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Second City Hockey’s 2018-19 Blackhawks preview: Eastern Conference

A quick glance at the teams in the other half of the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The last three Stanley Cups have been awarded to the Eastern Conference, including the last one that went to the Washington Capitals. The Chicago Blackhawks won’t see too much of these teams during the regular season, so let’s make it a quick spin through the Atlantic and Metropolitan Division landscapes:

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Last season: 50-20-12, 112 points, second place
Key losses: Riley Nash, Rick Nash, Anton Khudobin
Key additions: John Moore, Jaroslav Halak, Chris Wagner

It seems like the Bruins are relying heavily on young players to carry the mail this season, especially Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato and David Pastrnak. Veterans Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuuka Rask are all still here, but Boston needs the young and old to merge like it hasn’t in years past if it hopes to overcome teams like Toronto and Tampa.

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 25-45-12, 62 points, last place
Key losses: Ryan O’Reilly, Chad Johnson, Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Nolan
Key additions: Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Carter Hutton, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka

Newly-crowned captain Jack Eichel leads a team that couldn’t possibly take another step back after finishing in the NHL basement last season. No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin is also here, along with highly-touted prospect Casey Mittelstadt. The Sabres should be improved, but they have a massive gap to close to reach playoff-caliber teams.

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 30-39-13, 73 points, fifth place
Key losses: Henrik Zetterberg, Xavier Ouellet
Key additions: Thomas Vanek, Jonathan Bernier

The rebuild is on in Detroit. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou lead the young prospects, who could be joined by 2018 first-round pick Filip Zadina this season. It’s a lottery season for the Wings.

Florida Panthers

Last season: 44-30-8, 96 points, fourth place
Key losses: Radim Vrbata
Key additions: Mike Hoffman

A furious push for a playoff spot last sesaon came up just short but has sparked hopes of an improved season-long performance down south. Aleksander Barkov is the team’s new captain while other young talents like Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau could have this team in the postseason hunt come April.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 29-40-13, 71 points, sixth place
Key losses: Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk
Key additions: Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, Joel Armia, Tomas Plekanec

About the only exciting recent development for Montreal fans is that No. 3 pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi will debut with the team on opening night. Trades sent Pacioretty and Galchenyuk out of town and Shea Weber is out until December. Carey Price could certainly bounce back from a subpar 2017-18 season, but will that be enough?

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 28-43-11, 67 points, seventh place
Key losses: Erik Karlsson Mike Hoffman, Alex Burrows
Key additions: Chris Tierney, Mikkel Boedker, Paul Carey

All those stories about how bleak things got for the Blackhawks because of miserable ownership in the early 2000s? That’s Ottawa now. They could redefine the word “bad” this season and their 2019 first-round pick. belongs to Colorado. Yikes.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 54-23-5, 113 points, first place
Key losses: Chris Kunitz, Andrej Sustr, Peter Budaj, Jake Dotchin
Key additions: Andy Andreoff, Cameron Gaunce

Ever since the Lightning made it to the Cup final against the Hawks in 2015, they’ve annually been considered a favorite to win the Cup. All the big pieces are in place yet again. But time is running out for this team to finally capture that Cup before the salary cap comes calling.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 49-26-7, 105 points, third place
Key losses: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov
Key additions: John Tavares, Tyler Ennis

Tavares was a massive acquisition, but the Leafs did lose some of its key depth players like JVR and Bozak. They should score a million goals, but can Frederik Andersen and a questionable D corps keep enough pucks out of the net to make them a legit contender?

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 36-35-11, 83 points, sixth place
Key losses: Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, Marcus Kruger
Key additions: Andrei Svechnikov, Dougie Hamilton, Calvin de Haan, Petr Mrazek

A new owner led to massive changes in the front office and on the ice for the Hurricanes. Will it translate into more on-ice success for the league’s annual analytics darlings? A starring debut season from Svechnikov, the No. 2 overall pick this summer, would be a major step in that direction.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 45-30-7, 97 points, fourth place
Key losses: Thomas Vanek, Ian Cole, Jack Johnson, Matt Calvert
Key additions: Anthony Duclair, Riley Nash

No one knows where Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky will be by next season (or the end of this one) but, for now, they’re in Columbus, giving the Blue Jackets two legitimate stars. Seth Jones’ injury will affect the team at the start, but he should return in time to have Columbus in the middle of the postseason push by next spring.

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 44-29-9, 97 points, fifth place
Key losses: Patrick Maroon, Micheal Grabner, Brian Gibbons, John Moore, Jimmy Hayes
Key additions: N/A

Taylor Hall won the MVP trophy last season for single-handedly carrying this team to the playoffs. With no new additions to the team, it’s hard to envision him pulling that off again. Improvement from youngsters like Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher can help ensure a playoff-less season is not a wasted one.

New York Islanders

Last season: 35-37-10, 80 points, seventh place
Key losses: John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Jaroslav Halak, Chris Wagner
Key additions: Robin Lehner, Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin

Even the addition of the defending Stanley Cup-winning coach (Barry Trotz) can’t mask the disappointment in Tavares walking away from the Islanders during free agency. Mathew Barzal, a 21-year-old center, is a star in the making after an 85-point season last year. Outside of that? Another lottery team.

New York Rangers

Last season: 34-39-9, 77 points, last place
Key losses: David Desharnais
Key additions: Fredrik Claesson

The Rangers sent out a press release last season, announcing the team was headed into a rebuild. The only intrigue here is watching which parts are sold off for picks and prospects, most notably long-time goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 44-25-13, 101 points, second place
Key losses: Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning
Key additions: James van Riemsdyk

Claude Giroux’s resurgence was vital and bringing back JVR adds to the Flyers’ potent offensive attack. Goaltending, of course, is the question mark yet again in Philly, but there could be relief on the way in top goalie prospect Carter Hart, part of a loaded farm system — but probably not this year .

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 47-29-6, 100 points, second place
Key losses: Conor Sheary, Carter Rowney, Matt Hunwick, Tom Kuhnhackl
Key additions: Jack Johnson, Matt Cullen

Pittsburgh still has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which is more than any other NHL team can say. Their success seems to hinge on whether or not Matt Murray bounces back in 2018-19. The Penguins can never be counted out of Cup contention while everyone is healthy.

Washington Capitals

Last season: 49-26-7, 105 points, first place
Key losses: Philipp Grubauer, Jay Beagle
Key additions: N/A

The Capitals partied with the Cup so hard that the league may ban keg stands on the Cup. That’s just a fun sentence to type. Washington has virtually the same roster as last season and Tom Wilson is already facing a suspension or a ridiculous, dirty hit, so it looks like it’s status quo for the Capitals. But pressure will be on new coach Todd Reirden to follow up last season’s championship breakthrough.