Boston Bruins center Chris Kelly (23) trips over Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) who blocked his shot in the first period during Game 5 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals, Saturday, June 22, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Bruce Bennett, Pool)
With less than a week to go before the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, Madhouse Enforcer will be previewing the upcoming campaign with a series of articles predicting how the season will shake out.
Today, we will focus on the Eastern Conference, and start by taking a look at the Atlantic Division.
1. Boston Bruins
The Bruins came within two games of winning their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons in June, when they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games. This year, they are retooled a bit, with Loui Eriksson, Jarome Iginla, and Reilly Smith strengthening their winger
position and leaving them poised for another run at a Cup.
2. Ottawa Senators
If Ottawa fans thought that the slew of injuries that befell the team last year would be the biggest body blow they would take, they were wrong, as longtime captain Daniel Alfredsson bolted the team and headed to Detroit.
Even still, the blow was cushioned by the fact that Bobby Ryan was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks, and when you factor in a healthy Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson into the mix, you have the recipe for a team poised to make some playoff noise.
3. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are a team that have seemingly been overlooked the past few seasons, but they have quietly kept plugging away and very nearly made the conference finals last year, losing in Game 7 overtime to the Blackhawks.
This year, they will be relying on the maturation of players like Tomas Tatar and Justin Abdelkader, as well as new acquisitions like Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, to guide them on a playoff run.
4. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens stunned plenty of people last season when they went from predicted doormats to Northeast Division champions, but they won't be able to sneak up on anybody this year.
The Habs didn't go crazy in free agency, only bringing in Danny Briere, and they didn't really address their biggest issue, which is their lack of size. That means that they'll be fighting for a playoff berth, but we have them finishing just short.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts still have some very good talent up front in Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but their goaltending situation is a massive question mark, and they will need either Ben Bishop or Anders Lindback to really step up if they are serious about making the postseason.
6. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs in 2013 in positively heartbreaking fashion, but they didn't exactly go about dealing with the heartache in the right way.
Adding players like David Clarkson and Dave Bolland sapped their salary cap room, and losing Mikhail Grabovski in a head-scratching salary dump have conspired to leave a chunk of their fan base seriously questioning GM Dave Nonis, and the moves have likely weakened the franchise that was on the cusp of a deep playoff run last year.
7. Buffalo Sabres
After several years of trying to put pieces together to win a title under owner Terry Pegula, the Sabres are trying a different tactic to break their team's playoff drought.
They are going to rebuild the team through the draft, and that means that players like Cody Hodgson and Mikhail Grigoreno will have to shoulder a bigger load this season, and with trades possible of players like Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, the Sabres could be in for a long year.
8. Florida Panthers
Speaking of teams in danger of having a disappointing year, the Panthers
have been a team willing to take chances, but they have rarely panned
out under GM Dale Tallon.
They will ice two top-tier draft picks in their lineup this season, with last year's second overall pick Aleksander Barkov and 2012's first round selection Jonathan Huberdeau manning the forward slots. The Panthers are still woefully thin on defense and even worse off in goaltending, so even if they can shoot the lights out every night, they are going to have a tough time keeping pucks out of their own net.