The 2021 National Hockey League season starts Wednesday, January 13th. This year, teams are split into four divisions.
Here's the second of four division forecasts. Read the NORTH DIVISION PREDICTIONS here.
In this article, we look at the East Division, which includes eight teams – all in the northeastern United States.
Here's a look at the ODDS TO WIN EAST DIVISION, according to SPREADS.CA:
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
Washington Capitals have a good team, strong defense, and good forwards. They added aging defensemen Zedano Chara and goalie Henrik Lundqvist but have lost Lundqvist to a heart condition. The loss of Lundqvist and moving on from Braden Holtby, leaves a question mark in goal. Washington’s franchise mimics Pittsburgh, in terms of star power and success. They also have some roster issues that may limit their moves in season. Captain Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom lead the team, offensively, and must make up for a disappointing playoff performance last year. I expect Washington to lead the league in high scoring games. With Washington, they have a generational talent and will be in “win now” mode, so they should be in trades and moves. Do not worry about regular season, look at post-season.
Philadelphia had an up/down year last season, exceeding their goals in the playoffs and setting up their team this year. They had an unexpected retirement with Matt Niskanen, a top defenseman, leaving a hole in their defense. However, they have a gritty, experienced group coming back along with young phenom Carter Hart, in net. Look for the team to grow on their success from last year, finishing the division at the top (1st/3rd).
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders came off a conference finals appearance, losing the to the eventual champs. They lost some players to free agency and trades (Thomas Greiss, Devon Toews). In addition, they are in a contract dispute with team star, Mathew Barzal. The Islanders have stabilized their front office and coaching staff, leading to success, and building a strong locker room. They focused on timely scoring, strong defense, and good goaltending. Pay attention to the Barzal contract issues; whether he plays or sits. Barzal may be the difference between a playoff spot or missing out. Also, look for the battle between goalies Seymon Varlamov, highly touted prospect Ilya Sorokin, and veteran Cory Scheinder. Varlamov should be in net for most of the season, but with a short season, Sorokin may not get much of a leash and the team could let him develop in a backup role. Scheinder could get some playing time.
*As I was writing this, Barzal signed a 3yr/$21 million deal. The deal should cap the moves for the Islanders. This is a good deal for both team and player, so expect good things. I like Barzal challenging for an MVP (+5000).
The Boston Bruins have good team, championship attitude, and some great offensive talent along with a great goaltending tandem. They do have an aging lineup with some injury concerns, but most people love the offensive risk they could muster. Boston has also let go of their heart, defenseman Zdeno Chara, and is going to overhaul their defense a little, but their goalies, Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak, have been veteran leaders. Boston is in a deep, challenging, smart division. They could miss the playoffs if other teams over-reach their potential (NYR) or another team finds their legs (PIT). Boston to miss playoff is +290, I would take a flyer.
Pittsburgh has enjoyed championship success in the last decade, under their captain Sidney Crosby, along with all-world center Evgeni Malkin. Both should be first-ballot Hall of Fame players, but both still have a “win now” mentality and skill. Pittsburgh, however, has had to make franchise moves and difficult decisions to accommodate Crosby and Malkin. Pittsburgh’s weakness will be their goaltending corps, Tristian Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Both goalies have NHL experience, but could they be trusted in the playoffs? Look for Pittsburgh to make a possible trade for a goalie, along with a 3rd line defenseman that could help the locker room, especially if the team starts off slow. I predict they finish 5th in the division, just missing the playoffs.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers sped up their franchise goals with MVP candidates Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad having a solid season last year. Couple that with winning the NHL Draft Lottery, and number 1 pick, Alexis Lafreniere; the Rangers have a bright future. They have moved on from franchise-leading goaltender Hendrik Lundqvist but turn over the role to Alexander Georgeiv and talented prospect Igor Shersterkin. The Rangers have the talent and potential to make a playoff run, but I think they need one more year to grow, and their division opponent’s turnover their rosters. Shersterkin is leading for Calder trophy (best rookie). I would stay away from him, having a good season and getting some votes, but not enough to win the trophy. Look for New York Rangers to have an outside chance for a playoff spot, 4th-6th place.
Oh, Buffalo! Buffalo made a huge splash, signing forward Taylor Hall to a one year deal, and hoping he pairs with franchise player Jack Eichel. He should also pair well with Jeff Skinner or young prospect Casey Mittelstadt. Buffalo should be able to compete, on paper, and they hope this signing will lead to better days. This year should be a make or break year for this franchises’ investments and could lead to some turnover. I think this division is too deep for Buffalo to compete and they should be “sellers”, unless they start hot. Do not fall for a hot start with Buffalo and buy under for team point totals (54.5). They should miss the playoffs, finishing 7th.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have young players, young talent, and some roster moves that may be enticing to other teams. The Devils are also in a division that could bury them in a hurry, so losing and gaining some lottery picks next season would help their program. They may contend for the lowest point totals in the league. I expect them to finish last in the division.
Predictions by PS.CA NHL writer Patrick Day, who lives in St. Louis and is a Blues fan, but didn't let that sway his judgement. Patrick can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org