Meet the new Atlantic Division

Here we see the immigrants who are coming to steal our playoff spots in their natural habit, scoring goals. Photo by - Christian Petersen

The neighbourhood is going to get crowded next season. Three new teams join the existing Northeast teams to form a mammoth eight team division to compete for four playoff spots. Who will be the immigrants stealing our jobs and improving our lunchtime options in 2014-15? And what do our familiar neighbours who play music too loudly and make unsightly messes on the lawn look like?

2013 Team Statistics:

MTL BOS TOR DET OTT BUF TB FLA
Point% .656 .646 .594 .583 .583 .500 .417 .375
Goal Differential +23 +22 +12 +9 +12 -18 -2 -59
Even Strength Save% .920 .932 .924 .935 .934 .927 .914 .903
Even Strength Goal% 55.8 55.4 52.0 52.5 50.0 47.6 51.0 36.3
Even Strength Fenwick Tied% 56.1 53.0 44.6 54.7 51.4 45.1 44.5 48.1
Even Strength Goals For/60 2.66 2.38 2.72 1.97 1.95 2.15 2.68 1.69
Even Strength Goal Against/60 2.11 1.91 2.51 1.78 1.95 2.36 2.58 2.98
Power Play% 20.7 14.8 18.7 18.4 15.9 14.1 19.0 20.4
PP Goals For 42 17 31 34 25 23 31 29
Penalty Kill% 79.8 87.1 87.9 81.5 88.0 79.2 80.6 74.2
PK Goals Against 35 21 19 30 20 36 35 38

Amazingly, the entire division was -1 for the season last year, despite five positive teams and Tampa Bay being only -2. Florida was bad enough to erase all of that on aggregate.

A number of teams had strong even-strength performances, but in the cases of Toronto and Tampa Bay this is not backed up by their puck possession ability. In Tampa's case, it was a strong offensive year that was pulling them up (a result of a start of season flurry of scoring that quickly vanished) while Toronto had both strong shooting and goaltending. Florida appears to be a bad team of skaters made horrific by terrible goaltending. Buffalo just stunk in general. Which leaves four teams that look sustainability strong on 5-on-5: Detroit, Montreal, Boston and Ottawa.

Based on recent moves, it appears that the five playoff teams all believe they will be in the show next post-season, while the three teams on the outside are looking to cut bait in a transitional season for 2013-14. Unless the 5th team beats out the Metropolitan's 4th, one of the five will be disappointed.

As of today, the Atlantic looks to be an incredibly lopsided division, with a clear divide between the top and bottom four.

2013-14 Projected Rosters:

Boston

Marchand Bergeron Eriksson
Lucic Krejci Iginla
Soderberg Kelly Smith?
Campbell Paille Thornton
Chara Boychuk
Seidenberg Hamilton
McQuaid Krug
Rask
Johnson

Boston's cap issues have turned into losing their entire right wing group. Iginla and Eriksson are in for Horton and Seguin, which I believe is a downgrade but not a big one for next season. Jarome Iginla is still a productive scorer, but aging has made him slow and he's been significantly negative value value on defense and puck possession in Calgary and Pittsburgh in recent seasons. Loui Eriksson has a good reputation as a two-way player that does not appear to be backed up by his results in Dallas, neither playing hard minutes nor showing a big boost to his team's defensive results playing in Texas. He's a reliably strong scorer though, so he should more or less replace what Seguin brought in the last couple seasons to Patrice Bergeron's wing.

Lost without replacement are number 4 defenseman Andrew Ference and 3rd line RW Rick Peverley. Ference's lineup spot is likely taken by a farm team defender like Krug while the third line RW spot seems to be an open competition with Reilly Smith, who was fairly good in limit minutes in Dallas last year and a good AHL player before that a top candidate. Boston has also likely downgraded at backup goaltender and look for Rask to increase his workload, which may be interesting as he has never played more than 45 regular games in the NHL although he did play 58 total in the shortened 2013 campaign, apparently without drop-off.

The Bruins are a lot more top-heavy at forward compared to previous years. They are probably still very dangerous when playing their top two lines, but their 3rd line is questionable; likely a training ground for rookies rather than a good two-way unit like what Boston previously had there.

On defense, the aging Zdeno Chara remains the game's best shutdown defenseman. Seidenberg competently fills in the top minutes he doesn't play, Boychuk is good enough to ride shotgun to Chara, and Dougie Hamilton is a good young talent that should complete the top 4. With Chara leading, who plays 3rd pairing doesn't matter very much so rookies and Adam McQuaid fill out the roster without issue.

But what they have lost shouldn't be overstated. Chara-Bergeron-Rask remains the premier 5-on-5 defensive combination in the league; they are brilliant at ES scoring and defense and should remain one of the top teams in the Eastern side this season. Plus Dougie Hamilton may develop into a threat and take some pressure off the aging Chara. They're just not quite as brilliant as what they have had before.

Ottawa

Michalek Spezza Ryan
Zibanejad Turris MacArthur
Greening Smith Neil
? Pageau Conacher
Methot Karlsson
Cowen Philips
Gryba Wiercioch
Anderson
Lehner

Ottawa has cycled out some ancient veterans and gets significant returns from injury. Alfredsson and Gonchar are gone, Ryan and MacArthur are in to fill out their wingers. With Karlsson backing them, Michalek-Spezza-Ryan may be the division's premier offensive line.

Turris is a competent 2nd pivot and should go well with MacArthur in a two-way role. The Sens' 3rd line is solid defensively.The team has a wealth of depth scoring in their system, in addition to what they currently have, Ottawa's AHL system has a number of good prospects that could fill in holes at forward. This leaks into their 4th line, with the likes of Pageau and Conacher likely to provide good scoring in limited minutes.

For as much flack as we give him for not having the shutdown game of a P.K. Subban and being horribly overrated due to a silly insistence on the importance of ES points for defensemen, Karlsson is a terrific 1st defenseman and the players behind him are competent, even if they are a bit light on puck moving past their top guy. If Cowen is healthy he is a fairly good young defender, Chris Philips is a steady veteran, Marc Methot is a respectable stay at home, Wiercioch is good in depth minutes and Gryba is at least big.

Major regression should be expected to Ottawa's sky-high save percentages from 2013, but that should be cancelled out by improve offense. Overall this team should resemble an improved version of a fairly strong 2011-12 team.

Ottawa has a solid lineup, very good metrics with good coaching and should be a significant threat this season. They should receive serious consideration for being one of the top teams in the NHL in 2013-14 barring some catastrophe.

Detroit

Zetterberg Datsyuk Franzen
Nyquist? Weiss Alfredsson
Abdelkader Helm? Tatar?
Miller Emmerton Tootoo
Kronwall Ericsson
Smith Quincey
Kindl Dekeyser
Howard
Gustavsson

Detroit is really old. This is obvious. But they are also the Ur-puck possession even-strength team and come from being still a strong team in the tougher West.

Detroit currently has an extensive surplus of NHL forwards, so the current lineup is only a best guess. I would expect there to be some trades before camp to shed the excess. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar may crack the lineup, veterans like the injured Michael Sammuelson and Todd Bertuzzi could go out to pasture.

Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are getting up there in years, but are still some of the finest two-way players in hockey. Johan Franzen and Daniel Alfredsson are also greying, but are still quite competent top-sixers. Stephen Wiess has actually not been that impressive lately but I would figure him to play better in Detroit than Florida and be a competent 2nd pivot. Overall, the Wings' top six gets high marks. Weiss and Alfredsson replace Filppula and Brunner, which should end up being a lateral move. The Red Wings' depth forwards are unspectacularly competent and should get the job done.

Detroit's defense, led by Niklas Kronwall, doesn't look all that special on paper. But they are very good at positional defense and moving the puck, that combined with solid coaching and two-way forward talent seems to get the job done. They are aided by having Jimmy Howard, a solid net-minder that unfortunately came after the glory days of the Red Wings's skater core.

Montreal

Bourque Plekanec Gionta
Galchenyuk Eller Briere
Pacioretty Desharnais Gallagher
Moen White Prust
Gorges Subban
Markov Emelin
Boulion Diaz
Price
Budaj

Most of Montreal's roster is signed for next season -- the only major change is that Danny Briere shuffles in for Michael Ryder. This may be a downgrade, but likely isn't a huge one.

While the Habs were a surprise team for many, their season was hardly a fluke. It was built on some solid, predictable foundations. The 2013 team greatly resembles the 2011-12 team for the first 20 or so games, particularly the top nine, with some of the wingers swapped around. That was a very good 5-on-5 team undone by crummy luck and a bad power play that got killed later by Randypuck and injuries.

Coming into the year, it really shouldn't be that surprising that Plekanec-Gionta was a top shutdown line (they had been when together for three seaons before), that Pacioretty-Desharnais would crush easy minutes (they famously did in 2011-12) and that Eller could be a good two-way centerman if the got a talented winger (Kostitsyn being upgraded on by Galchenyuk). The signs that Subban was a dominant defenseman were also there. Add that you could easily expect a powerplay with Markov to be great, and you get the core reason why the 2013 Habs were good, three lines in the plus and a kickass powerplay. All you needed was a couple of rookies having a great season to fill the holes in the lineup. It's a good formula and should be sustainable going forward.

Toronto

Lupul Bozak Kessel
Van Riemsdyk Kadri Clarkson
McClement Bolland Kulemin
McClaren Colborne Orr
Gunnarson Phaneuf
Fraser Franson
Gardiner Liles
Reimer
Bernier

Toronto has some questions going into next season, particularly about who will be playing center for them. Reasonably competent LW MacArthur is out, replaced by bigger reasonably competent winger David Clarkson, who won't play with Patrick "the Czech answer to Datsyuk" Elias anymore. Their best two-way center is gone and in his place is Dave Bolland. Bolland was a strong two-way player, but was hot garbage for the 'Hawks this season. He could be good, or perhaps injuries have destroyed what was once a fine hockey player. Bolland is a key wild card for them, if he stabilizes their ability to match opposing top lines, Toronto may have a chance of making some noise. If he's like he was in 2013, its possible Toronto endures an epic collapse reminiscent of how Florida, the other Eastern team with an epic playoff drought, did after taking the Eastern Conference champion to 7 games.

Toronto made the playoffs, but I question them repeating. There is a decent chance none of their forward lines are in the black 5-on-5 in front of this defensive corps. Much has been made about the Leafs' defensive revival under Carlyle with their "push shots to the outside" system. It's a mirage. The Leafs were 6th worst at 5-on-5 goals against (100), 8th worst on 5-on-5 goals against rate (2.51/60) and worst in the league at allowing 5-on-5 shots (33.0/60) and all the pushing the shots to the outside only got the Leafs to average (15th) in 5-on-5 save percentage. Their positive 5v5 rating was entirely based on having the highest 5-on-5 shooting percentage by 0.85 points, which they are unlikely to maintain. Returning to their already higher-than-average 2010-11 SH% would result in the Leafs losing 20 goals compared to 2013, and have put them at -12 in 5-on-5 situations. The Leafs remain a team without noticeable 5-on-5 defensive talent at either the forward or defenseman positions, and are an early candidate for the team most likely to collapse next season due to shooting percentage collapse syndrome. Unless, of course, Nazem Kadri actually is at good at offense as Sidney Crosby.

Looking at the Leafs' lineup it's easy to see why. Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel scored, but have also combined for some of the least effective 5 on 5 defense in the league. Dion Phaneuf plays some of the toughest assignments there are and tends to fail miserably, with some of the worst goals and shots against numbers out there. He's a good player miscast by a role that expects him to be Zdeno Chara. Jay McClement, Fraser McClaren and Colton Orr are some of the worst 5-on-5 players in the NHL.

On defense, the Leafs do have some offensive skill, but no one, from Phaneuf to Cody Franson to Jake Gardiner to John-Michael Liles seems able to consistently play well enough on both sides of the puck to lead to sustainably good puck possession, even relative to their team. The best hope is a healthy Carl Gunnarson elevates their shutdown pairing to respectable, and Gardiner finds a level of two-way skill he has yet to demonstrate in the NHL. They have moved away from defenders that you'd question why they are even in the NHL though.

Toronto does seem to have a good PK system though, led by McClement. That part of their improvement on defense was real.


Tampa Bay

Purcell Stamkos St Louis
Drouin Flippula Malone
Pyatt Thompson Crombeen
Connolly? Killorn Tyrell
Hedman Brewer
Salo Carle
Gudas Aulie
Lindback
Bishop

"Jonathan Drouin joins a terrible lineup" is the main story here. Tampa lacks depth and two-way skill at forward and they downgraded from Vincent Lecavalier to Valterri Filppula as their 2nd center. They have a single offensive juggernauts line that isn't very good at defense, their puck possession isn't good at any point and their forward depth is pretty terrible. In general, I'd expect them to get by on offensive talent when Steven Stamkos is on the ice, but to be buried alive during their other minutes and end up being awful at even strength.

Stamkos and Martin St. Louis are an interesting duo. Over the past three seasons, they are essentially even on corsi together but have gotten a very strong 56% goal percentage. This is a rare case where I would trust that they will put up strong results purely on shooting percentage talent as the Shoot-first Stamkos is arguably the game's premier sniper and St. Louis regular converts at a high rate due to a good shot and passing up on weak scoring opportunities in favour of making passes. This does highlight one of Tampa's main problems though, their top talent aren't good two-way players, which makes them poorly suited to play power on power, which is a recipe for defensive disaster if they don't have good two-way players in their depth. Stamkos is likely their best puck possession forward and he is mediocre at it for a super-star. Even when he combines with a fairly good two-way defender in Victor Hedman, he runs at around 52% Corsi over the past couple seasons.

Hedman is a solid young defensemen that goes unnoticed due to how buried he is propping up a weak defensive group by taking the hard minutes. He takes both the opposition's best players and has had a 39.6% zone start ratio over the past two seasons. He should be considered comparable to New York's Ryan McDonagh as a solid young defenseman, but goes unnoticed due to a crummy situation with linemates and goaltending along side brutal usage. Otherwise, the Lightning's defense is past their best-before date or at an AHL level with a possible exception of Mathieu Carle. In net, they sport a pair of unproven giants with mobility issues. Projecting the Lightning to be among the worst in the league at defense like previous seasons is an easy prediction to make.

Tampa Bay's best hope is that they get a resurgance via youth movement. Their AHL team has been consistently excellent and they have picked up a number of decent prospects that have gone overlooked due to size and from Europe. Richard Panik, Brett Connolly, Tyler Johnson, Mark Barberio, Alex Killorn and Andrej Palat have been stars in the AHL and might provide the depth talent they desperately need to go along with adding Drouin from the top of the draft. Otherwise, the Lightning aren't getting out of the basement and look to continue to rebuild.

Buffalo

Vanek Hodgson Leino?
Foligno Ennis Stafford
? Ott Kaleta
Scott ? ?
Ehrhoff Sulzer
Myers Tallinder
McBain Weber
Miller
Enroth

Buffalo's roster is in flux, with a rebuild imminent. Their remaining stars like Ryan Miller and Tomas Vanek could be dealt, as could a number of players. I would think no one but Cody Hodgson is safe on their roster. They will likely be auditioning a number of youth and AHL players in their regular lineup as they make the transition away from their post-lockout core group, of which little remains.

Vanek-Hogdson-Pomminville was a competent 1st line on a horrid team in 2013, but the 2nd best player on that line has been dealt and not replaced. Christian Ehrhoff is a solid defenseman that drowned in a sea of incompetence. In general, pretty much every Sabres player except Vanek and Miller is not playing the role they would on a competitive team, which means no player is getting the support they need and everyone's performance looks to suffer for it.

After Vanek-Hodgson-X on the first line, Buffalo sports a sub-par second line built around Tyler Ennis and a third line that is better at annoying opponents than shutting them down with Steve Ott and noted asshole Patrick Kaleta. Their 4th line will likely sport a number of AHLers and an enforcer whose ineptitude at playing ice hockey is proverbial in John Scott. CHL superstar Mikhail Grigorenko may or may not be in the lineup after a terrible 18 year old season playing on Buffalo's third line.

On defense, Buffalo desperately needs Tyler Myers to return to his early form. He has posted very strong two-way seasons in the past and was justifiably considered one of the game's top young blueliners. But over the past two seasons he has been a brutal 46.1% on Fenwick playing not particularly difficult minutes, relying heavily on Miller as his offense has evaporated. The best hope is his aging ex-partner Tallinder might help stabilize him. McBain, Sulzer and Weber are the remaining regular NHL defensemen, none of which are anything to write home about. Alexander Sulzer has been decent in a depth role, Mike Weber is poor outside the PK and Jamie McBain has been a poor performer on a bad Carolina defense.

Expect a long season in upstate New York. Made worse by their tendency to fluke out wins against Habs teams that are knocking the stuffing out of them in the balance of play.

Florida

Fleichmann Barkov/Gomez? Versteeg
Huberdeau Shore Upshall
Bergenhiem Goc Kopecky
Matthias Bjugstad Howden
Campbell Weaver
Kulikov Gudbranson
Jovanovski Gilroy?
Markstrom
Clemmensen

If Tampa is terrible, at least they have some elite players. Their Florida neighbours are a team without hope.

With the 2nd overall pick, Florida took the best center available in Alexander Barkov. At 18 years old, he might be the best offensive center in their organization.

Florida has one established star quality player in 34-year-old defenseman Brian Campbell, a bunch of okay-ish forwards and youth.

On defense, Campbell is a reasonable number one, Dmitry Kulikov is a credible 2nd pairing puck mover and Weaver is decent defensively. After that, it gets dire. Ed Jovonovski has aged into garbage. Erik Gudbranson is looking more and more like his draft year's Luke Schenn and their depth options are horrid. In net, a lot rides on Jacob Markstrom to make the jump from touted prospect to number one goaltender.

Marcel Goc is an underrated defensive center and is one of the bright spots on a very weak forward group. Jonathan Huberdeau and Drew Shore showed good signs together in a rookie campaign but aren't ready to carry a forward group, likely depending on soft-minutes to keep puck possession and score. Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg are credible top six wingers, but likewise can't carry a team's offense. Currently Florida's winger group is mediocre while their center line is arguably the worst in the entire league (including Calgary!).

Overall, Florida's puck moving defensemen and shutdown forwards have generally been enough to make Florida within striking distance of respectable on puck possession, but poor goal-tending and a lack offensive skill looks to sink them. Newly acquired center Scott Gomez seems emblematic of this tendency.

Florida was the worst team in the NHL by 23 goals in 2013. A large reason for that was decimation by injuries, but even with average health it's hard to see them out of the league's bottom five in 2013-14. Their 2012 playoff berth will be forgotten soon in the long night of perpetual failure that is NHL hockey in the Miami area. The best that can be said is they are marking time until youth can restore them. The worst that can be said is that they are just training that youth to leave for better franchises.

Analysis:

Four good teams, one wannabe wedded to what looks to be a one-off success after an era of failure and three teams deep into rebuilding is my take on the division. Maybe Randy Carlyle is actually on to something us pointdexters are not, maybe Detroit suddenly ages out, maybe Tampa Bay has a youth movement, and likely somebody has a crazy year due to unrepeatable performance in either direction but I'm currently comfortable ranking the teams

Boston

Ottawa

Detroit

Montreal

-50 feet of crap-

Toronto

Tampa Bay

Buffalo

Florida


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