by PuckStopsHere on 01/18/13 at 12:46 AM ET
Today my pre-season predictions move into the East Conference. In the last few days I have posted my predictions for the Northwest Division, Pacific Division and Central Division and also rankings for the West Conference as a whole.
NHL predictions are tough in the best of times. This season will not be the best of times from predictions. The shortened season will increase the effects of short term streaks, slumps and other random fluctuations. The start to the season will be critical and unpredictable because of the difference in conditioning among players after a lockout and a weeklong "training camp".
Here are my Northeast Division predictions:
1. Boston Bruins - The biggest change from last season is goaltending. Tim Thomas is taking the season off and Tuukka Rask will be the starting goalie. He should be a capable starter. Zdeno Chara is probably the best defenceman in hockey. Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg provide strong depth. If there is a question mark here, it is the fact that all of these defencemen are into their thirties. There is a deep group of forwards including Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton. This is a group that should be strong enough to win their division.
2. Buffalo Sabres - This is the most talented team that missed the playoffs in 2012. Ryan Miller is a proven top goalie. With a full recovery from his recent concussion problems he could again be among the top goalies in the NHL. Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers, Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr make up strong defensive core. There are several offensive players who have shown that they can score well in Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford and Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson may join them. This is a team that might make a big climb through the standings because they significantly underachieved last year.
3. Ottawa Senators - This team took a big step forward last year in part because Erik Karlsson had a Norris Trophy season. I have doubts as to whether that can be repeated. There is a lack of defensive depth beyond him with only Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar (who may be traded) with any NHL success to speak of. Craig Anderson is the top goalie and nobody lists him among the top goalies in the league. On offense, Jason Spezza had a very good year that he could repeat. Milan Michalek, Nick Foligno and aging Daniel Alfredsson provide depth. I think this team overachieved a bit last year and will be hard-pressed to match their 2012 results.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs - With a top goalie this team might make the playoffs. James Reimer and Ben Scrivens shouldn't scare anyone but their teammates. Dion Phaneuf, Jake Gardiner, John-Michael Liles and Cody Franson could provide a solid defence. On forward, Phil Kessel is the top scorer who is most overlooked by his hometown fans. Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and James Van Riemsdyk can have solid seasons as well. If this team is going in the right direction, a lot of credit goes to Brian Burke, who has just been fired. That opens up a lot of longer term questions for the team.
5. Montreal Canadiens - The biggest strength for this team is Carey Price in goal. He should be a top goalie this season. If they are to have a good defence, PK Subban will have to be signed and contributing soon and Andrei Markov and Tomas Kaberle must bounce back to their form of several years ago. Offensively this team depends upon Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, David Desharnais and Brian Gionta. Although any can score, none of that group should approach point per game level. Montreal will be hard-pressed to have a successful season.
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