Adam Pyde

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Atlantic Division

Checking Up On Predictions: NHL Atlantic Division

We’re getting closer and closer to the unofficial midway point of the NHL season with the All Star Weekend in Columbus. That means it is as good a time as any to go back in time and check back in on my pre-season predictions.

I said I was going to be 100% right at the time and as time has told, I sure wasn’t. However, I wasn’t totally out to lunch either. Goes to show that I’m just about as good at this kind of thing as all the fancy people making big money in the mainstream media.

Actually, I’m a bit better because I’m willing to admit I’m wrong instead of throwing a temper tantrum and blocking 100 people on Twitter every time I’m wrong.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

So first lets take a look at how I had the Atlantic shaking out, where the team actually is, what I thought about them in the pre-season, and what I think of that team now.

Buffalo Sabres

Pre-season ranking: 8
Current ranking: 8 (31 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

This team is somehow worse than I anticipated, yet still not the last place team in the NHL. Go figure.

Cody Hodgson has been an unmitigated disaster this season. He never had #1 center potential, but he looked like he could become a solid, if unspectacular, second liner. You know, like a 60-ish point center who can anchor the secondary attack. This should have been his season to prove he belongs as an offensive producer in the NHL. Instead, he’s been awful. I understand the team is bad, but they have enough pieces to masquerade as a top line. He should take charge, but he’s been a healthy scratch and a fourth liner.

This team really can give the Oilers a run for their money on hopelessness.

Ottawa Senators
Ottawa Sens

Pre-season ranking: 7
Current ranking: 6 (42 points)

What I said then:

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. The team is lacking quality depth players.

What I say now:

I was pretty on point. The top talent has been top. Erik Karlsson is still one of the best defenceman in the NHL and continues to impress as a one-man breakout machine. Bobby Ryan has played well and Kyle Turris has taken over as the top center well enough.

The secondary players like Clarke MacArthur and Mika Zibanejad have played well. They’re getting strong rookie seasons out of Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone. Alex Chaisson is doing his thing as a middle roster winger. Craig Anderson is having another strong year.

But that is about it for this team. Robin Lehner’s had his ups and downs when Anderson isn’t playing. The defence outside of Karlsson is disaster movie quality. Milan Michalek and David Legwand have both been pretty big wastes of space, but its not like many other forwards are exactly out playing them.

When I look at this team I see a roster like Edmonton or Calgary. The perfect kind of roster to combine with another half-good team to get one really good team. Unforunately, that is total fantasy.

Florida Panthers

Pre-season ranking: 6
Current ranking: 5 (49 points, no wildcard)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

I feel a strong sense of vindication with Roberto Luongo. For years in Vancouver you would hear east coast media “experts” talk about how he’s barely a good goaltender anymore and that he is a terrible human being basically.

Then he’s no longer and Canuck and is single-handedly dragging a terrible Florida hockey team to playoff contention. None of the other big additions this team has made are doing anything but being bad, except Jussi Jokinen who is being solid. But Luongo is playing great and should get a Vezina nomination this season.

Aaron Ekblad has been unbelievable for an 18 year old rookie as he’s second in team scoring. But beyond that, he’s legitimately playing good hockey. He is buoyed by strong veteran defence partners a bit, like Willie Mitchell and Brian Campbell, but he’s still holding his own.

If Alexander Barkov can start getting bounces and the rest of the offence holds pace this team could squeak into a wildcard spot. I sure hope they do, but it’ll be tough.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Pre-season ranking: 5 (no wildcard)
Current ranking: 6 (47 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

What do you know. They fired their bad coach who was bad. I never saw so much “it wasn’t the coaches fault” spiel for a coach that was this bad. His entire defensive strategy was “hope the goalie makes 40 saves a game.” That isn’t conducive to winning.

The Leafs still stand a chance at making the playoffs but it isn’t going to be easy. It’s hard to evaluate just how good this team is going to play under a new coach, Peter Horachek, but the early results are promising. They haven’t quite gotten the wins yet, but they aren’t getting disgustingly outshot anymore and have been able to hang in against some of the better teams in the NHL lately and not look out-of-place.

If Horachek can play around with the lines and ease some of the burden on players like Kessel and Phaneuf, they should be more effective down the stretch. The less he plays Tyler Bozak the better.

With the Metropolitan division only looking to send 4 teams to the playoffs this year and the Bruins unable to really play anything resembling dominant hockey for a long stretch, and the feeling that Detroit is only a bad week away from injury trouble, the door is still open for the Leafs.

Detroit Red Wings
red wings

Pre-season ranking: 4 (wildcard)
Current ranking: 3 (55 points)

What I said then:

A healthy year would do wonders but they’re already without Datsyuk and Zetterberg’s back seems like it’s always one twist from going. They barely squeaked in last year and haven’t noticeably improved.

What I say now:

I can’t be right all the time or you wouldn’t be reading this for free. The Wings have surprised I think everyone this year after last season. They’ve had players like Sheahan, Nyquist and Tatar become regular contributors. Both Zetterberg and Datsyuk have maintained health. Even Stephen Weiss is having a pretty good season!

The defence still could really use an upgrade as it doesn’t have a single right-handed shooter which can cause a few issues on the breakout and special teams. An addition like Jeff Petry could go a long ways to them being successful this season.

Jimmy Howard just went down though and colour me unconvinced that Petr Mrazek and Jonas Gustavsson can hold the fort. Howard has quietly had a near Vezina season and has been a huge part of the Wings success.

They still aren’t the Red Wings of old, but they’re about as good as any team in the Eastern Conference this season. I still worry about their ability to stay healthy though.

Montreal Canadiens
Calgary Flames v Montreal Canadiens

Pre-season ranking: 3
Current ranking: 2 (55 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

Well they’ve been what I said they would be. Good but not great. Stand a good chance at home ice in the playoffs but doing so in rather unspectacular fashion.

The forwards are what they are. A good, balanced collection of players that score and defend well enough. Tomas Plekanec is a good center and solid penalty killer, but he’s a stronger fit as a second liner. Alex Galchenyuk is looking like the best player to come out of the top of his draft year and if he can hold down center long-term he could be the answer the Habs have been waiting for. There is good talent on the wings with Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher. However, when it comes to the “number 1 centre” spot, David Desharnais is about as bad and embarrassing in that position as Tyler Bozak is. Thankfully, he’s been transitioned to the wing as of late.

The defence and goaltending is strong. P.K. Subban is awesome and really good. The rest of the D can do their jobs well enough, although you’d like to see more out of Tom Gilbert. Carey Price should be a finalist for the Vezina and will give Pekka Rinne a run for his money.

I can’t buy them as a Cup threat though. That center depth just doesn’t do it for me.

Boston Bruins

Pre-season ranking: 2
Current ranking: 4 (52 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

There was a while through the first half of the season here where they weren’t the Big Bad Bruins anymore and they were just the Bad Bruins. The offence has been putrid this season, but it was missing David Krejci for about half of the games so far. It has been better recently but players like Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic have not been playing to expectations. Lucic has only 3 goals since December 1st. Reilly Smith hasn’t quite provided the offence you would have hoped for after last season, but at least Loui Eriksson looks like he’ll crack 20 goals and 50 points on the year. However, they have a gem in David Pastrnak who seems to have given them the shot in the arm offensively they need.

The defence has had better years as well. Chara is beginning to show his age and Seidenberg isn’t getting any younger either. Dougie Hamilton has continued to develop but he’s still a bit green. Torey Krug is playing well on defence and a big part of the powerplay. It’s still a solid group but not quite able to make an argument for best in the NHL anymore.

The biggest thing that has become evident is that this team is not the 2011 team anymore. Age has caught up with some players, other key players have moved on, injury or ineffectiveness has taken over on others. The days of the Bruins being among the class of the league is probably over, however they’re still one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Pre-season ranking: 1
Current ranking: 1 (58 points)

What I said then:

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.

What I say now:

Well they haven’t quite been as good as I’d hoped. One of the “ifs” I brought up was if Ben Bishop was the real deal. I wasn’t sold that he was a Vezina calibre goaltender year-in-year-out, but I did think he was above league average. Unfortunately, his .909 save percentage has him among some of the worst starting goaltenders in the NHL. Of goaltenders to start 15+ games this year, he’s 26th and tied with Ondrej Pavelec and Michal Neuvirth. Evgeni Nabokov hasn’t been much better either posting a dreadful .882 save percentage. That is going to have to shape up in the second half of the season.

Luckily, the offence is as potent as it has ever been for the Lightning. Their top six has been excellent, led by the surprising Tyler Johnson outscoring Steven Stamkos this season. Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat have both excelled in their sophomore campaigns. In fact, the Lightning have four top-40 scorers in the NHL. Ryan Callahan and Valteri Filpulla are also in the top-60.

The defence has been strong and one of the reasons why the goaltending hasn’t let the team down too hard so far through the season. Victor Hedman is playing great, again, and Anton Stralman has anchored the defence, especially during Hedman’s injury. Jason Garrison has been a solid addition and has helped on the powerplay.

I’m not as convinced on the Lightning as a legitimate Cup threat but anything can happen in the East where they lack the kind of powerhouses you see in the Western Conference.

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