I have a feeling we may be entering a tear-down/rebuilding phase. There may be too much comfort and complacency on the team. I would rather have a year or two of bold rebuilding than on-going mediocrity (which I think is where we may be headed without bold changes). The Eastern Conference is soft soft soft. Combined with how other Eastern Conference teams have been and will be getting stronger (Flyers, Caps, Penguins, Boston for example) and the status quo for Ottawa is not a winning proposition. If we really want to a contender in the future, we may have to take a step back and reconfigure the talent.
Out of the 4 teams you mentioned, the only one that will be getting stronger is the Caps.
The Flyers are losing Jason Smith and Sami Kapanen has allegedly signed overseas. They're hoping that Derian Hatcher retires so they'll have the money to sign RFAs like Jeff Carter and R.J. Umberger, both of which are in line for hefty raises. Defensively they'll be relying on a lot of young players. They'll be a good young team, but I think they may be taking a step backwards next season inorder to take two step forwards.
The Pens are going to lose Brooks Orpik, Gary Roberts, and Marian Hossa. I don't even think that the Pens will be in the playoffs next year and they too have some players that will be getting huge raises.
Boston? Puh-lease. I'll give credit where credit is due and they only made the playoffs because of Julien, other than that, they don't have much talent to go around on that team when it comes to their forwards. They have two forward lines that belong in the AHL and rumour has it that Chiarelli is looking to try and move Schaeffer for the same reason Murray traded him...He's overpaid for what he brings to the table.
No doubt the east is soft, but I'd be looking at teams like Montreal, the Devils, and Florida as teams that will be the teams to watch out for in the East next season.