2013 NHL Season Preview: Part I: Predicting the Northeast Division

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Alas, after nearly four months of bickering over every last nickel and dime that could possible be salvaged, the NHL and the NHLPA have signed a new collective bargaining agreement, making way for a 48-game 2013 hockey season!

After remaining optimistic throughout most of the process, I became a bit skeptical in the last week or so as the clock began to tick ever so close to “midnight”, or the presumed January 11 deadline to get a deal done. In the end, there was simply nothing for the league to gain by cancelling another entire season.

As of this writing, there hasn’t been any official announcement from the league on a schedule format, but games are expected to begin on Saturday, January 19 with all 30 teams in action.

Now that we can all finally get back to focusing on hockey, now is as good a time as any to begin my series of 2013 NHL season preview posts. I have decided against a set schedule for this series, but it will all be published in order and before the puck drops next weekend.

Part I –> Northeast Division Preview

Part II –> Eastern Conference Preview

Part III –> Hockey Independent Roundtable: Preseason Stanley Cup Predictions

Part IV –> Boston Bruins 2013 Roster Predictions: The Forwards

Part V –> Boston Bruins 2013 Roster Predictions: Defense/Goaltenders

Without further ado, I present you with my Northeast division predictions for the 2013 NHL season.

1) Boston Bruins -

Key Addition – D Aaron Johnson

Key Loss – G Tim Thomas

Player to Watch – D Dougie Hamilton

- The 2011 Stanley Cup winners were beset by injuries and an under-mentioned championship hangover last season, but with an extended offseason of rest and recovery, should be right back in the hunt this spring. Even without enigmatic goaltender Tim Thomas, the B’s look steady in goal with Tuukka Rask — coming off an impressive stint in Europe — and Anton Khudobin. Up front, 2011 playoff hero Nathan Horton is set to return after suffering a second concussion last January and should return to his normal first line duties. Third-year forward Tyler Seguin will also be back for his third NHL season after a couple of months lighting the lamp in the Swiss league. On the back end, young defense prospect Dougie Hamilton is expected to add an interesting element of vision and offense on the Boston blueline.

2) Toronto Maple Leafs -

Key Addition – F James van Riemsdyk

Key Loss - D Luke Schenn

Player to Watch – D Jake Gardiner

- The James van Riemsdyk-for-Luke Schenn deal seems to have been an absolute stroke of brilliance on the part of Leafs’ GM Brian Burke. Schenn became lost in a lineup chock full of experienced NHL defensemen. With John-Michael Liles, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson, captain Dion Phaneuf and youngsters Jake Gardiner and Carl Gunnarsson already in the fold, the Leafs were clearly dealing from a position of strength. Meanwhile, van Riemsdyk could immediately become a first-line player for Toronto, skating alongside Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel. The question marks for the Leafs will begin and end in goal with James Reimer set to return as the team’s No. 1 netminder. If Reimer can stay healthy, Toronto may stand an outside chance of getting into the playoffs.

3) Ottawa Senators -

Key Addition – F Guillaume Latendresse

Key Loss – D Filip Kuba

Player to Watch – F Colin Greening

- The Sens were the surprise of the season last year, making a miraculous run to the postseason amidst a rapid rebuild in Canada’s capital city. With a lineup near-perfectly balanced with youth and experience, Ottawa should be able to stay in the playoff discussion for most of the season. Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson will be looking to repeat a masterful 2011-12 campaign as the No. 1 man on an inexperienced Senators’ blueline. However, the stiff competition in the Eastern Conference will likely leave the Sens on the outside looking in when playoff time rolls around.

4) Buffalo Sabres -

Key Addition – F Steve Ott

Key Loss – F Derek Roy

Player to Watch – F Drew Stafford

- Buffalo’s depth on the blueline is often overlooked, but with Robyn Regehr, Jordan Leopold, Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff all under contract, the Sabres have created a solid mix of offensive and defensive rearguards. Up front, the offense will likely suffer quite a bit from the loss of playmaking pivot Derek Roy, but will gain some much-needed grit and toughness with the additions of Steve Ott and John Scott. The most interesting storyline of the year for the Sabres may be whether or not young Jhonas Enroth can overtake Ryan Miller as the team’s starting goaltender.

5) Montreal Canadiens -

Key Addition – F Brandon Prust

Key Loss – D Chris Campoli

Player to Watch – F Lars Eller

- First-year general manager Marc Bergevin deserves a bright gold star for the work he’s done in such a short time at the helm of the Habs. First, the former Chicago executive drafted what looks like the best 2012 class in all of hockey, featuring superstar prospects Alex Galchenyuk and Sebastian Collberg. Next, Bergevin improved upon one of his team’s biggest shortcomings: a lack of size and physicality up front. The signings of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong will go a long way towards keeping the Habs from being pushed around by bigger and more physical opponents. The Canadiens are most certainly on the right track to success, but it won’t come this year.

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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Michigan Fan. Street Hockey Agitator. My work has been featured at the New England and New York Hockey Journals, The Hockey Guys, and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com!

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