NHL East Division Preview: Outlook, Predictions For All Eight Teams

Can the Bruins run the table in the East?

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL realigned the divisions for this season to limit on travel.

Only inter-division games will be played this season, so teams will become plenty familiar with one another.

Today, we’re looking at the NHL’s East Division.

Boston Bruins
Additions: Craig Smith, Greg McKegg
Subtractions: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Joakim Nordstrom
2019-20 record: 44-14-12

The Bruins weren’t without major offseason departures, but they remain a legitimate contender.

Up front they still have one of the most electric top lines in the league when David Pastrnak is healthy. The addition of Craig Smith should help bolster the middle six, and Boston is once again bringing back a Vezina-caliber netminder in Tuukka Rask.

The only major question is the defense. There effectively are three vacancies to fill in the back end, and Boston is looking to some of its youngsters to make the jump. They have so many options, though, that one has to think they’ll figure it out.

Prediction: First in division

Buffalo Sabres
Additions: Taylor Hall, Matt Irwin, Tobias Rieder, Brandon Davidson, Cody Eakin, Eric Staal
Subtractions: Michael Frolik, Dominik Kahun, Johan Larsson, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, Marcus Johansson
2019-20 record: 30-31-8

The Sabres definitely got better over the offseason — it’s hard to acquire the top free-agent forward available and not improve — but they might be the victims of a challenging situation.

Buffalo’s top six should be fun, but after that it’s question marks galore. Maybe in a typical season, when they’d get to beat up on the Red Wings and Senators, the Sabres could be in a bit better of a position.

But even with the Taylor Hall addition, it doesn’t feel like the Sabres have pried their playoff window open much.

Prediction: Seventh

New Jersey Devils
Additions: Corey Crawford, Scott Wedgewood, Dmitry Kulikov, Ryan Murray, Andreas Johnsson, Sami Vatanen
Subtractions: John Hayden, Kevin Rooney, Dakota Mermis, Mirco Mueller, Cory Schneider, Joey Anderson
2019-20 record: 28-29-12

Some small tweaks to the roster should help, such as the addition of Andreas Johnsson, but the Devils just aren’t ready to compete yet.

MacKenzie Blackwood seems like a legitimate NHL-level goalie, and the addition of Corey Crawford should help ease pressure off the 24-year-old.

But of all the teams in the division, the Devils are the only ones that clearly are not in a position to compete right now.

We were duped last season into buying into Jersey and quickly paid for it, so that’s a mistake we won’t make again.

Prediction: Eighth

New York Islanders
Additions: Austin Czarnik, Cory Schneider, A.J. Greer, Dmytro Timashov
Subtractions: Derick Brassard, Thomas Greiss, Kyle Burroughs, Devon Toews, Johnny Boychuk
2019-20 record: 35-23-10

The Islanders are a weird one.

They are not short on talent, but they did lose a lot this offseason because of their cap situation. Devon Toews is gone, Johnny Boychuk retired, they pivoted away from Thomas Greiss to make way for Ilya Sorokin.

As long as Mat Barzal, Brock Nelson and the like are around, the Islanders will be competitive. But we’re expecting regression this season.

Prediction: Fifth in division

New York Rangers
Additions: Colin Blackwell, Kevin Rooney, Jack Johnson, Jonny Brodzinski, Anthony Greco
Subtractions: Jesper Fast, Greg McKegg, Henrik Lundqvist, Micheal Haley, Vinni Lettieri, Lias Andersson
2019-20 record: 37-28-5

We like the Rangers a lot and the direction they’re heading in, but we don’t see them pacing some of the other teams.

Artemi Panarin is a legitimate Hart-caliber player. Mika Zibanejad is one of the game’s more exciting centers. Even with the loss of Henrik Lundqvist, their goaltending should be fine with Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev.

But the defense still has its share of question marks, and their depth forward situation isn’t great. (The Jesper Fast loss will be sneaky painful.)

If nothing else, they’ll be a ton of fun to watch, and we think they could sneak into the postseason.

Prediction: Fourth in division

Philadelphia Flyers
Additions: Erik Gustafsson, Derrick Pouliot
Subtractions: Derek Grant, Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, Kurtis Gabriel
2019-20 record: 41-21-7

The Flyers didn’t really have a whole lot they could do with their roster this offseason, and that’s OK. They’re still nasty.

Erik Gustafsson was a great value signing, as he should give a nice boost as the offensive blue line. Carter Hart will continue to improve, and Philly is anchored by a trusty group of veterans.

The Flyers are without question a team to watch this season.

Prediction: Second in division

Pittsburgh Penguins
Additions: Kasperi Kapanen, Maxime Lagace, Mark Jankowski, Evan Rodrigues, Codi Ceci, Jonathan Gruden, Mike Matheson, Colton Sceviour
Subtractions: Matt Murray, Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary, Dominik Simon, Jack Johnson, Justin Schultz, Riley Barber, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bjugstad
2019-20 record: 40-23-6

The Kasperi Kapanen deal was a good one, but it’s tough to get a read on how good the Penguins are.

They’ll be competitive so long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in the picture, but they now have all their eggs in the Tristan Jarry basket and their defense really doesn’t seem like it’ll be that good.

It just feels like Pittsburgh will be a middling team this year.

Prediction: Sixth in division

Washington Capitals
Additions: Zdeno Chara, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Daniel Carr, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz,
Subtractions: Travis Boyd, Radko Gudas, Braden Holtby
2019-20 record: 41-20-8

We’d put them higher if their goaltending situation were a little more stable.

Ilya Samsonov seems like he’ll be fine in the premier role, but not having the Henrik Lundqvist safety net hurts. What will keep them afloat through any growing pains is solid depth on defense, with the signings of Zdeno Chara, Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk providing a lot of back-end stability. Jonas Siegenthaler is a legitimate NHL-level defenseman and he might be healthy scratched regularly.

Plus, the long-threatening forward group highlighted by Alex Ovechkin will be back. Post-Braden Holtby Washington should be fine.

Prediction: Third in division

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