Adam Pyde

NHL 2014 Preview: Atlantic Division

NHL 2014 Preview: Atlantic Division

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you part two of the the flawless 2014 NHL preview, now for the Atlantic Division. Who’s came and gone? What does the playoff picture look like? Well, its a four tiered division of good, alright, okay and garbage teams. It makes things simple.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

So who will rule the Flortheast? Lets start at the bottom of last year…

Buffalo Sabres
128753008_slide
Needs: Everything
In: Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrei Meszaros, Sam Reinhart
Out: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff

The team: This is a bad hockey team.

They’re rebuilding, so being bad is to be expected. And they have a host of promising young players working their way up: Sam Reinhart (C), Mikhail Grigorenko (C), Marcus Foligno (LW), Joel Armia (RW), Mark Pysyk (D), Nikita Zadorov (D), Rasmus Ristolainen (D), and Matt Hacket (G) are the core of their future. If even half those players can reach their potential then Buffalo will eventually have one heck of a team.

Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Myers lead the veteran-youth movement. Hodgson and Girgensons both have futures in the NHL as number two-three centermen, Ennis can play in the top-nine, and Myers looked to be reclaiming some of the form he showed earlier in his career.

But the rest of the roster is just so bad. Gionta, Moulson and Gorges are still capable hockey players, but many of the other “veterans” and players filling out the roster aren’t much above replacement level players. And the goaltending looks like it could contend for worst in the NHL.

Will they make the playoffs? Lord no!
This team sucks. They have some marginal improvements, but they’re really counting on a whole bunch of recent draft picks to complete the roster. That isn’t a recipe for success – at least not this season.

Florida Panthers
pantherspre
Needs: Everything but goaltending and more bad players
In: Al Montoya, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie, Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, Aaron Ekblad, Gerard Gallant (coach)
Out: Tom Gilbert, Peter Horacheck (coach)

The team: Well, it’ll be hard to be worse than last year so I guess they have nowhere to go but up.

Roberto Luongo, despite what anyone says, is an elite goaltender and the best goaltender of his generation. He’s still excellent and should be able to steal more than a few wins this season on top of providing wins just by being better than what the Panthers called goaltenders last year.

The defence and forwards aren’t much improved, which means they’re hoping for development progression. Last years first overall Ekblad stands to make the roster out of camp and will learn the NHL in a bit of a trial-by-fire situation, but he should have enough rope to make mistakes. Brian Campbell will continue to be one of the best and most ignored NHL defenders.

Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathon Huberdeau are all going to have to take leaps forward to help the team. They’ll be cushioned by Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes, who are both criminally underrated. Thomas Kopecky isn’t terrible either.

All of their other fancy new signings suck.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They have actual NHL level goaltending. Thats important. If their younger players can continue development and Gallant doesn’t play big minutes to all the bad players he was given, maybe they aren’t completely hopeless. But they look pretty hopeless.

Toronto Maple Leafs
kessel
Needs: New coach, first line center
In: Leo Komarov, David Booth, Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, Roman Polak, Stephane Robidas
Out: Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, Carl Gunnarsson, Tim Gleason, Mason Raymond, Jay McClement

The team: This is a team that should be better than it is on paper. They’re pretty well sunk by terrible coaching and systems play that amplifies their deficiencies instead of hiding them.

Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri make up 2/3rds of a really solid top-six. Komarov, Booth, Winnik, Santorelli, Matt Frattin and Peter Holland make for a strong bottom half of the roster. But David Clarkson makes anyone he plays with awful, and Tyler Bozak had a career year and still was only average.

The defence made a lot of lateral moves. If the top-four this season is Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardner then the Leafs will be able to play fast hockey, and actually get out of their own end. Neither Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak are as good as Carl Gunnarson, but they should be better than Tim Gleason.

They’ll be relying heavily on James Bernier having another near Vezina season and James Reimer continuing to be one of the best “back ups” in the NHL. The Leafs got some of the best goaltending in the NHL last year, but couldn’t do anything with it. I’d be worried about things in Leafland if things don’t improve defensively and the goaltending falls off even a little.

Will they make the playoffs? No-ish.
If they can bring in a coach that is good to replace their bad one then they stand a solid chance at the playoffs. The pieces are there, but they need someone who knows how to use them.

Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Sens
Needs: A budget
In: Alex Chaisson, David Legwand
Out: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky

The team: Well, they aren’t much improved this year. Out went two high talent gamebreakers and they’ve brought in two capable meat-and-potatoes players.

Without Spezza, the top center position falls to Kyle Turris. While he looked good facing secondary defenders last year, its unclear how he’ll do facing the top defenders this year. The second line duty will be left to Mika Zibanejad who should be more than capable and he’ll be backed by David Legwand in the third spot. Wingers Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, and Milan Michalek should be able to provide enough scoring as well.

They have the best breakout weapon in the NHL with Erik Karlsson so their defence can never be terrible. Cody Ceci, Patrick Wiercioch and Jared Cowen are all going to be counted on to take large steps forward for anything to happen.

The goaltending would be fine with Robin Lehner handling most of the starts. Except, that doesn’t seem the plan.

The biggest thing holding back the Sens is their lack of a budget. They don’t have the money to spend with top teams and its led to Daniel Alfredsson and Spezza leaving the last two years, and Bobby Ryan likely leaving this summer as well.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They have little high end talent, and a lot of complimentary talent. That can keep them in the conversation, but I see them ultimately falling short.

Detroit Red Wings
red wings
Needs: Top-four defenceman, less old guys like Danny Cleary
In: No one of note.
Out: David Legwand, Daniel Alfredsson

The team: This is a team totally caught in the middle right now.

They have a formidable group of young players on the rise and they can fill out the middle of their roster well. Unfortunately, none really look like superstars to take the load off of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who both are becoming increasingly injury prone as their careers go on. Johan Franzen can score, but he can’t play a full season either. Last years leading scorer Alfredsson is unlikely to return after an off-season back injury.

It’s highly unlikely that Gustav Nyquist will replicate his projected full season numbers, but a 50 point season isn’t anything to sneeze at. After him, the duty is going to fall to a lot of young players without a whole lot of experience. Tomas Tatar, Thomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan will have to carry a lot of the secondary load as they aren’t going to get much help from players like Dan Cleary and Justin Abdelkader.

The defence looks alright, but its a long way from the days of being the strength of this team. The top four is solid with Danny Dekeyser, Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson filling spots. All the heavy lifting is going to fall to Niklas Kronwall again and if he suffers any sort of injury the rest of the defence gets incredibly thin incredibly quick.

Jimmy Howard is the best goaltender in the NHL that no one considers one of the best goaltenders.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
A healthy year would do wonders but they’re already without Datsyuk and Zetterberg’s back seems like its always one twist from going.They barely squeaked in last year and haven’t noticeably improved.

Montreal Canadiens
Calgary Flames v Montreal Canadiens
Needs: First line center, top-four defenceman
In: Manny Malhotra, P.A. Parenteau, Tom Gilbert
Out: Brian Gionta, Thomas Vanek, Josh Gorges, Daniel Briere, Douglas Murray

The team: This is a solid balanced roster, if a little unspectacular.

They have one of the very best goalies in the NHL with Carey Price. How he at least hasn’t gotten a Vezina nomination yet is an indictment of the voters.

The defence is steady with 6 actual real defenceman. P.K. Subban is one of the very best and concerns about his defensive game are overblown. He doesn’t play traditional meat-and-potatoes defence so obviously he’s bad, says idiots.

Andrei Markov is the best of the rest of a corps that has real good depth with Tom Gilbert, Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi. Mike Weaver is a fine fit to come in as a 6/7.

The forwards are balanced. The only real issue in the top-nine is the lack of an actual number one center. David Desharnais is not one, but he’s done a good job. Tomas Plekanec is best suited in the two slot with defensive responsibilities. Alex Galchenyuk will get a look at center and if he can take the reigns then Montreal may have that remedied.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They aren’t bad at hockey. They’re relatively unspectacular at it, but they’ve got one of the very best defenceman in the NHL, arguably the top goaltender and enough scoring balance to pull it off. It’d be quite the surprise if they missed.

Tampa Bay Lightning
StamkosOneTimer
Needs: Top 4 defenceman, depth forwards, backup goaltender
In: Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, Jason Garrison, Jonathan Drouin
Out: Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Anders Lindback, Nate Thompson

The team: Mmmmm. Dat one-timer… I love you, Steven Stamkos. I can watch you one-timer all day.

After years of being the worst drafting team in the NHL, the Lightning now boast the very best crop under-25 players in the NHL. It’s pretty ridiculous. My unofficial tally has them at an average age of 26.12 years at the start of the season.

A lot is resting on players up front being able to hold true to last year. Without much of a pedigree at the NHL, that is always a gamble, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat especially. They’ll have some incoming support from Drouin and Brett Connolly though and a hopefully a full year of Stamkos.

The defence is the glue on this team right now. Victor Hedman leads a solid group that has gotten better. Stralman, Matt Carle and Garrison will round out the top-four. That leaves Eric Brewer, Andre Sjustr and Radko Gudas to fill out the last two spots. Nice.

It’ll be up to Ben Bishop to repeat his performance from last season because he won’t have much help behind him in Nabokov. A lot rides on a guy with 108 total games played and only one season as a starter.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
This is a good team that should only really get better. They’re riding a fair amount of “ifs” but I’m confident that most of them can pay off. Their defence is arguably the best in the conference and they’ll be able to lean on it when things get tough.

Boston Bruins
Can-Winnipeg-Jets-beat-Boston-Bruins
Needs: New fourth line, top-six right wing, the fountain of youth for Zdeno Chara
In: No one of note
Out: Jarome Iginla, Chad Johnson, Shawn Thornton, Andrei Meszaros

The team: After an off-season where they were unable to do much, they’re still a good team. They might not be quite as dominant as past years though.

Key RFA players Torey Krug and Reilly Smith are unsigned and even if Boston manages to move Johnny Boychuk, is $3 million enough to get both contracts?

Chara is a year older, but he’s still Chara. He single handedly can neuter another teams star players. But after him things thin out a bit. It is unclear how well Seidenberg will do after his knee injury as he wasn’t exactly swift before. Without Boychuk, their bottom four signed defencemen are Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. Its not awful, but its not great.

Up front, they have Patrice Bergeron and he’s so good he’ll win them games almost by himself. They still boast some talented scorers like Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and David Krejci. Loui Eriksson is going to have to bounce back solidly to make up for the loss of Iginla’s production. Their fourth line remains a mystery and their lack of depth hurt them last season, especially in the playoffs.

Tuuka Rask might be the best goaltender in the NHL.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
It’ll be a tougher year in Boston than they’re used to. Scoring might be more sparse and the defence is a little green. However, this team is too good not to make the playoffs.

Final standings prediction:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2. Boston Bruins
3. Montreal Canadiens
4. Detroit Red Wings (no wildcard)
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Florida Panthers
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Buffalo Sabres

Thanks goes out to Ziggy, Chris and Caper for help on this blog.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @adam_pyde.

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