by PuckStopsHere on 10/03/11 at 04:53 PM ET
I am carrying on with my regular season predictions today. Here are my West Conference predictions. Today I move onto the Northeast Division
1. Boston Bruins - This team may have won the Stanley Cup last year but they were not the best team in the league. I expect a Stanley Cup hangover from this team, but I still think they will win this division. Tim Thomas had an incredible season last year and though he is 37 years old he should be a top goalie again this season. If he falters, Tuukka Rask is the best backup goalie in the league. They have a strong defence led by Zdeno Chara, who is probably the best defenceman in hockey today. Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk are key depth defencemen. They lack any dominant scorers, but Patrice Bergeron, Rich Peverley and Brad Marchand are very good two way players. David Krejci and Nathan Horton are two solid scorers. Boston is hard to score on and that will make them a top team this year, but their lack of a top offence will keep them back of the top contenders.
2. Buffalo Sabres - The Sabres spent a lot of money trying to make their team better, but in a year of weak free agents it won’t make a big enough dent. Their top free agent signees were Ville Leino and Christian Ehrhoff and they traded for Robyn Regehr. These players will be on the Sabres front lines, but none are likely to be above average difference makers. Of the remaining players, Ryan Miller is a top goalie and will be among the best in the league. Tyler Myers is a talented young defenceman. Jordan Leopold and Andrej Sekera provide defensive depth. At forward, the Sabres will get a boost from a full year of Derek Roy who returns along with Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford. The Sabres are an example of ownership interfering in running the team and trying to buy success. That isn’t a recipe for success and won’t push the Sabres ahead by any significant amount.
3. Montreal Canadiens - Montreal requires another big season from goaltender Carey Price to remain a playoff team. Will he be capable? On defence, Andrei Markov is counted upon to be a key contributor if he can stay healthy. Otherwise PK Subban and Hal Gill may be required to carry the load. I doubt they will succeed. Offensively there are no top scorers but Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and perhaps Scott Gomez will attempt to carry the load. As long as Price can repeat his performance from last year, Montreal should make the playoffs, but if he struggles this team will fall significantly.
4. Ottawa Senators - A full season of Craig Anderson in goal will improve the team significantly over Brian Elliott, who was the most used Sens goalie last year. On defence Sergei Gonchar may have another year left in him and Erik Karlsson is developing. Chris Phillips is solid defensively. Jason Spezza has the most offensive potential, though he has struggled for the last couple of years. Daniel Alfredsson is 38 years old and his best years have passed, but he provides solid depth. Nick Foligno and Milan Michalek are the best of their remaining offensive talents. This team won’t score much, but they will take a step forward preventing goals due to better goaltending. I think they will do better than many predict them to, although most predict a finish at or near last place, so that won’t be too difficult.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs - It is hard to trust the Toronto goaltending. James Reimer was not considered much of an NHL prospect until he played well in 37 games last season; he probably overachieved and will find it difficult to repeat his performance. Jonas Gustavsson is the other option and he has not shown the ability to be a solid NHL starter. On defence, Dion Phaneuf could be a star, but he hasn’t played as well as expected since coming to Toronto. Luke Schenn is full of potential and John-Michael Liles and Carl Gunarsson provide depth. Phil Kessel is the top scorer. He would succeed best with better linemates, but he won’t get them in Toronto. Clarke MacArthur and Mikhail Grabovski had some solid seasons last year and will need to repeat them unless Toronto takes a step backwards. Joffrey Lupul has struggled in his last couple of years but he is another potential source of offence. Toronto is in bad shape if James Reimer cannot repeat his 2010/11 season, which is somewhat unlikely. I expect this team to finish last in their division.
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