NHL Atlantic Division Preview

NHL Atlantic Division Preview

NHL Atlantic Division Preview
By Sean Murphy
Covers.com

The Detroit Red Wings are the new kid on the block in the Eastern Conference. Division re-alignment has created a number of intriguing storylines and the ultra-crowded Atlantic Division could provide the most compelling one of all.

Here's a look at all eight teams and how you should approach them entering the new season.

Detroit Red Wings (2012: 24-16-8)

Odds to win division: 3-1
Season point total: 99.5

Why to bet the Red Wings: After coming just one win short of reaching the Western Conference final, the Red Wings have re-tooled their roster in an effort to take the next step. The additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss will boost an offense that sagged to under 2.6 goals per game. The defense remains intact while all-world goaltender Jimmy Howard is locked up with a long-term extension.

Why not to bet the Red Wings: Expectations are going to be sky-high in the Motor City following a strong playoff showing. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg remain the cornerstones of the offense, but they’re not getting any younger. Moving to the East could also result in some growing pains.

Season point total pick: Under 99.5 points

Boston Bruins (2012: 28-14-6)

Odds to win division: 7-4
Season point total: 105.5

Why to bet the Bruins: The Bruins always seem to be in the conversation when it comes to Stanley Cup contenders. Despite enduring a roller-coaster ride of a season, Boston still reached the Cup final. Adding Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson should help with leadership after letting Nathan Horton walk away and dealing Tyler Seguin.

Why not to bet the Bruins: There will be plenty of young players taking on much larger roles, particularly on the blueline. Guys like Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, and Dougie Hamilton all got their feet wet thanks to an injury-riddled playoff run. But how will they handle the 82-game grind? No fewer than five rookies or second-year players could fill out the forward depth chart.

Season point total pick: Under 105.5

Florida Panthers (2012: 15-27-6)

Odds to win division: 60-1
Season point total: 69.5

Why to bet the Panthers: A top line featuring Jonathan Huberdeau and second-overall draft pick Aleksander Barkov could make a splash. The Panthers have stock-piled a number of top prospects over the years and in 2013-14, that group will be given its opportunity to shine. Veteran Sean Bergenheim returns after missing all of last season due to injury while Scott Gomez should provide some much-needed veteran leadership.

Why not to bet the Panthers: This is still very much a work-in-progress. While the Panthers are just two years removed from winning the Southeast Division and coming within a goal of reaching the second round, this is a different team. Question marks remain in goal, with Jacob Markstrom having yet to pan out and invite Tim Thomas really little more than a headline-grabber.

Season point total pick: Over 69.5

Buffalo Sabres (2012: 21-21-6)

Odds to win division: 50-1
Season point total: 76.5

Why to bet the Sabres: It’s now or never for the Sabres, who are staring down the barrel at a massive rebuild if they’re unable to contend this season. Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller remain on board for at least one more year, and certainly have the motivation to carry this team. In a crowded Atlantic Division, we could see value with the Sabres as a forgotten team.

Why not to bet the Sabres: Outside of Vanek, Miller and recently re-signed forward Cody Hodgson, there’s not a lot to get excited about in Buffalo. The Sabres didn’t make any sort of splash in the free-agent market, acquiring only two notable players in Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder. A difficult schedule could doom the Sabres if they’re unable to get off to a quick start.

Season point total pick: Under 76.5

Toronto Maple Leafs (2012: 26-17-5)

Odds to win division: 9-2
Season point total: 95.5

Why to bet the Leafs: Toronto believes it has solved its goaltending woes by acquiring Jonathan Bernier.The additions of Dave Bolland and David Clarkson up front could turn out to be a major coup. This is a team that grew up an awful lot during seven-game series against the Bruins and should continue to progress under the guidance of head coach Randy Carlyle.

Why not to bet the Leafs: The jury is still out on the Leafs defense and while Bernier has plenty of upside between the pipes, it’s difficult to predict how he’ll handle being a starter in the pressure cooker that is Toronto. There’s a chance the Leafs could be a little overvalued following their surprisingly strong showing in what many will call a fluky lockout-shortened season.

Season point total pick: Under 95.5

Tampa Bay Lightning (2012: 18-26-4)

Odds to win division: 15-1
Season point total: 83.5

Why to bet the Lightning: After back-to-back miserable seasons there’s nowhere to go but up for the Lightning. The departure of Vincent Lecavalier marks the end of an era and that’s not a bad thing. With their goaltending situation figured out following the acquisition of Ben Bishop late last season and the duo of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis primed for another big year, the potential is there for a bounce-back performance.

Why not to bet the Lightning: Bishop was good, but certainly not great after joining the Lightning, posting a 2.99 GAA and a .917 save percentage. Once you get past the Lightning’s top defensive pairing, there isn’t a lot of depth and that could leave Bishop on an island.

Season point total pick: Over 83.5

Ottawa Senators (2012: 25-17-6)

Odds to win division: 9-2
Season point total: 95.5

Why to bet the Senators: After losing Alfredsson to free agency, the Senators believe a roster shakeup was needed. The infusion of new faces should serve them well. Bobby Ryan has the potential to make an immediate impact and evolve into the face of the franchise. Joe Corvo is back on the blueline after helping them reach the Cup final in 2007 and represents and upgrade over the incumbent Sergei Gonchar.

Why not to bet the Senators: Who will fill the leadership void now that Alfie has jumped ship to Detroit? There’s plenty of young talent on board, but that comes at the expense of proven veterans. After pouring everything they had into the lockout-shortened campaign, it remains to be seen whether the Sens have enough left in the tank to contend again.

Season point total pick: Under 95.5

Montreal Canadiens (2012: 29-14-5)

Odds to win division: 9-2
Season point total: 94.5

Why to bet the Canadiens: A sense of pride and responsibility was seemingly restored in Montreal, even if things ended on a sour note with an early playoff exit. The Habs didn’t lose much in the offseason and gained a veteran leader in Danny Briere, not to mention some much-needed toughness in the form of George Parros and Doug Murray. Having P.K. Subban from Day 1 should help their cause in the wake of last year’s holdout.

Why not to bet the Canadiens: Briere was a nice addition, but there’s no question he’s on the downside of his career in terms of offensive production. It’s going to take a true team effort to produce more than two goals per game. As good as Carey Price is, he can’t be asked to shoulder the entire load, as we saw a couple of years ago.

Season point total pick: Over 94.5

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