It's a bit late to be doing this, but I thought that it would be good to put these standings thoughts out there and see how I do. I haven't been very systematic or mathematical about how I came to my conclusions, so we'll see how things pan out when I look back on the year. Today I'm going to put up the Eastern Conference.
1. Pittsburgh - They really turned things around once Gonchar returned and Therrien got sacked. They've got some nice depth with guys like Tyler Kennedy taking on a decent load at EV and producing results. Their PP wasn't even all that good last year, so they've still got some room to improve there. Oh, and it always helps to have two of the three best forwards on your team. These guys are also my pick for another Stanley Cup.
2. Washington - Clearly the best team in the Southeast Division. Ovechkin is a great player and great fun. They've got a bunch of other good pieces as well. They didn't lose in the playoffs because of goaltending but boy would I feel better if they weren't relying on a goalie with middling AHL performance to be their #1. Jose Theodore doesn't make for a great fall-back plan either.
3. Buffalo - This is a good team. They've got some of the best depth up front in the league and a solid if unspectacular defensive group. I don't think the Northeast is a strong division this year and these guys are the best of the bunch.
4. Philadelphia - Ridiculous skill on the top two lines and the addition of Pronger on D makes them a real threat to contend. They've got deep enough pockets to solve problems by using the minors and have a bunch of useful veterans playing for less than 1.5M: Asham, Betts, Laperriere and that great bargain deal they've got with Coburn as well.
5. Boston - They probably won't shoot as well as they did last year and Tim Thomas probably won't be as good in net. They lost Kessel and although I don't rate him that highly he's not nothing either. The Derek Morris signing was just silly and these guys could be on their way down if Savard leaves after this year. I think they're out in the first round.
6. Carolina - Cam Ward's new deal is a terrible gamble but at least he's an average goalie. Two of the teams above them can't say the same. The defense is a weak spot but this team should be clear of those listed below them.
7. Atlanta - Yeah, that's right. Atlanta. There's a big drop from six to seven and I like these guys. They've added a couple of players that will make the team better at the top of the lineup in Antropov and Kubina which will lessen the load on everybody else. Some of the holdovers are going to contribute much more than their contract, guys like Armstrong, Peverley and that monster Bogosian. It's time for a Marty Party!
8. Ottawa - I have this team sneaking back in. Losing Heatley makes them worse but they replaced him and Jason Smith with Kovalev, Michalek and Cheechoo up front and some cheap kids on the back end. Plus, these guys were playing well to end the year and two years ago today were just beginning a ridiculous run of winning. I think that Craig Hartsburg is terrible and that the Sens are back in.
9. Montreal - Just not good enough. Carey Price will probably bounce back but the forwards and the defenders just don't go deep enough. Too many question marks.
10. New Jersey - They shed a lot of talent this summer. Gionta and Madden especially will hurt and I think these guys are taking a step back. Lemaire might make me look foolish. We'll see.
11. New York - Their defense is terrible. Just terrible. If they have one guy go down to injury they're in trouble. This is a team that has two guys on entry-level deals in their starting six along with Wade Redden. It's awful.
12. Toronto - They still suck. I predict that their shot differential is weaker this year, their EV save percentage better and their overall save percentage worse since so many shots are going to be while their killing all those penalties their new tougher lineup is taking.
13. Tampa Bay - They improved, but not that much. Rebuilding takes time. It would've been great for them to lock in Tanguay for a few years so he can help them make the playoffs when they're ready. As it stands, they've got about five forwards and then porridge. Also, who carries nine defenders on their active roster? What are you doing?
14. Florida - The "only" player they lost in the off-season is Jay Bouwmeester. Tomas Vokoun is a good goalie but these guys are screwed.
15. Long Island - Not even trying to win. Still building. Garth Snow will have this team primed and ready to succeed for their debut in Kansas.