The NHL season is finally slated to kick off less than 24 hours from now. Honestly, I am quickly getting goosebumps while writing this.
So, before the puck drops, join me as I preview the Eastern Conference and pick my division winners. Hockey is back!
1) New York Rangers: Many believe the Rangers will represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals this year, and I can’t say I disagree. They have arguably the best goaltender in the league in Henrik Lundqvist, so they always have a chance to win a hockey game. Already having offensive weapons such as Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan, the team brought in perennial 30-goal scorer Rick Nash. Richards, an elite playmaker, and Nash will compliment extremely well off of each other. The fact that this team has only gotten better during the off-season makes them the favorite to win the Atlantic.
2) Philadelphia Flyers: Yes, I am a Flyers fan. But I honestly do believe they are the second-best team in this division. Despite having lost captain Chris Pronger and not being able to land cornerstone defenseman Shea Weber, this team is very deep. Obviously they have great talent in Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere etc. But they also have some of the best young talent in the league. Guys like Matt Read, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier look to have continued success in their sophomore seasons. Of course, this team will only go as far as goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will let them. After having a less than ideal inaugural campaign in Philly, I truly believe he bounces back in 2013.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins are without a doubt an absolute powerhouse in the East, but I believe they will finish third in their division. Obviously, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the five best players in hockey. With the two of them on the ice, they have a chance to win every night. However, I believe they have some defensive holes to fill and their goaltending situation isn’t much less shaky than the Flyers. I think the Flyers have the mental edge after that playoff series last year, but all three of these teams will most certainly make the playoffs.
4) New Jersey Devils: The Devils have a large hole to fill after watching former captain Zach Parise leave in the off-season. His goal scoring, leadership and gritty play will certainly be missed. They did, however, manage to hang on to future hall of fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, but I don’t believe it’ll be enough to make the playoffs. The defensive unit is so-so at best and offensive depth seems to be an issue.
5) New York Islanders: Potential is a word thrown around a lot in professional sports. The Isles have a ton of it, but don’t have enough weapons to get over that hump. John Tavares is on an evident path to superstardom and Matt Moulson is an emerging goal-scoring machine. However, this team doesn’t have the pieces around them to result in consistent play. Goaltending and defense are still two huge issues as well.