By Cole Feinbloom aka cfagent0

This year’s shortened NHL season is going to prove to be a monotonous challenge, so to speak. Fans, although ecstatic that hockey is back, are more than likely not too excited about the schedule. Not facing off against out-of-conference opponents, playing against teams twice in a row, and what seems like an ultra-repetitive schedule in general might make fans shy away from the sport a bit. But for those dedicated fans who stuck with the league through the lockout, and look to stay dedicated to their team throughout the season, this article is for you. I will break down my bold predications for this years playoffs, and give you my surprise picks as to who might end up with the cup. So, without further ado, here are my predictions for the Eastern Conference.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs:

Some may be questioning my pick in including the Maple Leafs, considering the recent struggles, such as lack of a definitive goaltender, as well as poor leadership, but with some bold offseason moves, they look to make an impact as a strong contender. In my opinion, contrary to popular belief, I like Reimer in net and think he has some serious potential. Plus, adding James Van Riemsdyk is going to give a boost to the offense that already had Kessel and young talent in Orr and Kulemin. Bottom line, the Leafs made some progress, and although not yet a top contender, they have a shot at a playoff spot this year.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning

It seems that every year, the Lightning threaten to make a run deep into the playoffs, but aside from Stamkos, lack of depth holds them back. Sure, they have veterans in Lecavalier and St. Louis, but their production has significantly decreased as they aged. The Lightning have a strong team, but I believe their age and depth might hold them back a bit. For now, I think a seventh seed is fitting until some changes are made.

6. Buffalo Sabres

With an off year this past season, the Sabres look to rebound. Ryan Miller, still, is one of the league’s top goalies, and the addition of Steve Ott brings some of the strength they were lacking. A young roster will help them through this season, furthermore veterans like Vanek, Leino, and company will guide them this season, and maybe even take them on a playoff run.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers consistently have a strong roster, and it appears that this year is no different. One look at their roster, and you immediately think they are one of the top contenders, but underlying problems could hold them back. Their offense, on one hand, has more depth than the Los Angeles Clippers bench it seems, and could lead to being the league’s top scoring team. On the other hand, their defense seems to have some flaws, and in the net, Bryzgalov is no guarantee, and until he consistently proves he is able to compete straight through a season, I don’t think they will be seeing the cup.

4. Washington Capitals

Are they old? Yes. That is probably the only fault on this year’s Washington roster. As always, the Caps are proving to be one of the strongest teams in the NHL, and for good reasons. Carlson and Greene on defense; it is solid. Adding Ribeiro as another threat on offense; it’s oh so smart. Oh, and let us not forget about that new guy, Ovechkin. Something tells me that he is going to become somebody. Holtby in net is at times a question mark, but for the most part, he is a solid net minder and maturing with every game he plays. Washington, this year, is a Stanley Cup contender for sure.

3. New York Rangers

For most, the New York Rangers are the top team this year in the Eastern Conference. I have them down at three for a few reasons. Yes, the acquisition of Nash will greatly benefit their offensive production, Gaborik will have another MVP worthy season, and Lundquist is still one of the league’s top if not the top goaltender, but there are a few kinks still to be worked out. With such a short training camp, Rick Nash will have a tough time getting acquainted with Tortorella’s offense, and some of the third and fourth liners will still struggle offensively. Even with a few issues, the Rangers head into the season looking tough.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

Take Sidney Crosby. Now, add Evgeni Malkin. Put them together and you get one of the best offensive duos the league has ever seen. James Neal; sure, throw him into that equation as well. Now, add in everyone else listed as a winger or center on their roster and you get one, crazy talented hockey team. Now, move onto the defensive side. Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, most notably, provide a solid back line in support of the outstanding offense. And as was the case in the past few years, you have Fleury in net. The Pittsburgh Penguins are in position to grab a top spot, and they are here to stay.

1. Boston Bruins

Finally, my pick to be the number 1 seed, is the Boston Bruins. I know, they don’t have Tim Thomas in the crease, but Tuukka Rask can definitely hold his own. Most of the past years team is returning and let us not forgot Tyler Seguin, the young gun who has the talent to become a MVP candidate. The only concern for the Bruins this year is injuries, but if they manage to stay healthy throughout the shortened season, Boston is poised to make a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup.