#1 Pittsburgh Penguins
The perennial offensive powerhouse is back and ready to attack once again for another exciting season coming our way! It was a relatively quiet off-season for the Pens but they didn’t need to make many moves. They signed Jack Johnson to a multi-year deal to shore up the blueline which is one of the team’s weak spots.
It wouldn’t be surprising if the Pens make it to another Stanley Cup Final and what’s different this year compared to the last couple of seasons is that they’re on the outside looking in. They were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals, in 6 games of the Eastern conference semi-finals.
The Pens will be fresher because of the extra rest compared to years before when they won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017. There’s no doubt Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and company will still be at the top of their game to cement another great season in the best era of Penguins history. They have the deadliest powerplay as they were ranked #1 in that department last year plus they were #5 on offense. There’s no reason why that won’t change as of right now. Look for some exciting, high-flying games by them, especially against the Flyers and the Capitals. Mark it on your calendar when they play!
#2 Philadelphia Flyers
This might come as a surprise to some but I think the Flyers have a team that is a force to be reckoned with. Giroux, Voracek and Couturier had outstanding seasons last year. With Nolan Patrick on the verge of a breakout plus the signing of James van Riemsdyk, they now have a very scary offense that has great mix of skill, physicality and speed.
On the back end, Ivan Provorov has established himself as a solid two-defender for years to come and Gostibehere (aka Ghost Bear) had a terrific season as well. Ghost Bear’s numbers might see a dip but he’ll still put up big numbers from the back.
The Flyers aren’t as deep as the top contending teams but from what they lack in depth they make up for in prospects. Carter Hart is arguably the top goaltending prospect in the league and he’ll get a shot at training camp. Defenseman, Phillipe Myers has a great shot at making the team as well as centerman, Morgan Frost, a very explosive skater.
Penalty Killing and goaltending are Philly’s weak spots but with an improved roster from within, they will get better in those departments. Their offense should make up for those deficiencies.
#3 Washington Capitals
The 2018 Stanley Cup champions had a year to remember! After many disappointments and early playoff exits, they finally made their mark in history and Alex Ovechkin got his Stanley Cup; he hasn’t let the cup out of his sights or been sober ever since, haha.
The Caps earned their first Stanley Cup by having the presence of two elite centers in Kuznetsov and Backstrom. In the past, the Caps didn’t have this luxury, which is why they too often eliminated early in the playoffs. Their rivals, the Penguins, always stacked themselves down the middle with Malkin and Crosby. That’s why the Penguins have 3 cups since 2009.
The Caps still have their main core intact and they’ve signed D John Carlson to an extension this summer. They’ll be gunning for a second straight cup and their odds are terrific.
#4 Carolina Hurricanes
It was a down year in Carolina and another missed opportunity to make the playoffs. That has been the case for the last 8 season ever since they made the Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins in 2009. But that was a long time ago and none of the guys that were on that team are here today.
There was no distinguished strengths of that team as they ranked in the mid 20’s in goals for, goals against, powerplay and penalty killing against other teams in the league.
What they did have right was their shots for/ shots against ratio. They peppered 2780 shots on goal while having 2367 shots against. Do you realize how good that is? They had 413 more shots on goal than against. That’s huge! The problem is that they couldn’t finish opportunities and Scott Darling did not play well for the Canes last season. They easily would of been a playoff team if Cam Ward simply played more games. Now that Ward is gone, Darling will get a second chance to see if he is worth the starter’s job. We’ll see how it goes but I think he’ll improve. I believe in second chances for opportunities like what Darling has, except for getting back together with your ex. I don’t believe in that at all.
Carolina’s strength by far is their defensive core from #1 to #6. They just got Dougie Hamilton who is very gifted offensive from the backend. Jaccob Slavin is a defensive stalwart plus Faulk, Pesce and van Riemsdyk round out a pretty solid backend.
The Canes lack star power and they’ve especially missed it last year. Now with Svechnikov in the picture, he’ll most likely make the team. He’s the Cane’s main weapon for the future and he’ll get his feet wet this season. If he turns out to be any good, he’ll make the Canes a better team immediately.
This team is closer to being better than what a lot of people think and it won’t be surprising if they contend for a wild card spot in April of 2019.
#5 Columbus Blue Jackets
If it wasn’t for Panarin (aka Pan Bread) or Bobrovsky (aka Boobtitsky) the Jackets wouldn’t have a chance to make the playoffs. Consistent scoring was a struggle for them last season despite Seth Jones had an outstanding year from the backend. A lot of players experienced big drop offs including Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno. Luckily Pierre-Luc Dubois had a nice rookie season for them and played really well with Pan Bread late in the season.
Ever since Tortorella has taken over the head coaching job in 2016, he turned this team around and established an identity by getting his team to play a gritty, hard-nosed, in-your-face brand of hockey. Although they have depth and character, they lack someone who can score all season long. Only Pan Bread can do it and the rest of the team has streaky scoring.
Although I like this team on paper, they are one distraction or injury away from having a bad losing streak faltering their chances on missing the playoffs. Speaking of distractions, Panarin needs a contract and he won’t likely stay with the club. They’ll miss the playoffs, but just barely.
#6 New Jersey Devils
The Devils made a terrific run in the season to make the last wild card seed in the Eastern Conference. That’s how Taylor Hall won the MVP trophy this season as he shouldered this team to the playoffs. Much like Columbus, Hall is the reason why the Devils made the playoffs just like how Panarin was the reason the Jackets were successful. The depth chart falls immediately after Hall. Nico Hishier is good and will be an elite center in a couple of seasons but he isn’t at his prime yet.
The defensive core is probably the most average in the league. Will Buthcer had a great rookie season but he may have been over-acheiving just a bit. He could drop a few points but that’s ok, he’s still a lte round steal for the Devils. Vatanen looked good for the Devils last season but he won’t be carrying this club from the backend.
The Devils were probably the luckiest team when it came to their goaltending situation. As Cory Schneider struggled, Keith Kinkaid bailed him out and played way above expectations earning himself the starter job.
Much like the stock market when things go much better than expected, a course correction is in Order for the Devils.
#7 New York Rangers
In a letter published in a local newspaper to Rangers fans from Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton on February 8th, 2018, they basically told fans that they’re rebuilding from the ground up and that marked a significant change in the Ranger’s destiny for the coming years on that day. Rick Nash, Ryan McDonagh, J.T Miller and Michael Grabner were shipped out at the trade deadline for prospects and future considerations.
The full rebuild is in effect at the Big Apple. They were loaded with 10 picks at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas including three first round draft picks. They selected forward Vitali Kravtsov with the 9th overall pick, defenseman K’Andre Miller with the 22nd overall pick, and defenseman Nils Lundkvist with the 28th overall pick.
With those picks, they’ll have the deepest pool of prospects in a couple of years. As of now, the Rangers are in transition. Henrik Lundqvist needs an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup and they’ll most likely have him shipped out somewhere by the trade deadline in 2019.
The Rangers won’t be good but they now a have a direction and that will bode well for their future.
#8 New York Islanders
I’m not going to hold back on this one. The Islanders had a wasted season that could of been completely avoided. The Isles needed to chooses a path for the club while they still had a shot at the playoffs. They either had to buy or sell. Instead, they didn’t make a single move. The Isles were in desperate need of goaltending near the trade deadline. They easily could of snagged Cam Ward. He was available. A defensive stalwart would of made a difference as well. Their penalty kill was horrible as they ranked dead last in the league. Ryan McDonagh would of been terrific in fixing that problem. He was available.
Islanders were even better off to sell than to do nothing. They didn’t even trade Tavares away while they still could of got some value from him and now he’s moved on with the Maple Leafs for nothing in return for the Isles.
The team had these problems because of colossal mismanagement from Garth Snow and now he’s fired. Thankfully, Lou Lamiorello took over the General Manger role. Even with him at charge of operations, the Isles won’t recover from what happened last season. Now they have to suffer a painful season trying to figure how they can get back to being a playoff contender. Time to get to work.