FTHN’s Atlantic Division Preview
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:
2013-14 record: 54-19-9 (117 points, won President’s Trophy)
Projected finish: 1st place
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.
2013-14 record: 46-28-8 (100 points)
Projected finish: 2nd place
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
2013-14 record: 46-27-9 (101 points)
Projected finish: 3rd place
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
2013-14 record: 39-28-15 (93 points)
Projected finish: 4th place
Who’s in: No one
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.
2013-14 record: 29-45-8 (66 points)
Projected finish: 5th place
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
2013-14 record: 38-36-8 (84 points)
Projected finish: 6th place
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.
2013-14 record: 21-51-10 (52 points)
Projected finish: 7th place
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.
2013-14 record: 37-31-14 (88 points)
Projected finish: 8th place
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.