The start of the NHL season is tomorrow night, though the Dallas Stars season doesn't start until the following night. It's so near we can almost taste it. One more sleep and then we start to get questions answered that have been lingering all summer long.
Today the Defending Big D staff will make their predictions in the east, a conference we don't talk about all that often but has plenty of interesting storylines to watch. We took a vote on who would make the playoffs and the order in which teams would finish in each of the divisions out on the east coast. The average ranking is across everyone (minus Brad -- he didn't want to play the guessing game) and the writer by writer rankings are given at the bottom of this post.
Metropolitan Division Rankings
The Penguins and Rangers were unanimously voted as going to the playoffs, which comes as a surprise to really nobody. Carolina was unanimously voted as finishing in last place. Every other team received at least one vote for making the plaoyffs, showing just how muddled the Metropolitan really is. The parity between the teams outside of the elite makes predicting this division pretty difficult to pin down, which is why so many of us chose the two wild card teams to come out of the Metropolitan instead of the Northeast.
Metropolitan Division Bold Predictions
The Blue Jackets are my favorite team to watch out East, because I know it just irks every single hockey fan out there that Columbus can be a great team.
Ryan Johansen goes on a mission to prove he really was worthy of a Stamkos-type contract and navigates Columbus to a Conference Final matchup against Florida. Or not.
The New Jersey Devils surprise everyone and have a breakout season. Cory Schneider, finally a bonafide #1 goalie, provides a Vezina-worthy performance, while a deep forward group makes the Devils hard to defend against.
The Jackets make a furious late season scramble once everyone is signed and healthy and take advantage of the fact that the Devils can't score consistently and the Capitals overspent on defensemen who can't defend.
The Islanders not only get into the playoffs but they go on a glorious run with the help of Boychuk and Leddy. They'll get to the conference final before losing in game seven in overtime.
The New York Islanders are by far the most improved team.
I'm just not sold on the Bluejackets this year. Nathan Horton needs to pull a Tyler Seguin and put the team on his back and I just don't see that happening. Also, is this the year Ovi gets traded or asks to be traded?
New Jersey's old and Czech players miss too many games to be helpful, and Cory Schneider again misses the playoffs. Marc-Andre Fleury is signed to a five-year extension after Pittsburgh makes it to the Cup Final. He is traded during the offseason. The Islanders and Rangers have a memorable seven-game playoff series that ends with Nassau Coliseum being riotously trashed out of jubilation after the Isles take game seven. They are swept by Pittsburgh in round two.
I want to believe that Barry Trotz's defensively minded system will mean the Capitals make the playoffs, but I'm not sure they improved at the same rate as the others in the conference and they'll miss for the second year in a row. Ovechkin will still be a top five goal scorer.
GM Garth Snow solved New York's goaltending late last season with the addition of Jaroslav Halak. Then, he took advantage of poor cap situations in Chicago (Nick Leddy) and Boston (Johnny Boychuck) to shore up the defense. John Tavares comes back healthy, challenges for MVP honors, and pushes the Islanders past a division full of question marks.
Northeast Division Rankings
Boston and Tampa Bay are the toast of the Northeast, receiving unanimous votes for the playoffs. Also unanimously, the Red Wings finish outside of the playoffs in what seems like the first time in my lifetime.
Northeast Division Bold Predictions
Tampa Bay is going to be very good.
While they don't manage quite the same turnaround as the 2012-13 season's 29th place team the Avs, the Florida Panthers do make a push for the playoffs, securing a wildcard spot and proceeding to not upset the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. Meanwhile, half of the Detroit Red Wings team is injured and they make a surprising late-season run for Connor McDavid.
This is the year that the Detroit Red Wings' playoff streak finally snaps, missing the last wildcard spot by a point or two. Injuries continue to debilitate the team, and the young players don't step up as much as they need to. Jimmy Howard has a great season, but it's not quite enough.
Bishop can't live up to the unreasonable standard he set for himself last season and the Habs and Bruins dominate the weakest division in hockey.
The Detroit Red Wings end their playoff streak at 23 seasons in a row. Their conference gets tougher and their veterans can no longer keep Detroit in the playoffs once again. Injuries keep Datsyuk out for much of the season.
Tampa Bay is the best team in the conference.
The Maple Leafs are bound to get it together eventually. The Bruins are the class of the Eastern Conference with Vezina winner Tukka Rask as their backstop. Detroit pulls a repeat performance of last season by fighting through their injuries, but this time they miss the playoffs, which makes me as a Stars fan very happy.
Tampa Bay is the best team in the East despite Bishop's injury before the all-star break.
The Panthers are going to be within two points of the last wild card spot. The gap between Detroit and the Connor McDavid sweepstakes will be smaller than the gap between them and the playoffs.
The fact that the bottom of the division is a dumpster fire masks the wheels completely coming off in Detroit. Howard struggles, Zetterberg and Datsyuk can't stay healthy, and for the first time in recent memory the kids aren't quite ready to contribute. Meanwhile, a full season of Roberto Luongo sneaks Florida into the playoffs as an eight seed.
Voting by writer (green denotes playoff team):