NHL East Division Preview for 2021

by Scott Rickenbach

NHL East Division Preview for 2021

Finally hockey is back as we are heading into the New Year and we will have the NHL season underway by mid-January in this unusually scheduled 2021 hockey season that has been impacted by the pandemic. The impact of the pandemic has also resulted in some divisional shuffling for this season. Below I give a quick hitter report on each of the eight teams in the East Division:

East:

Boston – Still one of the best teams in the league but the loss of Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara means the veteran leadership of this team has taken a bit of a hit. While the youth movement is likely to pay dividends long-term we could see this team take a small step back in 2021. The Bruins are still solid up front but the loss of two veteran defensemen will be felt some this season. 

Buffalo – The Sabres are growing well under head coach Ralph Krueger. Their point totals for the season have climbed from 62 to 76 to 81 and Buffalo appears poised to continue forward trajectory this season. However, the key will be newly acquired Taylor Hall performing at the level the very talented left winger is fully capable of. Buffalo looks like a playoff contender. 

New Jersey – This is a very young team, one of the youngest in the league, but perhaps veteran head coach Lindy Ruff can get the most out of them. Adding left winger Andreas Johnsson plus goalie Corey Crawford certainly has strengthened this team. This team is very talented but also very young. Perhaps the veteran presence of coach Ruff and goaltender Crawford will be enough to help this team through the growing pains. The talent is certainly there but this is also a very tough division. 

New York Islanders – The Islanders came so close last season but are likely to fall back this season. For one thing, the Isles simply clicked at the right time in the post-season last year and that fueled their impressive run. For another thing, New York lost some key guys and veteran leadership from last season’s team. It is always tough to count out a Barry Trotz coached team but this East Division is loaded for this season.

New York Rangers – Of course the only way to go for the Rangers was up but the fact is they could make big strides this season. The Rangers won the draft lottery and got Alexis Lafreniere and he’ll be an immediate contributor. Also, they picked up some other key pieces heading into this season but the key with the Rangers is being consistent. When they play inspired hockey they are a tough team to face but too often they go through the motions and it shows. If coach David Quinn can encourage a little more toughness from this team the potential to fight for a playoff spot this season is certainly there. 

Philadelphia – The Flyers were great in Alain Vigneault’s first season as the head coach. However, he has done that in other stops too and then generally taken a step back after the first season. This time could be different however as Vigneault has a team loaded with talent and a fantastic netminder Hart whose mentor, Elliott, also signed on for another year. If the Flyers can get a little more from some veteran guys like Voracek and van Riemsdyk, this club certainly has potential for another exciting post-season run. Also, Hart needs to play better on enemy ice. He has been fantastic at home but must improve his road play.  

Pittsburgh – There is a bit of an absence of toughness on this team and the core stars like Crosby and Malkin as well as Letang aren’t getting any younger! It does seem like the Penguins are on the fade as other teams in this year’s East Division have been stepping up their game while Pittsburgh has remained a bit flat and unaggressive. Yes the Penguins are going for a 15th straight season of making the playoffs but they just don’t have the roster depth anymore to make a real deep run it appears. 

Washington – Adding the veteran leadership of Zdeno Chara should help this team which certainly did not need a lot of help to begin with. The Capitals won the Cup just a few seasons ago when they beat the Golden Knights. However, perhaps the issue has been coaching since Barry Trotz went to the Islanders. The Caps may have resolved that now too with the hiring of Peter Laviolette. This is a physical hockey club and this team appears positioned well to make a strong push for a cup with veterans like Alex Ovechkin also fired up about the coaching change and some new faces on the roster.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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