With the start of the 2010-11 season almost upon us, it’s time for Pens Labyrinth’s Eastern Conference Preview. Drum roll, please…
1. Washington Capitals – Sorry, Pens fans, but there’s no denying who deserves the top seed. The Caps have just about everybody coming back from last year’s overall No. 1 seed.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Call me a homer; I’ve been called worse. Yes, the Pens lost Sergei Gonchar and Bill Guerin. But the additions of Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek and Mike Comrie make up for the vets’ departures.
3. Boston Bruins – The Bruins were better than their sixth-place finish last season, and they’ve added Nathan Horton and first-round pick Tyler Seguin. Tuukka Rask is the real deal in goal.
4. New Jersey Devils – As long as they have Martin Brodeur, you can never count the Devils out. They bolstered their defense by signing Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, and they re-signed some guy named Kovalchuk, who’s pretty damn good.
5. Philadelphia Flyers – You love to hate them, but the Flyers will be in the mix this year. I question their decision to go with Michael Leighton in goal, but it’s pretty difficult to argue with his results last season. Philly’s blueline looks particularly strong.
6. Buffalo Sabres – Similar to Brodeur, it’s hard to go against Ryan Miller. The Sabres don’t have a whole lot outside of stud defenseman Tyler Myers, but they should be good enough to make the playoffs.
7. Tampa Bay Lightning – New GM Steve Yzerman has been receiving rave reviews for his off-season work in Tampa. Adding Simon Gagne to a lineup with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier? That’s a lot of offense.
8. Montreal Canadiens – They traded playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, meaning Carey Price will be the Habs No. 1 netminder. Whether or not it’s a significant downgrade remains to be seen, but Montreal didn’t lose much else from last year’s team.
9. Ottawa Senators – The Sens added Gonchar but lost Volchenkov. I have doubts about their goaltending.
10. New York Rangers – Henrik Lundqvist is a stud, but the Rangers didn’t add much in the off-season outside of ultra-goon Derek Boogaard.
11. Toronto Maple Leafs – You have to like what the Leafs are doing (Dion Phaneuf, Kris Versteeg), but they’re still a year away from the playoffs.
12. New York Islanders – The preseason injury to defenseman Mark Streit hurts big-time. The Isle added blueliners Mark Eaton and James Wisniewski in the off-season, which should lessen the blow.
13. Atlanta Thrashers – Trading for Cup winners Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd will help Atlanta’s cause, but not much. New coach Craig Ramsay has his work cut out for him.
14. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes have Cam Ward and Eric Staal…and that’s about it.
15. Florida Panthers – The Panthers are to the NHL what the Pirates are to MLB. This will be the 10th straight year Florida misses the playoffs, a league record.