Saturday, September 28, 2013

NHL Season Preview: Atlantic Division

*takes off Leafs sweater*

Alright. Let's get unbiased in this piece!

In case you missed it, I started previewing the new divisions for the upcoming 2013-14 NHL season. Last time, I covered how I thought the Metropolitan Division would play out. This time, I go to the other division in the Eastern Conference.

As you may have gathered from above, I grew up a Leafs fan. This division comes with a lot of emotion, especially with the Red Wings becoming a division rival again. It also adds more trips south for the teams of the Old Atlantic with the inclusion of Florida and Tampa Bay.

Boston Bruins
The playoffs provided a roller coaster of emotions for the Bruins. First, they come from three goals down to deliver the expected heartbreak to Maple Leafs fans everywhere. Then, in the Stanley Cup Final, Boston surrenders two goals in 17 seconds at the end of Game 6 to give the Cup to the Blackhawks. Their offseason consisted up of locking up important pieces to the future. Tuuku Rask and Patrice Bergeron got paid. They let Nathan Horton walk to bring in Jarome Iginla - for real this time. Plus, they shipped off-ice distraction Tyler Seguin to Dallas for Loui Eriksson. He'll be a nice fit o the wing for Boston. Their defence is still as strong as ever under the captaincy of Zdeno Chara. Dougie Hamilton will have a break-out year and emerge as one of the best young defencemen. Boston is going to have a very good year.

Buffalo Sabres
It was a typical season for fans of a Buffalo sports team last year. The team opened up the wallet and signed a bunch of players, but the team slid down to the bottom of the standings. This year, the team will be relying again on Thomas Vanek for the offence. Cody Hodgson or Mikhail Grigorenko will have to take a big step forward in order for the Sabres to get close enough for Ryan Miller to steal them a playoff spot. Miller had an off year during the strike-shortened season (I would know since I drafted him in fantasy). Look for him to bounce back, especially with the Sochi Olympics coming up in February. Unfortunately for Sabres fans, it looks like a second straight year of no playoffs for the team. That is unless Ryan Miller wins the Vezina.

Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings had three natural rivals in the division from their Original Six days. After free agency, they added a fourth. With the signing of Daniel Alfredsson away from the Ottawa Senators, the Wings got some more veteran leadership and a player still capable of being a strong second line player. Paired with another new addition Stephen Weiss, Alfredsson is looking to prove he can still play at a competitive level. He also wants the Cup which has eluded him so far through his career. The roster still has the talent to get him to that level. Datsyuk and Zetterberg look to have great campaigns this season. Nik Kronwall is the anchor of the blue line and will provide a lot of poise back there. Jimmy Howard has proven he can be one of the game's elite 'tenders over the last couple of seasons. Expect to see the Red Wings in the playoffs again.

Florida Panthers
Poor Florida. The Panthers were starting to look good, especially two years ago when they made the playoffs. Now, it will be even more of a long shot as they are stuck in an extremely competitive division. Adding Barkov in the draft will help in the future, stockpiling talent to go along with the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson. The signing of Tim Thomas keeps the team in the news, but could prove to be more of a distraction in the long run. Look for Florida to be at the bottom of the conference again, but will have another solid piece for the future.

Montréal Canadiens
The Habs surprised a lot of people last year as they finished second in the Eastern Conference. After being eliminated in the first round, the Canadiens looked to add some more players. Enter Danny Briere for some scoring and George Parros for some extra toughness. The Briere signing didn't address the issue of size for Montréal. They are still a fairly small team that rely on skill more than their toughness. The Canadiens do have some grit in the defensive zone, as Josh Gorges will rough people up and reigning Norris trophy-winner P.K. Subban will get under the skin of the opposition. The season will fall on the shoulders of Carey Price. The young netminder has shown some cracks under the pressure of the Montréal media, but he is still one of the best in the game. This team will go as far as Price will take them.

Ottawa Senators
It will be weird watching the Senators play the Leafs and not hear the constant booing whenever Daniel Alfredsson touched the puck. Alfie is out. Enter Bobby Ryan from the Ducks and Clarke MacArthur from free agency. While the Sens gave up a lot to get Ryan, he'll fit in perfectly beside new captain Jason Spezza on the first line. One of the biggest "moves" for Ottawa is the return of a fully-healthy Erik Karlsson. He is a constant threat every time he is on the ice with this effortless skating and ability to make the perfect pass. The best news about the injury-plagued season for the Sens last year was all of the experience their prospects received, especially in the playoffs. Craig Anderson showed again that he could be the man for the Senators. Things are looking up in Canada's capital.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Another team lost their franchise player and captain. The Lecavalier era ended when the Lightning bought him out in the summer. Now, the new face of the franchise is Steven Stamkos and it will be up to him to take Tampa back to the playoffs. Stamkos, who is capable of scoring 60, needs to prove he can be a leader for this team. It will be he and Martin St. Louis that will be responsible for the majority of the team's offence. On defence, they are strong with the likes of Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund anchoring the blue line. It will be interesting to see what young players make the team. Will Jonathan Druin stay with the team all season? Which young defenceman will crack the roster? How will Anders Lindback and Ben Bishop co-exist between the pipes? It will be another tough season for the Lightning.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Alright, let's be reasonable here. The Leafs overachieved last season. All of the advanced stats say so. But, they looked very good against the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs. Their style of play translated very well into postseason hockey. However, contracts became an issue. Dave Nonis needed to buy out Mikhail Grabovski - who flew around the ice during the playoffs - in order to resign Phil Kessel's BFF Tyler Bozak. In free agency, they threw money at David Clarkson who is now suspended for the first 10 games of the season. That will hurt the team early on and might be the deciding factor in the season. 10 games is a lot, almost one-eighth of the season. One bright spot was the addition of Jonathan Bernier. He will push James Reimer and eventually take over the starting job. This will be a tough season for the Leafs. Kadri and Franson are both playing for respect. Kessel and Phaneuf are on contract years, so you could expect big things from them. But, this is Toronto after all...

So, that is my brief overview of each team. How will this division play out?
  1. Boston Bruins
  2. Detroit Red Wings
  3. Ottawa Senators
  4. Montréal Canadiens
  5. Toronto Maple Leafs
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning
  7. Buffalo Sabres
  8. Florida Panthers

As for the Wild Card, I think the Canadiens and the Maple Leafs sneak into the playoffs with those positions. I just don't think there is enough in the other division to knock one of the teams out. Look for the Islanders or the Hurricanes to be dark horses in the Eastern Conference for a lower playoff seed.

Do you agree or disagree? Sound off in the comments below.

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