We began our four-part series previewing the 2013-14 NHL season with a look at the Central Division on Sunday and the Pacific Division on Monday.
Today, we break down the Atlantic Division.
Capsules may not include latest injury or roster updates.
1. Boston Bruins
There were some staggering losses for the Bruins in the offseason because of free agency and trades: Nate Horton, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin and Andrew Ference … all gone. Even Jaromir Jagr is gone. Though GM Peter Chiarelli added five players to the roster, the most notable of which was Loui Eriksson from the trade of Seguin to Dallas, the Bruins seem to have lost some swagger and toughness, all around. They did extend Patrice Bergeron and had to pay the piper for goalie Tuukka Rask’s new deal (eight years, $56 million). There remains a boatload of talent, but again, the sum of what was lost seems greater than what was gained, though the Bruins still retain their paws. Jarome Iginla?
2. Ottawa Senators
Remember how people were laughing at the Senators in 2011-12 because of all the rookies and prospects in their lineup? Well, no one is laughing at a very good and competitive club any longer. One that has Cory Conacher and Bobby Ryan and was deep enough in goal to trade Ben Bishop. Daniel Alfredsson may be gone (hence the Ryan deal), but there’s plenty to like about the Sens, although GM Bryan Murray overpaid for Clarke MacArthur. The youth movement got some nice leadership last year from Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad, but Ottawa’s success will also depend on the overall health of Jason Spezza and former Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson. Was Craig Anderson’s 1.69 goals-against average an aberration or for real?
3. Detroit Red Wings
At long last, the Red Wings are back in the East where they belong and that means one less postseason spot for someone in an already unfair playoff format given there are more clubs in the East than West. Though quality, younger free agents no longer flock to Detroit, GM Ken Holland brought in one hungry veteran who has some Olympic golds but still lacks a Cup -- Daniel Alfredsson. He also got proven 20-goal scorer Stephen Weiss from Florida. This is Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg’s club now, which means it will be competitive to the bitter end and Jimmy Howard ain’t too shabby in goal. You can never count a Mike Babcock team out of anything, but age is catching up quickly.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
A few years ago, the Maple Leafs used eight goalies to get them through the season. This year, they look very good with the acquisition of Jonathan Bernier, who just might steal the starter’s job from James Reimer. This represents Bernier’s chance to finally become a No. 1. GM Dave Nonis added David Clarkson via free agency and traded for Dave Bolland at the NHL draft. Bolland’s clutch goal gave the Blackhawks their second Stanley Cup in the last four years. Clarkson got an enormous seven-year, $36.75 million contract for a player with just one 30-goal season. Coach Randy Carlyle needs a healthy year from oft-injured Joffrey Lupul and a rebound performance from Jake Gardiner who impressed as a rookie two seasons ago.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
Jon Cooper’s first full season behind the bench for the Bolts and he’ll be missing franchise player Vinny Lecavalier. GM Steve Yzerman’s biggest move after the Lecavalier buyout was signing a winger he was personally familiar with in Detroit: Valteri Filppula. Even bigger was what he did last April at the trade deadline in securing Bishop as his goalie knowing he was going to cut loose Mathieu Garon. That trade cost Tampa its Calder Trophy candidate, Cory Conacher. Can Steven Stamkos (29 goals) replace Lecavalier’s on-ice leadership plus do even more for the offense than he already has? Prospect Jonathan Drouin went back to Halifax.
6. Montreal Canadiens
So will Canadiens fans boo Danny Briere now that he has finally come home (albeit seven years later than expected) if he struggles early? Other than fighter George Parros, Briere represents the bulk of Montreal’s offseason free-agent improvement and he’s coming off a poor year with the Flyers in which injuries dogged him. Other teams in the East improved significantly over Montreal whose only real “stud” is Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban. The Habs looked horrible in the playoffs and it’s obvious goalie Carey Price isn’t capable of carrying this club on a deep run by himself. Alex Galchenyuk (27 points) had a strong rookie season, but there isn’t a lot of offensive depth on the roster.
7. Buffalo Sabres
After torching Lindy Ruff, who had been the longest tenured coach in a single NHL city, the Sabres also shipped off team captain Jason Pominville, which means if club owner Terry Pegula gets antsy with the new rebuild in town, the next body left to throw over Niagara Falls is GM Darcy Regier. Buffalo always seems to find blue-chip prospects and this should be no different for coach Ron Rolston in his first full season. The loss of sparkplug Nathan Gerbe and the questionable health of Ville Leino are pivotal in a year in which the goaltending reins should go from Ryan Miller to Jhonas Enroth. Watch for rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who made the cut.
8. Florida Panthers
The biggest news of the summer in South Florida was Weiss leaving the Panthers. The biggest news of the fall there was 1.) The sale of the club (again) and 2.) The return of goalie Tim Thomas to the NHL after more than a year’s hiatus from the game to meditate and ponder the meaning of a Cup. Say hello to Scott Gomez, the NHL’s modern-day wanderer (Florida is his fifth club). Good thing the Panthers won the division two years ago because it’s going to be a while before that happens again. The Panthers ignored D-man Seth Jones for center Aleksander Barkov at the draft and he will start the season. Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau proved he is legit.
Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
With the Flyers returning from the bye week, let’s discuss a few topics.
Going End to End this week are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.
Today’s question: Will we see Ron Hextall dip into the farm system before season's end?
This is a tough question because it has layers, some of which are not easy to peel. According to CapFriendly.com, the Flyers have about $377,545 in cap space. They are not in a cap-friendly position, which ties Hextall’s hands in any move he’d want to do.
The Flyers, as currently constructed, are a fringe playoff team with a long-term plan, and Hextall has shown no signs of deviating from his vision. That means no big shakeups. It also means, however, that dipping into the farm system is a legitimate option for Hextall. He has said in the past he’d make room for kids if they are NHL ready, and he has. He has to ask himself, would bringing up a prospect at Lehigh Valley improve the Flyers?
Perhaps it would. The Flyers do have an influx of young blood on the way, perhaps as early as next season. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities to see three more kids on the roster when 2017-18 begins. DefensemenRobert Hagg, Sam Morin and Travis Sanheim are knocking at the door, and then there is Philippe Myers, too. The Flyers have three expiring contracts on the books, and they will not block kids with Band-aids.
But the question is this season. Would Hagg, Morin or Sanheim upgrade the Flyers’ defense? Hagg is “just about NHL-ready,” Morin stuck around training camp longer than expected and Sanheim has found his footing in the professional ranks. It certainly would not hurt to bring one of them up, but a corresponding move would have to be made.
That would mean Hextall would have to find a trading partner to clear space and room on the 23-man roster for one of the kids. Michael Del Zotto, Mark Streit and Nick Schultz will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Del Zotto and Streit could be attractive options for teams at the trade deadline, if the Flyers decided clear way for a prospect.
However, I don’t see the Flyers dipping into Lehigh Valley unless injuries start hitting the NHL roster. There are too many roadblocks with the salary cap to realistically see Hextall being able to move a body out in order to inject more youth to the Flyers.
My gut tells me Hextall will make at least one move at the trade deadline.
It makes for an opportune time to clear cap space and expedite the rebuild.
As Tom noted above, Streit, Del Zotto and Schultz are all unrestricted free agents after this season. If you don’t think any of those three can be moved, remember Hextall found a way to deal Kimmo Timonen, who was 39 years old and without a game played in 2014-15 because of blood clots, for a 2015 second-round draft pick and 2016 conditional pick.
And don’t forget role forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Chris VandeVelde — cheap and also set to be UFAs this offseason.
So the cap-stricken Flyers have trade chips and aren’t contending for a Stanley Cup this season. Which brings us to the question of will Hextall dip into the farm system before season’s end? I see it happening with some room made after the trade deadline.
That doesn’t mean the Flyers can’t compete for the playoffs, either.
To me, this question comes with an "if" attached to it for a couple of reasons. The first is because of how hell-bent Hextall is on keeping the Flyers' prospects in Lehigh Valley for seasoning until he believes they're truly ready for the NHL level. And the second depends on where the Flyers are in the standings. If they come out of this bye week hot and pick up points to rise back into legitimate playoff talk, Hextall will likely sit pat and let this group play it out. If things continue to unravel, then the Flyers move into seller mode before the March 1 trade deadline. If what we've been conditioned to over this recent miserable stretch is reality, that's the path we're heading down.
So if the Flyers do sell, it's inevitable that a prospect or two makes it up from the Phantoms toward the end of the season because there will finally be some space on the roster to fit in. If the Flyers are all but out of the playoff hunt, bringing a prospect up and letting him play in the NHL level for the last month and change of the season can do wonders for a prospect's confidence heading into next season. Life in the NHL is much different than the bus ride-filled life in the AHL. Once you get a taste, you don't want to go back if you don't have to. And that's a motivating factor heading into training camp.
The next question is who would be brought up? That's a question I don't think is fair to answer right now because only Hextall, his staff and his coaches know who they feel could be ready for a call-up. Of course, the Phantoms are loaded with talent on the back end and that's where the Flyers could use a jolt. To speculate on exactly who that could be right now just wouldn't be fair, in my opinion.
But, for right now before the schedule picks up again this weekend with dates against the Devils and Islanders, this prospect call-up scenario still fits under the "if" scenario.
But if the Flyers continue to falter out of the bye week, I feel seeing a prospect or two with the big club before season's end is inevitable.
Flyers (22-18-6) vs. Devils (19-19-9)
7 p.m. on TCN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30
The bye week has come and gone as the Flyers return from their NHL mandated five-day break by welcoming the New Jersey Devils to the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night.
Here are five things to know for the game.
1. We meet again
Remember the last game between these two?
It certainly didn’t lack for entertainment, as Fight Night broke out at the Prudential Center right before the commencement of the holiday break.
The Devils were looking for any reason to drop the gloves after general manager Ray Shero called out his bunch in hopes of halting a seven-game losing streak.
New Jersey answered and jumped on the first chance to throw its fists, hammering the Flyers, 4-0, a contest in which blood never stopped boiling. The matchup resembled more of a UFC lineup card than an actual hockey game.
“Should be a good rivalry here this year,” Nick Cousins said then. “Two teams that don’t like each other. I’m excited for the next game.”
The Flyers get it tonight.
2. New perspective?
The Flyers are hoping the bye week was a remedy for their free-fall.
They’ve lost 11 of 14 games since winning 10 straight and no longer hold a playoff spot after clinging to the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card bid for dear life during their skid. Salt was rubbed in the wound with a 5-0 loss to the Capitals last Sunday, as the Flyers limped into the bye week.
Still, the Flyers are in prime position for the playoff push, unlike last season when they had to scrape and claw just to squeak in on the second-to-last day of the regular season.
“We know we've got to be better,” Wayne Simmonds said following practice Friday. “We all have to be accountable to each other. We’re not starting from scratch, but we need a new perspective here. Come out of the gate and do it the right way, again.”
3. Time to capitalize
The Flyers should not only be refreshed mentally, but also physically.
They’ll need the energy this weekend as another back-to-back arrives. It’s one the Flyers really need to take advantage of against the two last-place teams in the Metropolitan Division.
What makes it of even greater importance is that a crucial three-game stretch follows against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes. New York sits ahead of the Flyers in fourth place of the Metro, while the Maple Leafs currently own the second wild card because of fewer games played than the Flyers, who lead the Hurricanes by only one point.
“Guys realize the situation we are in,” Brayden Schenn said Friday. “We know the circumstances. The break came at a good time, mentally … guys know what we’re coming into there with the back-to-backs.
“You were kind of scoreboard watching. We know where we’re at. We’re in a dogfight battle with teams for those wild-card spots. There’s a lot of hockey left. It’s no secret. Everyone pays attention where we’re at.”
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: The gut feeling is Shayne Gostisbehere makes his return felt by snapping his 22-game goal drought. The 23-year-old defenseman has two goals in four career games against New Jersey and is playing through a trying sophomore season.
Devils: Forward Taylor Hall has a great last name and is on a five-game point streak. New Jersey’s leading scorer also has five goals and five assists in seven lifetime matchups with the Flyers.
5. This and that
• Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth is 6-2-5 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .923 save percentage in 13 career games against the Devils.
• New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider is 5-3-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in nine career games against the Flyers.
• The Devils have a Metropolitan-worst minus-29 goal differential.
• The Flyers have been outscored, 19-9, over their last four games.