August 16, 2013

Great Debate: Toughest team for Bruins to beat in Atlantic?

Every Friday, a rotating group of NEHJ staff members will share their take on one hot topic in the hockey world. Here’s this week's Great Debate.

The setup: The Northeast Division is no more thanks to the NHL's realignment. Boston will still be battling for supremacy against the Sabres, Canadiens, Senators and Maple Leafs, but now you can add the Lightning, Panthers and Red Wings to the list of foes they'll be looking to climb over in the standings.

The question: Which team is the biggest threat to beat the Bruins out for the Atlantic Division title in 2013-14?


Here's something scary that you may or may not remember from last season: the Montreal Canadiens owned the Boston Bruins so much that they stole the division away from them. Now, it's understandable to debate that the Habs flamed out in the first round of the playoffs, but with such a young roster of inexperienced players, it was sort of expected. This year, the Canadiens have potential to not only be a threat to the Bruins' chances of winning the Atlantic Division, but they have a chance to do something in the postseason, too.

The Canadiens' young, offensive core of David Desharnais, Lars Eller, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will continue to improve, Max Pacioretty could become a top-25 scorer in the NHL and the veteran leadership from guys like Brian Gionta and Tomas Plekanec will certainly get a boost with the addition of Daniel Briere. Their defense, led by P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, is solid and Carey Price in goal makes them an annual contender. So while the Bruins could very well top the Atlantic Division this season, it's important to remember that they have to go through the reigning champions first.



From before the season even got underway, everything seemed to be working against the Detroit Red Wings in 2013. Captain and perennial Norris Trophy candidate Nick Lidstrom retired. Acquisitions failed to live up to expectations. A veteran squad proved quite injury-prone during a compressed, post-lockout schedule. 

Despite all that, the Wings managed to do what they've done every season since 1990, qualifying for the playoffs where they came within a goal of reaching the conference finals. With a team that's greatly retooled on paper -- having added aging-but-still-potent winger Daniel Alfredsson and upgraded their second-line center spot with former Panther Stephen Weiss -- and youngsters such as Dan DeKeyser, Joakim Andersson and former Maine standout Gustav Nyquist coming into their own, Detroit will be tough to top. Add in the fact that goalie Jimmy Howard, another former Black Bear, is 15-2-0 lifetime against his new divisional opponents and I'm starting to think I'd be foolish to not put money down on Motown winning the Atlantic Division crown.



My favorite band, the Barenaked Ladies, have a song called "Everything Old is New Again." That's how I'm feeling right now, because I think what we're going to see in the new-look Atlantic this season is a continuation of what we saw last year, which is the resurgence of the Boston-Montreal rivalry. Historically, hockey's version of the Old Firm has ebbed and flowed, at times dormant and at times red-hot.

The Bruins have been one of the best franchises in the league for the last half-dozen years, but it's taken a little while for the Canadiens to catch up. I think this year, the Habs are ready to contend again, and with some interesting additions (chiefly Danny Briere) and no key losses, the rebounding ability they've shown since finishing dead last in 2011-12 ought to only improve. Games between Boston and Montreal are always edgy because of pride and history. Now, an Atlantic Division title should be on the line, too.



Despite long-term injuries to nearly all of the team's key players, including superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, top-line center Jason Spezza and starting goaltender Craig Anderson, the Ottawa Senators still found a way to make it into the postseason last year. Once there, they quickly dispatched division rival Montreal in the opening round of the playoffs before putting up a valiant effort in defeat against the loaded lineup of the Penguins.

On July 5, after long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson decided he'd have a better shot at capturing the Stanley Cup in Detroit than he would in Ottawa (though I'd firmly argue the opposite). The Senators were left with a gaping hole at right wing. GM Bryan Murray wasted little time in finding a solution to that problem, landing dynamic power-forward Bobby Ryan in a trade with Anaheim later that afternoon. With their new-found, and extraordinarily lethal, top-line scoring duo of Ryan and Spezza, along with some solid depth and recent playoff experience, the Sens appear to be in prime position for a breakout season in 2013-14.  



Every time you're ready to stick a fork in 'em, the Detroit Red Wings manage to come back like a B-movie villain that just won't die. When it comes to pure talent and experience, they don't come much better on paper than the Motor City Machine, who added Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to complement the aging but still lethal scoring core of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

The Wings also have workhorse Jimmy Howard in place, and their defense, while not made up of a lot of household names, is mobile and savvy. Maybe Detroit gets too much credit for their past glories of four Stanley Cups (in five appearances) between 1997-2009, but with a more favorable travel schedule in the East and some new blood (Weiss staying healthy will be key), this is a team that could leverage the talent and battle-tested players on the roster to make things interesting in the Atlantic Division.

Now we turn the question over to you: