NHL Puck Drop: Atlantic Division Preview
Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team and division, from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Atlantic Division
Last year the Northeast Division was the most intriguing and talented division in the Eastern Conference. While the three new additions haven’t necessarily added to either of those categories, they have certainly taken nothing away from it either.
The Detroit Red Wings bring consistent talent and an original six history to the newly christened Atlantic Division and should be the cream of the incoming crop. Tampa Bay brings a lot of high-end offensive talent headlined by Steven Stamkos, but unless they can find consistent defence and goaltending, will not be a contender for another couple of years. Meanwhile, the Florida Panthers bring in an excellent group of young talent, but a weaker roster means that they will likely be chasing draft picks more than playoff spots and division titles in the immediate future. With all those prospects though, the long term future of the Panthers is bright.
All in all, the quality of the Atlantic Division’s three team import this season means more playoff contenders and a tougher road in both the short and long-term.
Below is a preview of the 2013-14 Atlantic Division. If you click on the team name, you can read the full preview on that team from a fellow LWOS writer. Our hockey writers weigh in with their own versions of the division standings at the end.
8. Florida Panthers, (2012-13- 36 points, 30th Overall, 15th in Conference, 5th in Southeast Division)
It seems so long since a ragtag group of Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division to give the team a surprise playoff spot in the 2011-12 season. After last year, the only way the Panthers could sink any lower is the fact that the Eastern Conference now has 15 teams for them to finish behind. Winning only 15 games last season, Florida essentially only made depth additions to try and stop the inevitability of a low finish from once again taking place.
The one notable addition that Panthers made this offseason was through the draft. Taking Aleksander Barkov second overall gives the club a very talented second line pivot. Barkov will undoubtedly make the team out of the gate and will hope to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Huberdeau, who won the Calder Trophy last year.
In net this could be an important season for Jakob Markstrom, who at 23 has yet to develop into the goaltending superstar he is projected to be. Add a PTO given to veteran Tim Thomas into the mix and Markstrom could be playing second fiddle to a resurgent former Vezina Trophy winner. Prediction: 16th in the Conference.
7. Buffalo Sabres, (2012-13- 48 points, 23rd Overall, 12th in Conference, 5th in Northeast Division)
Similar to their new division mates from the South, Buffalo is most likely going to have a very tough campaign. Like Florida they were not incredibly active this summer preferring to sit on what they already have as they brace for a rebuild. There is certainly still some talent in Buffalo, but most of it has migrated to greener pastures.
The only two offseason additions for the Sabres came on the back-end, reintroducing veteran Henrik Tallinder into their lineup as well as Jamie McBain. But don’t be fooled as it is unlikely that Buffalo’s defense will finish much higher than the 22nd in goals allowed that the team gave up in 2013.
However, the Sabres do still have hope for the future. During the current famine the team has stockpiled a number of talented prospects who will begin to make their mark in a couple of years. Mikhail Grigorenko should return to the NHL full-time in 2013-14 and it is expected that he will look significantly better than he did during a 2013 season that saw him sent back down to Quebec. In addition to Grigorenko, the Sabres have had a large number of early draft picks in recent years acquired via various trades. As the prospects develop they will become a scary club. Prediction: 14th in the Conference
6. Tampa Bay Lightning, (2012-13- 40 points, 28th Overall, 14th in Conference, 4th in Southeast Division)
2012-13 certainly didn’t go the way Tampa Bay Lightning fans would have hoped, and they will find it difficult to turn that around this year. It seems that only the elite retooled in this division as Tampa represents another team who made few changes to their 2013 squad. But the two moves that the Bolts made are significant.
Up front, Jonathan Drouin will almost certainly make a case for the Calder Trophy, his incredible talent will translate well to the NHL level. Meanwhile, Valterri Filppula adds needed depth at centre. The team did not, however, address a porous 2013 defence. Tampa’s back end gave up the 26th most goals in the NHL last season and will need to be re-calibrated if this team wants to move on to the next level. Victor Hedman is coming into his own, but the Bolts have not surrounded him with enough talent on the blue line.
This season will also mark the passing of the torch in Tampa Bay as long-time face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier has departed for the Flyers. But there are good signs for the future. Ben Bishop impressed down the stretch last year, and the Lightning may finally have found an answer in net. They have one of the best players in the NHL in Steven Stamkos and one who soon could be in Jonathan Drouin. Prediction: 11th in the Conference
5. Detroit Red Wings, (2012-13- 56 points, 13th overall, 7th in Conference, 3rd in Central Division)
As the core of the Detroit Red Wings continues to get older the inevitability of missing the playoffs becomes more likely. This year they have a roster good enough to narrowly make the show again, but it will be even more difficult than last season’s scare. Furthermore, fans should enjoy things while they last, because replacing elite talent like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg as they continue to age will be incredibly difficult.
The team made two additions this offseason and neither of them addressed the increasingly problematic age factor. Stephen Weiss replaced Valterri Filppula in the centre of the ice and should benefit from his new surroundings in Detroit. Moreover, there are several questions as to how much longer Daniel Alfredsson can compete at the NHL level. Leaving Ottawa will mean leaving behind all the youthful excitement that surely helped him perform above his level.
The Wings still have plenty of assets, especially on the defensive side and in goal. Jimmy Howard had a stellar year and was a main reason why Detroit both made the playoffs and helped the Wings put up some strong defensive numbers. However we can expect both to scale back and little bit in 2013-14, as the long grind of an 82-game year will have an effect over the course of the year. The Wings will need their young blue liners to mature quickly in order to provide Howard with some cover. Prediction: 8th in the Conference
4. Toronto Maple Leafs, (2012-13- 57 Points, 9th overall, 5th in Conference, 3rd in Northeast Division)
It is always tough to accept being so close to even greater success, but for all intents and purposes the 2013-14 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs can only be considered positively. The team finally broke the infamous playoff drought and now look to improve upon that result and extend their season for a second straight year.
The Leafs did nothing but make headlines during the 2013 season and that positivity carried into the off-season. Toronto was a big player on the trade front acquiring Jonathan Bernier to shore up its goaltending situation and Dave Bolland to provide another checking line presence up the middle. They were instrumental in free agency signing highly touted David Clarkson and re-signing their first line centre, Tyler Bozak. Even their off-season contract negotiations with restricted free agents Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson made national headlines.
That ability to be at the forefront of the news wire for all the right reasons should extend into the 2013-14 season. The Maple Leafs are a good team who are only a couple of pieces away from becoming a legitimate contender. However, with the way the team has managed their cap it may be difficult to acquire the types of players they need to put them in the Cup discussion. But there will still be plenty to cheer about in Toronto this year. I am now obligated to mention the third period collapse in Game 7. Prediction: 7th in the Conference
3. Montreal Canadiens, (2012-13- 63 points, 4th Overall, 2nd in Conference, 1st in Northeast Division)
For the Montreal Canadiens it is all about maintaining all the good that the team achieved last year and building upon it through improvements from within a young roster. Very few analysts and fans would have predicted the team would win the Northeast Division crown last season, but now that they are here it is difficult to see them falling back to the depths of the 2011-12 season.
This off-season for the Habs the main focus was on size, which is why it is so ironic that the most notable addition is diminutive forward Danny Briere. But with Nick Tarnasky, George Parros and Douglas Murray all competing for spots in the lineup Montreal will certainly be a tougher customer than last year. The drafting of Michael McCarron, who is likely a few years away from making an impact, also showed the Habs new commitment to adding some bigger bodies to the team.
A lot of what happens for Montreal this season comes down to the goaltending of Carey Price. While most remember the last month of the season in which Price wrote himself out of the Vezina trophy conversation, they also fail to see his body of work over the entire regular season. Price’s strong play from January through March was one of the main reasons Montreal reached the plateau they did in 2013 and he will be hoping to help them reach new heights this time around. Prediction: 5th in the Conference
2. Ottawa Senators (2012-13- 56 points, 14th Overall, 7th in Conference, 4th in Northeast Division)
While Vincent Lecavalier’s departure marks the end of an era in Tampa it is perhaps more apparent in Canada’s capital. The emigration of their beloved Captain Daniel Alfreddson means that new leadership will need to emerge for the Ottawa Senators to carry this young and promising team forward.
Some of that leadership will come from new captain Jason Spezza, who will hope that his health finally holds up in 2013-14 after a couple of injury-filled seasons. Spezza will have some important new running mates to the start his first campaign as captain and they should prove very helpful. Bobby Ryan is due to be a big impact player for Ottawa while Clarke MacArthur adds some welcome offensive depth. Meanwhile, defender Joe Corvo rounds out the Senators offseason acquisitions. One should also be careful not to underestimate the effect having Erik Karlsson for a full season will have on the club.
Health will be a big topic around Ottawa this season but should everything go to plan this team is dangerous. New leadership will play a big role in this, but the Senators are a team that could potentially have a Stanley Cup contender tag attached to them for the upcoming season. The team has the talent, now they just need the execution. Prediction: 4th in the Conference
1. Boston Bruins (2012-13- 62 points, 5th Overall, 4th in Conference, 2nd in Northeast Division)
The Boston Bruins went through major off-season turmoil, trading away a player that was expected to be a franchise forward in Tyler Seguin, and watching first line winger Nathan Horton, and defenceman Andrew Ference walk in free agency. The team added Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson in the moves, but they may be worse on paper today than they were at the end of last season. However, they have not lost enough to make them lose their footing in either the league or the division. This is still very much a Stanley Cup contender as well as a team who should take the Atlantic Division crown with relative ease.
The offseason acquisitions are solid, even if they do not directly replace the talent that left Boston this summer.Eriksson will probably put up big numbers for the Bruins this season and add his two-way presence to a line that already features Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Meanwhile, Iginla brings powerplay ability that the team will hope awakens their long dormant man advantage. If he can this team becomes exponentially more dangerous.
It is on the back end where most of the questions lie for the Boston Bruins. Losing the consistent defender Ference means someone from the wealth of young Bruins defensive talent will have to step up. Dougie Hamilton was solid in his NHL debut last season but sophomore slumps are common among young defenceman. Furthermore, the Bruins are relying on one of Matt Bartkowski, Tory Krug or Joe Morrow to fill the vacant roster spot. Prediction: 2nd in the Conference
Russell McKenzie (@LastWordBigMick)1. Bruins -x 2. Habs -x 3. Wings -x 4. Sens -x 5. Leafs 6. Lightning 7. Panthers 8. Sabres
Aaron Wrotkowski (@AaronWrotkowski)
1. Canadiens 2. Red Wings 3. Bruins 4. Senators 5. Bolts 6. Leafs 7. Sabres 8. Panthers
Ben Kerr (@lastwordBKerr)
1. Boston – x 2. Montreal – x 3. Ottawa – x 4. Tampa – x 5. Detroit 6. Toronto 7. Buffalo 8. Florida
Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_)
1. Boston-x 2. Ottawa-x 3. Montreal-x 4. Leafs-x 5. Wings 6. Florida 7. Tampa 8. Buffalo
Larry Scotti (@Larry_Scotti)
1. Detroit-x 2. Boston-x 3. Ottawa-x 4. Montreal-x 5. Toronto 6. Tampa Bay 7. Buffalo 8. Florida
Shawn Wilken (@crimsonskorpion)
1. Bruins -x 2. Habs -x 3. Wings -x 4. Sens -x 5. Leafs 6. Lightning 7. Sabres 8. Panthers
Thanks for reading. Please give our Hockey Department a follow on Twitter – @crimsonskorpion, @TheHockeyMitch, @theTQ21, @LastWordBigMick, @CMS_74_, @dasimonetta, @Larry_Scotti, @evan_lacey, @lastwordBKerr, @ddmatthews, @CanuckPuckHead, and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? If so, check out our “Join Our Team” page to find out how.