The rosters are final, and players who will be eligible for the playoffs are locked and loaded. The top of the Eastern Conference took turns adding the players they targeted to fix their ills. The Pittsburgh Penguins added Jason Zucker, Tampa Bay added Blake Coleman, and Washington added rugged defenseman Brenden Dillon well before the Monday trade deadline.
Once the pressure was on, the Penguins added veteran leader Patrick Marleau. Washington added Ilya Kovalchuk, and Tampa Bay added muscle with Barclay Goodrow.
The teams fighting for the Eastern Conference wild-card spots under-the-radar New York Islanders swooped in and snagged Ottawa center Jean-Gabriel Pageau, then signed him to a six-year deal.
The Carolina Hurricanes made a splash when they traded third-line center Erik Haula, winger Lucas Wallmark and a pair of prospects for talented forward Vincent Trochek. Carolina also ditched their first-round pick for New York Rangers defenseman Brady Skjei and acquired defenseman Sami Vatanen for a pair of prospects and a conditional fourth-round pick.
Carolina made the biggest splashes but didn’t address their glaring need in goal. There are only so many Zamboni drivers in the world who are capable of playing goalie. There are four tiers in the East: the top two, the Washington Capitals, the gaggle of quality teams from 4-7, and the rest.
PHN Eastern Conference Power Rankings
The beasts of the East are massive, they’re talented, experienced, and they need redemption from a Game 7 Stanley Cup Final loss at home. Brett Ritchie should fit well. The top line Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak is the best in the NHL.
Speed. Skill. Hunger. Add one of the best defensemen in the game (Victor Hedman), and a deep lineup. Tampa Bay added sandpaper and jam by getting Blake Coleman from New Jersey and Barclay Goodrow from San Jose. They’re gearing up for a battle with Boston, and it’s going to be “must-see hockey.”
Washington added much-needed defense with Dillon. Then the rich got richer when sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, which gives Capitals head coach Todd Reirden endless options to create a scoring-nine. The Capitals are the one team that can play the heavy game with Boston and the talent game with Tampa and the speed game with Pittsburgh.
They may not make the playoffs, but if they get there, this is the team no favorite wants to see in Round One. J-G Pageau gives New York four deep centers, with the “best fourth line in hockey,” though two of three members of that line are currently injured. The Islanders have the pieces to be a real threat to the best in the East, but not enough to be considered a favorite–just the way they like it.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins could skyrocket up the list, or plummet as the team gels. They had the fourth-best record in the NHL without their best players. Now we must see what they are with their best. They’ve been going sideways for several weeks, but the additions of Patrick Marleau and Conor Sheary may solidify their lineup. Their defense is close to healthy, too. Everyone is waiting to see how good the Penguins can be or can’t be.
The Storm Surge took the puck away from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night and protected an emergency backup who became the first EGUG to win a game. It was a sweet story, but the real story was Carolina’s domination with speed and cooperative play. Their forecheck was spectacular. Their speed was oppressive. They added Trocheck, Vatanen, and Skjei to make their lineup rock-solid, again. But they lack a quality puck-stopper.
The only team in the league which makes the Penguins injury list look small. Columbus is beaten up, but they have soldiered forward and remain in a playoff seed. Currently, Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray, Alex Wenneberg, Elvis Merzlikens, and more are on the injured list. Yet another hero emerges, every time. There is an admirable quality of this group.
Their spot on the list is tenuous, even as they’ve stacked four wins in a row. They added Nate Thompson and former Penguins 13th forward Derek Grant, which wasn’t an impressive deadline. Grant is currently their third-line center. They have a solid top-six and defense.
Watch out for the New York Rangers, who kept Chris Kreider at the deadline and have surged back into contention for a playoff spot. We also omitted Toronto from the top-eight. Their soft play and wildly inconsistent effort belies their talent but perhaps denotes their true self. Toronto should be a top-five team.