Ranking the East

By Tarik El-Bashir
Thursday, October 9, 2008

Montreal Canadiens

47-25-10, first

The Habs enter their centennial season with hopes of capturing the storied franchise's first Stanley Cup since 1993. Led by Alex Kovalev, the Canadiens had the NHL's best power play last season, but their fate could be determined by 21-year-old goaltender Carey Price, who melted down in the playoffs last spring.

Washington Capitals

43-31-8, third

After years of losing, the Capitals hope to build on last season's thrilling surge from last place to the Southeast Division championship. Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals' first league MVP, finally is surrounded by a deep lineup that includes Mike Green, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, Sergei Fedorov and Michael Nylander.

Pittsburgh Penguins

47-27-8, second

After reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season, the Sidney Crosby- and Evgeni Malkin-led Penguins managed to retain most of their core. But they also suffered a few significant losses, most notably wingers Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury likely needs to duplicate last season's success.

Philadelphia Flyers

42-29-11, sixth

The Flyers somewhat shockingly catapulted from last place in the league in 2006-07 to the Eastern Conference finals last season. This season, essentially the same team returns but it will benefit immensely from a healthy Simon Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer who was limited to 25 games because of a concussion.

New York Rangers

42-27-13, fifth

Despite some significant losses (Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka) and some curious additions (Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Wade Redden), the Rangers still have one of the best coaches (Tom Renney), a top goalie (Henrik Lundqvist) and an impressive one-two punch on offense (star centers Chris Drury and Scott Gomez).

Ottawa Senators

43-31-8, seventh

After starting last season 15-2, former goaltender Ray Emery became a distraction with his off-ice antics and the Senators imploded, ultimately costing John Paddock his job. Craig Hartsburg is the new bench boss, and high-scoring forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza have something to prove.

Buffalo Sabres

39-31-12, 10th

After consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals, the Sabres missed out on the postseason altogether last season. But forwards Jason Pominville, Jochen Hecht and Thomas Vanek, an adequate defense and stellar goaltender Ryan Miller should be enough to put them back in the mix.

New Jersey Devils

46-29-7, fourth

For years, the Devils have managed to adapt to personnel and rule changes without skipping a beat for one reason: Martin Brodeur. But Brodeur, arguably the best goaltender of his generation, didn't look so sharp in the team's first-round loss to the Rangers, and some are wondering how much longer the 36-year-old can single-handedly carry his team.

Not ready for prime time: Boston, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Florida, Toronto, N.Y. Islanders, Atlanta.

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