New Year’s Outlook: Predicting the Eastern Conference

Updated: December 26, 2010 at 4:17 pm by Trevor Bosma

Northeast Division:

Boston Bruins

With the Bs’ latest struggles the team has started juggling lines. Marc Savard has moved up onto the top line beside Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. Savard is still available in some leagues, if you have a chance to grab him you should as he will be producing close to a point per game for the rest of the season. Horton, Lucic, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas are all must starts and should continue to produce points. Tuukka Rask has lost his starting role on the team this season and is not worth holding onto this season. David Krejci is a risky play if he stays on the third line which he has been moved to recently since Savard is back on the first line. The B’s will finish on top of the Northeast division.

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres have somewhat turned around their season. After a horrid start to the season, Ryan Miller looks as sharp as ever minus a small hiccup against the Panthers and is always a solid play. The top line with Drew Stafford and Thomas Vanek are all solid plays. Stafford is available in many pools and will be a solid player for the rest of the season. Jason Pominville is looking better and better, he should finish with 35-40 points in the remaining 48 games. Tyler Myers has struggled this season and is on pace for 30-35 points this season, he should put up a bit more than what he has so far this season but nothing like last season. Buffalo could sneak into the playoffs but will need to get balanced scoring from all of their lines to do so.

Montreal Canadiens

The Canadiens have cooled off from their red hot start and that’s partly because Carey Price has cooled off. Michael Cammalleri has not been what everyone thought he would be. On pace for a 70 points this season, look for Cammalleri to turn it up in the second half of the season. The top line with Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Kostitsyn have also cooled down but should put up 60-65-75 points. Scott Gomez has been a huge disappointment so far but playing with longtime teammate Brian Gionta should turn it up to finish the year. Meanwhile, PK Subban remains a risky play as he is in and out of the lineup. When he plays he does produce but he is in the bleachers way to often to really make an impact in your fantasy pool this year. Montreal will make the playoffs but without Andrei Markov in the lineup this team is not making a run again.

Ottawa Senators

Struggles scoring and keeping the puck out of the net pretty much summarizes Ottawa’s story so far this season. Pascal Leclaire cannot stay healthy for the life of him and Brian Elliott continues to struggled mightily. Stay far away from this goaltending tandem. The team’s big guns Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek have all struggled this year– I don’t see this changing much. Usually when its Alexei Kovalev’s contract year he plays better but this season is another bust for the League’s best underachiever. I like everyone else thought Gonchar would be a huge hit in Ottawa but wow was I wrong. Really the only bright spot on the team this year is Karlsson. The kid is a stud! Every single game he gets better. His coach felt he needed to watch a couple of games from the bleachers and this has turned his mediocre start into a solid first half of the year. If he is available I would pick him up as he really is the only bright spot on this team. Ottawa will miss the cut this year, sorry sens fans.

Toronto Maple Leafs

This team has showed promise in four or five games this year but that is about it. Most games it really shows that this team is full of third liners. Phil Kessel has had a mediocre start to the year, to say the least. Can you blame him though? He really only has three guys on the whole team to help him out in Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kaberle and Dion Phaneuf. Kessel should produce more in the second half of the season and benefiting from it will be Versteeg, Tyler Bozak or Nazem Kadri. Surprising forwards Clarke MacArthur and Mikael Grabovski will not continue their scoring pace and both should fall off as the season continues, trade them both for as much as you can get (sorry but it won’t be much). Kaberle and Phaneuf will be an okay play for the remainder of the season, Phaneuf more than Kaberle because he gets more penalties and take more shots.  I wouldn’t touch this goaltending duo unless you are very desperate.

Atlantic Divison:

New Jersey Devils

Oh what can I say that everyone has not already said. This team is struggling. John MacLean was fired  and maybe things will turn around. Zach Parise should be back in a month and this will only help. Ilya Kovalchuk willl turn it around the second half. The man is at least a point-per-game player and will produce in the latter part of the season. If you can get him in your pool for cheap you need to do it quickly. Travis Zajac, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner, Andy Greene and Martin Brodeur have all struggled this year. I see Zajac and Greene turning it around but the other three are past their prime. Really the only bright spot on this team is Patrik Elias. who has definitely been the Devils best player in the first 33 games of their season. Elias will only get better and should finish the season with 65-70 points and New Jersey will right this ship but it is far to late for them to make the playoffs.

New York Islanders

Stay away, far far far away. This team is in trouble and has been all season. I really like James Wisniewski but I wouldn’t take him if he was given to me. Rick Dipietro is injured again, swollen knee; what a surprise. This team will finish dead last in the league and if you look at their roster it is pretty obvious why.

New York Rangers

King Henrik is the key to this team. Play him with confidence. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have been great so far this season and should continue their scoring pace. Callahan is out right now but when he is back that will be a huge boost to the Rangers. Marian Gaborik seems to be back to his old injured ways. When the guy plays he is a difference maker but he is injured too often for my liking. The last bright spot on this team is Daniel Girardi who is looking at a career year for the 26-year-old, keep him rolling. Rangers are a playoff team and if Gaborik is healthy they could be a contender.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers are a team that can go all the way, again. Sergei Bobrovsky has been a nice find for this club. With Michael Leighton coming back what the Flyers do is anyone’s guess. All three goalies have a shot at the starting job but as of late it sure seems Brian Boucher is being showcased. Until you see a defined starter here its hard to say who to keep, pick up or try and trade. I would guess that ‘BOB’ will be the starter until he slips up and then Leighton should get his shot. Again its just a guess.

Onto the forwards, Mike Richards has been on fire since his very slow start to season; he is a point-per-game player and should continue this pace as the season unfolds. Jeff Carter is always a solid play, this kid can put 30-40 goals a season on a regular basis. Danny Briere and his linemates Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino were the top line in the league the first 20 games of the season. They have slowed down but Briere is a highly talented player that should finish the season with close to 70 pts. Hartnell is always a high penalty minute player and he can put up points. If you can grab him from a desperate owner it is worth a shot. Leino and Claude Giroux have been a great surprise for the Flyers this year. After a great playoff run by the team and these two players they have definitely continued on. Giroux is the teams second leading scorer and like Peter Laviolette has said, “Giroux is consistently our best player game in and game out. Most games he is the best player on the ice.”

These six forwards should be rolled with confidence and if available I would recommend trying to scoop one of them up. Lastly on the forwards you have James van Riemsdyk. This kid had a very slow start to the season but in his last 16 games he has posted 11 points. He has been playing so well that he has been placed on a line with Richards and Andreas Nodl. Keep an eye on him and if you have a left winger who is struggling van Riemsdyk is worth a try.

On the blue line the Flyers are still alright. With the injury to Chris Pronger they are a bit weaker. When you have players like Kimmo Timonen, Matt Carle, Ondrej Meszaros, Brayden Coburn and Sean O’Donnell guarding your blue line you still have a pretty solid back end. Timonen and Carle started off the season slow as well but have been showing well in their last 10-15 games. With Pronger out look for these two to step up and play more minutes and put up more points. The Flyers should finish as one of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference and battling it out for top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Is it just me or is Sidney Crosby a man possessed? I am kicking myself for taking Ovechkin over him as the first overall pick in my hockey pool. Crosby has taken this team on his shoulders and carried them to the top. I looked at this teams roster to start the year and said maybe fifth place in the conference if they are lucky. Really this team only has Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. All four of these players have been incredible. Who even remembers Fleury’s horrid start to the year? Play all four of these guys with confidence. Alex Goligoski should continue his career year and is a solid play as well. Really the only other player to give you a heads up on with the Pens is Paul Martin, who has struggled with the move to Pittsburgh but should produce more in the second half; if he is available and you need a defenseman he is worth a look. Pittsburgh should finish close to the Flyers but I don’t think they can knock them off top spot in this division.

Southeast Division:

Atlanta Thrashers

What a surprise! This team is sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and were predicted by most (at the start of the season) to finish as one of the bottom 2 teams in the Eastern Conference. Leading the charge is Dustin Byfuglien. Atlanta said they were putting Big Buff back on the point and you would think that he would produce less points compared to the previous years. Well we were all wrong as this move has re-energized him! Fantasy owners with Big Buf can do one of two things: 1. Sell high or 2. Hold on to him and hope he can keep this up. I personally think he will cool off during the second half of this season and advise you to sell high. Next is the other Stanley Cup Champion who exited the windy city: Andrew Ladd. In just his first year with the team he  became team captain and  is seven points away from reaching his points total from last season and 18 points away from surpassing his career high. Atlanta has helped him develop into a great leader and a pretty solid power forward, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace. If you own him then ride with confidence but like Big Buf if I were you I would be trying to sell high, as I am sure he will also cool off in the second half of the season.

Tobias Enstrom has also been solid again this season. After posting 50 points last season, in only his third year in the NHL, he is looking to surpass his career highs as well. Enstrom is a solid play for the remainder of the season, even if Big Buf and Ladd cool off. Finally we look to Ondrej Pavelec, who has shocked the League with a 1.92 GAA and .940 SV%; this kid is on fire! At 23 and really only in his second season as a legit NHL goaltender Pavelec is impressing everyone. The Thrashers probably can not keep up this level of play but Pavelec should still produce some solid numbers. He is Atlanta’s starting goalie and should see 30-35 of Atlanta’s last 45 games. The Thrashers should sneak into the playoffs in the eighth and final position in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have only two players who have any fantasy value in Eric Staal and Cam Ward. Staal is always a fantasy stud. Really he has always had very limited help to post points and win games yet he continues to post a point-per-game year in and year out. This guy is the real deal and if Carolina actually got a play making winger to help him out he could definitely break a hundred points for the first time in his career. Jeff Skinner may be that winger but it will take him a couple years. Skinner is a great fantasy player, if you are in a keeper league, but if not just know he is a 50 point player at best this season. Ward is a good goaltender on a weak team. He is always a solid start but his numbers will struggle on this team. Until Carolina gets some solid defense and more help up front for Staal they will continue to struggle. Carolina will not make the playoffs.

Florida Panthers

Florida has looked good their past few games but lets not get to excited about this team. Tomas Vokoun is the main reason this team is even close to a .500 record and is a must play every night. With his contract up coming up at the end of the year and Florida definitely not making a run for the playoffs look for him to possibly be traded. If he is traded to a contender then his stock just sky rocked. If you can swindle Vokoun’s owner into trading him do so quickly before he is shipped to a contender and you have no shot at him. Stephen Weiss, David Booth and Dennis Wideman have all been disappointments for the Panthers this year. Weiss is looking better but he is playing between Michael Frolik and Mike Santorelli so his point production will be down from last year when he had Horton on his wing. Look for him to be a bit under his usual 60 points a season. Booth still looks to be suffering from the effects of last seasons concussion and he also has very little support on the second line. Look for Booth to put up 40-45 points this season and not worth much fantasy value (except in keeper leagues, hold on to Booth and Weiss if you are in a keeper league). The only other bright spot on this team is Bryan McCabe who should put up his usual 40 points a season and that is very impressive for a defenseman on a pretty less than stellar squad. Panthers should finish as one of the bottom three teams in the East.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Who has Steven Stamkos in their pool? Lucky you!  He is untouchable, if you have him in your pool congrats to you on a very solid pick. Martin St.Louis is another solid play, year in and year out this little guy puts up 60 points. This year look for him to him 100 points. Playing with Stamkos has rejuvenated him and these two are pretty close to unstoppable. Ryan Malone started the year off slow but has turned it around and playing with the two previously mentioned players will only increase his production. If he is available grab him quickly. Vincent Lecavalier is always a solid player but has been on the down slide the past few years and probably will continue to do so. He looks primed for 50 points maximum this year but only if he continues to play on the first powerplay unit with Stamkos and St.Louis.

Simon Gagne has been the big disappointment this year for the Bolts. He started the season off just not looking right and then was placed on the IR with that stiff neck. First game back and Gagne puts up two points; then two games later three points and then …… nothing. With one point in his last eight games is it time to let him go? I think so. He has not been good, he is not playing with much emotion, he is not hungry on the puck and putting up two shots per game is just not going to cut it. Let him loose, he will be a free agent for the remainder of the season. The defense on this team are really less than stellar for fantasy purposes but if you want to take a risk you could grab Brett Clark. I highly doubt he will get 35 points this year but hey its nice to dream. Lastly is the goaltenders. With Mike Smith out Dan Ellis is the number one. Ellis will get points for wins, cause his offense will pot 3-4 goals a game on most night, but his GAA and Save % are and will continue to be less than stellar. If you need a starter and he is available it is worth a shot. Tampa Bay will finish in a playoffs position but will not go far without one of their goalies stealing a few games for them and some secondary scoring.

Washington Capitals

Another surprise this season but not in a good way. Yes, Alexander Ovechkin is trying hard and hitting hard but he is not doing what he always did so well the past few seasons. Quick releases, taking on defensemen one on one and driving to the net. Most games I watch Ovie play he goes into the opposing teams zone and stops on the blue line. Why? Why change now? Is he hiding an injury? I don’t know and as an owner of Ovie in my fantasy league I wish I did know. Am I worried? NO! Ovechkin is the kind of player that just needs one game to explode and watch out. He will turn this around and finish with 40+ goals. If you can get him for a decent price then try but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get him. Everyone knows what he is capable of and will always have that in the back of their mind. Nicklas Backstrom has also looked different this season. He is giving the puck away to quickly. Carrying the puck into offensive zones, drawing players to him and then threading the needle to set up goals was his specialty the past few years. This season he gets the puck and its off his stick ASAP. He should also snap out of this in the second half of the year and will post close to his normal 65+ assists. Alexander Semin stayed pretty healthy last year and put up some good numbers, he should continue his point a game pace for the rest of the year. Mike Green is probably the biggest disappointment on this team so far. Is he playing through a nagging injury? I think so, I have seen him get hit and every time he gets a terrible look on his face. He reminds me of Ales Hemsky last season as he tried to play through his shoulder injury until one game he got hit just the right way and that was enough. Green is far from his 76 points last season and should be looked at with extreme caution. Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble will both benefit from Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin turning their games around. Look for both to start producing more in the next few months. If you can snag one of them now is the time to do it. John Carlson has cooled off from his awesome start to the year and yes he is a great young offensive defenseman but this wont be his year. 35 points is good in deep leagues but there are better options out there in most leagues. Next year this kid will be a nice point producer, keeper league owners should snag him quickly if possible. Michal Neuvirth or Semyon Varlamov? Neuvirth sure has looked good as a first year goalie (5 games in 08-09 and 17 gamesin 09-10). But is he the starter? Varlamov has also looked good when he has played. Varlamov has battled injuries this season and last. Tread with caution on Varlamov. Neuvirth most likely is not available in your league but if so and your in need of a goalie he is definitely worth a look since he will most likely play more games than the oft injured Varlamov. Look for the Capitals to get back into form after the break and finish as the top team in the Southeast.

Trevor Bosma

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