Kevin Brown

In The Crease

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Northeast Division Recap

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Boston Bruins – 46-25-11 record – 246 GF – 195 GA

With a plus-51 goal differential, the Bruins were clearly the class of the Northeast Division in 2010-11. Carried by the strength of Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas' record-setting save percentage and Tuukka Rask's admirable performance when called upon to fill-in, Boston was tops in the East and third in the NHL in goals allowed with just 195. At the other end of the rink, the Bruins were above average at filling the opponent's net, despite lacking a dominant offensive presence. Their balanced attack produced four different 20-goal scorers in addition to Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara's 14 goals and 30 assists from the back end. Despite the fact that they're in tough against the Canadiens in their first round series, the Bruins should be considered a Stanley Cup favorite.

Breakout Player of the Season: Brad Marchand proved this season that he offers a great mix of skill and toughness. With 21 goals and 20 assists to go with a plus-25 rating and 51 penalty minutes, the former third- round pick has drawn comparisons to the Canucks' Alex Burrows and like his Western Conference counterpart, we think he's here to stay.

Biggest Bust of the Season: When you're chosen second overall in the NHL Entry Draft, it's natural for expectations to be high, but those who thought Tyler Seguin would hit the ground running in his rookie season were sorely disappointed with the results he delivered. The former Plymouth Whaler had trouble staying in the Bruins' lineup all year and he ultimately finished the season with 22 points, 18 PIMs and a minus-4 rating. He still has a bright future ahead of him, but his development will take some time.

Montreal Canadiens – 44-30-8 record – 216 GF – 209 GA

The Canadiens' recipe for success this year was simple. The team played a lot of close, low-scoring games and eventually managed to come out on top in more than half of them, thanks to stellar goaltending from Carey Price, who turned in a fantastic season. All told, Price registered a league-leading 38 wins to go along with a 2.35 GAA and a .923 save percentage. On the offensive side of things, Tomas Plekanec led the way with 57 points while no other Hab recorded more than 47.

Breakout Player of the Season: After showcasing his immense talent during last year's playoffs, P.K. Subban was an explosive force in his first NHL season. The flashy rearguard scored 14 goals and 24 assists for 38 points and amassed 124 penalty minutes, which certainly made his fantasy owners smile. Although he posted an impressive stat line this year, we feel he has only scratched the surface of his talent. The 19 points he registered in 32 games after the All-Star break are a good indicator of his true abilities.

Biggest Bust of the Season: As the center piece received by the Canadiens in the trade that sent playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis, Lars Eller arrived in Montreal amid high expectations. Sadly for those who drafted him in fantasy leagues, Eller was used in a checking role and accumulated a measly 17 points in 77 contests. While the Danish forward will certainly improve his offense over the coming years, he doesn't profile as a top-line scorer in his prime.

Buffalo Sabres – 43-29-10 record – 245 GF – 229 GA

Finishing in a tie with Montreal for second place in the Northeast, the Sabres' season had two distinct sections. With only three wins in their first 14 games, the Sabres quickly found themselves behind the eight ball in the Eastern Conference playoff race, but the team played up to expectations the rest of the way and gradually clawed their way back into the race. With wins in eight of their final 10 regular season contests, Buffalo entered the playoffs seeming as if they were ready to play giant killers. As has been the case in recent seasons, the Sabres' dynamic offense featured contributions from many sources. Thomas Vanek lead the team in goals and points with 32 and 73, respectively.

Breakout Player of the Season: We have been waiting four long years for it to happen, but Drew Stafford finally proved why he was selected as a first round pick in the 2004 draft. With 31 goals in an injury-shortened 62 game season, Stafford displayed soft hands and a knack for getting to the right place at the right time. He should be a consistent 30-goal scorer for the foreseeable future.

Biggest Bust of the Season: After a 2009-10 season that saw him register 65 points in 73 contests, Tim Connolly regressed in his most recent campaign, with just 42 points in 68 games. The playmaking center also saw a significant drop in his plus/minus rating, going from a plus-10 to a minus-10 over the course of one year. He will forever be an injury risk so it's difficult to predict a big season in 2011-12.

Toronto Maple Leafs – 37-34-11 record – 218 GF – 251 GA

Despite a wild stretch over the final month of the season that had Toronto hockey fans in a frenzy as the team attempted to fight its way into the playoff picture, the Leafs once again fell short of qualifying for the post-season. Many will point to the Buds' record over the final few weeks as an indicator that better days are certainly ahead, but a minus-33 goal differential for the season tells a different story. We would be remiss if we ignored the bright spots of the Leafs' season, namely the fantastic second line of Clarke MacArthur, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin, as well as goaltending phenom James Reimer and Phil Kessel, better known as "The Least Respected 32-Goal Scorer in the NHL".

Breakout Player of the Season: Given the obvious impact he had on the team's fortunes, there's no question this accolade has to be given to Reimer. In 35 starts, the rookie netminder posted a 20-10-5 record in addition to a 2.60 GAA and .921 save percentage. More importantly, "Optimus Reim" delivered a level of puck-stopping that the Leafs had not been receiving from incumbents Jean-Sebastien Giguere or Jonas Gustavsson. He should enter next season as the number one goaltender in Leafs Land, but a repeat of this year's performance might be too much to ask.

Biggest Bust of the Season: Prior to the season, everything appeared to be in place for Tyler Bozak to shine. He appeared to have a defined role on the Leafs' top line alongside sniper Phil Kessel and was destined to receive ample time on the power play, but despite the favorable setup, he simply didn't produce. Considering how long coach Ron Wilson stuck with Bozak as a top-six forward this season, that fact that he totalled only 32 points is truly a disappointment. It's hard to imagine him getting another opportunity like the one he had this season so his days as an NHL regular could be numbered.

Ottawa Senators – 32-40-10 record – 192 GF – 250 GA

No matter how you look at it, it was a season to forget for the Senators in 2010-11. Whether you wish to focus on the forwards, defense or goaltending, a goal differential of 58 tallies speaks to the fact that there are weaknesses up and down the roster. An untimely injury to emotional leader Daniel Alfredsson didn't help their cause, but this was a team in decline from the outset. Jason Spezza repeated the trend he began last season by putting together a phenomenal second half after a disappointing first one and amassed 57 points in 62 games, but no other Ottawa forward even topped 34 points, although the mid-season departures of Alexei Kovalev and Mike Fisher contribute to this dreadful statistic. The arrival and subsequent signing of Craig Anderson to a long-term contract should help to address the Senators' glaring weakness between the pipes, but until they can find a way to score consistently, this will not be a competitive club.

Breakout Player of the Season: The fact that he finished the season with a putrid minus-30 rating is a clear indicator that Erik Karlsson has some work to do in order to improve his play in his own zone, but by recording 45 points in 75 contests, the Swedish blueliner turned a number of heads. He won't turn 21 years of age until May 31st so the sky really is the limit for his offensive potential.

Biggest Bust of the Season: The ink had barely dried on his lucrative three-year, $16.5 million contract when pundits began predicting Gonchar's coming demise and based on the results from this season, it's hard to argue with his detractors. The former offensive dynamo was expected to be a consistent producer from the back end for the Senators, but he instead lumbered to a 27-point campaign, despite suiting up for 67 contests. The fact that he registered only seven points at even strength make it crystal clear that his future in the NHL is nothing more than that of a power-play specialist.

Kevin Brown is fantasy hockey writer for Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter @kbrownroto.
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