Fan’s guide to picking an NHL team: Atlantic

Doesn't the Dion Phaneuf version of the Leafs remind you of the current Cowboys?

Are you new to hockey? A disgruntled Leafs fan? Looking for a new team to root for this season? You’re in luck.

In our first edition of Icebreakers, we’ll provide the reasons why and why not to support NHL franchises. And for additional perspective, we’ll even compare NHL teams to other North American sports franchises.

To help guide your decision, ask yourself: what type of sports fan are you?

1. Frontrunner. While your friends and colleagues may not respect this approach, it’s the easiest path to success.

2. Do you like to be considered that crafty sports fan who jumps on an up-and-comer before the mainstream crowd? Then maybe you’re a sports hipster.

3. Are you looking for a rebuilding project? That route certainly isn’t for everyone, but if you want to avoid the dreaded “bandwagon hopper” label, this is the option for you.

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Icebreakers will be done in four separate articles. We’ll start with the eight teams in the Atlantic Division Sept. 30 and will follow up with the eight teams in the Metropolitan on Oct. 1. Then, the two divisions in the Western Conference will be published Oct. 2 and 3.

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins
Last year’s record: 54-19-9 (1st in division)
Coach: Claude Julien | GM: Peter Chiarelli
Core players: Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci

Why this team? The Bruins are a contending team in the midst of a championship window. They’re built for the long haul with great goaltending, a good mix of youth and experience, and a hard-nosed physical style suited for playoff hockey.

Why not? Lockdown defender Zdeno Chara is getting old. He will be 38 in March. Once he declines, he’ll be next to impossible to replace. Yes, we know Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton are impressive young players. And another thing – those NHL 15 commercials with Patrice Bergeron are just terrible.

Other sport comparison: Pittsburgh Steelers – Both are known for their rugged identity and have a history of great players. They are among the most accomplished in their respective sports and happen to wear black and yellow. Can it get closer than that?!

Buffalo Sabres
Last year’s record: 21-51-10 (Last in division)
Coach: Ted Nolan | GM: Tim Murray
Core players: Matt Moulson, Cody Hodgson, Tyler Myers, Tyler Ennis

Why this team? It’s the perfect potential sports hipster scenario. Hop on the potential Connor McDavid team a year before everyone else. A veteran hockey man told me McDavid is already better than John Tavares.

Why not? There’s tons of risk here – especially if they don’t land one of the prized possessions in the upcoming draft. In the short term, expect the Sabres to struggle. Their roster is baaad. It’s difficult to find a single strength on the team right now.

Other sport comparison: Philadelphia 76ers – Both organizations have fallen on tough times. The two were among the worst in their sport last year and appear to be in the early stages of a long rebuild.

Detroit Red Wings
Last year’s record: 39-28-15 (4th in division)
Coach: Mike Babcock | GM: Ken Holland
Core players: Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Gustav Nyquist

Why this team? The Red Wings are one of the model organizations. They find value everywhere – especially Europe – and continue to churn out good hockey teams. As they say, ownership wins in pro sports, and the Red Wings get an A in this department.

Why not? You may have missed the boat here. These Red Wings appear to be running out of gas. Pavel Datsyuk is already hurt. They can’t seem to attract any defencemen in free agency. And Mike Babcock’s contract is up after this season.

Other sport comparison: Atlanta Braves – Not many sports franchises over the last 20 years have had a better run of success than the Braves and Red Wings, but times are changing. Despite developing some good young players, the Wings need to fight to earn a playoff spot.

Florida Panthers
Last year’s record: 29-45-8 (7th in division)
Coach: Gerard Gallant | GM: Dale Tallon
Core players: Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad, Roberto Luongo, Aleksander Barkov

Why this team? Other than the weather or Roberto Luongo’s Twitter account? There’s actually potential on this roster, despite some highly questionable free agent signings. Aaron Ekblad, Alexsander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad have the makings of a nice core down the road.

Why not? The Panthers are a tough squad to root for. They get limited coverage. They have to sign overpriced contracts (Dave Bolland) just to reach the salary cap floor, and their arena is in the middle of the nowhere – unless you enjoy shopping at overcrowded outlet malls with terrible parking.

Other sport comparison: Jacksonville Jaguars — Just like their Florida counterpart, the Panthers are a franchise with no identity. Both teams struggle to attract fans and haven’t had any real run of sustained success throughout their history.

Montreal Canadiens
Last year’s record: 46-28-8 (3rd in division)
Coach: Michel Therrien | GM: Marc Bergevin
Core players: Carey Price, P.K. Subban, Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty

Why this team? The Habs have a pretty good thing going. They have a great goalie in his prime, a legitimate No. 1 defenceman, and all the Stanley Cups you could ever dream of. And you get to make fun of the Leafs – a lot.

Why not? Because their fan base can be insufferable. They like to brag about all of their titles, despite not winning anything since 1992-93. Talk about living in the past. Also, can we get the media to stop drooling over about every pre-game ceremony? It’s the same thing every time!

Other sport comparison: Los Angeles Dodgers — The Dodgers don’t have quite the same history of winning as the Canadiens, but who does? Both are among the most revered franchises in their sport and have a polarizing star (Yasiel Puig, meet P.K. Subban).

Ottawa Senators
Last year’s record: 37-31-14 (5th in division)
Coach: Paul MacLean | GM: Bryan Murray
Core players: Erik Karlsson, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Jared Cowen

Why this team? There’s a few easy ones off the top. Paul MacLean’s mustache is a sight to behold, and sometimes you even get to see his doppelganger show up at games. Other than that, you get to watch Erik Karlsson play 82 games a year. He’s the most dynamic offensive force on the blue line the league has seen in years.

Why not? You may be too late. Daniel Alfredsson is gone. Jason Spezza is gone. And Bobby Ryan is hitting free agency after the year. Outside of Karlsson, there’s a clear lack of blue-chip players.

Other sport comparison: Tampa Bay Rays – Two franchises that lost their panache in tough divisions. Some of it comes down to financial issues. Because of that, they’ve struggled to retain their stars and haven’t been able to attract free agents.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Last year’s record: 46-27-9 (2nd in division)
Coach: Jon Cooper | GM: Steve Yzerman
Core players: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ben Bishop, Jonathan Drouin

Why this team? The Lightning have become a trendy Stanley Cup pick in the East. They have an up-and-coming head coach, a deep core of young players and a true superstar in Steven Stamkos, who may be the most likable player in all of hockey. Just think what could happen if Drouin lives up to expectations.

Why not? If you’re a sports hipster, this won’t work for you. The Lightning are already big in the mainstream, despite the non-traditional hockey market. There are tons of writers and publications banking on this team to make a deep playoff run.

Other sport comparison: Carolina Panthers — Both expansion clubs from the 1990s have star players that were drafted first overall. Stamkos and Cam Newton have vaulted their teams into immediate contention, even after losing iconic franchise staples (Steve Smith and Martin St. Louis) over the past year.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Last year’s record: 38-36-8 (6th in division)
Coach: Randy Carlyle | GM: Dave Nonis
Core players: Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Morgan Rielly, James van Reimsdyk

Why this team? They are one of the classic franchises in the sport and finally appear headed in the right direction under new team president Brendan Shanahan. And Phil Kessel, because of his skill set and body type, is quickly becoming a cult hero.

Why not? Do you like stress? Even if you ignore the annoying fans or the history of inept ownership, there are significant issues on the ice. They have no real No. 1 centre. They don’t have a true No. 1 defenceman – although Dion Phaneuf is paid like it — and they’re paying David Clarkson $5.5 million for six more years.

Other sport comparison: The Tony Romo version of the Dallas Cowboys — Remember when Romo botched the snap to blow a playoff game? That’s what it feels like to be a Leafs fan. The two are identical in a lot of ways – big-money franchises with extensive history, unlikable leaders and monumental collapses.

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