NHL

KELLEY: Hard to figure out Northeast Division

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Jim Kelley

 
   
 

Northeast Division

There aren't many divisions more difficult to read than the Northeast. Boston finished first last season but was upset by Montreal, which barely made it to the postseason yet easily dispatched the . Toronto looked like the chalk here, but faded down the stretch only to win two rounds in the playoffs despite a series of injuries that would have eliminated most any other team. Buffalo failed to make the playoffs, but beat the in four of five meetings. Ottawa looked every bit as good as Boston and Toronto, but then went south after absolutely embarrassing Philadelphia in the first round. It's no more stable this time around as Toronto and Boston are still formidable, but appear weaker than a season ago due to losses in goal. Buffalo looks to be on the rise again, but is beset by ownership woes few saw coming. Ottawa is still loaded with young talent, but somehow felt it necessary to get a new general manager and Montreal has the league MVP and Vezina Trophy winner in net, but still gets little respect. Look for these guys to beat up on each other in head-to-head matchups. Toronto still appears to be a lock for the playoffs, as does Ottawa, but after that it's anybody's guess and the points earned in this division will likely be the points that sort out who else gets in and who sits out. Ottawa Last season: 39-27-9-7 last season for 94 points, third Northeast, seventh in East, 14th overall.
GM: John Muckler — fifth NHL season, second team, first with
Coach: Jacques Martin — 10th NHL season. eighth with Sens New Faces: Muckler, coach; , C (sent to the minors); , LW. Dearly Departed: Marshall Johnson, former GM; (for Schaefer), D; , F; , F. Strengths: Solid core of talented and quick young forwards led by captain and best player ¿ Decent to better goaltending in starter ... Young but talented defense that has some size and lots of mobility and seems to be coming into its own. Weaknesses: Young up the middle and may have too much hope for Spezza who is making his NHL debut ¿ Team is plagued with questions about heart especially after a series of first- or second-round playoff failures in recent postseasons ¿ Coach Martin is solid tactically, but doesn't appear capable of moving team to the next level come playoff time. Power play should be better given the talent. Muckler knows what it takes to win. Outlook: There are holes in this team, especially if No.1 center doesn't play to best of his abilities (a criticism in the past). Still, even with the character questions, this is a solid B to B+ team and likely the best of this division. Toronto Last season: 43-25-10-4, 100 points, second Northeast, fourth East, third overall.
GM: Pat Quinn — 15th NHL year, second team
Coach: Pat Quinn — 17th NHL year, fourth team New Faces: , G; , G; , RW; , D. Dearly Departed: , G; , G; , G; Dmitry Yushkevich, D; , D; , LW. Strengths: Tremendous character team, lots of grit and tenacity. Strong and productive leadership from captain and, when healthy, . When and forward cast is clicking, one of the NHL's better offensive teams. Weaknesses: Not a strong defensive team and Belfour has yet to prove he's rebounded from two consecutive "off" seasons in Dallas and must now replace a fan favorite ¿ Team defense is a chronic weakness and hasn't improved despite acquisition of Svehla from Florida. Power play and penalty killing average to a shade below. Outlook: This was a very good team last season (100 points is no small accomplishment), but was prone to bouts of failure at key times and it appears to have taken a step backward on defense and in goal. Age and injuries aren't in Toronto's favor either. Lots of people are predicting a big fall for this club. We believe they will slip, but not that badly ¿ Definitely a dangerous playoff team. Montreal Last season: 36-31-12-3, 87 points, fourth in Northeast, eighth in East, 18th overall.
GM: Andre Savard — first NHL team, second season
Coach: Michael Therrien — first NHL team, second season New Faces: , RW; , LW; Ron Hainsey, D. Dearly Departed: , LW; Arron Ashram, D; , G. Strengths: When you've got the league's best player and the league's best goaltender in the same package, it all starts there. almost single-handedly lifted this team past its physical problems and into the playoffs last season ¿ There are legitimate scoring threats in , , and a presumably healthy . Defense is young, but plays a decent system ¿ Penalty killing is excellent and there are character players led by veteran . Weaknesses: Defense plays a system, but has no stars and gets pushed around a lot ¿ Power play is mediocre and team relies far too much on the exploits of Theodore to win games. Therrien has not yet proven himself to be an astute NHL bench boss. Outlook: It wasn't all Theodore, but he was about 95 percent of the reason the Habs made the playoffs last season. To duplicate that feat the goalie needs to have another career season and a lot of help. Buffalo Last season: 35-35-11-1, 82 points, fifth Northeast, 10th in East, 20th overall.
GM: Darcy Regier — sixth NHL season, first team
Coach: Lindy Ruff — sixth NHL season, first team. New Faces: , LW, C/LW; , G; , D; , D. Dearly Departed: , RW; , LW, , D; , C; , G; John Rigas, owner. Strengths: A solid and reasonably deep defensive corps that is just now coming into its own, a young and talented goaltender in who found himself and the top of his game in the second half of last season ¿ An experienced coach who knows how to win ¿ A consistent scoring forward in ... More forward help with the signing of ¿ Excellent penalty killing. Weaknesses: No real up-front offense besides Satan, no offensive contributions from the defense and one of the league's worst power plays¿Too many small centers although , just 22 but entering his fourth NHL season, could have a breakout season. Outlook: Ownership problems, debt problems and the uncertainty about when or if someone will step up and buy the team the Rigas family abandoned to the NHL weighs heavy and sounds gloomy, but the were one of the better teams in the NHL in the second half of the season and it appears that many of their young players are starting to emerge as consistent players. Much could fall apart here if the ownership situation isn't resolved and debt overwhelms the team, but with maturity and effective use of some speed up front, this team could and should challenge for a playoff berth. Boston Last season: 43-24-6-9, 101 points, first in Northeast, first in East, second overall.
GM: Mike O'Connell — second year, first team
Coach: Robbie Ftorek — sixth NHL year, third team New Faces: , G; , D; , RW. Dearly Departed: , G; , RW; , D; perhaps , D. Strengths: An emerging group of talented forwards led by former No.1 picks and are aided by vets like and . Forward led the league in shorthanded goals last season with nine and defenseman was one of the better young rookies in the league. Weaknesses: Dafoe got roasted for his play in the playoffs, but he was a key to the regular season success and not re-signing him and the tough and highly productive takes a lot out of this team. Coach Robbie Ftorek was exposed as a poor playoff performer in a first-round upset loss to Montreal and does not have an abundance of respect from his players. Defense is thin and worse now that McLaren has not reported and demanded a trade. Outlook: Lets see, the best forward is gone, the best goalie is gone, the best defenseman wants out and the coach is neither loved nor truly respected. You don't normally expect a team to go from first to last. It will help if either Shields or takes control of the team in goal, but the have serious problems that can't all be wished away. Jim Kelley can be reached at his e-mail address: jkelley@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Bryan Berard, Bruins, Sabres, Blackhawks, Red Wings, Oilers, Kings, Stars, Canadiens, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Maple Leafs, Canucks, Ducks, Panthers, Jets, Sergei Samsonov, Kyle McLaren, Bill Guerin, Joe Thornton, Tim Connolly, Brian Campbell, Slava Kozlov, Martin Biron, Mika Noronen, Jochen Hecht, Adam Mair, Ed Belfour, Richard Zednik, Jose Theodore, Shawn McEachern, Radek Bonk, Daniel Alfredsson, Sami Salo, Alexander Mogilny, Mats Sundin, Gary Roberts, Curtis Joseph, Peter Schaefer, Tom Fitzgerald, Bryan Berard

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