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.

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

 

Players:

  • that Joe Thornton would be in the top ten in the NHL in scoring when he last finished a season there in the 2009-10 season.
  • of the top five goal scores, Ovechkin, Steen, Perry, Kane and Kunitz, Ovechkin would have both overtime goals in the quintet.
  • the leagues three leaders in PIMS Derek Dorsett of the New York Rangers, Chris Neil of the Ottawa Senators, and Antoine Roussel would combine for more penalty minutes (275) than the New Jersey Devils (251) or San Jose Sharks (271) and each be playing 11:35 a night or more.
  • Brandon Dubinsky would be the only player over 20 points and 60 PIMS, and have a 56.1 FO%.
  • Mike Santorelli of the Vancouver Canucks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings would be tied for the NHL lead in overtime points.
  • last years Masterson Award winner Josh Harding would be dominating the league and have the best save percentage of any goalie with more than 1000 minutes on the season and be sitting pretty with a .938 sv% and a 16-5-3 record.
  • undrafted rookie goaltender Cam Talbot with ten games played would have a significantly better sv% (.934 vs .910) than teammate and the NHL’s highest paid netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

Teams:

  • a month after losing Steven Stamkos to injury, the Tampa Bay Lightning would still be holding a top 3 spot in the Atlantic division.
  • on December 13th the spread betwen the 1st and 8th place teams in the east and west would be 10 in the west with 3 teams tied for 8, and 13 in the east.
  • to date, no team in the east would have scored 100 goals.
  • Of the teams in the bottom five (tie for 5th) last year in the NHL, only two would currently be in that place.
  • the Buffalo Sabres who are dead last in the NHL in points would have allowed just one more goal than the Chicago Blackhawks who have the most points in the league.
  • the Edmonton Oilers would be the only team to allow more than 4 shorthanded goals.
  • there would be no apparent pattern to the four teams yet to score a shorthanded goal as to date the Coyotes, Penguins, Panthers and Sabres would all be on the outside looking in.
  • four teams in the west would have scored 100 or more goals.
  • under offensive minded coach Alain Vigneault the New York Rangers would be producing over half a goal per game less than under the blueshirt’s previous bench boss in prior two seasons.

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

 

Players:

  • that Roberto Luongo and Marc-Andre Fleury would not only have more starts than Craig Anderson but better stats too.
  • that Tim Thomas would have more games played than Tomas Vokoun, Cam Ward and Anton Kudobin combined.
  • Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild would have more goals and points than Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks or any member of the New York Rangers
  • that Jeff Carter’s mystery foot injury of a couple seasons back might not have been a product of not wanting to play or live in Columbus but be part of some other long term health issue.
  • of the four players tied for the lead league in short handed goals at two, Bryan Little, Brandon Dubinsky, Brad Richardson, and Dwight King only King would be on a team currently in a playoff spot.
  • of the 734 skaters to take the ice since the beginning of the season the only player with more than one overtime goal would be Florida Panthers discard and Vancouver Canucks bargain pickup Mike Santorelli.
  • 22 games into the season none of the 14 game winning goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins would have come from Sidney Crosby, while Chuck Kobasew would own two.
  • Josh Harding could be labeled the front runner for both the Vezina and the starting job on the Canadian Olympic team.

Teams:

  • the Detroit Red Wings would have more overtime losses than any other team in the NHL.
  • through the first quarter of the season the Phoenix Coyotes would be fourth in goals per game at 3.29.
  • the Boston Bruins, Anaheim Ducks, and Toronto Maple Leafs would be the only teams even or with a winning record when trailing after one period.
  • with 23 games in the books the Buffalo Sabres would not have led at the end of the first period even once.
  • of the four teams with a winning record when trailing first, three would be in the same division the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings, while the Toronto Maple Leafs were the only team from outside the Pacific to do so.
  • the Colorado Avalanche would be undefeated when scoring first.
  • the Anaheim Ducks who are being outspent by 18 teams would lead the league in points.
  • the Buffalo Sabres were projecting for less wins in this 82 game season than in last years lockout shortened one. (18 vs 21)

October is over, and with the close of the seasons inaugural month we can finally start to get a handle on which teams are for real and which are just pretenders.

Anaheim Ducks: When will they turn one or more of their wealth of goaltenders in future assets or skater to improve them for the playoffs?

Boston Bruins: Which is the real team here, the one that beat both the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks or the one that lost to a severely under-performing New Jersey Devils squad?

Buffalo Sabres: Has the front office identified their first overall pick yet, will it be the right shooting defenseman Aaron Ekblad or savvy center Sam Reinhart?

Calgary Flames: Can’t this team even get tanking right, don’ they know a team that’s tanking isn’t supposed to be tied for 20th after a month?

Carolina Hurricanes: How in the world is it possible to have a team with Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Alex Semin, Jeff Skinner, Jiri Tlustly, and Ron Hainsey still have the NHL’s 22nd best powerplay?

Chicago Blackhawks: If Joel Quenville’s squad didn’t have the worst penalty kill in the NHL they might be a tear similar to last year’s rampage through the NHL so how can they be so, so bad at the PK and still in the top half of the league for goals against?

Colorado Avalanche: Will the Semyon Varlemov situation affect the chemistry in the room and topple a team that has been a force of nature through the first 30 days?

Columbus Blue Jackets: When will the team figure out they need to either score more or stop more and do so if the want to see the playoffs?

Dallas Stars: Can one of the few rosters in the NHL without a player on injured reserve taking advantage of this window of health to climb the standings?

Detroit Red Wings: Can this team stay in the range of its current 19th in goals for and remain a playoff level team?

Edmonton Oilers: How in all the worlds did this team offend the Hockey Gods so much that they can be on the cusp of 60 goals against while most teams are in the 30’s and no other team has even allowed 50?

Florida Panthers: When Dale Tallon wakes up in the morning is his first question “How in the world can those teams be worse than mine?” or “How is this roster doing so well”?

Los Angeles Kings: Is the entire roster wondering if they didn’t accidentally trade the real Jonathan Quick in the off season for the slob who currently has a .896sv%?

Minnesota Wild: Are any of the Wild’s rivals even mildly concerned that the team holds a playoff spot and haven’t gotten any viable contributions from Dany Heatley, Charlie Coyle, nor had Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom healthy for two straight weeks?

Montreal Canadiens: Is anyone gonna acknowledge the incredible start Carey Price is off to, 12 starts in 15 games and a .932 sv%?

Nashville Predators: When will the answer to the question “What’s holding the Predators back?” not be “lack of scoring”?

New Jersey Devils: So this is what $63,473,577 buys when a general manager looses touch with the NHL, right?

New York Islanders: The lowest cap hit in the NHL and a playoff spot might be what it takes to inspire a hockey edition of Moneyball, huh?

New York Rangers: Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash are on injured reserve and the team has won three in a row for half their wins on the season is a bit eye opening isn’t it?

Ottawa Senators: Daniel Alfredsson’s old team is actually outscoring his new team, it’d be nice for what is now Jason Spezza’s squad if they could stop pucks as well this year wouldn’t it?

Philadelphia Flyers: For the first time in years goaltending isn’t the biggest problem for the Flyers, is that why the whole roster looks so befuddled on the ice?

Phoenix Coyotes: Did anyone expect the Coyotes to be fourth in goals for a month and three days into the the season?

Pittsburgh Penguins: What’s more surprising about the 2013-14 Penguins, the fact that Fleury is playing above his normal zone, or that defenseman Matt Niskanen has a better points per game number than Kris Letang?

San Jose Sharks: Exactly how many of this teams players will be on their nations Olympic roster in Sochi Russia?

Saint Louis Blues: If 18 points in 12 games isn’t surprising enough to get you to take David Backes and crew seriously, does the fact that the team is second in scoring do it for you?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Is it too late to place a healthy bet on this team to make the playoffs and bring in a very nice return?

Toronto Maple Leafs: Now that it is no longer October and Phil Kessel who is off to a 9-9-18 start will inevitably cool off, can the Leafs maintain their lofty perch in the standings?

Vancouver Canucks: With a stat line of 4-6-10 through 16 games Mike Santorelli has to be one of the best NHL players per cap dollar in the league this year right?

Washington CapitalsDo you think if Adam Oates adds fellow former Capital Donald Brashear to his coaching staff he can beat some consistency into this roster?

Winnipeg Jets: Is there any more damning statement that could be made about this team than that they might actually be overachieving since they’re best team statistic is an 11th ranked penalty kill?

Last year the Vancouver  Canucks once again marched through the Northwest Division, and claimed its crown for the regular season. The main event for the shortened 48 game season was not the on ice product, but the circus surrounding Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo the teams “1A” and “1B” starting goaltenders. A shortened year was spent with neither able to wrest the job firmly from the other, and no trade to save the media beating the story to death.

At the NHL entry draft an amazing thing happened, Schneider ended up getting traded. Mike Gillis sold out his best crease man not for thirty silvers but for just one first round pick, which was used for Bo Hovart. Alain Vigneault was discarded and John Tortorella brought in. Mike Santorelli the former Nashville Predator and Florida Panther were brought in to deepen the pool at center on the cheap. Keith Ballard was paid to go away.

This year the team will open the season with two players suspended, and David Booth on injured reserve. Former Montreal Canadien Yannick Weber will be looking for a blueline job, and both Bo Hovart and Hunter Shinkaruk continue their fight for a roster spot. The young guns may get their shot with the temporary openings, but whether they cross the 10 game threshold is anyone’s guess. The opening fistful of games see’s the Canucks kickoff their season visiting the San Jose Sharks. With just one night rest they will head home to square off with the Edmonton Oilers, before scurrying off to face the Calgary Flames less than 24 hours later. Finally they’ll have a short home stand with a pair of games against the New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks.

Number of days 1-5: 7

Number of cities: 3

Best opponent: San Jose Sharks (twice)

Weakest opponent:  Calgary Flames

Home games: 3

Projected points:  5

The pace of the first five games, and the unfamiliarity with the new system mixed with the possible inclusion of two rookies makes the opening handful of games really rough. With just one proven NHL goaltender, the question will loom all season long over how much they can afford to rest Roberto Luongo. The Canucks are actually in a competitive division for the first time in the career of any of their core players. It is probable they are a better than .500 team, but that depends on their goaltending and the Sedin’s staying the entire season and bouncing back to something like  the level they played at leading to their run to the Stanley Cup finals.

The Krejci for X discussions across the Boston sports scene have never been hotter. Bobby Ryan is the current most lusted for player, but moving him, even for a good return creates issues of who slides into what position.

As we all know by now Chiarelli’s lust for drafting small skilled forwards is as great as making moves for defenseman no ones ever heard of. The problem isn’t so much a question of do we have someone else who can play center but a question of who makes the most sense. If this is “a bridge year” it almost doesn’t matter who is the other pivot. If the team is in “win now” mode or at least wants fans and media to believe it is, then it might matter a touch more. Off ice issues will have to be weighed in as well.P

The case for moving Seguin to center and putting him between Lucic and Horton is one that will likely make the rounds. The problem is all three can be regarded as shoot first players. I don’t claim to be the worlds foremost mathematician, but three shooters (not counting the defensive pair) and one puck doesn’t add up to well. Another consideration is that Seguin has so far shown to be indifferent at faceoffs. Moving Bergeron to between the two big bodies would put the maximum amount of size in the top nine forwards together, and they did look good together for stretches last year.

Moving either is less than desirable for another reason. Together the Selke winning Patrice Bergeron flanked by Brad Marchand and Tyler Sequin were the most consistent line on the team all season. Given the departure of Benoit Pouliot and assuming Krejci is indeed traded they could be the only trio of the top three lines to return.

Chris Kelly played the best hockey of his career last year and did some of it with Milan Lucic to his left. He’s never held a top or second line role for long since arriving with the Bruins. The same can be said for Rich Peverley who’s played up and down the Bruins lineup. Peverley’s offensive upside is a little bit higher, but he’s also had more health and consistency issues over his career. Plugging him into the pivot slot between Lucic and Horton would certainly improve both the speed and defensive quality of the line. Peverley has averaged top line type minutes in his career, but mostly at wing and not center and in Claude Julien’s system the center position is the lynchpin of transition, defense and offense.

There are also the AHL players and Juniors graduates. Ryan Spooner’s hands have been compared to Marc Savard. I’ll leave that comparison alone for a half decade or so, but say that they are pretty damn slick. Size and adjusting to the NHL are questions 1 and 1a, speed, skating, passing aren’t in question.  Carter Camper and Max Sauve both earned time in Boston last year, both have played the pro game, both have done well. Sauve’s durability is issue number one, but like Spooner is an excellent passer and has a ready shot. Camper is also on the small side, but led the Providence Bruins in scoring despite the time he spent in Boston.

Also to be considered is new acquisition Christian Hanson who’s half season of NHL games is more than just about all his competition combined. At 6’4 and 222 he’s got size to spare over any of the other claimants. Then there is Alex Khoklachev. The skilled Russian is in the same size range as Spooner, Sauve and Camper. He signed his entry level deal at the recent Boston Bruins development camp, and also signed a deal that would will take him to the KHL. The KHL contract is for one year, to the club his father is the manager of. If however he makes the Boston Bruins out of camp he stays here in North America.

Another possibility is trading for a skilled center who can play about as well in similar ice time as Krejci. A team like the Edmonton Oilers could certainly use some better depth defense, and the looming arbitration date with Sam Gagner lowers the likelihood they will retain him after that date. The Panthers barely used Mike Santorelli last year, and he would come with a low cap hit.

Also to be considered is sliding Greg Campbell up to the third line and sliding in either a rookie, Hanson, or Whitfield into the Merlot line. Campbell has done well in a Bruins uniform managing the heavy grinding role of the fourth line and the smart penalty kill minutes and making it look easy.

Two of the more interesting players to hit the news in the last couple days are Derek Roy and Mike Santorelli. The Buffalo Sabres Roy has one year left on a contract that will pay him five and a half with a cap hit of four. Santorelli of the Florida Panthers is likely a less prohibitive gamble. His salary is one point six this year and like Roy he’s a center.

In his first full year in the NHL Mike Santorelli put up 20 goals and 21 assists good for second in points and third in goals on a not very good Panthers team. That was two seasons ago where he played just over sixteen minutes a night and potted a short handed goal and powerplay goals. He was also above 50% in faceoffs. This year under the new head coach, and with an influx of new players he saw drastically less time. Kevin Dineen did a remarkable job with the talent, and injuries his team had. Between Santorelli’s shoulder injury to start the season, and the new system of Dineen he found himself marginalized and has since been waived.

Derek Roy has been a member of the Buffalo Sabres since he drafted 32nd overall in 2001. He’s only had one NHL head coach in that time. During Lindy Ruff’s tenure, the longest in the NHL, the Sabres have been up, down and largely a low spending team. Terry Pegula taking over the team recently has led to a change in the tableau and not only is the teams attitude toward spending different, expectations are much higher. Roy was not alone in having a sub-standard season, but he seems to be one of the scapegoats for it. During this season Ruff was injured and ended up loaning head coaching duties to one of the assistants. This may or may not have played a role in Roy’s slide to his worst NHL full season point total.

Do we blame the coaches? Did Dineen dismiss a player who had had success the previous season because of an injury? Is not getting the best out of an experienced player a failure on Ruff’s part? Or did Santorelli go have as much trouble learning the new playbook as Ochocinco? Is Roy tuning out Ruff, giving into the teams malaise?

Either way, both players present intriguing options for teams looking for help at center. Roy has a potential claim to a top line in some cities. Santorelli is more likely a second or third line center. Puck possession being a priority, especially for teams like the Flames, Ducks, or Lightning both players offer a chance to make starting play with the puck

With the Boston Bruins having won the Stanley Cup, and Brad Marchand having score as many goals as Jeremy Roenick or Mario Lemeiux in the playoffs. Like Niemi the year before last, he also managed to be a contributor to a Cup winner as a rookie, and in the last year of his contract.

In adding up the factors against him getting a big pay day here are the big ones:

  • Was suspended for two games.
  • Has only played one full season in the NHL.
  • In the partial season he did play he failed to score a single goal and was a minus player.
  • Took undisciplined penalties including multiple ruffing calls, and a throwing the stick penalty.

In his favor there are a few marks.

  • Led all rookies in short handed points.
  • Scored points short handed, at five on five, and on the powerplay.
  • Was not afraid to go to the “dirty areas”.
  • Played well as both a checking line forward and a more two way forward.
  • Was a +/- leader in both regular and post seasons.

For comparison here are some of the other guys who scored forty-one points in the regular season last year:

  • Devon Setoguchi: just signed to a new three year deal for three million a year, has been a thirty goal man, but also missed time each of the last two seasons. Does not play shorthanded.
  • Mike Santorelli: Had a short handed goal last year, was the second leading scorer on an abysmal Panthers team, but had one of the worst +/- on the team. $600,000 one year contract expires the end of the upcoming season.
  • Michael Ryder. Highly inconsistent during the regular season on the same Boston Bruins, very solid post season, his four million dollar per year deal is set to expire 7/1, is a two time thirty goal scorer.

Current market forces not being something you can ignore, here are some of the recent signings:

  • Tomas Kopecky, has not topped 15 goals in his career and is seven years older than Marchand, did not play shorthanded last year, and just signed a four year contract worth three million per year.
  • David Jones is four years older, has also played just one full season in the NHL, scored 27 goals last season, one year contract for two and a half million.
  • Brooks Laich, had his second lowest career goal total last season. At 28 his points total last season was lower than either of the previous two years. Has just signed a six year deal with a cap hit of four and a half million a year.
  • Nathan Gerbe of similar size to Marchand, has signed a new deal worth a shade under one and a half million a year, only scored sixteen goals and 31 points in 64 games last year.

To me, given the speed, ability to agitate, and ability to play in all situations and his chemistry with Patrice Bergeron, I’d call two and half million a little low, and probably barely fair a deal between $2.75 million and $3.25 woud be about market value for any deal under four years. A deal over four million, or longer than four years could be somewhat questionable, no matter how much we like him.