Rabid Habs

What To Expect From The Habs’ Division This Season

Last season your Montreal Canadiens did well in what could be considered one of the weaker, if not the weakest, division in the NHL. They won the division but were bounced in the first round by the Atlantic Division’s Rangers. The Atlantic Division should be much improved this season. I am going to give a little break down on every team in the Atlantic and a prediction on how the divisional standings will play out.

Montreal: The Habs should be an easy lock to make the playoffs this season again and most likely have home ice for at least the first round of the playoffs. A healthy Carey Price all but guarantees a playoff spot. How well we do from there will be dependent on a couple of factors. The first being the revamped left side of the defence. I am not a big fan of the changes we saw this off season on the left side this off season.

The losses of  three puck moving defenceman in Markov, Beaulieu, and Sergachev will hurt. I understand Sergachev’s departure because we got an elite talent up front in Drouin that could play centre as well. But the Beaulieu for a 3rd rounder is a steal for Buffalo as they get a top 4 d-man and I thought management should have done everything in their power to keep Markov knowing at that point they had already lost Sergachev, Emelin and Beaulieu. Alzner should help and can be a nice second pairing with Petry, but it remains to be seen who can play with Shea Weber. This was a challenge last season with Beaulieu – which I actually thought went well early on – and Emelin before they found a match with Markov. I don’t think Streit or Schlemko can handle those minutes. Benn is a stretch but could do it. I think the best bet right now is Jakub Jerabek. He is getting notable comparisons to Nikita Zaitzev and he thrived in Toronto. I think he is worth a shot at top pairing minutes. I believe the offence will be improved this season with the additions of Drouin, Hemsky, and possibly having Hudon playing on the big team. Drouin should hit 60 points no problem and I think both Hudon and Hemsky if healthy could hit 30-40 points each. Add that to a team that only lost Radulov’s output and I think the offence can definitely be more potent. A healthy Galchenyuk and a bounce back season for Gallagher will be big factors as well.

Toronto: The Leafs look to be the most promising team in the Eastern Conference right now. The plethora of young talent they possess up front is scary good. Mathews, Marner and Nylander joined a good potent veteran group that already had some good offensive talent and they took the league by storm. With the addition of Patrick Marleau, which looks to be Mathews new left winger to start, will only add to their offensive abilities. Frederick Andersen established himself as a true number one goalie as the season went on. If the Leafs can make due with what they have on the blueline, particularly the right side, this is a team that I think could challenge the Habs and Lightning as the top team in the division for sure.

Tampa Bay: These guys have “bounce back season” written all over them. They are the team in the division that always scares me when we play them. A healthy Steven Stamkos is going to go a long way for this team. He is the guy that makes this team go. The emergence of Nikita Kucherov as a bonafide superstar gives Tampa one of the scariest duos in the league. I believe Kucherov will finish in the top 3 in scoring this season (I think everyone could guess the first 2). This team has it all. They are deep down the middle with Stammer, Johnson and Brayden Point. They have talented scoring wingers and a fairly deep defence that will be helped by veteran Dan Girardi. Andrei Vasilesky established himself as a good starting goalie once Bishop was traded. Expect Tampa back in the post season this year.

Buffalo: This team is the most interesting team in the division. This is the team that could be the Edmonton of 2018. The team that has been miserably bad for the better part of a decade but finally gets it together on the back of their franchise player. I think Jack Eichel hasn’t gotten enough credit ever since going second overall to Connor. This guy is an unbelievable talent and should be a top 10 scorer in the league this year. He has a very talented offensive supporting cast with the likes of O’Reilly, Kane, Reinhart and more. They have been building their defensive core around Ristolainen the past few seasons and he looks like he has turned into a true number one defenseman. If Robin Lehner can turn it around this season and live up to his potential, I think this could be the year Buffalo sees playoff hockey.

Boston: This is a team that is stuck in a weird transition. They have a couple of blue chip prospects and guys like Brad Marchand, David Pastarnak, and Torrey Krug have made huge strides in the past couple seasons. However, their core is not getting any younger and many could argue are on the decline. Zdeno Chara is 40 and is no longer the dominant force he once was. In my opinion, he isn’t even top pair quality anymore. Bergeron is still at an elite level, but how long is yet to be seen. As seen with Plekanec in Montreal this season, sometimes there isn’t any sign of big decline. I expect this for Bergeron in the coming couple of seasons. He will still be steady, but will become more of a 2nd/3rd line centre. Krecji can still be dynamic, but his age and health is starting to take a toll on him as well. Last season, we also saw some significant struggles in Tuuka Rask’s game. This could be a direct result of the defence not being as reliable as it was in previous seasons. I don’t see the Bruins as as very deep team in any position this year. They will be a bubble team at best and will be fighting until the last day to get in on the back of some of their young studs. If they make it will be dependent on their veterans play.

Florida: This team had it all going for them a couple seasons ago. So much emerging young talent up front and on the blue line. A legitimate number one goaltender and a coach that was excellent. What this team has done with what they had is unbelievable. They still have some of their young core, but some of the moves made by this team do not make sense to me. Firing Gallant for having a .500 team with his two biggest offensive threats out of the lineup? Since then they have let veterans like Jagr, Jokinen, Vanek, Marchessault, and Smith all walk. Jagr, Jokinen and Smith were a part of the Panthers top 6 forwards when they made the playoffs a couple years back and made up part of a potent offence. Marchessault tallied 30 goals this past season and, while its unlikely that he follows that up, he was a good depth scoring option at a cheap price. Vanek is the least surprising, but again, he signed on a rebuilding team for only 2 million dollars, so I’m assuming he would have taken that or less to sign with Florida. Their offence is still decent and they have good depth at centre, but I do not like the way this team has been run over the past couple of seasons and this is why I have them missing the playoffs this year.

Detroit: The Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years last season, and you can expect more of the same going into this season. Detroit struggled after the loss of Pavel Datsyuk when he left to go home to the KHL. This team has some good pieces, but their core is getting old. Henrik Zetterberg is no longer a top line centre or winger in the NHL, he is still extremely talented but his game has declined due to age and injuries. Same can be said for Kronwall on the back end. He is no longer a top pairing defenceman. He is still serviceable in the top 4 but can’t be expected to play top pairing minutes at a high level. The Wings do have some talented young players, especially up front. Guys like Tatar, Nyquist, Larkin, Mantha and Athanasiou are all guys either entering or are in the prime of their careers. I think the Wings lack too much on the back-end this season and with their lack of consistency in net it will be hard for them to qualify for the playoffs once again. They will keep it interesting early on, but I doubt that Zetterberg and Kronwall play a full season. Once those guys begin to bounce in and out of the line up, the Wings will begin to falter.

Ottawa: This is a team I have a hard time rating. Their magical run to the Conference Final made them seem like a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. The way I look at it is that during this offseason they lost a major defensive piece in Methot and they have Erik Karlsonn on the mend to start the season. That means they will have Ceci and Phaneuf as their top pair and not much depth elsewhere. Chabot may be able to come in and play some big minutes but that is yet to be seen. Craig Andersen isn’t getting any younger and I think a lot of how he played last season was emotionally driven because of the personal struggles he went through. I believe that’s why the team as well as they did last season. They have a good offensive squad but they also have some question marks in that area as well. Clarke MacArthur failed his physical and we will have to see if Bobby Ryan will have a bounce back year or if his offence will continue declining. I have a hard time seeing Ottawa back in the playoffs as I think they will stumble out of the gate.

Divisional Standings Prediction

Making the Playoffs

Tampa Bay: 105pts

Montreal: 101pts

Toronto: 98pts

Buffalo: 94pts (Wild Card)

 

Out

Ottawa: 88pts

Boston: 86pts

Florida :81pts

Detroit: 78 pts

 

I think this will make for a very intriguing first round as we would see the Habs vs Leafs in the playoffs in the first time in forever and I a potential Tampa vs Buffalo first round would be an offensive showcase.

That’s my opinion on the Atlantic Division! How do you think it will shake out?