It is not easy to peak far into the future but hey, we will take our shot at the goal. The Eastern Conference is going to be a wild ride as the favorites expect to face several upstarts. When we started digging for the division picks it was not easy to think playoffs right after. Yet, that is the best part. It is the challenge.
So, as we get everyone ready for the NHL regular season, it is appropriate to next predict the Eastern Conference. This expects to be a lot of fun.
After one of the best seasons in recent NHL memory, the Tampa Bay Lightning promptly tripped all over themselves against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It is not only that Tampa lost but they were swept away by a team who had never won a playoff series in their existence. This is a team that still has a ton of firepower.
However, one big piece is still missing. Like we mentioned previously, Brayden Point is a restricted free agent without a contract. Negotiations seemed to be a foregone conclusion but nothing in life is ever easy. Eventually, Tampa and Point should come to an agreement but the longer it goes, the harder it will be for Tampa Bay to win the Atlantic first and then make that deep playoff run.
Tampa Bay upgraded in net with Curtis McElhinney backing up Andrei Vasilevskiy. Then, there was addition by subtraction with the exits of Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. Tampa signed Kevin Shattenkirk and Patrick Maroon to cheap deals to bolster their defense and offense. It is something only Tampa Bay could do while staying under the salary cap.
It is why they are still the favorites to come out of the East. That does not mean they will survive, however.
These two teams are almost identical in a lot of ways. It makes perfect sense that they both have the same odds to win the Eastern Conference. Though they are built in slightly different ways, Boston and Toronto are almost pre-destined to meet each other in Round 1 of the playoffs yet again. It seems these series tend to go to seven games as well.
After all, these teams are evenly matched. Boston and Toronto both have top-10 power plays and outstanding goalies in Tuukka Rask and Frederik Andersen. Then, there are the top sixes, which can score in bunches. The one slight difference may be that Toronto swapped out Jake Gardiner for Tyson Barrie basically.
Boston counters with a freshly re-signed Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. It is like an arms race to determine who is second to Tampa initially and then who may contend for the Stanley Cup. Boston won the battle last year and came within one game of winning the war (Lord Stanley’s Cup). It is likely that one of these teams will go on a deep run but will have to beat the other to do it.
The Bruins have the edge mentally more than physically in this case. Often, that wins out in the end even if the talent is more prevalent on the other side.
Boston Bruins (+650)
Toronto Maple Leafs (+650)
This is where a swing is taken. Carolina advanced all the way to the conference final last year after upsetting the Washington Capitals (defeating champions) and then sweeping the New York Islanders. The Hurricanes did fall to the Bruins, but the foundation was set.
During the offseason, Carolina added Jake Gardiner to their already expansive defensemen core. Also, they matched the Montreal Canadiens’ offer sheet on Sebastian Aho. They resigned Petr Mrazek and brought in James Reimer for goaltending. There is the once and future goalie in Alex Nedeljkovic, who could take over the backup job at any time.
Carolina is stacked with talent and their special teams is basically the one aspect that is holding them back. If they ever get the penalty kill and power-play working together at the same time, Carolina will be a contender once again.
The Eastern Conference will indeed feature a bunch of wild twists and turns. So, who will win the Stanley Cup? Hold on! We are a couple stops away from revealing that one.
By Chris Wassel