Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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Atlantic Division Preview

Friday, August 16, 2013


The NHL's new Atlantic Division will incorporate the five teams that made up the Northeast Division last year in addition to Detroit, Tampa Bay and Florida.  The Northeast was already one of the league's better divisions and the inclusion of the Red Wings will make it even tougher.  The Florida-area clubs have their issues, but they do have plenty of young talent who could make them stronger contenders down the road.  Let's take a look at the teams.


Boston Bruins


Forwards     


Boston will have some new faces in key places this year after some top-six tinkering took place following their loss in the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago.  The Bruins bid farewell to Nathan Horton, who left for Columbus in free agency, and they replaced him with veteran winger Jarome Iginla.  Boston also traded Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas in a blockbuster seven-player deal which landed them Loui Eriksson as part of the package.  Iginla is expected to join David Krejci and Milan Lucic, while Eriksson is projected to play alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand so their top-two lines will remain sturdy despite the changes.  Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith came over from the Stars in the trade as well and they could compete for bottom-six spots.  Carl Soderberg is considered to be a strong candidate to play with Chris Kelly on the third line.    


Defensemen


Thirty-six year-old blueliner Zdeno Chara will continue to see most of the tougher minutes for Boston in 2013-14.  Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk are important players who will be leaned on as well, especially after Andrew Ference left for Edmonton via free agency.  The Bruins are expected to inject some youth to their back end this campaign.  Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski are in line for bigger roles this year.  Hamilton and Krug will likely see plenty of power play action while getting sheltered ice time in even strength situations. 


Goaltenders


Tuukka Rask was rewarded for his excellent work in 2013 with an eight-year, $56 million contract.  Rask proved he is more than capable of being a number one goalie and he'll enter the 2013-14 campaign as a strong fantasy option.  He may start more regularly this year too after dependable backup Anton Khudobin signed with Carolina during the off-season.  The Bruins inked Chad Johnson as a possible replacement, but he will have to wrestle the job away from AHL standout Niklas Svedberg first. 


Player to Watch


Corey Krug looked great in the post-season and he was dangerous on the power play, but I'm more interested in seeing how Dougie Hamilton responds this season.  Krug's impressive play during the postseason bumped Hamilton from the lineup, but he will likely draw back into the fold this year with Ference joining the Oilers.  Hamilton has the potential to become a great all-around player and getting his feet wet last season should help him improve in 2013-14.   


Buffalo Sabres


Forwards


Thomas Vanek's name has been mentioned often in trade rumors, but for now it looks like the Sabres will enter the 2013-14 season with him on their roster.  Cody Hodgson performed well as the team's top center last year and Vanek's presence should help him for as long as he is there.  The Sabres will need to get more production out of Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino, Drew Stafford and Mikhail Grigorenko whether Vanek stays with the team or not.  Steve Ott can contribute points as well, but he's known more for his ability to stir up trouble and rack up penalty minutes.  Finnish prospect Joel Armia and Johan Larsson, who was acquired from Minnesota in the Jason Pominville trade, could be in line for roster spots with the big club this year and they will likely be given long looks at training camp. 


Defensemen


Predictably, Christian Ehrhoff hasn't been the same offensive force he was in Vancouver as a member of the Sabres, but he has been the team's most reliable defender at both ends of the ice, since his arrival in Buffalo.  The Sabres brought back veteran rearguard Henrik Tallinder in an off-season trade with New Jersey to help alleviate some pressure from Ehrhoff.  Tallinder could end up playing alongside Tyler Myers again.  The two of them were a pair when Myers won the Calder Trophy in 2009-10 and he hasn't been the same since.   Jamie McBain was also brought in during the summer in a trade with Carolina to add some depth to Buffalo's back end.  Rasmus Ristolainen, the eight overall pick in 2013, will be watch closely at training camp and he may start the year in the NHL. 



Goaltenders

 

Ryan Miller's future with the Sabres is just as uncertain as Vanek's.  They are both due to become unrestricted free agents next summer and it's widely believed they are playing their final seasons in Buffalo.  Miller won the Vezina Trophy in 2009-10 but he didn't look anywhere close to that form last season.  If he is moved, then backup Jhonas Enroth is expected to take over as the team's starter.  He feels up for the challenge, but he could be a risky pickup because of Buffalo's defensive shortcomings.  Matt Hackett is ready to help out in the crease as well, should anything happen on the trade front with regard to Miller. 



Player to Watch

 

Mikhail Grigorenko averaged just 10:14 of ice time and generated five points in 25 games last season with Buffalo.  He needs to get more playing time with skilled players to make a difference and he will probably get that chance in 2013-14.  The Sabres could use his skills at center after Tyler Ennis struggled mightily with his defensive responsibilities in the middle last year.  Grigorenko may struggle with consistency this campaign, but he should be able to make some positive strides forward if he gets placed in better situations. 



Detroit Red Wings


Forwards

 

The Red Wings made a significant splash in free agency when they signed Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to supplement their top-six forward group.  Detroit wanted to add more scoring to their lineup and they appear to have accomplished that objective.  Weiss is projected to center the team's second line, which gives coach Mike Babcock the option to play Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together.  Alfredsson and Johan Franzen are locks to play on one of the top two lines, while Gustav Nyqyust, Justin Abdelkader, Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi are in the mix as well.  Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary are still looking for jobs as unrestricted free agents, while Valterri Filppula inked a five-year deal with Tampa Bay. 


Defensemen

 

Niklas Kronwall stepped up last season after Nicklas Lidstrom retired.  Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson elevated their games as well, which is good sign for Detroit's blueline.  Another source of encouragement comes from the potential of Brendan Smith and Dan DeKeyser.  They both have tremendous upside as big, mobile all-around defensemen.  Smith and DeKeyser may not take dramatic leaps forward this season, but they will probably be worth selecting in most fantasy leagues.


Goaltenders

 

Jimmy Howard provided the Wings with superb goaltending for most of the 2013 season.  He wasn't immune from an odd clunker of a performance every now and then, but he proved he is worthy of being mentioned among the better options in the crease.  Detroit doesn’t want to overwork him this year, so they are hoping Jonas Gustavsson can stay healthy and provide them with some measure of consistency to give Howard some relief. 


Player to Watch

 

The change of scenery to a winning organization should do Stephen Weiss good.   He has reached 60 points twice in his career and he nearly reached that mark again in 2011-12.  Weiss will have plenty of talent surrounding him in Detroit and he should make good use of it.  He missed 26 games of the lockout-shortened season because of a wrist injury, so he managed to produce just four points in 17 contests.   Weiss is a great candidate to bounce back this year so don't forget about him on draft day. 


Florida Panthers


Forwards

 

Top center Stephen Weiss left the team for Detroit as a free agent, but Florida is packed with young talent up front and most of them will play in key situations this year as they develop.  Jonathan Huberdeau won the Calder Trophy last season and the Panthers are likely to have another contender for the award this year in 2013 second overall pick Aleksander BarkovDrew Shore and Nick Bjugstad might play on scoring lines this campaign, which will help their fantasy values.  Tomas Fleischmann led the team in points last year and he'll continue to be a key offensive threat in 2013-14.  The Panthers will be hoping Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim can stay healthy, as they are important contributors up front who can take some pressure away from the team's youngsters.  Florida also brought in inexpensive depth players Scott Gomez, Bobby Butler and Joey Crabb during the off-season.  Peter Mueller is still looking for work as a free agent, but he may end up returning to the Panthers. 


Defensemen

 

Brian Campbell has been a power -play stud for the Panthers over the past two seasons.  He has amassed 48 points with the man advantage in 130 games during that time.  He should help Dmitry Kulikov pick up some points this year.  Erik Gudbranson could be a player to watch, especially if he starts to shoot the puck more.  He can register penalty minutes and hits and possesses potential as an all-around defender. Alex Petrovic and Colby Robak will be looking to earn roster spots at training camp.   


Goaltenders

 

Florida allowed Jose Theodore to walk as a free agent, so they appear to be set to keep Jacob Markstrom and Scott Clemmensen as their goaltenders for the start of the 2013-14 season.  Theodore missed 27 games last year with a groin injury and Markstrom struggled in his place for the most part.  The Panthers allowed 3.54 goals against per game, which was the worst total in the league.  The team's defense didn't do them many favors, but the goalies will have to be better this year.  Markstrom has potential but if he can't improve, then Florida could give Clemmensen more playing time prior to looking into the option of seeking help elsewhere. 


Player to Watch

 

The Panthers are loaded with interesting prospects.   Barkov and Huberdeau are potentially-franchise players, who will be watched very closely this year, but my attention will mostly be focused on the team's crease and the play of Jacob Markstrom.  He had a handful of strong outings last year, but he didn't exactly impress while sporting a .901 save percentage and a 3.22 goals-against average.  Florida's "goaltender of the future" has to be better in 2013-14 and play with much more consistency or else the team may decide to move in another direction.  Mind you, something like that probably wouldn't happen right away, as he's only 23 years of age and it might take some time before he reaches his prime. 


Montreal Canadiens


Forwards

 

The Canadiens wanted to get bigger and nastier after their first-round playoff loss to Ottawa, so they acquired enforcer George Parros from Florida.  His presence gives the team a true heavyweight to complement Brandon Prust.   Montreal's much more notable off-season addition doesn't bring any toughness or size, but Daniel Briere is a versatile veteran who will be looking to rebound after getting bought out by the Philadelphia Flyers.  If he plays center, that could bump David Desharnais down the depth chart.  Alex Galchenyuk will be looking for a greater role with the team after skating on the third line for most of his rookie season, while Brendan Gallagher will have to show he's worthy of staying in the team's top-six group.  Max Pacioretty and Tomas Plekanec are likely to lead the pack in production again this year. 


Defensemen

 

P.K. Subban missed the beginning of the lockout-shortened season because of a contract holdout and when he returned he won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman.  He finished second on the Canadiens with 38 points in 42 games and was outstanding on the power play.  Montreal's power play also benefit from a healthy Andrei Markov.  The oft-injured blueliner suited up in all 48 games last campaign.  Physical rearguard Alexei Emelin isn't expected to be ready to play when the 2013-14 regular season begins after finishing the year on the sidelines with a knee injury.   He may not be able to return until late November or early December, so look for Jarred Tinordi to open the year on Montreal's back end. 

 

Goaltenders

 

Carey Price suffered through some inconsistency last season, especially down the stretch, and he ended up getting injured in the playoffs.  However, he remains a steady option between the pipes for the Canadiens and the team expects him to rebound this year.  Peter Budaj is back for another another season as Price's backup and he performed admirably last year when he was called upon.


Player to Watch

 

Alex Galchenyuk averaged just 12:19 of ice time per game last season and that should change in his sophomore year.  He still may open the year in a third-line role, but if he continues to produce, then it won't be long before he ends up on a scoring line.  The 19-year-old forward recorded 27 points in 48 games and the bulk of them came down the stretch.  He also chipped in three points in five playoff matches.  He's sound defensively and he has the skill to flourish if given a greater opportunity.   


Ottawa Senators


Forwards

 

Daniel Alfredsson's departure to Detroit as a free agent was a shocking turn of events and his loss will be felt in the team's locker room.  However, the Senators can take solace in the fact that they will be a vastly improved offensive team in 2013-14.  Jason Spezza will be front and center in the team's lineup after he missed the majority of the truncated campaign with a back injury.  He will also have a new linemate after Ottawa acquired Anaheim sniper Bobby Ryan in a trade that sent Jakob Silfverberg, Stefan Noesen and a first round pick to the Ducks.  The Senators will also add former Toronto winger Clarke MacArthur to their top-six group after signing him as a free agent.  If Milan Michalek can stay out of the team's infirmary and Kyle Turris can continue to contribute in a secondary role, the team will be in good shape up while they wait for Mika  Zibanejad, Cory Conacher and Jean-Gabriel Pageau to develop. 


Defensemen

 

The loss of star defenseman Erik Karlsson to a lacerated Achilles tendon was another reason for Ottawa's offensive difficulties last season.  He expects to be ready for the start of the 2013-14 campaign even though right now he doesn't feel like he's 100 percent.  Marc Methot was a steady defense partner for Karlsson when the two of them played together.  Jared Cowen didn't play last year until April because of a hip injury and he still needs a new contract from the Senators so he can play at the start of this coming season.  Ottawa brought back Joe Corvo as a free agent signing and he'll add some depth to the club. 


Goaltenders

 

Ottawa remained in the playoff hunt because of their goaltending depth.  Craig Anderson missed 18 games with an ankle injury, but the team received great netminding from Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop in his absence.  Lehner will serve as Anderson's backup in 2013-14 after Bishop was traded to Tampa Bay during the lockout-shortened season.  Anderson and Lehner should form a strong tandem for the Senators this year. 


Player to Watch

 

The Senators made a bold move when they landed Ryan, who is a four-time 30-goal scorer, from Anaheim.  He won't be playing second fiddle to Corey Perry in Ottawa, but the player I will be watching more closely than him is Mika Zibanejad.  The 20-year-old center notched seven goals and 20 points in 42 games during his rookie season.  He can play any forward position, so that could allow him to play the wing on one of the club's top-two lines or as the team's third-line center.  Zibanejad owns plenty of potential, but he hasn't displayed much of it yet.  If he gets an opportunity to play with some talented forwards on a scoring line, he could start fulfilling those expectations. 


Tampa Bay Lightning


Forwards

 

Martin St. Louis and Steve Stamkos finished the 2013 scoring race in first and second, respectively.   Thirty-eight year-old winger St. Louis is still in great shape and he's of the league's top playmakers.  That makes him a wonderful complement to Stamkos, who is arguably the NHL's most prolific goal scorer.  The two of them will be counted for their offensive prowess and for leadership this year after the Lightning bought out captain Vincent Lecavalier in the off-season.  Tampa Bay signed Valtteri Filppula to fill in as their second-line center.  Their top-six group will also likely include 2013 third overall pick Jonathan Drouin, who should be considered an early favorite to win the Calder Trophy if he sticks with the Bolts after training camp.  Other young players who will be looking to make an impact in 2013-14 with Tampa Bay include Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik


Defensemen

 

Victor Hedman made some offensive progress last season and his upcoming fifth season of NHL play could be a big one.  The Lightning will probably continue to lean on Matt Carle in all situations, which should provide fantasy owners with plenty of value.  Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr will be vying for NHL spots out of training camp. 


Goaltenders

 

Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback are slated to compete for starts this season.  Lindback was inconsistent in 24 appearances last year, while Bishop struggled at times as well during his nine outings with the Lightning after being traded by Ottawa.  The Bolts allowed 3.06 goals against per game last season and goaltending continues to be a concern for them.  Bishop may be penciled in as the team's number one goalie entering camp, but whoever has the hot hand will probably get the starts in 2013-14. 


Player to Watch

 

Tampa Bay has plenty of young players ready to make the jump to the NHL, but top prospect Jonathan Drouin is the most intriguing of the bunch.  Killorn and former Lightning forward Conacher benefited from top-six spots last season and Drouin should be presented with a similar opportunity.  Playing alongside Martin St. Louis or Stamkos or both of them would do wonders for his fantasy value.  He's already a tremendous keeper to own and he'll be valuable in standard formats as well if he can play the entire season in the NHL.      


Toronto Maple Leafs


Forwards

 

Phil Kessel has finished among the top-10 NHL scorers in his last two seasons and he's reached the 30-goals plateau three times with the Maple Leafs.  He is entering the final year of his contract in 2013-14 and will be due for a raise if he enjoys another productive campaign, which he should.  The Leafs re-signed Tyler Bozak, who has displayed plenty of chemistry with Kessel in July.  Toronto also opened their wallet to ink rugged scorer David Clarkson to a seven-year contract.  These moves were made after the team bought out center Mikhail GrabovskiDave Bolland, who is another player coach Randy Carlyle will appreciate having on his roster, was acquired from Chicago for draft picks shortly after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal.  Second-line center Nazem Kadri is a key restricted free agent whom the Leafs still need to sign.  Joffrey Lupul  and James van Riemsdyk showed they can be strong contributors last year and they will be integral pieces of the top-six group moving forward. 


Defensemen  

 

Like Kessel, Dion Phaneuf has one year remaining on his current contract.  His name has surfaced in some trade rumors, but the Leafs would have a significant hole on their roster if they dealt away their big-minute blueliner.  Cody Franson emerged as an offensive threat after being an odd man out in 2011-12.  He led the team's defense corps in scoring with 29 points in 45 games and is currently a restricted free agent.  Jake Gardiner is another mobile offensive defender who should stick with the Leafs this season after a concussion cost him time in the NHL last year.  T.J. Brennan and Paul Ranger received deals with the Leafs and they could be in the mix as well. 


Goaltenders

 

James Reimer rebounded nicely last year after his 2011-12 season was derailed due to injury.  He was solid in the playoffs as well, but that didn't stop the Leafs from acquiring highly-touted Los Angeles backup Jonathan Bernier.  Toronto sent goaltender Ben Scrivens, forward Matt Frattin and a second-round pick to land Bernier.  Reimer and Bernier are expected to battle for starts in 2013-14.  Reimer wrestled away playing time from Scrivens last year, while Bernier has been itching for more action after playing behind Jonathan Quick for so long. 


Player to Watch

 

Toronto's goalie situation will probably be an ongoing story throughout the year, but I want to see how Nazem Kadri does over a full 82-game schedule.  Assuming he is signed and ready to go on opening night, Kadri is slated to play as the team's second-line center.  He may end up being flanked by Lupul and Clarkson since van Riemsdyk played well with Kessel and Bozak last year.  Kadri exploded for 44 points in 48 games this past campaign and it's reasonable to think that he could surpass 60 points in 2013-14.  The problem is he's far from being an established producer at the NHL level, so there are some questions as to how he'll perform.  However, I don't subscribe to the belief that his numbers will drop off significantly and I don't think fantasy owners will regret selecting him.  

 

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Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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