Previewing the Senators, Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs and Sabres for the 2008-2009 NHL season
There are less than two weeks to go before the opening regular season game; it’s time for some divisional breakdowns, analysis and predictions. The NHL has six divisions all filled with five teams doing whatever it takes to win the division, make the playoffs and ultimately, win the Stanley Cup.
Without further adieu, the Northeast Division.
The Montreal Canadiens are entering their 100th season as a professional team, meaning that this franchise wants to make this season special. Montreal was the highest scoring team last season and look to continue that heading into 2009. All the stars are lined up perfectly with even Alexei Kovalev excited to play. When you add Saku Koivu, Tomas Plekanec and the Kostitsyn brothers, this team should be avoided in all games.
After a failed attempt to sign Mats Sundin, the Habs have moved on and signed other players. Instead of signing one “big” player, they agreed to terms with Robert Lang, Alex Tanquay, Georges Laraque and back-up goaltender Marc Denis. Montreal now has one excellent line followed by two others that will provide phenomenal numbers. There is no reason why the Canadiens should not repeat as Conference Champions, especially now that Carey Price has a full NHL season under his belt.
Buffalo has always had that speed that could kill and 2009 should be no different. Derek Roy, Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek are some of the best skaters in the league and provide plenty of offense. A major problem for the Sabres is that they get involved in high scoring games because of their poor defence. For this, Craig Rivet was brought in and is expected to help the goals against factor.
For Buffalo to make the playoffs this year, they have to a play more physical game. This team is very small and just cant survive in the corners; which then leads to injuries. Also, Ryan Miller will get more rest than last year with Jocelyn Thibault coming in as a back-up. The Sabres will be a border line playoff team at best and if they fail to make the post-season, don’t be surprised if Coach Lindy Ruff gets fired.
Last season proved to the Bruins how important Patrice Bergeron was to the team. Bergeron suffered a season ending concussion injury in the tenth game of the year which many thought was the end of the Bruins season. Still the team made the playoffs even though they were the only playoff team to have a negative plus/minus in the regular season.
Bergeron is now healthy and so are many other underrated players on the team. Phil Kessel, Marc Savard and Zdeno Chara are going out to prove that last year was no fluke. Boston is a good team but they still lack in goaltending to take them to the next step. Until a true #1 goalie is brought in there may be a good season, just not a good playoff.
Ottawa is coming into the new season under a new head coach. Craig Hartsburg will have fun with the offensive side of the Senators but must focus on defence as well. At least the city can officially move on and past the Ray Emery escapade with him playing hockey overseas. Many fans were also happy to see Wade Redden go to the Rangers but now that Andrej Meszaros is gone too, the core on the back is not good.
The Sens have to get scoring from players not named Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley or Daniel Alfredsson, so then, from who? Antoine Vermette, Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno will need to have break out years for Ottawa to compete.
With Mats Sundin, the Maple Leafs are bad. Without Mats Sundin, the Maple Leafs are just terrible. Of course, Sundin is still uncertain of his future with the team or the league which means Toronto must assume they are going on without him. This is bad for a team who is “rebuilding” after also trading Bryan McCabe and losing Darcy Tucker to the Avalanche.
The expectations are not high in Toronto. Even current GM Cliff Fletcher said that he has a team with four #3 lines. Too make a long story short, do not be surprised if the Maple Leafs are the worst team of 2008-2009 with their only positive being to hopefully win the lottery draft next summer.
Over/under compared to last season's overall points:
Boston finished with 94 points. Hopefully Bergeron stays healthy; over.
Buffalo finished with 90 points. Need to make defence a priority to win more games; under.
Toronto finished with 83 points. Simply put, this team will be very bad; under.
Montreal finished with 104 points. They will even be better than last season; over.
Ottawa finished with 94 points. One line can’t do it all in a competitive division; under.
Predicted 2008-2009 Northeast Division Standings:
Toronto Maple Leafs
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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