The NHL ushered in major changes for the 2013-14 season. Realignment, new divisions and a new playoff format could have major repercussions on how the playoff picture shakes out when all is said and done.
In this first of three parts, members of Hockey Independent’s writing staff – Cris Cohen, Seth Levin, Christopher Triantafilis and Benjamin Woodward – give their take on which teams will finish at the top of the new Eastern Conference and which will wind up with the two wild cards.
1) Ottawa Senators Paul MacLean did a masterful job behind the bench in 2013, keeping the Sens in the playoff race and securing a spot in spite of the rash of bad luck with injuries. The addition of Bobby Ryan will make coping with the loss of Daniel Alfredsson a little bit easier on the ice. If this team stays healthy, they should finish at the top of this revamped division.
2) Boston Bruins The Bruins retooled after falling just short of their second Stanley Cup in three seasons. Can the young blueliners, who had such an impact in the postseason, repeat those performances in a full season? Are they getting the Jarome Iginla we all remember from his days with the Calgary Flames, or the one who was a non-factor for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 playoffs? I think it’ll be a hotly contested division, and they’ll fall just short of the division crown.
3) Detroit Red Wings The move to the Eastern Conference will do the Wings a world of good, as should the additions of Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. They too will give the top spot a strong charge. In what might be the most competitive of the new divisions, not everyone can finish first.
1) Detroit Red Wings Coached by Mike Babcock, who is widely held as the league’s best coach, the talent alone and move to the East should allow the Wings to win the division, as they escape the Blackhawks and heavy travel of the West. Potential cap issues could impact this team greatly if the injury bug enters the locker room but I love the addition of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss.
2) Ottawa Senators Despite the loss of Alfie, this team is well coached and has emerging young talent both up front and on backline. They could win the division but I feel may come up just short.
3) Boston Bruins Changes all over this off-season, as Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley were sent packing to Dallas, Andrew Ference and Jaromir Jagr left via free agency and Loui Eriksson come aboard, along with free agent Jarome Iginla.
1) Ottawa Senators Yeah, I have a huge year coming for the Sens. The addition of Bobby Ryan won’t mean everything, but it will improve an offense that finished 26th in the league on a team that won a playoff round. Give Paul MacLean the tools, and he will take your team to great places.
2) Detroit Red Wings New conference, same old Wings. Datsyuk and Zetterberg will introduce Western Conference hockey to the East, and Jimmy Howard will continue to be the backbone for this organization. Daniel Alfredsson will help the team prepare for Detroit’s new division rivals, which includes teams he has been up against for his entire career.
3) Boston Bruins Last year’s runner-ups will have a bit of a drop-off, but they’re still good enough to find themselves near the top of the Atlantic. Jarome Iginla fits the mold in Boston, and Tuukka Rask will have an MVP-type season. I still think the Bruins will hurt a little bit without Tyler Seguin, but Loui Eriksson is a fine replacement.
1) Boston Bruins After the first major offseason roster overhaul on Causeway Street in a handful of years, the defending Eastern Conference Champions will be looking to make it back to the postseason for the seventh consecutive year. With veteran scorers Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla added to the mix and an in-flux of young talent and speed on the back-end, the Bruins look like the class of the Atlantic Division.
2) Detroit Red Wings With Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss now in the fold, look for Detroit to once again be in contention for a divisional crown in just their first season as a member of the Eastern Conference. Detroit’s terrific tandem of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg is just as good, if not better, than any other forward duo in the NHL.
3) Ottawa Senators With Bobby Ryan now skating beside Jason Spezza, the Sens have one of the most dynamic top lines in the conference.
1) Pittsburgh Pengiuns With the skilled forwards they have it’s hard not to see them as the favorites to finish at the top of the Metro. The return of Rob Scuderi should also help bolster a defense that has been suspect.
2) New York Rangers Alain Vigneault has been a breath of fresh air, and his style of play should allow both forwards and defensemen to generate the kind of offense that has been sorely lacking. Having Henrik Lundqvist in goal doesn’t hurt either.
3) Columbus Blue Jackets This team was a laughingstock in 2012-13 and surprised everyone by making a hard charge for the playoffs that fell short last season, without Rick Nash. Should Sergei Bobrovsky continue his Vezina-worthy play and Marian Gaborik have a rebound season, the Jackets are poised to make some noise in their first season in the Eastern Conference.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins Despite the potential goalie issues with Marc-Andre Fleury, this team is well positioned to make a big potential run, at least in the regular season. Recent history shows Fleury could handle the load in the regular season, but will it become an issue again come April? Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Neal and company will give this team enough to take the division.
2) Washington Capitals This was probably my toughest call of the top 4 in the East, but I like this team with Adam Oates at the helm. There certainly should be enough scoring on this roster so it comes down to goaltending and defense. Is there enough? Holtby appears to be the real deal, so no reason to think there isn’t.
3) New York Rangers Should make for interesting time for NY Rangers with the departure of John Tortorella as head coach. It alone could provide the spark the team needs to carry them to the postseason as guys like Rick Nash and Chris Kreider will have a lot more offensive freedom than they did in the old regime. The same can be said for the solid nucleus on the backline in Michael Del Zotto. John Moore and Ryan McDonagh. Oh yeah, and even despite the need for smaller pads this year, Henrik Lundqvist still remains one of the best in the league between the pipes.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will provide enough offense for smooth sailing throughout the 2013-14 season. The playoffs are a different ball-game.
2) New York Islanders The offense is going to perform as a top-5 unit in the NHL; Evgeni Nabokov will keep the Islanders in many games, and Kevin Poulin and/or Anders Nilsson will give the Isles a viable option for the backup role.
3) Washington Capitals Rumors of Alex Ovechkin’s demise were exaggerated, and now he will return to his 50-60 goal-self. Caps were as good as any team down the stretch in 2013.
1) Pittsburgh Penguins After bowing out in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Bruins in last year’s conference championship series, the Penguins will no doubt be back in contention again this season. In what looks like a very evenly-matched division, from top-to-bottom, expect the Pens to run away with the top spot in the Metropolitan Division
2) New York Rangers Under new head coach Alain Vigneault, New York’s highly-skilled forward group will have the freedom to create many more plays in the offensive zone. Marc Staal’s eventual return may be enough to put the Blueshirts into contention for a division crown.
3) Philadelphia Flyers After a lockout-shortened season spent in turmoil, the Flyers look ready for a return to the postseason.
Eastern Conference Wild Cards
Cohen 7) Philadelphia Flyers 8) Montreal Canadiens
Levin 7) Montreal Canadiens 8) New Jersey Devils
Triantafilis 7) New York Rangers 8) Montreal Canadiens
Woodward 7) Montreal Canadiens 8) Tampa Bay Lightning
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About the Author: Likes: Hockey, the New York Rangers, King Henrik, singing the Rangers goal song, "The Save", the sound skates make against ice, heckling Marty Brodeur. Dislikes: 3-point games, front-office mismanagement, Denis Potvin, overpriced arena beer. Interested? Follow me on Twitter: @CC_927