2013 NHL Preview: The Northeast Division

Northeast Division Division

It could be the most legendary of all divisions in the NHL but it is certainly not one of the strongest. The Northeast has some of the oldest teams in the NHL with some of the biggest and most loyal followings. Many would have to be loyal to these teams as they have all seen struggles in the past and some are in the midst of very bad streaks. The worst of them all might be the most valuable team in the NHL as the Toronto Maple Leafs are in the midst of a terrible run. The Leafs were just valued at $1 billion by Forbes Magazine even as they are in the middle of a 7 year playoff drought and a 45 year Stanley Cup drought. Meanwhile the only team with as much history as the Leafs is also in the midst of a long streak. The Montreal Canadiens are in the middle of a 19 year Stanley Cup drought although they have been in the playoffs more recently. Last year the Canadiens were a disaster though and for the fans that was worth 45 years of losing. The rest of the teams are not holding big droughts like these two but they are still not perfect. The Buffalo Sabres seem to go from promising to out of the playoffs as there is not much known about how this team will perform. With a new investment in the team last year there were bigger expectations but still they failed to make it into the playoffs. Meanwhile the Ottawa Senators surprised everyone by making the playoffs despite a team that is extremely unpredictable. Finishing second and making the playoffs was a great year for them but there is no guarantee that they won’t end up out of the playoffs this year. The only team who has consistently performed well in the last few years has been the Bruins who are the most recent Champions in the division. Still the circus that is Tim Thomas makes them a very dysfunctional team. Despite the legendary history of this division it is clear that the Northeast could go down as the most dysfunctional division in the NHL and there is not much to say that this year will be different.

 

Boston Bruins:

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The Boston Bruins are the one team who have had recent success in the NHL winning the 2011 Stanley Cup Championship. As they began their title defence things seemed different in Boston as the team did not seem completely right. The season would start terribly for the Bruins with a 3-7 record in October. They would turn things around though with a 12-0-1 record in November and would finish the season at the top of the division. They would lose in the first round of the playoffs to the Washington Capitals. It was a bit disappointing for the Bruins but the most disappointing part of the entire season was the actions of their star goalie. Tim Thomas was the main reason for the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup yet he would decide not to go to the White House to meet the President. He would claim that it was due to his political beliefs and would not take any questions on the subject for the rest o the season. Then he would post multiple long posts on Facebook outlining his beliefs and generally making everyone wonder what he was doing. Then the offseason would come as Thomas would say that he would take the year off from playing hockey. He would not retire or go to a new team he would just sit on the sidelines for the entire season. Now the Bruins look to move on from the circus of Thomas to get back to winning. They will be a good team again but can they avoid the noise from outside to focus on hockey?

 

Strength:
The Offence
– Led by Tyler Seguin and Milan Lucic the Bruins have a good base of young players including Michael Krejci and Patrice Bergeron as they are set on the offensive side of the team with the ability to score 

Weakness:
The Soap Opera
– Tim Thomas is gone and the drama has died down but don’t expect the questions about Thomas to end as it will be the story surrounding the team all year as everyone will be wondering why he left and what it means about the team 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Bruins stayed relatively silent in the offseason for a number of reasons but the main one would be that they were confident in the players that they had under contract and the fact that they have them for the forseeable future 

Biggest Loss:
Tim Thomas, G (?)
– He was the main reason for the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 and despite the fact that he brought plenty of notice to the team he was still a great goaltender that could have been the key to another Stanley Cup

 

Buffalo Sabres:

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The Sabres had some high hopes for the 201-12 season as they would get a new commitment from the ownership group. Terrence Pegula would change the way the Sabres would do business as he would invest in the team much differently. They would put money into the facilities of the team to make sure that the players were much happier. The ownership would also renew the contracts of Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, and Ville Leino. The new investment in the team would put much more pressure on the team than usual as the ownership wanted to see results. Instead the Sabres would end the season outside of the playoffs in a disappointing year for Buffalo. This year the Sabres are looking to finally make good on that commitment from the ownership. The positive for the Sabres is that they finished last year on a tear and just finished outside of the playoffs with a great race. That will give them some momentum heading into the new season especially if they believe that they can win. With such a short schedule there is no room for a rough patch but there is plenty of room for a good hot streak. With such a young team the key for the Sabres will be ensuring that they think they can win in the 2013 season. Once the players get into this attitude they can get on a roll and make the playoffs. The Sabres are a team on the edge as even in a regular season they would fight for a spot in the playoffs as they will do in the shortened season.

 

Strength:
Young Talent
– Led by Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson the Sabres are a young team with a lot of talent in the lineup and they will be able to handle the short schedule with plenty of energy and skill to lead the Sabres 

Weakness:
Uncertain Production
– The Sabres do have a lot of talent but some of their biggest producers are not showing up when they need them including Thomas Vanek who needs to produce like he can rather than putting up just 26 goals 

Biggest Addition:
Steve Ott, C (Trade via Dallas Stars)
– The Sabres received a bit of a gift in Steve Ott who will not see a lot of time on the ice but he will have plenty of impact as one of the few pests left in the NHL who is exactly the type of guy you hate to play but love on your team 

Biggest Loss:
Derek Roy, C (Trade to Dallas Stars)
– To get Ott the Sabres would have to trade away one of their top producers in Roy who had 44 points last year and was a good middle of the lineup player who provided good secondary scoring

 

Montreal Canadiens:

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The Montreal Canadiens are one of the most unique teams in the NHL as they have some of the most intense fans in the league. The Canadiens fans are rarely pleased by anything unless they win the Stanley Cup. Yet they have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993 and last year the team had one of the worst seasons in a long time. The Canadiens did not have a particular slide or a few bad months instead they were simply a bad team all around. It was more than the product on the ice as the management was not a stable group that would help the team to win. They would finish in last place in the division and the clean out process would begin. Before the season ended they would trade Michael Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames after his outspokenness after losing games. Then in the offseason the Canadiens would fire their head coach and general manager to start over. They would hire Marc Bergevin as the new GM and would rehire Michel Therrien as their head coach. They will move on from the drama of last year and try to recapture their winning ways. To do this they will look to their young prospects including PK Subban, if the team can sign him, and Carey Price to turn things around after a terrible season. The Canadiens are a good team on paper but they were a good team on paper last year and finished in last place in the division. This year they will make a charge at the playoffs although don’t expect them to fight for the division title.

 

Strength:
The Core Players
– The Canadiens have a number of very good core players that will come back as players like Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, PK Subban, and Carey Price will lead the team as a skilled core is back for another year 

Weakness:
Struggles at the top
– Despite a strong core there are a number of players with big contracts who have yet to earn their money like Brian Gionta as both had rough years last year and need to produce if they hope to stay with the team under new management 

Biggest Addition:
Brandon Prust, LW (Free Agent)
– The Canadiens have long been known for being a skilled team with very little grit but Brandon Prust brings that grinder mentality to the team that is so valuable when the playoff start and the skill players are watched more than ever 

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The biggest moves in the offseason for the Canadiens was the hiring their new head coach and their new general manager but Marc Bergevin did not have any time to look through the free agent market before the lockout hit.

 

Ottawa Senators:

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The Senators were one of the biggest surprises of the year last season as they were among the league’s lowest ranked teams during the preseason. Then Eric Karlsson showed up along with head coach Paul MacLean to lead the Sens into the playoffs. It was a pleasant surprise for Sens fans who saw a number of players step up for career seasons. This included goaltender Craig Anderson who seemed to have become a journeyman in the NHL. Then he went on to be one of the top goalies in the league and would be a big reason to the Sens appearance in the playoffs. This year the Sens have lost their advantage of surprise as everyone in the NHL knows what they are capable of now. They will lean on a mix of good veterans and young talent but much of the concentration will be on the young parts of the team. Daniel Alfredsson is getting up in age and Jason Spezza, despite being a very good player, does not seem to be that team changing figure. Now the Sens look to the young talent coming up to help them stay at that level in the NHL. Players like Erik Karlsson and Kyle Turris are the future of this team and will be looked to for some promise as the old guard on the team slowly fall out of the top spots. The Sens will not be the team they were a year ago as other NHL teams know who they are but another playoff appearance is not out of the question.

 

Strength:
Smart Offseason Moves
– They did not make many but they Senators did not go out and try to find something that they didn’t need as their offseason signings were simply smart moves that can help the team continue their strong 2011-12 season 

Weakness:
Their Depth
– Luckily it is a short season and that means less likelihood of injuries but there will be some and for the Sens that means looking to a lot of unproven talent in the minors especially on their blue line where the Sens don’t go far past their top pair 

Biggest Addition:
Marc Methot, D (Trade via Columbus Blue Jackets)
– He is not the sexiest pick up as a stay at home defenceman but the fact is that the Sens need someone who can offset the offensive prowess of Erik Karlsson and Methot is the man as he will be able to hang back and provide a safety net when Karlsson jumps into the offence 

Biggest Loss:
Nick Foligno, LW (Trade to Columbus Blue Jackets)
– There were a few players who left the Sens and one of the bigger contributors on the outs was Nick Foligno who provided a good playmaking addition to Jason Spezza and he will be missed as the Sens will need to find someone to replace his ability

 

Toronto Maple Leafs:

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The Maple Leafs are the most valuable team in the history of the NHL as they were valued at $1 billion by Forbes magazine. That would usually happen to a successful team that has been winning championships and continues to draw fans because of it. Yet there lies the contradiction as the Maple Leafs are in the midst of a 7 year playoff drought and have gone over 40 years without a Stanley Cup. The Leafs finished second last in the division last year as they were saved from last only because of the poor year by the Canadiens. There wasn’t much to speak of in the season with players continually disappointing and a goaltending merry-go-round that saw no true starter. Now the Leafs are moving on and have not seemed to learn much launching another circus into place around many different stories. First is the Roberto Luongo saga as the Vancouver Canucks goalie will be traded and the Toronto Maple Leafs are the apparent front-runners in the deal. Then came the extremely surprising decision to fire General Manager Brian Burke a week before the season started with two years left on his contract. The Leafs are a mix of great players who crumble under the pressure managed by people who seem to forget that they run a hockey team that is supposed to win. This year the Leafs will try to break the 7 year streak but with so much going on in the biggest hockey media market there is no escape from the circus that will see them eliminated once again.

 

Strength:
The System is One Year Older
– Randy Carlyle is will get his chance to show that his mix of skill and grit can win hockey games as he will be on the bench for his first full season, despite it being only 48 games long, and that is a positive as players will know what he wants much more than last year 

Weakness:
Goaltending and Management
– Ben Scrivens could be the future but James Reimer does not seem to be the now as the Leafs need a goalie, maybe Luongo, and outside of that the management seems lost when it comes to managing a team in this biggest hockey market in the world

Biggest Addition:
James van Riemsdyk, LW (Trade via Philadelphia Flyers)
– The Leafs were going the way of a 1990s team with pure grit and a few skill players but adding JVR to the team gives them more balance in the new NHL that values skill and speed a lot more than it used to 

Biggest Loss:
Luke Schenn, D (Trade to Philadelphia Flyers)
– He was young and seemed not to meet the high expectations laid out in front of him while in Toronto but he could turn out to be one of the better young defenders in the league and giving him up may leave the blue line much lighter

Prediction:
1. Boston Bruins
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Toronto Maple Leafs

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