NHL Eastern Conference 2014-15: Puck Daddy’s predictions

(Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

We brought you the Best, er, Western Conference predictions yesterday. Now it’s time to reveal our picks for the Eastern Conference playoffs, a.k.a. figuring out the sacrificial lamb for the Western Conference champion.

The panel: Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy editor; Sean Leahy, Puck Daddy editor; Ryan Lambert, Puck Daddy columnist; Jen Neale, Puck Daddy writer; Josh Cooper, Puck Daddy editor; Jen LC, Puck Daddy analytics columnist; Sam McCaig, Yahoo Sports hockey editor; Nick Cotsonika, Yahoo Sports columnist; Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs, Puck Daddy fantasy hockey writer.

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Playoff teams are marked with an (*).

And here … we … go.

GREG WYSHYNSKI, PUCK DADDY EDITOR

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*New York Rangers

*Montreal Canadiens

*Washington Capitals

Detroit Red Wings

*New Jersey Devils

Toronto Maple Leafs

*New York Islanders

Florida Panthers

Columbus Blue Jackets

Ottawa Senators

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

As long as the Bruins have the Holy Trinity of Rask, Chara and Bergeron, they’re the class of the division and the conference. The Bolts will be right there with them thanks to their upgrades on defense and a full season of Stamkos. Montreal’s goaltending and young scoring will be enough to earn the last divisional playoff spot.

You’ll notice there’s no “*” next to the Detroit Red Wings, and that’s because all streaks eventually have to end. Might as well be in Mike Babcock’s swan song…

Over in the Metro, the Penguins will prove that they’ve got this regular season thing down despite losing Dan Bylsma and despite some health concerns for Malkin. The Rangers could fill the vacuum at the top if the Penguins stumble. Barry Trotz will fix the 5-on-5 problems the Capitals had; a little structure goes a long way. The Devils would have been a playoff team last season were it not for Marty Brodeur and their shootout disasters – both will be gone this year. The Blue Jackets and Islanders are a toss-up for that last playoff spot; we’re feeling the Islanders today, and it’s deadline, so sorry, ‘Lumbus.

As for the Flyers, their back end is a mess and there’s just something off about the mix right now. Nothing a shot at Connor McDavid can’t fix, with giant weighted Comcast lottery balls!

SEAN LEAHY, PUCK DADDY EDITOR

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*New Jersey Devils

*Montreal Canadiens

*Columbus Blue Jackets

Detroit Red Wings

*New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

*New York Rangers

Florida Panthers

Philadelphia Flyers

Ottawa Senators

Washington Capitals

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

Much of the same in the East, but the Islanders and Devils find their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Let's face it, with fewer Marty Brodeur starts and a couple of shootout wins, New Jersey was a playoff team last year. At least one of those issues has been rectified.

The Isles bulked up in every area they needed and playing in the East, that bodes well for them.

As for the rest? It's the usual suspects with Montreal making another spring run, except this time they finally get over the hump and back into the Stanley Cup Final after 22 years. Carey Price is due for a (spoiler) Vezina Trophy winning season and P.K. Subban will again be one of the NHL's most exciting players. (Getting some consistency from Rene Bourque would really help this prediction.)

RYAN LAMBERT, PUCK DADDY COLUMNIST

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Boston Bruins

*New Jersey Devils

*Montreal Canadiens

*New York Islanders

Ottawa Senators

*Columbus Blue Jackets

Detroit Red Wings

*Washington Capitals

Florida Panthers

New York Rangers

Toronto Maple Leafs

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

The Penguins, with their bolstered team depth, will no longer over-rely on their load-bearing superstars, and get back to what made them great years ago. Likewise, by virtue of cap obligations hurting the Bruins' ability to retain top talent, they're going to take a step back even as they stay strong; the Lightning will take their place atop the Atlantic, bolstered by a full season of Ben Bishop. Devils improve dramatically, Islanders as well. Lots of decent but not great teams in the East this year. 

JEN NEALE, PUCK DADDY WRITER

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*Philadelphia Flyers

*Montreal Canadiens

*Washington Capitals

*Toronto Maple Leafs

*New York Rangers

Ottawa Senators

Columbus Blue Jackets

Detroit Red Wings

New York Islanders

Florida Panthers

New Jersey Devils

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

Honestly, this conference is a toss-up as to who is going to be good-enough for the playoffs. The West is far more competitive. (West Coast Bias in full effect here.)

I have the Red Wings out of the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. Coaching speculation aside, Detroit is quietly rebuilding around its aging core. There are a few good young pieces in place like Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar, but an aging Henrik Zetterberg and a mummified Pavel Datsyuk can only carry the team for so long until they breakdown.

After missing out on the playoffs last year, I have Toronto and Washington back in it. The new-ish look Caps will bank on the Rangers not really improving their roster over the summer as their ticket to the third place in the Metro. Rangers will be good-enough to slip into the playoffs again, but as a wild card. I went purely on gut feeling with the Leafs. They will make the playoffs and then be promptly swept out of them.

JOSH COOPER, PUCK DADDY EDITOR

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*New York Rangers

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*Washington Capitals

*Montreal Canadiens

*Pittsburgh Penguins

Ottawa Senators

*Columbus Blue Jackets

Detroit Red Wings

*New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

New Jersey Devils

Florida Panthers

Carolina Hurricanes

I have five teams from the Glen Metropolit(an) division making the postseason. This may seem odd, but it’s more a referendum on the weak underbelly of the Atlantic Division.

Besides the top three, I just don’t see the David Legwand-led Senators or any team listed beneath them being a major threat for the postseason. Of course, if Columbus keeps spiraling out of control with injuries and contract problems, Jonathan Tavares gets hurt and Claude Giroux gets injured golfing again, then maybe.

JEN LC, PUCK DADDY ANALYTICS COLUMNIST

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Boston Bruins

*New York Islanders

*Montreal Canadiens

*New York Rangers

*Detroit Red Wings

*Washington Capitals

Ottawa Senators

New Jersey Devils

Florida Panthers

Columbus Blue Jackets

Toronto Maple Leafs

Philadelphia Flyers

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

Fresh off of an exciting summer of new acquisitions, the New York Islanders have all of the pieces in place to make a serious push for the top spot in the Metropolitan. Their goaltending, defense and offense were all upgraded during the offseason so it should be interesting to see what they do with it. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team built for puck possession and new coach Mike Johnston is likely to keep that going.

The Stanley Cup Finalist New York Rangers were one team that lost a significant amount of talent this past summer, particularly off of their blue line and will be without Derek Stepan for a bit, but Alain Vigneault’s systems and Henrik Lundqvist in net should get them to the playoffs. The Washington Captials have a new look behind the bench yet again this season. New coach Barry Trotz is known for having extremely stingy defensive systems, has the underrated Braden Holtby between the pipes and perennial scoring juggernaut Alex Ovechkin on the ice so the Caps look to have a great chance to make the playoffs.

The Boston Bruins will in all likelihood stomp through the Eastern Conference again this season, but their team is not as deep as it once was. Regardless, they have excellent coaching that has consistently orchestrated some of the most effective forward lines in the league and one of the very few truly elite goalies in the game, Tuukka Rask. Their biggest headaches are likely to come from the Tampa Bay Lightning. Steven Stamkos is by all accounts healthy and the previously overshadowed supporting cast in Tampa Bay is poised to make people take notice. If their goaltending remains healthy, it would not be surprising to see them at the top of the pack in the Atlantic.

The Montreal Canadiens still have a strange defensive system that allows too many shots against, but fortunately they also have Carey Price in the net. They have some terrific forwards and of course P.K. Subban’s rocket shot from the point doesn’t hurt their chances either. The final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs will likely go to the Detroit Red Wings mainly due to the fact that Mike Babcock to get a team of 12 year olds to play better systems based hockey than many other coaches in the league.

SAM MCCAIG, YAHOO SPORTS HOCKEY EDITOR

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Montreal Canadiens

*Washington Capitals

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*Columbus Blue Jackets

Ottawa Senators

*New York Islanders

Detroit Red Wings

*New York Rangers

Toronto Maple Leafs

Philadelphia Flyers

Florida Panthers

New Jersey Devils

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Boston take a step back after ruling the Atlantic in recent years, but until rival Montreal or perhaps improving Tampa Bay knocks them off the top perch we’ll bet on the Bruins. These three teams should be the class of the division, with a drop-off to predicted playoff outsiders Ottawa, Detroit (ending a run of 23 consecutive postseason berths) and Toronto. If you’re looking for a long shot, Florida might surprise the so-called experts, while Buffalo is in it to win it -- and by “it” we mean the NHL draft lottery and projected No. 1 pick Connor McDavid.

Pittsburgh, good health willing, has the star power to run away with the Metropolitan Division. It says here that Barry Trotz gets Washington back on track, and Columbus has turned the corner as a franchise. The Islanders (finally!) have grown into a playoff team, and the Rangers (surely?) will return to the postseason after making the Stanley Cup final last spring. That leaves Philadelphia on the outside, but we’ll take the Flyers as our “other” playoff team if someone in the top eight falters. New Jersey is too old and too young, and Carolina looks like a lottery team.

NICK COTSONIKA, YAHOO SPORTS NHL COLUMNIST

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*New York Rangers

*Montreal Canadiens

*Columbus Blue Jackets

*Detroit Red Wings

*New York Islanders

Toronto Maple Leafs

Washington Capitals

Florida Panthers

Philadelphia Flyers

Ottawa Senators

New Jersey Devils

Buffalo Sabres

Carolina Hurricanes

The NHL is as tight as ever thanks to the salary cap and parity. But now that the league has gone back to a divisional playoff format, will we see fewer changes in the standings from year to year? When you’re ranking one through seven or eight four times – instead of one through 16 twice – will teams be more locked into their spots?

In the Atlantic, the Bruins, Lightning and Canadiens should make the playoffs. The question is whether the Red Wings can extend their streak to 24 seasons. Can they stay healthy? Can Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar repeat what they did last season? Can Jimmy Howard play better? Can anyone else in the division knock them out – or can five teams make it from the Metro?

Expect the Penguins to remain the class of the Metro, with a new puck-possession style under coach Mike Johnston and more depth. The Rangers should return to the playoffs after their appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. It’s wide open after that, though. Our money is on the gritty Blue Jackets, especially now that Ryan Johansen has signed, and the Isles, who look a lot better on paper after Garth Snow’s moves in the off-season. Yes, one more playoff run at Nassau, please.

DARRYL “DOBBER” DOBBS, PUCK DADDY FANTASY COLUMNIST

Atlantic Division

Metro Division

*Boston Bruins

*Pittsburgh Penguins

*Montreal Canadiens

*New York Rangers

*Tampa Bay Lightning

*New York Islanders

Ottawa Senators

*Columbus Blue Jackets

Toronto Maple Leafs

*Washington Capitals

Detroit Red Wings

Philadelphia Flyers

Florida Panthers

Carolina Hurricanes

Buffalo Sabres

New Jersey Devils

My preseason projections had the Islanders just sneaking in at No. 8, but with the recent additions of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, it's pretty clear that the team has improved in all areas. The goaltending is hugely upgraded and it will become even stronger thanks to the improved blue line, while a healthy John Tavares and improved possession players such as Mikhail Grabovski will make the Isles better than anyone believes going in.

Boston will continue to be the team to beat, but the Penguins have upgraded their scoring depth which was a major weakness. Now, besides having players on the third or fourth line who can chip in a few goals, they also have the flexibility to move a player to a scoring line as an injury replacement - someone better than the hot dog guy.

Ottawa, Philly, Toronto and Detroit will be in the hunt at the end of March and will each be within three points of the final playoff spot. It will be a dogfight in the Eastern Conference and between the five or six teams hanging around the No. 8 spot it really will come down to injuries and luck.