2013-14 Season Preview - Atlantic Division
The Wings have dominated the East in recent years, which bodes well for them as they move to the Atlantic Division.
The 2013-14 season is just around the corner, training camps are underway and roster speculation is the order of the day. But just how will this season really play out? Over the next few weeks we will look at each division and break things down. So who's ready to take that next step? And who will come crashing back down to Earth? Let's start off out East with the Atlantic Division.
Detroit Red Wings
The post Lidstrom era was supposed to require a few tough years of transition. However, with Kronwall stepping up, the emergence of Brandon Smith and the addition of Danny DeKeyser, the Wings adjusted quickly. Now thanks to re-alignment, the Red Wings finally get their wish and move to the Eastern Conference. With that comes less travel and more games in their own time zones, which will be of great benefit to them, especially to their group of veterans. They’ve added former Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson and center Stephen Weiss to bolster the offense after they struggled at times to score last season. The move East shouldn’t present any problems for Detroit as far as competition goes. Over the past 5 seasons the Wings have posted a 50-24-8 record against Eastern Conference opponents and their puck possession game should transition favorably as well. Any team with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk is starting off on solid ground and Jimmy Howard doesn’t give up many soft goals.
Verdict: The Red Wings have a lot going for them heading into this season and the recent record against the East indicates they could take the division, and perhaps the Conference, by storm. Prediction: 1st
The Sens were left for dead last year when injuries took out their best forward, top defenceman and starting goaltender out of the lineup. They went on to surprise everyone and were one of the biggest surprises of last season. They lose Daniel Alfredsson, but brought in sniper Bobby Ryan to fill the void up front. Ryan, a 4 time 30 goal scorer at 26 years old, could prove deadly in a pairing with Jason Spezza, one of the best playmakers in the game. The defence remains strong and Erik Karlsson is healthy and looking to reclaim the Norris trophy form he displayed in 2011-12 and Jared Cowan looks to rebound from a season where he missed 41 games after undergoing hip surgery. Craig Anderson remains one of the top goaltenders in the game and was one of the contenders for the Vezina trophy last year before he was injured. With Robin Lehner backing him up, the Sens boast on of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. A lot went right for the Sens last season and it wasn’t by accident.
Verdict: A lot of young players gained valuable experience and their systems fit their players skill sets perfectly. If the Sens stay healthy, the sky’s the limit. Prediction: 2nd
The Bruins will still ice a very competitive lineup, but scoring may still be a challenge for the B’s after losing Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin. Bringing in Jarome Iginla and the reliable Loui Eriksson should help offset their departures, but will it be enough? Reinforcements are also coming on the blue line where young Dougie Hamilton will look to take the next step in his promising young career and playoff sensation Torey Krug will look to earn a full time roster spot as well. Defence is their calling card and that’s not about to change anytime soon. Zdeno Chara and co. are back on the blue line (minus Andrew Ference) and Tuukka Rask will bring a shiny new long term contract to camp. One area the Bruins desperately need improvement is the power play. An extension of their difficulty creating offense, the Bruins power play (25th overall in 2013) has been 20th overall or worse three out of the last four seasons. An improvement there would be a huge boost.
Verdict: A key injury to this group, especially on defence, could prove devastating. They’re still a Cup contender, but other teams are catching up. Prediction: 3rd
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs learned a harsh lesson last spring. They had a 2 goal lead on the Bruins in game 7 with 90 seconds to go and collapsed; they were forced to watch those Bruins march all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. However, there are plenty of positives to take from last season and the roster, on paper at least, is improved. David Clarkson brings a power forward edge the Leafs didn’t have last season and will make their attack much deeper. Dave Bolland adds a Stanley Cup pedigree and bolsters their depth up the middle. Nazem Kadri enjoyed a breakout year and now that he’s under contract will look to continue emerging as one the brightest young stars in the NHL. The defence is largely the same as the one that collapsed in game 7 against Boston, but youngsters like Morgan Reilly will have a chance to make the roster, and their blue line would be much stronger if they manage to fit RFA Cody Franson under the cap and get him signed to a new deal. The intriguing spot is in goal, where the Leafs added Jonathan Bernier in a deal with the Kings. James Reimer was solid last year, and his save percentage of .924 was the best mark in Leafs history, but by bringing in Bernier the Leafs management has made it clear that they want the bar set higher. The two will battle for the starters role.
Verdict: The Leafs did too many good things last year to let one 90 second lapse (albeit a massive one) discount everything. They’ll be in the hunt come spring, but the playoffs are far from a sure bet. Prediction: 4th
The Habs went out this summer looking to address their size issues and came away with… Danny Briere..? Okay, they may have missed out on the size factor when Lecavelier signed in Philly instead of Montreal, but Briere is a clutch player who has a history of showing up in big games. A player like him will be a great mentor for Brendan Gallagher, who in my opinion should have won the Calder Trophy (he was a close 2nd) last year. The defence is largely the same and if PK Subban can continue his pace from last year the Habs could find themselves higher on this list by the end of the year. Some youth could find their way into regular roster spots on the back end as well, as Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu both impressed during stints last season and will go to camp looking to stick with the big club. Carey Price had a very pedestrian year from a goaltender of his abilities. A return to elite territory is a must for the Habs to truly contend, and would also do wonders as far as improving the penalty killing unit that was ranked 23rd last season.
Verdict: The potential is there to impress, but unless everything comes together for the Habs, there’s just too many good teams in front of them to put them higher in this division right now. Prediction: 5th
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning boast the reigning Art Ross winner Marty St. Louis and one of the most prolific goal scorers in recent history Steven Stamkos. So why are they ranked so low? For the most part it’s because after those two, questions pop up in a hurry. The depth is improving but it’s just not quite at the level it needs to be in order for Tampa to overcome their deficiencies in other areas, most notably on defence. The blue line as a whole needs to be a lot better. The bright side for the Bolts here is that the players that are already there are fully capable of that improvement themselves. Goaltending is another big question mark. Anders Lindback was supposed to be the answer, but the trade to bring in Ben Bishop means there will be competition for the crease. So what to the Lightning have in goal? Is it two starters, a solid tandem, or two backups? So far, it’s tough to say. If the goaltending can hold the fort, Tampa Bay can contend for a playoff spot. If not, all bets are off.
Verdict: Their Achilles heel ever since the 2004 Stanley Cup win has been goaltending, and this year will be no different. They need one of their netminders to step up and change that to improve their post season prospects. Prediction: 6th
The Florida Panthers are taking the term ‘youth movement’ to a whole new level this season. They will be looking to Jonathan Huberdeau (20 years old) and 2013 2nd overall draft selection Aleksander Barkov (who just turned 18 this September) to drive the offense for the Panthers. Lacking a strong supporting cast, that might be too much to ask of the gifted youngsters at this point. The silver lining for the Panthers is that Kris Versteeg will be healthy and finally back into the lineup after missing all but 10 games in 2013. That should add a bit of depth and leadership, and should also help a penalty killing unit that finished dead last in the league last year. Barkov should help in that area as well, as it was one of his strong points playing in Europe against older competition. Again it might be too much to ask of an 18 year old, but the Panthers need all the help they can get. The starters job goes to Jacob Markstrom, who has shown flashes of brilliance but has lacked consistency. That should improve as he grows into his role but the defence needs to help him out a lot more than they have so far.
Verdict: The roster may be young but there is a lot of potential there as well. It just may be too early to really compete. They should have enough to keep them out of the division cellar, but not by much. It’ll be close. Prediction: 7th
It looks like it’s going to be a long season in Buffalo. Their top scorer and perhaps only legit scoring threat on a consistent basis is now in the final year of his contract. Same goes for starting goaltender Ryan Miller. Both have been the subject of trade rumors for quite a while now and they don’t figure to quiet down until they are dealt, which seems almost inevitable at this point. Cody Hodgson plays the role of top center and managed strong numbers offensively but left an awful lot to be desired on the defensive side of the puck. On defence, the downward spiral continued for Tyler Myers last season. He managed just 3 goals and 8 points in his 2nd poor season in a row, one that ended in injury for the former Caldery trophy winner. The Sabres penalty killing was terrible (26th overall) and their power play was even worse (29th overall). And the Sabres have made virtually no improvements to the roster.
Verdict: There are just too many holes on the roster that have gone unaddressed. They need an awful lot to go right in order to even have a sniff at the post season. Prediction: 8th.
How do you see the season playing out in the Atlantic?