1) Its that time of year. While others amazingly posted/wrote their predictions in late July/early August, the folks at FAUXRUMORS decided that we would be better served/more accurate to wait until after the start of training camp when complete rosters could be analyzed, and early trends (as limited as that is for these purposes) could be evaluated. Not that this tactic helped us last year. So without further nonsense we will get right to it. We will project each team's order of finish. Number of points, and name one player we believe might be the 'difference maker'. A player we believe might be the team's wild card.
1) Philadelphia-110 While most have probably pegged the Flyers as a playoff team few probably will place them into such a lofty position. However we believe this team if it stays healthy will be the top regular season team in the east. Why? They possess great forward depth, and with the Pronger signing now also have a solid defense corps with their top 4 that can compete with anyone in the league. Coach John Stevens can roll out 3 solidly offensively capable lines who can all also handle themselves if the going gets rough. This intangible of having the toughest lineup in the East very much intrigues us. Yes, yes, we know all about what we have said about Ray Emory, and we don't disagree that potentially he'll be a distraction/issue, but we don't think that will be seen until the real crunch time-the playoffs. Difference Maker: Daniele Briere
2) Boston- 108 While we might be projecting a slight decline in bean Town they should still maintain their high level of play and easily win the relatively weak NE division. Yes, we believe the loss of 36 goal scorer Phil Kessel is significant, it won't be significant enough to prevent a divisional win repeat. Overall they remain a formidable opponent. One who can easily play a finesse or bruising style. Their offensive balance even without Kessel is impressive, their blueline remains one of the best in the NHL, led by Norris winner Z-Chara. Will be interesting how Tim Thomas handles being the undisputed #1 guy in net. Can he play 60+ games and will Rask be an adequate back up? Unlike last season there are now very high expectations, and anything short of a Final 4 appearance will be a disappointment. Difference Maker: P. Bergeron.
3) Washington- 106 The bitter taste of defeat at the hands of their bitter rival Pens in game 7 last season still lingers with the caps. We see them winning their 3rd SE divisional title and will certainly be a Cup contender. They are not without question marks though. yes, they possess the reigning 2 time NHL MVP in Ovechkin, and can ice 2 solid offensive lines, with the smart additions of Mike Knuble and Brenden Morrison. Yes, they have Norris finalist Mike Green on their backline. However significant questions remain. How well is their defense overall? They didn't obtain a tough veteran on their backline (like the Flyers did in Pronger) and in goal Theodore had an up and down season. Last year's playoff hero in net Varlamov is still really a rookie. Overall we'd say they remain a force to be reckoned with, but we'd feel much better about them if they had acquired Chris Pronger and not their Conference rival Flyers. Difference Maker: Chris Clark
4) Pittsburgh- 105 Don't let our placement of the defending champs as the 4th seed fool ya. We see them as being every bit as formidable as they have been the past 2 seasons when they have prevailed in the east come spring. Any team that has lines centered by Crosby and Makin (the 1 and 1A lines) and throw in Jordan Staal for good measure and you will always win more than you lose. Also the intangible of being champs can't be discounted. This season though they will likely have more stability behind he bench and a healthy Sergei Gonchar will add points from last year's total. This is still a very young team. Crosby, although entering his 5 season is a mere 22! With a majority of last year's team back, it would be inane to bet against them. Difference Maker:Chris Kunitz
5) Carolina- 96. After the top 4 we see a bit of a drop off. Among the next tier of teams we see the 'canes as the best. Although they have only made the playoffs 3 times in the past 7 years when they do make the dance they make it memorable! Last years semi-Cinderella run to the Final 4 showed what they are capable of. It followed a post Al star game surge that was highlighted with a coaching change-back to Paul Maurice. We haven't been big fans of Paul's, but he did seem to help propel the team back from obscurity to winners and he was rewarded with a 3 year contract. Most of last year's team has returned and may even give the SE divisional favourite caps a run for their money for a now revived, competitive division. Difference Maker: Erik Cole
6) NY Rangers- 94: No team that possess Henrik Lundqvist can be discounted as non playoff team. While we see the rangers as just that, we didn't see any changes in the off season that would lead us to believe that the BlueShirts are significantly improved. Yes they did shuffle around big salaried forwards. unloading salary cap anchor Scott Gomez for Marion Gaborik, but given his penchant for injuries we don't see this as a big upgrade. yes, a full season of John Tortorella and Sean Avery will help/.At the very least it won't be a dull year in the Big Apple, but questions remain on the backline where Redden and to a lesser extent Michael Rozival remain fan targets for inconsistent play and big pay cheques. Difference Maker: Chris Higgins
7) Buffalo- 93: The Sabres barely missed the post season by a pair of points last time around. In all likelihood had their top net minder Ryan Miller stayed healthy they would have qualified for the playoffs. Certainly the sabres possess enough offensive weapons in Vanek, Roy, Pominville and Stafford, to keep pace with the middle rung of teams in the East. The question will be on defense where the team lost yet another point producer(Campbel last year) in Spacek. It'll be difficult to replace his 45 points and the addition of Steve Montador won't do that. They also lost Numinen to retirement, so the younger guys like Chris Butler will have to play big time roles for the Sabres to succeed. Difference Maker: Tim Connolly
8) Florida-92. Yes, we're probably one of the few blogs/writers who see the panthers as anything but lottery pick material. After all they never make the post season and they lost Jay Bouwmeester, right? Sorry, we don't see it that way. WE believe this team was on the cusp of a break out season last year and not for the constant distraction of the J-Bow trade rumours, coupled with an astoundingly bad shoot out record(3-8) the panthers would have seen more spring hockey last season. Had they been 8-3 in those SO games they'd of qualified and finished with the same number of points as the Cup champ pens! With the trade distraction gone to Calgary and the young forwards a year older/wiser we believe it would be a big error to assume these cats won't bite back this season! Difference maker: Michael Frolik
9) Montreal- 91 The Habs summer is why the phrase 'shuffling chairs on the Titanic' was coined. Out with the old (Kovolev, Koivu, Komasarek,Tanguay, Higgins, Lang. In with the new(Gomez, Cammelleri, Spacek, Gionta, Moen, Gill, Mara). If any team was simply a 'dart throw' to predict its the Canadiens! Its this reason why we see them falling only a tad(and out of the post season) but its just as possible they will be a bottom feeder! We are on record as detractors of new head coach Jacques martin, and see his hiring as another reason to believe the team will under achieve. Ultimately it always comes down to goaltending so for the Habs to get back into the playoffs they will have to have either Carey Price or Jaroslav Halak to assume the #1 spot and play at the top of their games. Difference maker: Andre Kostitsyn
10) New Jersey- 90: We can already hear our readers saying" Don't you say the devils will drop down every year?" Well, yes. However this time we really mean/can see it happening. Too many negative factors to not see this. First their positives: One of the best/brightest young forwards in the game today in Zac Parise. Also a healthy Martin Brodeur. However Marty is now 37. can he be counted on to carry the team/play 70+ games? With new(old) coach Jacques Lemaire back will the team go back to its 'trap' days? Their first round loss to the Hurricanes underscored that the Devils are no longer a Cup contender/elite team. The question remains; are they still a playoff team. We say, no. Difference Maker: Martin Brodeur
11) Tampa Bay- 85 Another team that we feel will significantly benefit from less off ice distractions this season to rebound. Between the Melrose nonsense, Lecavlier trade rumours, Stamkos thrust into a role he wasn't quite ready for, ownership/GM issues, and injuries etc the Lightning were ripe to fall, and they did- hard! A 20 or so point jump wouldn't place the Bolts back into the post season but would help reestablish an identity and revive their fan base. We can foresee Stamkos building on his second half to add another offensive weapon to an already solid arsenal. On the back line 2009 draftee Victor Hedmen along with UFA addition Mattias Ohland will help bolster a tattered defense corps. In goal a healthy Mike Smith alone would add 10 points to the teams total. Difference Maker: Andre Meszeros
12) Toronto-83 One thing is at least farely certain in Toronto, the leafs won't be pushed around. Perhaps on the score sheet, but not in team toughness. With the additions of UFA's Mike Komasarek and Colton Orr, Francois Beauchemin, and Garet Exelby brian Burke placed his stmp on his team. In goal with Taskala and young free agent (huge) Jonas the monster Gustavsson give the leafs a solid tandem. On defense they actually are pretty solid. Its up front that questions arise. Even with the addition of Kessel the team is still lacking in this vital area. We can forsee many a 2-1 3-2 losses this season, but as we stated the team won't be pushed around if thats any consalation for the long suffereing Leaf Nation. Difference Maker: Jiri Tlusty
13) Atlanta- 76 WE believe the combination of a resurgent SE division(other than the Thrashers), the constant Kovalckuk trade rumours,along with owners hip uncertainty almost cries out for another dismal season in Atlanta. Incompetant GM Don Waddell owes his job to the ownership fiasco that seems to be spreading faster than Pig flu throughout the NHL. Sure the Thrash have some very nice players in the aforementioned Ilya Kovalchuk, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, and Brian Little- (at 5'10"appropriatly named). Its time for Kari Lehtonen, now 26 to stay healthy, step up and carry his team. The jury is still out on coach Anderson, but his time could be short if they get off to a slow start. We were also not impressed with the off season additions of Leaf cast-offs Kubina and Antropov. Difference Maker:Rich Peverley
14) Ottawa- 75 Oh, how the mighty have fallen! From Cup finalsts 2+ years ago to lottery pick possibilities. Questions abound, but they start in goal where Pascal Leclaire will be 'the guy'. Can he stay healthy enough to contribute and can he carry a team as a true #1? With heatley finally dispacted to SJ, the team can now try to recover. Will the additions of Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo make up for the superstar? Can Alex Kovalev reignite his career in Kanata? The defense isn't shabby with Kuba and a full season of Chris campoli to augment Volchenkov and Phillips, but we aren't sold that this team will have the chemistry to be more than the sum of its parts. thus a bottom finish in the NE division. Difference Maker: Jon Cheechoo
15) NY Islanders- 69 Yes, Isles fans might be feeling optomistic going into a new season with #1 pick John Tavares, but we believe not long into the season reality will set back in. This is still a very thin lineup. Some improvement should be seen for sure. can't expect them to have as many injuries again, right? Goaltending with additions of Roloson and Biron should at least be stable if not solidly good. Theur defense is another matter. After standout Mark Streit, and oft injured Radelk Martinek we have slow footed Witt and Sutton along with journeymen Fred Meyer. Not impressive. So while we believe things may be starting to look more positive(on the ice anyway) for Isles fans there is a LONG way to go and another lottery finish, if not last overall is again a possibility. Difference Maker: Josh Bailey