NHL East Division 2021 Preview

What would you get if the Atlantic and Metropolitan divisions had a baby? It’s the East division! With the Christmas holidays wrapping up and a brand new NHL season approaching faster than Santa’s sleigh, let’s review what the teams of the ‘North’ division had asked for from St. Nick, hoping something good under their hockey stick tree.

Boston Bruins

On the Christmas List: The Next Torey Krug

After nine seasons in Boston, big-time blue-liner Torey Krug upped and left for St. Louis. This leaves a big hole for the Bruins to fill as Krug is not great in front of his goalie, but also handy with the assists and occasional goal. Is there anyone on the roster who can step up to fill this gap? Not massively, no.

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What the Bruins do have is a fair amount of young talent that Bruce Cassidy can hopefully use to fill the specific shortfalls that left by Krug’s departure. In hindsight, Krug was a great all-rounder. Matt Gryzelcyk seems to be the one to shoulder those expectations, along with Jeremy Lauzon. 2015 first-rounder Jakub Zboril might also be given his time to shine. Offensively the Bruins are looking strong, but the forwards get a lot of their confidence from the strength of their blue line. The loss of Krug might really hurt the team next season.

Buffalo Sabres

On the Christmas List: Krazy Glue

It’s been a busy off-season for the Sabres, who brought in Taylor Hall and Eric Staal. The newbies will likely bolster the top two lines and add scoring depth for the team. For the team to break their long run of missing the playoffs, the new additions, will need to gel with the existing players, hence the need for the glue. The assumed top line of Hall, Galactic Emperor Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson mean that opposition bluelines will be up against a first overall pick, a second overall pick and, erm, a 181st overall pick. Still Olofsson put up 42 points in 54 games last season. Staal, it should be noted, is 92 years old, so the Sabres presumably aren’t looking for longevity, but are getting a solid second line center.

New Jersey Devils

On The Christmas List: Time

2019-20 was pretty abysmal for the Devils. The team finished dead last in the division, bringing home less than a point per game. In December 2019, New Jersey fired head coach John Hynes, replacing him with Lindy Ruff seven months later. There haven’t been any ground-breaking changes on the ice and although the team had a promising draft, it’s too early to reap the benefits.

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What the Devils need is time, Ruff’s most recent stint in charge was at Dallas, where he took the Stars to the playoffs twice in his four seasons. With an interim GM (Ray Shero was fired in January), this impending season will be about taking stock of what the team already has, and how it can best shape this into a playoff contender. This is gonna take time.

 

New York Islanders

On The Christmas List: Road Wins

Not unlike the Philadelphia Flyers, the Islanders’ performances on the road were a lot weaker than at home. Something that hurt the team during the regular season. This wasn’t an issue in the playoffs, and the team made it all the way to the Conference Final, but that was in a bubble. If the Islanders can find a way to travel well, and to be fair, nobody knows what that’s going to look like in 2020-21, then they can can continue to surprise even more than they did last season.

 

New York Rangers

On The Christmas List: Confidence

The Rangers are still rebuilding, but they’re looking good going into 2020-21. Artemi Panarin was on target for an easy 100 point season and Mika Zibanejad is legitimately exciting to watch. Last season ended unceremoniously for the Rangers, as the team was swept in the playoff qualifiers by Carolina.

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If the team can put this loss behind them, and there’s no reason to see why they can’t, then they should be looking at the playoffs again. Head coach David Quinn should be able instill belief in his team as there are no real weak areas. The blueline looks well covered, and Igor Shesterkin is looking confident between the posts.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

On The Christmas List: Another Blueliner

When you’re the team that finished 2nd in a tough division last season, there’s not much you need to add. The Flyers are one of those teams that stands out by not standing out. Point production was shared out pretty fairly throughout the team.

During the offseason, D-man Matt Niskanen retired, leaving the team short of a lot of experience. Free agent Erik Gustafsson was brought in to fill the gap and I’m yet to be sold on this move. Good news is that the rest of the depth on the blueline is pretty tight. The Flyers’ road performances weren’t good last season, but as we don’t know what the seasonal structure is going to look like yet, it’s too early to ask Santa to fix this.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

On The Christmas List: Much Better Medical Care

Good lord, the Pens were hurt a lot last season. Marcus Pettersson and Teddy Blueger were the only skaters to play each game. Jake Guentzel only played 39 games and Sidney Crosby 41. The perpetually injured Evgeni Malkin was also out a lot. There’s nothing in this preview that hasn’t been in the last few. The Pens have a solid offence that can cut through any opposition, if it can stay healthy.

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On the positive side, the team has brought some names in. Kasperi Kapanen was brought back to the team that drafted him and adds some depth on the right wing. The blue line has been bolstered by the addition of free agent Cody Ceci.

 

Washington Capitals

On The Christmas List: Another Goalie Please

Metro Champs gonna champ, but also gonna get dropped out of the playoffs early again. Everyone’s favourite goalie Braden Holtby upped sticks and left for Vancouver and the Caps picked up Henrik Lundqvist to mentor and share goalie duties with Ilya Samsonov, but then this happened:

Samsonov is already a more than capable goalie, but at 23, he’s still young and needs a solid back-up if the Caps want to taste playoff success again. If the NHL plays a condensed season then goalie tandems are going to be extra important and the Caps pipeline is thin. This also applies to the depth of the blueline. In the regular season, the Caps can keep outscoring opponents, but in a playoff crunch the whole roster needs to step up, otherwise we’ll see the team out in the first round. Again.

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