Today I watched NHL Commisioner Gary Bettman announce that the New York Rangers will meet the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Winter Classic (Jan 2nd, 1pm ET/10am PT on NBC/CBC) In watching this, I decided to today shift some focus on teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Now granted, the Sharks will see the West a whole lot more than they will see the East, however the Sharks will have some key games versus the Eastern Conference this year. If the Sharks are to go to the Stanley Cup Finals, they will have to go through a team from the East that will want to win the ultimate prize just as bad. With that said here’s how I as a Sharks fan look at the Eastern Conference (by Divisions):
Philadelphia Flyers – After getting swept out of the 2nd round by eventual champion Boston last year, the Flyers will certainly have a chip on their shoulder this season as they take to the ice. Trading away both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter introduced a shake up that could actually bring this team closer. Still, plenty of veteran leadership and now a strong goalie in Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers will challenge again for Eastern supremacy.
Pittsburgh Penguins- With Sidney Crosby, arguably the Pens are the best team in the East. Without Crosby, the Pens are still very good but not complete. As goes Crosby, so goes the Pens.
New Jersey Devils- A team very disappointed by it’s performance last year tries to regain it’s dominant form, especially when near the post season. Still a good roster of battled tested players, the Devils are poised to put last year behind them and make another solid run.
New York Rangers- A good team, but a team that at times may be it’s own worst enemy. Though winning the Brad Richards sweepstakes, the Rangers have a history of bidding for players who may be a bit past their prime. That said, this team still contends for the post season each year.
New York Islanders-A once premier franchise from the early 1980′s, the Islanders have not known much success in the last 25 years. They are going to be a project again this year with the hope on building towards the future. At least they did away with the “Gorton’s Fisherman” uniforms (circa 1996).
Boston Bruins- The defending Stanley Cup Champions will have the challenge of defending their crown this season, however they are a well stocked team and should be set to handle whatever may come their way. The Bruins covered free agent losses (Michaek Ryder and Tomas Kaberle out, Joe Corvo in), and is a roster well intact and energized for another go. Tim Thomas in the net more than proved his worth last season.
Montreal Canadians- Montreal has impressed in it’s play the last few seasons and has held their own in the post season, giving the Bruins all they could handle in the opening round last season and making it to the ECF as an 8th seed the year before. The Canadians can be very good one day and sub par the next, but there is much heart in this storied franchise.
Buffalo Sabres- Arguably one of the most entertaining teams you can watch. They fan base in amongst the best in the league, and this team feeds off it. Ryan Miller in the net has great nights and sometimes bad nights, but he gives the Sabres a chance to win every night.
Toronto Maples Leafs- A franchise looking for it’s first title since 1967, the Maple Leafs are in the midst of transition through GM Brian Burke and former Sharks Headman Ron Wilson. The Leafs seem to have the biggest problems getting the right pieces assembled. Burke is finding out that what worked in Anaheim may not work in Toronto.
Ottawa Senators- The Senators are pretty much the mirror of the Edmonton Oilers in the East. This franchise has fallen on hard times and will rely on a mixture of veterans and youngsters to build itself to respectability again. It may take awhile for the Senators to find their way back into a seeding higher than 10th (or 2 below qualifying for the post season).
Washington Capitals- Alex Ovetchkin & company look to make another run for the Stanley Cup, their first ever (sound familiar?). The knock on the Caps seems to be the same knock the Sharks often get, being great in the regular season but the post season is another story. The Caps have all the tools a team needs to make it to the finals, but will have to beat out some strong competition to get there (Boston, Philly, Pittsburgh, and yes, Tampa Bay).
Tampa Bay Lightning- The Lightning may arguably be one of the top teams in the East this season, just missing the Stanley Cup Finals last year. This team is loaded and will take on all who come along. The Lightning despite their talent seem to be the one team that can fly “under the radar” better than anyone, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Carolina Hurricanes- This is another team that like Tampa, has a ring but does not get enough respect or credit. They have a good roster and could make the post season, however also have the misgiving of having to climb over some solid competition to get to where they want to go. Then again, they’ve done that before too.
Florida Panthers- For some reason, this team kind of reminds me of the Barry Melrose Tampa team a few seasons ago. Former Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon has assembled a good roster and also executed a long overdue house cleaning of the roster. The big question is how this roster will mesh. They may be a good team, and then again this could also become the ”Maple Leafs or NY Rangers of the South”…
Winnipeg Jets- The former Atlanta Thashers will likely only be in the East this season for logistical reasons. I don’t think they will contend for the Cup this season, but have some players who have been there and will create plenty of excitement for a city that did nothing wrong in it’s first NHL go-around. The Jets will log maybe the most air miles of anyone this season and the wear will show especially late in the year. This said, welcome back to the NHL Winnipeg, you deserve a 2nd chance. Make the most of it!!!
The King Shark
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