7. New Jersey
Number one and two are tough calls but with the Penguins losing Hossa and Malone, they have lost a big chunk of offense that will not be replaced by Fedotenko and Satan. Montreal has not lost anyone big and has added Alex Tanguay to help propel the offense forward. Not to mention their powerplay is one of the best in the league and it will help carry them through the season.
Number 3 goes to high flying Washington. The only difference is that this year, the 07-08 Southeast Division champs are not going to be push overs. They have replaced Huet with Theodore, who was really coming on towards the end of the season for Colorado last year. Sergei Fedorov will most likely resign with the Caps and with Nylander coming back from injury, the offense on this team is going to be very powerful. Don't be surprised to see Boudreau's red, white and blue overtake the Bleu Blanc et Rouge for the conference lead at points this season.
Number 4 goes to the New York Rangers. Their improved defense along with Henrik Lundqvist will carry this team to the best finish since the lockout. The new offense will develop into a high speed, high scoring dynamo that will be centered around Chris Drury, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Nikolai Zherdev. Wade Redden will provide the needed powerplay QB the Rangers have been looking for, making their anemic powerplay into a strong one. The losses of Jagr and Avery will hurt but they will quickly be forgotten when the team is lighting the lamp.
Number 5 goes to Boston. They added Michael Ryder this offseason and will be looking for production from youngsters Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, and David Krejci. The return of Patrice Bergeron will spark this offense along with Marc Savard. With Claude Julien's defensive clamp, this team will beat others into submission and make them prone to mistakes. Boston showed life in the playoffs after going down in the Montreal series. Expect it to carry over and the Ranger-Bruin rivalry to heat up.
Number 6 is heading for Broadstreet. The Flyers had an amazing turnaround last season and will be looking to build on that. With Simon Gagne probably returning, the offense will get a boost. The defense is getting better every year and Marty Biron showed he can be an anchor last season. Look for the Flyers to rev up again this season with physical play as always.
Lucky number 7 goes to the Jersey boys. They added Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik back into the fold but the Devils still lack a true puck moving defenseman since Rafalski left for the Red Wings. Their weak defense, along with Martin Brodeur's age finally catching up to him, will make the Devils slip further and further towards the lower parts of the conference.
The last spot in the east will go to the Carolina Hurricanes. The loss of Erik Cole will definitely hurt their offense but adding Joni Pitkanen helps to solidify their defense. They are definitely looking for revenge on the Capitals for knocking them out of the playoffs last year.
As always, the Eastern Conference will be insanely close, with all of these teams probably separated by less than 10 points. Tampa Bay is not in the top 8 because they have no defense and questionable goaltending. Plus, Barry Melrose has had success in the NHL only when Wayne Gretzky has been on his team. I don't see him having a playoff team this year.