If you’re a Predators fan, you might find yourself wandering around aimlessly these days, pondering the meaning of existence and whether hockey is worth your time. Meanwhile, the playoffs roll on, as eight teams fight to avoid becoming memes all summer.
Hockey is fun. Playoff hockey is enjoyment distilled to its maximum possible concentration. With apologies for the reference to illicit narcotics, refer to the following:
The Eastern Conference, in particular, offers a truly wild amount of bang-for-buck as far as entertainment is concerned. If you are without a team to support, but wish to adopt one, I invite you to read the following. Among these four teams, I can safely say there are ample amounts of “something(s) for everyone.”
All statistics cited are sourced from either naturalstattrick.com or Corsica.hockey.
For yet another season, Boston quietly carried on as a powerhouse of the Eastern Conference. The Bruins were comfortably within the league’s top-ten in several possession and shooting categories, while maintaining reliable shooting and save percentages.
The danger of this team lies in its first forward line, comprised of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Among combinations with at least 400 minutes of five-on-five time on ice, this group was the league’s sixth-best in expected goals for percentage. Interestingly, their underlying numbers find them right alongside Nashville’s top line in many cases.
Defensively, the Bruins are an impressive group. Over the course of the regular season, they allowed the league’s second-fewest goals against per 60 and high-danger scoring chances against per 60, and were the best overall in expected goals against per 60.
Based on their contract situation, Boston probably needs to consider winning their second Cup of the decade either this year or next. Their premier forwards are locked in for a few more years, but they have six skaters facing free agency this summer, and ten(!) more after the 2019/2020 season.
In sum, Boston is a densely talented team at both ends of the ice, who should feel pressure to win again very soon.
Full disclosure: I absolutely love the Carolina Hurricanes. I might be in love with the Carolina Hurricanes. When I close my eyes, I see a video loop of storm surges. I have filled and deleted countless shopping carts with Hurricanes’ alternate jerseys this season. If this surprises or confuses you, Google “Carolina Hurricanes alternate jersey” and tell me you wouldn’t do the same. It’s sick.
For years, Carolina has been the darling of the hockey analytics community. They are frequent members of the elite-possession-team club, and had been kept from the playoffs (primarily due to poor goaltending) since 2009.
In terms of possession domination, this season has been no different for the Hurricanes. They were the league’s best in expected goals for percentage at five-on-five. What’s more, their PDO was well below average. These two items alone suggest that Carolina’s seed coming into the postseason was a poor indicator of their real potential.
Their lines have been slightly fluid over the season, but the combination of Nino Niederreiter (elite name), Sebastian Aho, and, Justin Williams put up respectable numbers in several possession categories.
Their defensive roster has been impressive for some time now. The combination of Dougie Hamilton, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce, Calvin de Haan, and Trevor van Riemsdyk should be envied by most teams in the NHL.
Much like Boston, Carolina has a lot of free agents looming. Eleven players, including both goaltenders, will be re-signed or lost this summer. Fortunately, the state of Carolina hockey has not been this healthy since winning the Cup in 2006, so convincing their guys to stick around will be significantly easier than before. If I were an NHL-level hockey player, I’d place Raleigh on my shortlist of “fun places to be employed.”
Columbus Blue Jackets
The second-biggest pride of extremely central Ohio is making history for itself this season, after a heroic and utterly humiliating four-game body slam of the greatest team to ever play the game. At some point this season, GM Jarmo Kekäläinen decided he’d had enough of the media discussing his team’s impending demise. Instead of fizzling out this season and losing star players Artemi “Breadman” Panarin and Sergei “wait what the – did he actually save that” Bobrovsky, Jarmo took matters into his own hands. The team was incredible at the trade deadline, opting not to deal Panarin and instead acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators, who used to be an NHL team.
Because this is a family site, I can’t link Kekäläinen’s quote about that decision, but it’s legendary. It might be my favorite comment by a GM in league history.
In terms of the team on-ice, Columbus is a bit of a head scratcher. Even after their big-time additions, the Blue Jackets floundered for several weeks. Still, when crunch time officially began, they flexed their muscles and went on a tear, winning seven of their last eight games to close the regular season and squeak into the playoffs. Possession-wise, they are a mediocre group. Still, they have a bit of magic going on, fueled by a euphoric 2OT win thanks to aspiring country music artist Matt Duchene.
New York Islanders
Closing out the Eastern Conference second round is the New York Islanders, who I’d wager you know next-to-nothing about. While I personally get a chuckle from this tweet by formerly-Corsica’s Manny Elk…
…there is more to this Islanders team than you may realize. For one, they produced impressively in terms of quality scoring chances during the regular season, and the combination of Mat Barzal, Josh Bailey, and Anthony Beauvillier is electric when really moving. Unfortunately for the Islanders, their success in terms of sustainability should be sounding alarms nationwide. They were tied with Washington for the league’s highest PDO, due primarily to their league-leading goaltending – a flimsy basket in which one might place all their eggs.
Make no mistake, Robin Lehner’s on-ice performance and personal story this season are fantastic. His success in the crease and in overcoming mental health and addiction issues make for a truly inspirational personal story.
Overall, the Islanders are a par or subpar team in most on-ice categories. They have some young offensive talent that is capable of regular breakout performances, and indisputably the best goaltending in the league this year. Currently, they find themselves down 0-2 after dropping two home games to Carolina, so it isn’t looking too good. Still, if you like chaos and dark horses, this might be your team.
This year’s Eastern Conference playoffs provide a lot to enjoy for dejected Predators fans. There is a clear villain (Boston) and two candidates for hero (Carolina and Columbus). Representing team chaos are the New York Islanders.
Compared to the West, the Eastern Conference tends to mark itself with a faster, younger style of hockey. I appreciate this immensely.
Reddit user “guccipotato69” (yep, that’s Reddit for you) has created this map, which shows the closest team (geographically) to every U.S. county.
This map would have you believe that Nashville is now St. Louis territory. I, for one, will not sit idly by and allow myself to be represented in any way by the state of Missouri.
Use your better judgment. Pick a team from the East and keep enjoying hockey, the greatest game that exists.