Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Northeast Division Preview

September is a month for predictions, and with the exhibition season in the rear-view mirror, here's a look at what might unfold over the next six months.

Boston Bruins: After a stunning loss to Carolina in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Bruins start over after a terrific regular season that went poof in overtime.

With Phil Kessel gone to Toronto for draft picks, that puts a bit more pressure on the rest of the potent Bruins to pick up the slack, and repeat what had been a magical season in Boston, which could be a tough task.

Fortunatley for the Bruins, the Northeast Division is certainly on a down cycle, with perhaps only the Buffalo Sabres being a real threat to another top three seed, and the B's should skate to another top three seed, although a No. 1 seed might be just out of their reach this time around.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres' playoff drought reached two seasons thanks to Ryan Miller's injury down the stretch, as Buffalo just missed out on the postseason after slumping with Patrick Lalime fading down the stretch when Buffalo needed him most.

Still, the Sabres certainly have enough talent to get into the postseason, although the current edition is a far cry from the club that won the President's Trophy just three seasons ago. Miller will be the centerpiece, needing to be strong for Buffalo to return to the playoffs, where they could be able to do some damage.

Montreal Canadiens: After a hugely disappointing 100th Anniversary season, the Canadiens made one of the biggest head-scratchers of the postseason, acquiring free-agent bust Scott Gomez and hoping he could turn around a franchise in turmoil.

The Habs are just a mess right now, and while the team certainly has enough talent to get into the playoffs again, the dark cloud surrounding the team will need to lift in order for a bad situation not to get worse.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Another team with a busy offseason was the Maple Leafs, who picked up Kessel from the Bruins in the hope that he can help add some spark to the offense one he returns to the lineup. It certainly was a gamble, as the first-round pick they sent to their division rival could end up being a top five selection if things go the same as they did last year in Toronto.

Toronto can be dangerous on a game-to-game basis, but it's hard to imagine this club will be able to qualify for the first time since the lockout this season.

Ottawa Senators: Just 20 months ago, the Senators were one of the top teams in the NHL, but they have collapsed into a a heap and now will look to rebuild with disgruntled Dany Heatley now playing in San Jose. Faced with a tough situation, Bryan Murray did as best he could getting Jonathan Cheechoo from the Sharks, but this team has some serious holes beyond Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza.

After a decade of being in contention, the Senators have returned to their dark early years, and it's going to take some major changes before Ottawa gets back into the postseason.

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