The Eastern Conference will be incredibly competitive in 2015-16. There will surely be a few Stanley Cup contenders and even a few bottom feeders, although it is difficult right now to see any team in the Conference falling too far.
Although I primarily follow and write about the Philadelphia Flyers, I have kept a keen eye on the developments in the Eastern Conference this offseason. I would love nothing more than to write an article explaining why the Flyers will win the Eastern Conference, but anyone who has been paying attention over the last three years knows that is not going to happen.
In writing down my predictions for the season, I hope to be able to engage fans of all Eastern Conference teams in dialogue, hoping to understand where I may have gone wrong. Looking back at the end of the season, I am sure that I will have many more hilarious mistakes than home runs, but that is part of the fun.
If you are a fan of an Eastern Conference team, take a look and let me know what you think:
*I will not be predicting the Western Conference, as I have little in-depth knowledge of the teams. Why make 29 fan bases angry when you can limit the anger to 14?
- Washington Capitals – 110pts
- Pittsburgh Penguins – 106pts
- Columbus Blue Jackets – 100pts
- New York Rangers – 99pts
- New York Islanders – 98pts
- Philadelphia Flyers – 92pts
- Carolina Hurricanes – 84pts
- New Jersey Devils – 74pts
- Tampa Bay Lightning – 112pts
- Montreal Canadiens – 104pts
- Detroit Red Wings – 102pts
- Buffalo Sabres – 98pts
- Florida Panthers – 96pts
- Ottawa Senators – 92pts
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 86pts
- Boston Bruins – 80pts
- TBL vs NYI – TBL in 5
- WSH vs NYR – WSH in 5
- MTL vs DET – DET in 7
- PIT vs CBJ – PIT in 7
- TBL vs DET – TBL in 7
- WSH vs PIT – WSH in 6
Eastern Conference Finals
- TBL vs WSH – WSH in 6
For what it’s worth, I think the Capitals will lose to the San Jose Sharks in 6 games in the Stanley Cup Final.
Metro Division Write-Up
Let’s start at the top. The Washington Capitals are going to be a force. Adding Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams and TJ Oshie to the likes of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Braden Holtby will be dangerous for anyone in the East.
The same goes for both Pittsburgh and Columbus. The Penguins made many subtle additions, along with one very big addition (Phil Kessel), that will make them a formidable opponent next year. Players like Sergei Plotnikov, Nick Bonino, and Eric Fehr will go a long way in giving Pittsburgh four good lines. The Blue Jackets’ addition of Brandon Saad, along with the natural progression of many of their young players, should make them a tough out all season long.
Both the Islanders and Rangers are hard to pin down. Neither team made any major moves, but both teams were very good last season. Will the loss of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin hurt the Rangers? I believe so, but that will not be enough to take them out of the playoffs. The Islanders are still sitting on some of the best prospects in the league and a solid core of young NHL players. Will that be enough for them to take the next step forward? I don’t see it, but they are still good enough to make the playoffs in the very competitive East.
The Flyers, Hurricanes and Devils are each difficult to assess, as well. I can see a valid argument to be made that each team will be much improved in 2015-16. On the other hand, I do not believe that any of the three teams has done enough to leapfrog any of the other five. The Flyers could challenge for a playoff spot if Steve Mason gets hot down the stretch and the Hurricanes could surprise some people if Noah Hanifin turns in an Ekblad-esque season, but ultimately the chips are stacked against these three. They each have a good prospect pool that should lead to future success.
Atlantic Division Write-Up
The Tampa Bay Lightning are at the front end of a potential dynasty. Jonathan Drouin is ready to break out, the “triplets” will continue to impress and Andrei Vasilevkiy may cement himself as the starting goaltender by the time the season is over. And how could we forget Steven Stamkos? There is no reason to believe that the Lightning will regress in 2015-16, and if anything, they could even improve.
The Red Wings and Canadiens both seem to be in holding patterns. There is little different on the roster of each team heading into 2015-16. Sure, the Red Wings will have Mike Green and Dylan Larkin (Brad Richards, too), but are those players really going to help them catch the Lightning? I doubt it. The Canadiens may have added Alexander Semin, but can Carey Price carry them for another 82 games? Price is an amazing goalie, but he is also a human. Both Detriot and Montreal will be competitive, but I do not expect either team to catch Tampa Bay.
The Buffalo Sabres may be the most exciting team to watch in 2015-16. Sure, they were a possession nightmare last season. But with the additions of possession stalwarts like Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly and Cody Franson, the Sabres may be able to right their ship. Add their most recent first round picks to the mix, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, and you have the recipe for a surprisingly good team. If Robin Lehner can stay healthy, the Sabres could easily end up in the postseason.
I am predicting that both Ottawa and Florida will be the victim of the numbers game. Both teams are good. Both teams are young. Both teams are on the way up. But I just do not see a way in which they make the postseason in the crowded Eastern Conference. I think the Senators ended up relying upon Andrew Hammond far too much last season to make the playoffs. That over-reliance will come back to bite them this year. Although the Panthers have a good group of young players, I believe that Aaron Ekblad will run into a sophomore slump and that Brian Campbell may begin to show his age (the two are related), resulting in another year out of the playoffs.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are building a great team. By 2017-2018, they may be one of the best teams in the NHL. But right now, they are clearly rebuilding. I do not think they will be as terrible as some have suggested. In fact, I believe they will be better than Carolina, New Jersey and Boston. But even with Babcock’s magic, they will not be sniffing the postseason in 2015-16.
I may catch flack for this, but the Bruins are are going to have a tough time in 2015-16. Let’s look at their blue line from the last time they made the postseason. Johnny Boychuk? Gone. Dougie Hamilton? Gone. Dennis Seidenberg? Injured for a while. Zdeno Chara? Still good, but injury prone and showing signs of age. Let’s now look at the forwards. Milan Lucic? Gone. Jarome Iginla? Gone. Yes, Patrice Bergeron is amazing and David Krejci is underrated. Brad Marchand, Jimmy Hayes and David Pastrnak will provide some offense, as well. But their depleted blue line and lack of serious forward depth will force the Bruins to over-rely on Tuukka Rask, who can only do so much. I have a hard time seeing the Bruins being too competitive in 2015-16.
You may think I’m crazy, and that’s fine. As the season progresses, I hope to look back at this article and see where I misjudged players/teams so that I can learn for the future. The Eastern Conference will be very competitive, but also very exciting, so buckle up for a great year!