Ryan Miller will be key to the Buffalo Sabres' success
The 2010-2011 NHL season is right on the door step.
From signings and trades, to draft picks and major injuries, it was a very interesting off-season all around the National Hockey League, let alone the Northeast Division.
Going into the new season, there are a lot of questions surrounding each team in the Northeast Division. Those questions include the playoffs, rookies, replacements and even special teams.
Teams like Toronto and Boston need to improve offensively in 2010-2011, while Toronto and Ottawa will be trying to catapult themselves into the top half of the league defensively.
Here now are my Northeast Division power rankings for Week 1.
1. Buffalo Sabres
Record (2009-2010): 45 - 27 - 10
Conference (2009-2010) - 3rd
Division (2009-2010) - 1st
Major Acquisition - Jordan Leopold
Can the Sabres rebound after being upset in the 2010 playoffs?
Will Tim Connolly play the entire season?
Can the Sabres finally turn an impressive season into an impressive playoff run?
How will the Sabres defence play without Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman?
With the acquisitions of Jordan Leopold and Shaone Morrisonn, the Sabres shouldn't feel the pain of loosing Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder too much.
Even after finishing 10th in the league when it came to offence, general manager Darcy Regier and head coach Lindy Ruff are both expecting big seasons from Derek Roy, Tim Connolly and Drew Stafford. Although all three have played well since coming to Buffalo, they have the ability to put up better numbers than they have.
Goaltending won't be a problem for the Sabres. Entering his eighth season with the team, Ryan Miller will be the starting net minder once again. In 333-career regular season games, Miller has posted a goals against average of 2.57, and a save percentage of .914.
Patrick LaLime will be Miller's backup for the third straight season. LaLime played in 16 games during the 2009-2010 season. With a goals against average of 2.81, a save percentage of .905 and a record of 4-8-2, he was a solid backup.
2. Boston Bruins
Record (2009-2010): 39-3019
Conference (2009-2010): 6th
Division (2009-2010): 3rd
Major acquisition - Nathan Horton
Can the Bruins finally make it past the second round of the playoffs?
Will Tuukka Rask play this season like he did last?
How much better will the Bruins offence be with Nathan Horton now on the roster?
How will Tyler Seguin play?
After finishing dead last in goals scored per game and total goals scored, the Bruins will be entering the 2010-2011 season better offensively, at least on paper. With the acquisition of Nathan Horton and the addition of Tyler Seguin via the Entry Draft, the Bruins now have two more offensive weapons to attack with.
Horton, who scored 57 points in 65 games last season, is a former 30 goal scorer, a one-time 28 goal scorer and a one-time 27 goal scorer. Seguin, meanwhile, scored 106 points (48 goals, 58 assists) in 63 games last season for the Plymouth Whalers. Both are expected to be significant contributors to the Bruins this season.
Unfortunately, the Bruins will be without top-line centre Marc Savard to begin the season. Savard, who played in just 41 games last season, is still suffering from post concussion syndrome.
General manager Peter Chiarelli made no major changes to his back end or goaltending in the off-season. Once again, it will be Zdeno Chara anchoring the defence, while Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart, and Johnny Boychuk will follow.
Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, is expected to be the starting net minder, with veteran Tim Thomas backing him up. Even with goals against average of 2.56 and a save percentage of .915, Thomas was not able to keep Rask from taking his job last season.
3. Ottawa Senators
Record (2009-2010): 44-32-6
Conference (2009-2010): 5th
Division (2009-2010): 2nd
Major acquisition: Sergei Gonchar
Will Sergei Gonchar play just as good in Ottawa as he did in Pittsburgh?
Will Alex Kovalev be able to rebound after a poor first season in Ottawa?
Will the Senators be able to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since making it to the Stanley Cup Finals?
Will Pascal LeClaire finally have a healthy season?
As you can see, three of the four questions above are about individuals. For a long time now, off-ice distractions and poor performances from certain players (i.e. Ray Emery, Alex Kovalev) have hurt the Senators considerably.
As of right now, the only individual who might hurt the Senators chances at a successful playoff run is Pascal LeClaire. If LeClaire can stay healthy and have a good season, the Sens are set in goal.
When Andy Sutton and long-time Senator Anton Volchenkov headed to free agency, things didn't look good for the Senators in the 2010 off-season. General manager Brian Murray, however, rebounded nicely with the signing of Sergei Gonchar.
After Gonchar, the Senators defense isn't great, but good. Chris Campoli, Chris Phillips and young Erik Karlsson will likely round out the top-six to start the season, with Filip Kuba returning to the lineup later on.
Jason Spezza, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek, Daniel Alfredsson, and Mike Fisher will once again headline the Senators offence, while Nick Foligno, Chris Kelly and Peter Regin will lead the group of secondary scorers. Last season, Spezza, Kovalev, Michalek, Alfredsson and Fisher all combined to score 108 goals, almost half of the team's 210 goals.
4. Montreal Canadiens
Record (2009-2010): 39-33-10
Conference (2009-2010): 8th
Divison (2009-2010): 4th
Major acquisition: Dustin Boyd
How will Brian Gionta play wearing the 'C'?
Will Carey Price have a good season?
Without making any major moves in the off-season, will the Montreal Canadiens make the playoffs?
What happens if Carey Price struggles?
If the Habs are going to have a major back fall this season, it will be their goaltending, which will either be great or horrible. After trading playoff hero Jorslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues during the off-season, the Canadiens re-signed fourth year goalie Carey Price to a two-year contract. Price's struggles when the fans turn on him have been well documented by the media and could cost the Habs this season.
Aside from Jeff Halpern and Alex Auld, who will likely see third line and back up duties respectively, Dustin Boyd was the only acquisition by the Habs who should have a some what large impact. Boyd, a former Calgary Flame, has played in 2010 career games, scoring just 31 goals.
The Canadiens finished 26th in the league when it came to offence last season, worse than the Maple Leafs. Mike Cammalleri, Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec and newly named captain Brian Gionta will once again lead the Habs offence. All four will need to have huge seasons if they plan on making the playoffs, let alone competing for the Stanley Cup.
The back end doesn't need much explaining. Much like most of the roster, it stayed the same.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
Record (2009-2010): 30-38-14
Conference (2009-2010): 15th
Division (2009-2010): 5th
Major acquisition: Kris Versteeg
Will Nazem Kadri be a big contributor if called up during the season?
Will this be the year the Maple Leafs break their playoff-less streak?
Will Dion Phaneuf still play well while wearing the 'C'?
Will Phil Kessel score 40 goals?
There is no doubt that the addition of Kris Versteeg will help the Toronto Maple Leafs when it comes to offence, a category that the Maple Leafs finished second-to-last in the league in last season. A much more experienced Nikolai Kulemin will also help, as well as youngster Tyler Bozak and 30 goal scorer Phil Kessel.
Even with how good the back six looked on paper last season, they need to play better. With the likes of Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin, Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Carl Gunnarsson and Dion Phaneuf, a case could be made that the Leafs defence is one of the strongest, deepest groups in the entire league. They just need to show it.
Of course, if the Leafs are going to make sure that the puck doesn't go in their own net as much as it did last season, they will need some help from the goaltenders. If veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere and sophomore Swede Jonas Gustavsson can each turn in healthy, good and consistent seasons, the Leafs will be set in goal.
Follow Lukas on Twitter @lukas_nhl for breaking hockey news and rumors, as well as Toronto Maple Leaf game updates. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.