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Predictions: Atlantic Division

The season has just begun but it is too early to find any meaningful trends this season.  I am completing my predictions by looking at the Atlantic Division.  This misnamed division is one of the newly aligned divisions this year.  It is odd that Detroit is in the Atlantic Division while New York teams are not.  Which city is closer to the Atlantic?

I have already posted my West Conference picks as well as those for the Metropolitan Division.  Today here are my picks for the final division - the Atlantic Division:

1. Boston Bruins - Fresh off a Stanley Cup final berth, this is one of the better teams in the NHL.  Patrice Bergeron leads their forwards and may be the best two-way forward in the game.  David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic provide some depth with Loui Eriksson and Jarome Iginla joining the group.  Zdeno Chara may be the best defenceman in the game and he leads a group including Dennis Seidenberg and Dougie Hamilton.  Tuukka Rask is a good starting goalie.

2. Detroit Red Wings - I think this is a team beginning a slow decline but that may not be seen in the standings due to their move to the East Conference.  The easier travel that comes with this may actually improve their winning percentage.  Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are two very good forwards but where is the depth?  If pressed I would pick Stephen Weiss as the number three forward but he will likely be well back of the top two.  Niklas Kronwall is their top defenceman but he is no Lidstrom.  Jimmy Howard is their number one goalie and he is a step back of the top goalies in the league.  There is still a good level of talent here, but the offensive stars are aging.  I think they will improve but it is largely schedule and not an improving group of players.

3. Ottawa Senators - Despite injury to their top forward Jason Spezza, top defenceman Erik Karlsson and top goalie Craig Anderson this team was still a solid playoff team.   They should be even better with those players healthy.  Young players Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan and Mika Zabinejad will help provide depth (Zabinejad may be starting the year in the AHL but I think he will have a good NHL season). 

4. Montreal Canadiens - Montreal took a big step up in the standings.  It was exaggerated because their 2011/12 season was worse than it should have been.  Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec and David Desharnais lead a solid group of forwards.  PK Subban is the reigning Norris Trophy winner on defence and Andrei Markov provides good depth.  Carey Price is a good goalie and is a solid pick to be Canada`s surprise starter in the Olympics.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning - Tampa doesn`t have great depth but their top two forwards in Steve Stamkos and Martin St Louis are the best twosome any team in the league can offer.  That should keep the Bolts out of the cellar.  Their depth at forward is weak - is Teddy Purcell their third best forward?  On defence, Victor Hedman and Matt Carle are their top.  Anders Lindback is the top goalie and he has done little to show he is a top quality NHL starter.

6. Toronto Maple Leafs - This team had their first playoff berth in almost a decade so conventional wisdom is that things are looking up.  The problem is that happened despite the worst puck possession in the league. Phil Kessel is a very good offensive player.  Nazem Kadri provides depth and must match a very good 2013 season.  Joffrey Lupul could be solid if he bounces back from injury.   Dion Phaneuf is their top defenceman but he hasn`t lived up to expectation recently.  Cody Franson may be the top defenceman in Toronto this year.  In goal, Jonathan Bernier will likely take over as number one goalie.  I doubt James Reimer will match his last season. 

7. Buffalo Sabres - Ryan Miller`s days as a top goalie appear to be over and if he cannot be an all star then this team is in trouble.  Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers are their top defencemen.  Tomas Vanek has some offensive ability but Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are the best depth behind him.  This team will have a long season.

8. Florida Panthers - Florida looks like a team of misfits.  They added Tim Thomas, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert at the last second after nobody else wanted them.  If Thomas is back in form of a couple years ago, this team could significantly exceed tis prediction, but I am skeptical of the shape he kept himself in at age 39 after a year off.  Tomas Fleischmann and Jonathan Huberdeau are their top offensive players.  Brian Campbell is a strong offensive defenceman with little defensive value.  It`s not clear that a dependable defensive defenceman exists here.

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Comments

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The funny thing about Florida is that, in terms of their possession stats, they were pretty close to respectable last season. Still below average, but nowhere near the bottom of the league, and ahead (in some cases way ahead) of new division rivals Toronto, Buffalo, and Tampa.

Where the Panthers got killed was the percentages: last in the NHL in save percentage; 28th in shooting percentage, and even worse when the score was close.

It looks like the low shooting percentage might not just be luck—over the last three seasons the Panthers have been consistently slightly below average at driving possession and consistently terrible with their shooting percentages, indicating that this is probably a team of bad shooters and not just a team of bad luck.

The goaltending, though? Even if Thomas is a shadow of his former self I would expect the team numbers to rebound quite a bit from last season. In 2011-12 the tandem of Markstrom, Clemmensen, and Theodore averaged .916. In the abridged 2013, those same three goalies pulled in an .891. Obviously it’s too early to tell what kind of goalie Markstrom will turn out to be, but even if he’s pretty below average (like .905 territory) and Thomas is average-to-below average, that’s still a huge improvement over what they got last year.

I still don’t think Florida is a playoff team, but I don’t think they’ll be last overall in the East and it wouldn’t surprise me if they leapfrogged at least Buffalo and Toronto in their division.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 10/04/13 at 07:18 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

One problem is that the quality of opposition was significantly different for teams in the old Southeast Division when compared to where they will play now.  So the old Southeast Division teams should have worse numbers all around.  Florida finished last in the league last year in the worst division in the league.  Put them in a better division and I think it will be pretty likely that they will stay there.  In fact the team has to improve to keep the same winning percentage.  Even if we argue that they were not as bad as their 2013 season showed (and your Corsi argument is a good start to do that), that won’t be enough to move them out of last place.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 10/04/13 at 12:54 PM ET

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Seems there is a consensus among the experts as to the standing for the Atlantic this year.  I watched Florida and Timmy Thomas last night.  I believe they will be in the mix for the playoffs at season’s end.  Ottawa will underachieve this year after over-achieving last year.

Posted by RJ on 10/04/13 at 01:37 PM ET

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I’m skeptical about how much of an advantage playing in an easier in-conference division truly is these days. There is certainly an effect, but I doubt it’s that large, and certainly well within the typical range of variance attributable to luck.

I mean, last season any two teams in the same conference but different divisions (say, for the sake of having an example, Florida and Boston) had 39 of their 48 opponents essentially in common (3x5 vs. Atlantic teams, 3x4 against Northeast other than Boston, 3x4 against Southeast other than Florida). They also played each other 3 times, for a total of 42 out of 48 games.

If at the beginning of the year, at the last minute, Boston and Florida had swapped divisions, 42 out of the 48 opponents on their calendar would have remained in place, meaning the only real advantage to playing in one division or another was 6 extra games against that division. Even if you were going from a really tough division (where, say, you could expect to collect 1 ppg) to a really easy one (where you could average 1.5 ppg), the expected benefit is only 3 points. And there’s little evidence to suggest the difference between even the best and worst division is even close to that wide.

This isn’t like the days just after the 2004-05 lockout when teams were playing an absurd 8 games vs. division opponents and only 10 total against the other conference. Back then, two teams in the same conference but different divisions only had 57 opponents in common (52 if you throw out whichever Eastern division they had in common, considering one team got them all at home and the other all on the road). For this upcoming year even non-conference teams will share 56/82, and in-conference non-division share either 66 (West) or 70 (East).

Bottom line, you just don’t get enough excess games against your division any more for division strength to matter that much. It does make a difference of probably a few points, but that difference is still easily swallowed up by the variance attributable to random chance.

Florida is still a terrible team, don’t get me wrong. And going to a harder division is at least a minor handicap. But I think their goaltending will improve enough that, with their so-so possession game, they’ll be out of last place. I’d project maybe 13th. Good or bad luck could account for them moving up or down a few more spots from there.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 10/04/13 at 02:45 PM ET

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Otherwise I pretty much agree with your rundown, except I suspect Ottawa will overtake Detroit for 2nd place. Hard to pick between those two teams though—a lot will depend on injuries and luck, as always.

Posted by Sven22 from Grand Rapids on 10/04/13 at 02:57 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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