Continuing the 2014-15 preview we started last week, this article is focused on wrapping up the Atlantic Division and starting the Metropolitan:
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2013-14 Finish: 37-31-14 record, fifth in Atlantic Division
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Kyle Turris never managed to accomplish much with the then Phoenix Coyotes and they didn’t exactly part on the best of terms before he was traded to the Senators, but he started to live up to his potential once he came to Ottawa. It helped that they were willing to give him far more playing time than he ever got with the Coyotes, but he also deserves credit for taking advantage of it. The 2013-14 campaign was his best yet as he finished with 26 goals and 58 points in 82 games.
Can he do it again? He’ll have more pressure put on him this season as the departure of Jason Spezza makes him arguably the Senators’ top forward, but he’ll also get even more playing time as a result. He finished sixth on the Senators in terms of power-play ice time per game in 2013-14 and that won’t be the case this season. He should at least be able to match his 2013-14 numbers and he might even surpass those marks by a small amount.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: What was the biggest difference between the 2013 and 2013-14 Ottawa Senators? It wasn’t Daniel Alfredsson – although losing their long-time captain had to hurt, he was no longer key player on the ice and the Senators actually did far better offensively in 2013-14 than they did during the lockout shortened campaign. No, the biggest difference came between the pipes. Although he missed part of the 2013 campaign due to injury, when Craig Anderson did play in that campaign, he was outstanding with a 1.69 GAA and .941 save percentage. Last season he fell back to Earth hard with a 3.00 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Will he bounce back? The shortened campaign wasn’t the first time Anderson was able to propel a team to the playoffs. He was also a big factor in the Colorado Avalanche’s run in 2009-10. He struggled to stay at that level the following season though and that’s what led to him being dealt to Ottawa in the first place. He’s capable of being a top-15 goaltender, but he’s far from a safe bet, especially now that he has Robin Lehner pushing him for the starting job.
Notable Additions: David Legwand, Alex Chiasson
Notable Departures: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky
2014-15 Outlook: Losing Jason Spezza hurt this team a lot and it’s not like they were particularly good to begin with. Granted, Bobby Ryan might bounce back after attempting to play through a sports hernia for most of the 2014-15 campaign and Mika Zibanejad might take a step forward, but neither of those things are likely to push the Senators into the hunt for a playoff spot.
Player to Watch: All eyes in Ottawa will be on Alex Chiasson as he’s the most noteworthy player coming to Ottawa as a result of the Jason Spezza trade. Chiasson had 13 goals and 35 points in 79 games with Dallas as a rookie and he might get a bigger role with the Senators in 2014-15. He’s not expected to be a future star, but he could have some fantasy value in standard leagues next season.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2013-14 Finish: 46-27-9 record, lost in first round to Montreal (4-0)
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Ben Bishop was a solid backup goaltender in Ottawa, but it wasn’t until the Senators shipped him to Tampa Bay in exchange for Cory Conacher and a fourth round pick that Bishop’s career really took off. The 2013-14 campaign was his first full season with the Lightning and he finished with a 2.23 GAA and .924 save percentage in 63 games. Unfortunately a late season wrist injury prevented him from participating in the playoffs.
Can he do it again? As mentioned above, Bishop was a solid backup before his 2013-14 campaign, so his performance didn’t come out of nowhere. He finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting and we doubt he’ll rank that high again in 2014-15, but he should still be one of the league’s better starters.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: The Lightning were hit harder by injuries last season than underwhelming individual performances, but it is fair to say that Tampa Bay had higher hopes for goaltender Anders Lindback. While Bishop ran away with the starting job, Lindback didn’t even look particularly good in the backup role. He had a 2.90 GAA and .891 save percentage in 23 contests and struggled in the postseason when the Lightning were missing Bishop.
Will he bounce back? The Lightning needed to provide him with a $2.2 million qualifying offer to retain Lindback’s rights and they didn’t feel he was worth that much. He ended up signing a one-year, $925,000 deal with Dallas instead. He’s not a threat to steal the starting gig from Kari Lehtonen, but at the same time, the Stars might end up leaning on Lindback at some point in 2014-15 given Lehtonen’s injury history. Although Lindback’s tenure with the Lightning couldn’t have gone much worse, we don’t see him as a lost cause and wouldn’t be surprised if he proves to be a decent backup for the Stars.
Notable Additions: Brenden Morrow, Brian Boyle, Evgeni Nabokov, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison
Notable Departures: Anders Lindback, Nate Thompson, Teddy Purcell, B.J. Crombeen
2014-15 Outlook: The 2013-14 campaign was a rollercoaster for Tampa Bay between Steve Stamkos suffering a broken right tibia, Martin St. Louis demanding a trade, and Bishop’s eleventh hour injury. It seems unlikely that the Lightning will endure a similar string of bad luck this time around. The flip side of that is the team is more dependent on Stamkos than ever now that St. Louis is gone, but as long as Stamkos stays healthy, Tampa Bay should be able to make the playoffs and make some noise when they get there.
Player to Watch: Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson will be interesting this season as the Lightning are counting on them to avoid sophomore slumps after great rookie campaigns. However, we’ll highlight Victor Hedman instead. He got off to a somewhat slow start to his career after being taken with the second overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. It wasn’t that he was a bad defenseman, he just wasn’t living up to the high expectations that came with that pick. Hedman stepped up in 2013-14 though with 13 goals, 55 points, and 53 penalty minutes in 75 games. That resulted in him getting Norris Trophy votes for the first time (42 to be precise, which was good for ninth place). Serious Cup contenders typically need an amazing defenseman backing them up and the Lightning hope that Hedman will fill that role. With that in mind, how he does in response to his 2013-14 breakout campaign will play a big role in shaping the Lightning’s future.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2013-14 Finish: 38-36-8 record, sixth in Atlantic Division
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Toronto Maple Leafs inked Mason Raymond to a one-year, $1 million contract for the 2013-14 campaign and he gave the Maple Leafs plenty of bang for their buck. He scored eight goals and 17 points in his first 22 games and while he did slow down significantly after that, he didn’t collapse. Raymond finished with 19 goals and 45 points in 82 contests, making it his second most productive season from an offensive standpoint.
Can he do it again? The Calgary Flames inked him to a three-year, $9.45 million contract over the summer in the hope that he’ll maintain the standard he set in 2013-14 and that’s not a bad bet in the short run. That’s dependent on him getting top-six minutes like he did in Toronto though and that might lead to him declining in the second and third years of his contract. That’s because the Flames got a lot of promising young forwards and they’re likely to start surpassing him in the depth charts by the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: Clearly the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t confident in the idea that James Reimer could lead them in the playoffs or they wouldn’t have gotten Jonathan Bernier. Even still, they were counting on Reimer to compete with Bernier for starts and that largely didn’t happen. Reimer ended up participating in 36 games, but Bernier dealing with lower-body problems towards the end of the season played a big part in that. In turn, Reimer was one of the reasons the Maple Leafs collapsed towards the end of the season. He finished with a 3.29 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Will he bounce back? Reimer’s not a bad goaltender and is still capable of being a starting goaltender. Just not in Toronto. That being said, almost every team already has someone they’ve committed to as their number one guy for the start of the 2014-15 campaign, so even if Reimer gets traded, he’s unlikely to be his new squad’s opening game starter. All the same, we think his chances of bouncing back are better if he gets a change of scenery. If he’s forced to spend another season with Toronto then we wouldn’t count on him starting in more than 25 games.
Notable Additions: David Booth, Stephane Robidas, Matt Frattin, Roman Polak
Notable Departures: Tim Gleason, Nikolai Kulemin, Jay McClement, Mason Raymond, Dave Bolland, Carl Gunnarsson
2014-15 Outlook: On paper, the Toronto Maple Leafs look like a serviceable team. Phil Kessel is one of the league’s best goal scoring threats and they have a decent core of forwards backing him up in Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, and James van Riemsdyk. Bernier has the potential to be a great starter and while their defense was a source of concern last season, this group is certainly capable of doing better in that regard. For the last few years, Toronto has been missing an intangible factor though. This is a franchise that seems too prone to just completely fall apart for prolong stretches and what happened towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign was only the latest example of that. So while they certainly look like a team capable of competing for a playoff spot, they’ve made it very tough for people to believe in them.
Player to Watch: Leo Komarov’s first attempt to make the jump from the KHL to North America didn’t work out well for him or the Toronto Maple Leafs. He returned to the KHL for the 2013-14 campaign and ended up scoring 12 goals and 34 points in 52 contests. That was apparently enough for Toronto to sign Komarov to a four-year, $11.8 million contract. Maple Leafs GM Dave Nonis feels that Komarov is capable of providing Toronto with a lot more than they got from him in 2013 when he recorded just nine points in 42 games. There will certainly be a lot of pressure on Komarov to prove Nonis right.
2013-14 Finish: 36-35-11 record, seventh in Metropolitan Division
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: So much went wrong for Carolina in 2013-14, but the Andrej Sekera-for-Jamie McBain and a second round pick trade the Hurricanes did with Buffalo in the summer of 2013 really worked out for them. Sekera had by far the best season of his career with 11 goals and 44 points in 74 games.
Can he do it again? Part of Sekera’s growth last season stemmed from the fact that he got significantly more power-play ice time in Carolina and he’s likely to play a meaningful role with the man advantage again this season. That will help him from falling back to Earth completely, but it would still be surprising if the 28-year-old managed to reach the 40-point mark again. It would be safer to pencil him in for 30-40 points, which would still make the 2014-15 campaign his second most productive season.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: There’s a couple good choices for this one, but let’s highlight Jordan Staal. For years it was believed that he was being held back in Pittsburgh because of the presence of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and if he could just get out from under them, then he would be a much better contributor offensively. Which, to be fair, wasn’t an unreasonable premise given that he did show glimmers of that as his role increased in Pittsburgh. However, the Hurricanes have largely been burned by the acquisition of Staal. He had just 40 points in 82 games last season, which has to be far less than they had been hoping for when they signed him to a 10-year, $60 million deal.
Will he bounce back? Staal’s still a solid two-way forward that’s capable of holding his own on a scoring line. Although he probably won’t live up to his cap hit, Staal should at least do a bit better than he did in 2013-14. If you’re hoping for him to be an offensive leader for the Hurricanes though, he’ll probably end up disappointing you.
Notable Additions: Tim Gleason, Jay McClement, Brad Malone
Notable Departures: Justin Peters, Manny Malhotra
2014-15 Outlook: The Carolina Hurricanes have the pieces in place to make the playoffs, but they have so many X-factors and that’s typically a bad sign. They need Alexander Semin to bounce back and predictability has never been his strong suit, they need Jeff Skinner to stay healthy, but his concussion history unfortunately makes that hard to guarantee. They’re betting on John-Michael Liles turning a corner after an ugly fall from grace in Toronto. They have to hope Anton Khudobin, who still has just 57 games worth of NHL experience, is solid this season because Cam Ward is no longer a safe bet to be a capable starter. They just need so many of their gambles to pay off because the battle for playoff spots in the Metropolitan Division will be fierce. It certainly wouldn’t be absurd to pencil them in as a Wild Card squad, but they’re far from a safe bet to live up to that standard.
Player to Watch: Pretty much all of the players mentioned in the outlook above would be good candidates for this category, but in the interest of keeping things fresh, let’s highlight Elias Lindholm instead. Lindholm attempted to make the jump straight from the Swedish league to Carolina last season and that proved to be a difficult transition for him to make. That being said, he did find his way as the season went on and was gradually given more ice time as a result. After recording nine goals and 21 points in 58 games in 2013-14, he might take a significant step forward this season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
2013-14 Finish: 43-32-7 record, lost in first round to Pittsburgh (4-2)
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Ryan Johansen is an easy pick for this one. His potential was never in doubt, but he started his career with two relatively quiet seasons in Columbus. That changed in 2013-14 with him scoring 33 goals and 63 points in 82 games.
Can he do it again? Definitely. Some players’ breakout campaigns seem to come out of nowhere, but Johansen’s rise was expected and that makes us significantly more comfortable betting on him going forward. Obviously, the Blue Jackets still need to agree to terms with the restricted free agent and until they do, there’s the outside chance that he won’t be able to report to training camp with the rest of the team. Assuming he signs before it gets to that though, Johansen should flirt with the 70-point mark this season.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: The Columbus Blue Jackets went into the 2013-14 campaign hoping that Marian Gaborik would be one of their offensive leaders, but it didn’t work out that way. Between a sprained knee and broken collarbone, Gaborik only played in 22 games with Columbus last season and even when he was healthy, he didn’t seem to fit into the team’s plans. They ended up dealing him to Los Angeles for two second round picks and Matt Frattin.
Will he bounce back? It’s likely that everyone reading this knows that Gaborik already did bounce back. He proved to be the spark that the Kings’ offense needed and was a big part of their championship team. The Kings have since inked Gaborik to a seven-year, $34,125,000 contract. Going forward, Gaborik should continue to be a top-line talent, but his health remains an area of concern. Gaborik has a long injury history and because of that, he’s always an above average gamble going into any given season.
Notable Additions: Scott Hartnell, Simon Hjalmarsson
Notable Departures: Nick Schultz, Derek MacKenzie, Matt Frattin, Blake Comeau, Nikita Nikitin, R.J. Umberger
2014-15 Outlook: The Blue Jackets will enter next season with a great goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, a strong defense, and a core of forwards that provide a nice mesh of skill and grit. They were a middle-of-the-road team in terms of goals per game last season and they probably won’t see a meaningful improvement in that regard this season, but the way their team is built, that’s not a huge concern. They have the potential to not only make the playoffs this season, but also hold their own against the best teams in the league once they get there.
Player to Watch: The Columbus Blue Jackets managed to lure Simon Hjalmarsson from the Swedish league after he recorded 27 goals, 30 assists, and 87 penalty minutes in 55 games last season. It helped that Hjalmarsson was already familiar with Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who was the director of scouting in St. Louis when the Blues selected him in the second round of the 2007 draft. He never ended up playing for St. Louis, but he has the potential to be an effective power forward in the NHL.