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It has been a busy summer of 2019 for all 31 NHL clubs. With training camp only a few weeks away, players are beginning to return back to their respective areas for another long 82-game grind.
The Eastern Conference saw many changes throughout the summer months. The league will be as competitive as ever once teams take the ice on October 2.
Which Eastern Conference teams will leapfrog up the standings in the upcoming season? Which Eastern Conference teams might take a step back in the standings?
Let’s dive in to the biggest leapers and fallers in the Eastern Conference:
The Panthers finished fifth in the Atlantic Division a season ago with 86 points. They surrendered 280 goals against, which was fourth most in the league.
The Panthers landed one of the top unrestricted free agents during free agency as they signed goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to a massive seven-year, $70 million deal. Bobrovsky’s dealings with the Columbus Blue Jackets did not end well over the last year, so Bobrovsky decided to take a fresh start in sunny south Florida.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner is going to bring much-needed stability to the Panthers net for the foreseeable future and he should bring their goals against totals down.
In addition to Bobrovsky, the Panthers brought in former Capitals forward Brett Connolly on a four-year deal. Connolly recorded 22 goals and 46 points with the Capitals a season ago.
With good core pieces in Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Vincent Trocheck, and now Sergei Bobrovsky, the Panthers should get close to a wild card position with their big summer additions.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The Rangers had a great offseason on paper. They landed Kaapo Kakko with the #2 pick in the NHL Entry Draft. Kakko is an impressive young player, and should be able to contribute right away for the Rangers.
In addition to Kakko, the Rangers added the biggest free agent of the summer with Artemi Panarin. Panarin signed a massive seven-year, $81.5 million deal to come to the Big Apple. Like Bobrosvky, Panarin left the Columbus Blue Jackets organization this summer.
The Rangers got stronger up front, but they also added some depth via trade on defense. They acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. Trouba later signed with the Rangers for a large seven-year, $56 million deal.
While the Rangers notably entered a rebuild a few seasons ago, they were swift in bringing in some big-name players to accelerate the rebuilding efforts. The Rangers finished seventh in the Metropolitan Division and had 78 points a season ago. With their summer additions, they should hover close to 90 points in the upcoming season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
The Blue Jackets have had a rough few months. Over the summer, they saw departures from Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Artemi Panarin.
Panarin was one of the top scorers in the league last season, as he recorded 28 goals and 87 points.
The Jackets have lost a lot of stability in net, and they must rely a bit on the unknown with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. One of these netminders will need to emerge as a #1 starter this season for the Jackets to have a glimmer of playoff hope.
Things are not looking bright for the Blue Jackets in hopes of holding on to a playoff position for next season. It is tough for any club to recover after losing two top offensive producers and a Vezina Trophy winning netminder.
The Penguins were not quite themselves a season ago. It was a team that did not gel well, and this summer saw some big changes for them. The Penguins decided to deal away star winger Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes in a multi-player and draft picks deal.
With Kessel now out of the mix, the Penguins did lose a valuable 80+ point scorer. However, the Penguins did land forward Alex Galchenyuk in this deal, and he is a solid 40-50-point player.
The Penguins had a dark cloud over their organization a season ago, and it carried into the postseason as they were swept out of the playoffs in round 1 by the New York Islanders.
While the Penguins have stars with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, they will need some of their younger core players to step up to help fill Kessel’s offensive production.
By: George Foussekis