As we ramp up towards opening day, it's worth taking a look at the current line ups and making some wild, baseless predictions. It wouldn't be a sports blog without it. Today we take a look at the Eastern Conference, and place our bets on the top five strongest competitors for the cup. Counting down from number five, all the way to number one, we will take a look at the conference's best chances out east.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
With a dominant force being established in cover boy (and future captain) Claude Giroux, the Flyers are easily a top five team. In NHL 13, Giroux is ranked at a high 90, which reinforces Philly's standing as a high scoring offensive threat. Everyone's favourity tender, Ilya Bryzgalov is ranked an 86, which is towards the lower end of the spectrum in regards to elite goaltenders. Another important note is that unlike real life, Chris Pronger is listed as an active skater for the Flyers, lending extra help on the blueline.
4. Boston Bruins
As a Canucks fan, it's tough for me to admit, but the Bruins are still one of the best teams in the league, and a second cup in three years is more than plausible. Some may think that I'm being overly harsh on the Bruins by ranking them all the way down at the fourth position, but it's less about Boston's talents, and more about the competition. Boston has remained virtual intact, save for Tim Thomas' departure. Tuuka Rask is an able replacement, though as far as we know, NHL 13 doesn't have any stats to account for radical political views, so Thomas' departure may be more dramatic in game.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
Now for the dark horse, the Carolina Hurricanes. I think they are going to end up impressing many folks, due to a few interesting statistics. Firstly, the team has made a huge increase in threat by aquiring Jordan Staal, as brothers Eric and Jordan are rated at an 87 and 85 respectively. Additionally, Jeff Skinner rests at a very effective 84, which is quite promising for such a young player. Even more important is that EA still has quite a lot of stock in Cam Ward, who is an 88, which actually puts him above fellow conference goaltenders Ilya Bryzgalov (86) and Marc Andre Fleury (87). While it's a bit audacious to say that the 'Canes have a better chance than the Bruins, I'm feeling like they may be the big surprise team.
2. New York Rangers
Just barely missing top spot is the New York Rangers. If we were talking real world hockey, I really believe that they'd be the best contenders in the east, but a few virtual constraints give Pittsburgh the +1, in my opinion. Marian Gaborik stands at an 89 while Rick Nash, who finally clawed his way out of Columbus is at an 87, alongside Brad Richards. The Rangers didn't lose anything too substantial in the Nahs
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Ugh, the Penguins. What can you say, the tag team of Sydney Crosby (95) and Geno Malkin (91), not to mention Kris Letang (90) really make the Penguins the team to beat. The only spots of concern for the Pens is the goaltending, which became hilariously noticable during last season's playoffs. Still, at an 87, Marc Andre Fleury is still an incredibly powerful goalie. The one thing that sets the Penguins ahead here is that Sydney Crosby isn't at risk of having his career ended by a single hit. The injury system here doesn't quite equate to the real world, and means a potentially more consistent, and threatening Crosby.
Tune in tomorrow for our analysis of the best in the west!