Tuesday, October 25, 2011

East...the new West

For years we've watched a major imbalance of power between the two Conferences.  The West has way more depth while the stars of the East, namely the Capitals, have flared out in the playoffs after lighting up the lower level competition in the regular season, but the tides are changing.

It's far too early for stats to hold much water, but hey, Minnesota at 3-2-3 and Anaheim at 4 -3 -0 are in the playoffs right now if the season ended today and the scene isn't much different in the East.  But let's throw the early standings out the window and just assess the level of talent in each Conference.

There's a reason why last year's cup winners, the Boston Bruins are third...in their own division, Toronto who are leading the North East and Buffalo who are right behind them made amazing offseason moves and each have a very strong supply of young talent in the pipeline.  Sticking with the North East, do you really think Montreal is a last placed team?  Erik Cole isn't enough on his own to add size to a tiny forward core, but a healthy Markov in that defense and the Carey Price of last year are enough to make any AHL forward group good enough to earn an NHL playoff spot.  Don't look now but Ottawa may have turned a corner. Ok, they're destined for last and Alfredsson's hurt but Jason Spezza is back, Milan Michalek is looking like the player he should be and that young D is going to gel, and let us not forget what goalie Craig Anderson did on a young rebuilding Colorado team in the not so distant past.

The Atlantic is probably the strongest division in the East.  Pittsburgh is looking like they could be the team to beat even without Sid the Kid and receiving spot duty from their other uber-star Geno Malkin.  New Jersey still needs a better transition game but they're looking like a playoff threat and they might end up fifth if John Tavares and the kids from Long Island continue on the current trend.  That leaves the Rangers who are a perpetual threat as long as King Henrik is standing between the red metal.  I think the Rangers are a serious dark horse in the East this year.  Adding Brad Richards has created a possible two headed monster with Marian Gaborik.  They have great leadership in Ryan Callahan and a solid list of experience rugged depth forwards.  When the D is healthy they might have what it takes to win the only 16 games that matter.  Jaromir Jagr served noticed that he is for real with his two goals on three breakaways in last night's primetime match-up with the buds.  Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn are looking like a decent return for the jettisoned Carter and Richards.

That takes us to the South East where everybody's cup favourite is off to a perfect 7-0-0 start.  The Caps look good, and they're very different than the team that has collapsed the past three playoffs.  Florida is sitting in second in the SE and the offseason overhaul is looking like a good one.  Tampa has too much firepower not to make the playoffs and they're in third and Carolina is always a playoff threat.  Winnipeg has a good core - they'll challenge Ottawa for last in the East.

I think the East is only marginally better, but stack it up against the West and you'll see it will be harder to make the playoffs on the East Side.  It should be a fun battle between Carolina, Tampa, Florida, Toronto, New Jersey, New York New York and Montreal.

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