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Who Misses the Boat? Ranking the MassMutual NHL® East Division.

Mass Mutual East

Sabers

Due to travel and other restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the NHL was forced to temporarily realign the league into regional divisions to cut down on the amount of cross- country travel, there are five potential cup contenders in this division. One of these very deserving teams will be playing golf this summer and not competing for hockey’s ultimate prize and it will be a battle for the other four to advance through the playoff rounds to reach Lord Stanley’s prize.
While there is no way anyone can correctly predict the outcome of the NHL season, it is fun to try and predict where different teams will finish in their divisions.

 

Here, we look at the MassMutual NHL® East Division. Find out who is in (New Your Islanders), who is out (New York Rangers), and who is in trouble (Pittsburgh Penguins). Not only that a surprise at the Top.

In reverse order of finish.

#8. New York Rangers:

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The Rangers are currently in a rebuild after being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in last summer’s return to play.

With the losses of Jesper Fast, Marc Staal, and most notably, Henrik Lundqvist it is going to be a rough season for the Blueshirts.

But one bright spot could be 2020 Number One Overall Draft pick, Alexis Lafrenière who last season, scored 112 points in 52 games with the Rimouski Océanic, while also serving as their captain. The Rangers’ luck and momentum after they won the Draft lottery could be changing. Lafreniere is a generational player much like Conner McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. It will be interesting to see two things from the Rangers, first how many games they allow Lafrenière to play. After seven games he loses a year of free agency. Second now without the leadership Henrik “The King” Lundqvist provides how will their goaltending situation affect the season.

#7 Boston Bruins:

First thing first, I am a blues fan, and I will always see this team with Blues colored glasses on. Pun intended. The Bruins Blue line took a big hit this offseason. Torey Krug signed with the Blues, and Zdeno Chara, their long-time captain and face of the franchise (even after he took a Colton Parayko slapper off his stick and into that mug of his) spent 14 seasons with the team left to go to rival Washington. The Boston Bruins have huge holes to fill on their blueline.

After making it to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago before being defeated by the St. Louis Blues most now agrees that the Bruins Stanley Cup window is rapidly closing or has already slammed shut.

Having really done nothing to remedy their blueline situation, there is going to be a lot of pressure on their young D core including Charlie McAvoy and Kevin Miller.

Covid has hit the Bruins in the same way it hit a lot of the contending teams. The flat cap this year has made it difficult for them to bring in defensive help. Tuuka Rask the Team leading Goalie opted out of the Playoffs due to family reasons. He is back in Camp and will split time with former Blues Goalie Jaroslav Halak.

 

Both David Pastrnak (Hip) and “Rat” Brad Marchand (sports Hernia) the team’s top two scorers are injured and could miss time. “Pasta” is out till mid-February and Marchand plans to be ready for the opener, but his status remains unknown. These and some other issues could lead to a rocky start for the Bs.

#6 New Jersey Devils:

Friday afternoon as news broke of COVID-19 breakout in Dallas and Columbus. Word also leaked that New Jersey Devils G Corey Crawford was taking a leave of absence for personal reasons. Crawford who signed a two-year deal in the Offseason was expected to mentor the Devil’s young crop of netminders. Saturday the sudden announcement of his retirement was released, Crawford who has missed time due to concussion protocols in seasons past, felt he could no longer play.

 

While the announcement came as a shock during a compressed camp, the Devils have a few questions to ask. Currently, only one goalie on the roster has any real NHL experience. Mackenzie Blackwood has 64 career starts. Over the last two years, he is 32-24-8. His 2.72 GAA and .916 S% are respectful, there is virtually no other experience in the cupboard.

The Devils are a young team with extraordinarily little direction. Their general manager Tom Fitzgerald revamped the team’s roster in just under a week, leading to what surmounts to a “Transition Period.” The start of the season will be a test for veteran Defenseman P.K. Subban and F Nico Hirscher.

Point leader Kyle Palmieri will have to be close to a point a play game if the Devils plan to make a little Noise in the Mass Mutual East Division. Jack Hughes the 2019 number 1 overall pick will have a steep learning curve.

The trade of F Taylor Hall to Arizona last season was seen as the Devils waving the white flag. The current youth movement will be required to grow up quickly.

The Mass Mutual East Division is wide open, and the Devils should get a few quality wins early which should keep them out of the Celler.

#5 Pittsburgh Penguins:

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Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins are nowhere near where they were when they won back-to-back cups in 2016 and 2017.  Even with former MVP Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, this team has gotten older, not younger.  Goaltender Matt Murray was a breath of fresh air and the only rookie goalie to win two Stanly Cup. That air turned sour last season and GM Jim Rutherford decided to cut bait. The trade to the Ottawa Senators Along with an aging core points to the Penguins window for playoffs closing.

General manager Jim Rutherford has his hands tied due to the flat cap. This could be the year Sid the Kid gets to play golf in May.

This year’s version of the Pittsburgh Penguins will look quite different from the ones that we have grown accustomed to being Cup contenders in years past.

#4 Washington Capitals:

After being eliminated from the playoffs in five games by the New York Islanders, head coach Todd Reirden was fired and replaced by veteran bench boss Peter Laviolette.

During free agency, they lost Goaltender Braden Holtby to the Vancouver Canucks, and signed Henrik Lundqvist to replace him. Lundqvist announced he would not be able to play this season for the Capitals. He recently had open-heart surgery to repair his valves.

The Great 8, Alex Ovechkin just miss the 50-goal mark, and had the season continued 60 was a possibility. D John Carlson has averaged 56 A and 71P in the last three seasons. F Nicklas Backstrom and T. J. Oshie, along with all-around bad guy Tom Wilson make this a dangerous team that can score at will. This team carries the air of the 80’ Edmonton Oilers. They may not play a lot of defense, but they dare you to outscore them.

 

#3 Philadelphia Flyers:

The Fliers are on an upswing. They came into the bubble with a chip on their shoulders. They were able to take the top seed in the East. In the second round, G Carter Hart and the Fliers got down 3-1. The Fliers, true to their heritage did not back down and pushed the Islanders to 7 games before being shut out.

Philadelphia had four players with greater than 50 points. Travis Konecky led all scorers with 61 points in 63 games.

Hart posted solid numbers prior to the break. 40 starts 24-13-3. His 2.42 GAA avg was backed up by a .914 S%. Veteran back up Brian Elliott started 27 games. He hit the pause 16-7-4. His GAA of 2.97 was ok but his .899 S% needs to improve.

The defense will be a premium in the Mass Mutual East division. The Flyers can play defense and it should put them in a playoff spot this season too.

 

The Flyers also had the feel-good story of the year. Oskar Lindblom, who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. After taking the season off to receive treatment. He proved he was Oscar Strong when he not only rang the bell. He also put his skates back on and joined his mates on the ice.
Forward Nolan Patrick who missed all last season after being diagnosed with a migraine disorder in September 2019 is expected to make his return this season.

The Fliers should be ready to make some noise.

#2 New York Islanders:

The window for the Islanders is wide open. It is now their time to fly right through it. The loss of Thomas Griess to the Detroit Red Wings hurts. The coaching staff is banking on the current goaltending tandem of veteran goalie Semyon Varlamov and rookie Ilya Sorokin. Varlamov should be able to be a 70-30 netminder (he gets the call 70% of the time). Sorokin will be able to gain the experience and trust of the team as he shows his talents.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk retired due to an eye injury. D Devon Toews, (No relation to Jonathan Toews.) was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in a clear cap space move.

Restricted Free agent forward  Mathew Barzal, signed a three-year contract with the Islanders.

Sabastian Aho, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson lead the youth movements.

With up-and-coming players such as Noah Dobson and the building of a new arena in Belmont, the future’s looking bright for the Isles.

#1 Buffalo Sabres:

Sabers Mass mutual east

Buffalo Sabers

I know the first thing you are thinking I have lost my mind. Let me assure you I have not. This could be the year. The year that melody Martin can stop singing “We are never making the playoffs.”  The year the Sabres break out of their 9-year playoff drought. Not only that they can win this division. Yes, I said win the Division.  New GM Kevyn Adams made a splash in the offseason bringing in Taylor Hall, Cody Eakin, and Eric Staal. Rookie Dylan Cozens, whose stellar performance in the World Juniors has earned him a roster spot. Jack Eichel is not alone so they will not be “screwed.”

The month of January is extremely important. They open with the Capitals on back-to-back nights at home. Next four road games. Two against the Fliers and two more against the Caps. The month finishes with four home games two each against the Rangers and Devils.

 

The Sabres need to get six to ten points before the four-game homestand. In recent season the Sabres have started out on fire. Do that this season and well the Mass Mutual East Division could be yours.
the one thing that could let them down is goaltending. Linus Ullmark and former Blues netminder Carter Hutton have both had their struggles this season’s past. The difference is the team in front of them might be one of the better teams they have had.

The Mass Mutual East Division could be as Topsy Turvey as it gets. Perennial Cup favorite Boston could miss the playoffs. Nine years of angst could fall by the wayside with the Sabres having an opportunity to make some noise. Taylor Hall bet on himself signing a one-year deal. I am betting on the Sabers to make me look good.

 

Caitlin Loggins

Guest writer

caitlinloggins55@gmail.com

(editors note.

this article was researched and ranked by the author.

together we worked on the format and wording.)

Author