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2013-14 NHL Eastern Conference Preview

Alexander Wowra |
September 30, 2013 | 4:43 a.m. PDT

Staff Writer

Tuukka Rask and the Bruins take aim at another Stanley Cup Finals appearance. (Cody Smith Foto/Creative Commons)
Tuukka Rask and the Bruins take aim at another Stanley Cup Finals appearance. (Cody Smith Foto/Creative Commons)
With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin, the Eastern Conference features the best of the NHL's firepower. Due to the new divisional restructuring, the Red Wings emerge as a new rival for Eastern powerhouses such as the Boston Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators. See which team is in best shape to make a run for the Stanley Cup.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Last year's performance: Fourth in East, runners-up in Stanley Cup Finals

Key additions: wing Loui Eriksson (Dallas Stars), right wing Jerome Iginla (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Key losses: right wing Jaromir Jagr (New Jersey Devils), right wing Nathan Horton (Columbus Blue Jackets), center Tyler Seguin, center Rich Peverley (both Dallas Stars), goaltender Anton Khudobin (Carolina Hurricanes)

Coming off a 2-4 defeat in the Stanley Cup finals, the Bruins made some significant changes to their roster this off-season. With veteran-star Jerome Iginla a future hall-of-famer joins Boston's ranks. Together with Loui Eriksson, the Bruins signed Iginla in hope to compensate for the losses of Horton, Seguin and Peverley. While this means some loss of young talent in exchange for a short-term commitment in aspiration of a vintage season for Iginla, the two-time Candian Olympic gold medal winner brings more than just experience to the ice. Ranking only 26th in power play percentage last season, the Bruins' special teams execution are expected to receive a boost through Iginla and Eriksson. Meanwhile on the defensive side of the puck, goaltender Tuukka Rask will need to continue his outstanding performance after filling in the number one spot following Khudobin's departure to Carolina. 

Prediction: With superstars Zdeno Chara on defense and forward Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins have more than just balance between young and old talent on their side. As last year's season has shown, they are only inches away from landing the trophy. However, this year will not be easier.

Montreal Canadiens

Last year's performance: Second in East, elimination in Conference Quarterfinals

Key additions: centre Daniel Brière (Philadelphia Flyers), defender Douglas Murray (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Key losses: right wing Michael Ryder (New Jersey Devils)

Being outperformed by the lower-ranked, but tougher Ottawa Senators stung Montreal. Its lack of experience in a young team as well as its limited physical strength showed in the play-offs, after the Canadiens cruised through the less intensively-played regular season games. With the addition of Brière, the 'Habs' are bringing in a veteran player who has wished to return to his home, Quebec. On the defensive side of the puck, the Canadians have done the same thing. With both players they increased the team's regular season but more importantly also play-off experience immensely, as both will serve as great leaders among a very young group. 

Prediction: The Canadians look even better on paper than they did last season. The additions of Murray and Brière will give them a better shot in the play-offs this year and potentially allow them to advance to the Conference Semifinals.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last year's performance: Fifth in East, eliminated in Conference Quarterfinals

Key additions: center Dave Bolland (Chicago Blackhawks), right wing David Clarkson (free agent), Frederik Gauthier (rookie), winger Mason Raymond (Vancouver Canucks), goaltender Jonathan Bernier (LA Kings)

Key losses: left wing Clarke MacArthur (Ottawa Senators), center Mikhail Grabovski (Washington Capitals), defender Mike Kostka  (Chicago Blackhawks), goaltender Ben Scrivens (LA Kings)

A hard nut to crack for the Bruins, who took seven games against the Maple Leafs, Toronto is hoping for another play-off run this season. Bolland, Raymond and Clarkson will give the team more offensive flexibility and physical toughness, while the trade sending Scrivens away to Los Angeles in return for Bernier will add a solid back-up for Reimer. After vein unhappy in Toronto, Grabovski is gone now, too, which will improve the team's harmony as well. Meanwhile, the team will need to find a way to balance out the losses of Kostka and MacArthur. 

Prediction: Toronto can be a contender for the play-offs this season, but they will need to find a way to prevent their opponents from outshooting them as decisively as they have in the last season. In a full 82 game season, it will cost them the play-offs. 

Henrik Zetterberg leads the Detroit Red Wings into the new-look Eastern Conference. (Dinur Blum/Creative Commons)
Henrik Zetterberg leads the Detroit Red Wings into the new-look Eastern Conference. (Dinur Blum/Creative Commons)
Detroit Red Wings

Last year's performance: Seventh in West, eliminated in Conference Semifinals 

Key additions: right wing Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators), center Stephen Weiss (Florida Panthers)

Key losses: center/wing Valtteri Filppula (Tampa Bay Lightning), left wing Damien Brunner (New Jersey Devils)

The Red Wings landed one of the major coups this off-season with the unexpected signing of veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson. He will bring further experience to a team that has had quite some success in the past with veteran players. In addition, the acquisition of center Damien Weiss will enrich the Red Wings' roster with a player who will not only profit from the better talent around him in Detroit, but who is also known to strengthen the team around himself. 

The team will be in an interesting situation as it has been relocated from the Western to the Eastern conference due to the reformatting of the league's division and conference structure for this season. Complementing an offensive squad that includes star players such as Zetterberg and Datsyuk, Weiss and Alfredsson will contribute to the Red Wings efforts to keep up with the Eastern Conference's offensive firepower. In this light, it will remain to be seen how Detroit will fare defensively, as they have not made any significant improvements on that side of the puck.

Prediction: The Red Wings have been relocated into unfamiliar territory. While they remain one of the stronger teams in the NHL, they may face a slower start than expected due to their need to adjust to Eastern Conference play. With their talent and depth they will remain serious play-off contenders though.

Ottawa Senators

Last year's performance: Seventh in East, eliminated in Conference Semifinals

Key additions: right wing Bobby Ryan (Anaheim Ducks), left wing Clarke MacArthur (Toronto Maple Leafs), defender Joe Corvo (Carolina Hurricanes), 

Key losses: right wing Daniel Alfedsson (Detroit Red Wings), defender André Benoit (Colorado Avalanche), 

Tamed by injuries, the Ottawa Senators still looked very strong in the 2012-13 season. They had the most effective penalty-killing unit in all of hockey and, even if only over 24 games, the best goaltender in Craig Anderson with a remarkable saving percentage of .941. With forwards Spezza and Michalek recovered and defender Karlsson back in the line-up, the Senators will pose a legitimate threat to any title contender. Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur will extent the team's vast offensive capacity, while Joe Corvo constitutes a solid defensive addition. 

Prediction: The Ottawa Senators could be one of the teams to watch out for this season. The potential they showed with an only semi-healthy group last season was impressive, so don't be surprised to see the Sens go all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

Buffalo Sabres

Last year's performance: 12th in East

Key additions: defenders Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov (rookies), defender Jamie McBain (Carolina Hurricanes)

Key losses: defender Adam Pardy (Winnipeg Jets), left wing Nathan Gerbe (Carolina Hurricanes), defender Andrei Sekera (Carolina Hurricanes) 

Though some defensive talents were drafted this off-season, they will need time to unfold in Buffalo. With the departure of defenders Sekera and Pardy, the replacement through Jamie McBain who has played very inconsistently in Carolina, will not be enough for the Sabres to overcome their defensive problems. With left wing Vanek and goalie Miller up for free-agency this coming season, the future looks bleak in Buffalo. 

Prediction: The Sabres will miss the playoffs by a significant margin.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last year's performance: 14th in East

Key additions: center/ wing Valtteri Filppula (Detroit Red Wings)

Key losses: left wing Benoît Pouliot (New York Rangers), center Vincent Lecavalier (Philadelphia Flyers)

Boasting the two top scorers of last season in Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, it has been the Lightening's defensive execution that prevented them from making much progress. Particularly the goalie situation in Tampa Bay has been disastrous ever since the 2004 Stanley Cup campaign. 

Prediction: Tampa Bay will finish in the lower ranks of the NHL again this year.

Florida Panthers

Last year's performance: Last in East

Key additions: goaltender Tim Thomas (Boston Bruins), defender Tom Gilbert (Minnesota Wild), right wing Brad Boyes (NY Islanders), defender Ryan Whitney (Edmonton Oilers)

Key losses: defender Tyson Strachan (Washington Capitals)

With 20.4 percent in power play, Florida at least ranked in the top third of the table in one category. They were the worst team overall in the East last season and it seems unlikely that there will be much improvement. While the acquisition of Tim Thomas at least leaves hope for a goalie who can maintain an above .900 save percentage, the additions of Gilbert, Whitney and Boyes are not enough to drastically change the outcome this season.

Prediction: The Panthers will stay in the lower regions of the NHL tables.

SEE MORE: 2013-14 NHL Western Conference Preview

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last year's performance: First in East, runners-up Conference Finals

Key additions: defender Rob Scuderi (LA Kings), rookie goaltenders Tristan Jarry and Eric Hartzell, winger Chris Conner (Phoenix Coyotes), center Andrew Ebbett (Vancouver Canucks)

Key losses: right wing Tyler Kennedy (San Jose Sharks), right wing Jarome Iginla (Boston Bruins), left winger Matt Cooke (Minnesota Wild), left wing Brenden Morrow (St. Louis Blues), defender Douglas Murray (Montreal Canadians)

Marked by an injury many players in the NHL consider the worst they have undergone throughout their career, Sidney Crosby was not able to lift his Penguins past the Boston Bruins. However, posting the best regular season record in the East, the second best power play ranking and, well, having Malkin in Crosby in their team, the Penguins hold several arguments to be considered one of the main aspirants to the Stanley Cup once again. 

With the signing of two additions to Marc-André Fleury, the 'Pens' have improved their depth around the inconsistent goalie, who had struggled in the play-offs after a very solid regular season. The re-acquisition of defender Rob Scuderi will help to complement Pittsburgh's at times too unstable defense. Meanwhile, ensuring that the core of Malkin, Crosby, Dupuis, Letang and Kunitz stays together was a big achievement on GM Ray Shero's part. 

Prediction: While the losses of Iginla, Morrow and Murray will be noticeable, the more painful realization may come later than this season. Surrendering several draft picks and those three players, the Penguins have failed to clear more cap room in return for their losses. Nonetheless, the team will remain one of the top favorites to win the cup, especially with Malkin and Crosby, maybe the best individual and the best team player respectively that the game has to offer, at full health. 

Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby remain huge rivals. (Flickr)
Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby remain huge rivals. (Flickr)
Washington Capitals

Last year's performance: Third in East, eliminated in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Key additions: center Mikhail Grabovski (Toronto Maple Leafs) 

Key losses: center Mike Ribeiro (Phoenix Coyotes), center Matt Hendricks (Nashville Predators)

The best power-play team of last season faced a strong New York Rangers team in the play offs last season and could not quite make it past the team from the 'Big Apple.'  Led by super star Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals remain a strong team. With the departures of Ribeiro and Hendricks, the team from D.C. is losing some quality offensively, but the addition of Grabovski limits the impact of that. 

Prediction: The Capitals will play a similar role as last year and make it to the first round of the play offs. 

New York Rangers

Last year's performance: Sixth in East, eliminated in Eastern Conference Semifinals

Key additions: left wing Benoît Poliot (Tampa Bay Lightning), center Dominic Moore (San Jose Sharks)

Key losses: left wing Ryan Clowe (New Jersey Devils)

After exchanging coaches with the Vancouver Canucks, the New York Rangers are looking at a season may turn out to be similarly promising as last year's. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is one of the best ones in the game right now and so is Marc Staal. In order to improve special teams performances, the Rangers acquired center Dominic Moore, who is an excellent penalty killer. Meanwhile, asCallahan and Hagelin are still recovering, the addition of Poliot will make the start of the season easier for the team to overcome.

Prediction: With the new, more offensively-minded head coach Vigneault, Brad Richards will return to more time on the ice. It remains to be seen whether the exchange of coaches will have a significant impact on a team whose strong suit last season was defense. Overall, the Rangers did not lose or gain much this off-season and still look like strong contenders. The conference semifinals are possible again.

New Jersey Devils

Last year's performance: 11th in the East

Key additions: goaltender Cory Schneider (Vancouver Canucks), wing Jaromir Jagr (Boston Bruins), right wing Michael Ryder (Montreal Canadians), left wing Ryan Clowe (NY Rangers), left wing Damien Brunner (Detroit Red Wings)

Key losses: winger Ilya Kovalchuck (SKA St. Petersburg), center David Clarkson (Toronto Maple Leafs)

A team in transition, the Devils are about to take the most significant step their franchise has faced in years. WIth record-setting veteran and legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur playing possibly his last season, Cory Schneider might see a lot of play-time early on. He will have to continue his tremendous efforts (.927 save percentage) from last season in order for New Jersey to be serious contenders. The departure of superstar forward Ilya Kovalchuck will be another bitter pill to swallow for the team similar to that of David Clarkson's. The Devils acquired several offensive forces in order to bolster those losses, but Jagr, Clowe, Brunnder and Ryder will have to win through team effort. 

Prediction: If the newly acquired wingers and veteran forward Jagr can harmonize together, the Devils could become a spoiler for other teams. However, they will not make it to the playoffs in 2014.

New York Islanders

Last year's performance: Eighth in East

Key additions: center Peter Regin (Ottawa Senators), center Pierre-Marc Bouchard (Minnesota Wild)

Key losses: goaltender Tim Thomas, right wing Brad Boyes (both Florida Panthers), center/ wing Keith Aucoin (St. Louis Blues), defender Mark Streit (Philadelphia Flyers)

The Islanders' John Tavares is a great hockey talent and is by some even predicted to break through the 100 point marker this season. Together with Moulson he will lead the Islander's attack. However, the defensive side especially the area of goal tending look grave. Nabokov is aging and has been struggling in the play offs against the Penguins last year. 

Prediction: While trading away some offensive personnel, the the Islanders also acquired some. The changes were not significant however and the Islanders will probably struggle for a playoff spot. 

Philadelphia Flyers

Last year's performance: Tenth in the East

Key additions: winger Vincent Lecavalier (Tampa Bay Lightning), defender Mark Streit (NY Islanders), Ray Emery (Chicago Blackhawks)

Key losses: center Daniel Brière (Montreal Canadians), goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov (free agent)

The Flyers had a busy off-season and it remains to be sean how their newly acquired talent will perform. Replacing their former goaltender Bryzgalov with Emry, the Flyers are hoping to finally find some stability which has prevented them from going further in the season with actually playoff aspirations. The departure of Brière will be hard to compensate, even with the arrival of veteran Lecavalier.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last year's performance: Ninth in the West

Key additions: right wing Nathan Horton (Boston Bruins)

Key losses: None

The Blue Jackets almost made the play offs last year. This year, with the adjustment to a new conference, it will depend on Nathan Horton and his offensive impact in the more offensively-minded East.

Prediction: The Blue Jackets will be in a tough struggle for playoff competition with the Flyers.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last year's performance: 13th in East

Key additions: goaltender Anton Khudobin (Boston Bruins)

Key losses: defender Joe Corvo (Ottawa Senators), defender McBain (Buffalo Sabres), defender Jamie McBain (Buffalo Sabres), winger Andrei Sekera (Buffalo Sabres)

Defense and goaltending are Carolina's big problems. As the Hurricanes have lost even more defenders and Khdobin was weak in Boston's Stanley Cup tenure, any aspirations for the play offs seem far fetched.

Prediction: The Hurricanes will miss the playoffs.


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