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2021 NHL Season Preview: East Division

The NHL will have new divisions for the 2021 season. We are previewing what to expect from the new East Division.

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs by Jeff Dhouly is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2021 NHL Season Preview: East Division


Estimated Reading Time: 3 Minutes

The NHL 2021 season will begin on January 13th, and it will look a bit different. Most notably there will be new division realignments due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. The season will consist of 56 games played over 116 days, and includes an increased amount of back-to-back games. Each team will only play within their division, and the top four teams from each division will make the playoffs.

This season is going to be a brave, new world for the NHL and we’re starting our preview series with a look at the new East Division.

Who’s in the division?

  • Boston Bruins
  • Buffalo Sabres
  • New Jersey Devils
  • New York Islanders
  • New York Rangers
  • Philadelphia Flyers
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Washington Capitals

There is going to be a lot of familiarity in this division with six teams from the Metropolitan Division. The Bruins and Sabres are the “new kids” in the group, as they are making the move from the Atlantic Division.

Who are the new faces?

Taylor Hall, Left Wing, Buffalo Sabres

Hall shocked many in the NHL when the 2018 Hart Trophy winner signed a one-year $8 million deal with the Sabres. There had been talk Hall was looking to sign a one-year deal but was prioritizing joining a winner. Buffalo has not had a winning season since 2011-12, and while adding Hall is a major move, it’s not enough to label the team as a contender. Still, Hall joining a top-line with fellow #1 overall pick Jack Eichel should make for the most excitement the team has seen in some time.

Peter Laviolette, Head Coach, Washington Capitals

The Capitals felt a move at head coach was necessary after following their Stanley Cup win in 2018 with two straight 1st round exits. Laviolette won a cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has a resume to be respected. The expectations will be very high to make the most out of the end of superstar wing Alex Ovechkin’s career.  

Who was told goodbye?

Zdeno Chara, Defenseman, Boston Bruins

Chara had been the captain of the Bruins for 14 seasons and made three Stanley Cup Finals, winning one in 2011 vs. the Vancouver Canucks. His presence, both physically and as a team leader, will be nearly impossible for Boston to replace. The Bruins had hoped Chara would be open to more of a reserve role in the upcoming season. But the 43-year-old preferred an arrangement with more ice time and signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals.

Matt Murray, Goalie, Pittsburgh Penguins

Murray won Stanley Cups with the Penguins as a rookie in 2016 and 2017, and is the only goalie to ever do this. Unfortunately, several injuries hampered Murray’s career and development. With a significant raise expected in his upcoming restricted free agency, Pittsburgh decided to trade Murray this offseason to Ottawa. Murray ends his Penguins career with two Cup wins and a 2.67 Goals Against Average in 199 games.

What should fans watch for?

Double the Crosby/Ovechkin matchups

The matchup between Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin has been one of the NHL’s best over the last 15 years. The #1 picks in the 2004 and 2005 draft have been linked throughout their career, with Crosby having more team success (3 Cup victories to Ovechkin’s 1) and Ovechkin bringing home more hardware (18 player trophies vs. Crosby’s 12). This season will provide the unique opportunity to see these Hall of Famers square off eight times. With each player’s career winding down, this feels like a gift for NHL fans.

Travel Distance Effect

The East Division has the shortest amount of distance across all teams. The eight teams are only in five states total and the furthest distance is from Buffalo to DC, which is about a 60-90 minute flight. This should have an effect of improved hockey in the East Division games, but we must wait and see if this will be noticeable until the puck drops.

How will the final standings look?

  • Philadelphia Flyers
  • Boston Bruins
  • Pittsburgh Penguins
  • New York Islanders
  • Washington Capitals
  • Buffalo Sabres
  • New York Rangers
  • New Jersey Devils

The Bruins have the best odds to win the Division, and they may turn out to be the most dangerous of all these teams in the playoffs. However, losing Chara and Torey Krug is a massive change to the defense, and I think some growing pains early in the season will cost them the division title to Philly (and Gritty). I also like the Islanders to sneak past the Caps for the final playoff spot.

Terry is from Massachusetts and is a passionate fan of the Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox and Bruins. He also will admit he only pays attention to Syracuse basketball when they're good. If there's a Twitter trade rumor even remotely associated with one of his teams, he's likely fallen for it. Finally, he believes 100% that if the Celtics had beaten the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals they would have swept the Thunder in the Finals.

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