The clock continues to tick ever closer to September 15th, and the news coming out of last week’s CBA negotiations makes a lockout more and more inevitable. Despite the uncertainty, teams are continuing on as normal, notifying season ticket holders when to expect their deliveries; putting individual game tickets on sale; even painting the arena ice. Players are starting to head back to the cities they play in, as though their training camps will start on time.
Trying to be just as optimistic, members of the Hockey Independent staff have gotten together to present how they see the divisions shaking out when the 2012-13 season is all said and done. Today, a look at the teams of the divisions that make up the Eastern Conference.
Northeast Division – Benjamin Woodward (@_BWoodward)
1- Boston Bruins A full summer of rest and recovery should allow the 2011 Stanley Cup champions to return to title contention this season. The Bruins are without a doubt the best defensive team in the division, led by team captain Zdeno Chara and perhaps the league’s best-kept secret, Dennis Seidenberg. Up front, I’d expect 21-year-old Tyler Seguin to enjoy a breakout season in 2012-13, setting career highs in every major offensive category.
2 – Ottawa Senators No one expected the Ottawa Senators to enjoy the type of success that they did one year ago, accumulating 92 total points and taking the New York Rangers to the brink of elimination in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. This year, the Sens won’t be taking anyone by surprise. With a roster boasting a perfect blend of youth and experience, expect Ottawa to be right back in the playoff hunt in 2012-13.
3 – Buffalo Sabres The Sabres lost a significant bit of offense with the offseason trade of top-six centreman Derek Roy, but added quite a bit of toughness with the additions of Steve Ott and John Scott. With a strong blueline and one of the league’s best goaltenders, I’d expect the Sabres to compete with the Senators for the number two spot in the Northeast division.
4 - Toronto Maple Leafs The Leafs aren’t the unmitigated disaster that they were just a few seasons ago. However, with question marks in the top-six and in goal, I don’t foresee any type of playoff push in Toronto.
5- Montreal Canadiens After bringing in a new coach and a new general manager this summer, the Habs seem to have pressed the reset button on their franchise. This might be another long season for hockey fans in Quebec, but a stellar showing at the 2012 Entry Draft should accelerate Montreal’s rebuilding process.
Atlantic Division - Cris Cohen (@CC_927)
1 – New York Rangers Even with Marian Gaborik sidelined until December, Rick Nash and a full season of Chris Kreider should help tide them over offensively until he’s ready to go. The young defense corps is another year experienced; a possible return of Michael Sauer would be a huge boost. If all else fails, they know they have the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Henrik Lundqvist to bail them out.
2 – Pittsburgh Penguins It’s a no-brainer that with a healthy Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the lineup the Pens will score more than Wilt Chamberlain, but most intriguing will be how Brandon Sutter does replacing Jordan Staal in the lineup. Bringing in Tomas Vokoun to backup (and even perhaps challenge) Marc-Andre Fleury bolsters the Pens between the pipes, a good thing since the defense corps is returning pretty much intact.
3 – Philadelphia Flyers They can score goals (tied for second in the League last year with the Bruins). It might not be enough though to compensate for the (mis)adventures of the Ilya Bryzgalov-Michael Leighton goaltending tandem and a defense thinned by the Chris Pronger and Andrej Meszaros injuries.
4 – New Jersey Devils They’ll not only need a monster season from Ilya Kovalchuk and David Clarkson to match last season’s career year, but more from players like sophomore Adam Henrique to help plug the hole left by Zach Parise’s departure. The question has been asked before and will be asked yet again this season - how much does Martin Brodeur, now 40, have left in the tank?
5 – New York Islanders It feels like déjà vu all over again for this franchise – a goalie-go-round complete with the uncertainty of Rick DiPietro’s ability to stay healthy; “upgrades” that include Brad Boyes, Eric Boulton and Matt Carkner; Lubomir Visnovsky battling to void the trade that brought him to Nassau County. With the top-3 teams still the divisional powerhouses and the Devils not in a full-on downward spiral, the Isles will remain the divisional bottom-dweller at least one more season.
Southeast Division – WB Philp (@LightningShout)
1 – Washington Capitals – The best regular season team in the recent history of the Southeast Division, the Capitals, will continue on that path. Young Braden Holtby solidifies the Caps past goaltending headaches and this team of (healthy) stars will lead Washington to the division title after an off year last season.
2 -Tampa Bay Lightning – The Bolts will compete for the division title, primarily because of their skilled forwards (Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Purcell, and Malone). If the redone blue line plays well and Anders Lindback comes of age in net, Tampa Bay could give the Caps big problems.
3- Carolina Hurricanes – Carolina will be a much better team offensively but the defense needs work. If newly acquired Alex Semin can improve his goal scoring, the ‘Canes will be in the mix for the playoffs.
4 – Florida Panthers – Florida started last season on fire because of all the new acquisitions and went on to win the division but faded badly at seasons end. The team that ended the 2011-12 campaign is the real Panthers team.
5 - Winnipeg Jets – The Jets possess solid blue line talent, but lack a true leader on offense. Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane had solid years in 2011-12 but are young and they need a veteran point producer up front to compete.
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927