5. New York Islanders-In a division that is very top heavy, the New York Islanders won't offer much of anything in 2013. They have a young star in John Tavares, and a 30 goal scorer in Matt Moulson, but after them, this team is very weak. They have no real depth at forward and they are pretty weak defensively. Evgeni Nabokov will be the #1 goalie this year, but with his age (37), how much longer can he produce solid numbers. Give the Islanders a few more years to rebuild, and maybe they will pull out of the cellar. But it for this year, you can write their last place finish in pen.
4. New Jersey Devils-The Devils are returning virtually the same team that took them to the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago. The one exception to that roster is Zach Parise, their leader and top scorer. Now that Parise is gone, New Jersey will rely heavily on Ilya Kovalchuk to put points on the board. Martin Brodeur, the ageless wonder, is returning for another year and will give them a solid presence in net, but you have to wonder about how well he can do now that he is entering his 20th NHL season. The Devils have a team that can still sneak in the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed. But, can they get the points necessary to do so, while playing in this division?
3. Philadelphia Flyers-All eyes are on Ilya Bryzgalov this year. He was horribly inconsistent in 2011-12, and if he can't right the ship this year, the Flyers will be better off using one of their buyouts on him this summer since he still will have 7 years left on his deal ($5.66M per year). The Flyers lost Matt Carle, their best blueliner, and now have a real weak defense to go with the inconsistent Bryzgalov. Philly does have a good offense (2nd in the NHL in goals scored), lead by one of the game's best players, Claude Giroux. They have 4 solid forward lines, which gives them great ability to score frequently. But, unless Philly can fix the defense and goaltending, they will have to settle for 3rd in the division, but make the playoffs once again.
2. New York Rangers-Last year, we saw the Rangers become the best team in the East. They did it while riding the backs of their stars (Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, Henrik Lundqvist), and that took them to the conference finals. But since it did not take them to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers brought in another star to help push them there, Rick Nash. Nash will give the Rangers another elite goal scorer, and will help take some heat off of Gaborik (41 goals in 2011-12). The Rangers have a young, but quietly solid blue line, and they have the Vezina trophy winner Lundqvist between the pipes. This will be one of the top teams in the East again, but, they will be looking up at one team in the division standings.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins-For once, Sidney Crosby will open the season on the roster, not the injured list. So as long as everyone in Pittsburgh can be healthy to open the year, this team should get off to a fast start, which will help propel them to the top. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should have big years, once again. They have solid depth at forward, despite trading Jordan Staal in the offseason. Kris Letang leads a core of solid veteran blue liners. And Marc-Andre Fleury looks to rebound in 2013, after his performance in the playoffs last year. Pittsburgh is clearly a preseason favorite for the Stanley Cup. In a close race, they win this division, and will lock up the #1 seed in the East. But can they play good hockey to even get out of the first round this year? Bet on it.
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