2013 Northeast Division Preview

Around two weeks ago I wrote about the Southeast Division and needless to say my claims of the division being “competitive” do not seem to be coming to fruition. Carolina and Washington, the two teams I had finishing 1st and 2nd, are 11th and 13th respectively in the Eastern Conference. Ok, there is still be a lot of hockey to be played, but it’s not the start I was expecting. With my Nostradamus-like ability to predict being taken into consideration, it’s time to look at another Eastern division: the Northeast. As a Sens fan, this is the division that I spend most of my time watching and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the season plays out. Since I’m writing this a few games into the new season, I will include a “How You Doin’?” feature, which will address how the team’s situation seems to be shaping up in comparison to my prognostication.

One small note: I’m basing these lines on predictions for the line-up of the most recent coming game (as of February 1st), so there is a good chance these lines will shift over the coming weeks, either due to injuries or matchups. Here we go…

 

Boston Bruins – The “Teach me how to Dougie” Edition

 

Lucic – Krejci – Horton
Marchand – Bergeron – Seguin
Bourque – Kelly – Peverley
MacDermid – Campbell – Tardiff

One of the players who will make the biggest impact from the forward core will be Nathan Horton. Horton, who has been plagued with concussion issues for most of his career, has point per game potential when healthy. Other than that, this is pretty much a returning cast of most of the Bruins you know and love. Milan Lucic will continue to be a dominant physical force, David Krejci will quietly put up the points, and Patrice Bergeron will make you want to punch him in the face. Chris Kelly succeeded last year as an impact player, finishing with a career high 39 points. He won’t light the world on fire, but he brings some solid center depth. They also have bruisers like Lane MacDermid, and the recently injured Shawn Thornton, who can command roles on the fourth line.

Chara – Boychuk
Seidenberg – Hamilton
Ference – McQuiad

Outside of Zdeno Chara, most of the Bruins defensemen are unheralded, but they play effective hockey. Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk have been criticized at times, but as a whole they play a tight game. Most of the focus this year will be on the rookie Dougie Hamilton, who was drafted by the Bruins in 2001, due in part to the Phil Kessel trade. While he may not be the elite superstar most Leafs haters are hyping him up as, he was one of the best defensemen in the OHL and will look to transition and adapt to the Bruins top four.

Rask
Khudobin

With Tim “Tea Party” Thomas no longer around, this is Rask’s team. This is good news for the Bruins, since Rask has been a patient goalie and is well regarded as the best backup goalie in the NHL. Let’s not forget he played 45 games in 2010 and led the Bruins to the playoffs, so he’s not without an early resume of success. Khudobin may perhaps be a dark horse goalie, who has fared well, albeit with a small sample of games. He seems to be a decent backup when given a chance, so he could be useful in random starts.

Best Case Scenario: Since most of the roster is the usual core of guys, if they play up to their talents they should be a playoff team. With a healthy Horton and a game breaking Rask, this team could make the leap from playoff team to Stanley Cup favourite. The Bruins will be a favourite to win the Northeast division.

Worst Case Scenario: When Thomas faltered down the stretch, the Bruins went from the best team in the league to a borderline playoff team. For all the team’s strengths, they just seem to play with a bit more swagger when the goaltending is on its game. If Rask struggles it’s going to be hard to stay competitive in a division with some strong goaltending. A calamity of this magnitude could have them finishing out of the playoffs.

How You Doin’?

The Bruins are currently tied with Ottawa in leading the Northeast Division. They are shaping up to be one of the best teams in the league, with Rask looking like a competent goalie and the team having some solid scoring depth. The rookie Hamilton has been the best defenseman not named Chara and if he keeps this pace he will likely be one of the best rookie defenseman in the league this season.

 

Buffalo Sabres – The “We draft a ****-ton of centers” Edition

 

Vanek – Hodgson – Pominville
Ott – Ennis – Stafford
Foligno – Grigorenko – Hecht
Scott – Ellis – Gerbe

For the past seven years the Sabres have been one of the highest scoring teams in the league and this season looks to be no different. While Cody Hodgson failed to earn a good role ahead of Ryan Kesler or Henrik Sedin on the Canucks, he should have no problem breaking into a top-six spot on this team. The Sabres have some serious wing depth in Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, future fan favourite Steve Ott, and the other Foligno, Marcus. That should be enough to get by while Ville Leino is on IR. Mikhael Grigorenko managed to make the team as a rookie and it will be interesting to see how he fares, particularly in the wake of him falling in the previous year’s draft. Also, don’t forget the little Nathan Gerbe, who could be due (hopefully) for that impact season people are expecting. While we love when short guys like Daniel Briere succeed, sometimes it isn’t always meant to be.

Leopold – Myers
Ehrhoff – Sulzer
Weber – Sekera

Like Leino last season, Christian Ehrhoff was the other big name UFA bust to play for the Sabres, although 32 points in 66 games isn’t exactly a terrible achievement. Still, the Sabres expect him to produce big numbers and with an improved forward core this season he should be successful. Tyler Myers is hoping to have another big season like his rookie year, as he’s been plagued by inconsistent play and injury ever since then. The Sabres don’t exactly have the best defensive lineup, especially with Robyn Regehr injured, but they more than make up for it with their goaltending.

Miller
Enroth

Ryan Miller was a few years ago easily the best goalie in the NHL. I’d argue that for a full two year calendar span, from 2009 to 2010, he was playing on a level above most other goalies in the NHL. Unfortunately, last season was not Miller’s best. After getting rattled emotionally by the Bruins, he stunk for most of the year, before turning around his play midway through the season. To the surprise of NO ONE, the Sabres’ play improved with Miller’s! Let’s just assume last year was a fluke, but at least the Sabres know they have Enroth as insurance for the future.

Best Case Scenario: A well-coached and well-oiled machine, the Sabres will continue to put up a ton of goals, which will be enough to qualify for the NHL playoffs. Rebound years from Leino and Ehrhoff and some great performances from the team’s young guns will be enough to make them a division lock.

Worst Case Scenario: While this team can score, they have had issues for many years as being weak and easy to push around. Playing in a conference with teams like the Bruins, Flyers, Penguins, Devils, and Rangers doesn’t do much to help them. Miller might simply be slowing down and a weak, push over defense won’t save them as they fall into the dreaded 7th-12th place limbo zone.

How You Doin’?

Though the Sabres currently sit out of playoff contention, they appear to be the high scoring team that I have predicted. The VHP line has been playing some outstanding hockey. While defense is a concern, as long as they win more games like the statement game recently versus the Bruins they should continue to make their mark in the East.

 

Montreal Canadiens – The “Où est PK Subban?” Edition

 

Eller – Desharnais – Cole
Bourque – Plekanec – Gionta
Gallagher – Galchenyuk – Prust
Moen – White – Armstrong

After a dismal season last year, the Habs drafted star American forward (of Russian decent), Alex Galchenyuk. In the new Michel Therrien system, his line with Brendan Gallagher and Brandon Prust has formed an effective third line. Other than that, the team has a few decent pieces; Gionta is still a good veteran presence, Cole was a surprise last season, and Pacioretty is a legitimate scoring threat when he returns to the lineup. The fourth line isn’t scaring anyone though.

Markov – Emelin
Gorges – Diaz
Bouillon – Kaberle

The most surprising player on the team has been “General” Andrei Markov, who is finally having a healthy season and looks like he might be back to his dominant former self. This bodes well for the Habs, since outside of production from the youngsters Raphael Diaz and Alexei Emelin and strong defensive play from Josh Gorges, the theme of the past few weeks has been “Waiting For Subban”. Once PK is inserted back in the lineup, the Habs should have a decent crew. Tomas Kaberle put up a decent amount of production last season, but he seems to be on the downside of his career.

Price
Budaj

The great thing about Jaroslav Halak going to the Blues is that it worked out for both teams, with Halak sharing starting roles with Brian Elliott and Carey Price morphing into a franchise goalie. Price is without a doubt the best player on this team and his performance often times keeps Montreal in games they have no business being in. Former Avalanche goalie Peter Budaj serves as the team’s backup. He was never able to put it together after a decent run with his former team, but can be a reliable goalie when needed.

Best Case Scenario: Since the Habs biggest weakness is a lack of depth among their forwards, if they can get solid production from the Gally line, they might have enough scoring potential to keep them in NHL games. Having a 100% healthy Markov and 100% motivated Subban should do wonders for the team. They might not have what it takes to win the division, but a playoff spot is possible.

Worst Case Scenario: Let’s not forget this was the worst team in the Eastern Conference last year. While Gomez is gone, many of the issues plaguing the team still remain. Too much of the team’s hopes are resting in their young defensive core and even elite play from Price wasn’t able to keep them in the hunt. It’s more likely that they finish outside looking in.

How You Doin’?

Prior to the Ottawa game, the Habs were shockingly undefeated in the conference. Though it’s unclear if this play can be sustained, the coaching staff has done a magnificent job with the match ups and Subban’s return today against the Sabres looks to have invigorated the team even further.

 

Ottawa Senators – The “Alfie’s last stand” Edition

 

Michalek – Turris – Alfredsson
Daugavins – Regin – Silfverberg
Greening – Smith – Neil
O’Brien – Zibanejad – Condra

Obviously things have changed dramatically in the wake of Jason Spezza’s possible season ending injury. Kyle Turris has been given a lot of opportunities in Ottawa, none as big as the first line center, and should be ready to make the leap. The Senators’ biggest strength is the depth of their young guns, from rookies Jakub Silfverberg and “Zbad”, to their second year guys such as Colin Greening, Erik Condra, and former 1st round pick Jim O’Brien. Though Daniel Alfredsson still plays a top-six role, he’s now a 40 year old veteran and shouldn’t be expected to lead the team in scoring. He’s without a doubt the team’s heart and motivation, but that alone won’t be enough to win games.

Methot – Karlsson
Phillips – Gonchar
Benoit – Wiercioch

Marc Methot brings everything the Sens need; great puck moving and hard-nosed play deep along the boards. This is why he makes such a good partner for the Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson (and should be a much better linemate than Kuba). Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar have both seen better days, but they’re still smart and effective players. Andre Benoit and Patrick Wiercioch will play full seasons after spending most of their time together in Binghamton. Benoit is a bit older than Wiercioch, but both bring a genuine enthusiasm that has so far been beneficial to the team.

Anderson
Bishop

Anderson proved last season he was the real deal and should be expected to be the team’s main starting goalie for most of the season. The only real competition he has is Robin Lehner, who will undoubtedly be called up for a brief stint at some point in the season. Bishop is still an effective goalie, but look to see the Sens trade him before the season is up.

Best Case Scenario: Ottawa managed to take the Rangers to seven games last year in the playoffs, but are they for real? When Andy is on, he’s on, and the team responds accordingly. Karlsson has perhaps the best vision and poise in the entire league and manages to dominate over most teams. While they might still be lacking from the blueline, and make blunders in their own zone, the Sens are a dark horse team that could potentially win the division.

Worst Case Scenario: With the Spezza injury in mind, the Sens are relying on three top-six forwards who are all certified Band-Aid boys (Michalek, Latendresse, and Alfredsson). Anderson struggling again would put a damper on the Sens play, but ultimately the team will have to stay healthy to succeed, as youthful contributions will only take them so far.

How You Doin’?

The Senators are currently tied with the Bruins for the division lead and just one point off the conference lead. Anderson won the first star of the month and the Sens have looked like a potential Stanley Cup contender. The only question is: how will the team survive without start center Jason Spezza?

 

Toronto Maple Leafs – “The we love Frattin <3” Edition

 

Van Riemsdyk – Bozak – Kessel
McClement – Grabovski – Kulemin
Frattin – Kadri – Komarov
Hamilton – Steckel – Orr

The center depth isn’t the best, but Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski are fan favourites and have been effective in spots. The wing depth might actually be the team’s biggest strength. Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel are legitimate all-star talents, though the team hasn’t been dealing well with the loss of Lupul. JVR could get his big break playing top minutes and the Matt Frattin-Nazem Kadri combo will surely delight fans who constantly defend the young talent on this team.

Kostka – Phaneuf
Gunnarsson – Liles
Franson – Fraser

While the cynical Sens fan in me wants to mock Leafs fans who constantly praise their “top 10” defense every season, I must say the defense this year isn’t THAT bad. Michael Kostka has looked good the past few games and Dion Phaneuf is at this point underrated for all the criticisms he receives. John-Michael Liles will be a dark horse this season; look for him to reaffirm his scoring touch.

Reimer
Scrivens

Optimus Reim never really had a chance last season, as the 2011 “best rookie goalie in John Valley’s eyes” got concussed after Brian Gionta ran him and he was never the same. Ben Scrivens is no slouch, and looked pretty solid playing for the Marlies, but a healthy James Reimer should surprise many doubters and could win him back some deserved ice time. Rotating goalies, though, could shake up the confidence of both of them and ruin their season.

Best Case Scenario: When Reimer played great in his rookie year the Leafs looked like a potential playoff contender. Even last season, the Leafs stayed in the thick of the playoff race early on due to contributions from Kessel and Lupul. While many are predicting the Leafs to be a lottery pick team this season, there is a slight chance they could play some solid all-around hockey for new coach Randy Carlyle and earn a playoff spot.

Worst Case Scenario: With the Reimer/Scrivens situation becoming a two headed monster for the Leafs, things could turn ugly and quick. A lot of the team’s hopes are on JVR becoming a premier figure on one of the Leafs top-two lines. Also, can Lupul continue to build on a fantastic season last year or was it merely a fluke?

How You Doin’?

The Leafs have so far played well enough to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. JVR has looked solid as a top line winger, and Frattin and Kadri have showed some early chemistry. Unfortunately, the Leafs will be missing Lupul for a few weeks, but a decent start to the season is reason enough for some optimism.

 

Projected Standings

 

  1. Boston – Without a doubt the most complete team in the division and one of the favourites to win the Cup in the East.
  2. Ottawa – Perhaps a homer pick, but the Sens have oodles of scoring depth, a top 10 goalie, and a generational talent on the back end.
  3. Montreal – Shocking choice! While they won’t be a playoff team, the Habs have a solid top 3 defensive group with Markov, Subban, and Gorges. The offense is lacking, but Price is a stud.
  4. Buffalo – Once again, Buffalo will miss the playoffs. I think Miller is a good goalie, but the team has a tendency to get pushed around easily.
  5. Toronto – Should be a long year in Toronto. But a solid pick + Morgan Rielly will make the rebuilding process easy to swallow.