Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Dipping Into The Atlantic

This isn't a book review today. No, HBIC is heading back to the division previews as we break down the Atlantic Division today. The funniest thing about the Atlantic Division is that most of the teams in the division don't have a view of the Atlantic Ocean nor are situated on the Atlantic coastline, yet they play in the Atlantic division. Oh well. I do want to point out that John, who normally contributes to the site, is still on this preview, but HBIC brought in someone else: John! Neal, John #1, John #2 and I will try to pick the winner of the division!

Neal and John #1, as you may know, are the contributors to the Gentlemen, To Your Corners segments here on HBIC. John #2 writes the always-entertaining Capitol District Islander blog! Here's our look at the Atlantic Division for this upcoming season!

8. BUFFALO SABRES
John #1: 8th in Atlantic
Neal: 8th in Atlantic
John #2: 8th in Atlantic
Teebz: 8th in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 8th in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: LW Matt Moulson, RW Brian Gionta, C Sam Reinhart, LW Cody McCormick, LW Zac Dalpe, D Josh Gorges, D Andrej Meszaros.
DEPARTURES: D Christian Ehrhoff, RW Cory Conacher, LW Ville Leino, D John Scott, D Alexander Sulzer.

John #1: It's no secret that Buffalo is trying to win the McDavid sweepstakes. They have been in rebuild-mode the last two seasons starting with the drafting of Ristolainen and Zadorov, followed by the drafting of Reinhart and Lemieux. They also have three first-round picks next season from St. Louis and the New York Islanders, so it's no wonder they are sitting here in eighth-place. Despite picking Moulson up again and getting veteran leader Gionta, this team will be terrible on all fronts.

Neal: I have no idea what these guys are doing. It all seems well and good on paper to constantly influx more and more youth into the system, but, at some point, winning has to become an objective. There are a couple additions that I do like to this team. First, I have always admired Matt Moulson as a player. He truly is one of the most underrated players in the league who is a legitimate offensive weapon and a lead-by-example type. Second, obtaining the feisty Chris Stewart should add some much needed grit to this team who can chip in on the depth lines. I could actually see him breaking twenty goals given the dearth of legitimate weapons on this team. Brian Gionta also comes over to provide some leadership, though at this stage of his career I’m not sure how much he can contribute. Josh Gorges is also a nice stop-gap on the blue line because somebody other than Tyler Myers has to play there. What I'm afraid will happen with this team is that their blue-chip prospects will be thrown into the fire and be in over their heads. Right now I'm afraid until I see different I just can’t trust this team to do anything but lose.

John #2: "I know what I see with my eyes, my heart, and my soul." That's really all you need to know about Ted Nolan's approach to player development and roster management. Turning Ryan Miller and Jaroslav Halak into Michael Neuwirth is not the best way to reshape your goaltending. Neuwirth was the odd man out in Washington purely because GM George McPhee had a perpetual three-way race for a two-man battery. The Neuwirth/Enroth tandem may be the only current position of strength for this team. Matt Moulson returned to Buffalo. Andrej Mezaros is not the worst ex-Flyer to have on your blue line, but there's not much that can make this Sabres defensive corps look good. The Sabres finish last in the Atlantic and are prime contenders for the 2015 first-overall pick.

Teebz: I really want the Sabres to do well. I do. I just think that they'd be an awesome AHL team this season rather than a good NHL team. I like their mix of veterans and youth, but there simply isn't enough veteran players. Moulson, Ennis, Stafford, and Gionta make up the majority of the years served in the NHL amongst this group. Cody Hodgson, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, and possibly Sam Reinhart are a great group of youngsters, but the two groups show a significant lack of scoring. Defensively, they have almost no offensive production. Myers, Gorges, Meszaros, Ristolainen, and Zadorov make up a nice grouping, but there isn't a lot of scoring. Michal Neuvirth and Jonas Enroth will have to be lights-out every night to give this team a chance at winning, and I can't see that happening. An anemic offence, questionable defence, and unsteady goaltending will keep this team in the cellar.

7. OTTAWA SENATORS
John #1: 7th in Atlantic
Neal: 7th in Atlantic
John #2: 6th in Atlantic
Teebz: 6th in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 7th in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: C David Legwand, RW Alex Chiasson.
DEPARTURES: C Jason Spezza. RW Ales Hemsky.

John #1: First, Daniel Alfredsson leaves to "win", and now Spezza and Hemsky followed him out of Ottawa. This team is another team in a downward spiral. Legwand was never a good first-line centerman, and Ottawa did little to replace any of their missing pieces. This is another team that isn't very interested in getting better this season. They will be bad, but not as bad as Buffalo.

Neal: For as much flak I give Buffalo, I sort of feel for this organization. This team consistently has churned out good teams against the odds, only to see their core players skip town or demand trades. Unfortunately, this year the team will not be able to overcome their losses. Their nightmare summer started when franchise player Jason Spezza demanded and then received a trade to the Dallas Stars who also signed Ales Hemsky, further decimating the Senators forwards. Alex Chaisson, who comes back from that trade, will be given every opportunity to succeed for Ottawa. He scored thirteen goals last year on a pretty good Stars team, so it wouldn't be a shock to me if he could break out somewhat and flirt with twenty goals given extra playing time and more experience. Bobby Ryan is still a pretty good player and possibly putting Mika Zibanejad with him can only improve his confidence. Legwand is a perfect complimentary player and someone most teams in the league would love to have on their second line. The other real issue with this team is goaltending. There were times last year where incumbent starter Craig Anderson looked spent. If he doesn’t return to form, this team is in trouble. Coach Paul Maclean has always milked every ounce out of this team since he started in Ottawa and this year he might have to do his best work yet. I just feel like this year will be a little too much for him and they finish near the bottom before really rebounding the next couple seasons.

John #2: Trade your captain. That's a way to shake things up. So is giving your starting goaltender a new contract while ignoring the strides your backup has taken. And then there's the storm of questions around the impending free agent who was the big acquisition two years ago. Add in the loss of another free agent to go join your ex-captain and you get a drama Susan Lucci would be proud to join. How Ottawa handles Bobby Ryan will have a long term effect on the Senators. Either make him happy and show the team you want to make everyone happy, or trade him and receive lower value than how you got him. That's how it works - look at Thomas Vanek. Ottawa also needs to lock down one of their better defensemen, Marc Methot, or risk trading another key piece. A talented team with little direction, the Senators finish in sixth-place this season.

Teebz: Ottawa has some real talent on their roster. Bobby Ryan, Clarke MacArthur, Kyle Turris, and Erik Karlsson are legitimate top-line players. However, the drop-off in talent after them is extreme. While Zibanejad, Chiasson, Milan Michalek, and David Legwand are good, some are still looking to reach their potential while others have seen that ship sail. Defensively, the Senators are decent with Chris Phillips, Cody Ceci, Jared Cowen, Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Methot, and Eric Gryba rounding out the blue line, but they aren't spectacular. Anderson and Robin Lehner will need to play well all season for this team to challenge for a playoff spot. With the inconsistent nature of the goaltending last season, though, I can't see them making the playoffs if things continue to trend as they are.

6. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
John #1: 5th in Atlantic
Neal: 5th in Atlantic
John #2: 4th in Atlantic
Teebz: 4th in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 6th in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: C Leo Komarov, RW Matt Frattin, C Mike Santorelli, C Petri Kontiola, RW William Nylander, D Roman Polak, D Stephane Robidas, C Daniel Winnik, RW David Booth.
DEPARTURES: C Dave Bolland, D Carl Gunnarsson, RW Nikolai Kulemin, D Tim Gleason, C Jay McClement, LW Mason Raymond.

John #1: Ahhh, the Toronto Maple Leafs. They sign Phaneuf, then try and trade him. They trade for JVR, and then try to use him to get Ekblad. However, when it comes down to what did happen, the players they lost will even out with the players they signed. They didn't get better. They didn't get worse. But because the three teams below them are going to be so bad, they will rack up enough points to make the second wildcard.

Neal: It's never good when it seems like your season could go well with Monty Python music, yet year after year it seems like that is what fits the Leafs. There is no question up front that they have the guns to make a trip back to the tournament with Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk as potent as any combination in the league. JVR broke out for thirty goals last year and more will be expected of him if the team is going to contend. The team will also hope for continued improvement from Nazem Kadri who potted twenty goals in what was essentially his first full campaign. They have the forwards in their top-six and they have the goaltending. It's just their bottom-six and their defense corps that makes this not a playoff team. Dion Phaneuf, I feel, has been somewhat vilified unfairly. He may never be the true #1 option on defense that he is being paid to be, but he needs to be better utilized as an offensive force from the point. Asking him to be your best shutdown defenceman is really compromising his ability as weapon from the point. The rest of the blue line is really middling at best. In terms of depth for forwards, they have tried to address this by the low-risk signings of Daniel Winnik and David Booth. Winnik has never made an impact and Booth has lost a step. The team will only go as far as Jonathan Bernier and the offense will take them. If they can escape the injury bug, maybe they can defy the odds and look pretty good out there. I just foresee another disappointing season for the Leafs.

John #2: Will Randy Carlyle survive the Shanahammer if he can't do math? Phil Kessel is one of the best forwards in the league and can carry teammates to statistical levels they never dreamed. Yet he may be called upon to be the lynchpin of the entire offense rather than just a goal scorer. How Carlyle handles young players like Bozak and Kadri might just seal his fate. Depending on which flavor of math you use, these players are the problem and solution to Toronto’s fate. Dion Phaneuf will captain this team as long as his $49M contract cannot be moved. Speaking of moves, James Reimer needs a fresh start. The former franchise netminder was stripped of his starter status due to the twenty skaters in front of him and now is the franchise backup. It's a matter of time before he's dealt (to Winnipeg?). Fourth in the division, but fighting to the end, is the most comfortable fit for this team.

Teebz: I'm not sure how The Hockey News put these guys at sixth-place in the division. Jonathan Bernier is emerging as a bonafide game-changer in the Toronto nets, and he'll be good again this season. This team will score goals. Kessel, JVR, Lupul, Bozak, and Kadri will carry the bulk of the offence. David Clarkson needs a big rebound season to justify his big contract. Mike Santorelli will look to continue his great play that he showed in Vancouver, and Leo Komarov will bring grit and a few goals with his repertoire. Defensively, the Leafs are a little weak. Phaneuf carries too much of the defensive responsibility, and it's thought that Roman Polak will relieve some of that pressure. Polak is decent, but he can't play 25-minutes per night. The Leafs will struggle defensively once again, so Bernier is the key to this team making the playoffs once more.

5. DETROIT RED WINGS
John #1: 3rd in Atlantic
Neal: 4th in Atlantic
John #2: 5th in Atlantic
Teebz: 5th in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 5th in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: LW Kevin Porter.
DEPARTURES: C David Legwand, C Cory Emmerton.

John #1: It's not clear yet if Alfredsson is going to retire or come back. The Wings also lost Legwand, and they were unable to upgrade their marginal defense. However, last season the Wings suffered from the worst string of injuries I can remember seeing and they were still able to capture fourth-place and a playoff spot. Given just a little more luck health-wise and the fact almost no one in this division got better, they should be able to move up into third-place.

Neal: I really wanted to have the guts to put this team in the top-three. This is the year that I predict that Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan really break out. Of course there was last year's breakout player in Gustav Nyquist who notched 28 goals in only 57 games. With any improvement over a full year, we could be looking at the quietest forty-goal scorer in the league. That's what defines this Wings team: they have more weapons out there than anyone realizes. You pair those 3 young weapons with established stars Zetterberg and Datsyuk, and they should have no trouble generating offense. Darren Helm, Dan Cleary, and Justin Abdelkader make sure the bottom 6 is solid as well. Jimmy Howard is still a very good starting goaltender. So why can’t I put this team higher? I'm not seeing an alpha defenceman among this group. With the exception of Niklas Kronwall, I just see a bunch of second- and third-pairing defencemen. Kronwall may have peaked right now as a player. He will be solid for years to come, but that’s about as good as it will get. I pity the Metropolitan Division if Detroit crosses over into their playoff bracket. They are just that good, but have the bad luck of playing in the loaded Atlantic Division.

John #2: Pavel Datsuyk will miss the first month of the season. This isn't the best way to start for a Detroit team that continues to be slightly older than the average and not nearly as deep as they are accustomed to. For multiple reasons, both within the organization and within the state, Detroit is not the premier free agent destination. Re-signing Gustavsson, Cleary, and Quincey became a priority after a mostly fruitless summer. The biggest signing was bringing in winger Kevin Porter from Buffalo. What the Red Wings have on their side are Zetterberg, Howard, Kronwall, and coach Mike Babcock. The perennial playoff streak was amazing, but this year it ends. Detroit will come in fifth-place in the Atlantic.

Teebz: For years, Detroit has been the mainstay in the playoffs. Twenty-two straight seasons of playoff hopes will end this year. Detroit's stars are breaking down more often, and Datsyuk will start the season on the shelf. If Zetterberg goes down again this season, the Red Wings will struggle. They'll find scoring in Nyquist, Tatar, and Sheahan, but secondary players like Stephen Weiss, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, and Drew Miller will determine if this team can make it Season 23 in the playoffs. Defensively, this team will be average - not spectacular, but not a liability. Kronwall will lead the blue line once more, but the Wings will need a breakout season from Danny DeKeyser. Jimmy Howard will protect the net on most nights, and Johan Gustavsson will be expected to win the majority of his 20-25 games. Long story short, the injuries and secondary scoring - or lack thereof - will end the Detroit playoff run this season.

4. FLORIDA PANTHERS
John #1: 6th in Atlantic
Neal: 6th in Atlantic
John #2: 7th in Atlantic
Teebz: 6th in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 4th in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: LW Jussi Jokinen, C Dave Bolland, C Derek MacKenzie, RW Shawn Thornton, D Willie Mitchell, D Aaron Ekblad, G Al Montoya.
DEPARTURES: D Tom Gilbert, RW Jesse Winchester, G Scott Clemmensen.

John #1: Can anyone tell me what is going on in the mind of Panthers front office? Let's start with the failure to pull a trigger for the first-overall pick. They could have had a franchise-changing deal with Philly. It was speculated to be Lecavalier, Read, and the Schenn brothers for the first-overall pick. However, GM Dale Tallon wanted Simmonds and wouldn’t pull the trigger. Instead they draft Ekblad and sign flash-in-the-pans, over-rated players for high-priced, long-term deals. If you're trying to tank, you would offer these guys one-year deals, so I have no idea where Tallon is going here. These guys aren't going to improve your scoring. They will be a cellar-dweller for another year.

Neal: This team has already started to put the pieces in place with guys like Jonathan Huburdeau and Aleksander Barkov in place. This team's growth is tied to how quickly they can develop. They also have several good secondary pieces coming up led by Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri, and several others. I do think that Tallon didn’t need to go out and get as many veterans as he did. A strong veteran presence is nice on a young team like this, but at some point does it come at a cost of blocking the progress of youngsters coming through the pipeline? Signing Shawn Thornton was a great move, but it should have stopped there. It was also borderline shocking the team would want to commit to goaltender Roberto Luongo as they did. He is a very good goalie with an established resume, but one has to wonder if he will be able to play at a high level when the team does start to hit their stride in a couple seasons. Throughout the season, this team will look like a team that could beat anyone on any given night, but may look like an AHL team on other nights. In a fickle market like Miami, you just need a team that contends with names people can get behind. I feel like they are on their way, but for this year there will still be many growing pains.

John #2: Like most previous seasons, the Panthers appeared to reload with talent and veterans. Unlike recent seasons, they'll be starting the year with Roberto Luongo. Happy to be back in South Florida, Luongo presents a stability in net the Panthers had been missing since they last had him. The defense has been upgraded to include a Stanley Cup champion and a grizzled vet with an amazing beard, balancing out the youth at the position. Like all other free agent hauls, the Panthers' new forwards are a potpourri of roles: corers, depth, enforcer. There are some questions as to whether these players deserve their compensation and if their roles are needed in the NHL. It'll be interesting to see how everything meshes under an established NHL coach. The Panthers defense and goaltending will steal them some points they couldn't get last year, but a seventh-place finish in the Atlantic is the safest bet.

Teebz: I'm happy to see the Panthers letting the young kids pick up experience. Huberdeau, Bjugstad, Barkov, Kulikov, Gudbranson, and Ekblad could be a solid core of players in a year or two if they continue to develop. Having veterans like Scottie Upshall, Jussi Jokinen, Brad Boyes, Tomas Fleischmann, and Tomas Kopecky will provide additional scoring as well. The blue line is where I'd be afraid. Brian Campbell and Willie Michell are the veterans, and neither are the bonafide stud that a team needs when rolling out so many youngsters. Luongo will need to steal games at times for this squad, and Al Montoya will have to be ready to spell off Luongo because he'll be busy. The Panthers' experiment with the kids will either be extremely successful or full of growing pains. The latter is more likely. How The Hockey News has this squad at fourth-place is beyond me.

3. MONTREAL CANADIENS
John #1: 4th in Atlantic
Neal: 2nd in Atlantic
John #2: 1st in Atlantic
Teebz: 3rd in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 3rd in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: RW P.A. Parenteau, C Manny Malhotra, D Tom Gilbert.
DEPARTURES: LW Thomas Vanek, D Josh Gorges, RW Brian Gionta, C Daniel Briere, G Devan Dubnyk.

John #1: As of this writing, the Canadians lost skill, goal-scoring, and leadership. However, there is a chance they may replace all that if they trade for Marleau. Regardless of the trade, they have Subban locked up, and there is Carey Price. That should be good enough to earn fourth-place in the division and the top wild card spot.

Neal: I am going to say it here first: this is my dark horse contender for the cup. I don't think they have the most talent in the league or even the division, but I feel that top-to-bottom the components are there to make a deep run come spring. Despite being in the top-ten in goals-allowed, this team was in the bottom-ten in shots-against. It could be a sign that Carey Price made this unit a little better than they should have been. What impresses me about this team the most is the amount of young talent they have up front. They made a smart move in moving dead weight such as Gionta and Danny Briere and fully giving the reigns over to young players such as Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, and Brendan Gallagher. Lars Eller will have to bounce back after a mildly disappointing campaign that saw him only notch twelve goals when more is expected of him. P.A. Parenteau is the hockey equivalent to a Swiss army knife and was a huge boon for them. Manny Malhotra was also a nice under the radar pick up who can eat minutes on the PK. They have the talent to make a run once again, but can they execute it?

John #2: After one of the more tension-filled off-seasons in recent history, Montreal is looking calm at the moment. Their top defenseman/best player/face-of-everything PK Subban has a contract that recognizes his skills and incredible upside. While the season-average is high, there was no other option. Without a true captain, the Habs are going for a committee as Subban, Plekanec, Markov, and Pacioretty. While the idea “if you have two captains you really don’t have one” is certainly applicable, Montreal needs to find out who they have to lead them, even if only one candidate is Canadian (cue outrage). Carey Price's knee should be a non-issue even with his limited summer workouts. If I'm Marc Bergevin, I go with Tokarski as the backup this year. With the shedding of some dead weight from the roster, Montreal should finish the top of the Atlantic.

Teebz: Montreal will be interesting this year. They could potentially finish anywhere from first- to third-place in the division. I like the forward set that the Canadiens will roll out, but they are still small in the forward ranks. Teams will want to punish guys like Davis Desharnais, Pacioretty, Plekanec, Galchenyuk, and Gallagher. Getting Rene Bourque on-track early in the season would make for three excellent scoring lines, so we'll see what happens there. Defensively, they have a fast, skilled blue line, and I love the addition of Tom Gilbert. Carey Price will carry the bulk of this season's work, and I expect Peter Budaj and Dustin Tokarski to battle for the remainder of the work. Make no mistake: this team will be defensively sound, but may struggle to score if they get into a playoff-like battle with teams that want to punish them. Overall, Montreal will be back in the playoffs.

2. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
John #1: 1st in Atlantic
Neal: 1st in Atlantic
John #2: 3rd in Atlantic
Teebz: 1st in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 2nd in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: LW Brenden Morrow, C Brian Boyle, D Jason Garrison, D Anton Stralman, G Evgeni Nabokov.
DEPARTURES: RW Teddy Purcell, C Nate Thompson, D Mike Kostka, RW BJ Crombeen, G Anders Lindback, D Keith Aulie.

John #1: The Lightning made some crazy moves this off-season. They traded Thompson, Crombeen, and Purcell for some late-round draft picks and a portion of Sam Gagner's contract. You would think they could have got more for Gagner if they took the time to realize Nashville and Ottawa were both about to need a young good center. However, at the end of the day, they re-signed Callahan and signed free agents Brian Boyle and Anton Stralman. That alone should add some chemistry to the team. Brenden Morrow should add some third-line depth and Nabokov will add solid backup goaltending over the unpredictable Lindback. They get Stamkos back for the full year, and we will likely see Calder Cup candidate Jonathan Drouin make his debut. Tampa is going to have to fight tooth and nail against Boston for first, but, despite the terrible travel they have, they will do it.

Neal: There is something special going on in Tampa. Getting a healthy Stamkos back for a whole season could have this team challenging for the President's Trophy. What I am most impressed about is the plethora of weapons they can deploy on the ice. All eyes will be on rookie sensation Jonathan Drouin who at least has a chance to be paired with Stamkos to open the season. I could easily see this kid posting 40 goals along Stamkos' side. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were co-Calder finalists and should get major ice time this year. Valtteri Fillpula was an absolute monster for a few months before injuries slowed him down. Former Rangers Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle should control things on the PK as well as counteract other team's top lines. The defense was bolstered by the signing of Anton Stralman, but I still don’t see the one elite guy to carry this unit. Hedman had better offensive numbers than Letang had in his Stanley cup run, but for a top defender on a really good team his +/- of only +5 is a bit troubling. The other issue could be goaltending. Can Ben Bishop can stay healthy. It was very apparent that when Bishop went down last season, the wheels started falling off a little bit. The team has tried addressing this issue by signing Evgeni Nabokov, but you have to wonder how much he has left in the tank. I think Bishop is a decent enough goalie to not hurt them in the postseason, but you have to wonder if he is good enough to carry a team when they aren't scoring. One thing is certain, Stevie Y has a solid foundation that he has grown in Tampa and this team should be excellent for years to come.

John #2: Last of the guaranteed playoff spots from the Atlantic Division goes to Tampa. Adjusting to life without Martin St. Louis should be easier with the influx of Brenden Morrow and Evgeni Nabokov. Not what he was in San Jose, the former Islander is renowned for his positive influence in the dressing room and his ability to teach the game to his teammates. He'll be just as valuable off the ice as he will be on it. Raiding the Rangers of their best offensive defenceman and hulking third-line center will give the Lightning needed depth to compete within the Eastern Conference. The Lightning will rely heavily on youth and a healthy Ben Bishop to take the third-place spot.

Teebz: In the vein of Steve Yzerman's Detroit Red Wings, this team is built to win. Stamkos, Callahan, Palat, Johnson, Filppula, Alex Killorn, Brian Boyle, Morrow, and Nikita Kucherov can all score, play defence, and will give a complete effort night-in and night-out. Victor Hedman, Jason Garrison, Anton Stralman, Eric Brewer, and Radko Gudas will score, protect the net, play tenacious defence, and support the forwards on any given night. Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov form a solid tandem. You won't find any glaring holes or weaknesses on this roster. Add in the possibility of having play-making Jonathan Drouin on this roster, and you're looking at one of the Eastern Conference's most complete teams. A deep playoff run seems very plausible with this team as long as the injury bug doesn't strike them.

1. BOSTON BRUINS
John #1: 2nd in Atlantic
Neal: 3rd in Atlantic
John #2: 1st in Atlantic
Teebz: 2nd in Atlantic
The Hockey News: 1st in Atlantic

ADDITIONS: RW Simon Gagne.
DEPARTURES: RW Jarome Iginla, D Andrej Meszaros, RW Shawn Thornton, G Chad Johnson.

John #1: The Boston Bruins have been the toast of the Atlantic Division for a while. They are still a very good team even though they lost contributor Iginla, tough guy Thornton, and trade-deadline acquisition Meszaros. However, they are going to fall baack a spot this year. They stayed status-quo while the team right behind them in the standings got better, but it will be close this season between them and the Lightning. The Bruins will be in a fight for the conference champs.

Neal: On paper, the Bruins are set once again at about every position. There is no doubt that Patrice Bergeron is one of the best players on the planet on both sides of the ice. Combine that fact with the superior goaltending of Tuukka Rask and there is no reason to think this team won't rack up a ton of wins. However, there are numerous cracks starting to show in the foundation. When the playoffs started and opposing defenses started tightening up, it seemed like they had trouble generating offense despite boasting a top-five offense in the regular season. With Jerome Iginla and his ability to score those greasy goals in tough areas gone, the Bruins will need to find a way to fill that role. Chara has also lost half a step on the ice. His shot is still lethal and if he gets you lined up he can still be an excellent defender, but you have to wonder if the time is coming where he won't be able to keep up with the faster skaters in the league soon. Reilly Smith was the only right winger who scored as many as twenty goals last year. Loui Eriksson has to do better this year. He was one of the staples of the Seguin trade and the team will count on him to produce more. One has to wonder how big the departure of tough guy Shawn Thornton is. There was no question that Thornton was one of the veteran leaders on this roster. My feeling for the year says this team will once again be one of the beasts of the East, but some of these small issues will start to creep up leaving them behind my top-two picks.

John #2: Not much has changed for Boston from their 2011 Cup victory, or their 2013 Cup appearance, or even last year when they bowed out to Montreal. Claude Julien's system will continue to utilize all available tools to keep Tuukka Rask's sanity in check. While losing Iginla to free agency takes away a serious secondary scoring threat, the Bruins are hoping to replace those goals from within. The biggest issue is the blue line. Nine one-way contracts are on the books and the salary cap will create victims. Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug are the prime candidates to be moved, but what will the long term effect be by losing one (or both) of them and Zdeno Chara in a few years? Boston is facing an odd mix of depth and having to deal that depth away. Because of this, the Bruins are looking at second-place in the division.

Teebz: Everyone seems to forget that the Bruins have a pile of scorers to make up for Iginla's loss. David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Reilly Smith, Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand, and Bergeron make a pretty lethal top-six for this squad, and the bottom-six will check like demons. Having a surprise player like Simon Gagne make the team will only help in the scoring department. While Chara has lost a step, reducing his minutes will reduce that impact. Players like Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, and Johnny Boychuk can make up that difference. Tuukka Rask will be excellent in the nets once again this season, but Niklas Svedberg and Malcolm Subban still have a lot to prove. Unless Rask can win forty games in his 65 starts, the Bruins may fall behind Tampa Bay if they can't get results out of their backup netminders.

So that's how the Atlantic Division will play out in our four minds. Agree? Disagree? Leave us your comments on how you see the division playing out this season. I'm sure there will be a few disagreements, but that's a good starting point for a discussion!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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