Off-Season Guessing: Can Caps Make Playoffs?

May 13, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson (90), Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19), Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8), and Capitals defenseman John Carlson (74) watch from the bench against the New York Rangers in the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center. The Rangers won 5-0 and won the series 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

We all know about NHL realignment taking effect this coming season, and Caps fans know that it likely means an end to their perpetual divisional dominance. I, for one, think this is the best thing to happen to this Caps team. We’ve seen them get into playoff mode down the stretch of the last two regular seasons, however, they’re going to have to be in playoff mode all season next year in the Metropolitan division. No more mopping the floor with Florida and Winnipeg and being gift-wrapped a top seed. Starting next year, if the Caps attain a playoff berth, they’ll have earned it. That is a refreshing notion as a fan, because I’m sick of trying to gauge this team’s level of competency, overrating them, and then watching them get waxed in game 7 of round one on home ice.

So, with this new landscape in mind, let’s take wild guesses at how next year will shake out in the east, and see how well of a shot the Caps have at the playoffs.

Locks

Pittsburgh Penguins- Pitt cruised to the playoffs last year even with Crosby missing significant time. Don’t expect divisional shakeups to change that. Boy, how fun was watching them get swept last year? Let’s talk about that instead of listing the accolades that will ensure them a spot in next year’s tournament. Can it happen again? Doubtful. Can the Caps play them instead of the Rangers? I’d like to hate someone other than New York come Spring time, but I probably should be careful about what I wish for…

Boston Bruins- This is just what Boston does. Expect multiple regular season slumps, with every talking head questioning what happened to this team, followed by the B’s taking care of business, earning home ice, and romping any opponent that’s not a serious contender. Reminds me a lot of this recent Celtics era that died this past season. I hate Boston sports, let’s move on.

Detroit Red Wings- Welcome back to the east, Detroit. Don’t expect any of us to deny you your 23rd consecutive playoff birth. It doesn’t matter how close the Wheel came to missing the cut last year. Detroit = the cat, everyone else = the ball of yarn. Sometimes the cat gets bored.

New York Rangers- It pains me to add this godforsaken team as a lock. Truth is, when you have the best goalie in the game, you’ll probably find a way to make the playoffs. I don’t expect elite status from this team, but I do expect them to be reinvigorated with Vigneault behind the bench. This is New York. I hate them. It’d be too good to be true for that team to not grace us with its presence in the playoffs.

Probables

Montreal Canadiens- Montreal’s ghastly exit from the playoffs is all I can remember about their season last year. I don’t care how many points they racked up in the regular season, I can’t add them as a lock. That said, it seems their meteoric rise from their conference-cellar status of two years ago implies that the Canadiens are at least a solid team.

Ottawa Senators- I’m still confused by Ottawa’s season last year. Lord knows they had no business attaining the success that they did, but they did. To boot, they also slapped the Caps around during their regular season match-ups. If the Caps are next on this list (spoiler alert,) I can’t in good conscious not have the Senators above them. Anderson had an awesome season last year between the pipes, but geez, this squad’s got serious voodoo magic and I’m not going to mess with it.

Washington Capitals- The sole reason I’ve got the Caps as a probable playoff team is because I don’t see them taking a step back from last year. They lost Ribeiro, yes, but I think system continuity for the first time in forever will make up for that. Non-Caps fans forget how important Brooks Laich is to this team, and he was hurt all last season. I don’t expect home ice for the Caps, but I will be surprised if Washington isn’t in the 5-8 seed range next year, and that’s mostly from process of elimination with the remaining playoff hopefuls. Everyone seems eager to write an end to the Ovie era Caps, but I don’t think this team is as bad as everyone wants them to be.

Wild Cards

Toronto Maple Leafs- Look Maple Leafs fans, I’m sorry. The whole universe would love to see you guys in the playoffs next year, but take it from a D.C. sports fan- the last thing a tortured fan base needs is high expectations. You guys are probably smart enough to know the drill; if everyone is talking your team up, that’s usually a bad sign. I’m doing you a favor, and I’m secretly rooting for you, too. The fact remains that the stat-guys had the Leafs as the lowest rated playoff team in the east last year, and then, you know, that whole first round series happened… Prove me wrong next year!

New York Islanders- One of the best things the Islanders have going for them next year is the fact that they have the Caps in their division. For whatever reason, the Isles have semi-owned the Caps recently, and I’m not sure why. The team speed of the Isles stifles just about everyone now, so I guess it’s that. Islanders fans will probably be upset with this ranking, and perhaps rightfully so, but I still think this team is going to have to battle hard odds for a playoff spot. Tavares played out of his mind last year to drag his team to an 8 seed. Add Detroit to the eastern mix as well as a full slate of regular season games, and I’m not sure where this team will end up. Wild Card status it is…

Columbus Blue Jackets- I’m not going to pretend to know a whole lot about the Blue Jackets. I do know that they’re in the east now. I also know that they just missed the playoffs last year despite having the Vezina trophy winner. That’s not exactly a compliment to the surrounding team.

Philadelphia Flyers- Philly sports just look like a mess right now, and I’m basking in it. Yes, the Flyers were cursed with injuries last year, but that doesn’t explain it all for me. There seemed to be a serious lack of gumption on this team, and I know from experience that that smells like an identity crisis. It seems like the Flyers are battling between being the Broad Street Bullies of old and the saucy, stick-handling Flyers of new, and their roster reflects that disparity. Oh yeah, and they’ve gotten exactly nowhere in resolving their goalie issues. I really don’t have a clue what this Flyers season is going to bring, but sorry I’m not sorry, Philly.

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