Here at BRLsportsblog we’re counting down the days until the very first puck drop of season. But whilst we twiddle our thumbs and wait impatiently, we’re providing you, the hockey faithful, with previews of every division in the National Hockey League. In doing so we’re going to breakdown the division through key points and notable additions.
First up we have the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division, which saw vast improvements last year with the likes of the Florida Panthers challenging for a playoff spot, yet with a serious flip side, with perhaps the surprise of the season as the Boston Bruins missed out entirely.
The Buffalo Sabres have arguably had the greater off-season, primarily due to the addition of Jack Eichel. Second overall in this years NHL Entry Draft, out of the University of Boston, Eichel, like Connor McDavid, is tipped as a franchise player and the Sabres couldn’t be in a better position going forward. No other team in this division have improved their roster with one player (Mike Green to Detroit a close second) as much as Buffalo have with Eichel.
Despite via the draft, the Sabres got their work done early last season, bringing both Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian to Buffalo, in what was labeled as last years ‘big trade’. Both Kane and Bogosian are great additions, and can act as skilled and experienced pillars among a team with some talented young prospects.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had an Off-season full of ‘Maple Leaf’ like moves. Mike Babcock shocks the world as he announces he’ll be the next coach in Toronto, which is, yes, great. Babcock is one of the greatest coaches of all time, but that team is bad. Then they get even worse by bringing in a guy like Daniel Winnik. A washed up two-way (more defensive) winger, who is supposedly a ‘fan favourite’. Although they signed him on a relatively cheap contract, what does he actually do to improve a team that really needs improving?
It appears that media rules the way in Toronto for another year, as they seem more interested in crowd and media pleasing, than actually winning hockey games. Also, at what point in the season will the Leafs realise that Phil Kessel wasn’t the problem?
Who to watch out for
The Boston Bruins have had a very up and down off-season, yet there still appears to be belief in the Bruins camp, despite losing the likes of Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton. That might be down to one player, and that’s Jimmy Hayes. Acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers, many believe Hayes is set for a breakout year.
The Boston native had 19 goals and 16 assists last season, and showed a great scoring touch in and around the goal crease. With his size and strength, Hayes should be a weapon in tight areas and should be dominant in front of net. As well as that, he holds a 12.3 shooting percentage in 168 career games, scoring 36 times. That’s a pretty impressive percentage to boost at such an tender age.
Those specific stats are wrapped up in 3rd and 4th line minutes. Hayes will no doubt see at least 2nd line minutes with the Bruins, giving him more of a chance to show off his talents. That being said, it would be a little unfair to expect him to replace the likes of Milan Lucic, but there’s a feeling that it won’t be long before he’s considered a top player in this league. Plus, speaking of Lucic, and last season, Zach Rinaldo could probably replicate those numbers.
Coach most under pressure
Obviously, Mike Babcock was under pressure from the minute he put pen to paper in Toronto. Despite that, the Bruins’ Claude Julien has to be under the most pressure. Considering he came pretty close to losing his job this off-season, it is pivotal that the B’s head coach gets off to a successful start this season, otherwise he could be on his way out faster than that first excuse from those Maple Leafs.
The Buffalo Sabres aren’t going to turn heads this season, but they’re going to surprise many, not only within the Atlantic Division, but the entire league. With the likes of Eichel, Kane, Ennis and Ryan O’Reilly, the Sabres certainly shouldn’t be short of offense. However, their biggest weakness is the lack of goaltending. Two backups isn’t going to cut it, especially in a division with Tuukka Rask, Carey Price and Ben Bishop.
Who’s going to win it
As long as the Montreal Canadiens have Carey Price at the helm, they’ll always be a contender for not just a division crown, but the Stanley Cup as well. They haven’t done a whole lot this off-season (swapping Prust for Kassian isn’t exactly a contenders move), but they have offense, they have defense, and they have the best goaltender in hockey.
Keep it here at BRLsports for more divisional previews!