The wait is finally over!
It is now official that we will be getting a 2020-21 NHL season, albeit shortened to 56 games, but it’s hockey!
Among the most important of the alterations to this odd and experimental season would be the geographically-based realignment of divisions. It’s no secret that this was done to both mitigate lengthy travel, and to forgo the arduous task of shuttling the Canadian teams across the border (solved with the North division, which in my opinion will be incredibly interesting).
For the Flyers, they find themselves in the aptly named East division, along with many of their former Metropolitan division counterparts. In the Flyers’ division will be the Penguins, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, and Capitals as per usual, but joining the fray will be the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins.
Those last two clubs replace the Carolina Hurricanes and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will play in the Central division due to their relative proximity to other Central division cities. For the Flyers, being able to avoid playing the surging Hurricanes is a blessing, however, they instead will have to face an excellent Bruins team with one of the best lines in hockey (though they did 3 of 4 from Boston if you include the round-robin), and a Sabres club that made big moves this past offseason.
Taking this into account, let’s try and predict the final standings for this new division. I’m sure this is bound to be one of the toughest divisions in hockey, and every point will be fought for.
Key Additions: Craig Smith, Greg McKegg
Key Losses: Torey Krug, Joakim Nordstrom, Alex Petrovic
The Bruins didn’t make really any substantial additions over the offseason, and lost Torey Krug to the St. Louis Blues, and are therefore a weaker team because of that. There is also uncertainty over the future of their captain Zdeno Chara (not that he is the player he used to be). However, regardless the Bruins will easily challenge for the top spot in this division. Just coming off of a President’s Trophy, they have solid goaltending, and one of the best lines in all of hockey. Their overall depth and defense may be called into question, but I still think the Bruins are the team to beat here.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
Key Additions: Erik Gustafsson, Derrick Pouliot
Key Losses: Matt Niskanen, Tyler Pitlick, Nate Thompson, Andy Welinski, Derek Grant
Yes, you are reading this correctly. Though the Flyers’ have largely remained silent over the offseason, they look set to take another big step forward in 2020-21. Phil Myers is confirmed to be back after he re-upped with the club, and key breakout players from 2019-20 and last season’s rookies should be expected to contribute heartily to the Flyers’ success. Especially if Nolan Patrick is indeed back like the organization expects him to be, the Flyers’ will be one of the deepest teams in the division, and that should carry them straight into the playoffs. Especially with Carter Hart backstopping them, sky is the limit for the Flyers.
3. Washington Capitals
Key Additions: Justin Schultz, Henrik Lundqvist, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Daniel Carr, Paul LaDue, Cameron Schilling, Zachary Fucale
Key Losses: Braden Holtby, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Boyd, Radko Gudas
It’s a blow to the Capitals that Henrik Lundqvist will be sitting out the 2020-21 season due to a heart condition, and we wish him the best. This also means that Ilya Samsonov will be thrust into a more important role with the club, and while he looks like a great goaltender, he is far less proven than other young goaltenders such as the aforementioned Carter Hart. This season really does feel like the Capitals giving it one last push before they have to switch directions. The additions of Justin Schultz and Trevor van Riemsdyk all but confirm that. Their core players are aging, and though it appears that their power is fading, the Capitals will still give this division a run for its money.
4. New York Islanders
Key Additions: Cory Schneider, Austin Czarnik, Ilya Sorokin
Key Losses: Devon Toews, Chris Gibson, Thomas Greiss, Andy Greene, Matt Martin (?)
The Islanders haven’t been able to do much because they need to sign Mat Barzal signed, and that obviously should be their first priority. Otherwise, Schneider will replace Thomas Greiss in net, and they were finally able to sign Ilya Sorokin from CSKA Moscow, who looks like an excellent goaltender, so on that front, the Islanders are golden. Devon Toews is a good defenseman, but not anything to be concerned with losing, so it looks like the Islanders’ dumb magic will continue. That team has bought into Barry Trotz’ style, and they are going to continue to be good to our dismay.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
Key Additions: Michael Matheson, Maxime Lagacé, Frederick Gaudreau, Evan Rodrigues, Josh Currie, Mark Jankowski, Kasperi Kapanen, Cody Ceci
Key Losses: Matt Murray, Patric Hornqvist, Patrick Marleau, Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary, Dominik Simon
The first team to miss out on the playoffs will be the Penguins, and yes, I know that is a bold claim considering they somehow always manage to be good. However, they lost to Montreal of all teams in the play-in round of the 2020 playoffs (whether or not that was on purpose or not is up for debate), made some moves which make them worse by bringing in Cody Ceci and trading Matt Murray (which was inevitable but I don’t rate Tristan Jarry), and lack overall depth. Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin can try their hardest, but I don’t think they will be able to pull it off. They’ll likely just miss out on the playoffs, but they will miss out.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Key Additions: Taylor Hall, Cody Eakin, Tobias Rieder, Brandon Davidson, Matt Irwin, Eric Staal
Key Losses: Marcus Johansson, Johan Larsson, Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey
Secret General Manager Jack Eichel managed to sway Taylor Hall over to Buffalo on a surprise one-year deal that makes the Sabres a bit more interesting for 2020-21. They also brought in Cody Eakin who is a decent but unremarkable forward, and Eric Staal, who despite entering his age 36 season, has more than enough left in the tank to be effective. Despite these additions, I still don’t see the Sabres having enough to surpass other clubs in this division. Perhaps if Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall become a dynamic duo and carry the team, and if Rasmus Dahlin takes a step forward, they could leapfrog some clubs, but I don’t have faith in that happening.
7. New York Rangers
Key Additions: Alexis Lafreniere, Jack Johnson, Colin Blackwell, Kevin Rooney, Keith Kinkaid, Anthony Bitetto, Jonny Brodzinski
Key Losses: Marc Staal, Jesper Fast, Henrik Lundqvist
Sorry Preston, but the Rangers are not going to be good.
The addition of Lafreniere will help the Rangers, but they haven’t done enough to propel themselves out of the basement of the East division. Jack Johnson is simply not an NHL defenseman, and it will take a while longer for the Rangers to clear cap space and develop talent to take themselves back into the running. Lafreniere will be scary in the future, but as a rookie I don’t think he’ll be able to singlehandedly (well, along with Panarin and Zibanejad) drag the Rangers close to the playoffs.
8. New Jersey Devils
Key Additions: Andreas Johnsson, Ryan Murray, Corey Crawford, Scott Wedgewood
Key Losses: Kevin Rooney, Mirco Mueller, John Hayden, Fredrik Claesson, Cory Schneider
The Devils are looking like the worst team in this division. They were the bottom of the Metro last year, and they’ll be bottom of the East this year. They just have nobody who I think can inspire them to victory, and I can’t see any way they overtake even the Rangers, who just simply have more star power. Nico Hischier is a great hockey player, but he alone can’t save the Devils, who ironically, are damned in 2020-21.
Signing info taken from puckprose.com