2015-16 Season Preview: Atlantic Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this third part, I will be covering the Atlantic Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that. 

Previously, I’d covered the Pacific and Central Division in the first two of four parts in my 2015-16 NHL season preview. Here are my thoughts on the Atlantic Division.

Ottawa Senators

The Senators had an interesting 2014-15 season. After a pretty up-and-down start in 2014, the Sens fired former head coach Paul MacLean and replaced him with Dave Cameron, who was an assistant coach to MacLean. By that time in early December when the news broke, Ottawa had a record of 11-11-5, and were four points out of the second wild-card spot in the East.

Of course, as much credit new head coach Dave Cameron gets for the significant turnaround that Ottawa had due to a drastic improvement in puck possession, we can’t forget then-new up-and-comer Andrew “The Hamburglar” Hammond (.942 SV%, 1.74 GAA, 3 shutouts), who was arguably huge in helping the team in front of him to not only turn their season around, but also secure a playoff spot. They would subsequently fall in 6 games to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs. All-in-all, though, props to them for the amount of effort they put in to get as far as they did.

As for offseason changes, not much was done to really remake the Senators roster, other than send goalie Robin Lehner and forward David Legwand to Buffalo for a 2015 first round pick, as well as the Eric Gryba trade.

The 2015-16 season will be an interesting one for this team. How will they respond to the amount of success they had to their new coach? Will they be able to keep pace with the Eastern Conference and meet expectations again? Most importantly, can Andrew Hammond repeat the same performance he had last season? These are all valid questions to keep an eye on during the 2015-16 season.

Buffalo Sabres

After another disappointing regular season, and purposely tanking to try and get Connor McDavid at number one, the Sabres are going to have to settle with the first round, second overall pick in Jack Eichel, yet another generational talent. As I’d implied in my Pacific Division preview with Connor McDavid and the Oilers, Eichel can’t single-handedly carry this team on his back and score a bushful in one season. It just doesn’t work like that, at least not anymore.

Everyone’s got to buy into the system, and with a few key acquisitions and the right moves, they could be headed out of the basement in a few years. That’s, indeed, the case with this team. After firing former head coach Ted Nolan earlier this year in April, the Sabres went and hired former Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, whom they believe to be able to get this team back on track. In his first season as head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins back in ’08-’09, Bylsma coached the team to a Stanley Cup Championship. By the time he was fired after his sixth season with the club, he had coached the Penguins to a 252-117-32 record.

As I mentioned talking about the Senators, the Sabres acquired both Robin Lehner and David Legwand, which should be a huge boost for the team. Lehner, who never really got the jump-start he needed as a back-up for Ottawa, gets a fresh start in Buffalo.

The former 2009 2nd round pick spent five season with the Senators and posted a 30-36-13 record overall. He had a .914 save percentage, 2.88 GAA, and 2 shutouts in his 86 games played with the franchise. Unfortunately, according to NHL.com, he did not play after sustaining a concussion on February 16th of this year, although Senators GM Bob Murray said after the season that Lehner had recovered from the injury. Lehner will be sharing the crease with former Islander and Bruin Chad Johnson.

David Legwand, who turns 35 this month in August, had 9 goals and 27 points in 80 games with the Senators last season. The longtime Nashville Predator spent 15 years with the Preds before moving to Detroit to play with the Red Wings in the 2013-14 season, where he scored 4 goals and totaled 11 points in 21 games before going to Ottawa. The Sabres didn’t just stop there.

They also acquired, from the Colorado Avalanche, Ryan O’ Reilly and Jamie McGinn for Nikita Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, JT Compher, and a 2015 2nd round pick, as mentioned in my Central Division preview.

O’Reilly, a 2nd round pick of the Avs in ’09, has spent his entire professional playing career with Colorado. In his six seasons with the team he lit the lamp 90 times, recorded 156 assists for 246 points. Unfortunately, whether or not he’ll be able to join the Sabres at the start of the season in early October or not — or even join them at all — due to an off-ice incident remains to be seen.

McGinn, who spent his last four seasons with Colorado, had 4 goals and 2 assists in his 2014-15 campaign.

Those who’ve left the organization include Cody Hodgson (Nashville Predators), Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, whose contracts were both bought out.

Despite the fact that the Sabres won’t be making the playoffs yet again during the torturous rebuilding process, with all the acquisitions they have (and depending on how the O’Reilly situation goes) the only direction they should be trending is up.

Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers are another team currently relying on their youth to succeed, with the exception of Jaromir Jagr, captain Willie Mitchell (who won the Cup with the Kings back in 2012), and goalie Roberto Luongo. After coming up short of making the postseason again, they decided to pull the trigger on some trades.

Their first move, while minor, was before the 2015 NHL Draft, acquiring Greg McKegg from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for rights to forward Zach Hyman and a conditional 7th rounder for the 2017 draft. Though he recorded no points during his very limited time with the Maple Leafs during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, McKegg — a 2010 3rd rounder for Toronto — scored a total of 50 goals and collected 58 assists in 190 games with the Toronto Marlies.

Then, on July 1st — Free Agency Day, the Panthers acquired Reilly Smith and the contract of forward Marc Savard from the Boston Bruins.

Smith, a 3rd round draft pick of Dallas before coming over to Boston in the Seguin trade, spent two seasons with the Stars, recording 3 goals and 9 points. In Boston, he had 33 goals and 58 assists in 163 games played.

Savard, who hadn’t played a game since the 2010-11 season due to injuries, played with the Rangers, Thrashers, Flames, and Bruins, all in a span of 14 years. His career totals consisted of 207 goals, 499 assists, and 706 points in 807 games.

With a mainly young roster led by Jonathan Huberdeau (38-75–113), it’ll be interesting how the young players will improve. One big question that was brought up by NHL.com’s Dan Rosen in their 30-in-30 segment is can Huberdeau take that next step? I truly think that is an important question, and if he does, that should give his team mates and line mates a huge confidence boost.

Overall, I think they have improved with the Reilly Smith trade. However, I don’t think they’ll be a playoff contender just yet.

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs, like the Oilers and Sabres, are a team that’s obviously rebuilding. Right at the start of their offseason, Team President Brendan Shanahan didn’t hesitate to start issuing pink slips to team personnel, and that included former GM Dave Nonis (now a special assignment scout and consultant to GM Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks).

Although the blockbuster trade of the 2015 offseason didn’t happen at the NHL Entry Draft, it was still quite a sight as the team packaged defenseman Tim Erixon, RW forward Tyler Biggs, and a conditional drag pick into the deal that sent Phil Kessel to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, Scott Harrignton, a 2016 3rd rounder, and a conditional pick.

Now, before we start piling on the criticisms towards Phil Kessel, keep in mind that the Toronto media most likely had a lot to do with driving him out of town as well. That being said, we know the problems that the Toronto Maple Leafs have. First off, I haven’t watched a lot of Leafs games, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that they don’t have much in terms of leadership. Guys like Kessel and Phaneuf were supposed to step up for their team, especially since Phaneuf is the captain. However, that hasn’t happened yet.

In terms of their offense, according to NHL.com/Stats, their SAT (Shot Attempts) numbers as a whole don’t look very good. As for their Corsi For numbers, I took a look at their 5-on-5 close numbers which are defined on the hockeyanalysis.com site as “5v5 play when the game is tied or within 1 goal in the first and second periods or tied in the third period”. Well, let’s just say they’re not very good either, as the Leafs placed 29th in that ranking.

Other aspects in their game that need improving are defense and goaltending.

During the offseason, aside from the Kessel deal, they also acquired defenseman Martin Marincin from the Oilers in the deal that sent Brad Ross and 2015 4th rounder to Edmonton, rights to Taylor Beck from the Nashville Predators for forward Jamie Devane, and — as mentioned in talking about the Florida Panthers — rights to Zach Hyman from the Panthers and a conditional 2017 7th rounder for Greg McKegg.

Beck, who was an RFA, had 11 goals and 12 assists in 85 games with the Predators. Devane had appeared in two NHL games for the Leafs in the 2013-14 season but spent the rest of his career playing in the AHL and ECHL. He had six goals and seven assists with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies in 96 games.

Drafted by the Panthers in the 5th round of the 2010 Draft, Hyman spent last season back at the University of Michigan in the Big-10 League with 22 goals and 54 points in 37 games played.

They also signed a few players, including forward Shawn Matthias, Daniel Winnik, P.A. Parenteau, Mark Arcobello, and Matt Hunwick.

Originally chosen in the 2nd round by Detroit, Matthias spent seven seasons with the Florida Panthers (48-49–97) before playing for Vancouver for two years, with 21 goals and 34 points.

Daniel Winnik, drafted by the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes in 2004, had 18 goals and 34 assists in 202 games with the Coyotes. He moved onto Colorado where he spent two years and put up 44 points, and was traded to San Jose, where he played for a season (3 goals, 2 assists). He then signed with Anaheim for two seasons and scored 12 goals and 49 assists in 124 games before moving onto Pittsburgh and Toronto in the 2014-15 season for a combined total of 9 goals and 34 assists in 79 games.

P.A. Parenteau, a 9th rounder from Anaheim, recently played for Colorado for two seasons, scoring a total of 32 goals and 76 points in 103 games before moving onto the Habs, with 8 goals and 14 assists in 56 games.

Mark Arcobello, signed as a free agent by Edmonton, spent three seasons with the Oilers (11-19–30) before moving to three different teams (Nashville, Pittsburgh, Arizona). In his last pit stop with the ‘Yotes, he had 9 goals and 7 assists.

Matt Hunwick, a 7th round pick of the Bruins, recently played 55 games with the New York Rangers in the 2014-15 regular season. He had 2 goals and 9 assists.

As of editing this article, numerous reports indicate that former Shark Devin Setoguchi may be close to signing with the Leafs as well. A 1st round pick of San Jose in the 2005 Entry Draft, Setoguchi spent four seasons with the Sharks, with a total of 84 goals and 75 assists in 267 regular season games. He was then traded to Minnesota, where he put up 63 points in 117 games with the Wild. He signed with Winnipeg and, subsequently, the Calgary Flames putting up a combined total of 11 goals and 27 points (all with Winnipeg as he did not record a point in his 12 games with Calgary).

Setoguchi has also spent time in the ECHL in the 2012-13 season, where he put up 4 goals and 9 assists. In 2014-15 season, he was sent down to the AHL, where he played 19 games with the Adirondack Flames and had 10 points.

With all of these offseason trades and signings, I haven’t even touched on the fact that former Detroit coach Babcock signed the richest offseason deal in NHL history to head coach the Maple Leafs. They also added former Devils GM and President Lou Lamoriello as GM for the Leafs.

Babcock’s first NHL head coaching job was for the Might Ducks of Anaheim (now the Anaheim Ducks), as he coached them to a 40-27-9-6 record (back when there were still ties), and won the Western Conference in the playoffs. He would coach another season with them before moving on to Detroit, where he spent 10 years with the Red Wings as a head coach, coaching them to a Stanley Cup win in 2008 and winning the Western Conference again the following year. In 786 games, he coached the Red Wings to a 458-223-105 record.

Lamoriello, who’s spent almost his entire organizational career up until now with the New Jersey Devils, joined the front office in 1987. He was previous the head coach for the men’s ice hockey team at Providence College and became the school’s athletic director. During his time as GM, the Devils won three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and reached the Stanley Cup Final twice in 2001 and 2012. Lamoriello was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in ’09. Following last year’s postseason miss, he stepped down as GM, letting former Pittsburgh Penguin GM Ray Shero take over. He had intended to remain President of the Devils.

In spite of all these changes, the Leafs are likely to miss the playoffs again. Like the Oilers, it’s up to the players to decide if they want to work as a team to help the Leafs get back into the postseason picture.

Boston Bruins

For the first time since the ’06-’07 season, the Bruins failed to qualify for the postseason. Generally, when you miss the postseason in general, you’re going to want to improve. That’s why, to this day, I still question GM Don Sweeney’s initial moves.

I covered the Dougie Hamilton trade for the Calgary Flames in my Pacific Division preview; great for them, a “what the hell were you thinking” for Boston.

Talking about the Florida Panthers earlier, I mentioned the Reilly Smith trade in which Boston acquired Jimmy Hayes. Hayes, a second rounder from Toronto, spent two seasons in Florida with 19 goals and 35 points.

Before trading back-up goalie Martin Jones to San Jose, whom they originally acquired from Los Angeles, and getting prospect Sean Kuraly, in the Jones trade they also acquired defense prospect Colin Miller while giving up Milan Lucic.

Drafted in the 5th round by the L.A. Kings in 2012, the 22-year-old defenseman spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, scoring a total of 24 goals and 69 points in 135 games.

Lastly in terms of trades, the Bruins acquired Zac Rinaldo from the Philadelphia Flyers. A 6th round pick for the Flyers back in 2008, the 25-year-old spent all four seasons with Philadelphia, with 8 goals and 16 assists.

While they lost some important players to free agency as well, such as Matt Bartkowski and Gregory Campbell, they gained a few as well with former Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin and former Duck Beleskey joining the roster.

Irwin, who had 16 goals and 35 assists in 153 games played in San Jose, should help bolster the blue line a little more, especially with the shot he has.

Beleskey brings his playoff experience from Anaheim. A 2006 4th round pick, he had 57 goals and 55 assists in 329 regular season games. He had 13 goals and 4 assists in 34 playoff games with the Ducks.

All-in-all, even with Irwin and Beleskey, I don’t think the Bruins are going to make it this year. It seems to me like they’re trying to get younger. They haven’t improved much, and the Eastern Conference has gotten a little tougher.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the first round of the playoffs. While their roster, for the most part, was pretty good, they added a few more pieces to their line-up. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about the most important offseason move for Detroit, which was letting go Mike Babcock as head coach. Babcock, of course, left for Toronto. That meant former assistant coach under Babcock, Jeff Blashill, takes over.

Blashill started his coaching career as an assistant coach for Ferris State University and Miami University. His first ever head coaching job was with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, which he coached to a championship. After losing in the second round the following season, he moved onto coach Western Michigan University, with a 19-13-10 record. During the 2011-12 season, he got his first professional coaching job in the NHL as an assistant for the Red Wings, before moving down to the AHL to coach the Grand Rapid Griffins for three seasons, with an overall record of 134-71-23 and coaching them to a championship in his first season as head coach.

While Detroit made no trades and managed to keep their roster mostly in tact, they signed former Canadien Eric Tangradi, former Hawk and Ranger Brad Richards, and former Capital Mike Green.

Tangradi, a 2nd round pick from Anaheim, spent four years as a Pittsburgh Penguin and two as a Winnipeg Jet (5-10–15) before joining the Montreal canadiens, where he was pointless in seven games and was a -3.

Richards, a 3rd round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, played seven years with the Lightning before moving on to Dallas and then the Rangers (276-591–867) before joining Chicago for their Stanley Cup run. where he had 12 goals and 37 points in 76 regular season games. He had 3 goals and 11 assists during their Cup run.

Green, a 1st round pick for Washington in the 2004 Entry Draft, played all ten years of his career so far with the Capitals, posting a total of 113 goals, 247 assists, and 360 points in 575 games. He has 9 goals and 26 assists in 71 postseason games with the Caps.

It’ll be interesting to see how the new signings fit in for the Detroit Red Wings, whom for the most part will be relying on their young stars for much of their offensive outputs and defensive play. One player to certainly watch out for is goalie Jimmy Howard, who certainly did not fair well last season. The subject of trade rumors during the postseason, look for the 31-year-old starting netminder to fight to maintain his starting position for the Red Wings. Otherwise, back-up Petr Mrazek might take over number one job.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Following a Game 6 Stanley Cup Final loss, the Lightning have nothing to be disappointed for, except not winning the ultimate prize. Last season, they had a great run in the regular season, most notably with Tyler Johnson and the Triplets Line. During the 2015 postseason, the line combined for a total of 61 points (31 goals, 30 assists). However, that line was held pointless through the final three games of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Even with the rise of Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos is still the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning, so look for the 25-year-old centerman and sniper to continue racking up points (72) in the regular season. Also, look for him to rebound from last postseason, as he was held without a point for much of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially the SCF (1 point in 6 games).

While they kept their roster largely in tact in the offseason (only defenseman Mark Barberio left via free agency), they added two more to their line-up with Tye McGinn from Arizona and Eric Condra from Ottawa.

Drafted 4th round in the 2010 Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tye McGinn — brother of Jamie McGinn of the Buffalo Sabres — spent two seasons with the Flyers before getting traded to San Jose in the 2014 NHL Draft. As a Shark he record a goal and 4 assists before the Arizona Coyotes claimed him off waivers. He had a goal and an assist with the Desert Dogs**.

Erik Condra, a 7th-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in the 2006 Draft, spent all five seasons of his young career with Ottawa, posting a total of 33 goals and 54 assists for 87 points in 299 games. He’ll have played his 300th with the Tampa Bay Lightning when the season starts.

The Lightning have a lot to look forward to with their roster and youth with the way they played last season and how far they went into the playoffs, and I believe they have a very good chance of repeating that success in the 2015-16 season. While I do believe that they have a chance at winning the Cup this year, in order to go deep into the playoffs again, they need their starting goalie Ben Bishop to be healthy again.

Bishop, while he let in some goals he’d like to have back, wasn’t too bad despite what his record indicates (13-11-0) in 25 games. He helped carry the Lightning with a .921 save percentage and 2.18 GAA along with 3 shutouts.

**The “Desert Dogs” nickname comes from Sharks play-by-play announcer, Randy Hahn, as that is his nickname for the Arizona/Phoenix Coyotes.

Montreal Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens fell to the Lightning in the second round of the 2015 playoffs after eliminating the Senators in the first round.

One of the biggest reasons for this is their lack of offense. They can’t just rely on Max Pacioretty to be the go-to guy for offensive production.

According to the Montreal Canadiens website, in the 2015 playoffs, PK Subban led the team with 7 assists and 8 points. During the 2014-15 regular season, Pacioretty led the Habs with 37 goals and 67 points.

According to NHL.com/Stats, the Canadiens ranked 13th in the League in Team Scoring, with 0.41 goals in a 60-minute span. Only three other teams (Senators, Capitals, and Penguins) averaged lower.

Their defense is okay, and while they led the League with the fewest goals allowed on average in the 2014-15 regular season, a large part of that is due to the work in net by starting netminder Carey Price.

Price, who was drafted by the Habs in the 1st round of the 2005 Entry Draft, posted a 44-16-6 record with a .933 save percentage and 1.96 GAA. He won the Jennings (most shutouts), Vezina (best goaltender), Hart (Most Valuable Player), and Ted Lindsay (outstanding player) Awards.

While the Canadiens’ only trade acquisition was Zack Kassian, they did sign a few players in Alex Semin (who’s contract was bought out by the Hurricanes in the offseason) and Mark Barberio via free agency.

Alexander Semin, a 1st round pick of the Washington Capitals in the 2002 Entry Draft, joins the Habs roster looking for a new start after spending his last three seasons with the Hurricanes. His production numbers dipped much lower from his career-highs back in Washington (40 goals, 44 assists) during the ’09-’10 season. In the 2014-15 season, he had just 6 goals and 13 assists.

Barberio, 6th round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, spent all three seasons of his young career with the Lightning with 6 goals and 11 assists in 103 games. In the 2012-13 season, he split between Tampa Bay and the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL, racking up 42 points (8 goals, 34 assists) in 73 AHL games.

Follow Felix Chow on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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