So I will more than likely change my mind like 7 or 8 times between now and the upcoming NHL season, but fuck it, I'm bored so I put this together. Of course these rankings are assuming all the teams involved get their RFAs signed and the like, but barring anymore surprises (OH HEY HAVLAT/HEATLEY TRADE) the teams should look pretty much the same whenever training camps finally open.
I'll just give some brief thoughts on each pick, full previews will come in September. Here we go:
1. Pittsburgh- assuming Crosby & Malkin are both ready to go, of course. love the Sullivan signing. they're probably still the class of the East.
2. Washington- GMGM probably needs to win next year's GM of the Year award just for what he's done already: traded away an injury-prone whiner for a possible lottery pick, signed the best goalie on the market to a ridiculously low contract (that made Philly's deal with Bryz look even stupider, something I didn't think was even possible), and added some real grit and timely scoring to their bottom-six with Joel Ward & Troy Brouwer. is this FINALLY the year they get it done in the playoffs? I think it just might be.
3. Boston- I'm not sold on Buffalo just yet, so I'm giving Boston the edge in the Northeast almost by default. yeah, Thomas will be another year older, but they still have this Tuuka Rask fellow who I heard was pretty good too.
4. New York Rangers- yes, I am being a bit optimistic with this pick. don't care. I really think Brad Richards is gonna fit in wonderfully in New York and make Gaborik a 40-goal scorer again. plus, their young defensemen will all be a year older, and Tim Erixon might not only make this team, but have a season that puts him in the Calder discussion (he's already doing it in the SEL).
5. Montreal- they didn't realize lose anyone from last year's good team, save the rapidly aging Roman Hamrlik, and added Erik Cole (albeit via overpayment). if Markov can have a healthy season and Cole can contribute on an everyday basis, maybe they can even challenge Boston for the division crown. but at the very least they're a playoff team, I think. Price has proven he can carry the load.
6. Tampa Bay- I really don't like the idea of going into this season with Dwayne Roloson & Mathieu Garon as your goaltending tandem; I understand the two dudes know and like each other from their time together with the Oilers, but Roloson has to get caught up to by age eventually (doesn't he?) and Garon has never been able to run with the ball as a #1 starter. but they still have that explosive offense and that annoying system, so I'm sure they'll be a playoff team. maybe they're in the market for a goalie at the deadline and then make a run at a higher seed that way.
7. Buffalo- as someone who's seen a lot of Christian Ehrhoff over the years, I kind of almost died when I saw the contract Buffalo signed him to. I mean, alright, I guess the cap hit isn't too bad, but TEN YEARS?! okay then. and the Ville Leino signing was pretty much equally ridiculous. this is a 19-goal scorer, folks. regardless, they're still a playoff team, but I don't get all the proclamations that this team is ready to contend. yes, Robyn Regehr is a good defenseman; he's also old as fuck.
8. Philadelphia- here's what I'd like to say to all the people who think Philly will be just as good without Carter & Richards as they were last year: BWAHAHAHAHAHA. sureeeee they will. I loved Wayne Simmonds when he was an LA King, but replacement for Carter & Richards he is not. Braydon Schenn is probably going to be good at some point, but who knows when that will happen. I think Philly will probably still sneak in just because there's a lot of bad teams in the East this year, but they will not be anything even resembling a powerhouse.
9. Carolina- I don't know what the hell is going on here anymore. on one hand they've got some nice kids and blah blah, on the other hand it's suddenly turning into like an ex-Maple Leafs reunion party. I guess they'll be a bubble team again, and if the ex-Leaf dudes really feel like trying they can probably squeeze past Philly or Buffalo.
10. Toronto- sorry guys, I picked you to make the playoffs last year and you made a total fool out of me. not making THAT mistake again. I like the Tim Connolly signing but who knows if this is one of those rare years where he actually plays more than 50 games or so, and saying their center position is weak beyond him is almost a moral affront to things that are actually just weak.
11. New Jersey- oh hey look, it's another team that I have no idea what to make of! I think it was Wysh on Puck Daddy who said the Devils will either be contenders or 15th. I'm gonna pussy out and just put them 11th. right now they have no coach, they didn't upgrade that awful blueline, and their goalies are like a combined 725 years old. but maybe a full year of Parise & Kovalchuk together is some kind of magic, who knows.
12. Florida- ask the Oren Koules-era Tampa Bay Lightning how well building a team through free agency works. the answer: not very. they've got a bunch of NHL second- and third-line dudes, some overpaid and some not, who will certainly be better than last year's glorified AHL team. but I don't see how this is anything resembling a playoff team.
13. New York Islanders- poor Garth Snow. every summer, the man tries, he really does. this time he trades for Ehrhoff's rights only to have to ship those same rights off to Buffalo the very next day (my interpretation of the negoitations: Snow called Ehrhoff's agent to tell him about the trade, Ehrhoff's agent asks "Wait, who is this? Garth....oh....you're from..." and then almost dies laughing before hanging up the phone). apparently he made plenty of other attempts at signings that, shockingly, all failed. so here we are again with the Isles: how good are the young kids? good enough to overcome a massive disparity in payroll with EVERY OTHER TEAM in their division? good enough to overcome goaltending that, quite frankly, doesn't really exist? probably not, I'd wager.
14. Winnipeg- boy what a fun year in the Eastern Conference it's going to be for the city of Winnipeg. this looks like a fantastic formula: take a middling Atlanta Thrashers team that overachieved to start the season before falling back to Earth faster than the speed of sound, remove their well-liked and respected head coach, and add more travel than any other team in the East (and it's not even close). oh and don't forget to sign or trade for virtually no one. holy crap this team is gonna be bad.
15. Ottawa- but not as bad as this team! do I even have to explain this one? they're rebuilding folks. they sold off most of their veterans at the deadline and replaced them with no one. Jason Spezza's agent is trying desperately to find a team dumb enough to actually take his contract. this team will be really, really awful.
Alright I'll do the West later, I ended up writing WAY more than I planned. Holy crap.