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NHL Season Predictions: Eastern Conference

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Everyone will probably be dead wrong, but that’s why it’s so fun.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Dallas Stars
Where do the defending champs fall in our staff’s ranking?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 NHL regular season is almost upon us, which means it’s time for everyone’s favorite event of the year: predicting the final season standings! Sure, they’re almost always going to be horribly wrong once some teams inevitably defy expectations (see: Vegas and Edmonton from last season), but they’re still fun to make regardless.

Like prior years, the Defending Big D staff has made predictions for both the Western and Eastern Conferences. We’ll start with the East today, where most of us agree on the Atlantic Division. The Metropolitan is another story…

(Note: A few writers did not fill out standing predictions, while Rob M. only ranked playoff teams.)

Here are everyone’s specific predictions for each division. Tomorrow, we’ll make predictions for the Dallas Stars.


Metropolitan Division

Taylor: Pittsburgh uses their early playoff bounce as motivation and slices through the East during the regular season, and the Caps have one of the worst Cup hangovers to battle back from and fail to win it all again.

Robert T: Columbus seems like a team that could really put something together, the impending departures of Messrs. Bob and Art notwithstanding. That said, Sidney Crosby probably put up a picture of shirtless Ovechkin partying in a fountain to motivate him (Crosby), so it’s the Penguins’ division to lose. Washington ain’t getting back there, Philly ain’t got nothing way back there (in net) unless Carter Hart goes full Dryden, and New Jersey is the only other remotely threatening team in that division. I think it’s the Jackets and Penguins and everyone else.

Logan: While the Capitals take time to repair the dent to the Stanley Cup from all those keg stands, the Penguins steamroll their way through the standings to capture first in the division and a third Stanley Cup in four years. Philadelphia and New Jersey continue to capitalize on their playoff runs from 2018 as they battle for the third playoff spot and the Wild Card, respectively.

David: The Flyers are the team I expect to take a step forward. With Giroux reinvented at wing, and players like Patrick getting better, with potential for Myers and Sanheim to anchor the blueline, I could see them making a real run in the division, even potentially over teams like Pittsburgh. Outside of that, it’s still Pittsburgh vs. Washington; two teams who aren’t getting better per se, but who don’t have to deal with divisional darkhorses.

Derek: Washington might still be hungover from their Cup parade, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be ready to defend their crown. The Penguins still have a lot of fight left in them so they’re going to continue being a threat, while all the teams behind them have unique weaknesses, something that is going to make for an incredibly close division.

Ann: Is Gritty the missing piece in the Flyers organization that will finally help them transcend the bubble? I mean no, probably not. Unless something disastrous happens, I don’t see anything but what we’ve seen the past several years: Pittsburgh and Washington duking it out for the top spot again.

Wes: The Pittsburgh Penguins remain the division’s gold-standard. There’s just only so far a team built around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can fall. Columbus is close, and Carolina will surprise. Washington struggling will be a season-long storyline, but they’ll slip into the playoffs as well. Philadelphia is trending in the right direction, but might need just a little more time to pull it all together. I’m not sure Taylor Hall has enough help to repeat last year’s heroics in New Jersey. New York projects to be a hockey wasteland.

Adam: The Stanley Cup hangover label is usually used metaphorically but it might be closer to reality for the Capitals. That being said, with the pressure finally off Ovi and Co. they should recover fairly quickly and compete for the division crown. News flash: the Penguins are still very good as well.

Tyler: Columbus has the talent to win the Metro, but I’m not entirely confident they still have Artemi Panarin OR Sergei Bobrovsky by the end of the season. The final standings look eerily similar to last years’, but this time the Penguins take the division crown and 5th place isn’t good enough for the Devils to land a WC spot.

Rob M: Washington will have a slow start to the season but will recover by Thanksgiving. However, the slip will allow the Penguins and the Blue Jackets to soar ahead of them in the division. The Devils with Taylor Hall, will capture the first wild card and make a little bit of noise in the playoffs. However, I don’t see the Metro sending one of their members to SCF for the fourth consecutive season.

Micah: With the new head coach for the Washington capitals and the cup in hand, all the glory starts to head toward the past as Pittsburgh regains all the attention. Columbus will have another good year but not enough to snub Crosby out of a ring again. The penguins will use an early playoff bounce and seeing their division rival take the cup last year will use it as motivation to try and obtain Sydney Crosby’s fourth ring. While it was an Ovechkin showcase last season, All hail Crosby this season!

Jessica: Everyone can say as much as they like about the Stanley Cup hangover, no matter how real it can seem some years, but I think the Metro is still going to be a fight between Pittsburgh and Washington until the end of the season. New Jersey and Columbus have the potential to be the surprises, but their offseason moves don’t indicate too much of a jump.


Atlantic Division

Taylor: The only real intriguing battle in this division will be who ends up last in the league - the Ottawa Senators or the Montreal Canadiens. My money is on Ottawa, who then tanks so much they award Colorado a lottery pick in next year’s draft because the Central Division is a meat grinder.

Robert T: I think you could make some money by just cut-and-pasting last year’s Atlantic standings with Buffalo and Detroit switched. Boston and Tampa are atop the league, albeit in a division with plenty of bad teams to feast upon once again, so while Toronto could really put together a peak Stars season, I don’t see any reason to re-order anything else. Except, again, to put Detroit at the bottom. That team is going to be bad, but at least their owner isn’t setting fire to actual bridges every time they open their mouth. That’s some consolation, I suppose.

Logan: Tampa Bay and Boston race to the top of the division with typical lightning speed, while the young Toronto team earns a third playoff appearance in as many years and Buffalo makes a surprise appearance in the Wild Card spot. It’s a race to the bottom however, for Montreal and Ottawa, with disastrous rebuilds underway and no rookies nearing ice time on the horizon.

David: I hate it, but Toronto is just a step behind Tampa, who is a cut above everyone else. For what it’s worth, Florida (adding Borgstrom) and Boston (still has the best top line in all of hockey) are reasonable rivals. It helps their point totals that they have a bus full of bottom feeders to round out the competition.

Derek: Tampa Bay is probably laughing because they don’t have to play in a division like the Central or the Metro, but upstart Toronto could be a top team too now that they have John Tavares in the fold. Boston always manages to hang around and Florida seems ready to take a big step, but the real situation to watch will be Buffalo and whether the team can finally break through after seven years of failure.

Ann: I’m going to give the most scorching hot take possible and say that once again, Tampa Bay will own the division and yet somehow still fail to make anything of it in the playoffs. The more interesting race will be the trash pile at the bottom, with the Senators and the Canadiens making early splashes in the cesspool. My money’s on Montreal.

Wes: It’s Tampa Bay’s division. Top-to-bottom, there are simply no major holes in that roster, and they should remain the class of the Atlantic. Florida is a sneaky elite team, assuming their goaltending holds up. Keep your eyes on Aleksander Barkov. Toronto is obviously coming on hard, but I’m not a huge fan of Freddie Anderson, or their defense relative to the league’s upper crust. Boston should be good, but age and durability are a growing concern. My shocking prediction? I think the Montreal Canadiens will be worse than the Ottawa Senators.

Adam: The good teams in this division are very good and the bad teams are very bad. Despite Steve Yzerman’s strange recent departure, this is the Lightning’s division to lose. The Bruins will also be annoyingly good which means that shockingly the Patriots might be the worst Big-4 sports team in New England right now (they’re still pretty good as well).

Tyler: Even with John Tavares, I think Toronto’s inferior defense and goaltending ultimately make them second place to the Lightning, who will go on to finally break through and win the Stanley Cup. But the biggest shock is that Buffalo actually sneaks into the playoffs as the second Wild Card, with Jack Eichel winning the Hart Trophy for the exact same reasons that Taylor Hall did last year.

Rob M: Toronto is the team to beat in the Atlantic, if not the entire Eastern Conference. With the top end talent in Toronto, the club is elite everywhere. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins are no pushovers. The Atlantic will be hotly contested with Toronto and Tampa finishing 1 and 2 respectively, with Boston locking the 3rd spot. Look for the Panthers to make a run with a healthy goaltender and a few depth scoring options to lift them into the 2nd WC. The Eastern Conference will see their Finals Rep from the Atlantic, but it will be Tampa not Toronto, who punches that ticket.

Micah: Much like the metros battle for the last couple years between just the Pittsburgh penguins and Washington capitals basically, the Atlantic takes similar form between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning. And while many would have Tampa Bay edging out the Maple Leafs, I’m going to take Toronto. With the first round playoff bounce and addition of John Tavares, it puts the Maple Leafs on top of the Atlantic.

Jessica: There are a good few contenders in the Atlantic this season, but it’s once again Tampa Bay’s year to either make it or break it. The rest of the division is either mediocre or just plain bad, so from there it’s a fight for who is the best of the worst.