Boston Bruins: Sizing Up Their Competition in the Northeast Division
The Boston Bruins had an easy division in 2011-2012. That will change in 2012-2013.
The Bruins fellow Northeast division members are retooling and preparing for a busy offseason. All five other teams in the Bruins division are going to get better, and it's up to the Bruins to adjust. If the Bruins don't adjust and simply wallow in their previous division victories, they will be swept away and could find themselves in the basement of the Northeast.
Here's a look at the Bruins upcoming competition, their fatal flaws, and what makes them dangerous to the Bruins. They will be assessed by the latter criterion, and will also be given a threat level to the Bruins on a scale of 1-10.
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Strengths: The Sabres have a lot of offensive depth and an extremely talented goaltender in Ryan Miller. Drew Stafford, Derek Roy, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek are all extremely dangerous weapons with world class skill sets. The Bruins have handled offensive teams well in the past, but they may find themselves overwhelmed if they can't get the puck past Ryan Miller. Miller is an outstanding goalie in his positioning, composure, and will to win. The Sabres also have Tyler Myers, a mammoth defenseman, guarding Ryan Miller.
Fatal Flaw: The Sabres have a very, very poor defensive nucleus. While Myers is an intimidating figure, he is simply not a strong defenseman. He is prone to mistakes and does not take full advantage of his size. His decision making lacks maturity, and he is in a poor environment to learn when he is surrounded by so many other ineffective defenseman. Robyn Regehr did not emerge as a leader on the defense like he was supposed to, and overpaying Christian Ehrhoff has proved even more ridiculous than overpaying James Wisniewski.
Threat Level: 7
The Bruins have better offensive depth and defensive depth. The Bruins can wear the Sabres down easily if they play physical hockey. If they let Buffalo stay in the game too late, the Bruins could find themselves on the wrong end of some very sour losses.
Toronto Maple Leafs
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Strengths: The Maple Leafs have a boatload of offensive depth. Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, and Mikhail Grabovski lead the way in that regard. Their defense is led by Dion Phaneuf and Luke Schenn, two effective, but mistake prone defensemen. The Maple Leafs only adept quality is their offensive game, and it isn't even effective enough to pose a serious threat.
Randy Carlyle will look to sure the defense up this summer and they will have the number five overall pick at this year's draft. The Leafs will have to be much better next season if they want to compete with Boston.
Fatal Flaw: As mentioned above, the Leafs have a physical and talented defensive corps. However, they are the worst penalty killing team in the NHL, and they are also a miserable defensive team five on five. The Bruins absolutely picked apart the Leafs this past season, and unless the Leafs sure up their goaltending situation (Reimer was atrocious) they will continue to be ripped apart by the Bruins.
Threat Level: 3
The Maple Leafs are a transitioning organization. Their inability to keep the puck out of their net is especially troubling to Leafs fans. The Leafs are going to have to improve monumentally to even come close to the Bruins.
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Strengths: Montreal has an amazing goalie in Carey Price. They have a talented young defense run by PK Subban, and they could get even stronger if they add Jared Tinordi to the mix. Their offense is mediocre, and is mostly run by Max Pacioretty. If he gets more support through trade or signing this offseason, Montreal's offense could pose a problem for the Bruins.
Fatal Flaw: Montreal has a lot of rebuilding to do. They do not have a legitimate scorer besides Max Pacioretty, and their defense is injury prone and suffers from immaturity (see PK Subban) and lack of toughness. Montreal will have a chance to draft a strong player at this year's Entry Draft, and that in itself is a weakness. The Habs have drafted very poorly these past couple of seasons, with most of their big names from trades. They have very little home-grown talent.
Threat Level: 7
There is no reasoning or logic behind it, but the Habs simply give the Bruins trouble. They really get up to play the Bruins and give Zdeno Chara problems when he goes back to get the puck. The Bruins are superior to them in most every denomination, yet the Habs find ways to beat the Bruins. They could pose an obstacle to the Bruins this season if the Bruins let them dictate play.
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Strengths: The Senators are the closest to the Bruins as far as the other teams go. The Senators have a puck carrying defense that can also be heavy and tough in their own end. Erik Karlsson led the charge this year offensively, amassing 78 points. He is a great setup man with a nice wrist shot, coupled with a strong slap shot. He has a natural ability to get the puck through, a necessity in a shot-blocking NHL. They have a superstar in Jason Spezza, a solid goalie in Craig Anderson, and a great leader in Daniel Alfredsson. Make no mistake, the Sens are very good. They will also be joined by Mika Zibanejad this year, and he is a very talented young player.
Fatal Flaw: The Senators have good defenseman who are heavy in the defensive zone. However, Erik Karlsson is not one of them. Karlsson has seemed unwilling to engage in physical play and has gained a well-earned reputation for being soft on opposing forwards. He needs to get better defensively for the Senators to reach their full potential. Their forwards are decent, but their offense is reliant on Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza. If they can be shut down, then the Bruins will easily beat the Senators.
Threat Level: 8
The Senators have a strong offense as it is, and adding Mika Zibanejad will only add to that. They've proved they can get under the Bruins' skin, and that has thrown the Bruins off in the past. The Senators are the Bruins biggest challenge this year as far as the Northeast Division, and the battle for supremacy will be a full season affair.
Expect these two juggernauts to battle out a close division race.