With the the 2013-14 season only weeks away, it’s time for the ever debatable projections. The Divisions have been realigned, and that leaves us with a fresh look at teams and their new rivals. The big change for the Atlantic division will be the injection of the Detroit Red Wings. With Boston and Detroit headlining this division, it will be hard for anyone to call it the “south-least division” ever again. Adding to the competition are the up and coming teams like Toronto and Ottawa. So here is a team-by-team look at the new and improved Atlantic Division.
8) The Florida Panthers had a rough season last year, and that’s putting it lightly. Injury was a big reason, but certainly not the only reason. The goaltending was painful to watch last year, but the goaltenders themselves aren’t fully responsible. Sure, Jacob Markstrom was the best goalie on the team with a .901 save percentage and a 3.22 GAA average, which is terrible, but you have to look at the team in front of him. These are NHL caliber goalies, so when those stats are your teams best, it clearly doesn’t fall solely on one player. In fact, the team as a whole was dysfunctional. Not one player that played any significant amount of games was in the positives for plus/minus. The Panthers decided to skip over top defensive prospect Seth Jones for forward Aleksander Barkov to the surprise of many. The Panthers haven’t made any moves that would make me believe that they will find a way to keep the puck out of the net. Sure, they’ve added more offense, but when you’re in a division with teams like Boston or Detroit, you can’t rely on offense alone.
Prediction: The Panthers will be out of the playoffs again.
7) The Buffalo Sabres had a drama filled season once again. It’s true, Miller didn’t get flattened by anyone, and John Scott got some vengeance on Thorton, but they just couldn’t find any consistency. Further proof to the agony the Sabres went through is that the main highlights for the season were the previously mentioned John Scott fight, and the ever delightful Steve Ott visor licking incident. Honestly though, they did have the whole Vanek looking like a god on skates thing going. After the first two weeks, he was on pace to have a 180 point season or something crazy like that, if it had been a full season. The team is clearly having locker room issues, and to add to the chaos we saw the departure of Captain Jason Pominville. I can’t see Vanek and Hodgson carrying this team on their backs for 82 games. I also don’t see how Miller will ever look like Miller again while wearing a Sabres jersey. The man seems completely defeated, and that’s never a good mindset for your star goalie.
Prediction: The Sabres will struggle again and miss the playoffs, but John Scott will score a goal this season.
6) The Tampa Bay Lightning, like the Panthers, have always been viewed as a team that played in a weak division, and that changes this season. The one-two punch of Stamkos and and St. Louis is still intact, and to add to that, they will have a full season with giant Ben Bishop between the pipes. While some question the abilities of Bishop as a starter, none are too worried about the other new comer, Jonathan Drouin. Tampa adds another offensive layer to their already deep forward group. The loss of Lecavalier will be felt, but I don’t think that it will hurt the team as badly as some think. No doubt the addition of Filppula will add further offensive depth. They still haven’t done much with their blue line. The Lightning were among the teams that could have used Seth Jones, and I didn’t really see any improvement this offseason to make up for the choice to go with Drouin in the first round over Jones.
Prediction: Tampa will look better this season, but will find themselves on the outside of the playoff bubble. Again, relying on offense won’t be as effective against teams like Boston, Detroit, and Ottawa.
5) The Montreal Canadiens were a pleasant surprise last season. Between the Subban negotiations and a bunch of “rules” about celebrating, I honestly expected a rather dysfunctional team. Alas, I was wrong. They played a fantastic team game that carried them throughout the season until the last few weeks. In those few weeks, the wheels came off a bit with Carey Price seeming to completely lose his confidence. I expect more of the same this year, but I just don’t think they’ll be able to get same result. I have a feeling Price won’t look as unstoppable as he did in the first half of the year, and I think the abrupt end to the season might have shaken the team a little. On the bright side, the team stayed fairly intact and I don’t see any reason for a drop in production from the offense. Pacioretty should have no reason to falter, and I can see Galchenyuk building off of last season. Prediction: They will miss out on the wildcard spot by the slimmest of margins. Unless Price can find his groove, this team will struggle a bit.
4) The Toronto Maple Leafs were yet another surprise team in the shortened season. Phil Kessel ended the season looking dominant. Youngster Nazem Kadri had an outstanding year, and I expect him to continue that trend into the new season. The big news for the Leafs over the summer was also one of concern. They traded their backup goalie (or should we call him “Fill In Hero”?) to the Kings for unhappy backup Jonathan Bernier. On paper, that trade seems great for Toronto, but that is sending a mixed message to Reimer. Is he “your guy” or is he to believe that the owners 5are questioning his play? You can possibly end up with two unhappy goalies, which is the last thing the Leafs need. The other head scratcher was the signing of David Clarkson. He has potential, but will he be able to produce in the Leafs system? Or will it end up as one of those signings where the player looks great until he can’t live up to the weight of the contract? Prediction: I can see the Leafs continuing where they left off last regular season to snag the wildcard spot. Also, the sting of losing game 7 the way they did will be motivation to not let up at all this year.
3) The Ottawa Senators earned the nickname “The Pesky Sens” for a reason. They were stingy; they won games through what seemed like pure determination. Craig Anderson will try to match his performance from last season. He has the ability to do so with the defense in front of him. The loss of Alfredsson will be tough to get over mentally, but Winger Bobby Ryan should have no problem surpassing Alfredsson’s point potential. Spezza will be back at 100% and with Ryan on his wing; the Sens will have a rather strong scoring line. Not all the acquisitions were going to be positive, and the addition of Joe Corvo has been rather negative. Old, slow, and disliked, isn’t exactly something to aim for as an athlete. The bigger problem will be the loss of Jakob Silfverberg. He is one of those players that does a lot right both on and off the puck. Prediction: They grab the number 3 spot. This of course is barring any more secretly planned assassination attempts on their star players, specifically by Matt Cooke.
2) The Detroit Red Wings complained about travel in the Western Conference, so the NHL moved them over to the East. While there is no denying that the Wings have lost their defensive elite status with the retirement of some of their legends, they still are well run and have found a way to make things work. It looks like Brunner will be departing, and Filpula has left, but they still have Datsyuk and Zetterberg, as well as seasoned veteran Daniel Alffredsson. The team may not be any quicker, but they still have a strong, smart core. Besides the usual suspects from last years’ blue line, the magnifying glass will be looking at Bendan Smith. In the playoffs, Smith looked lost when it mattered most, but he still found the back of the net on more than one occasion. Detroit won’t be the juggernaut that they have been in years past but it’s hard to see them faltering the first season in their new division. Prediction: They have proven themselves capable of handling any style of play thrown at them by their opposition, and they will be locked for 2nd in their division.
1) The Boston Bruins had game 7 of the SCF in their sights, and then 17 seconds went by, and they were left stunned. They have all the fuel for their fire to burn bright all season long. The team will have a different look this season. The loss of Nathan Horton might have the biggest impact on the team, followed up by Andrew Ference. The last major change was the Tyler Seguin Trade. While it sounds like the team is happier with him gone, who is going to fill the void of a naturally gifted goal scorer? Sure, Iginla is a nice fit to the team, and both Daugavins and Soderberg have some potential. Still, the fact remains; they aren’t going to easily replace Seguin’s natural scoring talent. On the bright side, Bergeron should be 100% for the start of the season. His two-way play is something to behold. Rask got his big payday after having an extremely solid year and hasn’t given his critics any reason to believe he isn’t the real deal. Dougie Hamilton will hopefully avoid the curse of Pierre Mcguire stalking him and be able to have a strong sophomore season. Most importantly, Lucic found his game in the playoffs, and I expect to see him have a much stronger regular season. Prediction: The Bruins will come out on top of their division. They came so close to winning another cup, and the motivation will be there.