Saturday, September 28, 2013

Atlantic Division Thoughts

1. Boston*

What conventional wisdom gets right: The Bruins are deep up front and have great goaltending.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: Their defense isn't proven to be that good—I think their success has been mostly forward- and goalie-driven, Chara aside, of course—although with young players like Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug it could be. Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson may not be an upgrade over Nathan Horton and Tyler Seguin. But given how good Tuukka Rask is, I'll give Boston the edge over the rest of the teams in this division.

Recent developments: none

2. Detroit*

What conventional wisdom gets right: Everything.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: Nothing, really. This team is really good.

Recent developments: none

3. Ottawa*

What conventional wisdom gets right: This is a young team on the rise that should be really good.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: The leadership void left by Daniel Alfredsson—if there is even one—should be more than made up by young players maturing and the additions of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur (who is a very good second-line forward).

Recent developments: Erik Karlsson admitted his Achilles is not at 100% (link). In Washington, we've seen how a D that relies so much on skating can suffer with injuries that affect mobility; if Karlsson can avoid the same fate, the Senators could push for the top seed in the conference, but if not, I don't think they'll be able to leap Detroit and Boston.

4. Montreal*

What conventional wisdom gets right: Is this team for real? A year after getting the second overall pick, the Canadiens beat out the eventual Eastern Conference champ for the division crown.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: The season doesn't hinge on Carey Price—I mean, Price wasn't in good form the final few weeks of the lockout-shortened season, and the Habs still beat out the Bruins for the division crown.

It hinges on Montreal's possession game. It was elite in the short season, and we have several examples of elite possession teams having no trouble overcoming poor goaltending to end up with a good playoff seed (Washington in 08-09, Chicago in 09-10, Detroit pre-Howard, Sharks pre-Niemi, etc). But it's hard to believe the team had such a big possession turnaround so quickly—was Therrien using some one-season gimmick, like Guy Boucher in 2010-11 with Tampa Bay, or is he simply a great fit for that team? I don't know. I'll guess it's a bit of both, but more of the latter.

Recent developments: none

5. Florida

What conventional wisdom gets right: The Panthers will have a lot of young players in the lineup.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: A lot. Possession-wise, this team finished 20th (Corsi tied)—not terrible. The year the Panthers won the SE, they were a ~50% possession team that got lucky to get to overtime and the shootout so much. With so much youth in the lineup, this season, they have the potential to be more. Furthermore, adding Gilbert gives them another proven top-pair D (assuming he hasn't fallen off  significantly since his time in Edmonton), and Thomas should make a huge difference if he still has game—he's much better than Theodore/Clemmensen.

Also, they had a ton of injuries last season. Don't expect a repeat.

Recent developments: signed Tim Thomas, Brad Boyes, and Tom Gilbert

6. Toronto

What conventional wisdom gets right: ...?

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: That the Maple Leafs are a well-coached, well-run team, and that they needed Jonathan Bernier. That Tyler Bozak is passable as a 1C. That Phil Kessel somehow benefits from Bozak and that Bozak is a better fit there than Mikhail Grabovski. That James Reimer isn't a solid starting goalie because he allowed three goals in 11 minutes in a particular game. That a 25-year-old goalie is likely to develop into an elite netminder, a better goalie than another 25-year-old goalie who is a notch or two above him at this moment. That Toronto is "close" because they almost beat Boston...ignoring that if the series were best-of-five, that conversation wouldn't exist, since the Bruins would have won in four.

Bonus—what fancystats gets wrong: There's a great series of posts over at Pension Plan Puppets that outline how a big chunk of the Leafs' possession issues were thanks to Korbinian Holzer and Mike Kostka getting lots of ice time and being terrible during it. Jake Gardiner and Paul Ranger—if he's anywhere near as good as he was before taking a break from hockey—should rectify those issues. Toronto may not be a good possession team, but they could be mediocre, with above average goaltending and a great penalty kill. That's a bubble team.

Recent developments: need to call up players to ice a full roster for the first few games. May need to make a move to stay under the salary cap.

7. Tampa Bay

What conventional wisdom gets right: They should be able to score a lot.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: Conventional wisdom often goes like "if a team is terrible, everything about it must be terrible." That's definitely not true here.

This team isn't doomed to be last. It has a pretty good top end of the lineup—Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Jonathan Drouin, and Valtteri Filppula up front, and Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Matt Carle, and Sami Salo on the blueline. There's a lot of youth, to fill out some depth, too—Brett Connolly, Radko Gudas, Alex Killorn, etc. They should be able to possess the puck plenty, and get a lot of goals from all that skill.

If you believe coaching was a big issue for this team, then bringing in Jon Cooper (coach of TBL's AHL team in Norfolk, which won back-to-back conference titles) should help a lot. It likely won't be enough to get this team to the playoffs (with four locks in this division and seemingly five in the other), but they could get close.

Of course, the real issue may just be goaltending. If it is, Cooper won't be able to help that much.

Recent developments: none

8. Buffalo

What conventional wisdom gets right: This team is terrible.

What conventional wisdom gets wrong: Nothing.

Recent developments: none

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