Who will win the Atlantic Division in 2014?

senators.com

senators.com

After about 10-15 games into the NHL season, one of the more obvious storylines is that the highly documented Metropolitan division may be the worst division in the league. If this continues to be true for the remaining 67-72 games, this could mean that the Atlantic Division has a chance to send out five teams to the playoffs, which is the exact amount of teams that went to the playoffs last year. For the most part, the teams that are good are still good, while the teams that are bad will have no choice but to enter or to continue into rebuilding mode. However, amongst all the good teams, anyone of them could win the division and anyone of them has a great chance to contend for the cup.

8. Buffalo

  • 21-21-6, 48 points, 12th in the East
  • -18 Goal Differential, 43.1 Expected Points (5th Luckiest)
  • 26.8 Even Strength SF60 (23rd), 32.2 Even Strength SA60 (28th)
  • 45.1% Corsi (28th), 46.2% FO (29th), 1007 PDO (11th)
  • 14.1% PP (29th), 79.2% PK (26th), -15 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 26.53, Playoff Experience: 347 games

If we are looking for the worst team in the conference, Buffalo is the easiest answer. It has all started with new owner Terry Pegula and GM Darcy Regier giving some of the worst contracts in the league for the 2011-2012 season. It is understandable how generous Pegula is to the game of hockey, but last time I checked, donating to Christian Ehrhoff’s, Ville Leino’s and Tyler Myers’ bank accounts may not be the best idea. They would lose the always-injured Tim Connolly to free agency that offseason and they found a replacement in…Steve Ott!?! Yes, that Steve Ott…and he’s now the team captain!!! He is actually on a cheap deal, but if he is your second line center and captain on your team, last time I checked, you will not make the playoffs. The real concerning news about Buffalo the last three years is the lack of development in players like Mikhail Grigorenko, Myers, Luke Adam and Nathan Gerbe. Finally, the core group of Jason Pominville and Derek Roy and soon to be Derek Stafford, Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek are leaving. The Sabres will no question, be the number one team when it comes to the volume of trade rumor articles. Oh, and because of all this garbage that was never his fault, long-time head coach Lindy Ruff; the man that led the Sabres to their last Stanley Cup Finals run and their first in two decades, was fired and replaced by Ron Rolston, a long-time NCAA, USNTDP and AHL coach.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Thomas Vanek (30, 77-32-32-64-46-2.75, 1 yr/$7.142857 million)
  • C: Cody Hodgson (24, 74-25-33-58-30-2.60-46.8%, 6 yrs/$4.25 million)
  • RW: Tyler Ennis (24, 71-18-28-46-25-2.25-41.9%, 1 yr/$2.8125 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Marcus Foligno (22, 76-13-25-38-61-1.28, 1 yr/$826,667)
  • C: Steve Ott (31, 71-12-21-33-146-1.50-55.7%, 1 yr/$2.95 million)
  • RW: Drew Stafford (28, 72-21-24-45-40-2.60, 2 yrs/$4 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brian Flynn (25, 46-10-8-18-14-2.00, 2 yrs/$637,500)
  • C: Mikhail Grigorenko (19, 73-17-16-33-12-1.75-38.3%, 2 yrs/$925,000)
  • RW: Ville Leino (30, 67-12-20-32-18-1.35, 4 yrs/$4.5 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Zemgus Girgensons (19, 63-2-5-7-28-0.80, 3 yrs/$894,167)
  • C: Kevin Porter (28, 68-11-9-20-20-1.19-40.2%, 1 yr/$537,500)
  • RW: Patrick Kaleta (27, 59-5-5-10-103-0.95, 2 yrs/$1.25 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • John Scott (31, 53-0-1-1-90-0.37, 1 yr/$750,000)
  • Cody McCormick (31, 31-1-2-3-44-0.70, 1 yr/$1.2 million)

It is nothing short of critical that the Sabres develop a new core, and what separates them from a team like Calgary is that they have players like Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis that are established players that Buffalo can build on for the long term. They will team with co-captain Vanek who is on the last year of his deal, but is one of the most underrated players in hockey. Ennis will also be on the last year of his contract too, but he’ll be trapped in the proverbial prison walls that is restricted free agency (thanks owners for doing whatever you can to not make the offseason fun).

The second line that consists of Ott, Stafford and Marcus Foligno may not be a bad line as there is a mix of scoring and grit. However, it is the third and fourth lines that are gigantic concerns. It is one thing that you can rely solely on your top six forwards, but after 82-games, those guys will be marked heavily and will result in the team becoming predictable to defend against. Of the six remaining players on the forward lines, Kevin Porter might be the most reliable as he can give you solid penalty kill time. Otherwise, you have players that you can’t trust because they are too green for the NHL (Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons), always injured (Ville Leino, Brian Flynn) or is Albert Haynesworth in training always gets suspended (Patrick Kaleta).

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Christian Ehrhoff (31, 74-8-26-34-50-2.10, 8 yrs/$4 million)
  • D: Jamie McBain (26, 76-7-21-28-18-1.44, 1 yr/$1.8 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Henrik Tallinder (35, 67-3-12-15-38-0.88, 1 yr/$3.375 million)
  • D: Tyler Myers (24, 71-9-14-23-60-1.40, 6 yrs/$5.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mike Weber (26, 77-3-12-15-105-0.82, 3 yrs/$1.666667 million)
  • D: Mark Pysyk (22, 76-5-16-21-38-1.25, 2 yrs/$870,000)
  • G: Ryan Miller (33, 1 yr/$6.25 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Rismus Ristolainen (19, 25-1-4-5-14-1.00, 3 yrs/$870,000)
  • G: Jhonas Enroth (25, 2 yrs/$1.25 million)

There is no other way around it. This blue line has to be better!!! Whether he deserves it or not, Tyler Myers will look like Scrooge McDuck from DuckTales if he doesn’t show any signs of being the “Zdeno Chara in training” player people expect him to be. Eight points in 39 games last year is flat out inexcusable with a player of his talent and time is running out for people to regain their trust in him. Jamie McBain, Henrik Tallinder and Mike Weber have already developed into what their supposed to be: mediocre defensemen that at least have a role. But once again, you will not make the playoffs with all three of them in your starting lineup. Christian Ehrhoff can at least provide scoring and Mark Pysyk has a pedigree that screams “tenured NHLer”, but again, is that enough?

The lack of talent on the blue line and two-way forwards puts a lot of pressure on the goaltenders in Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth. Yes, Ryan Miller has not played at the levels he was at in 2010, but Miller faced the most shots out of any starting goaltender in the NHL last year. Eventually, any goalie will wear down and give up goals from pressure like that. Enroth is a nice young asset to have in a rebuilding team and Matt Hackett, a prospect they picked up in the Jason Pominville trade last year, could be a solid backup.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Ennis-Vanek-Ott-Hodgson-Ehrhoff
  • 2nd Unit: Stafford-Leino-Foligno-Myers-McBain

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Kaleta-Ott-Weber-Myers
  • 2nd Unit: Porter-Stafford-Ehrhoff-Tallinder

Everything about Buffalo’s power play was awful last year. In fact, it was so awful that Buffalo gave up the most short-handed goals. Players like T.J. Brennan, Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera are gone from the unit and Jamie McBain will hope to store some order and keep the puck in the zone. Just writing that last sentence has made me sick to my stomach.

The penalty kill was terrible in both percentage points and shots against per 60, but a solid 12th in save percentage proves that, once again, Miller and Enroth are above average goaltenders.

Best Case Scenario: Buffalo’s rebuild will be a very fast one as they get solid returns from Miller and maybe Stafford. Tyler Ennis becomes the new captain for the 2013-2014 season and Tyler Myers finds a new gear in his system.

Worst Case Scenario: This is for those who remember the 2009 Washington Redskins. Do you remember when that team always found a way to outdo themselves every week with the worst locker room chemistry, the stupidest plays, the most bizarre offseason moves AND the worst coaching in the league, maybe even in league history? The Buffalo Sabres have hit that zone. But hey, here’s this youtube clip to cheer your spirits up.

UPDATE #1: This week, the Sabres have traded Vanek to the New York Islanders for Matt Moulson (30, 78-31-26-57-14-3.30, 1 yr/$3.133333 million), a 2014 1st round pick and a 2015 2nd round pick. Easily, Buffalo won this trade as they saved $4 million in cap space, received a player that (production-wise and age-wise) is at the same level as Vanek, and will at least have two of what hopes to be plenty  of first round picks to work with for next year’s draft. This is a great start for GM Darcy Regier and Buffalo’s rebuilding process.

UPDATE #2: Yesterday, Patrick Kaleta was placed on waivers. Times are a changing!!!

7. Florida

  • 15-27-6, 36 points, 15th in the East
  • -59 Goal Differential, 34.3 Expected Points
  • 28.5 Even Strength SF60 (14th), 30.8 Even Strength SA60 (25th)
  • 49.1% Corsi (17th), 49.4% FO (20th), 963 PDO (30th)
  • 20.4% PP (6th), 74.2% PK (30th), -9 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 28.58, Playoff Experience: 625 games

If I was commissioner of the National Hockey League, the Florida Panthers would relocate to Seattle, Milwaukee or Quebec City and we would be done for the next two decades. They have been one of the most poorly run franchises since its inception and there has been little to no signs of improvement. Yes, there is the development of Jonathan Huberdeau and the introductions of Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. There is also the short term signings of Tim Thomas, Tom Gilbert, Brad Boyes and Scott Gomez, but all of them are on the wrong side of 30 and should not make any impact on this team. If only GM Dave Tallon can tear this team down, but this is year of three of his regime and patience is wearing thin for to see if this franchise can consistently make the playoffs.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jonathan Huberdeau (20, 82-27-33-60-32-2.50, 2 yrs/$894,167)
  • C: Nick Bjugstad (21, 77-18-10-28-54-1.75, 2 yrs/$900,000)
  • RW: Kris Versteeg (27, 73-19-23-42-46-2.19, 3 yrs/$4.4 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Tomas Fleischmann (29, 74-24-32-56-26-2.50, 2 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: Aleksander Barkov (18, 79-16-23-39-12-2.50, 3 yrs/$925,000)
  • RW: Tomas Kopecky (32, 74-12-19-31-40-1.80, 3 yrs/$3 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brad Boyes (32, 80-17-31-48-28-1.80, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • C: Marcel Goc (30, 64-12-16-28-14-2.00, 1 yr/$1.7 million)
  • RW: Drew Shore (23, 74-7-14-21-24-2.50, 2 yrs/$900,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Shawn Matthias (26, 73-13-11-24-28-1.80, 2 yrs/$1.75 million)
  • C: Scott Gomez (34, 76-7-23-30-50-1.40, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • RW: Scott Upshall (30, 62-12-7-19-58-1.95, 2 yrs/$3.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Sean Bergenheim (30, 17-3-3-6-14-2.27, 2 yrs/$2.75 million)
  • Kris Barch (34, 19-1-1-2-38-0.41, 1 yr/$750,000)

As a whole, each line for the Panthers has at least one player that does not look like a fit in the position they are in. In the first line, Bjugstad is way too young to play up there and Kris Versteeg seems more like either a second or third line winger. The second line might be the most complete, but like Bjugstad, how will Barkov handle the minutes. The fact that the two best centers on the team are rookies is definitely a poor sign for this group. The third line consists of two veterans with solid pedigrees in Marcel Goc and Brad Boyes. Boyes could go down as, BY FAR, the biggest bargain in hockey if he hits his usual numbers. However, there has to be valid explanations with how Brad Boyes has played on five teams in his nine-year career. The fourth line consists of experienced, but non-traditional fourth line players in Shawn Matthias, Scott Gomez and Scotty Upshall.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Brian Campbell (34, 74-6-32-38-18-1.38, 3 yrs/$7.142875 million)
  • D: Erik Gundranson (22, 72-2-11-13-86-1.70, 1 yr/$900,000)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Dmitry Kulikov (23, 65-5-18-23-38-1.60, 1 yr/$2.5 million)
  • D: Mike Weaver (35, 69-2-14-16-22-0.67, 1 yr/$1.1 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Ed Jovanovski (37, 67-5-11-16-34-1.25, 2 yrs/$4.125 million)
  • D: Tom Gilbert (31, 75-5-19-24-22-1.19, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • G: Tim Thomas (39, 1 yr/$2.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Matt Gilroy (29, 35-2-6-8-10-1.10, 1 yr/$700,000)
  • Ryan Whitney (31, 35-2-8-10-24-0.90, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • G: Jacob Markstrom (24, 2 yrs/$1.2 million)

The production of Florida’s defensive corp will make or break their season. Simply put, the players GM Dave Tallon have look like last reserves (Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Tom Gilbert) or young players that are not prepared for bigger minutes (Dmitry Kulikov, Eric Gudbranson). The exception to the rule is Brian Campbell who still plays among the most minutes out of anyone in the NHL and post high scoring numbers from the blue line. However, Campbell is 34 years old and can not be relied on as a key piece for the Panthers’ future. Kulikov is the closest of the two young defenseman to develop as a quality defenseman as he has had solid possession numbers while averaging 21 minutes a game. So far, he is duking it out with Victor Hedman and Oliver Ekman-Larsson as to who has been the best defenseman from the 2009 NHL draft. Meanwhile, it is still early doors for the former 2010 #3 overall pick Gudbranson, but he is seen more of a stay-at-home type defenseman for the offensive-minded Campbell.

Another puzzling offseason move that happened was the addition of Tim Thomas after a one-year hiatus from the game. As much as it is  great to see such a fascinating character back in the NHL, the fact that Florida was the only team willing to take a chance on him (in September, no less) should be a sign about how prospects look for Thomas throughout the rest of his playing career. To go along with this, Thomas is taking away minutes from Jacob Markstrom, who Hockey’s Future has rated as the best goaltending prospect since the websites inception. Okay, it’s only been for about two to three years. In all seriousness though, there comes a point in time where Markstrom has to absolutely step up and never have Tim Thomas play another NHL game or Florida will once again take one step forward and ten steps back in their rebuilding phase.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Versteeg-Fleischmann-Huberdeau-Campbell-Kulikov
  • 2nd Unit: Kopecky-Goc-Barkov-Shore-Gilbert

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Goc-Kopecky-Weaver-Jovanovski
  • 2nd Unit: Upshall-Matthias-Campbell-Gudbranson

Over the last couple of years, Florida has one of the best power plays. Their first unit could be one of the better ones on paper with Campbell leading from the point and Kulikov being a rising offensive star. Their penalty kill, on the other hand, had the worst efficiency last year, with the ninth worst shots per 60 and the third worst save percentage. Sounds just like how the team is constructed during five-on-five. With little additions to help out this unit, expect more of the same.

Best Case Scenario: Jonathan Huberdeau takes the reigns as the best player from the 2011 draft class and it is not even close. Head Coach Kevin Dineen does his best to bring an exciting brand of hockey while hiding his defense, just like 2012. Jacob Markstrom breaks out and becomes the long-term answer in goal for Florida.

Worst Case Scenario: Florida has the worst defense in the NHL by a long stretch. Tim Thomas gets the most playing time in goal and does not get traded. All the puck luck from the power play the last two seasons diminishes and a good man in Dineen gets fired at the end of the season. Pressure mounts from the DC Sports Dork to move the franchise to Quebec City.

6. Tampa Bay

  • 18-26-4, 40 points, 14th in the East
  • -2 Goal Differential, 54.9 Expected Points (Unluckiest)
  • 27.6 Even Strength SF60 (18th), 30.1 Even Strength SA60 (23rd)
  • 47.2% Corsi (27th), 51.2% FO (8th), 1011 PDO (8th)
  • 19.0% PP (13th), 80.7% (19th), +8 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.84, Playoff Experience: 538 games

After 15 seasons, Vincent Lecavlier is no longer a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sure, Lecavlier’s over $7.7 million contract was beginning to be too expensive with him entering his age-33 season, but GM Steve Yzerman had to find a way to replace Lecavlier and his still productive offense. He did so by resigning Nate Thompson and Teddy Purcell to more expensive contracts and handing the remaining $5 million to…Valtteri Filppula? With better free agents like Nathan Horton, Tyler Bozak, Daniel Briere or even Mikhail Grabovski in the market, you think Yzerman would go after them for that remaining $5 million. Instead, Yzerman gave all of it to Filppula, who had a terrible 2013 season. Granted, their could have been a good reason for Horton to not go to Tampa anytime soon. But with the way free agency turned out, Yzerman could have gotten Grabovski and Cody Franson for $5 million and Tampa Bay could easily be a better hockey team. Now, they will have to rely on Filppula to not be Ville Leino 2.0 and hope that Syracuse Crunch alumni Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson and Andre Sustr breakout into productive NHL regulars.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ondrej Palat (23, 67-6-15-21-42-1.25, 1 yr/$597,167)
  • C: Steven Stamkos (24, 81-45-45-90-54-3.25, 3 yrs/$7.5 million)
  • RW: Martin St. Louis (38, 77-23-58-81-24-2.25, 2 yrs/$5.625 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ryan Malone (34, 70-19-22-41-75-1.80, 2 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: Valtteri Filppula (30, 74-17-23-40-14-1.90, 5 yrs/$5 million)
  • RW: Teddy Purcell (28, 76-15-29-44-20-1.95, 3 yrs/$4.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Alex Killorn (24, 74-15-24-39-28-2.20, 1 yr/$875,000)
  • C: Nate Thompson (29, 72-7-12-19-28-1.30, 4 yrs/$1.6 million)
  • RW: Richard Panik (23, 72-16-12-28-12-1.50, 1 yr/$740,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Tom Pyatt (27, 72-12-8-20-18-1.50, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • C: Tyler Johnson (23, 77-18-14-32-26-1.54, 1 yr/$756,667)
  • RW: B.J. Crombeen (28, 75-2-8-10-150-1.10, 2 yrs/$1.15 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Pierre-Cedric Labrie (27, 48-4-5-9-60-1.00, 1 yr/$625,000)

You may think that after that introduction, the Lightning might be really terrible at scoring goals. However, the complete opposite was true. Tampa Bay had one of the best offensive teams in the Eastern Conference, but their defense was so horrible, that they still finished with a negative goal differential.

The first line will consist of two of the best in hockey in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. Both players are absolute legends in the sport as St. Louis is an ageless wonder and a first ballot hall of famer in my book, while Stamkos is the most dangerous shooter in the sport and is hitting the peak of his prime. Teaming up with them will be Ondrej Palat, one of the offensive stars from the Syracuse Crunch last year.

On the second line is Filppula, an aging Ryan Malone and Purcell. Purcell has had another fantastic season last year and could be one of the most under-appreciated point scorers since the 2011 playoffs. Malone will have to prove, once again, that he is a $4.5 million player after missing 91 games to injury since joining the Lightning in 2008 and he will be hitting his age-34 season. The third line consist of three board rattlers in Nate Thompson, Richard Panik and Alex Killorn. Even though B.J. Crombeen plays like a fourth liner, Tyler Johnson and Tom Pyatt will bring the scoring depth to the group.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Victor Hedman (23, 72-7-29-36-68-1.90, 4 yrs/$4 million)
  • D: Sami Salo (39, 64-6-21-27-22-1.50, 1 yr/$3.75 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Matt Carle (29, 79-5-30-35-26-1.39, 5 yrs/$5.5 million)
  • D: Radko Gudas (23, 81-2-9-11-122-1.50, 3 yrs/$991,667)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Eric Brewer (35, 70-4-13-17-44-1.15, 2 yrs/$3.875 million)
  • D: Andrej Sustr (23, 76-5-16-21-38-1.25, 2 yrs/$1.35 million)
  • G: Ben Bishop (27, 2 yrs/$2.3 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Keith Aulie (24, 11-0-1-1-16-0.75, 1 yr/$975,000)
  • Brian Lee (27, 11-0-2-2-6-0.76, 1 yr/$1.15 million)
  • G: Anders Lindback (25, 1 yr/$1.8 million)

As mentioned before, Tampa Bay was awful defensively last year. The major changes to the team will be the additions of Gudas and Sustr to replace Brian Lee and Keith Aulie. If Capitals fans thought Jeff Schultz was one of the worst defenseman in the league in this current decade, they should take a look at Keith Aulie and his numbers. He actually had a solid 2013 season for his standards, but the fact that Aulie had to play 45 games out of 48 last year was definitely not a good sign.

Understandably, there has been a lot of turnover along the blue line since the Lightning’s 2011 postseason run. Mattias Ohland, Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark all aged and are no longer on the roster and Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer are the last surviving members of that core group. Brewer will be 35 heading into the postseason. Veterans Matt Carle and Sami Salo have come in to bring some short-term stability and have done so with moderate success. However, Salo is in his age-39 campaign and on the final year of his contract. Gudas and Sustr will have to step up or more short-term answers like Matt Taormina or Mark Barbiero will have to come in.

Despite having terrible numbers last year, head coach John Cooper will give it another go with young goaltenders Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. Lindback really looked like a deer in headlights after getting his first chance as a full-fledged starter after years of backing up Pekka Rinne in Nashville. Bishop was acquired in a mid-season trade with Ottawa that sent 23-year old rookie Cory Conacher to the Senators.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Stamkos-St. Louis-Purcell-Carle-Salo
  • 2nd Unit: Malone-Killorn-Johnson-Filppula-Hedman

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Thompson-Pyatt-Carle-Hedman
  • 2nd Unit: Crombeen-Killorn-Salo-Brewer

One shocking statistic last season was that despite Tampa Bay’s solid standing on the power play, they finished dead last in shots per 60 with a man up. Expect some regression to the mean as Alex Killorn and Tyler Johnson will take some time getting acclimated in the unit. While Tampa was a mediocre 19th in penalty kill efficiency, they were simply awful in the core stats as they finished in the bottom six in shots against per 60 and save percentage while shorthanded.

Best Case Scenario: Tampa Bay makes the playoffs. Remember how Bruce Boudreau shocked the world by guiding a Caps team full of Calder Cup winning Hershey Bears into their first Stanley Cup playoffs? John Cooper can do the same. Look at the roster that he took to the 2012 Calder Championship! Four players (Gudas, Panik, Johnson and Palat) are now on the roster and will bring a winning edge to the side. Victor Hedman has a breakout season and Stamkos wins the Hart Trophy.

Worst Case Scenario: Sami Salo and Eric Brewer age terribly and the defensive core show way too many holes in their depth. Valtteri Filppula becomes an absolute bust, as expected. Sadly, the beginning of the end starts for Martin St. Louis as one of the great characters will decide to play his last year in 2015.

5. Toronto

  • 26-17-5, 57 points, 5th in the East
  • +12 Goal Differential, 60.6 Expected Points (T-4th unluckiest)
  • 25.7 Even Strength SF60 (28th), 33.0 Even Strength SA60 (30th)
  • 44.1% Corsi (30th), 50.0% FO (15th), 1030 PDO (2nd)
  • 18.7% PP (14th), 87.9% PK (2nd), +9 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.26, Playoff Experience: 420 games

The Toronto Maple Leaf franchise was easily the most active team in the entire offseason. They first started with resigning Tyler Bozak to a 5-year, $21 million dollar deal, trading for two-time Stanley Cup winner Dave Bolland and shocked the world by signing tough guy David Clarkson to a 7-year and $36.75 million. Once again, GM Dave Nonis joined the Toronto fan base by believing that delivering hits matter more than scoring goals. Clarkson will be paid an extra million more than Bozak but is expected to be on the scoring sheet in almost three-quarters of a game less. In September to October, Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson realized that the lack of salary cap space and lack of negotiating flexibility resulted in them signing embarrassingly cheap deals after career seasons from both of them. Oh, and did I mention both players will be restricted free agents again once their contracts run out? Once again, NHL free agency is the worst. However, all these signings were enough for superstar Phil Kessel to resign for a max contract and play the rest of his prime years in Toronto. Oh, and just to be sure, Nonis added Mason Raymond to another bargain contract.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: James Van Riemsdyk (24, 73-24-20-44-38-3.00, 5 yrs/$4.25 million)
  • C: Tyler Bozak (28, 75-17-26-43-16-1.42-52.6%, 5 yrs/$4.2 million)
  • RW: Phil Kessel (26, 77-28-43-71-24-3.30, 1 yr/$5.4 million, then 8 yrs/$64 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Joffrey Lupul (30, 75-24-26-50-56-2.64, 5 yrs/$5.25 million)
  • C: Nazem Kadri (23, 74-19-28-47-30-1.87-44.2%, 2 yrs/$2.9 million)
  • RW: David Clarkson (30, 79-21-15-38-134-3.00, 7 yrs/$5.25 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Mason Raymond (28, 71-16-18-34-26-2.25, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • C: Dave Bolland (27, 66-15-19-34-44-1.50-46.1%, 1 yr/$3.375 million)
  • RW: Nikolai Kulemin (27, 78-14-24-38-20-1.77, 1 yr/$2.8 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Frazer McLaren (26, 52-3-5-8-130-0.60, 1 yr/$700,000)
  • C: Jay McClement (31, 79-8-14-22-26-1.10-51.6%, 1 yr/$1.5 million)
  • RW: Colton Orr (32, 67-2-2-4-168-0.45, 2 yrs/$925,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Carter Ashton (23, 29-2-2-4-36-0.97, 1 yr/$1.04 million)
  • Troy Brodie (29, 29-2-2-4-66-0.75, 1 yr/$600,000)

Once you comb through all the intrigue and controversy, you realize that the Maple Leafs now have three big time scoring lines. Not a lot of NHL teams can say that. One thing you can give Nonis credit for is that he saw that the PDO gods were frowning upon them and he needed to do something before regression reared its ugly head.

The top line of James Van Riemsdyk, Bozak and Kessel was amongst the best lines in the conference as Van Riemsdyk and Bozak had career years last year. Watch for Van Riemsdyk to have another huge season as he becomes latest member of the three-shot-a-game club.

The second line consists of Joffrey Lupul (who is coming back from multiple injuries), Kadri and Clarkson. This is another solid line that will add some physicality as well. The third line of Raymond, Bolland and Nikolai Kulemin is another line in which all three can put the puck in the net. But in order to match Toronto’s quota of thugs and hitters, the fourth line consists of fighters Frazer McLaren and Colton Orr, along with hard hitting Jay McClement.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Dion Phaneuf (28, 79-9-33-42-106-2.00, 1 yr/$6.5 million)
  • D: Carl Gunnarson (27, 65-3-16-19-16-1.03, 3 yrs/$3.15 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jake Gardiner (23, 69-6-21-27-14-1.04, 1 yr/$1.116667 million)
  • D: Cody Franson (26, 69-6-23-29-20-1.57, 1 yr/$2 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mark Fraser (27, 70-2-6-8-90-0.60, 1 yr/$1.275 million)
  • D: Paul Ranger (29, 62-4-16-20-50-1.40, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • G: James Reimer (26, 1 yr/$1.8 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Morgan Reilly (20, 39-4-8-12-10-1.86, 3 yrs/$894,167)
  • G: Jonathan Bernier (25, 2 yrs/$2.9 million)

The defense also made some major changes to form a very solid group. Out goes John Michael-Liles, Mike Kostka and Korbinian Holzer and in goes more playing time for the oft-injured Jake Gardiner and feel-good story Paul Ranger. If Ranger can regain his form from his younger days with the Tampa Bay Lightning, this could be the deepest group of defensemen in the NHL. What is fascinating is that every player from this group except from Carl Gunnarson is on the last year of their deals.

Gunnarson was another player Nonis has resigned but is nothing more than an above average shutdown player. Mark Fraser brings some added physicality with captain Dion Phaneuf. Phaneuf had all the potential to be in the same category of great all-around defenseman when he was in Calgary, but now he has been more a second or third tier group and that makes him at least $1.5 million to $2 million overpaid. However, what makes Toronto great from the blueline is the depth of scoring in Jake Gardiner, Cody Franson and Ranger. One player to watch out for is former #5 overall pick Morgan Reilly: another puck moving defenseman.

As mentioned in the trade value column, James Reimer was fantastic last season and it has been nothing short of shocking how Toronto constantly wants to get another goaltender on the roster. This offseason, Nonis traded for overly talented backup Jonathan Bernier from Los Angeles for Matt Frattin, former backup Ben Scrivens and a future second round pick. The goaltending should not be a problem, but there has to be a point in time where James Reimer is sick of what the organization is doing to him. He is in the last year of his contract, except he’ll be a restricted free agent. Once again, NHL free agency sucks!

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Kessel-Bozak-Van Riemsdyk-Phaneuf-Franson
  • 2nd Unit: Clarkson-Lupul-Bolland-Kadri-Gardiner

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: McClement-Kulemin-Phaneuf-Gunnarson
  • 2nd Unit: Bozak-Van Riemsdyk-Fraser-Ranger

Toronto’s power play was very efficient last year. However, their shooting percentage on the man advantage was the sixth best in the NHL while they were only seventh worst in shots per 60. Can that luck last while the same unit is still out there? The penalty kill was the second best in the NHL last year while being in the top five in save percentage and shots against per 60. Like the power play units, the penalty kill group remains intact.

Best Case Scenario: Two of the most underrated things about Toronto were that this is still a very young hockey team and the Maple Leafs will now come in with tons of scoring depth from the forwards and blue line. This will help them improve in the playoffs and show that Randy Carlyle is among the best coaches in hockey. James Reimer will become the most pleasant surprises in the league and get resigned to a long term deal.

Worst Case Scenario: All the puck luck dries out and Toronto regresses defensively. It regresses so much so, that they finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. Clarkson’s contract and Bernier’s presence becomes an albatross and Dion Phaneuf leaves next summer. Phil Kessel becomes the next captain, but Don Cherry and the Maple Leaf fan base protest when Colton Orr was not the choice.

4. Montreal

  • 29-14-5, 63 points, 3rd in the East
  • +23 Goal Differential, 61.5 Expected Points
  • 29.9 Even Strength SF60 (9th), 26.6 Even Strength SA60 (5th)
  • 52.8% Corsi (7th), 49.8% FO (17th), 1010 PDO (9th)
  • 20.7% PP (5th), 79.8% PK (23rd), +30 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.95, Playoff Experience: 579 games

After injuries to Lars Eller and Carey Price ruined any chance of them advancing passed the big bad Ottawa Senators in the first round of the playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens return hoping for a better season. Some will argue that after that series, the skillful Canadiens need some toughness and experience. GM Marc Bergevin did so by signing George Parros and Daniel Briere. Like Vincent Lecavlier, Briere can still be a productive player, but he had to be bought out from Philadelphia because his age and decline in production were no longer living up to his expensive contract. Parros, however, should not make a giant impact as he has always been more of a 13th forward. Overall, the same team is back and the franchise is banking on their young core to keep improving and take their games to the next level.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Daniel Briere (36, 71-15-25-40-56-2.60, 2 yrs/$4 million)
  • C: Tomas Plekanec (31, 78-24-30-54-46-2.80-50.6%, 3 yrs/$5 million)
  • RW: Alex Galchenyuk (20, 82-16-32-48-34-1.75, 2 yrs/$3.225 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Max Pacioretty (25, 72-27-40-67-50-3.75, 6 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: David Desharnais (27, 75-16-32-48-26-1.45-50.0%, 4 yrs/$3.5 million)
  • RW: Brendan Gallagher (21, 75-27-26-53-56-2.75, 2 yrs/$1.35 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Rene Bourque (32, 71-19-18-37-62-2.35, 3 yrs/$3.333333 million)
  • C: Lars Eller (24, 76-15-16-31-60-1.85-49.3%, 1 yr/$1.325 million)
  • RW: Brian Gionta (35, 72-18-16-34-22-2.25, 1 yr/$5 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Travis Moen (32, 74-3-10-13-52-0.65, 3 yrs/$1.85 million)
  • C: Ryan White (26, 64-2-6-8-128-0.65, 1 yr/$700,000)
  • RW: Brandon Prust (30, 73-7-15-22-164-0.85, 3 yrs/$2.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • George Parros (34, 25-1-1-2-56-0.45, 1 yr/$937,500)
  • Michael Bournival (21, 25-2-3-5-8-1.22, 1 yr/$870,000)

The forward group is among one of the better ones in the conference as they, like Toronto, can provide three scoring lines. The first line of Briere, Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk will be a small, but fast and skillful bunch. The key to this line will be how fast “Chuckie” can develop into an all-star caliber player. The second line is another group full of skilfull players in Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher. All of these guys can really score in bunches, but the key will be for all three of them to constant offensive threats from game 1 to game 82. Montreal’s third line could be the best in the league with Captain Brian Gionta teaming up with hard hitters Rene Bourque and Lars Eller. Eller and Bourque also bring a scoring punch that could be utilized in the second line on plenty of NHL teams. The fourth line of Travis Moen, Ryan White and Brandon Prust is a major drop off in skill and puck possession, but they bring the grit necessary for a team full of small players.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Andrei Markov (35, 64-9-21-30-26-1.68, 1 yr/$5.75 million)
  • D: P.K. Subban (24, 78-17-39-56-101-3.10, 1 yr/$2.875 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Josh Gorges (29, 71-2-10-12-34-0.75, 5 yrs/$3.9 million)
  • D: Jarred Tinordi (22, 77-2-5-7-82-0.75, 2 yrs/$1.0825 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Alexei Emelin (28, 66-4-8-12-46-0.90, 1 yr/$2 million, then 4 yrs/$4.1 million)
  • D: Raphael Diaz (28, 64-4-29-33-26-1.60, 1 yr/$1.225 million)
  • G: Carey Price (26, 5 yrs/$6.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Francis Boullion (38, 12-0-2-2-6-0.80, 1 yr/$1.5 million)
  • Davis Drewiske (29, 12-0-2-2-6-0.97, 1 yr/$637,500)
  • G: Peter Budaj (31, 2 yrs/$1.4 million)

Montreal’s blue line also is a very deep group. However, outside of one rookie deal (Jarred Tinordi) and two long term deals (Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin), every other starter is on the last year of their deals. After signing the biggest bargain deal in the league in 2012, P.K. Subban responded by having a Norris Trophy winning season. Now he is on the last year of that “bridge contract” and Subban will be demanding that Bergevin gives him a major extension. Andrei Markov, on the other hand, is more of an uncertainty. He is entering his age-35 season and played his first healthy season in four years. Wherever he goes, there is no chance he will be making $5.75 million per season ever again. Gorges and Tinordi are more of the stay-at-home brand of defensemen. Alexei Emelin can do the same as well, but he and Tinordi are also willing to bring the noise with their hits. Raphael Diaz rounds out the group as a solid puck mover, but lacking in an accurate shot.

Like it has been since his debut, as Carey Price goes, so does the Canadiens. He is the last starting Canadian World Junior’s goaltender that has an established NHL career, but now is the time to prove if he is more of the NHL’s Joe Flacco (an above average (but never top ten) starter turned playoff star), or is he more the NHL’s Matt Schaub (an average starter that will always stay average)? Peter Budaj will be the established backup, but like all backups, he is perfect for where he is on the depth chart, but not as the 50-60 games per season starter.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Pacioretty-Plekanec-Gionta-Markov-Subban
  • 2nd Unit: Briere-Desharnais-Bourque-Gallagher-Diaz

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Moen-Plekanec-Gorges-Diaz
  • 2nd Unit: Prust-Eller-Markov-Emelin

One of the underrated things about the Canadiens over the years is that they have one of the better power plays in the league. Their shots per-60 was around the league average last year, but their shooting percentage was in the top five. The penalty kill, however, suffered a lot of bad luck. While being the eighth worst shorthanded unit, Montreal actually gave up the seventh least shots per 60. Unfortunately, the goaltending is what haunted them last year with the fourth worst shorthanded save percentage.

Best Case Scenario: Daniel Briere can still put pucks in the net and P.K. Subban continues to be the best offensive defenseman in the league. All the forwards from the young second line get promoted to the first line and tear up the league. As a result, Montreal gets a favorable matchup with an old and slow Detroit team and beat them to go to round two, but that’s it.

Worst Case Scenario: Carey Price has a terrible 2014. He fails to make the OIympic team and Montreal has no plan B for the playoffs. Bergevin will trade him straight up for Ryan Miller, but even he isn’t enough to help the Canadiens get passed the first round of the playoffs.

3. Detroit

  • 24-16-8, 56 points, 7th in the West
  • +9 Goal Differential, 58.1 Expected Points
  • 29.6 Even Strength SF60 (11th), 27.3 Even Strength SA60 (11th)
  • 53.6% Corsi (6th), 50.8% FO (10th), 1001 PDO (16th)
  • 18.4% PP (15th), 81.7% PK (12th), +21 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 29.79, Playoff Experience: 1040 games

One Game. That’s the number of games Detroit needed to win to finish off the Chicago Blackhawks and make it back to the Western Conference finals. Instead, they blew a 3-1 series lead and were eliminated in overtime. If Detroit won that one game, history would have been completely different. Detroit might have been one of those teams competing to be the first team to win a second Stanley Cup in the lockout era. Not much has changed on an aging, but ageless Red Wings lineup, except for two spots in the forward lines. Out goes Valterri Filppula and Damien Brunner and in goes Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. At age 41, Alfredsson knows that time is running out for him to win a Stanley Cup after spending 17 seasons with the Ottawa Senators. Year after year, Detroit has always been seen as the team to go to if you want to win your first Stanley Cup, but will Detroit’s age finally show after more than two decades of playoff success?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Johan Franzen (34, 70-23-27-50-52-2.75-52.0%, 7 yrs/$3.954545 million)
  • C: Pavel Datsyuk (35, 74-24-52-76-20-2.27-55.0%, 1 yr/$6.7 million, then 3 yrs/$7.5 million)
  • RW: Henrik Zetterberg (33, 74-26-44-70-30-3.48-48.4%, 8 yrs/$5.083333 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Justin Abdelkader (27, 10-9-19-60-1.75, 3 yrs/$1.8 million)
  • C: Stephen Weiss (31, 71-15-27-42-54-1.80-51.1%, 5 yrs/$4.9 million)
  • RW: Daniel Alfredsson (41, 71-21-43-64-30-2.25, 1 yr/$5.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Dan Cleary (35, 71-13-14-27-35-1.88, 1 yr/$1.75 million)
  • C: Darren Helm (27, 70-7-14-21-12-1.75, 3 yrs/$2.125 million)
  • RW: Todd Bertuzzi (39, 70-11-20-31-60-1.30, 1 yr/$2.075 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Drew Miller (30, 73-10-9-19-14-1.38, 3 yrs/$1.35 million)
  • C: Joakim Andersson (25, 73-6-9-15-14-1.20-46.4%, 2 yrs/$732,500)
  • RW: Tomas Tatar (23, 79-15-13-28-16-1.50, 1 yr/$840,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Jordin Tootoo (31, 18-2-3-5-27-1.58, 2 yrs/$1.9 million)
  • Patrick Eaves (29, 18-3-3-6-6-1.74, 1 yr/$1.2 million)

With all these questions being asked year after year, Darren Helm is the only major injury concern on the forward group after only playing one game last season because of chronic back issues. The first line of Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg is so old that you would think the production line would be out there. Ok, they may not be that old and they certainly won’t be that memorable, but this unit is a combined 102 years old and has played in 365 career playoff games. They are still well respected and when in doubt, Datsyuk can still dazzle you. The second line will also have concerns about maintaining their production as new signings Weiss and Alfredsson will join Justin Abdelkader. Abdelkader has never been known for his high scoring, but he will be counted upon even more thanks to the losses of Filppula and Brunner. The third line will consist of Helm, Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. Cleary looked like he would sign with Philadelphia before training camp started, but he signed a one-year deal to return to the Red Wings instead. The fourth line always seems to be the line where Detroit places any of their “young” players in and in this case, it will be Drew Miller, Tomas Tatar and Joakim Andersson. Detroit has never been a physical team, but the key to their success over the years has been consistently being among the best teams in corsi. They have led the NHL in Corsi for% three times since the statistic’s inception in the 2007-2008 season and have never been outside the top six.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Niklas Kronwall (33, 68-7-25-32-46-1.40, 6 yrs/$4.75 million)
  • D: Jonathan Ericsson (30, 69-3-12-15-48-0.75, 1 yr/$3.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jakub Kindl (27, 64-3-14-17-40-1.65, 4 yrs/$2.4 million)
  • D: Danny DeKeyser (24, 82-2-12-14-52-1.40, 1 yr/$1.35 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Brendan Smith (25, 66-5-19-24-68-1.00, 2 yrs/$1.2625 million)
  • D: Kyle Quincey (28, 68-5-18-23-62-1.75, 1 yr/$3.775 million)
  • G: Jimmy Howard (30, 6 yrs/$5.291667 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Brian Lashoff (23, 37-1-5-6-18-0.90, 3 yrs/$725,000)
  • G: Jonas Gustavsson (29, 1 yr/$1.5 million)

Since Niklas Lidstrom announced his retirement, there has always been a fear that Detroit will find it difficult to replace him. So far, that is still the case as GM Ken Holland failed to sign Shea Weber or Ryan Suter during the 2012 offseason. However, Detroit still has a solid unit with Nicklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson leading the way. The developments of Jakub Kindl and Danny DeKeyser have also been welcomed as they form the second pairing. Another player coming through the system in Brendan Smith pairs up with veteran Kyle Quincey to round out the unit.

Jimmy Howard had another fantastic season, but he is hitting his age-30 season this year and will be starting a very expensive six-year contract. Can he live up to the billing and see if he can pass Jonathan Quick for the starting job on team USA for the upcoming Winter Olympics? Jonas Gustavsson is the backup and will be pressured to perform well as Petr Mrazek is the only player in Detroit’s prospect pool that could make an impact in 2014.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Franzen-Alfredsson-Kronwall
  • 2nd Unit: Cleary-Weiss-Bertuzzi-Kindl-Quincey

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Helm-Miller-Ericsson-Kronwall
  • 2nd Unit: Weiss-Alfredsson-Quincey-DeKeyser

Both the power play and penalty kill units finished around league average last year with shot rates and shooting and save percentages at league average as well. Like many of the consistently good teams with substantial playoff success over the years, Detroit’s focus has never been on special teams. If there is one thing to nit pick, however, is the goaltending saving only the 18th best save percentage on the penalty kill.

Best Case Scenario: All the playoff experience helps the Red Wings gear up for one last major playoff run. Datsyuk shocks the world and wins the Hart Trophy and Alfredsson finally gets his chance to win the Cup.

Worst Case Scenario: An aging team results in more injuries than the average NHL team. Will there be major injuries to the key players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall and how will the Red Wings respond? Can Jimmy Howard consistently be among the best goaltenders in the league or will he regress at age-30? What happens if Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar look out of place?

2. Ottawa

  • 25-17-6, 56 points, 7th in the East
  • +12 Goal Differential, 57.7 Expected Points
  • 32.5 Even Strength SF60 (1st), 29.7 Even Strength SA60 (21st)
  • 53.6% Corsi (5th), 49.2% FO (21st), 994 PDO (20th)
  • 15.9% PP (19th), 88.0% PK (1st), -10 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.53, Playoff Experience: 573 games

The hockey world exploded last July when Daniel Alfredsson decided to sign with Detroit instead of resigning to the team he has captained for 14 years. However, this immediately led to GM Bryan Murray trading Jakub Silfverberg and multiple prospects for Bobby Ryan. Those moves gave Ottawa an additional $1.3 million of cap space to play with so they could sign Joe Corvo and Clarke MacArthur. Corvo and MacCarthur will give Ottawa more depth after a season in which they were easily the most injury-riddled team. Even with all that, the Senators still made it to the Conference semifinals and should be striving for more now that everyone is healthy.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Bobby Ryan (27, 79-25-28-53-36-2.25, 2 yrs/$5.1 million)
  • C: Jason Spezza (30, 70-25-45-70-32-2.60-57.1%, 2 yrs/$7 million)
  • RW: Milan Michalek (29, 69-22-23-45-42-2.48, 1 yr/$4.333333 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Cory Conacher (24, 80-17-30-47-40-1.60, 1 yr/$925,000)
  • C: Kyle Turris (24, 70-15-23-38-36-2.45-49.0%, 5 yrs/$3.5 million)
  • RW: Clarke MacArthur (29, 75-18-23-41-42-1.70, 2 yrs/$3.25 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Colin Greening (28, 82-16-21-37-36-1.90, 1 yr/$816,667)
  • C: Zack Smith (26, 80-10-14-24-104-1.70-51.8%, 4 yrs/$1.8875 million)
  • RW: Jean-Gabriel Pageau (21, 78-8-10-18-36-1.65, 2 yrs/$613,333)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Erik Condra (27, 81-9-15-24-42-1.50, 2 yrs/$1.25 million)
  • C: Stephane Da Costa (24, 70-8-8-16-22-1.70, 1 yr/$825,000)
  • RW: Chris Neil (34, 74-8-11-19-190-1.60, 3 yrs/$1.9 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Matt Kassian (27, 19-1-1-2-52-0.47, 1 yr/$575,000)
  • Mika Zibanejad (21, 38-6-13-19-6-2.20, 2 yrs/$894,167)

With the addition of Ryan, the top line of him, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek looks younger and possibly more potent for scoring goals. The key to this line will be for Spezza and Michalek to return to full health after missing a combined 68 games last year. The second line of Cory Conacher, Kyle Turris and Clarke MacArthur are a collection of solid, but not spectacular goal scorers. If either one or more can hit the 20-goal mark, then the Senators will benefit. What makes the Senators go, however, is the vibrating plexiglass that is delivered by Zack Smith and Colin Greening in the third line. The question will be if skilled youngster Mika Zibanejad can break through into the lineup or will Paul MacLean prefer rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau instead. Speaking of hard hitters, Matt Kassian, Erik Condra and the infamous Chris Neil provide additional brute force to the rest of the forward group on the fourth line. It was this shear physicality that beat Montreal in the playoffs last year, but can they put the pucks in the net and find that perfect balance like the Boston Bruins have over the last three years?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Marc Methot (28, 71-2-12-14-52-0.85, 2 yrs/$3 million)
  • D: Erik Karlsson (23, 68-15-35-50-36-3.25, 6 yrs/$6.5 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Patrick Wiercioch (23, 67-7-22-29-58-1.75, 3 yrs/$2 million)
  • D: Jared Cowen (23, 69-7-10-17-52-1.20, 4 yrs/$3.1 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Chris Phillips (36, 75-4-14-18-50-1.21, 1 yrs/$3.083333 million)
  • D: Joe Corvo (36, 74-8-21-29-26-1.80, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • G: Craig Anderson (32, 2 yrs/$3.1875 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Eric Gryba (26, 34-2-4-6-26-1.65, 1 yr/$562,500)
  • G: Robin Lehner (22, 1 yr/$870,000)

The defensive corps was shaken up after Karlsson and Jared Cowen only played a combined 24 games last year. Both are back and Cowen will be with the Senators for another four years after resigning for over $12 million. Karlsson will team up with Marc Methot, one of the more underrated stay-at-home blueliners while Cowen will be with fellow youngster Patrick Wiercioch. Wiercioch had a breakout season last year, but this will only be his second full season of his career. The final partnership will be two veterans in Chris Phillips and new signing Corvo. Corvo has always been amongst the most overrated offensive defenseman in each of the last five years, but to have him at less than $1 million and on the third line should be more money saved after losing Sergei Gonchar to free agency.

Another Senators player that missed plenty of games last year was Craig Anderson. Despite missing half the season to an ankle injury, Anderson was able to have a fantastic year and his backups did not skip a beat as well. Ben Bishop was brilliant in Anderson’s absence and that resulted in him being traded for Corey Conacher and the rights to prospect Tobias Lindberg to add scoring depth. Robin Lehner was next in line and the youngster performed valiantly as well. Can the same production be duplicated?

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Turris-Ryan-Spezza-Karlsson-Corvo
  • 2nd Unit: Da Costa-Conacher-MacArthur-Phillips-Wiercioch

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Condra-Spezza-Methot-Phillips
  • 2nd Unit: MacArthur-Turris-Cowen-Karlsson

Goodness, was Ottawa’s power play unlucky or what?! Yes, the Senators were mediocre in efficiency, but their sixth worst shooting percentage cancelled out their fourth best shots per 60. The complete opposite applies to their penalty kill, as their league best save percentage was the reason why they hold the number one spot in efficiency. While all this happened, the Senators gave up the seventh worst shooting rate while a man down.

Best Case Scenario: All the players that missed so much playing time come back without skipping a beat. Bobby Ryan makes the leap into super-stardom fans and pundits have been waiting for years. Karlsson regains the title of best offensive defenseman in hockey and wins the Norris Trophy, while Spezza produces at a level he hasn’t reached since 2007. Speaking of 2007, the Senators will have their first chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since that particular season.

Worst Case Scenario: Ottawa’s defense and goaltending were nothing short of a mirage as Anderson shows why he was a backup goaltender for the peak years of his career. The injury list from last year was very overrated and the lack of top tier scoring will hinder the Senators from becoming a contender.

1. Boston

  • 28-14-6, 62 points, 4th in the East
  • +22 Goal Differential, 61.2 Expected Points
  • 32.5 Even Strength SF60 (2nd), 28.0 Even Strength SA60 (13th)
  • 54.4% Corsi (3rd), 56.4% FO (1st), 1005 PDO (14th)
  • 14.8% PP (26th), 87.1% PK (4th), -41 Penalty Differential
From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 28.74, Playoff Experience: 1065 games

Two minutes. That’s all the time the Boston Bruins needed to kill off the Chicago Blackhawks and force a game 7 for last years, Stanley Cup Finals. Instead, this happened. A Stanley Cup Finals full of end to end action came to an end and the 2011 Champions felt like they blew a major opportunity. In order to stay competitive while also staying under the Salary Cap, GM Peter Chiarelli traded Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and prospect Ryan Button for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and prospects Matt Fraser and Joe Morrow. That trade saved an extra $3 million for them to sign Jarome Iginla. With these moves, and the more playing time being given to Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, the Bruins are expected to be championship contenders in the short term and long term.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brad Marchand (25, 76-23-34-57-60-2.05, 4 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: Patrice Bergeron (28, 70-19-35-54-21-2.70-62.1%, 1 yr/$5 million, then 8 yrs/$6.5 million)
  • RW: Loui Eriksson (28, 79-22-39-61-14-2.12, 3 yrs/$4.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Milan Lucic (25, 73-18-29-47-110-1.60, 3 yrs/$6 million)
  • C: David Krejci (28, 80-18-40-58-34-1.90-55.2%, 2 yrs/$5.25 million)
  • RW: Jarome Iginla (36, 79-28-35-63-44-3.03, 1 yr/$6 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Carl Soderberg (28, 72-13-20-33-60-1.75, 2 yrs/$1.008333 million)
  • C: Chris Kelly (33, 76-11-15-26-38-1.30-57.9%, 3 yrs/$3 million)
  • RW: Reilly Smith (23, 68-6-10-16-18-1.15, 1 yr/$900,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Daniel Paille (30, 68-11-12-23-18-1.34, 2 yrs/$1.3 million)
  • C: Gregory Campbell (30, 76-7-12-19-74-1.10-47.1%, 2 yrs/$1.6 million)
  • RW: Shawn Thornton (36, 71-3-6-9-120-1.15, 1 yr/$1.1 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Jordan Caron (23, 48-6-8-14-14-1.18, 1 yr/$640,000)

With Seguin no longer in the frame, Boston will hope for a breakout season for young speedster Brad Marchand. He will be in the top line with the best two-way center in hockey in Patrice Bergeron and Eriksson. The second line will surely light up the lamp as well with Milan Lucic and Iginla on the wings and David Krejci at center. The third line could be a bit of a concern as Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith do not bring a lot of experience and Chris Kelly is showing signs of decline heading into his age-33 season. The fourth line is where the heart and soul of the Bruins lives as Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell are two of the teams best penalty killers while Shawn Thornton is a nuisance on the forecheck.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Zdeno Chara (37, 77-10-25-35-112-2.22, 5 yrs/$6.916667 million)
  • D: Johnny Boychuk (30, 68-4-10-14-40-1.90, 2 yrs/$3.366667 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Dennis Seidenberg (32, 66-4-18-22-34-1.87, 1 yr/$3.25 million, then 4 yrs/$4 million)
  • D: Dougie Hamilton (20, 70-8-21-39-36-2.10, 2 yrs/$894,167)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Torey Krug (23, 76-9-13-22-60-1.75, 1 yr/$916,667)
  • D: Adam McQuaid (27, 67-3-8-11-97-0.80, 2 yrs/$1.566667 million)
  • G: Tuukka Rask (27, 8 yrs/$7 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Matt Bartkowski (25, 34-1-3-4-18-0.55, 1 yr/$650,000)
  • G: Chad Johnson (27, 1 yr/$600,000)

Boston’s defense has always been their foundation ever since Claude Julien took over as head coach, and that will not change. However, the players on that end of the ice are changing as the likes of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are getting older. They will be counted upon once again to lead the defense, but by the end of April, Chara will be 37 and Seidenberg will be 32. If Andrew Ference was still on the team, he would have been 35. Instead, Boston will be counting on two exciting young puck movers in Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug. Krug was the find of the playoffs and will be counted on to add more offense from the defenseman position. Hamilton will hope to forget last year’s playoffs where he was benched after the second round, but he is still 20 years old and has plenty of potential after being drafted 9th overall in the 2011 draft. Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk round out the rest of the group as both are solid but unspectacular defensive defenseman. The key for this group during the playoffs will be making sure Boston can role out three lines instead of two and unintentionally have an aging Chara and Seidenberg run on fumes.

At goal, Tuukka Rask has proven for a while now that he can be a long term starter. On paper, he has been one of the best in hockey and now he is getting paid like one as his new contract will tie Pekka Rinne for the most expensive in the league. With Anton Khudobin leaving the Bruins to go to Carolina, inexperienced Chad Johnson will be counted on to make sure Boston doesn’t skip a beat while he is in net.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Iginla-Bergeron-Eriksson-Krug-Chara
  • 2nd Unit: Lucic-Krejci-Marchand-Soderberg-Hamilton

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Kelly-Bergeron-Chara-Seidenberg
  • 2nd Unit: Campbell-Paille-Boychuk-McQuaid

Last year’s power play was one of the worst in the league at less than 15%. However, the Claude Julien era has never been known for having efficient power plays and Boston’s league average shot rate while on the man-advantage meshed with the league’s fourth worst shooting percentage. Hopes will be that Iginla and the additional playing time of Krug and Hamilton will improve this unit. The real bread and butter for the Bruins though, has been their penalty kill. The fourth best unit was also the third best in shot rate and second best in save percentage. One thing to watch is if the loss of Ference results in any decrease in production. Tenured Bruin Adam McQuaid will be counted upon to make up Ference’s minutes.

Best Case Scenario: Considering the lack of true league-altering moves in the offseason, Boston returns to the conference finals against the Penguins. Like last year, things will have to go their way from here on out and things almost did for them. Jarome Iginla has a rebound season and wins his first Stanley Cup. Tuuka Rask takes Lundquist’s mantle as the best goaltender in hockey and the younger players step up and form the new nucleus of the Bruins dynasty.

Worst Case Scenario: No matter what, Boston should make the playoffs. But what if Tuuka Rask goes down with a major injury? What if Iginla shows his age, along with Chara and Thornton? What if Hamilton and Krug still show signs of inexperience? If any of these things happen, there is a strong chance for Boston to underachieve. In the playoffs, as they learned in 2012, anything can happen.

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