The NHL is set to drop the puck in January and will be using realigned divisions for the upcoming season! Arguably the hardest division, the Eastern Division will feature some of the top teams in the league. The Eastern division will feature some of hockey’s best stars from Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Claude Giroux, Brad Marchand, and so on, the competition is intense. While hockey is one of the most unpredictable sports, it is also one of the most fun to predict. Therefore, we will take a shot at the 2021 Eastern Division Standings Prediction…
8) New Jersey Devils
At the bottom of the powerhouse division are the New Jersey Devils. The Devils had a unimpressive 2019-2020 season and missed out on the July bubble by a smaller margin than people might realize. The 3rd youngest team in the league will start the season with their new head coach, Lindy Ruff and look to improve on their recent season. The Devils have skilled offensive players such as Nico Hischier, Kyle Palmieri, Nikita Gusev, and promising 2019 first-overall pick, Jack Hughes. Unfortunately, for the Devils their team is young and still trying to find their rhythm to truly compete in the league. Along with the developing talent, the Devils defense is unproven and simply not good enough. The abysmal season of P.K. Subban causes concern in his abilities and if he will improve the young team. The additions of Ryan Murray and Dmitry Kulikov will surely help the defense, but unlikely that it will turn the defense around. Corey Crawford and Mackenzie Blackwood will be a great goaltending duo for the Devils, but will not be enough. If anything, I believe the Devils will preform much better than their 2019-2020 campaign and be able to develop young and promising players.
7) Buffalo Sabres
Coming in at #7 on the prediction list is the Buffalo Sabres. In recent years, it always looks as if the Sabres will be a competitive team. Surely enough, they always fall off and miss the playoffs. The Sabres have very skilled players in Jack Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, Rasmus Dahlin, and a few familiar faces added in the offseason. Buffalo added veteran presence Eric Staal, Cody Eakin, and their biggest addition, Taylor Hall. The former Hart trophy winner will try and prove he is as good as he was before knee surgery and make a big impact in Buffalo. Also, Jeff Skinner playing nowhere near his price tag does not help the situation in Buffalo. Another factor that does not work in Buffalo’s favor is their goaltending and defense. Linus Ullmark is a decent goaltender who can keep up, but will have to preform above average in the division. Carter Hutton has struggled and having a good one-two punch in goal is extremely important because of the harsh schedule of the Eastern division. Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall will definitely be a fun duo to watch in Buffalo, but will not be enough.
6) New York Rangers
After being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the bubble, the New York Rangers are looking to get better and better. After selecting Alexis Lafreniere in the 2020 NHL draft, the Rangers offense is stacked. Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider are proven players in the league who provide great scoring. Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko could also provide a boost if they have grown in their play. After saying goodbye to long-time Ranger, Henrik Lundqvist, the goaltending duo will likely be Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev. Both are solid options in net, but might lack consistency and experience in a powerful division. The Rangers biggest problem is their defense. The Rangers defense could be the worst in the Eastern division and will definitely hold them back. With offense heavy defenseman like Anthony DeAngelo and Adam Fox, the Rangers struggle on actual defending. Jacob Trouba did not have a good first year with the blueshirts and can be considered their most experienced defender. The addition of Jack Johnson will only hurt the already struggling defense. As the saying goes, defense wins championships, and the Rangers will struggle to get close to the playoffs because of theirs.
5) Pittsburgh Penguins
Often a top team in the league, the Penguins will no-doubt struggle in the Eastern division. After their upset in the bubble by the Canadiens, the Penguins did not do much to improve or get worse in the off-season. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are familiar with dominating and playing top teams. Nevertheless, the team surrounding Crosby and Malkin is not as good as it once was. Last season, the Penguins were plagued with injuries from Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, and former players Patric Hornqvist and Justin Schultz. Despite the injuries, Mike Sullivan was able to coach the Penguins to the bubble in July. The Penguins goaltending can also be a cause of concern after Matt Murray‘s departure. The goaltending duo will likely be Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Both are solid goaltenders, but have yet to been considered starting goaltenders in the league. The additions of Kasperi Kapanen and Mike Matheson will be positive in Pittsburgh, but will not make a huge impact. That being said, a team with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang will always be competitive and could place the Penguins close to the playoffs.
4) Washington Capitals
The Capitals have been a top team in the league for numerous years but are likely on the decline. The Islanders cruised past the Capitals in the playoffs with a dominating 4-1 series win. Their roster is still full of extremely talented and impactful players. That being said, I predict that the Capitals will not be as dominant in the Eastern division, but will still be good enough to make the playoffs. The Capitals roster is the 7th oldest roster in the league and did not make many moves in the off-season. The Capitals top 6, made up of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Jakub Vrana, Niklas Backstrom, and T.J. Oshie, is still one of the strongest in the league, making them competitive. The departure of Braden Holtby leaves the starting goaltender to be Ilya Samsonov and possible back-up Craig Anderson, who was signed to a PTO. Nevertheless, the Capitals have immense experience and are extremely familiar with the teams in the Eastern division. Their window for winning another cup may be closing, but the Capitals will still be a competitive team in the upcoming season and for the foreseeable future.
3) New York Islanders
The Islanders have one of the best systems in the league thanks to Barry Trotz. Their roster lacks big-name stars in the league, but they have been incredibly competitive the last few seasons. Led by young and upcoming star, Mathew Barzal, the Islanders have a great balance on defense and offense. Trotz has been able to make the Islanders a team that proves they can handle the top teams in the league. They showed their strengths in the playoffs by coasting past the Panthers, dominating the Capitals, and narrowly beating the Flyers. The team that finally halted the Islanders playoff run were the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Due to their limited cap space, the Islanders did not change much in the off-season. They traded Devon Toews to the Avalanche for draft picks and made smaller signings. Veteran signings, Cory Schneider, Andy Greene, and Matt Martin will not provide much scoring, but they will bring experience and fit into the Islanders limited-chances style of play. Though the Islanders do not have the strongest goaltending in Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin, they limit scoring chances. The Islanders will a top team in the 2021 Eastern division standings.
2) Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers made very little moves in the off-season and will be continuing to get better and better. The Flyers won an impressive 41 games in the 2019-2020 season and were able to show how nicely their team has developed. Stringing together wins, the Flyers were able to be one of the top teams in their division. The Flyers offense is extremely balanced with player like Travis Konecny, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Kevin Hayes. Along with growing and proven players, Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick will be back and continue to improve. The defense boasts impactful players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Philippe Myers, who defend and attack well at young ages. Along with solid offense and defense, the Flyers have very good goaltending. Carter Hart is a developing goalie who is expected to become a top goaltender in the league. Brian Elliott struggles often, but can provide decent backup goaltending with a good defense. The Flyers are a well-rounded and young team who will be able to be at the top of the 2021 Eastern division standings.
1) Boston Bruins
The 2019-2020 President Trophy winners has a tough time in the playoffs. The Bruins were drowned by injuries and were not able to get themselves going. After an off-season of losing long-time Captain Zdeno Chara and high-scoring defenseman Torey Krug, the Bruins still have a great team on paper. Their famous top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is the best in the league. After off-season surgery, Pastrnak will be back in February. Head coach Bruce Cassidy coaches a very well-rounded offense and defense, made possible by the personnel. Charlie Coyle, Matt Grzelcyk, and Brandon Carlo will look to step up and fill holes left by Chara and Krug. Goaltending in Boston is extremely solid with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak between the pipes. The Bruins have the most complete team in the Eastern division with skill, experience, and speed. They will be able to compete with every team in the division and get better as their younger players take on bigger roles. Therefore, the Boston Bruins will be at the top of the Eastern division and make yet again, a solid playoff run.
The Eastern division will be the hardest division in the 2021 NHL season. Featuring the Devils, Sabres, Rangers, Penguins, Capitals, Islanders, Flyers and Bruins, the division is bound to be entertaining. The 2021 Eastern division standings could truly be unpredictable and shocking because of the competitive teams and star players. Nevertheless, NHL hockey will be back after 9 months and the 2021 Eastern division standings will constantly be changing. Get ready for a wild season hockey fans!