NHL Eastern Conference Preview 2014/2015

By Ian Palmer

The 2014/15 NHL season faces off on Wednesday, October 8. Here’s our NHL Eastern Conference preview with a look at every team and their 2013/14 records, new and departed players and how we think they will fare this season. Five different clubs have won the 16-team Eastern Conference over the past six years. Several teams went through changes over the summer and of course the NHL Draft also took place back in June.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

  • 2013/14 Season record: 54-19-9 for 117 points
  • Left Town: RW Jarome Iginla, LW Shawn Thornton, G Chad Johnson, D Andrej Meszaros, and D Johnny Boychuk
  • Newcomers: None

The Bruins won the Atlantic Division last season, but were knocked out of the postseason by arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens in the division final. They’ve lost some key layers during the offseason and haven’t really replaced them. This is mainly due to salary-cap issues. However, the core is still there with forwards Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand along with top defenseman Zdeno Chara and last year’s Vezina Trophy winner Tuukka Rask in net. They still have good depth, and could top the table again this season.

Buffalo Sabres

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 21-51-10 for 52 points
  • Left Town: D Christian Ehrhoff, and F John Scott
  • Newcomers: RW Brian Gionta, LW Matt Moulson, D Josh Gorges, C Sam Reinhart, D Andre Benoit, and D Andrej Meszaros

The Sabres were one of the worst teams in the league last year and missed the playoffs by finishing eighth in the Atlantic Division. They’ve added some solid players over the summer and should be an improved team. They lost long-time goaltender Ryan Miller last season when they traded him and that may hurt. They have some good young talent in Zemgus Girgensons, Nikita Zadorov, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Mikhail Grigorenko, but will still likely miss the playoffs again.

Detroit Red Wings

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 39-28-15 for 93 points
  • Left Town: F Todd Bertuzzi, and F David Legwand
  • Newcomers: None

The Detroit Red Wings were beaten by Boston in the conference semifinal last season after finishing fourth in the Atlantic. They didn’t really make any changes in the offseason, but forward Pavel Datsyuk has a separated shoulder and will miss the beginning of the new campaign. Detroit reached the postseason for the 23rd straight season last year even though they had several stars injured for much of the season. Youngsters Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco will get more ice time and Gustav Nyquist will be depended on for some offense. The status of forward Daniel Alfredsson is still unknown as he hasn’t announced if he’s returning.

Florida Panthers

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 29-45-8 for 66 points
  • Left Town: D Ed Jovanovski, D Tom Gilbert, F Scott Gomez, and G Scott Clemmensen
  • Newcomers: C Olli Jokinen, C Dave Bolland, LW Shawn Thornton, D Willie Mitchell, D Aaron Ekblad, C Derek MacKenzie, and G Al Montoya

Veteran Roberto Luongo is in net this year and will need to be exceptional as the Panthers missed the playoffs last season by finishing seventh in the Atlantic. There’s some good young talent in Dylan Olsen, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad. The defense corps isn’t bad with Willie Mitchell, Brian Campbell, Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov. The list of newcomers is also quite good and the Panthers should fight for a playoff spot this season.

Montreal Canadiens

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 46-28-8 for 100 points
  • Left Town: RW Brian Gionta, LW Thomas Vanek, D Josh Gorges, F Daniel Briere, and C Ryan White
  • Newcomers: RW P-A Parenteau, D Tom Gilbert, C Manny Malhotra, and F Jiri Sekac

Montreal placed third in the Atlantic last season and went all the way to the conference final only to lose to the New York Rangers. Defenseman P.K. Subban will be depended on as an offensive threat and to quarterback the power play. The team lost several good players and the newcomers frankly aren’t of the same skill level. This means goaltender Carey Price will need to stand on his head some nights if the Habs can’t compete with the league’s elite teams.

Ottawa Senators

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 37-31-14 for 88 points
  • Left Town: C Jason Spezza, RW Ales Hemsky, and LW Matt Kassian
  • Newcomers: RW Alex Chiasson and C David Legwand

The Senators missed the playoffs by finishing fifth in the Atlantic last campaign. They lost some skill and scoring in Ales Hemsky and Jason Spezza. This means new captain Erik Karlsson will need to produce some points from the blue line. Prospects Curtis Lazar and Mark Stone could surprise and Clarke McArthur will need another big year. Number one goalie Craig Anderson will have to be nearly perfect as will backup Robin Lehner. Making the playoffs will be a tough job.

Tampa Bay Lightning

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 46-27-9 for 101 points
  • Left Town: G Anders Lindback, LW Ryan Malone, RW Teddy Purcell, F B.J. Crombeen, and F Nate Thompson
  • Newcomers: C Brian Boyle, D Anton Stralman, D Jason Garrison, G Evgeni Nabokov, LW Brenden Morrow, and LW Jonathan Drouin

The Lightning managed to finish second in the Atlantic last season even though top sniper Steven Stamkos missed much of the year with a broken leg. They were dumped out of the postseason by Montreal in the division semifinal. Coach Jon Cooper has some good young talent in captain Stamkos along with goaltender Ben Bishop and defenseman Victor Hedman. The squad had a couple of excellent rookies last season in Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson and have another this year in Jonathan Drouin. Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle add depth as does goaltender Evgeni Nabokov.

Toronto Maple Leafs

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 38-36-8 for 84 points
  • Left Town: C Dave Bolland, LW Mason Raymond, F Nikolai Kulemin, D Carl Gunnarsson, C Jay McClement, and D Tim Gleason
  • Newcomers: LW David Booth, F Daniel Winnik, C Mike Santorelli, F Petri Kontiola, F Leo Komarov, D Stephane Robidas, D Roman Polak, and F Matt Frattin

The Toronto Maple Leafs suffered a late-season meltdown by going 2-14 and missed the playoffs after finishing sixth in the Atlantic. They made a lot of changes in the summer and it’s hard to say whether or not the lineup has improved. It’s basically a coin toss. They need to rely on forwards Phil Kessel, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri for offense along with defenders Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly and Dion Phaneuf. In addition, goaltender Jonathan Bernie will need to be among the league’s best to lead this squad to the playoffs. New president Brendan Shanahan didn’t fire head coach Randy Carlyle, but did sack his assistants.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 36-35-11 for 83 points
  • Left Town: C Manny Malhotra, and G Justin Peters
  • Newcomers: D Tim Gleason, and C Jay McClement

The Carolina Hurricanes missed the playoffs in 2013/14 by finishing seventh in the division. They need captain Eric Staal to have a huge season if they hope to make it this year as they didn’t make many roster moves. Former Hurricane defenseman Tim Gleason left the Maple Leafs to rejoin the team and his Toronto teammate center Jay McClement signed as a free agent. Forward Alexander Semin also need a good year along with goaltender Cam Ward to give this team any chance at playoff hockey. They’ve missed the dance five years running and have a new GM in Ron Francis along with a new head coach in Bill Peters. Jordan Staal will miss a couple of months with a broken leg so Jeff Skinner needs to have another good year.

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 43-32-7 for 93 points
  • Left Town: D Nikita Nikitin, F R.J. Umberger, LW Blake Comeau, C Derek MacKenzie, RW Jack Skille, and D Nick Schultz
  • Newcomers: LW Scott Hartnell

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a fine 2013/14 campaign by finishing fourth in the Metropolitan Division. Unfortunately, they were beaten by Pittsburgh in the division semifinal. They acquired left-winger Scott Hartnell in the offseason for R.J. Umberger in a good deal. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is considered to be the key player in Columbus as the offense is a little thin. No Blue Jacket player cracked the top-30 in points last year. Ryan Johansen came close at 34th. He missed training camp due to a contract squabble and forward Nathan Horton is sidelined for awhile with a back injury.

New Jersey Devils

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 35-29-18 for 88 points
  • Left Town: G Martin Brodeur, D Anton Volchenkov, D Mark Fayne, and C Andrei Loktionov
  • Newcomers: F Mike Cammalleri, RW Martin Havlat, and G Scott Clemmensen

The New Jersey Devils also missed the playoffs in 2013/15 when they finished sixth in the division. They made minor changes in the offseason, but are hoping Mike Cammerlleri can put the puck in the net on a consistent basis. The Devils blew their playoff hopes last campaign by going a woeful 0 for 13 in shootouts. Longtime veteran goalie Martin Brodeur is gone and this means Cory Schneider will be number one in net. Jaromir Jagr will also need another good offensive year for the Devils to make the playoffs and newcomer Martin Havlat also needs to chip in.

New York Islanders

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 34-37-11 for 79 points
  • Left Town: G Evgeni Nabokov, D T.J. Brennan, and G Anders Nilsson
  • Newcomers: G Jaroslav Halak, D Nick Leddy, D Johnny Boychuk, C Mikhail Grabovski, F Nikolai Kulemin, RW Jack Skille, G Chad Johnson, and G Kent Simpson

The New York Islanders finished eighth in the division last year and missed the playoffs. Captain John Tavares also missed much of the season with injuries. The Islanders acquired several quality players during the offseason and should take a run at the postseason. With John Tavares back at center and Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson in net, things are looking up. The defense has improved with the addition of Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy and the forwards are stronger with Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski.

New York Rangers

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 45-31-6 for 96 points
  • Left Town: C Brad Richards, C Brian Boyle, D Anton Stralman, LW Benoit Pouliot, and LW Derek Dorsett
  • Newcomers: D Dan Boyle, LW Ryan Malone, LW Tanner Glass, RW Lee Stempniak, and D Mike Kostka

The New York Rangers surprised a lot of fans by going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season even though they were beaten by the Los Angeles Kings. They finished second in the division and are hoping to finish at least that high again this year. They made a few offseason changes and haven’t really gotten any weaker even though center Brad Richards has left via a contract buyout and defender Anton Stralman left with center Brian Boyle. Veteran forward Marty St. Louis and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are the leaders and St. Louis may have to play center while Derek Stepan is out with an injury.

Philadelphia Flyers

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 42-30-10 for 94 points
  • Left Town: LW Scott Hartnell and RW Steve Downie
  • Newcomers: F R.J. Umberger, D Michael Del Zotto, and D Nick Schultz

The Philadelphia Flyers finished third in the division last campaign and were knocked out of the playoffs by the New York Rangers in the division semifinal. They need captain Claude Giroux to lead them offensively while goalie Steve Mason will have to be hot in net. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen is sidelined with blood clots and may have to retire. The team will definitely miss him and are hoping Michael Del Zotto can replace him. The Flyers traded Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger and that could be a mistake.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 51-24-7 for 109 points
  • Left Town: RW James Neal, D Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen, F Jussi Jokinen, C Joe Vitale, LW Tanner Glass, D Deryk Engelland, and RW Lee Stempniak
  • Newcomers: D Christian Ehrhoff, F Patric Hornqvist, F Nick Spaling, G Thomas Greiss, RW Steve Downie, and LW Blake Comeau

The Penguins topped the Metropolitan division last season, but were ousted in the division final by the New York Rangers. The roster may actually be weaker due to the offseason moves, but stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will once again lead the way to the postseason. Ray Shero was dumped as GM and head coach Dan Bylsma also lost his job. Jim Rutherford takes over as GM with Mike Johnston taking over behind the bench. The team will miss James Neal, Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury need s big season. There’s some good young talent with winger Beau Bennett and defenceman Olli Maatta.

Washington Capitals

  • 2013/14 Season Record: 38-30-14 for 90 points
  • Left Town: C Mikhail Grabovski, LW Dustin Penner, and G Jaroslav Halak
  • Newcomers: D Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen, and G Justin Peters

Even though they reached 90 points last year it wasn’t enough for the capitals to make the playoffs. They finished the season fifth in the Metropolitan basically because of poor defensive play. They still have one of the best players in the world in Russian Alexander Ovechkin. He beat the goalie 51 times last year, but will have to tighten up in his own end. Barry Trotz is the new head coach and he may be a bit too defensive minded for this explosive lineup. If goaltender Braden Holtby has an exceptional season the playoffs are possible.

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