2020-21 East Division Preview

2020-21 East Division

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 East Division Preview. 

2020-21 East Division Preview

1. Philadelphia Flyers

Rob Brent writes:

The Philadelphia Flyers open the season as one of the favourites in the 2020-21 East Division and maybe even a contender for the Stanley Cup. Their strength starts in the net with young goaltender Carter Hart. Hart was excellent last season and it isn’t hard to imagine that Hart will look to make the jump this year from very good to one of the league’s elite backstops. Outside of Hart, the Flyers are also a very deep team at the forward position. They have an elite two-way forward in 2020 Selke Trophy winner Sean Couturier and have players that can produce offensively, while being defensively responsible, throughout the line-up.

Though Matt Niskanen retired this offseason, their defence should still be able to get the job done. The Flyers didn’t do much over the offseason apart from bringing in Erik Gustafsson. The biggest change in their lineup, however, will come from players making it back from long term absences. Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick will both be back for Philadelphia this year. If there’s any weakness this team has, it’s that they lack an elite goal-scorer. When the Flyers are having trouble scoring, there’s no real go-to guy to put the puck in the net. Despite that, they’re still a deep and well-rounded team that should easily find themselves in the top four, even in this tough division.

2. Boston Bruins

Brandon Higley-Blair writes:

This offseason saw widespread criticism of the Boston Bruins front office. The team was knocked out of the postseason in the second round by the eventual champions in the Tampa Bay Lighting. General manager Don Sweeney‘s only major move was to sign forward Craig Smith. While this added depth to the forward group, he let major names walk away. Both Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara left the team in free agency. While those moves may have weakened this team, they remain near the top of the rankings in the East Division. They still have the Perfection Line and young defenders in Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. Elite netminder Tuukka Rask returns in net after a playoff hiatus. This team should compete for a top spot in the 2020-21 East division.

3. Washington Capitals

Brandon Higley-Blair writes:

The Washington Capitals come into this season ready to fight. After a down year last season, they will want to bounce back and play hard. The Caps brought veteran defenceman Zdeno Chara in from the Boston Bruins when they elected not to resign him. He should play a pivotal role in their top-four defencemen. This team remains largely intact from last year. If they want to be a bully in the playoffs, they needed to add to a rapidly ageing roster. They have failed to do so. While what remains should be good enough to vie for a place at the top of the standings, they could find themselves in a dogfight all season long in a highly competitive division.

4. New York Rangers

Jim Biringer writes:

Everyone is high on the New York Rangers heading into this season. And why not just look at their roster especially on offence. The Rangers got into the return to play last season and a big reason was because of Artemi Panarin. If the league had not paused because of COVID-19, Panarin would have willed the Rangers into the playoffs and won the Hart Trophy. There is no reason why he can’t duplicate that success in a short season. Kaapo Kakko took the next step in the bubble and the Rangers are hoping he can carry that into the regular season. The addition of Alexis Lafreniere to go along with Mika Zibanejad, Ryan Strome and Chris Kreider. Defensively the Rangers are strong with Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, and Tony DeAngelo. The Rangers liked what they saw in Igor Shesterkin last season. They will go with him and Alexander Georgiev this season.  The Rangers have the ability to come out of a very tough 2020-21 East Division.

5. New York Islanders

Jim Biringer writes:

In a very tough division, there will be two teams that will not be happy. One of those teams could the New York Islanders. You can make an argument for teams that are listed four, five, and six to make the playoffs. The Islanders made a deep run to the Eastern Conference Final but bowed out to the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning. And in such a division, the Islanders play a style that helps them the most. However, the teams at the top may not be ready to give up the perch. When everyone doubts the Islanders, that is when they perform the best. Barry Trotz has got his players playing a certain way and they are all buying in especially Mathew Barzal. The big question for the Islanders will be can they score enough goals, because we know how well they defend.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

Rob Brent writes:

For the first time in over a decade, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not a lock to make the playoffs. Part of this is the fact that the Eastern Division has six teams that could challenge for a spot, making it a tough division. That can’t be viewed as an excuse for Pittsburgh, though. The Penguins failed to make the playoffs last year after losing a series to the Montreal Canadiens, a team that was way out of the playoff picture when the season was halted due to COVID-19. The Penguins core continues to grow older and they lost their two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, Matt Murray, over the offseason. Those are the negatives, but there are also a lot of things to like about this Penguins team.

For one, losing Murray may not be such a big deal as he is oft-injured and they have Tristian Jarry to replace him. Jarry played great last season when called upon. Beyond that, the Penguins still boast a team that employs Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The team made some moves over the offseason, as they usually do, with one big instance being the acquisition of Kasperi Kapanen. Kapanen is likely to see ice time with the top six and may be able to inject some much-needed enthusiasm into this lineup. The Penguins should challenge for a playoff spot but are by no means a lock.

7. Buffalo Sabres

Brandon Higley-Blair writes:

Last year, the Buffalo Sabres did what they seemingly always do. They started the season hot, followed by a swift crash and burn that put them near the bottom of the league standings. That didn’t stop them from going after big names in free agency. They brought in Taylor Hall and added Eric Staal in a trade. Their top-six forward group is far better than it was a year ago. While they will be a better team, they have found themselves victims of a bad situation with the temporary division realignment. This eight-team division has six teams that could all very easily make the playoffs. Unfortunately, only four will make the cut and Buffalo will likely struggle to win games.

8. New Jersey Devils

Jim Biringer writes:

Unfortunately for those that follow the New Jersey Devils, this should not come as a surprise. The team will finish last in the division. There is no reason to think otherwise. Even if the Devils were 100 percent with Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and the now-departed Corey Crawford, it was still going to be a tall task to compete for a playoff spot. With no Hischier, Bratt, Sami Vatanen, and Crawford, the Devils will rely on rookies to make an impact. They expect a lot from Yegor Sharangovich, Ty Smith, and others. The Devils will ask Mackenzie Blackwood to carry a bigger load as Scott Wedgewood is now the backup. This is not the ideal tandem the Devils wanted but it will have to do. While it will be a long season, they play well against their rivals and could play spoiler against them.

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