The 2013-2014 NHL Season will be the first that introduces the new divisional and playoff formats. Unlike some teams, much of the Bruins divisional opponents will remain the same. The new Atlantic division will be comprised of the former Northeast division, with a few additions. Those new additions come in the form of the Detroit Red Wings, the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers.
Geographically, it is the newcomers who are getting the short end of the stick. Detroit in particular is substantially further west on the map than any of there more eastern counterparts. Come playoff time however, Detroit might be singing a different tune, given how deep the Western Conference has been in recent years (including the last two Stanley Cup Champions). For the Bruins, winning an eight team division as opposed to five might carry more weight, not to mention the fact that they would benefit from additional home games assuming they make the playoffs. Below is a predicted finish for teams in the division.
The Bruins are the defending conference champion, but its important to remember that they didn't win the Northeast Division last year. Last spring's championship run made it easy to forget the B's inconsistent play during the regular season (including a healthy scratch for eventual playoff warrior Milan Lucic).
In terms of the new teams in the division, Boston has traditionally fared well against the Florida teams, but the Red Wings is another addition to what has the potential to be a strong division at the top. It is also important to note that the number of additions to the Bruins forward corps. could take some time to gel.
As much as the travel schedule might pain the players, the organization as a whole has to love the move to the Eastern Conference. Teams like Toronto, and Ottawa are on the rise, but they somewhat pale in comparison to having to grind out tons of games against the Blackhawks, Blues, and Predators (not to mention the rest of the Western Conference).
The Wings took Chicago to the brink last year, and have the type of end to end skill that very few teams in the East posses. The Wings are heavy on veteran leadership (Datsyuk and Zetterberg to name a few), have a strong presence in net with Jimmy Howard, and have arguably the best coach in the NHL in Mike Babcock. Detroit may be on the older side, but that doesn't make them any less dangerous.
After blowing a three goal lead in the third period to the Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs last season, this young Leafs team is no longer just happy to be in the hunt. The biggest question surrounding this team now is what is going to happen between the pipes.
Last year Toronto rode an outstanding regular season from James Remier into postseason play, but when the Leafs needed Reimer to make big stops, he came up short. This offseason, management traded for former Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, who at age 24, has the potential to be a franchise-caliber goalie. The Leafs did overpay for David Clarkson, and still lack a true number one center, but overall, this original six franchise is still trending up.
It is very hard to know what to expect of the Senators in 2013. Gone is captain franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson (to Detroit no less), and into his enormous shoes steps Jason Spezza. The Sens also added winger Bobby Ryan who should add more consistent production, but losing a player of Alfredsson's stature hurts.
After being shelved for most of last year, 2011 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson will be back at full strength. The offensively gifted Swede did see some playoff action, but didn't quite look healthy enough to matchup with Penguins superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Ottawa will need Karlsson to return to form to remain competitive.
Montreal would be one spot higher, except for the fact that the last time they took the ice they were busy getting dominated by a seventh seeded Senators team that was nowhere near full strength. The Canadiens untimely dismissal from the playoffs created a cloud that hid the fact that they are the reigning division champions.
A healthy Andrei Markov, a new captain (Brian Gionta, and a new addition up front (Daniel Briere should restore some order back to Montreal. In the end, the fate of the Les Bleu will always rest on the broad shoulders of goalie Carey Price, who needs to prove that he can succeed in the postseason.
6) Tampa Bay Lightning
Continuing with the theme of new captains, there might not be any player in the league that is as deserving of that title as the newly anointed Martin St. Louis. St. Louis' name was a hot commodity in the NHL rumor mill, but ultimately Tampa released Vincent Lecavalier instead.
Lecavalier wasn't the only offseason departure for the Bolts. Out is former golden boy Guy Boucher, and in is Jon Cooper (who was the head coach for the organizations' AHL affiliate in Syracuse). Cooper has St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman but not much else to work with.
In the 2011-2012 season the Panthers shocked the league by winning the Southeast Division. Even though the Panthers were bounced in the first round by the Devils, it seemed as though things were turning around in South Florida.
Last season, the Panthers came crashing back to earth in the most devastating way possible. Florida finished with the lowest point total in the NHL (36), and even with a solid amount of young talent, and a bigger stronger division, the Panthers are going to struggle to get back into the playoffs.
Much like the Panthers, many assumed that the new ownership group in Buffalo would lead the Sabres back to the glory days of the late 90's and mid 2000's. Disappoint doesn't even begin to describe the state of the Sabres.
If the Sabres struggle out of the gate, another fire sale might be in the cards for a team with a passionate fan base. The first name on the block would be forward Thomas Vanek, who would be primed to help out a contender up in need of scoring help. The other would be Ryan Miller, who has been nothing short of outstanding in his time in the Buffalo net. As hard as it would be to ship Miller out of town, the return package by a team desperate for a top ten goalie might just be worth it.
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