Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you part two of the the flawless 2014 NHL preview, now for the Atlantic Division. Who’s came and gone? What does the playoff picture look like? Well, its a four tiered division of good, alright, okay and garbage teams. It makes things simple.
So who will rule the Flortheast? Lets start at the bottom of last year…
In: Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Andrei Meszaros, Sam Reinhart
Out: Ville Leino, Christian Ehrhoff
The team: This is a bad hockey team.
They’re rebuilding, so being bad is to be expected. And they have a host of promising young players working their way up: Sam Reinhart (C), Mikhail Grigorenko (C), Marcus Foligno (LW), Joel Armia (RW), Mark Pysyk (D), Nikita Zadorov (D), Rasmus Ristolainen (D), and Matt Hacket (G) are the core of their future. If even half those players can reach their potential then Buffalo will eventually have one heck of a team.
Cody Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Zemgus Girgensons and Tyler Myers lead the veteran-youth movement. Hodgson and Girgensons both have futures in the NHL as number two-three centermen, Ennis can play in the top-nine, and Myers looked to be reclaiming some of the form he showed earlier in his career.
But the rest of the roster is just so bad. Gionta, Moulson and Gorges are still capable hockey players, but many of the other “veterans” and players filling out the roster aren’t much above replacement level players. And the goaltending looks like it could contend for worst in the NHL.
Will they make the playoffs? Lord no!
This team sucks. They have some marginal improvements, but they’re really counting on a whole bunch of recent draft picks to complete the roster. That isn’t a recipe for success – at least not this season.
Needs: Everything but goaltending and more bad players
In: Al Montoya, Shawn Thornton, Derek MacKenzie, Dave Bolland, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, Aaron Ekblad, Gerard Gallant (coach)
Out: Tom Gilbert, Peter Horacheck (coach)
The team: Well, it’ll be hard to be worse than last year so I guess they have nowhere to go but up.
Roberto Luongo, despite what anyone says, is an elite goaltender and the best goaltender of his generation. He’s still excellent and should be able to steal more than a few wins this season on top of providing wins just by being better than what the Panthers called goaltenders last year.
The defence and forwards aren’t much improved, which means they’re hoping for development progression. Last years first overall Ekblad stands to make the roster out of camp and will learn the NHL in a bit of a trial-by-fire situation, but he should have enough rope to make mistakes. Brian Campbell will continue to be one of the best and most ignored NHL defenders.
Sasha Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathon Huberdeau are all going to have to take leaps forward to help the team. They’ll be cushioned by Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes, who are both criminally underrated. Thomas Kopecky isn’t terrible either.
All of their other fancy new signings suck.
Will they make the playoffs? No.
They have actual NHL level goaltending. Thats important. If their younger players can continue development and Gallant doesn’t play big minutes to all the bad players he was given, maybe they aren’t completely hopeless. But they look pretty hopeless.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Needs: New coach, first line center
In: Leo Komarov, David Booth, Daniel Winnik, Mike Santorelli, Roman Polak, Stephane Robidas
Out: Nikolai Kulemin, Dave Bolland, Mason Raymond, Carl Gunnarsson, Tim Gleason, Mason Raymond, Jay McClement
The team: This is a team that should be better than it is on paper. They’re pretty well sunk by terrible coaching and systems play that amplifies their deficiencies instead of hiding them.
Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri make up 2/3rds of a really solid top-six. Komarov, Booth, Winnik, Santorelli, Matt Frattin and Peter Holland make for a strong bottom half of the roster. But David Clarkson makes anyone he plays with awful, and Tyler Bozak had a career year and still was only average.
The defence made a lot of lateral moves. If the top-four this season is Dion Phaneuf, Cody Franson, Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardner then the Leafs will be able to play fast hockey, and actually get out of their own end. Neither Stephane Robidas and Roman Polak are as good as Carl Gunnarson, but they should be better than Tim Gleason.
They’ll be relying heavily on James Bernier having another near Vezina season and James Reimer continuing to be one of the best “back ups” in the NHL. The Leafs got some of the best goaltending in the NHL last year, but couldn’t do anything with it. I’d be worried about things in Leafland if things don’t improve defensively and the goaltending falls off even a little.
Will they make the playoffs? No-ish.
If they can bring in a coach that is good to replace their bad one then they stand a solid chance at the playoffs. The pieces are there, but they need someone who knows how to use them.