Unlikely Predictions: Eastern Conference

Jake Gardiner. (Claus Andersen/Getty)

Where’s the fun—or the glory—in making reasoned, realistic predictions for the 2014-15 NHL season? You’re right, and nobody cares because a lot of other people were right, too. You’re wrong, and it’s like you couldn’t even correctly predict a simple outcome.

Those kind of predictions are for the weak. We believe in going hard or going home. So these are real predictions—not probabilities—things that might not happen, but are just likely enough that if you offered us the right odds, we’d snap them up as prop bets right now.

And we’ve got one for each team, with the Eastern Conference today and the Western Conference on Monday. Enjoy, and come see us in April.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres don’t make the playoffs—not even close—but Jhonas Enroth emerges as a star on a bad team, doing just enough all by himself to vault him into the upper echelon of goaltenders…as well as keep the Sabres from securing the top draft lottery spot.

Boston Bruins: Zdeno Chara isn’t the top scoring Bruins defenseman, nor is he No. 2. Both Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton top 40 points as Chara’s game and ice time slip in his age-38 season. His 31 points are just two more than Johnny Boychuk for third among Bruins D-men.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward takes yet another step back and loses his starting spot for good, Eric Staal struggles, Jeff Skinner battles another concussion and Alex Semin turns in a disinterested year—the ‘Canes finish dead last in the conference.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Brandon Dubinsky becomes perhaps the most beloved Blue Jacket in the franchise’s history, hitting his prime at age 28 and topping 65 points, blowing away his career high of 54 and leading the team in scoring. “Dubie, Dubie do,” becomes kind of a thing in Columbus.

Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard suffers through nagging health problems and ineffective play and has his job stolen out from under him by Petr Mrazek, who’s quirky personality and acrobatic style recall the fondest memories of Crazy Ol’ Dominik Hasek.

Florida Panthers: The upstart Cats send two players to the NHL All-Star game: A revitalized Roberto Luongo, who puts up a .920 save percentage back in his comfort zone, and Jonathan Huberdeau, who takes a major step forward and turns in a 30-goal season.

Montreal Canadiens: Speaking of 30-goal men, with some of the vets in front of him moving on, giving him an increased role on the power play, Alex Galchenyuk blazes past that mark in March on his way to becoming the Habs’ top goal scorer.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils’ puck possession game combines with a full season of starts for Cory Schneider and results in a well-deserved Vezina nomination for the NHL’s ‘best goalie who started only 43 games last season’.

New York Islanders: Not only do the Islanders make the playoffs, but led by John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and a 55-point breakout season from youngster Ryan Strome, they become one of the East’s most entertaining teams to watch.

New York Rangers: The loss of Anton Stralman hurts the back end, and the combination of Derek Stepan’s injury and Martin St. Louis’ advanced age saps enough of the Blueshirts offence that last year’s finalists find themselves in a dogfight for a wild card spot.

Ottawa Senators: Bobby Ryan makes an awful lot of money for a guy who scores only 24 goals, and the Sens fade badly without Jason Spezza, battling with Buffalo for the basement of the Atlantic division.

Philadelphia Flyers: Stardom, meet Brayden Schenn. The 23-year-old sticks on the top line, pots 60 points and 80-plus PIM and becomes every fantasy player’s Brag Worthy late-round find.

Pittsburgh Penguins: In the feel-good story of the season, Kris Letang stays (mostly) healthy, plays 70-plus games and vaults himself back into Norris trophy contention. In the process, the Penguins power-play success rate (already the league’s deadliest) tops 25 percent.

Tampa Bay Lightning: In a non-shocking development, the Lightning have a Calder trophy nominee on their roster. The shocking development is that it’s not Jonathan Drouin—rather it’s sniper Vladislav Namestnikov.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Barry Trotz disciple Peter Horachek takes over the Leafs defence and it immediately becomes obvious that Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly should both be playing 23-plus minutes per night. They do, and the Leafs 5v5 CF% jumps by more than three percentage points. It’s still below 50 percent though. Can’t have everything.

Washington Capitals: Under Barry Trotz, and with a boost on defence, the Caps become an Eastern Conference contender again. And in related shocking news, Alex Ovechkin turns in his usual 40-plus goals but adds a positive plus-minus rating.

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