The NHL’s new look this season means four divisions overall and two per conference, as opposed to the six and three format in use since 1994. The Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference will have eight teams, and be spread out from Montreal to Detroit.
TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will do a basic introductory preview of the Atlantic Division, as we prepare for the start of the regular season on October 1. The teams are listed in the order of their posted betting odds for winning the Eastern Conference and advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Boston (5-1): The Bruins came within a last-minute collapse in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals to playing one game in Chicago to decide the championship. For a team with recent track record of success they were surprisingly active in the offseason.
Boston traded young center Tyler Seguin to Dallas in a deal whose prime return is forward Loui Erikkson. The Bruins also signed Jarome Iginla, a good scorer on the left wing. The effects of the signings will to be make the Boston offense less center-heavy—they already have Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci at that spot and give a little bit more balance.
However much the B’s score, this team ultimately wins with defense, the third-best in the NHL last year thanks to goalie Tuuka Raask. The team defensive effort though, was merely above average last season, as opposed to its usual outstanding. How many shots the Bruins allow will be something to keep an eye as the regular season takes shape.
Detroit (15-2): Detroit was oh-so-close to taking down Chicago in the second round last year, being up 3-1 in games and then going to overtime in Game 7. The Red Wings did not play all that well during the regular season though, needing to fight to the end just make the playoffs. Some of that can be attributed to the shortened 48-game schedule in a lockout –marred year. Some of it can be attributed to a bad offense.
Detroit worked on fixing the offense in signing Daniel Alfreddson, formerly of Ottawa. He didn’t have a great year—or even a good one—last season, but it was, as mentioned a weird year from the outset. Alfreddson and returning Daniel Cleary have to be better and give this team’s magnificent passing centers, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, someone to feed.
Montreal (10-1): Hockey’s most decorated franchise actually edged Boston for the old Northeast Division title a year ago, though we’ll never know if that would have help over an 82-game schedule. Montreal played very well offensively a year ago, but serious problems on the defensive end ultimately undid them.
It’s not the defenseman—P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov are arguably the best duo in the league—they score, they pass and they spearhead a unit that was fifth in the league at preventing shots on goal. But Carey Price was awful in the net and the inconsistent netminder has to get better. If he does, Montreal could have a big year.
Toronto (15-1): Toronto has lived the whole offseason with the memory of its epic Game 7 collapse against Boston in the first round lingering. The Maple Leafs led 4-1 with 11 minutes to go, 4-2 with two minutes to go and still lost. The two big changes they made in the offseason should be seen in that light.
The Leafs went out and acquired Jonathan Bernier, a highly touted young goalie stuck in the backup’s role in Los Angeles to Jonathan Quick. Though Toronto still has James Reimer listed as the starter—and Reimer was ninth in the league in save percentage last year—you have to believe they won’t hesitate to make a change.
Toronto also acquired Dave Bolland, the Chicago center whose put-back goal off a rebound won the Stanley Cup. I’m not sure if I like this move—Bolland was hardly essential to Chicago’s overall success—but this does have the look of the Leafs adding a player with a winning pedigree who can help stabilize things in the big games they anticipate playing again this coming spring.
Ottawa (15-1): The Senators rode into the playoffs and then to a first-round win over Montreal, solely on the backs of goalie Craig Anderson, whose 94.1% save rate was the NHL’s best. The Senators did nothing else well—including prevent shots, as Anderson was constantly exposed.
Ottawa traded for Bobby Ryan from Anaheim, who isn’t especially great, but as a forward he at least promises improvement. It’s still tough to see the Senators enjoying any real regular season success, but if they do sneak into the postseason, a goalie can carry you a long way.
Tampa Bay (25-1): Tampa has one of the game’s great scorers in Steven Stamkos at center, and Martin St. Louis is both a solid scorer and great passer along with him. The Lightning have little else besides these two though, and their defense is a mess, from the team effort to the uncertainty at goalie.
Buffalo (50-1): I’m not sure why the Sabres are seen as this much worse than the Lightning. I’m not suggesting Buffalo played well last season—the lack of a playoff berth indicates they obviously didn’t. But Thomas Vanek is a very good scorer and while Ryan Miller can be inconsistent in goal—he can be better than last year’s 23rd in save percentage. Buffalo will at least walk the playoff bubble throughout the year.
Florida (50-1): If you explore the Panthers’ statistical data you find subtle clues as to why they were so bad in 2013. How about the fact they had the worst offense, worst defense, worst penalty kill and were worst in the five-on-five. They were, however sixth in their own power play, so if they can just induce opponents’ to commit ten penalties a game maybe there’s a chance.
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