It will be a uphill battle for the Senators, Sabres and Bruins to overtake the Canadiens in the North East but that‚Äôs why they play the game.
1. Montreal Canadiens (47-25-10)
The Montreal Canadiens are the fastest team in the league and among one of the most talented teams in the NHL. They made significant upgrades upfront adding Alex Tanguay (18 goals ‚Äì 40 assists ‚Äì 58 points) and Robert Lang (21 goals) who will center the third line. Tanguay joins talented forwards Alexei Kovalev (84 points), Tomas Plekanec (69points), Chris Higgins (52 points) and that is just naming a few. Offensively not too many teams can’t match up with the Canadiens. On defense Mike Komisarek is a force but the Habs could use some upgrades. How far the Canadiens go in the post-season will depend on young G Carey Price. Trading Cristobal Huet backfired on management as Price collapsed during the playoffs. The pressure will be even higher on the talented Price this season
2. Boston Bruins (41-29-12)
G Tim Thomas (28-19-6 2.44 GAA) carried the Bruins into the playoffs. The Bruins struggled putting pucks in the net last season but that will change this season. A healthy Patrice Bergeron gives the Bruins a franchise type forward they lacked last season. Bergeron joins talented forwards Marc Savard and Marco Sturm. One of the most underrated signings this summer was the Bruins signing 2004 5th overall pick Blake Wheeler. Wheeler has been impressive in camp and is skating on the Bruins 1st line. Young forward Phil Kessel will be counted on to improve his numbers and F Milan Lucic has 20 goal potential. Chuck Kobasew (22 goals) and P.J. Axelsson round out the top three lines. Don‚Äôt expect the Bruins to be ranked 24th in offense this year. What the Bruins lack is a #1 puck-moving defenseman. They have the forwards to make a significant move.
Phil Kessel ‚Äì The Bruins aggressively tried to move forward Phil Kessel this summer. Kessel and head coach Claude Julien don‚Äôt see eye-to-eye.
3. Buffalo Sabres (39-31-12)
The Sabres are not as talented as the Senators, Bruins or Canadiens but they play a up tempo style and have an advantage over all those teams at goaltender. After signing Ryan Miller to a long term extension, the pressure will be on Miller to lead this team back to the playoffs. Miller will be up to the task but he will need some help from his 22nd ranked D. The Sabres ranked 4th in the league in offense and will likely be in the top 5 again. If the defense can improve the Sabres will be a sleeper team in the North East
4. Ottawa Senators (43-31-8)
The Ottawa Senators got tougher with the additions of Jarkko Ruutu, Jason Smith and Filip Kuba but they aren‚Äôt better. They made a smart decision letting Wade Redden bolt for New York. Redden needed a change of scenery and was drastically overpaid. Where the Senators made a mistake is not finding a way to sign D Andrej Meszaros G Martin Gerber is not the long term answer. Upfront the Senators are going to score a lot of goals (258 last season). Defense and goaltending will be the downfall of this team.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (36-35-11)
The Toronto Maple Leafs in rebuilding mode but will they rebuild the right way? Mats Sundin is not coming back through those doors. This season will be a wash for the Leafs. They need to build towards the 09-10 campaign. The first step is getting rid of long term contracts. Moving D Pavel Kubina will be a start and the Leafs should think about moving D Tomas Kaberle. The Maple Leafs are like the New York Knicks. They are bad but not bad enough to net a top 5 pick. When the Leafs are a playoff team, it is a good thing for the NHL. If they rebuild the right way this season, they could be back in contention next year by making smart decisions in the draft and through free agency
Pavel Kubina ‚Äì The Leafs will continue to try to move Pavel Kubina. The problem is his salary
Photo courtesy of Dan4thNicholas