Our What Went Wrong series concluded last week, so as August approaches we're going to shift our focus towards previewing the 2015-16 campaign. This new series aims to give you some useful at a glance information about where every team stands going into training camp.
We'll start by previewing the top five teams last season in the Atlantic Division.
2014-15 Finish: 50-22-10 record, second round loss to Tampa Bay (4-2)
Noteworthy Losses: Brandon Prust, PA Parenteau
Biggest Strength: Carey Price. It's not often you find a goaltender so dominant that he can win both the Vezina and Hart Trophies in a single season, but that was the case in 2014-15 with Price. Even if he doesn't do quite as good in 2015-16, he should still be one of the league's top goaltenders.
Biggest Weakness: Montreal was a pretty lackluster team offensively last season and, in the same vein, with the man advantage. They are more of a defensive team, but it doesn't have to be an either or proposition. It's especially troubling now as Andrei Markov, who is a big part of their power play and getting their offense going in general, will turn 37 in December, so you have to wonder how much longer he'll be able to produce at the pace he did last season (50 points). On the other hand ...
Player to Watch: Perhaps Alexander Semin will be the answer. He certainly wasn't last season for Carolina as he recorded just six goals and 19 points in 57 contests, but he should be motivated to bounce back after signing a one-year, $1.1 million show me contract. It's worth noting that Semin also suggested that the wrist surgery he had in the summer of 2014 might have hindered him last season, but that obviously won't be a factor now. He's a big question mark, but one with the potential to record 30 goals and 70 points in an ideal campaign.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2014-15 Finish: 50-24-8 record, Stanley Cup Final loss to Chicago (4-2)
Noteworthy Gains: None
Noteworthy Losses: None
Biggest Strength: There's no shortage of offensive depth here. Steve Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat all recorded over 60 points last season and have the potential to play at a high level for the next decade. If Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov eventually live up to their potential then Tampa Bay's offense could be very dangerous, provided Tampa Bay is able to keep it intact.
Biggest Weakness: Tampa Bay isn't a team with any real glaring weaknesses at this point, but there are aspects of their game where they are just okay. Ben Bishop, for example, isn't a terrible goaltender, but he has raised red flags with many and had some pretty rough stretches during the 2015 playoffs despite the fact that Tampa Bay was able to reach the Cup Final. Instead though I'm going to give an unconventional answer and say the Lightning's biggest weakness is their cap position. They're up against the ceiling this season and have to extend Stamkos for the 2016-17 campaign at what is likely going to be a league-leading rate. On top of that, Killorn and Kucherov will be restricted free agents next summer. Then Hedman will be a UFA in the summer of 2017 while Johnson and Palat will be RFAs. Tampa Bay is either going to have to trade away some core players or go with a cheaper supporting cast in the coming years. So their window might already closing despite their youth.
Player to Watch: Drouin had a quiet rookie season with four goals and 32 points in 70 contests and he was barely used in the playoffs. However, he has a ton of offensive upside and it wouldn't be surprising to see him play a bigger role in his sophomore campaign. He's someone worth keeping an eye on during training camp to see just who he pairs up with though as he's obviously not likely to enjoy a breakout campaign in case he's able to crack the top-six.
DETROIT RED WINGS
2014-15 Finish: 43-25-14 record, first round loss to Tampa Bay (4-3)
Noteworthy Losses: None
Biggest Strength: It's culture of winning. Detroit isn't a bad team and Mike Green should be a good fit, but on paper they're just okay and littered with question marks to boot. Detroit is a team that knows how to win though and has been able to step up when necessary to maintain their playoff streak even as they rebuild on the fly. It will be interesting to see though if new head coach Jeff Blashill will be able to pick up where Mike Babcock left off in that regard.
Biggest Weakness: Detroit isn't exactly an old team as players like Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist have earned significant roles with the Red Wings. But Henrik Zetterberg will turn 35 years old in October while Pavel Datsyuk recently celebrated his 37th birthday. What happens when those two retire or even just decline? They represent the last of Detroit's elite players and if you want to argue that Niklas Kronwall should be counted at that level too, fine but he'll be 35 in January, so it would be a moot debate. Great teams have more than just balance, they also have star power and one thing Detroit hasn't been able to do in a while is find or develop a new star player.
Player to Watch: Speaking of elite players, there was a time when it looked like Jimmy Howard might become one, but he's left plenty to be desired over the last two seasons. It's at the point now where Petr Mrazek is challenging him for the top job and in fact played over Howard for most of Detroit's first round series. Howard can't be completely dismissed going forward though as he still has the potential to stage a comeback campaign.
2014-15 Finish: 43-26-13 record, first round loss to Montreal (4-2)
Noteworthy Gains: None
Biggest Strength: There are those that criticize Erik Karlsson's defensive play, but there's no question that he has a huge impact on the Ottawa Senators. He's won two Norris Trophies, is a blueliner capable of recording over 20 goals and 60 points per campaign, and is one of the league's top minute eaters (27:15 minutes per game last season). There aren't many players in the NHL that are more important to their team than Karlsson is to the Ottawa Senators.
Biggest Weakness: Ottawa's biggest issue isn't so much a weakness as it is a slew of big questions. Will Mark Stone suffer a sophomore slump? Can Mike Hoffman build on or at least maintain the breakout pace he showed last season? Exactly how good is Andrew Hammond post-hot streak? Can Craig Anderson, 34, stay healthy? The Senators are counting on most of the answers to those questions being favorable to them. If that's not the case then they're probably miss the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Hammond by a mile. As shown above, Ottawa has no shortage of interesting players, but Hammond went from struggling in the AHL to playing like the second coming of Martin Brodeur in the NHL within the span of a single season. How could you not be interested in what he's going to do for an encore?
2014-15 Finish: 41-27-14 record, missed playoffs.
Biggest Strength: Tuukka Rask set a new career-high last season with 70 games played and though he wasn't able to put up the same kind of numbers as some of the league's other elite goaltenders, it's worth remembering that the squad in front of him struggled substantially at times. That being said, he still ended up with a respectable 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage. While Rask can't single-handily carry this team back to the postseason, if they do advance it will be thanks to large contributions from him.
Biggest Weakness: The Bruins have a distinct lack of noteworthy goal scorers. Brad Marchand led the charge in that regard last season with 24 markers and he was one of just three Bruins players to get at least 20 goals. New addition Beleskey did get 22 goals last season, but that was a big leap for the 27-year-old and a bit of a regression wouldn't be surprising. So while the Bruins might not be a bad team overall, they certainly won't strike terror into the hearts of opposing goaltenders.
Player to Watch: While Rask figures to get the bulk of the Bruins' ice time, they do have some very interesting goaltending prospects. Zane McIntyre and Malcolm Subban are expected to compete for the backup gig during training camp and both have a ton of upside. That being said, they're also short on experience, making them big X-Factors. McIntyre might have the inside track in the battle for the number two spot after dominating for years with the University of North Dakota, but of course he would then be attempting to make the leap straight from the NCAA. Subban has two years of AHL experience under his belt now, but he's also younger at just 21. Either one would be fun to watch this season.