With the 2014-15 NHL season getting ready to kick off, Madhouse Enforcer will be previewing the upcoming campaign with a series of articles predicting how the season will shake out.
Today, we will be focusing on the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts are poised to build on last season’s impressive success as they welcome some new players into the fold. Brian Boyle and Brenden Morrow should bolster their bottom six forwards, and adding Jason Garrison on the blue line will be big too. The big addition of the year is a player the team drafted last season, with Jonathan Drouin being the big front-runner for the Calder Trophy.
2. Boston Bruins
It almost seems crazy to not pick the Bruins to win this division, but with the firepower that Tampa Bay has (not to mention the splendid goaltending tandem of Ben Bishop and Evgeni Nabokov), Boston is going to finish just short this season. They’re still a very good team with some tremendous two-way players, as Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic headline that list.
The big question for the Bruins will be whether or not losing Johnny Boychuk hurts their blue line in a big way. They still have guys like Dougie Hamilton and Zdeno Chara, but dropping a top-four defenseman is never easy for a team.
3. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are going to be in for a bit of a struggle this season in the early going, as they lost several really good players in Thomas Vanek, Brian Gionta, and Daniel Briere. Even with that being the case though, they are still a team capable of going places, with PK Subban, Carey Price, and Max Pacioretty all making the grade as elite-level talents.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
With players like James van Riemsdyk, Phil Kessel, and Joffrey Lupul, the Leafs’ offense should be able to produce plenty of scoring. The big question for them rests on their blue line, with Stephane Robidas coming off a broken leg and Roman Polak joining the team after a trade from the St. Louis Blues. Goaltending is less of a question, with Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer proving to be a pretty solid tandem.
5. Detroit Red Wings
As shocking as this may be to some hockey fans, we are not picking the Wings to make the postseason. Age is finally catching up to them, and even though players like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar do provide hope for the future, their defense is simply not up to playoff snuff. Jimmy Howard will also need a bounce back year for the team to make the playoffs and extend their remarkable 21-year playoff streak.
6. Florida Panthers
Much like they did before they won the Southeast Division in 2013, the Panthers made a slew of moves in the offseason. They added Dave Bolland and Derek MacKenzie to their center group, and adding defenseman Willie Mitchell and left wing Jussi Jokinen will only help things. We’re still not completely sold on the Panthers, but they could be one of those teams that jumps up the board and makes us look stupid when it’s all said and done.
7. Ottawa Senators
Goaltending is a huge question mark for this team heading into the season, with Craig Anderson holding a tenuous grip on the starting job. He will need to have a big season for the Senators to be successful, and their blue line will have to step up as well. Erik Karlsson is tremendous for them, but aside from his production, a group led by Marc Methot and Jared Cowen doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.
8. Buffalo Sabres
If there is one thing the Sabres will lead the league in (besides potentially goals allowed), it’s the race to draft Connor McDavid first overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. This team did add guys like Brian Gionta and Matt Moulson in the offseason, but with suspect goaltending and a defensive group that only got weaker when they bought out Christian Ehrhoff, this could be a long season in upstate New York.