Season Preview: Atlantic Division
Going from Coast-To-Coast to the most confusing of the new Alignments, the Atlantic. That contains exactly none of the Old Atlantic Division teams (all in the Metropolitan Division). Also, teams from Ontario & Michigan, which are land-locked (and in Detroit’s case over 600 miles from the Ocean). The Atlantic isn’t the first body of water you’d associate with Buffalo, either. Anyway, it’s a strange mix of old North Eastern teams with a couple of terrible Floridians from the South East and an escapee from Western time-zone tyranny in the Red Wings.
First up we’ll look at the two teams that will make Detroit fans temporarily shut up about “How Many Cups Have You Won?”. Montreal topped their Division but, for the third time in five years, went out in the First Round. To the surprise of absolutely no-one Tomas Kaberle and Scott Gomez were the subject of Compliance Buyouts this off season. The average height of their Schtroumpf-Like forward corps was boosted by a few milimetres by the addition of another Buyout case, the aging Daniel Briere who got 2 years at $4M per. 2012′s 3rd overall pick, Alex Galchenyuk has been offered an ELC by the Habs despite only playing two games in the Juniors last season due to injury. He could be one to watch this season.
On the backend, it wil be interesting to see how PK Subban follows up a Norris-Winning year. Carey Price will need to return to something like his best in order to get on the plane to Sochi. I have a sneaky feeling about the Habs this year.
The only feelings I have for Toronto , on the other hand, are those you get after washing down a Murg Thaal with eight pints of Guinness. Their off-season has made even Philly look relatively competent. From buying out Grabovski in order to throw $4.2M Per at Tyler Bozak until 2018, bringing in untested Jonathan Bernier to undermine/replace tried-and-tested James Reimer (while retaining salary, too!) and far too many years and too much money to the wrong-side-of 30 Lupul and Clarkson. That’s before you get into the Kadri debacle and the fact that Cody Franson remains unsigned. However, the worst single move made in this disaster of an off-season was Dave Nonis getting a Five-Year Extension.
On the ice, they’ll be the usual collection of face-punchers, non-entities and Phil Kessel. Oh, and they’ll be without Clarkson for the first 10 games of the season due to his coming off the bench in the Sabres dust up a couple of days ago. Clearly the smarts run downhill in that organisation. Might make the playoffs, won’t get to a first round game 7 this time, though.
Finally North-Of-The-Border we have Ottawa. A banged-up Sens, missing several key players, gave Pittsburgh all they could handle in the 2nd Round last year. This year they welcome back Erik Karlsson, who missed most of last year after an incident with Matt Cooke sliced his tendon, Craig Anderson, who would have surely won the Vezina had he played a full season, is back at full strength and Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza return. Obviously, losing the Face of the Franchise in Daniel Alfredsson stings, but the Sens pulled off a serious coup by landing Bobby Ryan from the Ducks. Scoring Goals was Ottawa’s big problem last year and having a proven sniper like Ryan should help to address that. With Conacher and Wiercioch looking to build on breakout seasons and Anderson backed up by the impressive Lehner, Karlsson hoping to return to his Norris form, Jason Spezza as Captain and Ryan as the new Superstar, Ottawa are looking very much like the real deal. Playoffs at a minimum, quite possibly winners of this Division.
What’s That Smell?
Tampa come off a disappointing season where they finished outside of the Playoffs (in fact second from bottom in the wretched South East) for the first time in five years. The problem with Tampa remains as it ever was: outside of Steven Stamkos and Marty St Louis (about whom no one has a bad word to say, even on Twitter.. I looked hard!) they’re just a bunch of guys. They bought out Vinny Lecavalier and used that cap space to bring in Valteri Filpulla from the Wings, a player that I like even if he does have a tendency to vanish for large stretches of time, but they also decided too pay him $5M per for the next half-a decade which is, frankly, insane. Carle & Hedman will be doing the heavy lifting on D, Sami Salo will be getting hurt because that’s his “Thing”. No post-season again and maybe Steve Yzerman’s seat getting a little heat under it.
The Panthers are likely to give Calgary the best run for their money in the fail-for-whoever Draft Lottery stakes. Uncle Dale’s Lonely Hawks Club Band are in a rebuild, whether they admit it or not, and the good news is that they have some promising youngsters like Huberdeau, Barkov and Goalie Markstrom. The bad news is that these guys are going to have to pull a lot of weight. as the rest of their colleagues either can’t stay healthy (Versteeg, Upshall, Jovanovski) are getting old (Kopecky, Gomez, Jovanovski) or just aren’t very good (Fleischmann, Jovanovski). Or all three at once (Jovanovski). Brian Campbell will continue to stick out like a Ginger Thumb, then.
No mention of Bad NHL Teams would be completer without Buffalo, of course. Where to begin… the presence of Steve Ott, Patrick Kaleta and John Scott on their Forward Corps means they’re still chock full of talentless idiots who like to punch. They’re also paying Ville Leino 4.5M per until 2017. In the first season and a half of that contract they’ve gotten 79 games and 10 goals out of him. Nice. Not the worst contract on the team, however (no, it’s not the $750k they’re giving Murdersaurus). Step forward Christian Erhoff who will be worth $4m against the Cap each and every year until he’s 38 in 2021, all with a NMC. It seems a shame that there are promising young guys like Cody Hodgson buried in this shite.
Our Old Pals
This leaves us with the noted powerhouses of this Division. First up, last year’s Stanley Cup Runner-Up, the Boston Bruins.
The Bruins have been fairly active in the off-season with players coming in and going out. Party Boy Tyler Seguin was sent to Dallas along with Rick Peverly, Nathan Horton went to the Beej, presumably to free up space on the treatment table for Patrice Bergeron and Andrew Ference is in Edmonton, the lucky guy. Coming in is 36 year old Jarome Iginla on a 1 year/$6M contract and Loui Eriksson who is apparently worth $4.25M a year. The rest of the pretty-as-a-sumo-wrestler crew like Lucic, Chara, Thornton and Marchand are all back too, just another year older (and a short off-season with no Cup-Euphoria to aid recovery, either) slower. If Tuuka Rask regresses at all now that he gots paid.. things could get hairy for the Bears. They should come out of their Division without too much trouble, but it’s hard to see them matching last year, let alone going that step further.
Again, I’ll finish with what I consider the most interesting subplot in this Division. Good Old Detroit finally got their wish and moved East. It’s been believed by many that the standard of Western Conference teams is higher than the East and one of the West’s powerhouse franchises changing sides should be proof of this, right? Except maybe not. Detroit’s 56 points would have been good enough for 4th in the Old North East (on the ROW tiebreak, too). Obviously it’s not fair to make such comparisons based on an unusual season like last year, but there’s no denying that the Wings are in an unusual place right now.
Their lynchpins Datsyuk & Zetterberg lead the way. Dats is 35 now but still a point-per-game player, at least for the moment as is Zetterburg who did more than anyone else wearing the Wheel to get them past the Hawks in the 2nd Round. They’ve added a 40 year old Daniel Alfredsson to their ranks (can anyone say Mike Modano?) and Stephen Weiss is getting $4.9M a year until 2018 for reasons that are very unclear. After that it’s a motley crew of the aged and the oft-injured with Franzen, Samuelsson, Bertuzzi, Cleary and Eaves limping around out there. Oh and Jordin Tootoo, hilariously. Much is expected of Rookie Thomas Tatar. Justin Abdelkader & Justin Abdelkader’s Elbow will be their usual dumbfuck selves.
The Wings have still not recovered from the shock of Lidstrom retiring/Missing out on Suter and/or Weber. Nik Kronwall is as close to a top-pair D-man as they have. He isn’t one. Danny Dekeyser is meant to be the real deal but 13 NHL games isn’t really enough of a sample size. The rest of the Blue Line Corps is depriving a Clown College somewhere of half its remedial class. Jimmy Howard will be a busy man with his brand-new shiny extension.
Listening to Wings fans there seems to be a belief that they’re going to clean house in the East. I’m less than convinced. I believe they’ll make the playoffs, sure, and once they’re there, then anything is possible. But I suspect they’ll be getting in as a Wild Card behind Ottawa, Boston and Montreal.
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