Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prognosticating Playoff Participants II - NHL Eastern Conference

After laying out my predictions and associated reasons why for the Western Conference playoff hopefuls in a prior post, it's time to look at the East. First, the current picture...

Eastern Conference Standings

1. Boston - 82 points
2. Washington - 70 points
3. New Jersey - 67 points
4. Montreal - 64 points
5. NY Rangers - 63 points
6. Philadelphia - 61 points
7. Buffalo - 59 points
8. Florida - 56 points
9. Carolina - 55 points
10. Pittsburgh - 55 points
11. Toronto - 47 points
12. Tampa Bay - 45 points
13. Ottawa - 41 points
14. Atlanta - 41 points
15. NY Islanders - 37 points

My various and sundry thoughts...

- #1 (Boston) at 82 points and #2 (Washington) at 70 points. Wow... quite a delta.

- New Jersey is 3rd in the conference without all-world goalie (and some would say all in the family guy) Martin Brodeur. Impressive... and makes one wonder how good they'll be with a healthy and rested Marty.

- It wouldn't have been a stretch the predict the Islanders would be so bad, but Ottawa... who would have thought that? Well, actually... I would have in my Eastern Conference season preview.

- To the question of who will make it... I think the top six teams above are all good enough to hold those spots, or at least hold a spot in the top eight. Additionally, I think Toronto and below are both too far back and not good enough to fight their way into the top eight. This creates an "an then there were four (with only two spots)" scenario featuring: Buffalo, Florida, Carolina and Pittsburgh.

- Carolina I'm going to discount and say I don't think they'll make it... just not good enough. Now, if they would just move back to Hartford and put a snazzy green whale on their chests, I would certainly want them to be good enough, but... I digress.

- Florida is the surprise of the bunch (well, the good surprise if you're like me and are surprised to see Pittsburgh currently out of the playoffs). One thing I think will hurt them down the stretch is the likely trade of #1 defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. This probably wouldn't be a bad move as it would prevent him from leaving for nothing as an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but would weaken the Panthers' chances this year.

- With these two teams out, that would mean that I think Buffalo and Pittsburgh both are in. True, it's my prediction, but it's not just by elimination... the Sabres and Penguins both have going something I think helps a lot, superstar players. Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek on one side and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the other are exceptional enough to win a few games almost by themselves and make me think both Buffalo and Pittsburgh are playoff teams.

But, that's why they play the games...

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