The NHL officially announced a change to each division as the season nears. The suspected Canadian division was confirmed and was renamed the North. The division realignment made some divisions very tough while others consist of multiple rebuilders. The changes made certainly help and hurt teams dependent on their own situation and how competitive their new rivals are. This season will feature a playoff in which the top four teams in each division make the preliminary round. The East Division is composed of six previously Metro teams and two Atlantic teams joined this division for the 2020-2021 season along the Eastern Seaboard. The Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Washington Capitals will make up the East Division.
8. New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils are still in a rebuild and simply all the other teams are in better situations right now. Jack Hughes‘s performance this past season was underwhelming for a first overall pick. Even if he builds on last year, the team is not ready to contend yet. As future key contributors develop, the team will continue to get better. The East seems to be the toughest division on paper and the Devils are the odd-men out right now. A miracle needs to happen on the ice for New Jersey to clinch a playoff berth this season. The big problem for the devils is their defense is not good right now; however, that will change given a couple of more years for development. The Devils will be good, just not this year in this division.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh’s recent decline is noticeable. Two years ago, they were swept by the Islanders and had an early first-round playoff exit. This past year, they were swept in the qualifiers by the Canadiens. Health was a red flag for the Pens last season. As their dynasty core continues to age, their team continues to perform subpar. If Pittsburgh played in a better-balanced division, they would have a legitimate shot at the playoffs. However, the Pens cannot contend against the teams above them. They were not great in the series against the Canadiens and had no finish on offense. If their injury woes continue or they fail to elevate their game, they will miss the playoffs in this packed division. Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Evgeni Malkin are phenomenon players; however, all of them dealt with injuries recently and are unlikely to be healthy and perform spectacularly the entire season.
6. Washington Capitals
Similar to Pittsburgh, the Caps are past their prime. In the return to play, they were upset by the Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. That’s right folks the Islanders upset two of the best teams of the 2010s two years in a row. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom were shut down by the Islanders in the playoffs. The fact that Ovi and Backstrom were no longer able to terrorize defenses is alarming for Washington. If their franchise player is shut down throughout the season, don’t expect the Caps to make the playoffs. Aside from that, they lack backup options in net this season. Brayden Holtby signed with the Canucks and Henrik Lundqvist is out the entire season due to health concerns. The five teams above prevent the Caps from returning to the playoffs as they are well-rounded
5. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo is a severely underrated team that would likely be playoff-bound if there was no division realignment. The Sabres finally seemed to have the right pieces to make a playoff push including their franchise center, Jack Eichel, and others. The supporting cast includes recently signed Taylor Hall on a one-year deal and Eric Staal was acquired from the Wild. Buffalo also has some homegrown talent including Rasmus Dahlin, Victor Olofsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Sam Reinhart. Also, the veteran Jeff Skinner should bounce back from a down year. If everything goes according to plan, Buffalo probably still falls short of the playoffs due to being in an insane division with lots of competition.
4. New York Rangers
The Rangers are coming off a fabulously constructed rebuild. General manager, Jeff Gorton has seemed to build around the right players and acquire the right pieces to push for Lord Stanley this decade. Since some of their younger soon-to-be star players still need development, they are not in the best position out of the current teams to win the division. However, they still contend in the new playoff format as the top four in each division make the playoffs. It is expected that Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad continue to shine as pieces like Kaapo Kakko, K’Andre Miller, and Alexis Lafreniere develop at the NHL level. Also, Adam Fox and Anthony DeAngelo should lead the backend of the Rangers’ lineup.
3. New York Islanders
The Islanders took the NHL by storm in the return to play. They surprised and overwhelmed their opponents and made their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in twenty-seven years. Their acquisitions at the trade deadline were Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Andy Greene and both played well for the Islanders and were certainly worth draft picks. The Islanders find themselves in the toughest division and hockey. While they may not be a playoff contender on paper, never count out coach Barry Trotz. Trotz has got the Islanders past the first round in his first two seasons on the Island. So who’s to say he cannot do it again. Trotz and the Islanders are likely to return to the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
2. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have been a dominant force in the NHL for a long time. They made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 and won the President’s trophy this past season. The Bruins finish towards the top of their new division edging out the Islanders for a top-two spot. While Zdeno Chara is still a free agent and Torey Krug signed with the St. Louis Blues, Charlie McAvoy seems ready to lead the defense and be an adequate number one defender. Things only get better from the defense, they have a Vezina finalist from 2020 in net, Tukka Rask. Also, they have the so-called perfection line in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Boston hockey finds itself in a good situation yet again as they return to the playoffs.
1. East Division Winners: Philidelphia Flyers
The Philidelphia Flyers are in a prime position to win the East. The Flyers earned the number one seed in the return to play and made it to the second round of the playoffs. The Flyers are an all-around set team. They have a solid offense including Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, and others. Their defense is solid and includes Ivan Provorov as their number one. Finally, they have one of the best young goaltenders in hockey, Carter Hart. The Flyers are in a great position in the present and the foreseeable future.
How does your favorite team in the East fare? Do you agree with these predictions? Leave your thoughts on how the division plays out below.