The NHL season gets underway Oct. 6 with three games scheduled. But before the puck drops on another exciting season, we’ll take one last look ahead at each of the divisions. Monday we previewd the Atlantic and Pacific, Tuesday we looked at the Central and Southeast and today we wrap it up with the Northeast and Northwest.
Top three fantasy options: David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron.
Key additions: Joe Corvo, Benoit Pouliot.
Key departures: Tomas Kaberle, Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi.
Something to prove: On a Cup-winning team, it’s tough to find a guy in need of a bounce-back season. Goalie Tuukka Rask comes closest. He had solid numbers last year (.918 SP, 2.67 GAA), but they fell from his .931 SP and 1.97 GAA in 2009-10. Rask, 24, will be an RFA next summer, so an improved season will do wonders for his wallet.
The big question: What does Tyler Seguin do for an encore? His offensive outburst during the playoffs signaled much greater point totals than his regular season indicated and with the retirement of Mark Recchi, a top-six spot is his for the taking. Oh, and Seguin trains with fitness guru Gary Roberts.
Outlook: The Bruins begin the defense of their Stanley Cup minus some complementary players (Recchi, Michael Ryder, Tomas Kaberle), but with ostensibly the same lineup. Goalie Tim Thomas was the chief reason for their championship and he’ll need to be just as spectacular by the time the playoffs roll around for Boston’s hopes of a repeat to turn into a reality. THN PREDICTION: Third in East.
Top three fantasy options: Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville.
Key additions: Christian Ehrhoff, Robyn Regehr, Ville Leino.
Key departures: Tim Connolly, Rob Niedermayer, Chris Butler, Steve Montador, Mark Mancari.
Something to prove: With 22 goals last season, Jason Pominville made it five straight years with at least 20 goals. But his 52 points in 2010-11 were his lowest total since he posted 30 in 2005-06. With the right winger making north of $5 million this season, the Sabres will be looking for more from the 28-year-old sniper.
The big question: Is the new Drew Stafford here to stay? With a breakout 31-goal season that featured a bevy of hat tricks, Stafford showed why he was a first round draft pick back in 2004. The mission now is for the right winger to stay healthy all season long and hit the 70- or 80-point mark.
Outlook: The spirit of renewal began in Buffalo last spring when new owner Terry Pegula took over the franchise – and it kicked into high gear in the summer, when GM Darcy Regier tossed around money like crazy. Acquired were veterans Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino and Robyn Regehr, giving the Sabres more punch on offense and defense. Ryan Miller, Derek Roy and Tyler Myers are still the big wheels for Buffalo, which will push Boston hard for the Northeast title. THN PREDICTION: Fifth in East.
Top three fantasy options: Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri, Erik Cole.
Key additions: Petr Budaj, Erik Cole, Jeff Woywitka, Michael Blunden.
Key departures: James Wisniewski, Alex Auld, Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik, Benoit Pouliot, Brent Sopel, Paul Mara.
Something to prove: Lost amid the focus on the questions surrounding Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges was another defenseman, Jaroslav Spacek. The 37-year-old missed 23 games last year with a knee injury and has fallen down Montreal’s depth chart. He arrived in camp in very good shape and could be more effective in limited minutes.
The big question: What will Montreal’s defense corps look like a month into the season? It’s only fair to ask at this point if Markov is still healthy, because that hasn’t been the case very often lately. Gorges is also coming off a trying season, but when all the parts are put together, the Habs are fit on ‘D.’
Outlook: The Canadiens had to overcome a depleted blueline last season, but scratched and clawed their way into a post-season berth. Even without a slew of injuries this year, they’ll still be in tough to lock up a lower playoff seed. Former Hurricane Erik Cole is expected to provide more offense, but let’s face it – this team will be made or broken based in large part on the play of goalie Carey Price. THN PREDICTION: Eighth in East.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Top three fantasy options: Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski.
Key additions: John-Michael Liles, Tim Connolly, Matthew Lombardi, Cody Franson, David Steckel, Philippe Dupuis.
Key departures: Tim Brent, J-S Giguere, Fredrik Sjostrom, Fabian Brunnstrom.
Something to prove: Center Matthew Lombardi played just two games last year with Nashville because of post-concussion symptoms. He is symptom-free and if he can supply Toronto with the 19 goals and 53 points he posted in 2009-10 with Phoenix, the Leafs’ need for secondary scoring won’t be as pronounced as it was last season.
The big question: Was the offense from Toronto’s No. 2 line last year an aberration or a sign of good things to come? The MacArthur-Grabbo-Kulemin combo will get even more cover this season with Tim Connolly feeding Phil Kessel on the top trio, but they must produce if the Leafs are to succeed.
Outlook: The Maple Leafs made a late-but-in-vain playoff push last year and added a bunch of veterans to get them over the hump. Starting goalie James Reimer will play a bigger role than any of those newcomers, but to finish ahead of where we’ve predicted them to land, they’ll need to avoid the injury bug and get better years from basically everyone on the roster. THN PREDICTION: 10th in East.
Top three fantasy options: Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson.
Key additions: Nikita Filatov, Zenon Konopka, Alex Auld, Mark Parrish.
Key departures: Ryan Shannon, Ryan Potulny, Curtis McElhinney.
Something to prove: Many Sens need to have a better season, but none more than Sergei Gonchar. The veteran D-man’s first year in Ottawa was an unmitigated disaster (27 points and a minus-15 in 67 games). If Ottawa has any hope of playoff contention, the team needs Gonchar to be more productive on offense and at least decent in his zone.
The big question: What sort of numbers can Jason Spezza put up? The hopeful answer is “a lot,” because the Sens are bereft of other offensive weapons. Injuries have resulted in back-to-back 57-point campaigns, but Spezza’s points-per-game rate is still way down from his post-lockout pace.
Outlook: The Senators were expected to contend for a playoff berth last year, but those hopes disintegrated early thanks to a lack of depth, underachievement and injuries to key players. This season, with the franchise on a clear and public rebuild, expectations are as low as they can get. Rookies David Rundblad, Jared Cowen and Mika Zibanejad offer hope for the future, but for now, Sens fans should prepare for a tough year. THN PREDICTION: 15th in East.