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NHL: 2022/23 Eastern Conference preview

The Eastern Conference consists of the Metropolitan and Atlantic Divisions which were won by the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers respectively last season.

However, both were disappointedly knocked out early in the playoffs and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Prince of Wales Trophy as Eastern Conference winners for a third straight time, beating the New York Rangers in the Final.

The Lightning weren't able to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions, though, losing to the Western winners Colorado Avalanche.

WhatNHL Season 2022/23
WhereUSA and Canada
When7th October 2022 - June 2023
How to watchESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming

COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100

Lightning vow to bounce back

After having their three-peat dream dashed, the Lightning vowed to bounce back in 2022/23 and are +525 to win the Eastern title for a fourth year running.

While clutch scorer Ondrej Palat (now New Jersey Devils) and rugged defenceman Ryan McDonagh (now Nashville Predators) are big summer losses for Tampa, the majority of their championship core remains, including star netminder Andrei Vasilevsky, Captain Steven Stamkos and offensive juggernauts Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point.

Before losing in six games to the Avalanche, the Lightning had won 11 straight playoff series and fuelled by anger of that disappointment, it won't be easy for any of their contenders to dethrone them of the Eastern Conference crown.

Make or break for Dubas' Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs are +425 to do just that, but must find a way to get over the steep hump which has seen them lose in the first round six straight times and not win a playoff series since 2004.

Last season, the Leafs pushed the Lightning all the way to a Game 7 and had two opportunities to eliminate them when 3-1 up in the best-of-seven series.

They couldn't do it, but the defeat felt different to those previous and an optimism remained for a group led by the Hart Trophy winner Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Helped by Matthews' 60 goals and Marner's career best 97 points (35 goals, 62 assists) the Leafs ranked second in the NHL for goals scored (312), first in powerplay percentage (27.3 percent), and first for short-handed goals scored (13).

While the regular season numbers are continually impressive, Toronto are 0-9 in playoff elimination games over the past five years which has become a glaring problem.

General Manager Kyle Dubas has entered the final year of a five-year contract and his job relies on the Leafs having learned their lessons from years past. A conference title would be major reward for his continued faith, but another failure will likely mean major change in Toronto.

Major changes for Panthers

The Florida Panthers (+500) enjoyed the best season in their franchise history and won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best regular season team (58-18-6; 122 points).

However, after being swept by the Lightning at the second-round stage, they made two major changes in their pursuit of the conference title and Stanley Cup.

Coach Andrew Brunette was replaced by long-time Winnipeg Jet Paul Maurice and a blockbuster trade made with the Calgary Flames to acquire Matthew Tkachuk in exchange for top point scorer Jonathan Huberdeau and defenceman MacKenzie Weegar.

Tkachuk scored 104 points (42 goals, 62 assists) in 82 regular season games with the Flames last season and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 12 playoff games.

His nard-nosed approach is something General Manager Bill Zito clearly feels the Panthers were missing in the playoffs, and whether it works out or not, his bravery to try something much different should be applauded.

Best of the rest

After taking a major step and making the Conference Final last season, the New York Rangers shouldn't be counted out to go one step further (+900) especially with Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin protecting their net.

Under coach Ron Brind'Amour the Carolina Hurricanes have been knocking on the Stanley Cup door for several seasons, but have not yet made the breakthrough.

They lost in the Conference Final in 2019 and have had to semi-final and a quarter-final defeat since.

Carolina (+550) won the Metropolitan Division last season (54-20-8) and with productive forwards Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny added to a well-settled side, they will no doubt be there or thereabouts again.

Four further teams who can't be counted out are the Pittsburgh Penguins (+1100), Boston Bruins (+1300), Washington Capitals (+1600) and New York Islanders (+1700).

Pittsburgh have re-signed three-time Stanley Cup Champions Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin in order for them to have another couple of cracks at winning a fourth with Captain Sidney Crosby.

The Bruins have also chosen to bank on veteran experience, re-signing five-time Selke Trophy winner and Captain Patrice Bergeron to a new one-year deal and bringing back fellows forward David Krejci after a season away in his homeland of Czechia. The pair won the Stanley Cup together in 2010/11 with the Bruins.

Washington can again rely on their Captain Alexander Ovechkin (780 career goals) to lead their charge as he chases down Wayne Gretzky's (894) all-time goal scoring record.

Meanwhile, New York Islanders are motivated to prove last season's failure to make the playoffs was just a blip after two straight conference final defeats to the Lightning previously.

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