A Flyover of the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Break

I haven’t talked a lot about hockey this year. My main focus when writing these has been the cascade of football around every corner and the blip in the radar that was the World Series. However, the All-Star Break is upon us in the hockey realm. This is an excellent time to take a step back and look at the 16 teams in the East and where they stand. Every team is alive besides Columbus and Montreal, so it’s an intriguing time for the Conference. Let’s unpack it.

 

Boston Bruins

At the beginning of the year, I thought keeping the gang around for one more year was a colossal mistake for Boston. I had them missing the playoffs to give you an idea of how wrong I was. The only thing I’m doing now is eating heaps of crow, thanks to the Bruins reverting to 2019 form. The entire team is performing at a level we haven’t seen in a good bit. Pasta is raking, Charlie McAvoy has slotted in as Chara’s genuine replacement, and old man Bergeron hasn’t been a total liability. Couple that with a goalie tandem that is solid and doesn’t break, and you have an unstoppable wagon going into the bye. This team looks scary, but I wonder if they can keep up the gas until playoff time. Better teams than them have fallen off a cliff come April. Just look at the last few teams in NHL history that were playing at this pace and how they did.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs look to enjoy the last few years before cap hell in 2024 by hopefully making it past the first round at least once in that timeline. Toronto is boasting the best roster to have been iced by them in a long time. I’m not impressed. You see, we say that about them every year. They’re going to make the playoffs. That part is a given. The only thing I care about with these guys is the playoffs. Wake me up in April when they choke again.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa sputtered a little to start the season, but I’m not worried. They’re going to get third in that division, and if they even make the playoffs, they’re fine. They are similar to the Leafs in that the regular season has meant nothing to them for a long time. However, unlike Toronto, that is due to consistent success in the playoffs rather than repeated flopping and failure. However, with that said, they have looked much more mortal than in seasons past. It might be time for a changing of the guard soon.

 

Buffalo Sabres

Well, this is a shocker. It is mid-January, and the Sabres are in contention for the playoffs. Those words haven’t been uttered for a decade and a half. Buffalo managed to mostly avoid their trademark November collapse, mitigating its effect by having Tage Thompson turn into a demigod. Their roster is electric, and they’re an exciting team to watch going into the playoff push. The Bills may have diverted the city’s attention for a few months, but that has only distracted from how surprisingly good the Sabres are this year. Buffalo is entering an era of sports that we haven’t seen before. Let me put it to you this way. The last time the Sabres and Bills have both been on 6-game winning streaks at the same time was… never. This past January was the first time that happened.

 

Detroit Red Wings

I was wrong about this team at the beginning of the year. Contrary to being an absolute tire fire as expected, the Wings jumped from utter trash to mediocre in about a year. The Yzerplan is beginning to bear its fruits, but it’s going to be a couple of years before they can contend again. All in all, nothing else really of note to talk about.

 

Ottawa Senators

I had this team finishing 3rd in the Atlantic this year. What has happened to the Sens is a return to before 2017, when they had a bunch of skilled pieces that would never gel together. Pierre Dorian’s dream team isn’t even in playoff position at the All-Star Break and is spinning the tires of mediocrity this year. The only positive you could say is that they’re a team.

 

Florida Panthers

Behold, the self-proclaimed champions of the offseason! Because Matt Tkachuk solved all of your issues, right? How is trading two of the better pieces of your core working out for you, Florida? The Panthers, far from competing for the playoffs as was expected before the year, are currently on the outside looking in. You better hope you can rebound and catch up with Tampa and Toronto because you won’t make it in as a wild card with how stacked the Metro is this year. Perhaps Paul Maurice could resign again to spark the team.

 

Montreal Canadiens

“This is going to be different from last year, Habs fans. We’re going to be competitive. We’re going to make some noise, and…Nope, just kidding, we’re tanking! We suck! Ignore us, please! See you in six months when there’s a draft where we can win something besides a Slovakian draft bust!”

 

Carolina Hurricanes

This team was hyped to be the class of the Eastern Conference at the beginning of the season. So far, they haven’t disappointed. Carolina is playing at a level we haven’t seen out of them since their ’06 vintage. Every piece on their roster has been at optimal production, and the Canes are a wagon going into the All-Star Break. However, I must warn them. Another second-round exit will probably result in heads rolling in Raleigh.

 

New Jersey Devils

I had them making the playoffs before this year, but this was a bit of a surprise to me. After their torrid start, they are beginning to falter, but the Devils are still a strong team that boasts some of the best depth in the East. Jack Hughes is finally producing at the rate he was hyped to when he was drafted, and New Jersey is in a dogfight with the rest of the Metro in terms of playoff seeding. A playoff berth is likely in their future, but with how good their division is this year, I wouldn’t call that a given. Check back at the deadline.

 

New York Rangers

To say this season has been a roller-coaster would be like calling the explosion of the Hindenburg a minor malfunction. The Rangers started strong, as the Cup contenders they were supposed to be, but then hit a month-long slump. However, since Jacob Trouba chucked his helmet on the ice in that game against Chicago, the Broadway Blue have been on a tear and taking no prisoners. The Rags have finally started playing up to their potential despite choking enough to be mistaken for the Falcons. A 6-2 drubbing of Florida right before my writing of this is evidence of such.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Dear Yinzers, this is what it feels like to have a window close after perpetually wanting more. Yes, three cups won over this decade-long window of contention, but in between, it’s been disappointment and mismanagement. They had to deal with Dan Bylsma for a while. Sully is way past his expiration date and is holding the team back. This team’s hopes died when Burkie Boy decided to keep the gang around this past offseason to try and relive the glory days. Remember how that worked out for his Leafs and Flames teams of old? The same has happened here. The Penguins are a fringe-playoff contender and are more of a natural history exhibit these days than a hockey team. They had their moments in the sun, though. No one feels bad for them.

 

Washington Capitals

This is how we know that a new age is beginning in the Metro. The Pens and Capitals have taken their perpetual battle for playoff seeding and, soon, the draft position from the top two spots in the division to the fringes of playoff contention. At the very least, Washington still has some stuff left in the tank this year. They’ve put together some outstanding performances, and old man Ovi hit the 800-goal mark. I’m interested to see if this Caps team can get it together and make noise come April and May, but this is good enough for now, considering the expectations before the season.

 

New York Islanders

I remember hearing all the excuses about why the Isles missed the playoffs last year. “Oh, but the new arena!” “We had a monthlong road trip and had the least rest!” Everyone got covid and derailed our season!” “Barry Trotz must have been holding us back. Lou knows what he’s doing”. What’s your excuse now? Maybe it’s time to accept that the Islanders’ two deep playoff runs may have been lightning in a bottle, pun intended. The reality is that this team is mediocre, lacks talent outside its first line, and was getting carried by Sorokin earlier in the year. The magic has seemingly run out. The Isles are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, and as a fan of a division rival, I hope they stay that way. Let’s see who they will desperately overpay for this— Bo Horvat? For two starters and a first?!? Dear god, Lamoriello, get a grip!

 

Philadelphia Flyers

This team has exceeded expectations this year. They are solidly mediocre instead of the tire fire we expected. This is a team that caters to John Tortorella’s strengths. Not that much talent, but many good depth players buy into his system and play as a fleshed-out unit. The lack of said talent is why the Flyers aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Still, given how badly Chuck Fletcher mangled the roster this past offseason, I think anything besides a total disaster is a pleasant surprise for Flyer fans. They have real teams to root for in Philly.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Replacing Philly as the resident Metro division tire fire is Columbus. Dear god, they are awful. I had them pegged for mediocrity this year, but I didn’t think they’d be dead last in the Eastern Conference halfway into the year. The entire season has been a complete trainwreck for them. Their big free agent signing in Johnny Hockey has morphed from a young star exuding confidence to one showing up at press conferences looking like the living embodiment of Ohio. His production hasn’t been much better, either. In addition, we probably need to send out an amber alert for Patrick Laine… wait, never mind, he’s probably just at home playing Fortnite because there’s nothing better to do in a college town like Columbus. The Jackets were supposed to compete for playoffs this year, yet they’re out-tanking the Sharks and Coyotes. That takes skill to implode like that.

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