Boston Bruins: Which Atlantic Division Teams Will Give Them the Most Problems?

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Boston Bruins: Which Atlantic Division Teams Will Give Them the Most Problems?
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The 2013-14 NHL season will feature plenty of changes from last year.

Instead of six divisions, there are now only four. Two teams (Detroit Red Wings and Winnipeg Jets) switched conferences. The Canucks and Rangers switched coaches. Jaromir Jagr is now a Devil. Patrick Roy is now behind the bench for Colorado, not between the pipes. But one thing will remain the same: Gary Bettman will get booed presenting the Cup next June.

Out of those changes, the biggest is the realignment of teams and divisions. The new divisions are the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific. The Atlantic Division consists of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Basically, it's the old Northeast Division plus Detroit and the Florida teams.

As a Cup finalist last year, let's say Boston is the front-runner to win the division. But which teams gives them the most problems? Is it their archrival from Quebec? Or the up-and-coming Sens? Or maybe the Wings, who have made the playoffs 22 years in a row and show no signs of slowing down? Could it even be a team like the Lightning or Panthers?

Five of the eight teams made the playoffs last year. Four of the teams (Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and Boston) have combined to win 53 Stanley Cups. This is going to be a fun season.

 

Buffalo Sabres

The Sabres fired Lindy Ruff last season but kept general manager Darcy Regier. Under then-interim head coach Ron Rolston, the Sabres went 15-11-5 to finish the season, which is more than respectable for a team out of contention and with a new bench boss. But unless Ryan Miller borrows some deer antler spray from Ray Lewis, he isn't one of the 10 best goalies in the league anymore. Oh, and their third jerseys look like egg sunny-side up. They won't be any worry for Boston.

Threat level to Boston: none.

 

Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are an interesting team. They have a few nice players (Kris Versteeg, Jonathan Huberdeau, Tomas Fleischmann), but they're still far from competing. Their 2012 playoff run appears to be an aberration, and the team seems to agree. Why else would they offer season tickets for $7 per game? Four games against Florida should mean four wins for Boston.

Threat level to Boston: none.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Heading north in the Sunshine State will bring you to perennial head-scratcher Tampa Bay. How can a team with so much talent be so mediocre? Is it the coaching? Steve Yzerman thought so, so he gave Guy Boucher a pink slip last season.

With the league's best sniper in Steven Stamkos and the reigning Art Ross winner in Martin St. Louis you have to think things will turn around a little bit for the Lightning. But one thing is holding them back—Tampa is no longer playing in the cupcake Southeast Division with the Washington Capitals, Jets and Carolina Hurricanes. The Bolts are now facing the big boys. Expect them to do better, even with the much tougher schedule. But they won't be a legitimate threat to the Bruins like in the 2011 playoffs.

Threat level to Boston: minimal.

 

Ottawa Senators

Now Bruins fans can finally start to pay attention. There are four teams that could be orange construction cones in the highway to a Bruins division crown.

The Ottawa Senators are a young squad that only got more youthful when veteran captain Daniel Alfredsson bolted Canada's capital for Detroit. Led by the fabulously mustached Paul MacLean, the Sens up-ended the Habs in the first round last year before getting bounced in the conference semis by Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. With Erik Karlsson on the blue line and Craig Anderson in net, Ottawa could challenge for 100-plus points and the top spot in the Atlantic.

Threat level to Boston: medium.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Next up is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who haven't sipped from Lord Stanley's Cup since 1967. After getting their heart broken by the Bruins last season, how will they respond this year? Can Dion Phaneuf lead them back to the playoffs? How much will the addition of Dave Bolland help in the middle? Toronto should make the playoffs again next season. They have too much talent and a coach who was won a Stanley Cup.

And you know the players will be treating games against Boston with special attention. They have less of a chance at challenging Boston than Detroit or Montreal but could be in the hunt for a top-three seed with two weeks left in the regular of season.

Threat level to Boston: medium.

 

Montreal Canadiens

The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry is one of the greatest in North American sports, and thankfully, the cities are close enough that the NHL could keep them in the same division. Montreal won the division last year, its first season under two-time head coach Michel Therrien. The Habs will back again this season, with Norris winner P.K. Subban, Carey Price in net and three big free-agent signings in Danny Briere, George Parros and Douglas Murray. The latter two signings beef up a team that lacked toughness in last year's playoffs. Finally, Montreal has size in addition to skill. 

Threat level to Boston: major.

 

Detroit Red Wings

The last team to preview is the newest team in the Eastern Conference. Stung by blowing a 3-1 series lead to Chicago last year, Detroit will be gunning for a division title and a top seed.

The Wings are led by arguably the best coach in the NHL in Mike Babcock and have talent in all areas. The aforementioned Alredsson becomes the ninth Swede on the Detroit roster, and former Panther Stephen Weiss is finally on a contender after signing a five-year contract in July with the Wings. After getting dominated by Nashville in the first round of 2012, it looked like Detroit was finally going to fade. But general manager Ken Holland revamped the squad and made it significantly younger, and they were right back to being contenders as always.

Detroit is used to playing in a tough division, as they had to battle St. Louis, Chicago and the Predators for years. The Wings will not be intimidated by the history of the teams they are playing; they are history themselves. Detroit is the biggest threat the Bruins will face en route to a division championship and going deep in the playoffs.

Threat level to Boston: major.

The Bruins will need to be at the top of their game in order to win the division and secure home ice in the first round. They have the talent, drive and coaching to do so, but their competition is greater than in years past with the addition of Detroit and the improvement of the Canadian teams. The puck can't drop soon enough.

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