I have been working on this for a little bit and we still have another day before Canes hockey. I wanted to break down how the Eastern Conference is going to be shaped over the next 5-8 years and how that impacts the Canes' cup chances. I have seen a lot of comments about our window is closing or our window is now. The eastern conference is shaping up to allow the Canes to be cup contenders for a long time.
We will look at their farm system, their roster, and their cup chances
Toronto: they have the stars no doubt about it and they have buying power. They lack depth and goaltending. Woll may or may not be their guy in the net. Their roster will see a lot of turnover the next two off-seasons. Their farm system isnt good. Will they be able to keep Marner? Can they get good depth? Can they get a decent to good goalie? They have blown a lot of trade assets to spin their tires in the post season. This offseason will important for them. As long as Matthews is there, they have a chance at winning a cup. I would say they have a low end chance of winning one.
Detroit is moving up in the rankings. I dont understand the need to overspend on veterans in FA the last 2 off seasons but Yzerman has done it. I guess I'll use the smirky quote from Yzerman when we traded Ned to them: "I dont know you'll have to ask them." They dont have a goalie. Their farm system is primed to support their upward trajectory. They will need to figure out the net and shed some of these contracts to get to the next 2 levels. They seem to be well prepared for a good run of playoff appearances. Does it equate to a cup? Im guessing 50/50.
Ottawa: no goalie, no farm system, and a bunch of young players who dont play the game the right way. They seem to be on their way to years of weird mediocrity. Like the 2010s canes or the current run of the Sabres. Something has to flip before they are going to be cup threats. Very low chances to win as things are now.
Hey speaking of Buffalo, they have a lot of the same. Their farm system is pretty decent but their lack a netminder, defense, and a bunch of players who play the right way. I put them with Ottawa and continue their run of underperforming mediocrity. Very low chances.
Montreal: Good farm system, bad current roster, and over pressuring market. they can spend with the best of them but they have to fix their mid round drafting to get quality depth players to be a threat. They have a bunch of anchoring contracts too. They could turn this around but it isnt likely until the later parts of the 5-8 year window.
TB: TB is TB as long as Vas continues to be a factor. They have star power and a good team. JBB has blown a lot in the last 2 years to be really good and then not very good. They have signed some guys to way too much which has killed their depth. Their farm system is near the bottom of the league. They have a 50/50 chance of being a cup contender but the chances goes down as we go through this window.
Florida: Farm system is okay. Their roster is pretty good as they have stars but they have some wildly inconsistent goaltending. The next two off seasons are going to be huge for them. They have Montour, Forsling, Reinhart, Bennett, and Verhaeghe all needing new contracts with little top half of the roster prospects to back fill. Knight has been really bad in the AHL since coming back from the assistance program. Bob is likely to be a boat anchor as he gets closer to the end of his deal. i give them 50/50 chance as well to be cup contenders. These next 2 off-seasons and their mid round pick drafting will go a long way to determining their staying power.
Lastly, Boston: they have a good organization that has always gotten guys to play the right way. They will be a decent to good team as long as Pasta, Swayman, and McAvoy are there and they have a roster of players that play right. But how seriously can we say they will be for cup contention? As we get passed this year and after next their chances really start to drop. Maybe their team gets hot during a playoff streak with Swayman stealing games. mid to lower end of being contenders in this window.
We know the metro so I wont do as much of breakdown.
Washington, Pittsburgh, and Isles: Their windows are about locked shut. Each team is getting older and older with little cap room and meh to no farm systems to keep them afloat. Pittsburgh and Isles have some bodies to be 6-8th in the eastern standings the next 3 years but they dont seem to be real threats.
Columbus: I will put them in the category of Buffalo and Ottawa. Didnt do enough with their draft picks and poor roster management leads to mediocrity.
Philly: they have a good system led by Michkov. Their system took a hit with Gauthier saying no and i dont like young defender they got. Philly will be a good team but not great. I think Torts will teach the guys to play the right way but they wont suck long enough to get difference maker players. Like Pittsburgh they had a real opportunity to do so with Michkov staying in Russia, like Malkin. They could have sucked again this year and had Celebrini running with their young players causing havoc for a long time. They will probably bounce around in the standings over the next 5-8 years with plenty of questions about their star power. Maybe they get lucky and find an Aho in 2nd round or later.
NYR: They are in a shorter window with some big off-season upcoming. Looks like Kakko is a bust for a 2OA and Lafrenierre wasn't a good 1OA selection, right now. Their system is waning. Shesterkin, Miller, Lindgren, Schneider, and Lafrenierre will be FAs of different kinds over the next 2 off seasons with not a lot of cap to play with. I say they are unknown with a chance to be a real threat if they can put it together over the next 2 seasons. After 2 seasons, I put them in the decreasing chances club.
Our one real regular threat in the east: NJ. NJ has a chance to be a real threat annually if their defensive prospect can figure it out and their figure out the net. Eventually Dougie's deal will start to weigh them down but their farm system is still really good (even after the Meier deal).
What does all this conjectural nonsense even mean? Could mean the Canes are primed for years of top tier runs against a fading eastern conference group or it could mean nothing as you only have to make the playoffs and get hot.
The Canes themselves have the biggest upcoming off season in their history since the 04-05 lockout ended. We have 2 two top half of the roster RFAs needed a new contract. We have 3 top half roster players along with some valuable depth piece becoming UFAs. We have some good young players coming up. Will some be stars? Morrow, Nikishin, Nadeau, and some other have the potential but we dont know yet. Are we able to surround this slew of young talent who is likely joining the roster over the next 3 years with affordable and stable veterans? It all starts with this off season.
If, big if, the Canes hit on some these prospects and they are able to solidify the rest of the roster you are looking a long run as a premier team in the eastern conference with NJ and random appearances from other teams with teams like Detroit joining them later. Of course, injuries, a stinker off-season or two, and/or little prospect development can set us back to random years of a great team level. The window is open for another 5-8 years with little question.
Nikishin: potential 1LD type stuff and showing a floor of 2LD right now
Morrow: 1RD type stuff and showing a 3RD PP specialist floor right now
Blake: top 6 winger showing stuff based on his offense. showing a 4th liner offensive draw only type player right now.
Koivunen: showing top 6 stuff right against men. Can he do it on smaller ice against even better competition?
Nadeau: top line sniper potential. his motor will determine how far he goes.
FUS: the kid got a look after the draft. The kid has a chance to be a good 2C for us.
That is just our top 6 and we have some really good depth too: Forsmark, Trikizov, Pono, Rykov, Nystrom, Lucius, and Heimosalmi. We just need 2 of these to be top half roster players and 2 to be good depth players and we a really good team for a long time. We could have another Russian goalie ready to take the net in 4-5 years.
We have a really good chance to be a long term top contender with some help from prospects with the rest of the eastern conference not trending in the right direction (minus Detroit and NJ).