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Monday, September 30, 2013

2013-14 NHL Eastern Conference Preview

Wild on Sports
http://sinhlredlight.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/pittsburgh-penguins.jpg?w=610&h=436
2013-14 NHL Preview
By Wild on Sports Analyst Jason Gillson


Ah, can you smell it in the air? The leaves are changing, the air is cool and crisp. This can only mean one thing -- hockey season is just around the corner! And to do it one better -- the season is starting on time this year! It is time to dust off those jerseys and buckle up as we take you on a team by team look around a newly re-alined NHL. We start this week with a look and projection for the Eastern Conference.

**** - Stanley Cup Contender
*** - Playoff Bound
** - On the Cusp
* - There's always next year

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins
2013 record: 28-14-6, 4th in the East, lost to Blackhawks in Stanley Cup Final.
Notable adds: F Loui Eriksson (Stars), F Jarome Iginla (Penguins), F Reilly Smith (Stars)
Notable losses: F Tyler Seguin (Stars), F Nathan Horton (Blue Jackets), F Rich Peverley (Stars), D Andrew Ference (Oilers)
Overview: After coming oh so close to winning their second cup in three years last season the Bruins shuffled the deck a bit in the off-season sending highly touted youngster Tyler Segin and veteran wing Rich Peverley to Dallas for the more rounded two-way game of Loui Eriksson. He plans to hop right into Seguin's old spot along side Bergeron and Marchant. While this move my come back to bit the Bruins years down the line for the time being they got the more Claude Julian type player and a guy who can put the puck in the net on his own right. The B's also made a nice free-agent slash signing Jarome Iginla who will jump right onto the 1st line to replace the departed Nathan Horton (Free Agent). All and all this looks like a club that on paper got better. If the young defense can gel and Tukka Rask continues his Vezena worthy play, the Bruins should be knocking on Lord Stanley's door once again.
Projection:  ****


Ottawa Senators
2013 record: 25-17-6, 7th in the East, lost to Penguins in conference semi-finals
Notable adds: F Bobby Ryan (Ducks), F Clarke MacArthur (Maple Leafs), D Joe Corvo (Hurricanes)
Notable losses: F Daniel Alfredsson (Red Wings), F Jakob Silfverberg (Ducks), D Sergei Gonchar (Stars)
Overview: The Ottawa Senators will have a much different look in 2013/14. Gone is long time captain and superstar Daniel Alfredson. Gone is power play quarterback Sergei Gonchar. Gone is rising phenom Jakob Silfverberg. OK, maybe that last one was a bit of a stretch, but you get my point. More importantly, in is former Ducks star Bobby Ryan and even more importantly the returning to health are Norris contender Erik Karlsson and offensive force Jason Speeza. If they can continue to improve in their own end they should be a team to watch for in the spring.
Projection: ***


Detroit Red Wings
2013 record: 24-16-8, 7th in the West, lost to Blackhawks in conference semi-finals
Notable adds: F Daniel Alfredsson (Senators), F Stephen Weiss (Panthers)
Notable losses: F Valtteri Filppula (Lightning), F Damien Brunner (Devils)
Overview: The change of scenery moving from the Went to the Eastern Conference should be a good thing for Mike Babcock's club. The additions of Alfredson and Stephen Weiss should give the Wings two lines very capable of putting the puck in the net. They are now in year two without Nicolas Lindstorm and that transition period that went through some serious growing pains last season should only get better this time around. With Jimmy Howard steady as ever between the pipes, Detroit should make its presence felt if the East this season.
Projection: ***


Montreal Canadiens
2013 record: 29-14-5, 2nd in the East, lost to Senators in conference quarter-finals
Notable adds: F Daniel Briere (Flyers), F George Parros (Panthers), D Douglas Murray (Penguins)
Notable losses: F Michael Ryder (Devils), F Petteri Nokelainen (Sweden), D Tomas Kaberle (Russia)
Overview: The Canadiens were the surprise team of the 2013 regular season finishing 2nd in the East under 1st year head coach Michel Therrien. After laying and egg in the first round against Ottawa, Motreal sought out to get tougher in the off-season and did that with the additions of Douglas Murray and George Parros. The addition of Daniel Briere could give them a nice little scoring punch. The real wild card for Montreal is in net. Carey Price has been the guy for a while now but his inconsistencies go hand in hand with those of the team. If they want to make a deep run this season Price will have to be better late in the season. Until then they are merely borderline playoff contenders.
Projection: ***


Toronto Maple Leafs
2013 record: 26-17-5, 5th in the East, lost to Bruins in conference quarter-finals
Notable adds: G Jonathan Bernier (Kings), F Dave Bolland (Blackhawks), F David Clarkson (Devils), D Paul Ranger (DNP)
Notable losses: F Mikhail Grabovski (Capitals), F Matt Frattin (Kings), G Ben Scrivens (Kings), F Leo Komarov (KHL), D Mike Komisarek (Hurricanes), D Mike Kostka (Blackhawks), F Clarke MacArthur (Senators), Joe Colborne (Flames)
Overview: The Leafs took a big step back towards relevance last season locking up the 5 seed in the East and very nearly knocked off the Boston Bruins in the first round. 1st year GM David Nonis was very active in the off-season with the big ticket signing of David Clarkson and Dave Bolland as well as trading for goaltender Jonnathan Bernier, a player many believe could have been a starter in the right situation seasons ago. The Leafs are young and should only get better as chemistry builds and players develop. They will start the season in a bit of a hole without Clarkson for the first 10 games after he left the bench to join a pre-season brew-haha with the Sabers. That said, expect the Leafs to be a playoff team capable of making some noise.
Projection: ***


Florida Panthers

2013 record: 15-27-6, 15th in the East
Notable adds: G Tim Thomas (Islanders), F Scott Gomez (Sharks), F Joey Crabb (Capitals), D Matt Gilroy (Rangers), F Brad Boyes (Islanders), F Krys Barch (Devils), D Tom Gilbert (Wild)
Notable losses: F Stephen Weiss (Red Wings), F George Parros (Canadiens), F Peter Mueller (Switzerland), G Jose Theodore (UFA), D Filip Kuba (UFA), F Jack Skille (Blue Jackets)
Overview: As bad as the Panthers were last season, and boy oh boy were they bad, they are only a year removed from being a playoff team. The Panthers may have completely changed their fortunes this fall with the signing of former Vezena and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas. Stability in the Florida net has been a major issue dating back to the Roberto Lulongo days. Thomas' ability to steal games really makes things interesting for a team that was near the bottom of the league in team defense a year ago. If Thomas can regain his form the Panthers could surprise a few people in 2014.
Projection: **


Tampa Bay Lightning
2013 record: 18-26-4, 14th in the East, out of playoffs
Notable adds: F Valterri Filppula (Red Wings)
Notable losses: F Vincent Lecavalier (Flyers), F Benoit Pouliot (Rangers), D Brendan Mikkelson (Penguins)
Overview: The Lightning are as dynamic offensively as any team in the league not named the Penguins. Where they really run into trouble is in their own end. Tampa has given up 425 goals over the past two seasons - tops in the NHL.They made a push to improve that at the trade deadline last spring with the addition of Ben Bishop. Immediate returns weren't great but they hope that will change with a full year under his belt. Unfortunately, the defense in front of Bishop has not improved any in terms of new personal. Hope is for further development of Victor Hedman, who many compared to Zedeno Chara when he was drafted. That comparison seems to be a bit of a stretch at this point, but Steve Yzerman and company are hopeful that changes this season.
Projection: **


Buffalo Sabers
2013 record: 21-21-6, 12th in the East
Notable adds: D Henrik Tallinder (Devils), D Jamie McBain (Hurricanes)
Notable losses: F Nathan Gerbe (Hurricanes), D Andrej Sekera (Hurricanes), D Adam Pardy (Jets)
Overview: The Sabers are bad, real, real bad. The highlight of their season may have come this pre-season with a brawl against Toronto that won't soon be forgotten. They have plenty of toughness. Unfortunately that isn't going to put the puck in the net and will struggle to keep in out of their own. Their best bet may be to sell of long time stalwarts Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford and Ryan Miller and begin the full fledged rebuild.
Projection: *


Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh Penguins
2013 record: 36-12-0, 1st in the East, lost to Bruins in conference finals
Vital signs: 3.38 goals-for per game (1st), 2.48 goals-against per game (12th), 24.7 power play pct. (2nd), 79.6 penalty kill pct. (25th), shootout record: 3-0 (17th)
Notable adds: D Rob Scuderi (Kings), F Matt D'Agostini (Devils)
Notable losses: F Jarome Iginla (Bruins), F Brenden Morrow (Blues), D Douglas Murray (Canadiens), F Matt Cooke (Wild), F Tyler Kennedy (Sharks)
Overview: On paper the Pittsburgh Penguins should be the team to beat in the East. They are very dangerous offensively and the re-acquisition of Rob Scuderi should help to shore things up in their own zone. The biggest question mark going into the season is in net. Marc-Andre Fleury has been very serviceable during the regular season. Unfortunately, that has not been extended to the playoffs with Fleury even losing the starting job to Tomas Vokoun. With Vokoun hospitalized with a blood clot the job is Fleuy's and Fleury's alone -- at least to start the season. The Penguins are on a short list of team who you would expect to challenge for the cup. If the goaltending works itself out only the Boston Bruins (or a Sidney Crosby injury) could stand in the way of a trip to the finals.
Projection: ****


New York Rangers
2013 record: 26-18-4, 6th in the East, lost to Bruins in conference semi-finals
Notable adds: D Justin Falk (Wild), F Benoit Pouliot (Lightning), F Dominic Moore (DNP)
Notable losses: F Ryane Clowe (Devils), D Steve Eminger (Russia), D Matt Gilroy (Panthers)
Overview: A change in coach should go a long way towards the revival of the Rangers. There is just too much talent on this roster to not be a contending team. They have arguably the best goaltender in the game in Henrik Lundquist. They will have to weather the storm to start the season without captain and spark plug Ryan Callahan. Until then they will look to Rick Nash to be the 50 goal scorer they thought they were getting with last season's blockbuster trade. The Rangers should be in the mix of second tier teams who could contend for a cup with a little luck on their side.
Projection: ***


Washington Capitals
2013 record: 27-18-3, 3rd in the East, lost to Rangers in conference quarter-finals
Notable adds: F Mikhail Grabovski (Maple Leafs), D Tyson Strachan (Panthers)
Notable losses: F Mike Ribeiro (Coyotes), F Joey Crabb (Panthers), F Matt Hendricks (Predators), D Jeff Schultz (Kings), F Wojtek Wolski (Russia)
Overview: How much fun is it going to be to have Ovetchkin and Crosby in the same division this season? While Ovie's supporting cast took a hit with the loss of power play specialist Mike Riberio, there is plenty of talent around him to be dangerous. The addition of Mikhail Grabovski could fly under the radar as on of the off-season better moves league wide. The Caps are a little thinner on the buleline than I'm sure they would like but with Braden Holtby getting better and better each season this is a team to watch for in 2014.
Projection: ***


Philadelphia Flyers
2013 record: 23-22-3, 10th in the East
Notable adds: D Mark Streit (Islanders), F Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning), G Ray Emery (Blackhawks)
Notable losses: F Daniel Briere (Canadiens), G Ilya Bryzgalov (UFA), F Ruslan Fedotenko (Russia), D Kurtis Foster (Russia), F Jody Shelley (retired)
Overview: The essential trade of Danny Briere for Vinny Lecavalier, at least on paper, looks like a win. The vet will likely slide into the second line center position and should prove to be a good fit with youngsters Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The question mark, as always it seems in Philly, is once agin between the pipes. The Flyers brought back Ray Emery after a couple of seasons as 1B in Chicago. It remains to be seen if that will be an upgrade over mental case Ilya Bryzgalov or just another in a long line of mediocre Flyer goaltenders.
Projection: ***


New Jersey Devils
2013 record: 19-19-10, 11th in the East
Notable adds: G Cory Schneider (Canucks), F Jaromir Jagr (Bruins), F Damien Brunner (Red Wings), F Michael Ryder (Canadiens), F Ryane Clowe (Rangers), F Rostislav Olesz (Blackhawks)
Notable losses: F Ilya Kovalchuk (Russia), F David Clarkson (Maple Leafs), F Alexei Ponikarovsky (Russia), D Henrik Tallinder (Sabres), G Johan Hedberg (UFA), F Krys Barch (Panthers)
Overview: This will be a very different Devils team from the one that took a dip last year following a Stanley Cup Finals run. Where they fit in the mix now remains to be seen, but more than likely it is somewhere in the middle. Scoring will be a bit of a question mark after the losses of David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk. They will look to fill that void more with depth than star power. Jagr, Brunner, Ryder and Clowe are all nice pieces but more role players than anything else at this point. The real interesting area to watch will be in goal. It is widely believed that this will be Marty Brodeur's last season. The team made a big splash with a trade for Corey Schneider to be the heir apparent. How that time share works remains to be seen. Either way, they should be in the mix for a playoff spot.
Projection: ***

 

New York Islanders
2013 record: 24-17-7, 8th in the East, lost to Pegnuins in conference quarter-finals
Notable adds: F Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Wild), F Cal Clutterbuck (Wild), F Peter Regin (Senators)
Notable losses: D Mark Streit (Flyers), F Nino Niederreiter (Wild), G Rick DiPietro (UFA), F Brad Boyes (Panthers)
Overview: The Islanders opened some eyes in the playoffs last season giving the Penguins a hand full in the first round. John Tavares is one of the best players in the game and is a shoe in for 50 goals as long as he stays healthy. While they would have liked to give him a little more help on the wing this off-season they were left to roll players in Bouchard and Clutterbuck, the latter of which should provide a boost once he comes back from off-season surgery. The handicap for the Islanders remains in goal. Evgeni Nabakov is very inconsistent.  Until they find a more reliable replacement they will merely been a fringe team.
Projection: **


Columbus Blue Jackets
2013 record: 24-17-7, 9th in the West
Notable adds: F Nathan Horton (Bruins), F Jack Skille (Panthers)
Notable losses: F Vaclav Prospal (UFA)
Overview: The Blue Jackets took a huge step forward last season, nearly making the playoffs behind the Vezina Trophy play of Sergi Bobrovski. He will look to prove that was no fluke in his second season there. Unfortunately,the move from the West to the East, particularly the Metro Division may hurt any progress that they otherwise had made. The addition of Horton is a good one. Once he recovers from off-season shoulder surgery he should be a great fit for them. That said, there just isn't enough there to make noise in this division this season.
Projection: *


Projected Playoff Teams:
1. Boston Bruins
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. New York Rangers
4. Ottawa Senators
5. Detroit Red Wings
6. Washington Capitals
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
8. Philadelphia Flyers

Conference Finals
Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Conference Champion:
Boston Bruins

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