Why not listen to the latest episode of Two Man Forecheck while you read?

Last season the Atlantic division sent four teams to the playoffs. It did not go well, the division winning Montreal Canadiens were beaten soundly by wild card and Metropolitan division middleweight Rangers. The Ottawa Senators downed the Boston Bruins and were the only division team to advance to the second round. The Toronto Maple Leafs crossed over to battle the Washington Capitals and fell to a team that’s not ever shown itself in the best light in the playoffs.

What’s happening with the Atlantic Division this year?

The Buffalo Sabres have gotten a full season from All American stud Jack Eichel, and his linemate Evander Kane. Together the pair rank among the top duos in the league, particularly at even strength where most game minutes are played. This year they’ve brought in under rated veteran defenseman Marco Scandella to strengthen a blueline that was misused and under performing last season. Behind the bench they have rookie head coach Phil Housely who is the architect that made the Nashville Predator’s defense so effective. In net they add Chad Johnson to one of the best goalies in the NHL.

The Florida Panthers regressed notably last season. They had one decent stretch of wins but were just three points better than the Sabres, and still 14 points short of the playoffs with a losing record. Like the Sabres they added a first time NHL head coach in Bob Boughner, who will have Jack Capuano and Rob Tallas helping him steer the club. Aside from naming Chris Pronger an Shawn Thornton VP’s, and signing a couple of draft picks (Owen Tippett, Sebastian Repo) to entry level deals, not much else has gone on.

The Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs by just one point thanks to catastrophic injuries up and down their lineup. Towards the end of the year they traded Ben Bishop who had been their number one net minder.  Incoming are Dan Girardi formerly of the New York Rangers, and Chris Kunitz late of the Pittsburgh Penguins. While I suspect a large part of why the two older players were brought in is leadership, no leader can prevent injuries. A return to good health is likely the best off season transaction they could make.

The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs and are currently embroiled in a contract dispute with a one of their better young forwards. The two biggest changes for the Wings in the last twelve months were both off ice. ‘The Joe’ is gone, bringing about an era in a building that isn’t an embarrassment to professional sports. And Mike Ilitch, owner, and driving force behind much of the hockey growth in the Midwest and beyond has passed away. Not enough has changed at ice level for the team to do much worse or much better.

Montreal Canadians, in the last twelve months no Atlantic Division team has changed more. New coach, an almost entirely new blueline including Joe Morrow and Karl Alzner. Up front the Radulov experiment came to an end. Last year’s 103 points are going to be hard to duplicate, but Julien has showed he can drag worse teams than this one to the playoffs, and squeeze 100 or more points out of nearly any roster as long as they show up.

The Boston Bruins had a topsy-turvy season that saw their two best forwards start the year slow. They fired their Stanley Cup winning coach, reshaped their roster, and lucked into a playoff spot. This year Brandon Carlo has a full season under his belt, Charlie McAvoy may well steal the show, and David Pastrnak is still unsigned. It remains to be seen if head coach Bruce Cassidy can recapture the magic that buoyed the team into a playoff spot last spring. The roster will need a lot of young players to step up and not just claim ice time, but own roster spots.

Last years Toronto Maple Leafs were the sensation of last season. They had dazzling rookies, stellar goaltending, and a coach with an aura of greatness. They ran hard towards the playoffs and never anything slow them down. They also had extraordinary good luck in health. Their top 11 scorers missed a total of 10 games. They put on a strong showing in the playoffs, and growth seems likely. The addition of Patrick Marleau for three seasons and more than six million has to be considered at least a little curious given the raises that will be needed for last years rookies next summer and the summer after. The 37 year old spent his entire career to date with the Sharks and has been a very up and down playoff performer.

The post season banner bearers for Atlantic Division were the Ottawa Senators. Despite their inability to fill the stadium, they were perhaps the most consistent team in the division and very quietly finished second. Erik Karlsson will be healthier, Craig Anderson will lack the distractions of last year, and remains a very solid goaltender. They added Nate Thompson and Ben Sexton for depth, but perhaps the most important thing that’s happened to the team was the late year and playoff emergence of the very good Bobby Ryan. He moved crisply, shot precisely, and finished the second round healthy.

Predictions:

Biggest points riser: Buffalo Sabres, I’ll be shocked if they improve less than twelve points.

Most impactful standings rise: Tampa Bay Lightning, Victor Hedman very nearly lifted this team into the playoffs himself last year. There were other contributors, but not enough. Expect them to move up higher than the wild card slot.

Biggest wild card: Toronto Maple Leafs. As I mentioned above, this team was extraordinarily lucky in the way of health. With more than half a dozen rookies breaking out, and making the playoffs the video sessions for the Leafs are going to be much more intense this season. They have about an equal chance of winning the division as they do sliding two or three spots down the standings.

It’s August 24th, 2017 and Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned by any NHL team. In the past two and a half months guys who spent most of their season on the bench, on the injured reserve, or in the pressbox have been signed.

Does anyone honestly think Steven Gionta is going to make a bigger impact on an NHL team this year than Jaromir Jagr? Well, outside of the New York Islander’s front office. Yup, when faced with the choice between a 33 year old with a career total of 16 NHL goals, and a first ballot hall of famer with more goals than that last season, they chose wrong. Even the Nashville Predator’s who have one of the better GM’s in hockey chose wrong in going with Austin Watson over Jagr. Watson has never been productive above the AHL level, and Jagr has never played in the AHL.

So why should you teams sign the man who forever set the bar for mullets?

History

First is history. Jagr is currently fourth on the All Time NHL games played list. With a full season, he climbs to the top of that list, and whoever signs him gets to be a part of history. Even if the remarkably durable 45 year old plays a sliver more than half a season he’ll still jump to the number two spot ahead of Mark Messier, Ron Francis and everyone else. His career history says it’s a safe bet he climbs all the way to the top of the mountain this year, he needs just about 68 games to do it. He’s also twenty assists from passing Ray Bourque for number four on the all time list, a number he should wrap up before the all star break.

What he brings to the game

Last year, for the Florida Panthers Jaromir Jagr was 4th on the team in offensive points share at 3.0, and seventh on the team for defensive points share, eclipsing most of his team mates in both categories by a handy margin. We all know about his work ethic, and teams building up can use that. We all know the Panthers were not a good team last year, but no one who played more than 35 games had a better relative Corsi for than Jagr. This means even a team with ‘unlimited growth potential’, he is going to make the team better all by his lonely. One other interesting number is his even strength goals against per 60 minutes. With 2.5 goals against per 60 at even strength he was seventh on the Panthers, ahead of most of the team, and light years better than team mate and fellow old dude Tomas Vanek.

Attendance

As a sure thing to be in the hockey hall of fame whenever he retires, Jaromir Jagr has a certain ability to draw fans just by being himself. Some are nostalgia buffs from his early days in the NHL, some have joined the legions of thronging mulletites more recently. Few, if any, are more devoted than the Traveling Jagr’s. As the living legend has traversed the hockey map, so to has this legion grown. More importantly, they have traveled, drawn media attention, and bought tickets. For teams who struggled in this regard, he’s a viable investment in improving the gate.

The Ottawa Senator’s had a troublesome 87.4% home attendance last year despite amazing seasons by Karlsson and Anderson. The Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were also among those Canadian teams that failed to get to 100% attendance.

Who Should Sign Him?

For one or more reasons there are a dozen teams that should sign Jagr, including if this is indeed his swan song, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Who could use him the most? The Vancouver Canucks could use him for a variety of reasons, he’s not going to outpace the Sedin’s too badly, and unlike that pair he can hold onto the puck. The Carolina Hurricanes lack both depth and star power in their forward group, and Jagr combined with Williams, and Staal is a pretty compelling core to build from, and three guys who are different enough you should be able to reach any youngster worth damn who walks into the room. The Arizona Coyotes much like the Hurricanes are in need of a depth infusion, and something to generate ticket (and merchandise) sales, or any other form of revenue.

The New York Islander’s could sign him for no better reason than ticking off Rangers fans, but it would at least be a remedial step in potentially keeping Tavares. If the Colorado Avalanche were to sign him, not only would it give us a respite from the never ending Matt Duchene trade saga, it would put at least one forward on the ice who actually, provably, likes to win and is willing to work at it (and their attendance sucks too). If the Anahiem Ducks were to add him to the roster, it might just get them to play a full season, and it might also shame Perry and Getzlaf into trying hard enough to keep up with a guy who they were watching before they were old enough to shave.

Stick tap to Hockey-Reference.com and ESPN for the numbers.

The Atlantic Division and all other NHL teams released their protected lists today, and it’s time to dive into the best and worst moves.

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins bafflingly failed to protect Adam McQuaid who had the best on ice save percentage differential last year. He was hands down higher than anyone else over the teams even strength save percentage. Instead the protect Kevan Miller who is at least as injury prone, and less offensively productive in the playoffs. Colin Miller is exposed as well. Also protected are Riley Nash who is an interchangeable bottom six forward, and to my mild surprise the mercurial Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes were exposed, not that there’s any chance the latter is taken.

Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres have exposed some pretty interesting names. Zach Bogosian as a former high end pick is possibly the most notable, he was also traded to Buffalo for a top end defensive draft pick who has been protected. Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Georges, and Cody Franson represent a huge amount of the leadership and a reasonable amount of talent. As much as I like Tyler Ennis, I am a little surprised that he was protected and not some of the more obvious leaders.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are clearly going for a youth movement. You don’t need to look any further than who is unprotected to realize this. Kronwall on the outside looking in is damn near staggering, Jonathan Ericsson is another name Wings fans have been familiar with for a while. I’m a little surprised, verging on bafflement that Jimmy Howard is protected, he’s frequently injured, inconsistent, and at 33 no longer a young guy. Jared Coreau makes way more sense to protect since they are finally moving into their long, long overdue rebuild.

Florida Panthers

The two elder statesmen in Florida are unprojected. Luongo, and Jagr are both free for the picking. Neither is a long term part of the Panthers plan, but both are almost critically important right now. Jonathan Marchessault is a bit of a shocker. Yes last season’s offensive onslaught was a career year, and in the absence of several players further up the depth chart, but he’s a pretty heady name to leave dangling. Jussi Jokinen, and Reilly Smith make a modest amount of success to expose, but its hard to imagine other teams not asking for three way deals in the next couple days. Kindl and Demers being on the outside is no surprise since neither is very good. Pysyk would be a head scratcher if it weren’t for Kindl and Demers.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs have some mighty interesting names on the outside. Tom Plekanec is a name that leaps off the page. The rest of the list is sorta like the being one of the younger Kardashians, they’re notable for being notable and who they are near too. Dalton Thrower was a well regarded prospect not long ago, Stanley Cup winner Dwight King was brought in mid season to thicken up the bottom six, Radulov and Emelin as Russians have to be considered higher likelihood losses than they would if anyone other than McPhee were drafting, and beyond that I’m more baffled at who they did pick.

Paul Byron is worthy of being protected? Really? In what universe? Philip Danault and Jeff Petry? If you missed my piece yesterday, stop and read the first bit at least, the rest of this article will still be here.

Ottawa Senators

Bobby Ryan not being protected after the playoff run he had makes sense if you have no memory of the three years previous. Alex Andre Burrows is on the outside as well. I think with his decline of late, age, and new contract he’s likely safe. I can see the arguments for and against exposing both Methot and Borowiecki, particularly given the latter’s season ending injury, it might be some cagey work in Canada’s capital to leave them both on the outside, especially since given their composition, and last year’s success I can’t fault the Senators protected lists even a bit.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Having moved Jonathan Drouin out, there are zero point zero surprises on the protected list. Of the guys exposed it’s really hard to say who they are most likely to lose. Carter Ashton might be the happiest man in the Tampa organization after the Drouin trade, and he’s unprotected. Jake Dotchin and Andrej Suster are worth looking at, Jason Garrison two years ago might have been the gimmie pick, but he’s even older now. Slater Koekkoek is another name it might be worth exploring, but after a hard look at the team, I might pick up JT Brown if I decide to grab a forward from Tampa Bay.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Two and three years ago Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak were pilloried daily in the press. Today they make the protected list for a team that curbstomped all expectations last year. There are some names who were certainly contributors last year on the outside, but no one who if lost is going to cause the team to stagger back into a top five pick next year. This isn’t a surprise given how much of the teams success was carried by rookies and second year players. The biggest thing this list does is tell us who the front office thinks is at least a part of the short and medium term plans for the Maple Leafs.

It’s early in Free Agency, just a couple days in, but all of the top players are signed so it is time to grade the teams.

Boston Bruins: C-

Their biggest need was on defense. Not just a high end player that eat twenty two to twenty five minutes a night, but someone who can pick up the defensive slack as Chara ages and with Seidenberg a thing of the past. They failed to do that. Their second biggest need was to fill out the right side, and they did that with a hand in glove signing of David Backes. Style wise, experience wise, attitude wise it would be harder to find a better right wing for the team even if there is a decent amount of risk. Third on the list was filling the bottom six and getting depth at forward that can be called up from Providence and provide veteran leadership there. They first didn’t make the mistake of resigning Chris Kelly long term (or at all, so far), and brought back Tyler Randell, and added Riley Nash which are solid signings. They also signed an injury prone backup goaltender who will at least fit into the room comfortably being a retread.

Buffalo Sabres: B+

The Sabres did what they needed to continue a rebuild that is going along solidly but they took on some risk to do so. Kyle Okposo brings size, skill, physicality, playoff experience and undeniable injury history to the Sabres. They added some minor league depth, but honestly there wasn’t a lot for them to do. They have some RFA’s to resign who play a big part in the Sabres machine, and are targeting Jimmy Vesey, but they have enough depth at all the skating positions they should with only reasonable health at worst still be in the playoff conversation in late November assuming they get Rasmus Ristolainen, and Marcus Foligno signed without alienating anyone. The biggest failure would be in letting Chad Johnson go and picking up Anders Nilsson who has largely been a 3rd goalie as the seeming replacement.

Detroit Red Wings: C-

Generally peaking when your two most notable UFA acquisitions are a former all star known for scoring who barely does any more, and a former agitator who barely does that anymore you’ve already admitted you’re rebuilding. Except the Red Wings haven’t done that, and yet they went and grabbed Tomas Vanek who has seen his stats plummet in the last few years, and Steve Ott who has had exactly one twenty goal season in his career. Ott will be thirty-four when the puck drops in October. It is quite hard to be optimistic when a team that 23rd in the leagues last season in Goals For does nothing noticeable to help themselves in that category. What about Frans Neilsen you say? Good question. He’s undeniably talented, but he is also 32, the least well known of the three (outside Long Island), and has never cracked 60 points. Did Zetterberg and Kronwall lobby that hard for players who listen to the same music as they do?

Florida Panthers:  B+

On paper the Florida Panthers have spent the last several days sweeping up all the talent they need to maybe, just maybe become the front runner for Atlantic Division Title. They inked Jason Demers long term, and they also made two sneaky smart pickups signing Colton Sceviour and Jonathan Marchessault both playoff tested guys still at the height of their athleticism. If there is a concern in the moves made over the off season as a whole, it is that the team may have gotten worse defensively. That’s a bit concerning given that their number one goaltender is within a season or so of playing in his 1000th NHL game.

The Montreal Canadiens: C-

While there is nothing wrong with the talent the Canadiens have brought in, one wonders what is wrong with the decision making process in the front office. The mantra according to both deed and word is to have a locker room without personality problems, at least that was the official reason for moving Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban. But when you bring in Alex Radulov and Andrew Shaw to the mix any observer can be forgiven for wondering if there wasn’t perhaps if that official reason wasn’t even close to the skin of the matter. Al Montoya as a backup is nearly as confusing as the other moves as their were several backups available with better career numbers.

Ottawa Senators: No Grade

While they didn’t throw too much term or too much money at any big name free agents and certainly there are occasions when the signing you don’t make is the best deal of the off season, they failed to improve. That said, they did a lot of major movement towards the middle of last season, and didn’t have a lot of roster spots to fill.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No Grade

The Bolts didn’t have a lot of needs from the UFA market, if any at all. And they made no moves there. They did lock up most of their core and have a good deal of room to sign up the RFAs they have at loose ends.

Toronto Maple Leafs: C-

The Leafs added two UFAs worth naming since free agency opened, and the same thing can be said about both of them. They are tough, physical, blue collar players who can be nice contributors.  What Matt Martin and Roman Polak aren’t are cornerstones or top of the roster players. Neither is really even a middle of the roster player. Toughness, and even headedness are great but this team’s needle hasn’t been pushed closer to playoff participant yet.

In the last few weeks the Boston Bruins have been ravaged by in recent weeks. Kevan Miller went down. Then Zdeno Chara went down. David Krejci has been in and out of the lineup, Torey Krug went down, Brad Marchand was dinged, and now David Warsofsky is out of action. Zdeno Chara is the biggest factor, and on the surface we know their record is solid since his 4:13 of ice time in the game where he was lost.

October 23rd is the game where Chara went down the tunnel and didn’t come back. It was early in the game, and the rest of the game was chaotic. Matt Bartkowski played 21 minutes and was a minus one. The defensive pairs were shuffled, blended and then shaken for good measure. Even allowing for the Chara injury, the game wasn’t a good one for the men in black and gold. Patrice Bergeron was a -2, Krejci registered just one shot on net and the team never recovered from Chara going down. They dropped the game to a team that’s giving up as many goals as they score.

October 25th they take on a team who just don’t have what it takes to keep the Bruins out of their head. They managed a convincing win against a team that failed to make the playoffs last season, and are at best a bubble team this year.

Next up is the Minnesota Wild on October 28th. Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and company. The Bruins got down early giving up the opener to former New York Islander Nino Niedderreiter. By the end of the second the Bruins were up 3-1 in what was likely Krejci’s most healthy game of the season. In the third period the team failed to show up. No one took control, no one dominated their space, and the boys from the state of hockey popped three by Tuukka Rask to walk out with two points.

The night before Halloween the Boston Bruins played division ‘rivals’ the Buffalo Sabres. The Buffalo Sabres who are averaging one goal per game. One. Goal. Per. Game. The Boston Bruins gave up two goals to this team, yes, twice the average the team has achieved all season. Then they took overtime to beat the team most likely to be drafting first overall. Yes they gave a pity point to a team that’s so bad no one even pretends the team has a shot at the playoffs.

Next up were the Ottawa Senators. A team who’s best player is Kyle Turris but who lack a legitimate superstar. Again, a team that isn’t considered a threat to division or conference and who no one except maybe Eugene Melnyk thinks they have a shot at Lord Stanley’s silver. The Bruins win against a goalie who put up a .867sv%  on the night. A mediocre team, and they beat the backup.

Next was a visit against a team they should expect the Providence Bruins to beat in a seven game series; The Florida Panthers. Aside Roberto Luongo and Brian Campbell there’s no one worth knowing on the team. Gudbranson, Huberdeau, and maybe Barkov will be name players in two or three years, but right now, nope, nada, talent not found. This team is currently averaging 1.67 goals per game, yes that’s 29th in the NHL with only Buffalo scoring less. The Bruins again gave up a pity point. Yes, they went to overtime with a team that can’t manage even two goals per night for the second time in three games.

Finally in this run without Chara, and others they faced the Edmonton Oilers. There was no Taylor Hall in the lineup. That’s arguably their best player. Andrew Ference was out. That’s their captain, their best defensive defensemen, and two two of them are both physical, good skaters, and guys who don’t take shifts off. What’s left of the team lacks firmness and the team is impressively bad at getting the puck out of their own end. They are 27th in the league for goals allowed with 3.50 goals against per game. Ben Scrivens turned in a .871sv% in the loss.

Against the two teams most likely to be in the playoffs the Bruins lost. They went to overtime against two teams likely to be in the lottery. In short we know they can beat, just barely, wretched teams. We know they aren’t any good against anyone who is any good.

As for the suggestion that Chara might be traded now (possibly for Jordan Eberle who is becoming the new Vincent Lecavalier), with what we’ve seen there is zero reason to think that if the Boston Bruins made it to the playoffs they would make it out of the first round. It’s arguable they wouldn’t even make it to a fifth game if they replaced him with Eberle or any player on the Dallas Stars.

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

 

Players;

  • Among all defensemen with more than five games played there are still six with a perfect on ice save percentage; Ian Cole, Kevan Miller, and Erik Gudbranson, and three teammates Jonas Brodin, Ryan Suter, and Jared Spurgeon.
  • That Jay Harrison of the Carolina Hurricanes would lead the entire NHL in PIMS with 27, higher than the top three PIMs pilers from last season put together, all from a guy who’s never topped 72 PIMS, in just 6 games this year.
  • That six games into the season Carl Alzner would be finishing up in the offensive zone at a rate 24.4% less than his starts there, while still maintaining a positive plus minus.
  • That Daniel Carcillo, would lead all forwards in penalties drawn per sixty minutes and only have two himself.
  • Two plus weeks into the season there would be two defensemen playing over 28 minutes a night, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
  • That Chris Stewart would have the most shots on net without a goal standing at 26 shots and eight games with no goals.
  • At nearly the end of the first month of the season Evgani Malkin, Sami Vatanen, Trevor Daley, Claude Giroux, Johnny Boychuk, David Backes, Linden Vey, Brad Boyes, Scott Hartnell, Mark Giordano, Tyler Johnson, Tyson Barrie, Keith Yandle, Kevin Shattenkirk, John Carlson, Teddy Purcell, Jaromir Jagr, Alex Edler, Oliver Ekman-Larson (among others) would all have something important in common, they have all only scored a goal(s) on the powerplay.

Teams

  • Seven games into the season the Detroit Red Wings would be the final team not to have allowed a powerplay goal.
  • The Chicago BlackHawks would lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with two in just six games played.
  • the last two teams not to have scored a powerplay goal would be the Minnesota Wild and Buffalo Sabres.
  • the Carolina Hurricanes would be winless, a minus 29, and still have scored more goals per game than the Winnipeg Jets, Florida Panthers, and Buffalo Sabres.
  • The Boston Bruins would be 13th in the NHL in goals against.
  • Three teams, the Arizona Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes would all be winless when scoring first.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets would have the best differential between powerplay and penalty kill time after finishing 17th in the NHL last season.

Rumors are flying about Brian Campbell and his days being numbered in Sunrise Florida. While the Red Wings are the most discussed landing spot, as they are for every defenseman, the biggest questions is not where should he go (if anywhere) but what for.

Brian Campbell first has the mystique of being a Stanley Cup champion. Second, he’s an offensive minded (although more complete than many give credit for) defenseman. Second, he’s been impressively healthy. His last missed game was back in the 2010-11 season. He’s got almost 100 games of NHL playoff experience, and while he’s not going to challenge the best of the league for speed anymore, no one thinks he’s slow. His average nights work minute wise is also impressive clocking in each year at 25-26+ minutes per game.

On the other hand he’ll be 36 before the next Stanley Cup is handed out, has played possibly a dozen meaningful games since arriving in Sunrise, and then there’s his contract. He’s making over $7.1m a year. His points totals are erratic swinging wildly and widely from year to year. It isn’t news, and arguably isn’t relevant that he’s undersized and not a physical presence.

‘So what should the Florida Panthers be asking for in exchange for their best known skater?

  1. Young defensive talent.
  2. Healthy mid career forwards who can help Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov, and Bjugstad drag the team into the playoffs at least two or three years in a row.
  3. Several draft picks, at least equal to what the New York Islanders paid to acquire Johnny Boychuk which was two seconds and a conditional third.

Why is he worth more than Boychuk despite age and a larger contract?

  1. He’s much better offensively, even in the down years.
  2. Speed.
  3. An additional season beyond this one in which a team would have price certainty and the option to turn him over for additional or at least different assets.
  4. He’s played in big, small and “non traditional” markets and should be able to adjust on ice and of to whatever conditions he’s presented with pretty quickly.

The NHL season is here, and its time to take a quick look at all 30 teams and how they will start the season.

Anaheim Ducks: On paper, if their goaltending can be sorted out they might just be the best regular season team in the NHL. That said, the regular season is nearly meaningless when you start off this damn good.

Arizona Coyotes: Maybe the return of the distractions that hung over this team for half a decade will push it back into playoff position. Ekman-Larsson may be getting better every year, but Shane Doan isn’t getting any younger.

Boston Bruins: This is a solid team but the entire right side of the team is questionable, and with the trade of Boychuk the defense becomes much less steady.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres are working very hard at getting better while getting worse, the addition of Josh Georges makes the defense better, the loss of Ryan Miller leaves two goalies shaped question marks in the crease. Almost certainly a lottery team.

Calgary Flames: This team could have two legitimate All-Star’s this year and still be 10+ points out of the playoffs, no matter how good Giordano and Monahan are the rest are not.

Carolina Hurricanes: With Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner down and out, things look grim for this season’s point total. Last year they hit 34 ROW’s, the same as the Detroit Red Wings, might not be achievable. Noah Hanflin or Oliver Kylington might not be the distant dream they seemed just a few weeks ago.

Chicago Blackhawks: Take a good long look at the core opening night, unless the cap goes up about ten million, they are really likely to be broken up, Hossa is almost 36, and Seabrook only has this and one more year left on his contract.

Colorado Avalanche: Regression to the mean is what all the advanced stats folks are expecting this season. I’ll just say that the new additions to the team, are going to slow it down…

Columbus Blue Jackets: With Johansen starting late, Horton’s career is in doubt, and Dubinsky is on the injured reserve, that said they still have a solid shot at the playoffs.

Dallas Stars: The off season fairy was kind to the Dallas Stars forward depth but their defense and goaltending could still use a gift or two.

Detroit Red Wings: Injuries, aging players, and a coach who might not return next season, what a recipe for success.

Edmonton Oilers: The Nikitin injury should accelerate the development of Darnell Nurse, add in the other injuries and it makes starting the season off on a good note difficult, on the plus side they only play three road games in October.

Florida Panthers: Willie Mitchell,, Roberto Luongo, and Jussi Jokinen are nice adds, I’m not sure the team escapes the bottom five but games will be closer.

Los Angeles Kings: Like the Blackhawks, this team is likely to be very different at the start of next season, is that enough to push them over the top into being the first team to repeat in the salary cap era? They didn’t add anyone, but this year, they also didn’t lose any of the core.

Minnesota Wild: Only four of the nine October games are at home including an opening night rematch with the Avalanche, and a visit to the defending Kings early on will tell people more about the healthy version of this team than anything else.

Montreal Canadiens: No captain, contract years for two key, young forwards, a reliable member of the defense gone, the much relied upon backup gone, this year could indeed be interesting times for the men in the CH.

Nashville Predators: For the first time in team history the Predators will have a new head coach and a new playing style, to compliment that James Neal, Olli Jokinen, and Derek Roy were added up front. General Manager David Polie has to hope he’s found the right way to make sure he’s not the next out the door.

New Jersey Devils: The End of The Brodeur Era is what is being talked about, some interesting additions have helped mask the other question; How much longer will the Lamoriello era last? On October 21st he’ll be 72 years old.

New York Islanders: The additions of Boychuk and Leddy at the end of training camp are the single most disruptive preseason moves in recent history. Fans, players, and executives have to hope upsetting balance in the standing follows.

New York Rangers: Depth and balance helped the blue shirts make the finals last year, this year they start off without Stepan, Pouliot, Richards, Dorsett, and Stralman are gone. An argument can be made that those voids are all filled, but that doesn’t mean the team is as good.

Nashville Predators: Rinne is healthy, Weber is ready, Neal and Roy are part of the squad, a better year is  ahead.

Ottawa Senators: If this team gets great goaltending they likely finish eight to ten points outside the playoffs, if they get average or bad goaltending they are in for a very long season. There just is much depth here to work with.

Philadelphia Flyers: This is a team with a lot of opportunity to change peoples minds. Mason, Simmonds, Giroux, Voracek all had solid seasons last year, but the rest of the squad is more question marks than answers.

Pittsburgh Penguins: In the off season they lost a third of their defense, a top six winger, and will enter the season with at least one of their best players below 100%.

Saint Louis Blues: The Blues have a really interesting team, and have a really good good shot at playing in the second half of April and beyond, the big question about this team is goaltending as it has been for years.

San Jose Sharks: This team is imperfectly mixed concrete. With all the outside pressure, maybe, just maybe the team will come together and like that imperfect concrete hold for just long enough.

Toronto Maple Leafs: In the first 10 games we’ll see if the team has fixed their penalty kill, if they have they are a notably better team they were last year on that alone.

Vancouver Canucks: More stability in net is great, but up front this team is clearly not as good as last year, GM Benning still has a long road ahead.

Washington Capitals: Picking up a solid pair of defensemen is good, taking them off the hands of a division rival is better. Wrapped up in that is the addition of someone who can arguably improve their mushy penalty kill.

Winnipeg Jets: Evander Kane is the only player on the team making over four million a year without a no trade clause, if he’s there at the end of the season is anyone’s guess.

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.