Montreal Canadiens Lead the Way in the Northeast Division Preview

Aaron BrenkerCorrespondent ISeptember 7, 2008

The Northeast division remains one of the stronger divisions in the NHL, but where will each team finish? Here are my predictions....

Northeast Division

Montreal Canadiens 101 Points

Ottawa Senators 96 Points

Buffalo Sabres 93 Points

Boston Bruins 91 Points

Toronto Maple Leafs 79 Points

The Montreal Canadiens will once again win the division, by a comfortable margin. Over the offseason the Canadiens did not lose many players. Their biggest loss was defenseman Mark Streit to the New York Islanders.

Montreal, in the offseason, improved their offense by adding all-around player Alex Tanguay. Tanguay can help the Canadiens young team be more dynamic with his leadership and scoring ability. Players like Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, and Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn will make the Habs offense a strength.

Montreal's defense remains solid and underrated. Offensive defenseman Andrei Markov headlines this blue-line, but hard working defensemen like Mike Komisarek, Roman Hamrlik, and Francis Bouillon add strength and hustle to Montreal's blue-line.

The biggest question for the Canadiens coming into the new season is goaltending. Goaltender Carey Price had a great season last year, but remains young with much to learn. If Price can stay healthy, the Canadiens will be fine at the goaltender position, but if he can't stay healthy untested Jarolsav Halak and journeyman Marc Denis will be relied on. That would not bode well for Montreal.

The Ottawa Senators are dubbed as a one line team, but I believe keeping Antoine Vermette and having players like Chris Neil, Mike Fisher, and Chris Kelly will help this team put together two solid lines. How can you go wrong with a first line of Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley?

Offensively the Senators will remain dangerous. Teams will have to prepare for Ottawa's first line. Most of the Sens' offensive production will come from their first two lines. This may be a problem for the Senators if they can't get their top forwards going.

On defense the Senators have never been the same since losing Zdeno Chara. The trade of defenseman Andrej Meszaros for defensemen Filip Kuba and Andre Picard provided Ottawa with a solid stay at home defenseman. Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov remain the steadier Ottawa defensemen. Defense may become a problem for the Senators.

The Senators have an even bigger question mark at goaltender. Goalies Alex Auld and Martin Gerber will most likely split time in net. Both goaltenders are decent and can sometimes win games for you. If goaltending is heavily relied on, the Senators' offense will not be able to carry them to the playoffs.

The Buffalo Sabres will be a surprising team and make a run at the playoffs. The Sabres did not make many moves in the offseason and remain the same.

The Sabres' offense should be strong with forwards Maxim Afinogenov, Thomas Vanek, and Derek Roy. The Sabres also have solid supporting players on offense. Forwards Jason Pominville, Tim Connolly, and Jochen Hecht will provide solid offensive production to provide the Sabres with two, maybe even three solid lines.

The Sabres defense will be a work in progress. The loss of Brian Campbell at the deadline obviously hurt the team. The loss of defenseman Dmitri Kalinin to the Rangers will hurt the Sabres defensive corps as well. Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek and Toni Lydman will be Buffalo's most reliable defenseman.

The Sabres will be very good between the pipes. Ryan Miller can carry Buffalo to a playoff run and Patrick Lalime is a solid back-up with experience. This will be a strength for the Sabres.

The Boston Bruins were a positive surprise last season, but I think this season they will be a surprising disappointment. The Bruins will definitely be in the playoff hunt, but I think the lack of veteran experience will hurt the Bruins.

Offensively the Bruins are decent with forwards Marco Sturm, Phil Kessel, and P.J. Axelsson. If Patrice Bergeron can regain his 2006-07 form the Bruins' offense will be that much better.

The Bruins' hard working defense will be a strength for them. Zdeno Chara is the most talented on the blue-line. Chara and fellow defenseman Dennis Wideman were deadly on the power-play and will continue to be accountable. Shane Hnidy and Aaron Ward are also solid defensively.

Goaltending is up in the air, as Manny Fernandez is on the injured reserved list at the moment. Starting goalie Tim Thomas was unbelievable at moments and horrible at others. Tuukka Rask remains a top prospect for the Bruins and could take over in net for Boston.

It will be another tough season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs most reliable forwards this season will be Nik Antropov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, and Alex Steen who may have breakout seasons.

Toronto's offense will be suspect at best. The acquisitions of Niklas Hagman and Jamal Mayers may help the Leafs form some solid lines. Veteran Jason Blake will also be able to provide offense and leadership for the Leafs young team. This will be very important assuming Mats Sundin does not return.

If this team has any strength, it is on defense. Tomas Kaberle is solid defensively and deadly on the power-play. The Leafs power-play will sorely miss having Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle at the point. Pavel Kubina and Carlo Colaiacovo will also be good defensively. The inflated contract of defenseman Jeff Finger may provide Leafs' fans more reason to boo, but he could also have a breakout year and make Leafs' fans forget about his contract.

Goaltending will be decent for the Leafs, as Vesa Toskala remains a good goalie on a bad team. Most Leafs' fans believe the loss of Andrew Raycroft improved their goaltending along with the acquisition of former Leaf Curtis Joseph. It could become a nice tandem in net for the Maple Leafs.

The Northeast division will be interesting to watch. I believe both Montreal and Ottawa will once again make the playoffs. Buffalo and Boston will make playoff runs, but just miss the playoffs, and the Maple Leafs will be playing for the 2008-09 NHL draft.