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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

2011-12 NHL Eastern Conference Predictions

James Santelli |
October 8, 2011 | 1:10 p.m. PDT

Senior Sports Editor

Ovechkin looks to lead the Caps back to the top of the East. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
Ovechkin looks to lead the Caps back to the top of the East. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)

The Boston Bruins took home the Stanley Cup last season, but there's plenty of competition for the No. 1 spot in the East.

(Predictions for the Western Conference can be found here.)

1. Washington Capitals - The Caps finished first in the East each of the last two seasons, return practically all their good players, and bring in a solid goaltender in Tomas Vokoun. They also have the best scorer in the world in Alexander Ovechkin.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Defenseman Roman Hamrlík. The 37-year-old comes over after four seasons in Montreal, signed by the Caps for two years, $7 million. He and Mike Knuble can play bingo together.

Are You Aware. . . - That Nicklas Backstrom scored 101 points in 2009-10. Why, it's true! He's good at making goals occur.

Key Stat - The Caps went 18-5-1 from February 20 on, including 8-1 in overtimes and shootouts.

2. Buffalo Sabres - They added two quality defensemen in front of goaltender Ryan Miller: Christian Ehrhoff and Robyn Regehr, along with winger Ville Leino.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Ales Kotalik, a former 25-goal-scorer who played in Buffalo from 2001 to 2009 before hopping around from the Oilers to the Rangers to the Flames.

Are You Aware. . . - Center Derek Roy played only 35 games last year due to a torn quad tendon, but scored at least 25 goals in the previous four seasons.

Key Stat - Winger Drew Stafford had a 17.3 percent shooting percentage last season, highest in the NHL among players with at least 175 shots on goal.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins - The Pens finished just one point behind the No. 1 seed, despite top three centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal missing a combined 120 games.

Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (frenchkheldar/Wikimedia Commons)
Penguins center Evgeni Malkin (frenchkheldar/Wikimedia Commons)
Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Richard Park. The 35-year-old returns to Pittsburgh after starting his career with the Penguins (1994-1997).

Are You Aware. . . - Evgeni Malkin (left) won the 2008-09 Art Ross Trophy by leading the NHL with 113 points. If he stays healthy, he's shown the ability to put the Pens on his back in the absence of Crosby.

Key Stat - The Penguins had the second-most penalty minutes in the NHL in 2010-11, but killed 86.1 percent of penalties, best in the league.

4. Boston Bruins - They return much of the roster that won last year's Stanley Cup, but goaltender Tim Thomas could face a regression from his insane 2.00 goals-against average and .938 save percentage of 2010-11.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Defenseman Joe Corvo. The former Hurricanes d-man has not had more than 20 penalty minutes in a season since 2006-07.

Are You Aware. . . - Center Brad Marchand scored 11 goals in the Bruins' playoff run, after 21 goals in his first full NHL season in 2010-11. Watch for the 23-year-old to break out in a big way.

Key Stat - Backup goaltender Tuukka Rask, 24, had a 1.97 GAA in 39 starts during the 2009-10 season, and put up a respectable .918 save percentage last year. He is up to the task if the 37-year-old Thomas begins to regress.

Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr (s.yume/Wikimedia Commons)
Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr (s.yume/Wikimedia Commons)
5. Philadelphia Flyers - Philly had the most high-profile roster turnover this offseason, with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards leaving town. But they bring in a strong goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov. Oh, and that old dude to the right.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Center Maxime Talbot. Lost in the shuffle of the Flyers' new addition is a hard-nosed forward in Talbot, who spent six seasons in Pittsburgh and scored two very big goals.

Are You Aware. . . - Jaromir Jagr (right) scored five goals and added four assists for the Czech Republic in the 2011 World Championship. His 9 points were tied for fifth among tournament scorers.

Key Stat - The Flyers led the Eastern Conference with 3.12 goals per game last season. The key for Philly will be to maintain a propensity for lighting the lamp without Carter and Richards.

6. Carolina Hurricanes - The 'Canes were just two points out of a playoff spot last season with Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner forming a dynamic one-two scoring punch.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Goaltender Brian Boucher, who joins his seventh team since 2005. With a 2.42 GAA and .916 save percentage last season, he'll be a solid backup to spell overworked Cam Ward.

Are You Aware . . . - Carolina also added four-time All-Star defenseman Tomas Kaberle to a defense that finished 21st in goals allowed per game, and last in shots allowed per game, in 2010-11. If rookie Justin Faulk can play well early, the D will be much improved.

Key Stat - Jeff Skinner scored 22 goals in 46 games from January 1 on. If he scores at a similar rate this season, he the 19-year-old could compete for the Art Ross Trophy.

7. New York Rangers - The Blueshirts slid into the playoffs at the No. 8 spot last season, and add star center Brad Richards. They also had the fourth-best goal differential in the East in 2010-11 at +35.

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (JamesTeterenko/Wikimedia Commons)
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (JamesTeterenko/Wikimedia Commons)
Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Center Mike Rupp. The Rangers mark his fifth different NHL team since 2006 (Coyotes, Blue Jackets, Devils, Penguins).

Are You Aware . . . - Post-concussion symptoms could keep top defenseman Marc Staal out for a "substantial length of time," according to GM Glen Sather. Could be a big loss for the Blueshirts.

Key Stat - Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (left) has had a save percentage above .912 and a goals against average below 2.44 every season of his six-year career. He has also played at least 68 games in each of the last five campaigns.

8. New York Islanders - The Isles will be one of the most talented offensive teams in the conference. If either goaltender Rick DiPietro or Evgeni Nabokov can step up, look out.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Brian Rolston. Good news: He's only a year removed from a 20-goal season with the Devils. Bad news: He's 38.

Are You Aware . . . - Former Kings forward Matt Moulson has notched 30 goals in each of the last two seasons. If you're looking for under-the-radar scorers, look no further.

Key Stat - The Islanders had five different goalies play at least 10 games last season. That fact certainly contributed to the Islanders allowing the second-most goals in the East last season (3.15 per game).

9. Tampa Bay Lightning - They were pretty much an average team last year (+7 total goal differential), and color us skeptical about goalie Dwayne Roloson (who turns 42 on Oct. 11) repeating his strong performance in last spring's postseason.

Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)
Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (Resolute/Wikimedia Commons)
Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Goaltender Mathieu Garon, who was frankly not very impressive with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season (10-14-6, 2.72 GAA, .901 save percentage).

Are You Aware . . . - Steven Stamkos (right) has been pretty good at playing hockey. Well, you probably *were* aware of that. Stamkos, 21, has compiled 119 goals in his first three seasons in the league.

Key Stat - The Lightning were 21st in the NHL last season in goals allowed (2.85 per game). They certainly hope Eric Brewer, acquired at last year's deadline, can be an answer on D.

10. Montreal Canadiens - Call it a hunch. Despite the improved play of young goaltender Carey Price, the Habs may not have the offensive firepower to make the playoffs again.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Erik Cole, who signed a four-year, $18 million deal with Montreal this summer after a 26-goal performance in 2010-11. He could hold the key for offensive improvement.

Are You Aware . . . - The Canadiens haven't had a player score 30 goals in a season since Alexei Kovalev's 35 in the 2007-08 campaign.

Key Stat - Montreal was 21st in the league with 2.6 goals per game, and yet were 7th in power play percentage (19.7 percent). Is it possible they played over their head with a man advantage?

11. Florida Panthers - GM Dale Tallon made plenty of changes to the squad, but this team is too weak down the middle to lead Florida back to the playoffs.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Goaltender Jose Theodore, defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, and wingers Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. Wow, they did add a lot of wingers.

Are You Aware . . . - That none of those new wingers scored more than 22 goals last season, and David Booth led the team with 23 goals in 2010-11 (good for 61st in the NHL)?

Key Stat - Jose Theodore's 2002 Hart Trophy must be collecting dust. His .908 save percentage and 2.81 GAA over the last three seasons are downright pedestrian.

12. Toronto Maple Leafs - The Leafs finished in the bottom third of the league in goals scored and goals allowed last season. The additions of forward Tim Connolly and defenseman John-Michael Liles will help, but not enough.

Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel
Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel
Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Joffrey Lupul. The winger scored 9 goals in 28 games for the Leafs in 2011 after a midseason trade from the Anaheim Ducks.

Are You Aware . . . - Top scorer Phil Kessel (left) had a -20 plus-minus, despite scoring 32 goals for the Leafs last season.

Key Stat - Toronto had the worst penalty kill in the East last year, with a 77.5-percent success rate. The Leafs will need to stay disciplined, or their troubles while down a man could hurt.

13. New Jersey Devils - They had the worst offense in the NHL last season, and don't add much to improve on that other than a healthy Zach Parise.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Winger Petr Sykora. The two-time Stanley Cup champion returns to Jersey after a season in Russia. Sykora, 34, played for the Devils from 1995 through 2002.

Are You Aware . . . - Goaltender Martin Brodeur is not the stone wall he once was. The 39-year-old netminder posted a .903 save percentage last season, his lowest since 1994-95.

Key Stat - The Devils' neutral zone trap helped them to keep opponents to an NHL low 26.2 shots per game. But it's no good if you can't outscore teams, and New Jersey had a -35 goal differential last season.

Winnipeg Jets fans
Winnipeg Jets fans
14. Winnipeg Jets - It would be cool to see the city of Winnipeg enjoy a winning team right away, but the Jets lack many impact players outside of defenseman Dustin Byfuglen and winger Andrew Ladd.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Center Eric Fehr. One year removed from a 21-goal season, Fehr came over from Washington for Danick Paquette and a draft choice.

Are You Aware . . . - Forwards Alexander Burmistov (20 points last season), Patrice Cormier, Evander Kane (19 goals), and Mark Scheifele (No. 7 overall draft pick) and defenseman Zach Bogosian are all 21 or younger, and likely to make an impact? This may not be the Jets' year, but their time is coming.

Key Stat - The then-Atlanta Thrashers gave up the most goals in the Eastern Conference last season (3.20 per game). Unless goalies Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec really step it up, they may not be much better.

15. Ottawa Senators - This team is not very good at playing hockey. That is why they are ranked last.

Yep, He Plays For Them Now - Defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Well, he played for Ottawa last year, he just didn't put up Gonchar-like numbers (27 points in 67 games).

Are You Aware . . . - That Jason Spezza led the team with 21 goals in 2010-11? And they didn't really add any goal scorers? Well, it's true.

Key Stat - The Senators' -58 goal differential was the worst in the Eastern Conference last season. And they haven't really added any impactful offensive pieces. You connect the dots.


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