NHL 2009-10 Preview: Northeast Division

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NHL 2009-10 Preview: Northeast Division

Boston Bruins

Plus:

1. Offensive Depth: With impact players on their first, second, and third lines, the B’s are one of the deepest offensive teams in the league.  Devoid of superstars up front, the Bruins are able to make up for it by having numerous scoring lines. 

Key stat: The Bruins had seven players with 20-plus goals.

2. Coaching: One of the best coaches in the league in Jack Adams Trophy winner Claude Julien returns behind the Boston bench for the third year.  With Julien running the show, expect the Bruins to be competitive every night. 

Key stat: Claude Julien averages more than 100 points per season in his last four full seasons behind an NHL bench.

Minus:

1. No cap space: This doesn’t always prove to be a problem, but around the trade deadline it may and if numerous injuries occur, calling up players may cause a financial problem (just ask the Philadelphia Flyers about that!).

2. Defensive depth: After losing Steve Montador, the Bruins’ top six are not looking too good.  True, they have reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara, but other than Dennis Wideman and Andrew Ference, there is not much talent back there.  Will they be able to stop opposing teams with offensive depth?

Analysis:

Boston is arguably the top sports city in North America right now; what with the Patriots continuing to be competitive, the Celtics coming off an NBA championship a couple years ago, the Red Sox constantly playing good baseball and now the Bruins playing some of their best hockey in decades.

The Bruins did not change much over the summer, other than losing Montador and backup goalie Manny Fernandez and acquiring Steve Begin up front and Dany Sabourin in the backend.  Nonetheless, they are still one of the best teams in the league and will continue to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.

Prediction: First in Northeast, second in East.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Plus:

1. Defense: The Leafs have (facetious statement warning) one of the best defensive teams in the league on paper.  With Tomas Kaberle (as of right now), Francois Beauchemin, Mike Komisarek, Garnet Exelby and Luke Schenn, their top five are going to be able to shut down many teams and steal some wins for the Blue and White. 

Key stat: Schenn, Exelby, and Komisarek had a combined 548 hits last season.

2. Grit: With the signings of Beauchemin, Komisarek, Colton Orr, and the trading for Luke Schenn, the Leafs seriously "Burke-ified" their team.  Burkie’s teams are known for their physical play mixed with skill and talent.  Well, the Leafs don’t have the latter, but anyone who comes to the ACC will surely be in for a scare.  As the Toronto Sun headlined, "The Bay Street Bullies" are now in town. 

Key stat: Toronto’s new players had a combined 449 penalty minutes in '08-'09.

Minus:

1. Offensive depth: It’s no secret, the Leafs struggle to score.  They have very little talent up front and even fewer prospects than most teams in the league.  Trading for Phil Kessel and drafting Nazem Kadri were good starts, but Kadri will not be in the league for another year or two, and Kessel is not a one-man show.  For now, Toronto will have to deal with some low-scoring games.

2. Goaltending questions: I have no doubts that Vesa Toskala can be an NHL starter.  But on a weak team, he is not the guy to bail his teammates out every night.  Even rookie Swede Jonas Gustavsson will not be able to do much to help out, as he will simply be learning the American game.

Analysis:

The Maple Leafs are well on their way to becoming a competitive team.  They have a core on defense and a young, promising goaltender with a few years to reach his potential.  The Leafs will still not be making the playoffs this season, but the Toronto faithful still have a lot to cheer about. 

For one, that their team will be beating the crap out of anyone that drives into the Air Canada Centre.  If I may say: sweet.

Prediction: Fourth in Northeast, 10th in East.

 

Buffalo Sabres

Plus:

1. Age before beauty: Buffalo's offense is led by Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, and Jason Pominville; three young players who have great potential and unbelievable talent.  When playing to their full potentials, this line could put up more than 250 points.  True, a bit of a stretch, but anything can happen. 

Key stat: All six of Buffalo’s top scoring forwards from '08-'09 are 29 and under.

2. Coaching: Lindy Ruff is the longest current serving coach in the NHL and for good reason.  He has great talent and is constantly able to keep his teams competitive, specifically the Buffalo Sabres.  Despite missing the playoffs the last two seasons, the Sabres had far from terrible years. 

Key stat: Ruff has put up at least 90 points in his last four years behind the bench.

Minus:

1. Defense is down: Let's be honest, a top pairing of Henrik Tallinder and Craig Rivet won't be scaring anyone.  The Sabres are short on defense and could be in for some high-scoring contests as a result.

2. Injury bug: Star goaltender Ryan Miller was subject to the injury bug last season and therefore was unable to help his team out as much as he'd hoped.  Can he stay healthy this season?

Analysis:

The Sabres have still not gotten over losing Chris Drury, Danny Briere, and Brian Campbell.  They lost Jaroslav Spacek this summer and "replaced" him with Joe DiPenta.  Hardly an equal value. 

Nonetheless, the Sabres have a great goaltender and some good offense that could and probably will leap them into the playoffs this season.  Lindy Ruff will be able to guide this team back to where they belong.

Prediction: Second in Northeast, sixth in East.

 

Ottawa Senators

Plus:

1. Alexei Kovalev: Despite mixed reactions, this is indeed a great signing for the Senators, who may be losing Dany Heatley (or just simply need help on offense).  Kovalev brings depth to a team that has been a one-line team for years. 

Key stat: Kovalev has hit 65 points three of the last four years.

2. Offense: As previously stated, this team has one of the best top lines in hockey.  That is, if Heatley is on it.  Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley had an "off-year" (by their standards) last season, but will most likely bounce back and continue to produce regularly. 

Key stat: Alfredsson was the only one of the "big three" who had a positive plus/minus last year.

Minus:

1. Dany Heatley: Will the gains of Cheechoo and Michalek offset the loss of Dany Heatley, the franchise's leading goal scorer?

2. Goaltending: Can Pascal Leclaire really lead this team?  Brian Elliot sure isn’t going to be winning many games (he is not ready to be a bona fide NHL starter yet), but he could do well playing 20-25 games in a backup role.

Analysis:

The Sens are in trouble.  They have some pieces in place, but altogether, their team is extremely weak.  Do not expect them to even challenge for a playoff spot.  They made almost no moves this summer and their roster reflects it.

Prediction: Fifth in Northeast, 13th in East.

 

Montreal Canadiens

Plus:

1. New Look: The Habs have a brand new team, fresh with newcomers such as Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, and more.  They may have lost some defense in the process, but they gained some of it back by signing Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek.  

The Habs are arguably more talented than they were at the start of last season and could show for it in the standings.

2. No pressure: All throughout the '08-'09 season, talks were of the Centennial and the fact that the Habs have won a Cup in every decade except this one.  Well, that is all behind us, so the Canadiens can focus on one thing: winning. 

Key stat:  This season is the 100th season that the Habs will play (the 101st year of existence, though).

Minus:

1. Chemistry: With so many new faces, how will the Canadiens be able to gel with one another and become a team, as opposed to a bunch of players?  Perhaps they will be able to, but it may take longer than expected and at that point, it may be too late.

2. Jacques Martin: I don’t doubt that Martin is a great defensive coach.  But how can you expect a team lacking grit and enforcers to play Martin's defensive trap?  I'll give it a good three weeks before he realizes it won’t work.

Analysis:

The Canadiens have a great team on paper and they may even perform well enough to challenge for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.  Expect them to make the playoffs, but don’t expect them to go too far. 

They are the furthest thing from a playoff team in terms of the team style of play.  Any rough team will be able to dominate the Habs from start to finish (see Maple Leafs, Toronto). 

Use that as a guideline: if the Leafs win the season series against the Habs and still have a terrible season, you’ll know that the Habs aren’t going anywhere.

Prediction: third in Northeast, seventh in East.

 

Alan Bass is a writer and reporter for The Hockey News magazine and TheHockeyNews.com.  You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.

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