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Besides Egor Yakovlev signing, there hasn't been much happening with the New Jersey Devils over the last while.
With the off-season still in quiet mode, I figured it'd be fun to look back at my Eastern Conference predictions from the year that was. What did I get right? What did I get wrong? Why?
Let's take a look.
We'll start with the Metro Division.
1. Pittsburgh - They have the NHL's best 1-2 punch down the middle, a high-end goaltender, and a healthy Kris Letang. They'll be really good once again.
It was a somewhat rocky season for Matt Murray but the Penguins were once again very good, as expected. Nothing to see here.
2. Washington - I know they lost a lot of depth but their stars remain and I think Andre Burakovsky is going to take a huge step forward this season.
They're pretty shallow – at least compared to recent years – but their stars did lead them to another strong season. Andre Burakovsky missed 26 games and did not take the step forward I envisioned.
3. Columbus - They have a balanced attack, two of the best, young defensemen in the league, and a Vezina caliber goaltender.
I had the Blue Jackets grabbing a divisional playoff spot and they came within one point of doing so – largely due to the play of the Zach Werenski - Seth Jones pairing and Sergei Bobrovsky. I'll call that another win.
4. Carolina* - The Hurricanes have a balanced offense, a defense core loaded with quality puck movers, and play drivers, and Scott Darling should solidify their goaltending. If he does, Carolina will surprise.
This is an ugly one. I had the Hurricanes making the playoffs and they missed by 14 points. Despite routinely piling up the chances, they couldn't put the puck in the net and Scott Darling most certainly did not solidify their goaltending. I'll take a big L and move on.
5. New York Rangers* - Their defense is as good as it has been in a long time and they're very deep up front, particularly on the wings. Look for the likes of Pavel Buchnevich and Brady Skjei to take another step forward.
This turned fun in a hurry, didn't it? The Rangers were one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season. Kevin Shattenkirk missed almost half the season and was not great when he did play. Brendan Smith was fired into the sun. Ryan McDonagh was traded. Brady Skjei did not take another step forward. Add it all up and a Rangers team I had grabbing a wild card spot came up 20 points shy.
6. Philadelphia - I think they're going to be a pretty good team at 5v5 and Brian Elliott will be better than people think. I have them just missing the playoffs in a tough division, but if they stay healthy they could squeeze in.
I had the Flyers 6th in the Metro and they finished 3rd. In that regard, I was off. I said I could see them squeezing in, though, and they only made the playoffs by two points. I was on the right track here.
7. New York Islanders - Their offense should be a lot better with the addition of Jordan Eberle and the promotions of Mathew Barzal and Josh Ho-Sang. A full season under Doug Weight should help, too. Ultimately, I think the bottom half of their defense will hurt them.
The offense was fantastic with the additions of Eberle and Barzal – Ho-Sang was a non-factor – and their defense did hurt them. I had them 7th in the Metro and they finished 7th in the Metro. This is a win.
8. New Jersey - Their offense should be respectable with the additions of Nico Hischier and Marcus Johansson, but I don't think their defense is good enough to hold up in an unforgiving Metro division. The future finally looks bright, though.
The Devils are a really weird case. Their offense was respectable, as I thought it'd be. The defense certainly had its share of issues. Cory Schneider had the worst year of his career. And yet the Devils drastically out-performed expectations. Taylor Hall playing at a MVP level was a big factor, no doubt, but I'm still not entirely sure how the Devils were as good as they were. I was way off on them.
To the Atlantic we go.
1. Tampa Bay - They have one of the league's top goal scorers (Steven Stamkos), one of the league's most dynamic wingers (Nikita Kucherov), one of the league's best defensemen (Victor Hedman) and a nice supporting cast around them. The Lightning are going to have a really nice bounce back year.
The Lightning had a really nice bounce back year, alright. They won the Eastern Conference in the regular season and are a win away from doing so in the playoffs.
2. Toronto - They are absolutely loaded up front -- they have a 20 goal scorer on their 4th line -- and most of their best players are still getting better.
Led by a high-powered offense, I expected them to finish 2nd in the Atlantic. They finished 3rd but matched Boston's win total and scored a ton of goals.
3. Boston - They have an excellent top-6 and I still think Tuukka Rask is an above average goaltender. If Charlie McAvoy is as good as everyone believes, the Bruins should be a playoff team once again.
Their top-6 was excellent, Rask did post an above league average save percentage, and McAvoy was as good as everyone thought he'd be. Their depth was better than expected, though.
4. Montreal - I don't love their defense but Carey Price is Carey Price and I'm betting on a bounce-back year from Brendan Gallagher.
Brendan Gallagher bounced back in a huge way almost doubling his 2016-17 point total. Unfortunately, Carey Price did not turn out to be Carey Price.
5. Buffalo - I think Jack Eichel is going to put up a million points this season, I like the Phil Housley hire, and the Sabres' defense should be better with the additions of Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu.
Eichel was more productive on a per game basis. He didn't put up a million points, though, and I definitely overestimated the impact Scandella and Beaulieu would make.
6. Ottawa - I don't like Ottawa's bottom-6 forwards, or their defense, but Erik Karlsson can mask *a lot* of problems.
Their bottom-6 was a disaster and Karlsson did mask a lot of the team's problems. I had them finishing 6th in a weak Atlantic and they finished 7th. Good enough.
7. Florida - I like the top-6 and the defense, have questions about the bottom-6 and a declining Roberto Luongo.
This sounded pretty good until I got to Luongo. He finished with a .929 save percentage this season and was one of the key reasons Florida out-performed my expectations, although I didn't put enough weight on what I *did* like about the team. I said they had a strong top-6 and defense. Did Montreal, Ottawa, or Buffalo? No, and that wasn't a surprise. Florida should have been higher.
8. Detroit - This team is littered with overpaid, underachieving players and they have one of the worst defense cores in the league. It's going to be a long year.
Inject this into my veins. I mean, they didn't finish last in the division but they were god awful and for the reasons I mentioned.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with how most of the predictions turned out. I was way off on a couple – most notably Carolina and New Jersey – but that's bound to happen in a parity driven league where the standings can turn on its head yearly.
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