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Eastern Conference Expectations

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With most of the big free agents off the market, save names such as Alex Semin and Shane Doan, the focus of many hockey prognosticators now shifts towards the regular season.

While plenty can still happen between now and puck drop, it's really never too early to start taking a stab at where off-season jostling should land teams within the standings.

This weekend, [I]Boom City[/I] takes a good long look at the [B]Eastern Conference[/B].

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1043[/ATTACH]Don't expect much to change in the Eastern Conference this season. Apart from some reshuffling within the divisions, the powers that be will remain in the conference's top eight seeds.

Despite a first round upset at the hands of the Washington Capitals, the [B]Boston Bruins [/B]remain among the class of the east. With Tuukka Rask taking over in net and the Tim Thomas distraction long over with, expect the Bruins to once again be the cream of the Eastern Conference crop.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1038[/ATTACH]A healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin means the [B]Pittsburgh Penguins[/B] will be a tough train to slow in 2012-13. If Marc-Andre Fleury falters like we witnessed in the 2012 playoffs, Tomas Vokoun is a great insurance policy and could capably carry the team in a way that Brent Johnson failed. The Penguins are my pick as 2013 Stanley Cup victors and Sidney Crosby will bring home his second Art Ross Trophy as league scoring champ.
[ATTACH=CONFIG]1037[/ATTACH]The Adam Oates era in Washington is just beginning and it certainly provides a bright hope for Capitals fans. Expected to allow his superstars, namely Alex Ovechkin, to turn on the offensive guns, Oates and the Capitals have all the tools and fire-power to take the Southeast Division banner. After a breakout performance in the 2012 playoffs, a full year from Braden Holtby will be exciting to watch.[/LEFT]

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1048[/ATTACH]The Atlantic Division is possibly the toughest in the league and the Rangers will be hard-pressed to repeats as champions. But with Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, they will certainly be in the mix. Losing Brandon Prust and replacing him with Arron Asham will be a much more significant loss than many might think. Not to mention, the goal-starved Rangers will be without offensive dynamo Marian Gaborik to open the season.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1049[/ATTACH]Looking more and more as though Chris Pronger will be forced to retire, the Flyers lost two studs on the blueline with Matt Carle returning to the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency. Luke Schenn will help ease the pain, but Pronger is irreplaceable. Philadelphia's success will largely rely on the play of enigmatic netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. I wouldn't be holding my breath.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1039[/ATTACH]The [B]Tampa Bay Lightning[/B] suffered through horrendous goaltending courtesy of Dwaye Roloson in 2011-12. With Roloson gone, Anders Lindback in and the defense bolstered with the signings of Matt Carle and Sami Salo, the Bolts should return to the playoff mixer in 2013. Steven Stamkos will continue his offensive explosiveness and help carry the team to the post-season.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1040[/ATTACH]The [B]Florida Panthers[/B] surprised many by winning the Southeast Division in 2012. They won't catch anyone sleeping this season. Jonathan Huberdeau should be a nice addition to the top-six but the Panthers overachieved in 2012 and won't repeat as division champions.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1044[/ATTACH]Many expected the [B]Buffalo Sabres[/B] to be a playoff team in 2012, but a poor start prevented that from coming to fruition. After parting with Derek Roy and Brad Boyes, the Sabres added some much needed size and grit by bringing in Steve Ott. With Ryan Miller between the pipes, a return to the dance shouldn't be out of the question.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1041[/ATTACH]Jim Rutherford and the [B]Carolina Hurricanes[/B] made the biggest splash at the 2012 entry draft, acquiring Jordan Staal from the Pittsburgh Penguins. That addition alone improves the squad but the 'Canes still lack depth up front. Carolina will be better, but there is still work to be done if they want to return to the post-season.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1045[/ATTACH]Most people in hockey projected the[B] Ottawa Senators [/B]to finish in the Eastern Conference cellar in 2011-12 and they proved their doubters wrong. Still, the young Sens did overachieve and the rebuild is not yet complete. Expect a regression in 2012-13.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1050[/ATTACH]The [B]New Jersey Devils[/B] lost their heart and soul when captain Zach Parise bolted for greener pastures in Minnesota. It is unlikely that 40-year-old Martin Brodeur will recapture the magic he displayed during the 2012 playoffs. Two such blows and New Jersey will be on the outside looking in this season.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1042[/ATTACH]Winnipeg fans will be forced to wait for playoff hockey beyond 2013. While everyone in the Southeast Division addressed significant needs, the Jets biggest acquisitions came in the form of well-known underachievers, Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky. The thought of a line featuring those two with Nik Antropov is enough to make any Jets fan shudder.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1046[/ATTACH]While adding James van Riemsdyk will help the offense, the Leafs biggest hole remains in the crease. Until GM Brian Burke finds a more permanent fixture in the blue paint, Toronto fans will continue to wait on playoff hockey. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens are simply not the answer.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1051[/ATTACH]Despite drafting great young prospects, the [B]New York Islanders[/B] have been unable to develop them properly and have also failed at surrounding their young gems with reliable depth. For whatever reason, GM Garth Snow just can't seem to bring it all together. Ryan Strome and Griffin Reinhart will be great additions in 2012-13, but not enough to drag the Isles out of the Eastern Conference basement.

[ATTACH=CONFIG]1047[/ATTACH]The rebuild is just beginning in Montreal and boy does it have a long ways to go. The additions of Colby Armstrong and Brandon Prust will give the Habs added size, toughness and character, but they much more than just that if they are once again going to contend for a playoff spot.

Tune in next weekend when Boom City scopes out the landscape in the Western Conference.

Atlantic Division projection:[/B]
[LIST=1][*][ATTACH=CONFIG]1053[/ATTACH]Pittsburgh Penguins[*]New York Rangers[*]Philadelphia Flyers[*]New Jersey Devils[*]New York Islanders[/LIST]

[B]Northeast Division projection:[/B]
[LIST=1][*][ATTACH=CONFIG]1054[/ATTACH]Boston Bruins[*]Buffalo Sabres[*]Ottawa Senators[*]Toronto Maple Leafs[*]Montreal Canadiens[/LIST]

[B]Southeast Division projection:[/B]
[LIST=1][*][ATTACH=CONFIG]1052[/ATTACH]Washington Capitals[*]Tampa Bay Lightning[*]Florida Panthers[*]Carolina Hurricanes[*]Winnipeg Jets[/LIST]

[B]Eastern Conference projection:[/B]
[LIST=1][*]Boston Bruins*[*]Pittsburgh Penguins*[*][ATTACH=CONFIG]1055[/ATTACH]Washington Capitals*[*]New York Rangers[*]Philadelphia Flyers[*]Tampa Bay Lightning[*]Florida Panthers[*]Buffalo Sabres[*][I]Carolina Hurricanes[/I][*][I]Ottawa Senators[/I][*][I]New Jersey Devils[/I][*][I]Winnipeg Jets[/I][*][I]Toronto Maple Leafs[/I][*][I]New York Islanders[/I][*][I]Montreal Canadiens[/I][/LIST]

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  1. Blogger Gesterling's Avatar
    Wow 5th in the NE for Montreal? That is a little harsh. They had a bad year last season but I think they can overcome Ottawa and/or Toronto. Though the Northeast is pretty tough.