s best last year, posting a 36-15-6 record with a 2.04 GAA and .930 save percentage. There’s no reason to think he can’t do that again. Coupled with the Bruins’ size and toughness, they remain a major threat in the East.

Detroit Red Wings

Detroit will probably want to forget last season. It was a dangerous business being a Red Wing. A slew of injuries plagued the team and forced them to play a rather inexperienced squad for much of the year. And yet, they still made the playoffs (don’t they always?). Perhaps it was all a blessing in disguise, as putting new faces on the ice made the team find depth it never knew it had and built its on-ice experience. That could pay off in the long run (ie this year).

Take Gustav Nyquist, for example. He lit it up last year, grabbing 28 goals in 57 games, and helping the Wings through the spring to generate much-needed goals during their playoff push. Henrik Zetterberg will return from injury (and, subsequently, surgery), along with Karl Franzen, who was out for much of last year thanks to a concussion. But the Wings aren’t out of the woods yet. Pavel Datsyuk is out four to five weeks to start the year after separating his shoulder in the pre-season.

Meanwhile, Detroit will hope goaltender Jimmy Howard improves. He finished the regular season with a 2.66 GAA and .910 save percentage. He can be better (we’ve seen it), and he will need to be if Detroit wants to assure its place in the postseason earlier than it did last year.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates up ice.
Steven Stamkos is healthy and will be joined by several new faces. But will it be enough for the Lightning? Photograph: Chris O'Meara/AP

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a busy off-season. They signed Ryan Callahan to a six-year contract and added Brenden Morrow and Brian Boyle to the lineup, bringing some experience to a pretty young team. Tampa Bay wasn’t done there. They picked up Anton Stralman from the Rangers on a five-year, $22.5m deal. Oh, and Steven Stamkos is healthy again. So, that alone should bring some optimism to western Florida.

But Tampa looked promising last year, too, before an epic flame-out in the first round of the playoffs against Montreal: They dropped four straight. The Bolts suffered on the power play and the penalty kill last year, so that will need some work. And in goal, Ben Bishop remains, unfortunately, a bit dubious. He’s had moments of brilliance in the past, but when he finally had to face a full season (or 63 games, at least), Bishop was only so-so. Adding to his troubles was an elbow injury, followed by surgery. And behind him this season in case anything goes wrong? Evgeni Nabokov, who at 39 years old is perhaps past his prime.

Florida Panthers

Unfortunately for those of us hoping for a Tim Thomas–Roberto Luongo buddy movie emerging from Florida, we’re stuck with just one half this year. Thomas moved on and Luongo returned from Vancouver to occupy the primary goaltending role. He’ll hopefully be much happier this season than he has been in years past, and perhaps that will bring about a renewed Roberto, back to his former prime.

And yet it’s all the guys in front of him who fans ought to wonder about most. The Panthers added Olli Jokinen and Dave Bolland in the offseason. They’ll bring experience to a young team, and, the Panthers hope, some goals (particularly from Jokinen, especially if he’s paired with his Finnish national linemate Aleksander Barkov). Directing it all from behind the bench will be new boss Gerard Gallant, who arrived from assisting in Montreal.

Is it enough to turn the Panthers playoff-bound? It will take a lot. Florida is in a difficult division, and they won’t make things easier for themselves if they allow as many shots on goal as they did last year (second most in the league in five-on-five scenarios), no matter how much better Luongo is.

Buffalo Sabres

Buffalo gives one reason for pause. On the one hand, they added plenty of veteran experience to the team this summer, which should theoretically bode well. Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges travelled down from Montreal, and Matt Moulson will also return. That’s all good. But this is a team coming off its worst showing in franchise history, and one that became known for allowing other teams to shoot on it pretty much as often as they liked. So, as much as they added, it might not be enough.

For example, who will do their scoring? Buffalo’s top points man last year was Cody Hodgson, with 44. Top linemen Drew Stafford and Tyler Ennis managed only 37 goals in 2013-14 between them. For comparison’s sake, Phil Kessel – who is a Maple Leaf, remember – got the same number on his own. As for defence? They sent Christian Ehrhoff, arguably their best defenceman, off to San Jose.

There are some positive changes happening in Buffalo. But not enough to make this year much different than the last, I don’t think. I’d be happy to be surprised, though.

Metropolitan Division

New York Rangers

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist makes a save in Game 6 of an NHL playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Henrik Lundqvist is plenty capable of single-handedly keeping the Rangers relevant in the East race. Photograph: Kathy Willens/AP

There can be no doubt now how much Martin St Louis can change a team. As he went in the playoffs, so went the New York Rangers. His arrival from Tampa Bay was a pivotal moment in New York’s push for the Cup, but can the emotion and influence St Louis brought to the ice be sustained for an entire season? The campaign to the cup has already hit a snag in New York: Derek Stepan is out for anywhere from four to six weeks thanks to a fractured fibula. That’s a blow, considering the Rangers dealt their other key centreman, Brad Richards, to Chicago in the summer.

Where the Rangers couldn’t compete in the cup final last year was size. The LA Kings simply ran them ragged. And there’s not a lot to suggest that will improve this year. In fact, now that Benoit Pouliot decamped for Canada and Brian Boyle also bid NYC adieu, things might get a bit worse. Perhaps that won’t matter for much of the regular season, but it does make a huge difference in the playoffs – especially if they’ll have to make their way past some of the bigger conference rivals like Boston.

Also: Rick Nash? Hello? Bueller?

Still, the Rangers always have at least one thing most others don’t: Henrik Lundqvist. As much as the playoffs were dictated by St Louis’ leadership, Lundqvist at times single-handedly was the difference maker. No doubt, he will be again, for better or worse.

New York Islanders

Three good things are happening for the Islanders. One: captain John Tavares will return, healthy, after an Olympic knee injury sidelined him last year. Two: Jaroslav Halak will join to handle the goaltending, after signing a four-year contract. Halak has the ability to steal games, and though he didn’t do much last year in Washington, he had a solid season the year prior in St Louis. And three: they’re moving to Brooklyn.

OK, so that last one won’t happen until next year, but all the more reason to start building a winning team now. Nobody wants the opening season in the new barn to be a losing one. So, what will it take to get the Islanders to that point? Maybe adding former Maple Leafs linemates Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to the lineup will help things as much as Tavares and Halak will. There are questions on defence, however, so Halak might be put to the test unfairly. But if he rises to that challenge and the goal scoring starts coming, we could see the Isles make the playoffs. And there, anything can happen.

New Jersey Devils

Jaromir Jagr is still playing hockey. I just wanted everyone to remember that. He signed a one-year contract with the Devils to play this season, but he’s not the only old face the Devils might have lacing up for them this year. Scott Gomez (okay, not quite as old) was invited to training camp, too. And guess what? He’s been scoring in the pre-season. (For those interested, Gomez is apparently also renting out his penthouse apartment in Chelsea to the tune of $23,000 a month. Pros: you can live in the same building as Katie Holmes. Cons: you can live in the same apartment as Nick Jonas once did.)

The Devils also added Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat over the summer to bolster their offensive capacity, and they locked in goaltender Cory Schneider with a seven-year extension worth $42m. All of which will result in … well, who knows. This is a weird division, and if the Devils can stay healthy (they are a tad on the old side, so things happen), they could challenge for a top spot. If not – and if everyone else is playing well – the Devils might finish at the bottom. Playoff bound? I would guess not.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers were only just getting over the loss of Kimmo Timonen, who was diagnosed with blood clots and could potentially be finished playing hockey for good, when Claude Giroux suffered a lower-body injury. Giroux, at least, is expected to return to start the regular season. What will he come back to? The Flyers added Michael Del Zotto during the summer, though it’s an open question as to what sort of difference he’ll make. Philly also added RJ Umberger from Columbus, but gave up Scott Hartnell. And that’s sort of about it.

One thing is for sure: the Flyers have to get off to a better start this year than they did last year, when they lost seven of their opening eight games. With that accomplished, they’ll look to repeat what was a strong finish to the season and a berth in the playoffs. To do that, they’ll undoubtedly need another good year out of goaltender Steve Mason, but the loss of Timonen could become a major factor on the defensive end, and perhaps one they don’t recover from this year.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Mike Johnston takes over behind the bench, after the Penguins fired Dan Bylsma on the heels of a dismal showing in the playoffs last year. But he might not have a smooth road ahead of him. The question surrounding the Penguins right now is one of fitness. Who remains healthy on this team? Evgeni Malkin hasn’t been skating and will probably miss the start of the regular season. Sidney Crosby has some undisclosed injury. Olli Maatta isn’t likely to start on defence. And is Kris Letang ever going to be as good as he was before he suffered that stroke? The list is a worrying one for Penguins fans. That could all turn around if and when they return to the ice, of course. Malkin and Crosby are a great duo, and can be the X-factor on any given night.

But this just doesn’t look like a team built to win a Cup – or perhaps even advance further than they did last year. That’s certainly been the trend, anyway. And even though he’s not injured, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury remains a problem. Despite brief flashes of brilliance, he has been unable to prove himself as a clutch goalie, especially lately in the playoffs. How much can the Pens rely on backup Thomas Greiss, who’s only played 20 regular-season NHL games since 2011?

Hope for success, Pittsburgh, but prepare for disappointment. And the dreaded Rebuilding.

Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins warms up.
Without a healthy Sidney Crosby, the Penguins might be doomed for a roster rebuild. Photograph: Rich Lam/Getty Images

Washington Capitals

Pittsburgh’s loss might prove to be Washington’s gain. The Capitals acquired defencemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen from the Penguins in the off-season, and under Barry Trotz will look to improve on a 90-point season that had them fall just short of making the playoffs. There was no change in the summer to the goaltending position, and one wonders whether Braden Holtby will thrive now with more help in front of him on defence.

Trotz is also planning to move Alexander Ovechkin back over to left wing, which will either mean immediate success or much hand-wringing across the league about whether we were all wrong about Ovie’s true ability to be the NHL’s biggest star. There’s rarely any middle ground when it comes to him. But if he’s on top of his game (and even when he’s not), the Caps are very adept scorers, especially on the power play. Trotz is a good coach, and perhaps just the kind of guy Washington needs after a few unstable years of coaches coming and going. He did great things in Nashville, anyway. He could certainly steer this team to a much better finish than last season.

Carolina Hurricanes

The biggest headline you needed to read in Carolina prior to the regular season probably went something like this: Jordan Staal out four months after breaking leg. It’s a terrible way to start a season, especially for a team like Carolina which needs about all the good luck it can get right now. The Hurricanes finished last season just over .500 – certainly nowhere good enough to make the playoffs.

So they will have to hope. They’ll hope Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin step up big time. They’ll hope the other Staal, Eric, returns to form. They’ll hope Anton Khudobin improves on his solid 36-game stead for the ’Canes last year (when he posted a 2.30 GAA and a .926 save percentage – not bad, all things considered). And they’ll hope, perhaps, at least some of their misfortune spreads to a few other teams in the division. That said, if the Hurricanes couldn’t make it happen early last year in the Metropolitan (when it was truly woeful), one wonders whether they can do it this time, now that practically everyone else has improved.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Yes, Columbus will make the playoffs for the second year in a row. With Ryan Johansen’s contract negotiations now sorted, the Blue Jackets will start the season with memories of the franchise’s first serious playoff performance still fresh in their minds. Johansen is worth banking on, if you’re Columbus – to the tune of $12m. He notched 33 goals last year – enough to tie him at 11th spot in the NHL goal-scoring race – and had 30 assists to go with them.

But while all that gets sorted out, we might as well look at the rest of the team. It’s not too shabby. They picked up Scott Hartnell from Philly, who will add not only toughness but also goals to the equation. The Jackets also have Nathan Horton, in the second season of a seven-year deal worth a hefty $37.1m but now suffering from what’s been called a ‘degenerative back condition’. He’ll need to honour that deal with a better outing than last year, where he only managed five goals in 36 games. And Columbus will hope for the best possible repeat of last year for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, too.

They’re a bit rag-tag, but they get the job done. They will make this division interesting.


Colin Horgan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
NHL preview: 10 storylines to follow in 2013

Colin Horgan: At last the 2013 NHL season can start. We choose ten stories to watch out for in 2013 from Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks to Rick Nash at the New York Rangers

Colin Horgan

17, Jan, 2013 @10:00 AM

Article image
NHL 2013 playoffs preview: Bruins-Maple Leafs excites traditionalists

NHL: The first round of the NHL playoffs pitches Original Six members the Boston Bruins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Pittsburgh Penguins face the New York Islanders. Plus a look at all the other match-ups

Colin Horgan

29, Apr, 2013 @7:30 PM

Article image
The NHL playoff hunt: who’s in, who’s out, and who’s on the bubble?
Colin Horgan: With 10 games to go, we look at the standings and ask: will Toronto, Detroit or Dallas reach the playoffs?

Colin Horgan

25, Mar, 2014 @1:09 PM

Article image
NHL playoffs: each of the 16 teams ranked
The race for the Stanley Cup has never been tighter. Except, perhaps, for the presence of the New York Rangers

Colin Horgan

14, Apr, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
The Stanley Cup contenders, ranked: red-hot Capitals can go all the way
Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals, having won their second straight Presidents’ Trophy, are favorites for the title. Josh Kloke runs down the NHL’s 16 postseason teams

Joshua Kloke

12, Apr, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
NHL playoffs: expect Boston to go deep – and Blues to upset Blackhawks
NHL: St Louis lost their last six but can topple Chicago, while the quality of Colorado and Anaheim shows the strength of the West

Colin Horgan

15, Apr, 2014 @1:59 PM

NHL results round-up

Results: Atlanta Thrashers 3-5 Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres 7-4 Tampa Bay Lightning, Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars 1-2 Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings 3-1 Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils 1-2 New York Rangers (SO), San Jose Sharks 4-3 Minnesota Wild 3 (SO).

Staff and agencies

20, Mar, 2008 @8:31 AM

Article image
NHL playoffs: Boston Bruins face New York Rangers after Game Seven heroics

Colin Horgan: Boston Bruins earn Original Six matchup with New York Rangers after both came through Game Sevens; Chicago Blackhawks face Detroit Red Wings; Ottawa Senators vs Pittsburgh Penguins; Stanley Cup holders LA Kings vs San Jose Sharks

Colin Horgan

14, May, 2013 @2:41 PM

Article image
NHL playoff Game 7s: Bruins, Capitals, Rangers, Senators, Devils and Panthers | Colin Horgan

Colin Horgan: Three NHL game 7s - Ottawa Senators vs. New York Rangers; Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals; New Jersey Devils vs. Florida Panthers

Colin Horgan

25, Apr, 2012 @12:00 PM

Article image
NHL trade deadline moves: Luongo, Gaborik, Vanek and St Louis
A busier-than-usual NHL trade deadline saw the Florida Panthers sign Roberto Luongo, Martin St Louis join the New York Rangers and Marian Gaborik move to the LA Kings

Colin Horgan

06, Mar, 2014 @3:02 PM