As the calendar has turned to September the nights are beginning to get cold, the kids are back in school and that all means hockey is on it’s way.
Rookie camp starts this week with the Bruins heading back to Buffalo for their annual round robin rookie tournament this weekend. Big boy camp starts the following week.
Outside of a few rookies that might push for a roster spot, at this point anyway, most of the rosters across the league are pretty well drawn up.
Today I’m taking a look at the Atlantic Division to see how the Bruins rank compared to the rest of the teams they will be competing with for a playoff spot.
So far I have seen two publications say the Bruins will not make the playoffs, The Hockey News and Sports Nation. All predictions are guess work based largely off what’s “on paper”. And just because I’d say a team was going to improve, decline, or stay the same, does not necessarily mean I think they are going to make the playoffs. Most teams are an injury or two away from being terrible, so we have to keep that in mind. It’s why they play the games, right?
Either way, let’s get started:
Buffalo Sabres: Improved – Buffalo just had their second coaching/front office makeover since Terry Pegula has owned the team. This time I think it will be a good fit. New GM Jason Botterill was the assistant GM in Pittsburgh and he hired Phil Housley, who was an assistant with Nashville. Housley has coached for Team USA internationally as well and in my opinion is a great hire. Botterill went to work on shoring up the defence with the addition of Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu. Up front they brought back Jason Pominville and signed “Mr. Nine Lives” Benoit Pouliot. The driver of Buffalo is going to be Jack Eichel. The kid was a stud, post-injury, in the second half of last season. And after Connor McDavid cashed in this summer I expect Eichel to play with a chip on his shoulder and have a monster season. He will be paid handsomely. It won’t be McDavid bucks but expect Jack to produce in that same neighborhood.
Detroit Red Wings: Same – A few of Detroit’s young players had bad seasons last year but that isn’t the main reason why they missed the playoffs for the first time in over a quarter of a century. It was largely due to an aging blue line and their inconsistent goaltending. Also, Detroit’s leading scorer last season was Henrik Zetterberg and he is about 150 years old. Detroit will be depending on their young players bouncing back, which I would assume Dylan Larkin will. They brought in Trevor Daley on defense but he is just another aging player they will plug a hole with. I just do not see this team making the playoffs but I do not see them being any worse than they were last year. A shinny new arena is not going to help this club. They’ll stay the same as last season.
Florida Panthers: Improve – As long as Sunrise, Florida does not get washed away from Irma this week the Panthers should improve. They went from winning the division in ’16 to out of the playoffs this past season. Ownership had made some front office changes prior to last season and it did not work out too well. Now they have hit the reset button and returned Dale Tallon to GM, who had brought in Bob Boughner as coach. It didn’t help that Florida had key players hit with the injury bug last season and one would think they’ll be healthier this season. They also still have a nice young 1-2 punch down the middle with Barkov and Trocheck. One thing to pay attention to; they did lose a combination of 45 goals to Vegas when Jonathan Marchessault was picked in the expansion draft and Reilly Smith was traded to the Golden Knights as well. But the youngsters should pick up the slack and make this team better. The stability in the front office and overall health alone should help this team improve from last season.
Montreal Canadiens: Decline – If it was not for Montreal’s hot start in October last season they could have been in danger of missing the playoffs. They might have still made the playoffs, but they would not have won the division. This summer they basically replaced Alexander Radulov with Jonathan Drouin, which to me goal scoring wise, is a wash. Drouin is younger and more dynamic, but the Canadiens gave up their top prospect, defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, to get him. The Canadiens also turned over half of their defense and that’s not even including Sergachev. Gone are Andrei Markov, Nathan Beaulieu and Alexei Emelin. They have been replaced by Karl Alzner, David Schlemko and Mark Streit. Montreal’s blue line struggled with mobility before and now it might actually be worse. To compound things the Canadiens have not had a number one center in over a decade and they did nothing this off season to solve the problem (hello John Tavares in 2018?). If Carey Price does not play up to his “Best Goalie in the World” billing or gets injured again this team could be in some big trouble. Plus you can expect them to play that up tempo style that Claude likes to deploy. Don’t expect much from the Habs.
Ottawa Senators: Decline – Ottawa ended the season on such a high with their run to the Eastern Conference Final I just feel they are going to come down to earth a little bit. I just do not think they have the roster or playing style to maintain that level of play. Look, for a long time I was never sold on Erik Karlsson but after seeing him play in the playoffs I am sold. The guy is nasty. But the loss of his dependable D partner in Marc Methot is going to be a huge hit. Plus Karlsson had sergery on his foot in the off season and might not be ready for the season opener. Now they are going to depend on rookie Thomas Chabot or newly signed Johnny Oduya to lighten the load on D. Plus, they are coached by Guy Boucher. In both of Boucher’s stops in the NHL in his first season his teams lost an Eastern Conference Final Game 7 (thank you Nathan Horton and the Bruins in 2011). The next season in Tampa they did not make the playoffs. Then in the 2012-2013 season Boucher was fired mid season. Will history begin to repeat itself?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Improve – Just like that other team in Florida the Lightning were hit with the injury bug last season. They lost their best player (on paper) Steven Stamkos with a serious knee injury which cut his season to just 17 games. By just staying relatively healthy the Lightning can easily improve from last season. Tampa might be the most talented team in the Atlantic Division and that is why most publications are picking them to win the division. They definitely have the best defense in the division but the question mark will be if Andrei Vasilevskiy can handle the number one load in goal. Tampa added Dan Girardi and Mikhail Sergachev to an already good back end. Another x-factor, a lot of guys on that roster have been getting massive new pay days with long term. Are they collectively still hungry or already fat and happy?
Toronto Maple Leafs: Improve – The Maple Leafs probably have the most talent at forward in the division but their blue line is less than desired. This is why overall Tampa is the most talented team in the division. My only question is can the youngsters live up to the expectations of the crazy Toronto media and still improve? All their eggs are in the Matthews/Marner basket and if one of those guys suffers a sophomore slump they could be in trouble. The difference between this Leafs team and teams in the past is that they finally have above average goaltending with Frederik Anderson. GM Lou Lamoriello also does a good job insulating the kids which is why I do not anticipate any sophomore slumps. If the Leafs can now draft and develop some defenseman they are going to be major player for the Cup in years to come. Everyone in Toronto should be thanking the draft lottery the same way as the Edmonton Oilers are today.
Boston Bruins: Same – Like almost every team in the Atlantic Division the Bruins are going to depend on some young players to try to propel them to the next level. The key, in my opinion, to the Bruins for this upcoming season is will the defense improve enough with McAvoy to get to the next level and win a playoff round? I don’t have an answer for that. The good thing that McAvoy creates is it pushes Adam McQuaid down to the third pairing where he is better suited. That alone might make the Bruins defense better. The problem is now you may have Kevan Miller playing the left side with McAvoy and does that make the defense better? I am not so sure. The one thing that the Bruins have that no other team in the division has is the center depth. No team in the Atlantic Division can match the Bruins 1-2 punch of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. If you put David Backes as the 3rd line center you have even more depth. I think Backes is going to have a good season now that he will be more adjusted to Boston and playing under Bruce Cassidy instead of Julien. It might be his last good season before he starts to decline in his mid 30’s. I also think Bruce Cassidy will find the right balance of playing time for Tuukka Rask, since he’s not coaching for his job, and I would not be surprised to see Tuukka’s stats improve. The offense is going to score goals at a similar clip. Again, the success of the B’s largely falls on improvement on the blue line.
I will be honest, before I started doing the research for this blog I would have leaned more towards the Bruins missing the playoffs. But I just cannot get past the 1-2 punch at center the Bruins have and no team in the Atlantic can match that. As long as Bergeron and Krejci stay healthy I cannot see the Bruins missing the playoffs. I think the top three teams in the Atlantic Division will be Tampa Bay, Toronto and Boston. The rest of them will have to fight for a wild card.
There certainly is a very real possibility that the Bruins do regress, with questions about an aging Chara and wing scoring still unanswered. But if they do regress hopefully it is for the better and essentially a step forward by implementing more young players onto the roster. Plus, the 2018 draft looks to be much deeper than this past draft. Regardless, let’s drop the puck and get this thing going.
Oh, but before we do that let’s get David Pastrnak signed. Thanks.
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