2021 NHL East Division Predictions
If I was a fan of any team in the league, I would be extremely worried about making the playoffs in the NHL’s newly minted East Division as this division is perhaps the strongest and will be the most competitive division from start to finish. Right off the bat, you have a Boston team who checks in as the favorites to win the division. And in a shortened season, this veteran squad could get hot at the right time and make another deep playoff run. The teams right behind them are no slouches, either. The Flyers were a Game 7 win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. The Penguins have won two of the last five Stanley Cups that have been awarded. The Capitals won the Cup in 2018, while the Rangers and Islanders figure to be right in the thick of the race all season long with much improved rosters. Hell, the Sabres may put a scare into teams, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying the Devils could. I want to leave that bad omen back in 2020. But I digress. Let’s start breaking down the teams and see which team has value on the futures board.
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Boston Bruins +250, Philadelphia Flyers +300
I mean this in the sincerest way possible; the Bruins are like cockroaches in the sense that they never die and are always sniffing around the postseason and are tough to kill. The Bruins made a second-round exit last year in the Bubble, but the year prior they made a deep Cup run and were a Game 7 away from winning their second Stanley Cup in 10 years. This season, there is plenty of questions surrounding an aging roster, and one guy that is on the mend to start the season. The top line of Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand will continue to be a matchup nightmare for opposing teams, but it won’t come together until made February. Pastrnak is out until then with a hip injury, and Marchand is questionable to start the year as he’s dealing with a groin issue. Bergeron, at 35, is likely to start slowing down. Therefore, at this price, there is no value with the Bruins to win this extremely tough division. They have goaltending issues and just lost their aging captain, Zdeno Chara, to an East Division foe (Washington). My money would be on the Bruins falling well behind the division leaders over the first month or so, and not having enough in the tank to catch them come April.
As for the Flyers, they finished last season with a flurry and posted a 41-21-7 record in 69 regular-season games and then went to the playoff Bubble and finished atop their group in the seeding round that featured the Lightning, Bruins and Capitals. The Flyers are an up-and-coming team with veterans like Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek. On defense, they can rely on Shayne Gostisbehere, and in goal they have Carter Hart. This Flyers squad stacks up well against most of the teams in the division, but I’m going to have to wait and see if they can replicate their play from last year in a consistent way before trusting them with my money. In a competitive division that’s going to be separated by a point or two at the top, I’ll have to pass on the Flyers.
Pittsburgh Penguins +450, Washington Capitals +600, New York Rangers +600, New York Islanders +750
This is the group where I think the division winner will come from, and I’m looking at the ever-present Penguins and Capitals as the likely candidates. In terms of the Penguins, they were miserable last year in the “play-in” round as they lost to a much worse Montreal Canadiens team. The matchup was a terrible one for them despite having the talent edge, with the Canadiens relentless on the forecheck and willing to muck it up every second of their games. I fully expect a bounce-back season from the team, led by Crosby and Malkin, the latter of which was open and honest about how the bubble affected him since he had been away from his family for an extended period of time. The Penguins’ main issue could come in net with Tristan Jarry set to inherit the starting role as Matt Murray left for Ottawa. I think this is great value for a team that’s won two of the last five Stanley Cups.
As for the Capitals, I like the addition of Chara to their roster even if he’s pushing 44. He will give them 10 or so minutes of quality defending on the third pairing, and that’s enough to please me. Up front, the Capitals still have plenty of offensive weapons like Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Backstrom, Oshie, Vrana and the guy everyone loves to hate, Tom Wilson. The Capitals parted ways with Braden Holtby this past offseason and have given the keys to the net to Ilya Samsonov, who has been an excellent goaltender in the limited NHL action he’s seen through his short career. It’s a shortened season, and I believe the Capitals may be able to outscore their opponents at a rapid pace. And at +600, I believe they are the best value play in this division.
Buffalo Sabres +1500, New Jersey Devils +1500
The Sabres have been perennial losers for quite some time, while the Devils haven’t tasted success since the early 2000s. Both teams have good pieces scattered throughout the roster but can just never put it all together. For the Sabres, if they don’t show signs of success soon, their best player, Jack Eichel, may demand out in a very public way. As for the Devils, they are young and have a few years to go before having the expectations to compete with the big boys.
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