NHL preview, pick: Northeast Division

NHL 2013 Preview: Northeast Division

Teams listed in predicted order of finish.

Boston Bruins (2011-12: 49-29-4; lost in first round of playoffs)

In 2011-12, no team had a better record against its own division than Boston, who beat up on the Leafs, Sabres, Habs and Sens (often literally) to the tune of 19-4-1. And only the New York Rangers had more wins than Boston’s 38 wins within the conference. So with the entirety of the 2013 schedule being intra-conference and the return of a healthy Nathan Horton to the lineup, it’s impossible not to imagine the Bruins contending for the conference crown, let alone the divisional one.

Goaltender Tuukka Rask might surprise some with how easily he fills the void left by Tim “Sabbatical” Thomas, but remember that Rask actually had a better save percentage (.929) and goals-against average (2.05) than Thomas last year, although he only played 23 games.

Look for Tyler Seguin (a team-leading 67 points last season) to wow the league; he ripped up the Swiss circuit during the lockout and should be a point-per-game guy. The emergence of rookie Dougie Hamilton on Zdeno Chara’s blue line will also provide excitement.

Key acquisitions: Chris Bourque, Garnet Exelby

Key departures: Joe Corvo, Benoit Pouliot, Brian Rolston

Buffalo Sabres (2011-12: 39-32-11; did not make playoffs)

Could the Sabres have done more to change their image?

After Boston badass Milan Lucic ran Ryan Miller and the Sabres failed to come to their goaltender’s aid, Buffalo went out and got a couple of the nastiest guys in the business in enforcer John Scott and skilled tough guy Steve Ott, for whom they traded oft-injured scorer Derek Roy to the Dallas Stars.

“More than anything else, we needed to move the balance of skill versus the physical nature of our game and become a tougher team to play against,” GM Darcy Regier said of the moves.

But does tougher mean better?

If defencemen Christian Ehrhoff and Tyler Myers, who missed a combined 61 games in 2011-12, stay healthy, and rookie Marcus Foligno (13 points in just 14 games last season) picks up Roy’s production, Buffalo should contend to a playoff spot all season long.

Key acquisitions: Steve Ott, John Scott

Key departures: Derek Roy, Brad Boyes

Ottawa Senators (2011-12: 41-31-10; lost in first round of playoffs)

For a 17th season, 40-year-old captain Daniel Alfredsson will lead the Senators. But they won’t be sneaking up on anyone as they did with last season’s near-ousting of the Rangers in a thrilling seven-game playoff series.

Everything went right for the Sens last year, as Jason Spezza finished fourth overall in league scoring, Erik Karlsson posted a ridiculous 78 points en route to the Norris, and goaltender Craig Anderson played fantastic.

While the development of newly acquired Kyle Turris should continue and highly-touted prospect Jakob Silfverberg could get minutes, asking Karlsson and Spezza to both make the NHL’s Top 11 in scoring again might be a tall order. They’ll be in the hunt, but the Sens will need to finish the season on fire to make the cut.

Key acquisitions: Guillaume Latendresse, Marc Methot

Key departures: Filip Kuba, Nick Foligno

Montreal Canadiens (2011-12: 31-35-16; did not make playoffs)

A massive overhaul in Montreal, where having the worst team in the East and third-worst overall just doesn’t cut it.

The Habs will begin 2013 with a new GM (Marc Bergevin), a new head coach (Michel Therrien), a new dose of truculence (Brandon Prust), a new young talent (Alex Galchenyuk), and — hopefully — a new contract for RFA defenceman P.K. Subban. (Not to mention a new spot for contractual nightmare Scott Gomez – home.)

How will this team gel? Well, they can’t do any worse than last year’s 31-win disappointment.

After Tomas Plekanec rests his ribs, look for him to get off to a hot start; he tore it up in the Czech league during the lockout. Centre Lars Eller and defenceman Raphael Diaz should impress this season as well.

The Habs should also get a boost from a full season from defenceman Andrei Markov (if he stays healthy), and Carey Price will be solid in net, but the Habs will need aging vets Erik Cole (who might be done after 2013) and Tomas Kaberle to be at their best.

Key acquisitions: GM Marc Bergevin, coach Michel Therrien, Brandon Prust, Colby Armstrong, Alex Galchenyuk

Key departures: Chris Campoli, Mathieu Darche

Toronto Maple Leafs (2011-12: 35-37-10; did not make playoffs)

Barring an early trade for a Stanley Cup-finalist goaltender, the only on-ice difference between this Leafs squad and the one that was showered with “Let’s go, Blue Jays!” chants toward the end of last year’s debacle is This Is 40 star James van Riemsdyk, the second-overall pick in 2007 and a great boost to the team’s second unit.

Van Riemsdyk alone is not enough to end the Leafs’ league-leading seven-year playoff drought. But if coach Randy Carlyle is successful in implementing a stingy team defence, the Phil Kessel-Joffrey Lupul combo keeps feasting on goaltenders and James Reimer and/or Ben Scrivens play above their head, anything is possible.

No team could benefit more from a shortened season than the notoriously streaky Leafs, who are no stranger to hot starts.

Key acquisitions: James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Rielly, Jay McClement

Key departures: Luke Schenn, Colby Armstrong, Joey Crabb

Hottest rivalry: Bruins vs. Sabres – Of course Montreal-Toronto has the history and Ottawa-Toronto has the provincial pedigree, but the bad blood between the Bruins and Sabres is so palpable, Buffalo focused its offseason roster moves around payback.

Big question mark: Which of the division’s young stars — Morgan Rielly, Alex Galchenyuk, Dougie Hamilton, Jakob Silfverberg — will be the first to break out as an NHL threat?

And the divisional champ will be… Boston Bruins

Who will win the Northeast Division?

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