Articles

The Season – Northeast Division

In Hockey Hits on September 28, 2010 by geespotting

THE SEASON

NORTHEAST DIVISION

…As promised, the first look at the 5 teams that will make up the Northeast Division. From an off-season standpoint, the Bruins made a few splashes with some moves they made, but, the big question in Beantown will be the status of star centre Marc Savard, and whether or not he is able to recover from last season’s concussion. The Habs, Sens & Sabres all lost some key players during the Summer, while the Leafs may have improved their roster the most of the 5 teams. Will it make a difference come playoff time? Not liking their chances. Here is a run-down of each team, starting with the predicted top team in the division. I will also cover prime pool picks, and highlight a few that you should possibly avoid heading into your respective draft parties.

1. BOSTON BRUINS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Zdeno Chara

…Expect the Bruins to be back on top in the Northeast, and nail down a top 3 position in the Eastern Conference. In net, they probably have the best tandem in the league with Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas. Down the road, a healthy Thomas could be a good dangling tool if the Bruins want to improve their team closer to playoff time. Rask is that good, so much so, he was the better tender in the Bruins/Sabres first round series where he outplayed Ryan Miller. The franchise player is still big Z on D. Chara’s numbers were down last season, but, he proved his value by having a strong playoff. In the end, the pounding was too much for Chara against the big power forwards of the Flyers. I do expect a bounce-back season from him. Up front, Boston made a big move in the off-season by acquiring Nathan Horton from the Panthers for Dennis Wideman. Horton was having a career year before an injury put him on the sidelines for a month and a half. His totals were close to a point a game. Not bad for a guy who had Stephen Weiss as his centre. No offence to Mr. Weiss, but, the potential of a Savard & Horton combo would mean bigger numbers for Nate. But, as we all know, the status of Savard is in question, as he continues to try and recover from last season’s terrible concussion courtesy of Matt Cooke. It doesn’t look all that good, at least for the first month or so of the new season. That being said, the Bruins will have a healthy David Krejci from the get-go, and Olympic Gold medallist Patrice Bergeron. It also means another spot opening up in the depth chart for rookie Tyler Seguin. The Bruins also hoping that Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler are able to put up good numbers after disappointing campaigns last year. The good news is that most of these players picked up their game in the playoffs…until one of the greatest collapses in playoff history. Finishing number one in the division will put those concerns to rest…at least until mid April.

PRIME POOL PIX: Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin.

BUYER BEWARE: Marc Savard, Marco Sturm (injuries), Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi

2. BUFFALO SABRES

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Ryan Miller

…Last year was a remarkable one for the Sabres. They won the division when many weren’t sure they would make the playoffs. They had the top goalie in the league, and at the Olympics as Ryan Miller won the Vezina and a Silver medal. And a star was born, as former Kelowna Rocket Tyler Myers took the league by storm and was the top rookie with his Calder Trophy win. Then reality hit for the Sabres as their top players were out-played by the Bruins. The likes of Mark Recchi and Miro Satan outscored Derek Roy, Jason Pominville and others. We already mentioned the Rask/Miller outcome too. I do believe that Buffalo will still be a strong team, and nail down the 2nd spot in the Division. Ryan Miller has proven himself finally, although, I doubt his numbers and game will be as big as they were last year. On defence, Tyler Myers now has the torch as the team’s top d-man. We will see how his game continues to grow, especially considering the losses of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman. Replacements are Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn. That combo certainly not as good as the Tallinder/Lydman one. Up front the Sabres are loaded with talent. The key is health, to such injury prone players as Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek. If they stay healthy, Buffalo’s attack will be one of the best in the league. Add to that youngsters Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Ennis, and the Sabres should be in the thick of it once again come playoff time.

PRIME POOL PIX: Ryan Miller, Tyler Myers, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, Tyler Ennis.

BUYER BEWARE: Drew Stafford (will not reach potential), Jochen Hecht (best days behind him)

3. MONTREAL CANADIENS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Andrei Markov

…It was one of those magical years in Montreal, as the Habs had an unlikely run in the playoffs making it to the Conference Final before being ousted by the Flyers. Along the way, the knocked out the highest scoring and point producing team in the league in the Capitals, and then followed it up with an upset over the Cup champs from Pittsburgh. Despite a huge playoff from the likes of Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, let’s not kid ourselves knowing that the reason why the Habs rolled through to the final four was the play of goalie Jaro Halak. He was one of the top tenders at the Olympics, and continued to knock ’em down through mid May. So…why did the Canadiens trade him? Well, they did, and that means, no more excuses for Carey Price. His exhibition start certainly wasn’t grand, but, beyond him…it’s Alex Auld. This is a career season for Carey. His play will be key in whether or not the Habs head back to the post season. A healthy Andrei Markov means a ton to the Canadiens, and is also pretty huge in the playoff aspirations. P.K. Subban was a breath of fresh air for Montreal last playoff, and he certainly is one of the front-runners for rookie of the year. Up front, Montreal has some good depth with the aforementioned Cammalleri and Gionta, as well as Tomas Plekanec and Scott Gomez. If they can keep it together and keep everyone healthy, they will be knocking on that playoff door once again.

PRIME POOL PIX: Carey Price, Andrei Markov, P.K. Subban, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta.

BUYER BEWARE: Jaroslav Spacek (numbers will be lower), Andrei Kostitsyn

4. OTTAWA SENATORS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Sergei Gonchar

…First off, I named a new player and one inching close to the end of his career as a franchise player. Apologies to the greatest Sen of all time in Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza, but, this off-season move is huge in terms of where Ottawa will finish this season. For years, the Sens have lost an impact defenceman year after year. Chara, Redden and now Volchenkov. This was the first time, that THEY made the splash in free agency. Ottawa has some tools up front to have a very effective power play, and have had a good one over the years, but, that QB on the point means that Spezza and Alfredsson don’t have to man the points…which means more points for them and wins for Ottawa. Even with Crosby and Malkin, watch how the PP in Pittsburgh will suffer this season without the big Gonch. Another key will be Erik Karlsson, who was incredible in the playoffs against the Pens. Ottawa will be on the brink of the playoffs, as they will have question marks in goal. Pascal Leclaire can be a great goalie, but, he normally can’t be a healthy one. As the season starts, he is in good shape and will be the number one goalie. I ain’t placing bets on Brian Elliott. Also noted is the loss of Anton Volchenkov. These days, having a top notch shut down man is almost as important, if not more so, than the PP d-man. He eats up minutes, eats up pucks, eats up power plays, and eats up players. Those type of players can not be replaced. Up front, I expect slim pickings beyond the tandem of Spezza and Alfredsson. Fisher, Kovalev and Michalek will be hard pressed to put up decent numbers, although Nick Foligno will be better, and that’s where you run into problems. A lot will have to go right for things to be Sen-sational this season in the Capital.

PRIME POOL PIX: Pascal Leclaire, Sergei Gonchar, Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson.

BUYER BEWARE: Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek.

5. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

FRANCHISE PLAYER: Dion Phaneuf

…The Leafs will be last in the division again. The Leafs will be better, no doubt, but, not playoff ready just yet. I think huge question marks still remain in goal with the heartbreak kid Jonas Gustavsson, and veteran J.S. Giguere. Gustavasson has the potential, but, his confidence is rather fragile in a hockey crazed market, and it remains to be seen if Giguere can regain the form that made him one of the top goalies in the world a few years ago. The defence has some big names…but, the mobility may not be there. Dion Phaneuf is the key to this team. He is only a year removed from being regarded as one of the top rearguards in hockey. It was a tough year for Dion, with the trade and not being named to the Canadian Olympic team. He will be better, and add to that Tomas Kaberle…and that duo looks pretty good manning the PP points. Despite the toughness of Mike Komirasek and Francois Beauchemin, it was far too often that they were burned last year (while healthy), and that also included a terrible sophomore season for Luke Schenn. All will have to be better. The Leafs added some depth up front… but, their top 6 forwards are still regarded as being in the lower 5 of a 30 team NHL. A full season from Phil Kessel will help, but, too many other questions remain with players like Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin and Nazem Kadri. If anything, the tough as nails approach in Toronto will be fun to watch, as will the losses!

PRIME POOL PIX: Dion Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, Kris Versteeg.

BUYER BEWARE: Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Colby Armstrong.

…Alright hockey fans, there is part one of my divisional sneak peeks. Tomorrow, a look at the Atlantic Division. Don’t be singing any New York tunes on this one folks…details tomorrow!

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