FTHN’s Atlantic Division Preview

The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will be battling for Atlantic Division supremacy during the 2014-15 NHL season.(Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)

The Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will be battling once again for Atlantic division supremacy during the 2014-15 NHL season.(Photo: Charles Krupa/AP)

In recent years, the NHL’s Atlantic division has not been the most competitive of the bunch despite featuring four of the “Original-6” NHL teams and the heated rivalries that come with such storied franchises.

But, headed into the 2014-15 season that is all about to change as the Montreal Canadiens, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers have started to bolster their lineups with an influx of youth and talent in an attempt to take on the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings for the right to call themselves the best of the best in the Atlantic. With that said, let’s take a closer look at how things may shake out this season:

BOSTON BRUINS

A re-energized Lucic will be a huge key to the Bruins success this season.

A re-energized Lucic will be a huge key to the Bruins success this season.

2013-14 record: 54-19-9 (117 points, won President’s Trophy)

Projected finish1st place

Who’s in: Simon Gagne and Ville Leino were invited to training camp on a tryout basis

Who’s out: Jarome Iginla, Chad Johnson, Shawn Thornton and Andrej Meszaros

Players to watch: Loui Eriksson, Dougie Hamilton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic

Season outlook: Sure, the Bruins are up against the cap and still haven’t replaced the loss of Jarome Iginla (invitees Gagne and Leino are interesting but they clearly aren’t Iginla) or signed restricted free-agents Torey Krug or Reilly Smith, but they still have one of the better forward groups and defensive corps in the division as well as the Eastern Conference.

Not too mention they are solid down the middle with Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Carl Soderberg, Gregory Campbell and Chris Kelly. Add that to the superb goaltending of Vezina winner Tuukka Rask, and it’s my belief that this well-rested and fully healthy Bruins squad will remain atop the Atlantic despite much stiffer competition this season.

MONTREAL CANADIENS

Price and Subban are the present and future of the Canadiens, will the rest of the team follow their lead? (Photo: Getty Images)

Price and Subban are the present and future of the Canadiens, will the rest of the team follow their lead? (Photo: Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 46-28-8 (100 points)

Projected finish: 2nd place

Who’s in: P.A. Parenteau, Manny Malhotra and Tom Gilbert

Who’s out: Daniel Briere, Josh Gorges, Douglas Murray, George Parros and Francis Bouillon

Players to watch: Parenteau, Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban

Season outlook: Montreal may not have a Captain but they are young, hungry and eager to prove last year was no fluke. The Canadiens really found their game towards the end of last season and carried that momentum all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were eventually ousted by the New York Rangers.

They didn’t lose much of anything offensively off of last season’s roster except for maybe Briere’s clutch goal scoring and if anything they appear to have gotten better with the addition of Parenteau who should make an already lethal power-play even better.

The loss of Gorges will certainly hamper the defense a bit but the addition of Gilbert with the continued development of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu should help ease the pain. They also have this guy named Carey Price in net and I’m not sure but I hear he’s pretty good.

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

A completely healthy Stamkos will be looking to lead a young and talented Lightning squad to the top of the Atlantic. (Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

A completely healthy Stamkos will be looking to lead a young and talented Lightning squad to the top of the Atlantic. (Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)

Projected finish: 3rd place

Who’s in: Brenden Morrow, Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Evgeni Nabokov and Jason Garrison

Who’s out: Ryan Malone, Mike Kostka and Teddy Purcell

Players to watch: Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin, Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman

Season outlook: After making a huge splash last season by trading Martin St. Louis to the New York Rangers in exchange for Ryan Callahan, the really young but incredibly talented Tampa Bay Lightning showed the NHL just how dangerous they could and will be. With young guns like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat scoring in bunches, the Lightning will now add highly touted rookie Jonathan Drouin to the mix and he should do just fine playing with an elite goal scorer such as Stamkos.

The loss of Purcell shouldn’t be a problem for the offense and if anything it was a fine bit of cap management by Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman. The defense will should also be improved with the additions of Garrison and Stralman, finally the Lightning also addressed a glaring need by adding veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov to serve as Ben Bishop‘s backup and spell the overused stud goaltender.

Tampa Bay is a popular pick this year by a lot of analysts and writers to take the Atlantic and they have the talent and depth to do it, I just don’t think they’re ready quite yet but they’ll continue to improve and should finish the year as one of the division’s better teams.

DETROIT RED WINGS

Howard should once again be one of the busier goaltenders in the NHL as he looks to backstop the Red Wings to their 24th straight postseason appearance. (Photo: Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

Howard should once again be one of the busier goaltenders in the NHL as he looks to backstop the Red Wings to their 24th straight postseason appearance. (Photo: Stephen Dunn/ Getty Images)

2013-14 record: 39-28-15 (93 points)

Projected finish: 4th place

Who’s in: No one

Who’s out: Jordin Tootoo, Carlo Colaiacovo, Todd Bertuzzi and Daniel Alfredsson

Players to watch: Pavel Datsyuk, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha

Season outlook: Like last season, the Red Wings enter the year a little thin on the blue-line and with more than enough question marks about their roster. However, with head coach Mike Babcock on the bench and Datsyuk leading the charge with Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit seems to always find a way to get the job done.

Younger players like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Anthony Mantha (once healthy), will be leaned upon even more heavily than last season, but the way the Red Wings develop talent that shouldn’t be a problem and Jimmy Howard is a good enough goaltender to keep the Red Wings in plenty of games.

They’ll remain near the middle of the pack in the Atlantic but time will tell if Detroit has enough to make it to the playoffs for the 24th season.

 

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Barkov should be the spearhead of the youth movement in Florida. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

Barkov should be the spearhead of the youth movement in Florida. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

2013-14 record: 29-45-8 (66 points)

Projected finish: 5th place

Who’s in: Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell and Al Montoya

Who’s out: Scott Gomez, Tom Gilbert and Ed Jovanovski

Players to watch: Alexsander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aaron Ekblad

Season outlook: With an interesting looking mix of veterans and young stars, the Panthers seem poised to finally start headed in the right direction. They should also be a tougher team to play against with gritty players like Thornton, Bolland, MacKenzie and Mitchell now on the roster, those guys should also help mentor and develop the young talent on Florida’s roster. Finally, they’ll be backstopped by Roberto Luongo, who even at the age of 35-years old he is still an elite-level goaltender and should help to cover up some of the mistakes that will be involved in the learning curve for players like Barkov, Huberdeau and Ekblad. The Panthers will no doubt have an up and down season, but I expect them to finally develop into one of the better teams in the division.

 

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

Kessel may be under constant fire in Toronto, but they'll need him to be his consistent point-scoring self if they wish to make any noise this season. (Photo: Getty Images).

Kessel may be under constant fire in Toronto, but they’ll need him to be his consistent point-scoring self if they wish to make any noise this season. (Photo: Getty Images).

2013-14 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)

Projected finish: 6th place

Who’s in: David Booth, Leo Komarov, Daniel Winnik, Roman Polak, Stephane Robidas and Mike Santorelli

Who’s out: Dave Bolland, Nikolai Kulemin, Mason Raymond and Tim Gleason

Players to watch: Phil Kessel, James Van Riemsdyk, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Reilly

Season outlook: I might be going a little tough on the Maple Leafs but when I look at their roster I just don’t see it. Sure, they made some nice additions in the offseason, especially on the blue-line where they added Robidas and Polak, but I still don’t think they did enough to get themselves over the hump and into the top of the Atlantic. Kessel and JVR will get their points while Bernier has proven he is a bona fide starter at the NHL level, just again I don’t think Toronto did enough to bolster their roster and they’ll struggle to find secondary scoring. Maybe I’m wrong, but for now I’m none to impressed with the Maple Leafs and would be surprised if they made the playoffs.

BUFFALO SABRES

Moulson is back in Buffalo and he'll be trying to take them out of the cellar and into the light. (Photo: Gary Wiepart/AP)

Moulson is back in Buffalo and he’ll be trying to take the Sabres out of the cellar and into the light. (Photo: Gary Wiepart/AP)

2013-14 record: 21-51-10 (52 points)

Projected finish: 7th place

Who’s in: Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andre Benoit and Andrej Meszaros

Who’s out: Henrik Tallinder, Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino

Players to watch: Moulson, Sam Reinhart, Tyler Myers and Chris Stewart

Season outlook: Following in the steps of the Florida Panthers, the Sabres have an interesting mix of youth and experience on their roster headed into the season. They’ve brought back Moulson and with Stewart finally getting healthy the Sabres should have a pretty productive top-6 group of forwards. The defense is a bit questionable and losing Ehrhoff won’t make breaking out of their own end any easier, also I’m not entirely sold on Michael Neuvirth or Jonas Enroth being able to carry the load but Buffalo should be more competitive than they have been in recent years and maybe, just maybe, they won’t finish in last place.

OTTAWA SENATORS

Under the cloud of contract uncertainty, Ryan  will have to do all he can and more to keep the rebuilding Senators relevant this season. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

Under the cloud of contract uncertainty, Ryan will have to do all he can and more to keep the rebuilding Senators relevant this season. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

2013-14 record: 37-31-14 (88 points)

Projected finish: 8th place

Who’s in: David Legwand and Alex Chiasson

Who’s out: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Joe Corvo

Players to watch: Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Erik Karlsson, Cody Ceci and Mika Zibanejad

Season outlook: Having dealt Spezza to the Dallas Stars in the offseason, the Senators loss a decent amount of their offensive production as well as their captain and leader. Ottawa also lost Hemsky to free agency and now Bobby Ryan will be leaned on heavily to produce even more alongside Turris and considering Ryan’s in a contract year that shouldn’t be much of a problem but after those two I’m not quite sure where the Senators scoring will come from. They have some good two-way forwards and an alright defense anchored by superstar Erik Karlsson, to go with some solid goaltending from Craig Anderson and Robin Lerner, just compared to the other teams in the division I don’t believe they have nearly enough to compete and it could get ugly rather quickly in Ottawa this season.

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