The Atlantic Division is probably the easiest of the four divisions to break down. The three teams that highlighted the division last year are all back with little to no change. The rest of the teams are not greatly changed either. If you missed the other previews just click the division name Metropolitan Central Pacific.

Top Shelf

Tampa Bay Lightning

This team is legitimate. Victor Hedman has emerged as a top level defenseman and the rest of the defensive group is solid. Ben Bishop is a high end goaltender. Up front is Steven Stamkos, the other forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and more proved themselves formidable last year as well. The addition of Stralman to the roster just makes the team even better. When the playoffs start this season don’t be surprised when this team is in the top three, don’t even be surprised if they are at the top of the division.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs put up a hell of a fight last spring even after Carey Price went down. Since then they brought in P.A. Parenteau and removed some older, slower players. The blueline is likely to be younger than last year as well. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are with the organization, Douglas Murray and Francis Bullion are not currently signed by the Canadiens (or anyone else). You can still ask “who’s going to score”, but recent history has shown that it mostly doesn’t matter if Price is playing well.

Boston Bruins

They lost future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla and at this point most of the team is waiting for the trade ax to fall. Even with the losses of emotional catalyst Shawn Thornton and Jarome Iginla the team isn’t a lot worse off than it was last year. The biggest question mark on for this team hovers over the real health durability, and game readiness of Seidenberg, Eriksson, Kelly, and McQuaid. Eriksson started to look better as the reason wound down, but the other three are still complete unknowns.

Wild Cards

Detroit Red Wings

In order for this team to be in the playoffs they have to get consistent star level contributions from players like Tatar, Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and more as their top level players just don’t cut it anymore. Datsyuk has already suffered an injury, Zetterberg is always just one more hit (or maybe a stack of #Pennercakes ) from a month of rehab. While I honestly expect the team to be on the outside looking in when the season ends, the brain trust in Detroit keeps surprising me.

Toronto Maple Leafs

This team should not be as bad as they were last year. I don’t think they can win the division, but in addition to a healthy David Clarkson (we hope), they made smart additions with Mike Santorelli and Roman Polack. Also of note is the return of Leo Komorov. If all are playing near peak, those four players alone are nearly enough to get the squad back into the playoffs even without David Booth who to no ones surprise is again injured. It is pretty likely that if this team isn’t in playoff position around the trade deadline they are not going to look very similar next fall.

The Rest

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators can hope for better health this season, it was a factor in last seasons finish.  With the departure of Jason Spezza, they have lost raw talent. There is however an enormous amount of room for young players to prove themselves. Mika Zibanejad, Eric Gryba, Codi Ceci, Alex Chaisson and the rest can finally go out on the ice a prove to the world where they truly stand in the NHL and hockey world. There isn’t much ahead of them on the depth chart, and who knows if they, Jared Cowen and the rest all have healthy productive seasons they might just get to bonus hockey. If you see that happening, I’d advise you not to bet the rent money, or even the tip on a mocha latte.

The Buffalo Sabres

When your first line center is horse raise between Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Ennis, and Cody Hodgson, that tells you about where your season is headed. When fans show up to a USA hockey event with McDavid Sabres jerseys, its a sign fans know it too. Unquestionably the best unit of this team is the defense. Tyler Myers is the best known member of the group, but Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros have been through the wars and know their way around the NHL, Jake McCabe has an excellent amateur pedigree and I expect him to develop well. Last year they have 21 wins, I’d bet on them being within no more than six either way of that this year.

The Florida Panthers

The Cats might just surprise people a time or two this season. Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau have all had a tour of duty in the NHL, and won’t be wide eyed rookies this year. Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland will help thicken up the top six, and Derek McKenzie and Shawn Thornton will play important bottom six minutes. Roberto Luongo on the backend makes a big difference in net. Don’t expect them to win the division (or even more than they lose) but expecting them in the NHL’s bottom five in April might not be realistic.

The Vancouver Canucks are one of the teams that should be a perennial contender. They have everything. They are in a hockey market in British Columbia. They have an owner that allows them to spend to the cap. They have a strong fan base. They even have an arena that is in good shape and has solid ice.

The one thing they don’t have is leadership. Roll the clock back a little bit to the Canucks Stanley cup final appearance against the Boston Bruins. They had a post season run that included more than their fair share of luck, which is true of any team that isn’t a juggernaut. They played their best when they had a gentlemanly game against an opponent who was playing a soft game. As a team, they could not play with both skill and grit. If they got grimy they lost and lost big. When Brad Marchand used Daniel Sedin as a living speedbag, and neither Sedin nor anyone else did a damn thing. In the final game, two skaters showed up for the game. he hobbled Kesler and exhausted Bieksa.

Having seen that game, and that series, Gillis did nothing. Same coach, same roster next year and they get run from the playoffs even earlier. And then Gillis went looking for tough guys who can’t play, and traded guys like Hodgson that can play top six minutes and contribute. It was obvious two years ago that the Sedin’s were on the decline, age, on ice performance, and the general history of offensive production from forwards told you they were at or past peak. What happened? The Sedin’s were given a raise and no movement clauses.

Two years ago, the Vancouver Canucks had two number one goaltenders. The juggling and indecision turned them, at least temporarily, into number two goalies. Then they were both traded. Both were traded for far below their market value. The young, athletic and level headed Cory Schneider was flipped for a single first round draft pick. Roberto Luongo was just dealt for pocket change.

How does Mike Gillis still have a job? Do the owners just consider the Canucks a really expensive hobby? Is there no one above Gillis with a lick of hockey sense? It simply isn’t possible to look at the moves made by Gillis lately and say “Yeah, that makes the team better.” John Tortorella is a great coach. He’s also an awful fit for the roster that was in place when he was hired. David Booth, Tom Sestito, Zach Kassian, Yannick Weber, and Zach Hamill are not the acquisitions that are going to put a team over the top. Not with the wrong coach, not with the declining top scorers.

The longer I live and the more of the world i see, the harder it becomes for me to disbelieve in magic. But since I can’t think of any rational reason for Mike Gillis to still have a job; magic it is. Your move Aquilini’s, your move.

Some teams do well at of free agency, others are unmitigated disasters. Today we get pretty good ideas as to what teams will look like in the fall, and which teams are going for it now, next year or no time soon.

Anaheim Ducks: Win. Today they traded star forward Bobby Ryan to the Senators for the Ottawa 1st round pick, Jakob Silfverberg a 2nd round pick, and Stefan Noesen the Senators the 1st round pick out of Plano, Tx from 2011. Good move for the Ducks long term who have very little depth and lots of older players.

Boston Bruins: Win. Adding a hungry veteran who now has recent playoff experience, no bad contracts and overall a younger, hungrier  roster than they started last year with.

Buffalo Sabres: Lose Extending a new deal to Matt Ellis isn’t going to push the Sabres into the playoffs.

Calgary Flames: Lose While they didn’t make any horrible signings (for a change) the contracts they did sign for AHL players and guys who will never be stars don’t push the team forward. 

Carolina Hurricanes: Win They signed a very solid 2nd goalie in Anton Khudobin, and resigned Michal Jordan which is enough to make up for giving a contract to Mike Komisarek.

Colorado Avalanche:

Chicago Blackhawks Draw. They reupped with Handzus on team friendly deal, but didn’t have the cap space to land any of the big fish on the market, and they lost their top end backup today.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Draw Nathan Horton is a great addition, the contract term is less than ideal. Signings other than Bobrovsky are non impacting.

Dallas Stars: Draw While there are defensive signings they could have made, and arguably better goaltenders, but with the moves they made on the fourth they don’t really need to do much to improve over last season.

Detroit Red Wings: Draw They opened the floodgates to renewed eastern conference rivalries by poaching Daniel Alfredsson, signed Stephen Weiss long term, but still didn’t shore up a mediocre defense. 

Edmonton Oilers: Win They improve their defense both by the addition of Ference and the subtraction of others, they didn’t give out any horrible contracts or let anyone of value get away.

Florida Panthers: Lose They are in a much, much tougher division this year and for the next couple years and did nothing to fix a woeful team.

Los Angeles Kings Draw No improvements, no idiotic contracts simply adding a depth defenseman.

Minnesota Wild: Lose There was no reason to add Matt Cooke to the roster, it won’t make them a better team, they already have a solid penalty kill and beyond that they traded a roster player for a draft pick and kept to depth defensemen.

Montreal Canadiens Draw Danny Briere is a good get for a pretty thin market. Compared to Mike Fisher and David Booth who have the same cap hit, Briere is not so bad. You can always do more, and you can clearly do worse.

Nashville Predators: Lose Victor Stalberg is a solid get. The other signings for the love of hockey why?

New Jersey Devils Huh? This is the team that was bankrupt not too long ago right? They sign Michael Ryder to a really solid contract, they sign Ryane Clowe to a contact that will be the NHL’s go to punchline for the next several years, they resigned Patrik Elias until he’s eligible for social security. On top of that they have Dainius Zubrus signed until a week past decomposition. These contracts are a bit much to get their hands on Centrum Silver’s advertising dollars.

New York Islanders Win Locking up Travis Hamonic long term for not much money is big enough that all their other moves are irrelevant.

New York Rangers Lose I think Glen Sather overslept and his secretary just signed guys that were once on good teams. Benoit Pouliot, Aaron Johnson, and other players 85% of Rangers fans won’t be able to name at the All Star/Olympic break.

Ottawa Senators Win Getting Bobby Ryan without having to give up any core pieces is pretty spiffy. Sure they lost captain Daniel Alfredsson but in fairness his ability was not at the same level it was five years ago, and he was looking for more money than Ryan who is still in his prime.

Philadelphia Flyers Win (I kid, I kid!) It almost doesn’t matter who they signed because they didn’t hand out an absurd contract on day one (they got Streit and Lecavalier handled early) oh wait, they gave Giroux (multiple concussions) that contract and an eminently redundant no movement clause, because those really mean something in Philly. Emery is a good get, and that’s about it for the positives.

Phoenix Arizona Coyotes Win Adding Ribeiro at center is an upgrade even if you only look at his Dallas years, adding Greiss as a solid backup means Smith might not have to play 70 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins Draw Correcting the mistake that lead to Rob Scuderi being let go after they won the cup is all well and good, but four years too late. They also don’t have enough cap space to add a 12th forward.

San Jose Sharks Lose Over the cap, and undertalented.

Saint Louis Blues Lose No viable movement, and a core that isn’t getting any younger.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lose Nothing says “cluefree” like signing a forward who has never topped 23 goals to a five year five million a year contract and failing to improve the teams biggest weakness.

Toronto Maple Leafs Lose The Clarkson signing is for about three years too long, the Bozak signing is so-so, and the Grabovski buyout is inexcusable.

Vancouver Canucks: Win Brad Richardson is a solid addition at a good price, and Yannick Webber may prove to be a find for their defense.

Washington Capitals: Draw Adam Oates made good strides with the team last year, prospects and getting Karl Alzner inked should get them to as good or better than their place last year.

Winnipeg Jets: Win No free agent signings (shocking I know) but they did pick up a solid forward addition in a trade for a reasonable price.

The Canucks have traded Marco Sturm and Mikkeal Samuelsson to the Florida Panthers for David Booth, Steve Reinprecht and a 2013 3rd round pick. The Canucks are picking up a spot on the roster as Reinprecht is currently playing in the AHL for over two million a year.

While neither team is off to the start they want, and lack consistency there are almost certainly more reasons than just a shakeup in the lineups for both teams.  Mike Gillis was recently on the radio to respond to an incredibly ill informed editorial.  Roberto Luongo is off to one of his well documented poor Octobers, which for those who haven’t done the math is one of the two shortest months of the season. He’s still managed to have great Vezina worthy seasons. He also turned in two shutouts against the Stanley Cup winners last spring and ended with a Sv% better than the two previous cup winning goalies. With the extra two million in pay going to the AHL and only half a million less being paid out in Vancouver, obviously this isn’t about the money in Vancouver.

Dale Tallon’s club looses one of the longest tenured members of the Sunrise team. Tallon traded out a contract with four seasons left for two guys who will be unrestricted free agents at about the same price tag. So what gives? There has been conjecture that Sturm isn’t yet healthy. If he is great, paired with Weiss he’s capable of 20+ goals, and can play even strength, powerplay and shorthanded. Sturms work ethic can’t be questioned, but his health can. Multiple surgeries, multiple long stretches on the shelf.

Tallon has been anything but shy in adding free agents to the Panthers adding Upshall, Jovanovski, and Kopecky among others this year. A look at who is currently unsigned for next season and do for unrestricted free agency might just provide a look at who is on their radar. The top of the food chain has four mouth watering, fan energizing choices from all three areas of the ice. Pekka Rinne is one of the best goalies on the planet. He’s had a huge hand in the success of the Nashville Predators over the last two seasons, with a team on the upswing with vision he could put a contender over the top. Up front is Alex Semin. Enigmatic, occasionally displaying less than ideal work ethic; sure, immensely talented yes, yes and yes. Just as talented, and even more complete is Zach Parise, presently the captain in the soon to be Brodeurless New Jersey Devils and may be the most interesting UFA to be in the NHL. Currently patrolling the net in front of Rinne is one of the most talented and underrated defensemen in the NHL. While he’s largely in the shadow of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne in Music City Suter is not the type of defenseman who comes along every day and would easily be the number one defenseman in about 25 NHL cities.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

 

If I told you in September…

  • that Milan Lucic and Matt Moulson would both have more goals on March 5th than Phil Kessel
  • that after a 15 month break Alexander Ovechkin would return to Twitter to post the picture of Phil Kessel sitting alone as the last player to be picked at the All-Star draft?
  • that only two players in the top 100 goal scorers, Radim Vrbata and David Booth , would have a lower shooting percentage than Alex Ovechkin
  • That of center Stamkos and winger Ovechkin, the latter would have more assists
  • Dany Heatley would be just one point ahead of Patrice Bergeron
  • the Washington Capitals would fall out of last years top spot for goal scoring all the way to the 2o’s, and go from 16th in goals against up to 7th
  • the NHL’s best penalty kill would belong to the Pittsburgh Penguins
  • the #7 offense would belong to a team, Tampa Bay, with only one short handed goal
  • the Colorado Avalanche who have allowed the most goals per game would have the second best Sv% in the shootout in the NHL
  • the Edmonton Oilers would own a better winning percentage when trailing after two periods than; the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins,  Montreal Canadiens, Carolina Hurricanes, and Calgary Flames all of which are in the top 8 in their conference as of today
  • that with Malkin out since 02/04 and Crosby out since 01/05 that the Penguins would not only still be in the playoffs, but still have home ice advantage for the first round
  • that for the first time since 2003-04 Joe Thornton would be less than a point per game player
  • of Los Angeles Kings defensemen; Rob Scuderi, Jack Johnson, Alec Martinex and Matt Greene that Scuderi would have the most game winning goals.
  • that despite having the third worst +/- in the NHL, the Florida Panthers would still be able to unload Denis Wideman on deadline day
  • former Bruins Phil Kessel and Denis Wideman would be a combined -45
  • Patrick Sharp would lead all players in goals against division opponents

would you have believed a single word?