The NHL's Northeast Division boasts the reigning Stanley Cup Champions as well a multiple teams that will be fighting for playoff positioning. In the first part of a 6 part series you get a look at what could be in store.
Last season the Northeast Division produced the Stanley Cup Champion, and that was surprising. The Bruins were seen as a good team at the beginning of last year but not many people had them penciled in as champs when all was said and done. Even after a 103 points regular season they still weren't even close to favorites. But a playoff run that featured some good luck (beating Montreal in 7 games without a single powerplay goal) and also some dominating play (dismantling Philadelphia) resulted in the Bruins walking away with Lord Stanley's Mug.
This season the Bruins are obvious favorites to win the Northeast Division but they certainly aren't the only good team in the division. Here is the Northeast from 1-5.
1. Boston Bruins
Big Loss(es): Mark Recchi: Retirement, Michael Ryder: Dallas, Tomas Kaberle: Carolina
Big Acquisition(s): Joe Corvo
The Bruins didn't make many changes this offseason, and really why would they. They bring back nearly the entire team that won the Cup with the only major, unexpected loss being that of Michael Ryder who chose to sign with Dallas. Tomas Kaberle left for Carolina but the Bruins weren't expecting to re-sign him and chose to sign Joe Corvo to take Kaberle's spot on the blueline. Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron will be looked to as the main offensive threats as it is expected that Marc Savard will miss most of the season with concussion related issues. On the blueline Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be the anchors with Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk providing a shutdown pairing. The biggest part of the Bruins lies in net, Tim Thomas will be expected to show the form that won him the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies this past summer. Because there are only minor changes it should be expected that the Bruins finish first in the Northeast for the second season in a row.
2. Montreal Canadiens
Big Loss(es): Roman Hamrlik: Washington, James Wisniewski: Columbus
Big Acquisition(s): Erik Cole
The Montreal Canadiens ended last season on an incredibly frustrating note. The Habs bowed out in the the first round to the Boston Bruins after not allowing a single powerplay goal and losing the three of the final four games of the series in overtime. To try and improve the Canadiens decided to go younger, specifically on defense. Gone are veterans Hamrlik and Wisniewski replaced by powerplay specialist Yannick Weber and long-awaited Russian prospect Alexei Yemelin. At forward the plan is to get healthy and get full seasons from some impressive youngsters. Max Pacioretty is expected to be back after his scary incident late last season and players like Ryan White and David Desharnais will be looked to to provide secondary scoring. As with last season the team lives and dies by Carey Price. Peter Budaj was brought in as the backup but Price is expected to shoulder the majority of the workload. If injuries can be mostly avoided the Habs will have no trouble challenging the Bruins for the division crown.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Big Loss(es): J.S. Giguere: Colorado
Big Acquisition(s): Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles
The Toronto Maple Leafs finished up last season with an impressive display of promise. Stellar performances from James Reimer and the Grabovski, MacArthur, Kulemin trio led Toronto to within spitting distance of a playoff spot. The promising end to the season was followed by a solid offseason. The Leafs added Tim Connolly through free agency and swung trades for J-M Liles, Cody Franson and Matthew Lombardi, the latter two coming in a deal that sent perennial whipping boy, Brett Lebda to Nashville. Phil Kessel will again be asked to provide top level goal scoring and Grabovski, Kulemin and MacArthur will be looking to replicate their form from last season. The defense is solid 1-6 but the real question lie in net. James Reimer was spectacular at the end of last season and questions abound as to whether or not he can repeat that. If Reimer continues to develop and grow as a goaltender the Leafs should be playoff bound.
4. Buffalo Sabres
Big Loss(es): Tim Connolly: Toronto
Big Acquisition(s): Christian Erhoff, Robyn Regehr
Last year was merely ok for the Buffalo Sabres. They made the playoffs but bowed out in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers, unable to dig deep and pull out a win in game 7. Buffalo showed an uncharacteristic amount of offense in the regular season, finishing 9th in the NHL in goals for but couldn't find that scoring touch in the playoffs. The Sabres enter this season with copious amounts of hope, mostly stemming from new owner Terry Pegula who has shown a willingness to shell out big money. The problem is the Sabres may have spent that money in the wrong place. Christian Erhoff was signed to a large, perhaps too large, contract, Robyn Regehr was added via trade and Tyler Myers was re-signed with an unheard of $10 million signing bonus. The questions for the Sabres wil be on offense, more scoring is needed from players like Brad Boyes and Drew Stafford to take the pressure off Thomas Vanek and Derek Roy. Ryan Miller will be solid, or else the Sabres are in giant amounts of trouble. Unless they have another surprising season in terms of team offense the Sabres will struggle to compete with more high octane teams in the Northeast.
5. Ottawa Senators
Big Loss(es): Pascal LeClaire: UFA
Big Acquisition(s): Nikita Filatov
Last season was bad for the Ottawa Senators. A team that was contending for the Cup just a few seasons ago struggled mightily and ended up finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. A trade deadline day firesale say players like Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly and Alex Kovalev leave the fold bringing prospects and picks back in return. Because of the deadline day flurry the offseason saw very few subtractions, but also few additions. Nikita Filatov, and Zenon Konopka are the only notable additions and neither are major impact players at this point. The youngsters will be expected to show what they can do this season as player like Bobby Butler and Stephane Da Costa will see major minutes. In net Craig Anderson provides the team's lone bright spot but on a team as bereft of talent as the Senators it doesn't count for much. The best hope for the Sens this year is that they don't finish last in the Eastern Conference but with 24 games against a fairly strong Northeast Division it will be a tough task to accomplish.
This year the Northeast will provide many interesting storylines and many interesting teams, and could end up being one of the strongest division in hockey, not counting the Senators of course.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com