Shark Circle’s Atlantic Division Preview and Standings Predictions

Here are my predictions on where teams will finish in their new divisions. Unfortunately no time or research went into this outside of looking at each team’s roster briefly on their respective official websites. Otherwise it’s just off the top of my head. But here we go.

ATLANTIC

1. Detroit Red Wings if they recall Nyqvist. Reason: Losing Filppula and especially Brunner, who was a fantastic surprise for them last season and finally gave them back their “Detroit Red Wings-depth” that they’d been missing ever since Marian Hossa left, and I really don’t understand NHL GMs at all that they let him go and no other team seemed that interested in signing him either… losing those two will hurt, but offseason-addition Stephen Weiss borders on being a top-line center when healthy, so he’s a fantastic addition and an upgrade on Filppula, and other-offseason-addition Daniel Alfredsson should at least replace what they had in Brunner.

Other than that, their much-maligned defense is actually way better now than it was two seasons ago when it was much-praised just because they still had an old Nicklas Lidstrom. Jakub Kindl has emerged as a quality top-four defenseman as I predicted he would since Mike Babcock finally gave him a long-overdue chance last season, Niklas Kronwall is excellent as ever, Kyle Quincey is a very solid talent even if he’s been wildly inconsistent since joining the Red Wings, Daniel Dekayser looks like another Niklas Kronwall already, and Brendan Smith is a really good skater with skills even if he has a bit of Nick Leddy/Cam Fowler syndrome where he doesn’t turn his excellent skills into real positive impact on the game as much as he should.

Also, back to the forwards, Gustav Nyqvist looks like a really good young player who should give them another top-six calibre forward if they call him up again, which they should.

Detroit’s big question as always is Mr. anti-clutch Jimmy Howard, but he played much better last season and should be good enough now that the Red Wings have their depth back in front of him, at least until the playoffs roll around.

Overall, this is as good a forward group, defense, and goalie as the Red Wings have had since they made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2009, and they are anchored as always by Pavel Datsyuk and the somewhat-resurgent Henrik Zetterberg who looked in shape last season for the first time since, you guessed it, 2009. I don’t think most people realize that, after acquiring Dekayser and promoting Nyqvist (and seeing him come into his own which really didn’t happen until late in the season), the Red Wings beat the Western Conference’s number two seed, the Anaheim Ducks, in the playoffs, and came one overtime goal away from beating the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. This is no accident. With Brunner, Nyqivst, Dekayser, Kindl, etc in tow last season, they finally got their depth back and became one of the most talented, balanced teams in the NHL late last season. I think they’ve gotten better over the offseason, although they could have gotten super-better if they’d retained Damien Brunner, so I predict they’ll fight it out all season with the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, and finish first because, one, I had to pick one of them, and two, I’ll explain in the Bruins’ section…

2. Boston Bruins: So about that explanation. The Bruins come into this season with a very similar roster-mix, despite some serious changeover, as they Cup Finals-team of last season. I see their swapping out of Nathan Horton for Jarome Iginla, and Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson, as essentially a wash. Losing the Nathan Horton of last season for the Jarome Iginla of last season, the way he played for the Penguins, would probably be a downgrade, although it’s quite likely Iginla just didn’t fit with the Penguins’ style of play, and will be invigorated by playing the Bruins’ style, and could turn out to perform even better than Nathan Horton. And swapping out Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson, for the short-term and again, the style of game the Bruins play is a big reason here, is probably an upgrade for the Bruins.

However, there is one important piece, flying below the radar, that they didn’t play: the unsung hero of their depth the last three seasons: Rich Peverley. Peverley was included in their trade for Loui Eriksson, and they didn’t bring in a true replacement for him. I believe he was a huge part of the success of their third line, as he’s really a second line player that just happened to play on their third line due to their excellent depth, and I think they will miss him a lot. That’s why I rank Detroit ahead of them.

On the plus side, I do think a player by the name of Nick Johnson could surprise for them on the wing of their third or fourth line. Wait, apparently he’s on waivers. Nevermind. Well that was dumb. Reilly Smith could also help to make up for the lack of Peverley to some degree, but overall, with Peverley gone, I now see names like Carl Soderberg and Jordan Caron penciled in to play significant bottom-six roles on the Bruins’ roster now, names that wouldn’t have made it in on the Bruins’ two Stanley Cup Finals’ rosters of the last three years. What that hints at is they’re probably not as deep, so that’s why I’ve ranked them here.

3. Ottawa Senators: The choice between the Senators and the Canadiens was very difficult, as they’re both teams built on deep, skilled forward groups that also have one elite defenseman in Erik Karlsson and P.K. Subban, respectively. I give the edge to the Senators against my initial thinking after taking a glance at the lineup sheets because while the depth of the two teams is essentially the same, the Senators’ best forwards, at least of them, is probably better than the Canadiens’ best forwards. Or maybe I should just say “forward.” Jason Spezza is better than Tomas Plekanec. Or if Galenchyuk is the Canadiens’ best center now, Spezza is better than him, too, at least for now. Bobby Ryan is also a more elite player than most of the quality forwards’ Montreal has, but then again maybe Plekanec is right up there with him. Karlsson, when healthy, is better than Subban, too, although Subban really cut the gap last year.

The Senators’ coaching has also been exceptional the last two seasons, but then again the Canadiens were very well coached for (most of) the season last year, too.

But ultimately, the Senators beat the Canadiens last year in the playoffs, and while I like the addition of Danny Briere for the Canadiens, I feel that Bobby Ryan is a slight upgrade over Daniel Alfredsson for the Senators, while Clarke Macarthur is also a good addition for them, even if he’s not as good as Briere. Plus, Karlsson wasn’t even healthy to end last season when the Senators beat the Canadiens, but he should be for this season. Also, the Canadiens signed Douglas Murray. They lucked out because he just injured himself for a good time before the season even started, but if heals in time to play at all this season, he will hurt the Canadiens in the standings. So I give Ottawa the edge.

4. Montreal Canadiens: The Toronto Maple Leafs are right on their heels and I could go either way there, too, but I like the Canadiens’ forward depth even more now with the addition of Daniel Briere, and as long as Andrei Markov stays healthy, they have an excellent top-two on defense with him and Subban, plus Josh Gorges and Raphael Diaz are very underrated, and Alexei Emelin has seemed to play well for them in recent seasons. Jarred Tinordi is a former 1st round draft pick with size on the back-end who I’ve never seen play, but could be a help to them. Their signing of Douglas Murray, whose play and skating, specifically, bordered on sub-NHL-level during the end of his time in San Jose, could prove to be a noose around the whole team’s neck if he gets regular playing time for them and plays as poorly as he did last season, but it’s hard for me to base a team’s prediction on just one depth player. But maybe in this case, I should. He was that bad last season. But I can’t. One hopes that if he plays that poorly, the coach will be smart enough to bench him. Since I have no idea of predicting what decision the coach will make in that regard if that scenario presents itself, I’m just going to leave the Canadiens at #3.

5. Toronto Maple Leafs: I understand why the Leafs like Mikael Grabovski go when they thought he would demand $5 million dollars per year, and they didn’t have cap space, but that doesn’t mean they won’t miss him. Less understandable is them letting Clarke Macarthur go, but he signed for over $3 million dollars per year as well, so it’s not like was cheap. Maybe they just didn’t have cap space for either. Regardless, they will miss both, although I really like the addition of David Clarkson, at least for their prospects this season, and Dave Bolland should help their depth as well. Mason Raymond should, too, actually, although my view of him has soured a bit over the years.

Still, with Clarkson now in tow, the Leafs build on their deep, skilled group of forwards, and add another power forward to the mix to help balance out the more finesse skill sets of Phil Kessel and Joeffrey Lupul. James Van Riemsdyk should also be in for another big season, while Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner both seem on the brink of emerging as elite defenseman. They’re already both top-four calibre, maybe even better than that, and Jake Gardiner especially has that type of Paul Coffey style explosive puck-moving skill from the back-end that he utilized very well towards the end of last season. His skating and power improved last season and you could see it pay huge dividends in his play. And Cody Franson was excellent himself combining size and skill.

Dion Phaneuf is a mixed bag at this point in his career, but he still offers a tremendous physical skill set, while Carl Gunnarsson has developed into an excellent #3-type two-way defensemen, standing out in that role among names like Nicklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks. John-Michael Liles has been an excellent puck-moving defenseman in the past, but seems passed his peak at this point. Morgan Reilly has potential but I haven’t seen him play recently, and Paul Ranger was a very promising young NHL defenseman before he quit the game a few seasons ago, so his signing is a low-risk, high-reward one that could pay huge dividends.

The Leafs’ goaltending with Reimer in the cage is average at best, and really cost them dearly last season as Reimer played too deep in his net and let in soft goals that allowed the Boston Bruins to tie game seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals late and then steal the game in overtime. However Reimer has some talent, as does backup Jonathan Bernier who could end up stealing the crease. As long as one of them comes through, the Leafs shouldn’t have a big issue in-goal, but I’m just saying that Reimer hasn’t always been trustworthy in the past, and Bernier has never played consistently as a starting goaltender in the NHL. Both are unproven in their own ways, but in terms of talent level, the Leafs should be covered in net.

Overall, the Leafs are a deep team with speed, skill, and all-around talent at every position. Their only weak spot is for all the good players they have, they don’t have as many great players as other teams. Kessel is a great player in my opinion, but the rest of the best of the forward group is probably closer to “very good” than great, and worse yet, none of even those “very good” players play center. They have “very good” or great centers. And on defense, while Phaneuf, Gardiner, Franson, and to a lesser extent Gunnarsson are all very good players, none of them are quite of the Norris-calibre, aka “great” calibre, yet either.

Still, you have to love their depth, and what matters is the team, not individuals. Taken as a whole, you have to like the talent they have on defense, as well as their depth on offense. Lacking true elite centers is really the only serious complaint you can level at the team as a whole, rather than picking apart things on a more individual-basis which I what I did earlier. And that’s why I’m ranking them among the best in the Atlantic Division, although I do technically have them in the lower half and outside of the playoffs. But they’re very close to Ottawa and Montreal in talent, and it should be a dogfight between those three teams all season long for the last two playoff spots.

6. Florida Panthers: The last three in this division become impossible to predict because they all have so many prospects listed on their rosters currently, and I have no idea how many of them are actually going to play. But based on the current rosters listed, I think the Panthers could surprise people with their forward depth so long as Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and others actually play on top of the likes of Huberdeau, Fleischmann, and Kris Versteeg. They’ll definitely miss Stephen Weiss, but he was injured all of last season anyway. Scott Gomez was also a nice depth signing, and their defense has a few good names on it in Brian Campbell and Dimitry Kulikov. If Ryan Whitney can have a rebound year, that will be one of the signings of the offseason, and if Erik Gudbranson breaks out himself and lives up to the potential of a #3 overall draft pick, their defense could really surprise people as well.

And I almost forgot, but they signed Tim Thomas! If he’s anything like the Tim Thomas of old, THAT could be the signing of the offseason. So it’s like I said, it’s hard to predict rosters this unsettled, but based on what I see currently, the Panthers could surprise.

7. Buffalo Sabres: Again, it’s impossible predicting rosters that are only half-decided on it seems, and I only know like half the names on Tampa Bay’s new roster, which might have something to do with my ranking them last. I’m going to take Buffalo’s whole roster over Tampa’s half roster every day!

Will Girgensons and Grigorenko and Larsson actually play for the Sabres? I don’t know, but they’re listed on the roster right now, so I have to assume they will. And if they do, they definitely have potential, all three of them, and obviously Grigorenko especially we know for a fact is already NHL-ready in terms of talent. The other two I haven’t seen play for a while (or ever when it comes to Girgensons, although I liked him on youtube before he was drafted), but I liked what I saw of Larsson in the WJCs two years ago I think.

If there is turmoil within the Sabres dressing room based on the trade rumors over the summer involving Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller, that could put a dent in their season as well, but everything I’ve heard is that all of those rumors have died down. And if that’s the case, I’m a big fan of Thomas Vanek, and Ryan Miller definitely has the talent to outplay anyone the Lightning put in-goal. Tampa definitely still has an advantage with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but the depth of their roster, with Vincent Lecavalier gone and Jonathan Drouin sent back to the OHL, doesn’t look as good as the Sabres. That is, assuming all those names I’ve never heard of aren’t actually really good young players, which is definitely possible.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning: I have no idea who Tyler Johnson, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, or Ondrej Palat are, while Richard Panik only vaguely rings a bell, and since these players make up a significant portion of the Lightning’s forward group, I have no choice but to rank them last in the division since I have no idea who they are. Maybe I should have just given the Lightning a “Not Available” ranking since I don’t know enough of their roster to give a real prediction, so I guess you can consider this just as much that as a ranking of 8th. Because really the same goes for defense. Looking at their roster on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s official website, we have Mark Barberio, Mike Ribeiro’s evil brother, Radko Gudas, and Andrej Sustr, who is Daryl Sutter’s Ukrainian cousin. But really, I don’t know who they are either, so I can’t really predict this team.

But, I’ll put it to you this way. Stamkos and Martin St Louis are good. Teddy Purcell is very underrated and very good. Ryan Malone is pretty solid when he’s healthy. Alex Killorn I remember being one of two really underrated rookies who got some top-six ice time last season, maybe when someone else was injured (probably Lecavalier), and performed well, but then got moved back down the lineup later on or got demoted to the AHL altogether, I don’t remember. When I say Richard Panik sounds vaguely familiar, that’s who I’m wondering if that’s who the other one of those young players was last season. But I remember Killorn being pretty good. And on defense, Hedman is good, while Carle, Brewer, Ohlund, and Salo range from OK to pretty good, and Aulie has some potential but I don’t remember if he was any good last season.

But all those players, who make up a majority of the names I actually know on this roster, are solid enough as a whole, with a few being spectacular, obviously, such as Steven Stamkos. But that group is fine. So what I’m saying is, if all those unknown names actually turn out to be good, well then that was my only concern, not knowing them. So if they’re good, you can change my prediction completely. If they’re good, the Lightning will be much better than 8th. If they’re not, if their play mirrors the expectations one (like myself) would default to given the fact I’ve never heard any of their names before, then that’s why I ranked them eighth in the division, and we’ll have to see what happens.

That’s all for now. I expect the rest of the division previews, if I get around to them, will be shorter.

Written by Shark Circle

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