A Look at the NHL East Division for the 2021 Season
The Metropolitan Division always seems like a collection of big rivalries between some very closely geographically located teams. But by bringing in Boston and Buffalo into the new East, the NHL really has a powerhouse division on its hands.
Officially named the MassMutual East Division, there are a whole host of playoff-caliber teams going head-to-head here. With the Islanders doing so well last year – and the Rangers bringing in some very exciting talent – there is no guarantee that all the favorites will make the playoffs this year.
I’m going to take a look at the all-new East, taking in the latest betting odds for an outright winner – and analyze each team’s chances of winning the division and making the playoffs.
Betting Odds for the 2021 NHL East Division
Boston is probably the standout team in the new East Division but there is a lot of talent in here – and the race for the four playoff spots could get very interesting. Both Buffalo and New Jersey missed out on the Return-to-Play playoffs last season and might struggle again, but the rest of the teams are pretty even.
BetOnline certainly has some trouble splitting the Metropolitan Division teams up.
The East Division No-Hopers
With no hockey for almost a year for the players of Buffalo and New Jersey, the short, sharp shock of a 56-game season could come as a rude surprise. Buffalo will also have to contend without having any easier games due to the realignment. There has been some interesting recruitment for the Sabres, so it might not all be down to Jack Eichal this year – but this division looks very tough for Buffalo.
New Jersey will know all about playing the majority of these teams on a regular basis. But last season’s last place finish in the Metropolitan suggests that that experience is not necessarily a good thing. The Devils are still deep in the rebuilding phase and will not be ready to compete against these opponents.
East Division Outsiders With a Playoffs Shot
The bookies tend to have the Broadway Blues looking in from the outside at the top of the East this year, but I think the Rangers can definitely be included in the chasing pack in this division. Claiming the number one overall pick in the draft should revitalize the Rangers and big things are expected of Alexis Lafreniere. Artemi Panarin should continue to be one of the best left wingers in the league – and even the departure of Henrik Lundqvist should not be a problem with the Rangers’ new young goaltending duo.
There has been a lot of goaltending activity in Washington too – and Ilya Samsonov should ably fill the hole left by Braden Holtby. But the news that Lundqvist will now not be back up after opting out of the season because of a heart issue does leave the Caps a little light. There is the immense talent of Alex Ovechkin to fall back on of course, but I’m not sure that will be enough to win the East. But there could be further excitement in the playoffs.
The Penguins might be the one team in this middle group that could be in for a little trouble this season. There has been a lot of changes to the roster in the offseason and although the addition of Kasperi Kapanen should be a big plus, he will need to prove himself very quickly in a shortened regular season. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have to be on top of their game too – and I feel that the odds for the divisional title seem a little short. Pittsburgh might not even make the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Another team that has a lot to live up to is the New York Islanders, who finished sixth in the Metropolitan last season but turned things around in the playoffs to beat both the Caps and the Flyers before losing in the Conference Finals to eventual Stanley Cup winners Tampa Bay. The form of new arrival Ilya Sorokin will be crucial but the problem might well be with scoring goals again. There seems to be big things expected of the Islanders this year, but I’m predicting a drop in form.
Favorites for the 2021 East Division
All the top US sportsbooks have this down as a close division – and I fully agree that the race for the playoff places will be tight. But, as far as the East Division winner goes I can’t really look beyond either of Boston or Philly coming out on top. Even then, the Bruins have to be favored.
The Flyers will still be smarting over their playoff elimination at the hands of the Islanders last year, so there could be some ideas of revenge formulating in Philly. But this is a team that traditionally takes a while to get going – and that could be a real problem with only a 56-game regular season in 2021. But the addition of Erik Gustafsson could make a difference, so I think Philadelphia will be the closest rival to Boston at the top.
This should be the Bruins’ division to lose though. The scoring ability of David Pastrnak and Brian Marchand should keep Boston looking down on the rest of the East – and the goaltending heroics of Tuukka Rask should mean that a playoff berth will be won without too much trouble. There might be some problems in the defense though. Boston is all about scoring goals, but relying on a group of younger players to sort out the defensive problems gives other teams a chance.
My Prediction for the East Division – Boston Bruins
Even with my worries about the defensive side of things, Boston has far too many good players in its roster to seriously consider anyone else for the East Division title. I am really looking forward to the Bruins coming up against the New York-area teams on such a regular basis after the realignment, but I feel it will still just about come out on top.
The closer race in the East will be for the other three playoff spots in my opinion. The Bruins should be able to use the new postseason format to its advantage and make it to at least the Stanley Cup Semifinals now.