Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TST: Eastern Conference Predictions 2008-09

Not to ring our own bell or anything but ding ding, last year we predicted six out of the eight correct playoff teams--and the only teams that we missed on (Washington [who got in on the last day] and Philly) we both said they would just miss. So with the history of excellence in mind, here's our crystal ball for this year.

Atlantic Division
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders

--Hockey's most competitive division (and the Islanders play here too!), the Atlantic could again send four teams to postseason play again, if Martin Brodeur can do more than his end of the bargain again for the Devils. Realistically any of the top three teams could win the division, we like the Penguins (duh) but the new look Rangers can put up a stong scoring forward lineup (Gomez, Drury, Naslund, Zherdev, Callahan). But what happens if Henrik Lundqvist or Martin "French Toast" Biron go down for any length of time like Marc-Andre Fleury did this past season? Either of those teams would skid right out of the playoff picture.

Northeast Division
1. Montreal Canadiens
2. Boston Bruins
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Bufalo Sabres
5. Toronto Maple Leafs

--Pretty much everyone likes the well-rounded Montreal team at #1 here, their only real question is if phenom goalie Carey Price can put his horrible playoffs behind him or if that confidence issue will expand in hockey's toughest market. Ottawa is ever dangerous with top line talent like Heatley, Spezza and Alfredsson but a quick look at their blueline shows they're going in the wrong direction. That's why we pencil Boston for a relative surprise here (Lucic-Savard-Ryder could be an awesome line). Buffalo could have a bounce back but we just don't see enough offensive muscle to make a difference.

Southeast Division
1. Washington Capitals
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
3. Carolina Hurricances
4. Florida Panthers
5. Atlanta Thrashers

--This division seems to be Washington's to lose, with Carolina having the Buffalo-syndrome of being good but seemingly not "that good", Florida and Atlanta are left still basically irrelevant on and off the ice. So who does that leave, oh yeah Tampa Bay! The crazy owners, the dozens of forwards, the handful of ex-Pittsburgh players. We think the Tampa experiment will do better than most think....They have a group of 9 forwards (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Prospal, Malone, Stamkos, Vrbata, Recchi, Roberts, Jokinen) that are arguably deeper than Washington's fine group. Whether they stay that way is different story. Tampa may be said to lack defense, but on paper at least they are no worse than anyone else (Carle, Meszaros, Ranger, Smaby, O'Brien, Niskala and watch for the giant Vladimir Mihalik). The real question is whether their goaltending which is unproven (Mike Smith) or too old (Olie Kolzig) can take them to the promised land.

Playoff teams
Division Winners: Pittsburgh, Montreal, Washington
Others: NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, Tampa Bay

Close but heartbreakingly short
New Jersey Devils

Atleast Competitive
Buffalo, Carolina

It's gonna be a long winter
NY Islanders, Toronto, Atlanta, Florida

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