NHL Eastern Conference Preview

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The Eastern Conference will have quite a few young superstars this season, and a couple of them are in the New York area (Courtesy of Flickr).

Chris Hennessy, Contributing Writer

Hockey is finally back. The preseason has started and it’s time to make some predictions on how the season will go for the three local teams and the entire Eastern Conference. Let’s get started.

Atlantic: 

The Atlantic Division looks simple and top-heavy once again. I will be boring and predict Tampa Bay to win the division again, with Boston and Toronto following behind in the remaining playoff spots. The Bolts are strong, and even though Brayden Point is still a restricted free agent, they are the best offensive team in the league, with solid defense and top-flight goaltending. There will undoubtedly be questions come playoff time after they were abruptly swept by Columbus in the first-round last year. Despite his contract extension, Jon Cooper will be feeling the pressure in April to perform with a great team. 

Toronto is strong and can score with anyone, but the defense and goaltending will continue to be a question until they prove it shouldn’t be, and Cody Ceci does not change that. Retaining Mitch Marner is undoubtedly huge, but he doesn’t fix the glaring holes the team had, and Boston exposed earlier. 

As for the defending Eastern Conference Champs, the Bruins remain deep, tough and well-coached. That’s why they were successful in the playoffs, and will no doubt come into the season with a huge target on their backs.  

Montreal had a sneaky strong season last year, only missing the playoffs by 2 points, but they are far and away the fourth-best team in this division.  They will need to either beat up on those top three teams or play well against the other wild card teams early in the season to get a leg up before the spring. 

I don’t see any of the other teams in the Atlantic making a push for the playoffs.  The Sabres are the obvious fifth option here, but I don’t have the faith in their goaltending or coaching to give them a spot quite yet.  They are still young, and keep getting better, so it would be no surprise if they ended up in the playoffs.

Metropolitan:

The Metropolitan Division got much more talented this offseason, with nearly every team adding key pieces. To me, Washington will still take the division. Their experience will be key as always, but they won’t roll to a title. Pittsburgh will have something to say about that as always, as will the Rangers and Devils who also had great offseasons. Kevin Hayes is now in Philadelphia along with former Ranger coach Alain Vigneault as they look to improve on a 500 season in 2018.  The Hurricanes impressed many on their unlikely run to the Conference Final last year and are my pick to finish behind the Capitals. The only team you can completely write off is Columbus. They lost their two best players, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, to free agency.  To me, they are a clear eighth, but the other 7 teams are very close and will provide interesting competition throughout the season. 

So, in the playoffs I have Tampa Bay as the number one overall seed, followed by Boston and Toronto in the Atlantic, with Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh and both New York teams getting in.