The NHL regular season officially begins on Oct. 7, but the retooling and reshaping of many teams has been going on for months. CBCSports.ca offers you a glimpse at what teams across the league have done in the off-season with a series of six divisional previews — today, we feature the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division.
1st in Northeast, 3rd in East in 2009-10
45-27-10 (100 pts.) – 12-8-4 vs. Northeast – lost in 1st round to Boston (4-2)
First place in a division that featured four playoff teams didn't amount to much for the Sabres last season, who were bounced by division rival Boston in the opening round.
The early exit somewhat ruined a Ryan Miller's Vezina-winning campaign and blue-liner Tyler Myers' emergence as the league's top rookie, as the Sabres' balanced scoring attack wilted in the playoffs. Buffalo walked away from Tim Kennedy at the arbitration table, denting that scoring attack a bit, but the team could have another potential Calder candidate in rookie forward Tyler Ennis.
But they have to worry about big changes on their blue-line. No Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman means even more pressure on Myers, as he tries to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.Shaone Morrisonn and Jordan Leopold are in as serviceable replacements, but it remains to be seen whether they can have as big an impact as Tallinder and Lydman did on the Buffalo blue-line.
And then there's Miller. How do you top a season where you're pretty much the toast of the U.S., winning MVP honours at the Olympics and leading your team a goal away from gold, topping it off with a Vezina Trophy at the end of the NHL season?
By having to do it all again this time around if your team wants to become a dark horse contender for the Stanley Cup.
Notable additions: F Rob Niedermayer (New Jersey), F Colin Stuart (Calgary), D Shaone Morrisonn (Washington), D Jordan Leopold (Pittsburgh)
Notable subtractions: F Tim Kennedy (New York Rangers), F Raffi Torres (Vancouver), D Henrik Tallinder (New Jersey), D Toni Lydman (Anaheim)
Notable quotables: "He did a great job for our team, for our city, the recognition he got, but now you have to maintain. He's a proud individual that wants to keep his game at that level." — Coach Lindy Ruff on Ryan Miller
Outlook: Unless Miller implodes, the Sabres are going to at least make the playoffs, and at best they'll repeat as division champs. How far they go after that depends on whether or not the defence takes a step back and if their offence can stay awake during the playoffs.
2nd in Northeast, 5th in East in 2009-10
44-32-6 (94 pts.) – 14-7-3 vs. Northeast – lost in 1st round to Pittsburgh (4-2)
Ottawa's campaign last year had a lot in line with Will Ferrell's iconic scene in Old School: they went streaking.
An 11-game winning streak vaulted the Sens atop the division before the Olympic break in February. But only one win in nine games after the break dropped them from that perch, and then the Penguins smacked them out of the playoffs in the first round.
The Sens made a splash in the off-season by landing top offensive blue-line Sergei Gonchar, which will make up for the loss of puck magnet Anton Volchenkov and will hopefully spark a power play that was 21st in the NHL last season. Here's the problem: Ottawa isn't getting any younger. At 37, Daniel Alfredsson is staring into the twilight of his NHL career. Fellow sniper Alexei Kovalev is right there with him also at 37, and at 36, Gonchar is up there too.
The Sens have solid youngsters in their ranks, with the likes of Peter Regin, Nick Foligno, and Erik Karlsson impressing last year, but these guys still have a ways to go if they want to take up the mantle the vets will eventually leave behind. Plus, it's anybody's guess how Jason Spezza will react after he received a savage mauling from the fans and press after a subpar 2009-10 campaign and off-season rumours that he wanted out of the city.
And when is goaltending not an issue in the nation's capital?
Notable additions: D Sergei Gonchar (Pittsburgh)
Notable subtractions: D Anton Volchenkov (New Jersey), D Andy Sutton (Anaheim), F Matt Cullen (Minnesota), F Shean Donovan (Free Agent), F Jonathan Cheechoo (released)
Notable quotables: "I still love this game and I still enjoy what I do. I definitely want to win another Cup before the end of my career. But I’m always excited [to play hockey]. I love this game hard enough to just come back and really enjoy it. I don’t see myself sitting in front of a TV yet and watching other kids play hockey. I still want to be a part of it." – Alex Kovalev to the team's website
Outlook: The Sens still have the guns to make the playoffs and even win the Northeast, but a long run in the post-season may be a tough ask unless a lot of things fall into place and the squad avoids the injury trouble that plagued them last season.
3rd in Northeast, 6th in East in 2009-10
39-30-13 (91 pts.) – 13-8-3 vs. Northeast – lost in 2nd round to Philadelphia (4-3)
Two words have haunted, and will haunt, the Bruins and their fans alike after last season's playoffs:
In case you were on an international space station with no access to communication last season, here's a refresher: after impressively dispatching the Sabres in the first round of the playoffs, Boston looked poised for the conference finals but blew a 3-0 series lead on the Philadelphia Flyers, becoming only the third team in NHL history to do so.
This, ironically, is the reason why the Bruins could be primed for a serious run in 2010-11.
Already a good team, the B's went out and traded for scoring threat Nathan Horton and picked up top prospect Tyler Seguin in the 2010 draft (Toronto, your "Thank You" letter is in the mail), which could help solve their scoring problems.
A potentially healthy Marc Savard, who is still battling concussion problems, will give Boston another scoring threat up front. And the defence is still as solid as it always has been.
The key for the young Bruins will be how they deal with the spectre of that historic playoff collapse: will it haunt them throughout 2010-11, or will they use it to spur themselves to better things?
If it's the latter, Boston could turn some heads this season.
Notable additions: F Tyler Seguin (NHL draft), F Nathan Horton (Florida), F Gregory Campbell (Florida)
Notable subtractions: D Dennis Wideman (Florida), F Miroslav Satan (Free Agent), F Steve Begin (Free Agent), F Vladimir Sobotka (St. Louis)
Notable quotables: "He’s a humble kid and a smart kid, [Tyler and the other young Bruins] just got to have fun with it and try to learn as much as you can in every practice and in games. I told him to…just to do whatever he’s been doing, because he’s doing it well and that’s what brought him here." — Patrice Bergeron on Tyler Seguin, to the team's website
Outlook: Should make the playoffs and they could easily topple the Sabres for the Northeast. If their offence comes together and the team continues to mature, the Bruins could erase the memories of the 2010 playoffs with a deep run in 2011.
4th in Northeast, 8th in East in 2009-10
39-33-10 (88 pts.) – 11-9-4 vs. Northeast – lost in East final to Philadelphia (4-1)
Q: How do you reward a goalie who attained deity-like status in your city by carrying your team to a heart-stopping miracle run to the conference final?
A: By trading him?
For better or worse, the Habs and new GM Pierre Gauthier made one of their boldest moves in recent memory in the off-season. They dealt goalie Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues a little over a month after he almost single-handedly led them to two of the biggest upsets in NHL playoff history and a Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference final.
The beleaguered and divisive Carey Price is fully and utterly "The Man" in Montreal, as he hopes to win back the hearts of Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge faithful. Good luck, Carey. It could be a bumpy ride.
Montreal did some major tweaking along with the Halak trade, but has essentially kept its core intact. The defence could be even better this season with a more mature P.K. Subban on the blue-line and Andrei Markov hopefully available for the entire campaign. The forwards, led by Mike Cammalleri and new Habs captain Brian Gionta, will likely keep filling the net enough to keep Montreal in most contests.
But when it's all said and done, the Habs' season will live and die by the play of their once and future No. 1 goaltender. And after Montreal knocked off the Presidents' Trophy winners (Washington) and the defending Stanley Cup champions (Pittsburgh) in the playoffs last season, expectations are extremely high.
Notable additions: F Jeff Halpern (Los Angeles), F Dustin Boyd (Nashville), G Alex Auld (NY Rangers), F Lars Eller (St. Louis)
Notable subtractions: G Jaroslav Halak (St. Louis), D Paul Mara (Anaheim), F Glen Metropolit (Switzerland), F Dominic Moore (Tampa Bay), F Sergei Kostitsyn (Nashville), D Marc-Andre Bergeron (Free Agent)
Notable quotables: "Carey [Price] won't be the reason we win or lose. This is a team game and he's just one part of the equation. We win and lose as a team." — Coach Jacques Martin
Outlook: For all of Montreal's magic in the playoffs last season, the Habs did finish eighth in the East. They'll have to fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot again this season, and hope that Price can handle the heat.
5th in Northeast, 15th in East in 2009-10
30-38-14 (74 pts.) – 10-7-7 vs. Northeast – missed playoffs (5th straight season)
Oh, Toronto. Even when you finish second last in the NHL, you make life interesting. What began with a trade for a player who started the season on the injured list (Phil Kessel), continued with another trade that may yet turn into highway robbery (for Dion Phaneuf, new Leaf captain), and agonizingly ended with the Leafs finishing 29th out of 30 teams in the league.
And so, when draft day came along, Toronto had to sit and watch as blue-chip prospect Tyler Seguin put on the black and gold of the Bruins, its payment for Kessel half-fulfilled (Toronto traded its 2011 pick to Boston too).
The Leafs didn't make too many big many summer moves because they made most of their noise with trades during the season. And 2010-11 opens much like the 2009-10 did, with the Leafs looking like they could be in the mix for one of the low playoff seeds in a weak Eastern Conference.
Toronto will be better in net, with Vesa Toskala giving way to the tandem of Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson. The Maple Leafs' defence could potentially one of the best in the league, with Phaneuf, Tomas Kaberle, Mike Komisarek, and Francois Beauchemin rounding out an impressive top two pairings.
But everything comes back to the forwards and their lack of offensive punch, Kessel notwithstanding. Toronto is going to have to score goals at some point to take the pressure off the D.
And we're not even going to mention Nazem Kadri until he plays his first game in the NHL.
Notable additions: F Kris Versteeg (Chicago), F Colby Armstrong (Atlanta), F Clarke MacArthur (Atlanta), D Brett Lebda (Detroit)
Notable subtractions: F Viktor Stalberg (Chicago), F Christopher DiDomenico (Chicago), D Garnet Exelby (Free Agent), F Wayne Primeau (Free Agent)
Notable quotables: "With losing, it's never easy, and a lot of negativity is going to come from outside — obviously, from you guys [the media] and the fans. You're going to hear it. When you're losing, [bad] things [are] going to happen when you come in the dressing room. I think we have a way more positive dressing room this year than the years before." – Defenceman Tomas Kaberle
Outlook: Toronto's goaltending will be better. So will their defence. But it's common knowledge that you have to score at least one goal to win a hockey game. If the forwards can find some magic and exceed expectations, the Buds have a shot at the playoffs. If not, they could be getting another fruit basket from Boston come the 2011 draft.