2020-21 East Division Preview

The new East Division looks to be a dangerous one, guaranteeing one or maybe two talented teams could find themselves missing the playoffs. Let’s take a look at how the division could be shaping up.

#8 – New Jersey Devils

The Devils are in the thick of a rebuild and got thrown into one tough division with the realignment. They were able to take advantage of their cap space this off-season, acquiring Andreas Johnsson and Ryan Murray for not a lot in return.

The biggest issue will be at the goaltending position. Tom Fitzgerald tried to find help in that position with Corey Crawford, but he recently announced his retirement from the NHL. So, the net will once again be Mackenzie Blackwood’s, who actually had a very respectable .915 save percentage last season.

The only way for the Devils to move up in the standings this season is for their young centres, Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, to take a big step forward. Both former number one selections need to learn to produce more consistently on offence.

Honestly, the Devils got put into a lethal division. There is so much firepower within the division, the Devils will struggle to keep up with their competition. It could be another high draft pick for the Devils in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

#7 – Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres decided to go big in free agency this offseason, surprising many by signing Taylor Hall to a one-year, $8,000,000 contract. Hall’s chance to play with Eichel should excite Sabres fans; however, their new division didn’t do them any favours with their goal of making the playoffs.

The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since well before Eichel’s arrival in 2015. The last time the Sabres made the playoffs was well before Eichel arrived in 2015, all the way back in the 2010-11 season. There were rumours this offseason that he had expressed interest in wanting out of Buffalo if that doesn’t change soon.

The Sabres made some substantial additions besides Hall, including trading for Eric Stall and signing Cody Eakin. Still, similar to the Devils, the Sabres have their work cut out for them in the East Division. There are just too many elite teams in the division. They would have to outplay three teams considerably better than them to make the playoffs. An unlikely task, but possibly Hall and Eichel find enough chemistry to convince Hall, and Eichel, to give it another go when the divisions are back to normal.

#6 – New York Rangers

The Rangers had a great late-season surge before the pause, won the draft lottery, and got Alexis Lafreniere. He joins an electric top-six forward group with Mike Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin ready to make noise in the East Division.

However, the Rangers still lack a little depth and lost a true leader in Henrik Lundqvist via free agency. Youngsters Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev will have to play exceptionally well in net to give the Rangers, who had a 3.14 GAA last season (tied for 23rd), a chance to win every single night.

The Rangers are still a young team on the rise. They tore the team down and, thanks to a significant free agent signing with Panarin and winning the draft lottery, seemed to have gotten back to being a competitive team very quickly. They are still a season or two away from being amongst the NHL’s elite, somewhere you have to be to win in this division.

#5 – New York Islanders

The Islanders are as advertised; they defend amazing and struggle to score, often sneaking out a win in low-scoring games.

The Islanders didn’t make any significant additions this offseason. The biggest change was defenceman Devon Toews getting traded to the Avalanche and goaltender Thomas Griess signing with the Red Wings.

GM Lou Lamoriello was able to get Ryan Pulock and Mathew Barzal both signed and ready for opening night. Barzal had to get done, as so much of the Islanders offence is generated from him.

Still, the Islanders will need to find more ways to put the puck in the net. Ranking 22nd in the NHL with 2.78 GPG and being tied for the 24th best powerplay (17.3%) won’t get it done in the East Division. The teams ranked above them, along with the Rangers and maybe even Sabres, won’t struggle nearly as much to score as the Islanders. Because of that, the Islanders will just barely miss the playoffs.

#4 – Pittsburgh Penguins

Despite a poor showing in the qualifying round series against the Canadiens, it’s to bet against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.

GM Jim Rutherford is doing everything he possibly can to keep the team’s contention window open. Trading away yet another first-round pick to the Maple Leafs for speedy winger Kasperi Kapanen.

The Penguins are still a top-heavy team, with a solid top six and a bottom-six that could use improvements. Tristan Jarry looks to be the starter and will need to play like one for the Penguins to make the playoffs.

In a short season, coach Mike Sullivan will have Crosby and Malkin on the ice a lot, and they will be able to generate enough offence to squeak into the final playoff spot in the East Division.

#3 – Boston Bruins

The Bruins are still an elite team, but they did have a tough offseason. Losing Torey Krug and long-time captain Zdeno Chara is a tough spill to swallow. The blueline is now Charlie McAvoy’s, and he will need to step up this season and eat up some big minutes.

Upfront, the Bruins will be without David Pasternak to start the season. Their only addition to the forward group was Craig Smith, who will help out the third line.

However, the Bruins core isn’t getting younger, and they lost some significant pieces of their blueline. The team knows how to win and will still fight their way into the playoffs by being a tough team to play against every night. The transition to younger players has begun for the Bruins, but with players like Bergeron, Marchand, Pasternak and McAvoy still around, they will be competitive.

#2 – Washington Capitals

The Capitals return for the 2020-21 season with no new additions at forward. On defence, they added Justin Shultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk for depth. The most significant change came in net, handing the keys to Samsonov with Holtby signing with the Canucks.

Ovechkin continues to be an elite goal scorer, and the Capitals play a style of hockey built for the playoffs. They have a deeper lineup than the Bruins and the star power to match them.

If Samsonov plays well, the Capitals will have a chance to be the team that comes out of the East Division. John Carlson continues to be one of the best offensive defencemen in the league and has the weapons upfront to be one of the most lethal offensive teams in the NHL.

#1 – Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers had a breakthrough season in 2019-20, thanks to the emergence of young goaltender Carter Hart.

For years now, the Flyers have been a solid team missing stable goaltending. Hart provided more than just stable goaltending, as he posted a 9.14 save percentage in 42 games. He is only 22 years old and still has lots of room to grow. The Flyers have a special player in Hart, a franchise goalie for a team that has searched a long time for one.

Giroux and Couturier are two of the most underrated players in the NHL, and Konecny quietly had 61 points in 66 games last season.

Lossing Matt Niskanen to retirement will be noticeable, but a bounce-back season for Shayne Gostisbehere will help offset that loss. The Flyers are deep and skilled, and if Hart can continue to improve, the Flyers have a great chance to win the division and be one of the best teams in the NHL.

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