National Hockey League Eastern Conference Preview

The NHL season is coming up and this season is going to be an interesting one, especially for the Eastern conference. After the unlikely sweeping of the President’s Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell apart, losing some of the key players to their 2019 Stanley Cup run.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky signed in Florida this past season, left-winger Artemi Panarin signed with the New York Rangers, Matt Duchene signed with the Predators, Ryan Dzingel signed in Carolina, Bobrovsky, who has won two Vezina trophies with the Blue Jackets, was one of, if not, THE best player on the team and losing him is rough for the Jackets, especially with someone like Korpisalo as the backup. Korpisalo played in 27 games last season and had a final save % of .897. The average save% is roughly .905/.910 and to be that far under the average isn’t a good thing, especially for someone who is going to be taking a big load next season.

Artemi Panarin has been the centerpiece for the forward core since being traded from Chicago in 2017. In his two seasons with Columbus, Panarin put up 169 points in 160 games.

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The Florida Panthers are expected to make a deep run for the playoffs after signing goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a lengthy contract. Their core from last year remained intact and with a healthy Vincent Trocheck and a new, vezina-caliber goalie, the team is in the best shape its ever been. The Panthers are headed by centerman Aleksander Barkov who notched both of the Panthers’ hat tricks last season, looking to have another spectacular year.

The Florida Panthers season last year would’ve gotten them into the playoffs had they had a good goalie, but in Luongo’s last year, he had a save % of .899 and his backup, James Reimer had one of .900. Last season was just a trainwreck for Panthers’ goaltending. However, even though the goaltenders were awful, the Panthers found their way to 86 points, only 13 points out of a playoff spot. With solid goaltending, they could be third/fourth in the Atlantic and as well as a definite playoff contender.

The Rangers are shaking things up with the huge acquisitions of Artemi Panarin, Kaapo Kakko and Jacob Trouba. Panarin had 89 points in 79 games last season and solidified his spot as one of the top forwards in the NHL. Kaapo Kakko had 38 points in 45 Liiga games last year with TPS, one of the elite prospect teams out there.

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Drafted second overall, Kakko is expected to make an immediate impact in the NHL, already being placed on the top line with Panarin and Zibanejad. Jacob Trouba had a huge breakout year last year, notching 50 points in 82 games as a defenseman. Slotting him on the top pair with Brady Skjei could be what Skjei needs to make the jump from good to great as projected. The current team may be what is needed to get Henrik Lundqvist a cup before he retires.

New Jersey made huge moves this offseason in drafting Jack Hughes and trading for P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev and signing Wayne Simmonds as well. Jack Hughes scored a total of 150 points in 74 games with the USDP/USHL. Projected to be one of the next top talents, Hughes went first overall.

P.K. Subban is arguably one of the best power play quarterbacks in the league. Subban is an elite puck-moving defensemen who had an atrocious season last year, only notching nine goals and 22 assists for 31 points. This of course compared to his usual 50 points.

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Nikita Gusev came over from the KHL this offseason where he was putting up elite numbers with SKA St. Petersburg, 82 points in 62 games. New Jersey is hopeful that he puts up the same numbers in the NHL. Wayne Simmonds hasn’t been playing well in either Nashville and Philadelphia, last season notching 30 points in a total of 79 games played. But with the right people, all of these acquisitions can flourish in New Jersey.

There were also minor shakeups to teams like Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Islanders. Toronto shipped off Kadri, Marleau and Sparks and brought in Tyson Barrie, Alexander Kerfoot and Jordan Schmaltz as well as locking up Marner long term. Pittsburgh took a step back in shipping off Kessel for Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Washington shipped off Niskanen and Burakovsky for an AHL Player and Gudas as well as letting Connolly walk. The Islanders let Robin Lehner go and brought in Semyon Varlamov. Lehner was third in Vezina voting behind Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop. Varlamov is a bonafide starter coming off a decent season at best, notching a .909 save percentage.

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