2011-12 NHL Northeast Division Preview

BOSTON BRUINS

2010-11 record: 46-25-11, 103 points; 1st in Northeast; 3rd in Eastern Conference; Won Stanley Cup by defeating Vancouver Canucks in seven games

Who’s in?: D Joe Corvo, W Benoit Pouliot

Who’s out?: D Tomas Kaberle, W Mark Recchi, W Michael Ryder

Big question: Can the Bruins defend their title?

Outlook: The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup last season, and thus head into the coming year as a heavy favourite to repeat. Not wanting to mess with success, the Bruins didn’t do much roster tinkering over the offseason. Tomas Kaberle moved on to the Carolina Hurricanes, but the club traded for Joe Corvo (formerly of the Hurricanes himself) and feel he can put up similar production at a cheaper price.

One of the things to look for is whether Tim Thomas gets as many starts as he did last year, or if the club decides to lean on youngster Tuukka Rask more heavily. The 37-year old Thomas had a taxing workload, and after playing a full postseason in addition to his Vezina-winning regular season, he may need some rest. Still, with either of these men in goal the Bruins are in good shape to make a run to the Cup finals yet again and get a chance to defend their title.

BUFFALO SABRES

2010-11 record: 43-29-10, 96 points; 3rd in Northeast; 7th in Eastern Conference; Lost in quarter-finals to Philadelphia Flyers in seven games

Who’s in?: D Christian Ehrhoff, D Robyn Regehr, C/W Ville Leino

Who’s out?: D Chris Butler, C Tim Connolly, W Mike Grier, D Steve Montador, C/W Rob Niedermayer

Big question: Did the Sabres improve enough in the off season to win the Cup?

Outlook: After a disappointing exit against Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, the Sabres made a flurry of noise this off season in an effort to finally break through. The team shored up its defence by picking up former Canucks blueliner Christian Ehrhoff and former Flames stalwart Robyn Regehr, and also inked Ville Leino to add grit and scoring to the top-six.

The Sabres are a deep team, with a great coach in Lindy Ruff, and one of the best goalies in the league in Ryan Miller. The off-season proved that money isn’t an object for new owner Terry Pegula, and with a shrewd general manager like Darcy Regier overseeing the squad, the Sabres are a team on the rise. Expect this club to make some noise, but ultimately fall short of the Cup.

 

LISTEN NOW: The Observer’s Ryan Fines discusses the Northeast division

 

MONTREAL CANADIENS

2010-11 record: 44-30-8, 96 points; 2nd in Northeast; 6th in Eastern Conference; Lost in quarter-finals to Boston Bruins in seven games

Who’s in?: W Erik Cole, D Alexei Yemelin, C Blair Betts

Who’s out?: D James Wisniewski, D Roman Hamrlik, C Jeff Halpern, W Benoit Pouliot, G Alex Auld

Big question: Can Carey Price get over the hump in the playoffs?

Outlook: After a great 2010 season in which they went to the conference finals, the Montreal Canadiens took a step backwards last year, falling to the Boston Bruins in the first round. With playoff hero Jaroslav Halak traded, Carey Price took over the pipes and had a stellar regular season, but was lackluster when it really counted. For the Canadiens to get back to contending for the Cup, Price needs to step up in a big way.

The team, always criticized for its lack of size, added big winger Erik Cole to its already formidable top six. The club lost two of its best defencemen in James Wisniewski and Roman Hamrlik, but will replace them in-house with Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov, both of whom are returning from injury. Even still, it’s going to take a huge postseason performance from Price for this team to advance to the Cup finals, but, on paper at least, they should make the playoffs.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

2010-11 record: 37-34-11 (85 points), 4th in Northeast; 10th in Eastern Conference; Missed the playoffs

Who’s in?: D John-Michael Liles, D Cody Franson, D Jake Gardiner, C Matthew Lombardi, C Tim Connolly, C David Steckel, C Philippe Dupuis

Who’s out?: G J.S. Giguere, C Tim Brent, D Brett Lebda, C Christian Hanson

Big question: Can James Reimer lead the Leafs to the promised land?

Outlook: Having not made the playoffs since the lockout, the goal once again for the Toronto Maple Leafs is to just sneak into the spring dance. General manager Brian Burke made a slew of off season acquisitions in an effort to get over the hump, picking up puck-moving defenceman John-Michael Liles to quarterback the powerplay, and adding centremen Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly in the hopes one of them finds chemistry with streaky sniper Phil Kessel.

The biggest reason for optimism with the Leafs lies between the pipes in youngster James Reimer. The sophomore goalie had an excellent rookie season, showing the poise of a veteran while stealing points for the Leafs as they made a late push for the playoffs. If Reimer has another big year, the Leafs have a chance to catch the 8th playoff seed, but this isn’t a squad that is ready to compete for the Cup just yet.

OTTAWA SENATORS

2010-11 record: 32-40-10, 74 points; 5th in Northeast; 13th in Eastern Conference; Did not qualify for playoffs

Who’s in?: W Nikita Filatov, C Zenon Konopka, G Alex Auld

Who’s out?: W Ryan Shannon, G Curtis McElhinney

Big question:Can the young Sens  be competitive?

Outlook: After a monster year in 2010, the Ottawa Senators regressed big time last season, nearly finishing in the basement of the Eastern Conference before goalie Craig Anderson came over at the deadline and led the team to a solid finish. With very little roster turnover, the Senators are banking that Anderson repeats that performance for the team to even sniff at the playoffs.

There are some bright spots, especially on defence, where Erik Karlsson broke through and 2009 9th-overall pick Jared Cowen has made the squad out of training camp. Ultimately though, the Senators aren’t expected to compete, and will probably be sellers by the trade deadline. It’s more likely to see long-time captain Daniel Alfredsson traded to a contender than it is for the Senators to make the postseason.