2013 season preview: Eastern and Western Conference
Over the course of the next two weeks we here at Bruins Daily will be getting you ready with everything you need to know for the 2013 National Hockey League season. We continue today with an outlook on the Eastern and Western Conferences.
For this preview, Chris Chirichiello previews the East and Anthony Travalgia takes a look at the West.
New York Rangers: The Rangers are coming off a season where they finished as the number one seed in the East and finished up with 109 points. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan look to continue their quest for a Cup’ in New York while Henrik Lundqvist looks to build on his impressive resume. Last year, Lundqvist notched 39 wins, eight shut outs and a goals against average of 1.97. Most hockey fans can’t wait for the press conferences conducted by Head coach John Tortorella either. He is a character in itself. Oh, and the Rangers signed a man named Rick Nash who is a 30 goal/30 assist winger that the Bruins should have jumped on when they had the chance. This team will be very dangerous.
Boston Bruins: Bruins fans cannot wait to hear the goal horn inside the TD Garden for the first time in 2013, but there still lingering questions about the team on the ice and their one and done performance last year in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Will Tyler Seguin continue his dominance like he did in Switzerland? Can Tuukka Rask be the B’s No. 1 goalie? Is Nathan Horton fully recovered from his brutal concussion? Will Dougie Hamilton live up to his expectations? The B’s have a solid core that have played together for quite some time. They finished second in the East last year with 102 points, but will have to move on without beloved goalie Tim Thomas as he continues to hide out in his bunker in Colorado. Look for the Bruins to be a top the Northeast Division as well as the Eastern conference even in this short 48 game season.
Florida Panthers: A very surprising team that saw itself finish the season as the East’s three seed a year ago by way of a Southeast division title looks to compete over the next few years. Tomas Fleischmann looks to continue his strong play this season as he notched 27 goals and 34 assists last season in 82 games played. Center Stephen Weiss added 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists) while Jose Theodore manned the pipes for a 22-16-11 record. He had three shut outs on the year. The additions of defensemen Filip Kuba and center Peter Mueller will certainly help the Panthers this year.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pens were tied for the most wins in the Eastern Conference last season and found themselves one point behind the Rangers for the number one seed. What else can you say about this team? The play of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin’s 109 point campaign last season (50 goals, 59 assists) and James Neal’s 40/40 year, this team has to be the team to beat in the East. Marc-Andre Fleury had an impressive 2012 season sporting a 42-17-4 record with three shutouts. This is a very well-balanced team like the Rangers and Bruins, but their offense may be that much better than the others in the conference. Look for the Pens to make some noise. They may get their hands on Lord Stanley when it is all said and done.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are coming off a 103 point campaign during the 2012 season and with Claude Giroux developing into one of the brightest stars in the NHL, this team will be competitive all season. Giroux tallied 28 goals and 65 assists in 77 games for the Flyers while Wayne Simmons added 28 goals and 21 assists. Scotty “tough guy” Hartnell had a career year with 37 goals while “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Ilya Bryzgalov sported a 33-16-7 record with six shutouts. Daniel Briere may miss the start of the season for the Flyers which could be a big blow due to a wrist injury.
New Jersey Devils: The defending Stanley Cup runners-up New Jersey Devils had a great second half of the season a year ago as they climbed to a six seed in the Eastern Conference. Ilya Kovalchuk scored 37 goals and added 46 assists. Look for him to be around 85-90 points again this season. Patrik Elias missed only one game while adding 78 points. These two players will need to pick up the scoring while former teammate Zach Parise (31-38-69) left New Jersey to sign with the Minnesota Wild for a ridiculous 13 year $98 million contract. The Devils will depend on the always dependable Martin Brodeur who started 59 games notching 31 wins and three shutouts. Center Adam Henrique may miss the start of the 2013 season with a torn ligament in his thumb which could also make the team depend more on their playmakers Kovalchuk and Elias.
Washington Capitals: The team that sent the Boston Bruins home last season will welcome a familiar face to B’s fans as their new Head coach, Adam Oates. Oates will have a nice core of players to compete with in the Eastern Conference. The always dangerous Alex Ovechkin looks to continue his dominance in America while Alexander Semin and Niklas Backstrom look to continue their solid play in 2013. Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth look to split time in net with Vokoun getting the majority of the minutes. Last season, Vokoun went 25-17-2 with four shutouts while Neuvirth went 13-13-5 with three shutouts, but don’t count out Braden Holtby who beat the Bruins in a seven game series in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2012. Niklas Backstrom was playing overseas where he suffered a neck bruise and he may be unavailable for the start of 2013 which could be a big blow for the Caps. Stay tuned on his availability.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators rounded off the eight playoff teams from a year ago and will look to make the playoffs again in 2013 after being one of the biggest surprises a year ago. Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek will look to lead the Sens while Captain and veteran Daniel Alfredsson looks to continue to be as consistent as they come on the right wing for Ottawa. Defenseman Jared Cowen will miss the entire 2013 season after having hip surgery so look for Sergei Gonchar and newly acquired Marc Methot to pick up the slack while Erik Karlsson continues to be a staple in the back.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres missed the 2012 playoffs finishing with a solid 39-32-11 record, but it just was not good enough. Jason Pominville, Thomas Vanek and Drew Stafford look to continue the offensive punch while Milan Lucic’s favorite goal tender will mind the net for the Sabres. Ryan Miller posted a 31-21-7 record with six shutouts. He is one of the top goalies in the lead and if he can return to form from a few years ago, the Sabres will not let up many goals. Buffalo added tough guys John Scott and Steve Ott in order to toughing up their lineup. Expect even more fireworks when these two division rivals meet this season.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Two years removed from pushing the Bruins to a seven game series for the rights to advance to the Stanley Cup, the Lightning look to return to the playoffs in 2013. There is no doubt they have one of the purest goal scorers in all of hockey in Steven Stamkos, but the play of his teammates Martin St. Louis, Teddy Purcell, Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone who all scored over 20 goals in 2012 will have to help out the 60-goal scorer. There is no doubt the team has plenty of guys who can light the lamp, but the real question marks will lie in their own zone with some new faces on the blueline, and new faces in between the pipes. The Lightning should be fighting for a playoff spot in 2013 just from the fact that they have one 60 goal scorer in Stamkos.
Winnipeg Jets: The Jets made their return to the Eastern Conference and had a strong showing with a 37-35-10 record. They missed out on the playoffs by eight points and will look to build on their 2012 season. Bruins great Blake Wheeler led the Jets in points with 64 as he scored 17 goals and dished out 47 assists. Look for him to slow down a little. Evander Kane had essentially a 30/30 season scoring 30 times and assisting on 27 others. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglein missed 16 games, but still had 12 goals and 41 assists. This team can compete in the Eastern Conference without a doubt. Ondrej Pavelec will look to improve his numbers from a year ago where he went 29-28-9 with four shutouts. His 2.91 goals against average must decline a little as well.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes finished with a 33-33-16 record and the 12 seed in the Eastern Conference a year ago. Jordan Staal with join his brother Eric who had 70 points from a year ago. This was a great addition by the Hurricanes. Jordan has been very sturdy over the last four years only missing one game. Often inconsistent forward Alex Semin joins the Canes’ and will look to get back on track in Carolina Goaltender Cam Ward had a solid year posting a 30-23-13 record with five shutouts and he should be in line for more than a majority of the starts as he started in 68 games a year ago.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Thank you Kessel! Thank you Kessel! The Bruins have a Stanley Cup while the Maple Leafs are cellar dwellers in the East although Kessel had 37 goals and 45 assists. It is all about winning in this league and not individual statistics. The Maple Leafs have plenty of talent to be competitive with Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf as well as Mikhail Grabovski, but it never was the recipe for success in the past few years. The goaltending was essentially split between Jonas Gustavsson and James Reimer. If the Luongo to Toronot rumors are not true, one of these goaltenders must emerge and have a great year because playing .500 hockey between the two of the them will not get the job done. Days after the lockout ended the Leafs fired General Manager Brian Burke, how that effects the club remains to be seen.
New York Islanders: it was another trying season for the Islanders last year as they finished 34-37-11 which was only a few wins out of the last playoff spot. The team is fun to watch though as John Tavares continues to live up to the hype with 31 goals and 50 assists in 2012 and Matt Moulson added 69 points (36-33). Evgeni Nabokov started 41 games for the Islanders, but we will need to see how the health of Rick Dipietro is for the start of 2013. That will determine who will get the start in between the pipes.
Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens had a down year last season, finishing last in the Eastern Conference. Max Pacioretty led the way with 33 goals and 32 assists while Erik Cole finished with 61 points. P.K. Subban has not signed yet, as he is still currently a restricted free agent (RFA) but it will be crazy if he does not resign with the Canadiens. Carey Price had a sub-par year finishing 26-28-11 with four shutouts in 65 starts. Look for him as well as the Canadiens to bounce back and finish a little higher than the cellar in the Eastern Conference.
Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks were President Trophy winners for the second straight season a year ago, but the Canucks were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion L.A Kings in the opening round of the playoffs. Goalie Roberto Luongo’s struggles paved the way for Corey Schneider to steal some starts away from Luongo. Because of this the trade rumors have been hot regarding Luongo. All the usual suspects are back for the Canucks, but the team could be in a bit of trouble thanks to Ryan Kesler’s shoulder and wrist surgery. There is no timetable for Kesler’s return.
St. Louis Blues: Last season the Blues took the west by storm thanks to arguably the best 1-2 goalie punch in the league with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot holding the fort between the pipes. Like the Canucks, the Blues were swept by the Kings en route to their Stanley Cup Championship, but that certainly won’t kill the momentum the Blues had last year. David Backes, David Perron and T.J Oshie all return and will look to lead the Blues offense once again this year.
Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes were another huge surprise last year as the “Yotes” managed to reach the Western Conference Finals after capturing their first ever division title. Vezina nominee Mike Smith was huge for the Coyotes as he sported an impressive 2.21 goals-against average. It took some time to get an answer during the offseason, but Captain Shane Doan will return to lead Phoenix this season. The Coyotes did take a big hit when the team’s leading scorer Ray Whitney signed a contract with the Dallas Stars. Filling the void left by Whitney will be Radim Vrbata who scored 35 times last season for Phoenix.
Nashville Predators: The Predators are once again looked upon as top contenders in the West despite losing stud defensemen Ryan Sutter. Things looked to get worse when the Philadelphia Flyers and Predators Captain Shea Weber agreed to a 14-year offer sheet, but the Predators did the right thing by matching the offer sheet to keep their Captain on the team. Pekka Rinne returns between the pipes after a stellar season. Veteran forwards Mike Fisher, Martin Erat and David Legwand all return for the Preds.
Detroit Red Wings: Last year the Red Wings recorded their 12th straight 100-plus point season but were bounced out of the playoffs by the Predators in the first round. Then in the offseason team Captain Nicklas Lindstrom called it a career and hung up the skates for good. Offensively the Wings are still as deep as they come. Pavel Datsyuk, Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg will continue to be the staple on the offensive front, and the addition of forward Mikael Samuelsson will help the Red Wings contend in a loaded western conference.
Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks had a very quiet offseason and that is perfectly fine for a team stacked with talent. Offensively and defensively the Hawks are all set, it’s the goaltender that will dictate how far Chicago goes this season. Despite 30 wins last season, goalie Corey Crawford had a difficult run as he posted a relatively high 2.72 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage. Look for Crawford and the Blackhawks to bounce back this season.
San Jose Sharks: It was the same old song and dance in San Jose last season as the Sharks came up with another disappointing season. The Sharks finished the year as the seventh seed in the west and were sent home packing in five games after a first round loss to the Blues. All the usual suspects are back for the Sharks, and San Jose boosted their depth on the blue line when they signed former Bruin Brad Stuart. Antti Niemi will start the season as the number one goalie, but a slow start could pave the way to much more playing time for backup Thomas Greiss.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings were a prime example of a team getting hot at the right team as the Kings breezed through the Stanley Cup playoffs en route to their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. The Kings’ Conn Smythe winning and playoff hero goalie Jonathan Quick returns to help the Kings defend their title. The Kings are lucky enough to open camp with the exact roster that helped the club win the Cup a season ago. The Kings did receive some bad news just days ago as the team found out they would be without top forward Anze Kopitar to start the season due to a knee injury.
Calgary Flames: A late surge wasn’t good enough for the Flames a season ago as the team came up just short of making the playoffs for the third straight season. Bob Hartley takes over for Calgary behind the bench in hopes of brining playoff hockey back to Calgary. After a 32 goal campaign, Jerome Iginla returns for his 15and possibly last season in Calgary as the veteran forward faces free agency after the season. The Flames addressed one of their key weaknesses during the offseason when they signed former Bruins defensemen Dennis Wideman to a very player-friendly deal.
Dallas Stars: The stars are my team to watch in the NHL this season as they boast in my opinion the deadliest group of forwards in the game. Dallas’ top-seven forwards of Loui Eriksson, Ray Whitney. Brendan Morrow, Jamie Benn, Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr and Micheal Ryder combined for 158 goals a year ago. Fresh off a contract extension, goalie Kari Lehtonen looks to pick up where he left off a year ago.
Colorado Avalanche: The Av’s enter the season as one of the youngest teams in the league and look to rebound after a difficult year. Just months after winning the NHL’s Calder Trophy, the Avalanche named Gabriel Landeskog their captain making Landeskog the youngest captain in NHL history. Matt Duchene looks to rebound after injuries slowed down his season last year. The Av’s got some scoring help in the offseason by signing P.A. Parenteau.
Minnesota Wild: The wild were the clear winners of the off-season by catching the two biggest fish in the off-season water when they signed Ryan Sutter and Zach Parise. The newest additions in Minnesota combined with talented guys like Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Niklas Backstrom should make for some fun times this season in Minnesota.
Anaheim Ducks: Midway through the season last year the Ducks fired bench boss Randy Carlyle and brought in Bruce Boudreau. Although the move didn’t get the Ducks into the postseason, it certainly helped turn the team around, especially the Ducks top trio. Ryan, Getzlaf. Bobby Ryan and Corey Perry all had off years last year, but when Boudreau took over, those guys took off. If Jonas Hiller can rebound in net from a disappointing season, the Ducks could once again find themselves playing playoff hockey.
Edmonton Oilers: A team loaded, and I mean loaded with young talent has nowhere to go but up, and the climb up towards the top tier of NHL teams will begin this season. The Oilers used their number one overall pick in last June’s draft to select top prospect Nail Yakupov and then went on to win the Justin Schultz sweepstakes to add to their young core of talent. Taylor Hall and Calder Trophy nominee Ryan Nugent-Hopkins both got hit with the injury bug a year ago which only added to another difficult season for the once proud franchise. If the club can stay healthy this season, you can expect the Oilers to be a fun team to watch in 2013.
Columbus Blue Jackets: The 2011-12 season was one to forget for the Blue Jackets, the 2013 season looks like it may be worse. The Blue Jackets dealt team Captain Rick Nash to the Rangers, getting Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov in return. Now without a true scoring threat, it looks to be another long season in Columbus.