So, there’s this bizarre division in the NHL containing three Original Six franchises, an Olympic Silver Medal and Vezina winning goaltender, and the team that inhabits Canada’s capitol city. It’s called the northeast, and it’s filled with some interesting characters. Here’s how things could play out in this enigmatic division, filled with history and tradition.
5. Montreal Canadiens: (2011-2012 – 78 points, 28th Overall, 15th in Conference, 5th in Division): Was there any other word to describe Montreal’s 2011-2012 campaign other than “awful”? Their star defenseman Andrei Markov was injured again, their star goalie Carey Price had a sub-par year, and their cash vortex Scott Gomez only scored a whopping total of 2 goals and 9 assists for a superstar total of 11 points. Now, it looks like Scotty boy will be a freelancer soon enough, now that the NHL and NHLPA have come to an agreement allowing teams to burn one of their compliance buy-outs by Saturday 1/19. The bright spots in Montreal, and there are a couple, are blue chip prospect Alex Galchenyuk and the fact that Markov is fully recovered and ready to roll. That doesn’t forgive the fact that Montreal is very small at center, have a lack of depth on left wing, and still have a group of players that are soft, even with the off season addition of bruiser Brandon Prust. Yes, they’ve improved, however it won’t be enough to propel them into the post season. (Prediction: 14th in Conference)
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (2011-2012 – 80 points, 26th Overall, 13th in Conference, 4th in Division): For Toronto, it all boils down to goaltending, and their current tandem of James Reimer and either Jussi Rynnas or Ben Scrivens just will not cut it this season. Former GM Brian Burke didn’t do the Leafs any favors before being shown the door, failing to attract any major free agents last summer and being too patient with a roster filled with interesting possibilities, but possibilities look like dreams when they don’t turn out to be reality. Phil Kessel has been good, but not fantastic, failing to embrace the white hot spotlight in the center of the hockey universe. They have strong leadership with veteran Dion Phaneuf, however they just don’t have enough weapons to make the playoffs, and until they trade some of their better “possibilities”, they won’t be able to grow from within, and they’ll continue to regret powering the youth movement in Boston. (Prediction: 13th in Conference)
3. Buffalo Sabres (2011-2012 – 89 Points, 18th Overall, 9th in Conference, 3rd in Division): After watching Bruins forward Milan Lucic run over former Vezina winner Ryan Miller, Sabre’s management got wise and bulked up their lineup, adding the brutish John Scott, the highly undervalued Steve Ott, and didn’t let go of Patrick Kaleta’s services. Ryan Miller should return to form, which should go far to help the Sabres, who have made a profession out of being a perennial bubble team. Last year they were beaten out by the Ottawa Senators, and mostly, that happened because of their team toughness. The trio of Tyler Ennis, Drew Stafford, and Marcus Foligno should continue to grow as a unit, and Mikhail Grigorenko could make an instant impact on this roster. And just like that, this Buffalo squad should make it back to Lord Stanley’s spring time carnival. (Prediction: 8th in Conference)
2. Ottawa Senators (2011 – 2012 – 92 points, 16th Overall, 8th in Conference, 2nd in Division, eliminated by the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals): The Senators were the biggest Eastern Conference surprise last season, leaving chaos and disorder throughout the league, and nearly tossing the heavily favored the New York Rangers from the playoffs using hot goaltending from Craig Anderson, and the open flame star power of Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Not only that, coach Paul MacLean seems to know exactly what to say, and just the right time to say it, to get the most out of his squad of accused over-achievers. So, here’s the rub. This squad, which includes the lethal Jason Spezza, will not only be back where it was last season, but they will build on it. Expect these Senators to cause the same kind of damage, and more. (Prediction: 5th in Conference)
1. Boston Bruins (2011 – 2012 – 102 points, 7th Overall, 2nd in Conference, 1st in Division): So, there’s no Cup hangover this season. The drama surrounding goaltender turned pundit Tim Thomas has ended with the former Vezina winner taking a leave of absence. And the Bruins are bringing yet another young star into a roster that’s already bulging with real talent. This time, the rookie will be featured on defense, and goes by the name of Dougie Hamilton. Add in a net that will be filled by an unchallenged Tuuka Rask, and a skating corps that has kept all of its key pieces, courtesy of a pre-lockout spending spree, and you have recipe for yet another season that the Bruins can skate with any team in the NHL. The only question is who will back up Rask, either Michael Hutchinson or Anton Khudobin. And, ladies and gentlemen, in this short season with plenty of back-to-back games, is the million dollar question. (Prediction: 2nd in Conference)
To Read my other previews:
Click here for the the Atlantic Division or
Here for the Southeast Division, or
Here for the Central Division or
Here for the Pacific Division or
Here for the Northwest Division
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