There isn’t a weak division in this league anymore. With only 4 divisions it is pretty difficult to find 5 or 6 bad teams in the league let alone in a single division. But if I had to pick one that is the weakest, this would be it. Tampa, Buffalo and Florida really drag this one down. Having said that, the top of the division looks pretty strong. And now with 4 of the original 6 in this division, it won’t lack attention from fans and the media.
This team is going to benefit greatly moving to the East. They play a style of game that is better suited for the East, their travel is greatly decreased, and it is no secret that the East is the weaker of the two conferences. So I fully expect the Red Wings to go back to the top of the standings this season after a down season last year. Then they had a nice offseason adding Daniel Alfredsson and replacing Val Filppula with Stephen Weiss. So the forward group looks amazing yet again. But as you know it was the blueline that was the huge question mark last season for the Wings. They came together pretty well in the playoffs, and I thought that Brendan Smith finally….FINALLY….started to emerge. The guy had been so hyped up for years that there was really little to no chance that he could meet expectations. But he looked like a top 4 guy in last year’s postseason and they really started to come together. Still not great, but solid. They’ll look to upgrade it like they always do. Even when they had Lidstrom and Chelios they were looking to upgrade their D. Then you have Jimmy Howard in net. He still is a question mark in the postseason, but during the regular season he is among the best. Great coach, great GM, great talent, the Wings are going to love the East!
How about we switch to the O symbol? The one of the Senator isn’t that bad, but those 3rd uni’s are sweet and they should roll with them as their regulars. Anyway…they lose Alfredsson, they gain Bobby Ryan (although they paid a price to land him), so that should be at least a wash. Ryan is far and away the more effective player at this point in their careers, but they’ll miss Alfredsson’s leadership for sure. The big thing for the Sens this season is that they should be healthy. Spezza, Karlsson and Anderson are among the best at their positions in the league. How they made the playoffs without those 3 for a large part of last season I don’t know. Anderson is great between the pipes and he’s a serious threat to Jonathan Quick for the number 1 job on the US Olympic team. I doubt he can beat out Quick, but it just speaks to how good the guy is. I love a goaltender who can play great without amazing defensive play in front of him. The blueline is solid here though. Cowen and Methot are good shutdown guys, the only problem might be that they won’t have much offense coming from the backend other than Karlsson, but he should provide enough of his own. Up front, the pieces simply fit. Spezza with Ryan, Turris, Zibanejad and Smith as the 2, 3, 4 centers, scoring, size, grit, it’s a great blend. And to top it all off, this is one of the best coached teams in the league. If you don’t love Paul McLean, you have a problem with you!
They were dead for a lot of last season. It wasn’t just in game 7 against the Leafs. This team played most of last season with no emotion, and just had zero life. I don’t get many right (as you will see if you look back at all this in April), but I pretty much had that series bang on. But I didn’t know that they would spring to life in the last 10 minutes of that game and ride that momentum all the way to the final. And now they come into this season with perhaps a better team. Iginla for Horton short term should be even but might be an upgrade (for this season), and Eriksson will fit in MUCH better than Seguin did. You’re talking about going from a kid who was one dimensional and wasn’t a natural winger, to a guy who maybe is the most underrated player in hockey and maybe the most complete winger in the game outside of Marian Hossa. Another thing they have going on is the youth on the blueline. Hamilton, Krug, and now Joe Morrow who will likely be a regular by seasons end. Chara is getting on in years but he is still among the elite and stays in amazing shape. We all know what Tukka Rask will give them in net too, speaking of elite. So why do I only have them 3rd in the division? Deep run always takes a lot out of a team, but they’ll be a threat come April.
I believe they had the best offseason of any team in the league. Picking them to finish 4th in this division is more about this division being top heavy. They’ll make the playoffs again this season. The Clarkson signing was too much money, but he is such a valuable guy to have on your hockey team. One thing I always say I love about the Bruins is just how many unique players they have like Lucic and Marchand and Chara. Well Clarkson is one of those unique guys that are just near impossible to find. He and Bolland give them a lot more grit and experience. I know some wonder why they went out and got Jonathan Bernier when Reimer was solid last season. Well watch Reimer play. The kid battles and he’s extremely likeable, but he’s just limited. Bernier has elite type of ability. I think it will work well between the two of them. Bernier might need to be pushed, and Reimer won’t quit working his bag off. Most of the time these situations don’t work but this could be the exception to the rule. I really like their blueline. It’s deep, Phaneuf might be the worst legit number 1 in the league, but that’s like being the dumbest doctor…you’re still a doctor. Gardiner, Franson, and Gunnarsson round out a very solid top 4 and as of typing this on Sunday afternoon Morgan Rielly appears to have made the team. Don’t need to say much about the forwards, we all know it’s a highly skilled group that will put pucks in the net. I’m a HUGE Randy Carlyle fan too. This team will get in the playoffs and should be a threat to whoever they play.
They had an amazing start to last season. But then the wheels sort of fell off. Not instanly, but gradually as the season wore on they shine wore off until we got to the playoffs and the Sens handled them in 5, really toyed with them in 2 of the last 3 games of the series. Well sometimes teams breakout, and sometimes teams just have things go their way for a season. I don’t hate this Habs team, but I just see them as a team that is on the cusp of the playoff picture rather than a team that gets in. I expect Price to be great this season, I expect Alex Galchenyuk to take a big step in his development this season, and they’ve done a great job drafting there. But while they have a lot to like, they don’t really have a lot to love. I don’t see P.K. Subban having the season he had last year. He’s a top pairing guy, but I just believe that was a career year for him. I still don’t like the lack of size up front, although you can get away with that easier in the East then you can in the West. To get back to the playoffs I believe they need Price to have a Vezina type of season, and Galchenyuk to make an even bigger jump then I’m expecting him to have this season (like becoming a 60-70 point guy type of jump). Outside of that, I think they’re on the right track but will fall short of the playoffs this season.
To me this is the first of the trio of bad teams in this division. Tampa has a lot of talent, but they were a mess for a lot of last season. I think it was a safe move to send Jonathan Drouin back to Halifax. I’m not sure weather or not it was the right move, but the safe move. He won’t be hurt by another year in the CHL, playing at the WJC, possibly playing in the Memorial Cup. If there is any doubt you are rushing a player, then you are. Steven Stamkos needs to start becoming a better all around player, and until he does that this team won’t go anywhere. He might be the most overrated player in the game right now. Its great that he scores all those goals, and we all know the cliche that scoring goals is the toughest thing to do in hockey, but it doesn’t mean that’s all you need to do…especially when you’re a center. Marty St.Louis will be Marty St.Louis, and I liked the Val Filppula signing to replace Lecavalier. He’s better than you think. Ben Bishop was great after arriving at the trade deadline, but the jury is still out on weather or not he’s the answer for them in net, and this blueline in Tampa is still very suspect. I have time for Victor Hedman, but he needs to start taking steps towards being a legit number 1 guy. Simply no reason he shouldn’t be, he has all the tools. There is some high end talent with this team, but still too many holes to believe they’ll get in the playoffs.
This organization has become a total mess. I was big on them the last few seasons. Talent was there, coaching was there, they were young and would seemingly just keep improving. Well that was dead wrong. Now they’re a train wreck and the worst may still be to come. Get Ryan Miller out of the dressing room Darcy Regier! It is a double edged sword with this guy, because he asks for just a ridiculous amount in return for his players that I’m sure it turns most GM’s off….but he has hit some home runs in doing so too with the Jason Pomminville and Paul Gaustad trades. But it is clear that they just need to get Miller out of that room. To make matters worse, they’ll have not just the Miller rumors but Thomas Vanek rumors will swirl around the team all season as well. And if that wasn’t bad enough, you look at their roster and it just isn’t that great. Cody Hodgson would be a nice 2nd line center, but he’s not a 1st line kid. Tyler Ennis is really talented, but his size really limits him in an increasingly bigger league. Christan Erhoff and Ville Leino were simply bad signings. It just doesn’t look good right now in Buffalo, and I think its time to tear this thing down and completely rebuild it. It feels like they’re in no man’s land right now.
I didn’t have many right last season, but I was spot on when it came to the Panthers. Their 2012 season was a fluke, and last season was who they are. But despite that, Dale Tallon is doing a good job in South Beach. I agreed with them taking Sasha Barkov 2nd overall over Seth Jones. Their big need was a 1st line center. Jones with Gudbranson and Kulikov would have given them an amazing core on defense moving forward, but that blueline looks good moving forward without Jones. But down the middle and up front in general they would have lacked had they not taken Barkov. So the pieces are in place. Young stud goaltender who will get his shot this season in Jacob Markstrom. Not just Barkov, but Nick Bjugstad down the middle. Jonathan Huberdeau is a stud winger for Barkov to play with. And I already hit on the kids along the blueline. But that’s moving forward, not now. They won’t be good this season. Now there is a chance that Tim Thomas turns back the clock a few years and steals them a bunch of games, but the best hope of them this season is for the season not to be a total write off by the Olympic break.
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