A headline for the 2013-2014 NHL season is the new league-wide realignment. This new plan breaks the league into four separate divisions, with fourteen teams in the west, and sixteen teams in the east. One of the two divisions in the east, the Atlantic division, holds the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Going through, let’s take a look at all the teams, and preview them a little bit. Oh and yes, I will be going in alphabetical order.
First, the Boston Bruins, the 2011 Stanley Cup Champions and the 2013 Stanley Cup finalists are in the running to win their division this year. They have a solid core of forwards, led by Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron, along with a solid grouping of defensemen, led by captain Zdeno Chara. Something to note, the Bruins have two big name players coming into the organization who should be able to provide serious offensive production for the team, those two are former Dallas Star Loui Erikkson, and former Calgary Flames captain, and more recently former Pittsburgh Penguin, Jarome Iginla. And as if Iginla has not gotten enough attention, I think he should be afforded some extra attention this season, solely because he’s on a quest to win a visit with Lord Stanley before his career comes to an end. Although I would not be surprised if the Bruins took first in the Atlantic Division, I see them taking second (I’ll explain why later). The Rangers will play the Bruins three times this season, twice in Boston, and once at home in New York.
Next, we head over to western New York state to talk about the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres, having missed the playoffs the last two seasons, should be motivated to get back into the mix this year, but could their roster be a problem? The Sabres offense, anchored by Thomas Vanek and Tyler Ennis, is not very powerful and the team does not have a very notable defense either. The Sabres knight in shining armor is their goaltender Ryan Miller, the 2010 Vezina Trophy winner has had some trouble since that season, but is still by far the best player for the Sabres and will definitely be able to dictate how the season goes for the team. I have the sabres in the division basement with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. The Rangers will play the Sabres twice this season, once in Buffalo, and twice back home at the Garden.
Third, the newest addition to the east, the Detroit Red Wings are front and center in the Atlantic Division. A perennial playoff contender, Detroit has made it to the postseason the last 20+ seasons in a row. Anchored by the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings offense is one of the best in the NHL, and a force to be reckoned with. The defense has at times been known to be a little shaky, but is backed by a solid goaltender in Jimmy Howard. More notably, there’s a newcomer to the team, former Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, has joined the Red Wings in the hopes of capturing a Stanley Cup with them, I’d pay close attention to him, specifically when they play the Senators in his time there this year. A powerhouse, I see Detroit beating out the bruins for the number one spot in the Atlantic. The Rangers meet Detroit three times this season, once in Hockey Town and twice at the Garden in front of the Blue Shirt faithful.
The Florida Panthers, the fourth team in our scope, will struggle again this season especially in this high powered division. They were the worst team in the NHL last season, and showed no signs of improvement, this is not the Southeast Division they won in 2012, and will be VERY difficult to play in. Notably however the Panthers had some pickups in the off season, Tim Thomas and Scott Gomez come to Sunrise, Florida to assist the team, although I don’t see them being able to do very much to lift the team up into a playoff or even a potential wild card position. However, the one player you should pay attention to is Johnathan Huberdeau, either because I really like him, or because he will be the only reason the Panthers get out of 30th place this season. Florida will most likely be tangled in the division’s bottom three with Tampa and Buffalo. The Rangers face-off against Florida three times this season, once at the garden and twice in Sunrise, Florida.
Next, the Montreal Canadiens, oh boy do I miss Brandon Prust. Remember what happened to them last season? One of the best teams in the NHL, but flopped in the playoffs and were almost swept by the Ottawa Senators. If Carey Price can come back to the way he was during the regular season then the Habs should be ok. The biggest concern in that locker room should be making the playoffs, with Toronto and Ottawa also strong teams this year, the third and potential fourth and fifth spots in the division will NOT be easy to attain. The one player I think we should all watch is Carey Price, if he can come back to success this season then so will Montreal. I can see Montreal in the third playoff spot this season, or in one of the wild card slots. The Rangers play the Habs three times this season (unfortunately) the home opener, and twice at the Bell Centre, one of those games being the final game of the regular season.
The Ottawa Senators are not the same team they were last season, losing in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins last season, the Sens look to go deep in the playoffs this season. What’s changed you asked? A huge loss for the sens is the departure of former captain Daniel Alfredsson, who left the team to go to the Detroit Red Wings for a better chance at the Stanley Cup. However, where Ottawa has lost, they have gained, and new addition Bobby Ryan will be HUGE for the team and will help tremendously, which is why he’s my player to watch for this team, anything he can do will help most likely dictate how Ottawa does this season. I predict that Ottawa will come in somewhere between 3rd and 5th place in their division this season, part of the three way scrap between them, Montreal, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers play the Senators three times this season, twice in Ottawa, and once at the Garden.
Second to last, the Tampa Bay Lightning have now come into focus. Having not made the playoffs in a few years, the team is looking to make it back into the conversation, however just like the panthers, if they couldn’t do it in the old Southeast Division, they probably won’t do it now. They lost Vincent Lecavalier, which is NOT going to be good for their offense, or team overall. My player to watch for this season is Steven Stamkos, why? Simple, how well he does, is how well the team will go, simple as that. I have the team struggling in the bottom three of the division this season, playing the Rangers three times, twice in Tampa Bay, and once in New York.
Last but not least, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto had a very shocking end to their post season last year, and are hoping to jump into it again this season. Their off season was noisy, acquiring Dave Bolland and David Clarkson. I’m not entirely sure who the player to watch should be, because I cant focus on only one, they’ve got an entire team full of players to watch. The team is exciting and has a lot of talent. Participating in this year’s Winter Classic against the Detroit Red Wings, this team should be excited and motivated to have a good season. I predict the Leafs to be part of the three way scrap with Ottawa and Montreal, but can see Toronto claiming the third seed in their division. The Rangers play the Maple Leafs three times this season, twice at the garden and once at the Air Canada Centre.
There is my Atlantic Division preview, and to recap.