Another NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and boy, it was a good one. Most players that were expected to move to a new team did move, and there were a few shocking blockbuster trades that no one really could have predicted. When the dust of a very busy February 24th settled, there were a total of 32 trades on the day, making for one of the busier Trade Deadline days in recent history. These 32 trades were not all NHL deals, as there were a number of minor-league trades done between teams as well. If we count all the trades that occurred, whether they are NHL trades or minor-league, a total of 57 players and 26 draft picks were moved to new teams.
As we gear up for the remaining month-and-a-half of the NHL season, we are starting to see a vague picture of which teams will qualify for the playoffs come April. In this article, I will give my predictions for how I think the Eastern Conference will play out over the last 20 games of the NHL season. The following predictions are separated by division, and the impact that teams made on Deadline Day is taken into consideration.
Here is my final standings prediction for the Atlantic Division:
1. Boston Bruins – 114 points
2. Tampa Bay Lightning – 107 points
3. Toronto Maple Leafs – 94 points
4. Florida Panthers – 91 points
5. Buffalo Sabres – 87 points
6. Montreal Canadiens – 84 points
7. Ottawa Senators – 74 points
8. Detroit Red Wings – 45 points
The winners of the Trade Deadline in the Atlantic Division are the Tampa Bay Lightning, and one could argue the Ottawa Senators were winners in their own way too. The Boston Bruins made one notable move on Trade Deadline Day, sending forward Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Nick Ritchie. Ritchie will bring more size and physicality to an already loaded Bruins team. However, his debut with the Bruins on Tuesday night was not great. Ritchie recorded no points and was a -2 in 14:17 of ice time in Tuesday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, but cut him some slack. He had just been traded the day before from California, and had to pack up all of his things and board a flight to Boston, three time zones from Anaheim, and literally all the way across the United States. After a huge travel day for Ritchie and not a lot of time to learn a new system with new teammates, a subpar debut was to be expected. Bruins fans can look forward to a better performance from Ritchie in games to come, and the Bruins will finish the season first in the Atlantic Division with 114 points, and will win the President’s Trophy as the league’s best team for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning look to have gotten their act together after an unfamiliar slow start to their season. The Lightning have won 23 times since December 23rd, the most of any team in the league in that time frame, and have recorded two separate winning streaks of 10 and 11 games since then. However, the Lightning currently find themselves on a three-game losing streak, and will need to right the ship quickly if they want to keep pace with Boston in the Atlantic Division. At the deadline, the Lightning shipped a first round draft pick and a prospect to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for forward Barclay Goodrow, who will add even more depth to their already stacked forward group. On February 17th, the Lightning added Blake Coleman to their lineup in exchange for a first round draft pick and a prospect in a trade with the New Jersey Devils. Coleman and Goodrow will definitely make an impact on a Lightning team that will finish second in the Atlantic with 107 points, and will have a lengthy playoff run. Is this the year Stamkos and Kucherov finally get their Stanley Cup?
The Toronto Maple Leafs failed to acquire the one thing they needed most at the deadline: defence. With Morgan Reilly and Cody Ceci still out with injury, the Leafs’ blue-line is pretty thin. They got more bad news on Wednesday morning when they announced that defenceman Jake Muzzin will miss approximately four weeks with a broken hand. The Leafs do have the offence to push them into the playoffs, finishing third in the Atlantic with 94 points, but it will be more of the same for the Maple Leafs, who will exit in the first round of playoffs again this time at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Florida Panthers, who shipped elite forward Vincent Trocheck to the Hurricanes on Monday, will finish with 91 points and will just barely miss the playoffs, while the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens did not do enough at the deadline to help them get over the hump. The Ottawa Senators shipped some of their best players away but loaded up on draft picks (14 in total for the 2020 draft, 3 of those in the first round) which will definitely help Ottawa in the future. The Detroit Red Wings are just simply awful, and will finish with 45 points, the worst finish of any team in an 82 game season since the Atlanta Thrashers finished with 39 in the 1999-2000 season.
Here is my final standings prediction for the Metropolitan Division:
1. Washington Capitals – 109 points
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – 106 points
3. Philadelphia Flyers – 99 points
4. Carolina Hurricanes – 96 points
5. New York Rangers – 93 points
6. New York Islanders – 92 points
7. Columbus Blue Jackets – 90 points
8. New Jersey Devils – 76 points
I may take a lot of heat for these predictions, but honestly the Metropolitan Division is so hard to predict right now and literally anything can happen. However, one thing I feel confident in saying is that we will see five Metropolitan Division teams in the postseason in April.
The Metropolitan Division is so wide open now, and almost every team in the division did something at the trade deadline that made their team better. I believe the undisputed winners on deadline day in this division are the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes, who each took significant steps to make their clubs better. The Penguins made two notable deals, the first of which saw them receive Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a conditional third round pick. The 40-year-old Marleau adds a great amount of veteran leadership to this Penguins team, who already has a tremendous amount of playoff experience under their belt. Marleau has never won a Stanley Cup, and was traded to the Penguins in order to finally get him the trophy that he’s been searching for his whole career. The second deal they made was acquiring forwards Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward Dominik Kahun. Sheary joins the Penguins for the second time in his career, and already has chemistry with the team. Rodrigues should fit in nicely as a third or fourth line player. The Penguins only got better and look poised for a long playoff run that may even see them win their fourth cup in the Crosby era. They will finish second in the Metropolitan Division with 106 points, three points behind the Washington Capitals.
The Carolina Hurricanes also added some depth to their lineup on Monday. GM Don Waddell was out on a mission on deadline day, and the first deal that he made in the day was a big one. Waddell shipped forwards Erik Haula and Lucas Wallmark along with two prospects to the Florida Panthers in exchange for one of the Panthers’ top players, Vincent Trocheck. Following that deal, Waddell stacked up on defencemen, and he acquired Sami Vatanen from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for two prospects and a conditional fourth round pick. He then made a deal with New York Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, that saw the Hurricanes receive young defenceman Brady Skjei in exchange for a first round draft pick this year. The Hurricanes lost 4-1 to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night with Trocheck and Skjei in the lineup, but both players had pretty solid showings. Sami Vatanen was not in the lineup but is expected to dress when the Hurricanes take on the Avalanche on Friday in an important matchup. I have the Hurricanes snagging an Eastern Conference Wild Card spot, finishing fourth in the division with 96 points.
The Washington Capitals did not make any significant deals on Monday, but did make two pretty big ones in the days leading up to it. They acquired defenceman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for two draft picks, and forward Ilya Kovalchuk from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a third round draft pick. Both Dillon and Kovalchuk will make an impact on a Capitals team that will finish first in the Metropolitan, with 109 points. The Philadelphia Flyers have been playing some great hockey lately, and have soared into third place in the division. I don’t see the Flyers finishing higher than the Capitals or Penguins, but they will maintain their third place spot and finish with 99 points. The New York Rangers have won four straight and 8 of their last 9, and if they can keep playing the way they are right now, they will sneak into the playoffs on the second Wild Card spot with 93 points. After a very strong start to the season, and a successful trade deadline that saw them acquire highly-touted forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau, the New York Islanders will be upset in the playoff race and just narrowly miss with 92 points. The Columbus Blue Jackets will be just behind them with 90 points, and the lowly New Jersey Devils will be far behind. The parity in the Metropolitan Division is truly incredible, and it will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.
Whether my predictions are close or way off, it will definitely make for an exciting Western Conference playoff race as we close in on the last 20 games of the regular season!
Featured photo courtesy of Fred Kfoury / Icon Sportswire
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