Where Bruins stand in Eastern Conference hierarchy

NHL power rankings: Where Bruins stand in Eastern Conference hierarchy originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The NHL offseason has died down considerably. August is typically a pretty slow month for the hockey world as it sits between the initial free agency rush and the start of training camps in September.

Therefore, it’s the perfect time to take stock of all the player movement over the last two months and reorganize the Eastern Conference hierarchy. The Bruins sat atop the East going into the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs following a historic regular season that saw the Original Six franchise set records with 65 wins and 135 points. But after a surprising first-round exit, the roster lost significant pieces, including captain Patrice Bergeron to retirement.

How far have the Bruins fallen in the East? Here’s our new ranking of all 16 teams in the conference.

The Flyers will be bad next season. And, frankly, it’s better for the team’s rebuild if the on-ice performance is subpar because that would increase the chances of securing a high pick in the draft lottery. A complete teardown is needed in Philly, and that appears to be what’s happening. Will management and/or the fans have the patience to see it through? That’s the real question.

The Canadiens didn’t have a blockbuster offseason. Acquiring forward Alex Newhook from the Avalanche was the Habs’ most impactful addition, and they overpaid to get him. The goal for the Canadiens should be to continue stockpiling young players and developing them. Therefore, it’s likely going to be another long, tough winter in Montreal.

The Blue Jackets expected to be a playoff team last season after signing star winger Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.25 million contract in free agency. Instead, they were one of the most disappointing teams in the league and finished with the second-worst record, while also scoring the third-fewest goals and allowing the second-most goals. There are plenty of good pieces in place, though, especially on the blue line where Zach Werenski, Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson headline an impressive group. Adam Fantilli, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, could make the team from Day 1.

The Blue Jackets have the potential, if healthy, to be in the mix for a wild card berth next season if all goes well. Goaltending likely will make or break this team.

The Capitals missed the playoffs last season for just the second time in the last 16 years. Washington is an aging team with a lot of veterans and not much exciting young talent. It’s time for a rebuild or retool, but the team hasn’t committed to that yet. Alexander Ovechkin’s continued pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894 goals will be the main storyline for the Capitals next season. Ovi has 822 entering Opening Night.

The Red Wings have built an impressive young core led by Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond and Mortiz Seider. Detroit added two-time 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat to the mix via trade, which should give the Original Six club some added firepower after it finished 24th in goals scored last season. The Red Wings are poised for a leap and should be a contender for a wild card spot.

The Senators were a trendy pick to make the playoffs before the 2022-23 campaign. The additions of Claude Giroux and Vladimir Tarasenko to a roster that boasted an impressive young core caused expectations to reach an unrealistic level, though. A 6-12-1 start put the Senators in a tough early hole that proved too difficult to climb out of, despite a strong push for a wild card berth over the final month of the season.

If the Senators’ best young players — Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Jake Sanderson, etc. — take another step, they will have a good shot at ending their six-year playoff drought (third-longest in the league).

The Sabres own the league’s longest postseason appearance drought at 12 years. However, they made tremendous progress last season, finishing just one point out of a playoff spot. Right wing Tage Thompson (94 points) and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (73 points) enjoyed breakout 2022-23 campaigns and headline a strong young core in Buffalo that is ready to take the next step and get into the playoffs.

The midseason trade for top-six center Bo Horvat and the Vezina-caliber goaltending from Ilya Sorokin helped propel the Islanders into the playoffs as the first wild card team. Sorokin is good enough to make this team competitive as long as he’s healthy. Whether the Islanders can score enough goals is the real question. They ranked 22nd in goals scored and 30th in power-play percentage last season.

The blockbuster trade to acquire reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson without giving up significant assets was a huge coup for the Penguins. Karlsson is an offensive juggernaut who tallied an astounding 101 points (25 goals, 76 assists) in 82 games last season. Previous offseason additions Reilly Smith and Lars Eller provide solid veteran depth up front, too. Goaltending was this team’s Achilles heel last season, which made re-signing Tristan Jarry a questionable move.

It’s still a little hard to view the Penguins as a serious threat in the East, but any squad with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Karlsson is going to be formidable.

Apr 12, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/teams/san-jose/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:San Jose Sharks;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">San Jose Sharks</a> defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) during the second period against the <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/teams/calgary/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Calgary Flames;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Calgary Flames</a> at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 12, 2023; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson (65) during the second period against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers got bounced by the rival Devils in the first round and it cost Gerard Gallant his job as head coach. Peter Laviolette replaced him, and he brings a wealth of experience (and a 2006 Stanley Cup ring) behind the bench. New York has a lot of high-end talent with Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Adam Fox. Igor Shesterkin is one of the best goalies in the league. So there’s a strong foundation in place.

The concern is the depth. How much does Blake Wheeler have left in the tank after 12 seasons in Winnipeg? Will we finally see 2020 No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafrenière and 2019 No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko realize their potential? The Rangers are in the second tier of East contenders, but they have the potential to break into the top group if their young players keep improving and Shesterkin remains an elite netminder.

How much of the Panthers’ shocking run to the 2023 Stanley Cup Final was who they actually are, and how much of it was just a hot couple months where seemingly everything (clutch scoring, puck luck, overtime goals, great goaltending, opponents’ injuries) went right for them? It’s probably somewhere in between.

Florida’s only notable offseason addition was defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson — a nice low-risk, high-reward move. Blue line depth will be challenged early next season with Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour unavailable as they recover from offseason surgeries.

The Panthers are tough to play against and have a game-changing, MVP-caliber superstar in Matthew Tkachuk. If the goaltending is more consistent in the regular season, Florida should easily get back to the playoffs after qualifying by only a single point in 2022-23.

5. Boston Bruins

The Bruins went all-in last season to win the Stanley Cup, and it was absolutely the correct decision based on how well they were playing. But after losing in the first round, the roster has seen some major departures.

Here’s the list of players who have left:

The Bruins added several veterans in free agency, including four forwards in Milan Lucic, Morgan Geekie, James van Riemsdyk and Patrick Brown. Veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk also was signed.

These players are mostly depth additions. None of the forwards are top-six caliber. Shattenkirk most likely will play on the third pairing. Losing a significant amount of offensive skill will hurt the Bruins. They won’t be No. 2 in goals scored again next season. Center depth is a concern, too, after Bergeron retired. David Krejci could be next to step into retirement. If that happens, Boston will have lost its top two centers.

Despite these losses, a strong core led by 62-goal scorer David Pastrnak, first-line left wing Brad Marchand, and No. 1 caliber defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm remains. Boston also has the league’s best goalie duo in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. This level of goaltending will make the Bruins a very good regular season team next season. But do they have enough depth to win a round in the playoffs? That’s the real debate, and we won’t have an answer for a while.

Jeremy Swayman

Nov 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (left) replaces goaltender Linus Ullmark (35) in the net against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Lightning went to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals from 2019-20 through 2021-22. That run finally ended last season when the Leafs eliminated them in six games in Round 1. It was a close series, with three of Tampa Bay’s four losses coming in overtime. Tampa Bay’s superstar core of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman is getting older and has played a ton of hockey in the last five years. However, all of these players are still really, really productive.

The Lightning aren’t the juggernaut they used to be, but they remain one of the toughest teams in the league to beat. They have loads of high-end talent, the league’s best goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy and great coaching with Jon Cooper.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs finally made it out of the first round last season after not having won a playoff series since 2004. Expectations are still very high in Toronto, though, and the additions of hard-nosed forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi should give the Leafs the grit, clutch scoring and tenacity the team has lacked in recent playoff runs.

Auston Matthews’ future will be a huge storyline until the situation is resolved. He’s entering the final year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s a superstar center who can score 50-60 goals and be a yearly candidate for the Hart Trophy. Toronto should do everything possible to re-sign him, but the longer he goes without an extension, the more of a distraction his situation will become. Star winger William Nylander is entering the last year of his deal, too.

2. New Jersey Devils

The Devils will be a trendy pick to win the Stanley Cup next season, and with good reason. Jack Hughes has become a superstar. He’s surrounded by loads of talent up front, including Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and newly acquired Tyler Toffoli. Highly touted defenseman prospect Luke Hughes could make an impact next season, too.

Goaltending is still a question mark, but the Devils are going to be a problem next season. This team is primed for a deep playoff run.

1. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes are the most well-rounded team in the East. They’ve actually been among the conference’s elite for several years, but a number of factors have hurt them in the playoffs, including a lack of elite goaltending and timely scoring, as well as injuries to key players.

The free agent signing of offensive defenseman Dmitry Orlov upgraded an already elite blue line with even more depth and high-end talent. Adding middle-six forward Michael Bunting in free agency was a good move, too. Andrei Svechnikov missed the entire 2023 playoffs with an ACL injury, so he’ll be pretty motivated when he returns.

The Hurricanes have the best roster in the East on paper. They could still use another goal scorer, but this group is going to be so tough to beat next spring if healthy.

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