Friday, 5 September 2014

2014-15 NHL Predictions Part 2: The Atlantic Division

In the first part of this series, I picked the winners and losers of the 2014-15 NHL season. Now it's time to do a team-by-team breakdown of what we'll probably see unfold this year. First up, let's take a look at the Atlantic Division.
Boston Bruins

1. The Good: Budding Bruins Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton will take major strides forward, fueling hope that the Bruins will need only to retool instead of rebuild once their grizzled veterans are no longer serviceable.

2. The Bad: Zdeno Chara will suffer a major setback this year involving his health. I'm not ill-wishing "Big Z," but his body has simply been battered too much by the rigors of Bruins hockey to keep going. He's defied expectations of a decline for a long time, but age will catch up to him this year.

3. The Ugly: Without Chara, the Bruins will limp rather than glide into the playoffs. They will make the second round, but they will be upset by a collapse that will cause fans to curse Dave Bolland for his heroics in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Don't be surprised if the Lightning avenge their 2011 postseason defeat by beating the Bruins en route to the 2014 Eastern Conference Final.

Buffalo Sabres
1. The Good: Buffalo will surprise everyone by not being as terrible as we thought they'd be this year. They won't be in serious playoff contention, but they will be in the lower ranks of the playoff longshots--the spot usually reserved for the Carolina Hurricanes, who will be much worse this year.

2. The Bad: Since being terrible was the whole point of this season, the 'Canes will disappoint fans by not being advantageously awful. The Sabres will compete themselves out of contention for the Connor McDavid sweepstakes.

3. The Ugly: However the Sabres lose the 1st overall pick--by being too competitive to end 30th in the standings or by losing another draft lottery--Tim Murray won't take the disappointment well. He'll probably accuse the NHL of unfairness--perhaps even suggesting that his team was penalized for not being named "Oilers." His comments will play right into the wallets of the league via fines.

Detroit Red Wings:

1. The Good: The Red Wings will keep commentators guessing by not imploding as we have all been expecting them to for years. Like last season, they will be in the mix for a wildcard spot until at least the first week of April.

2. The Bad: They will not be able to use the misfortunes of the Capitals, Devils, Islanders, and Leafs to vault into the postseason again. They will be displaced by one of those teams that either underperformed or collapsed last year.

3. The Ugly: He won't admit it, but Mike Babcock is forcing Detroit management into a "show me" season--as in "show me that the team has enough firepower to compete, or I'm signing elsewhere in the offseason." Unimpressed with the team's dismal finish, and unwilling to be scapegoated with the end of an illustrious playoff streak, Babcock and the Red Wings will have an acrimonious divorce.

Florida Panthers:

1. The Good: Persistent rumours of the Panthers' future relocation will provide ample fodder for @strombone1's twitter feed. Years from now, when he retires as a reluctant Quebec City Panther, Luongo will be inducted into the hall of fame as the most hapless goaltender of all time.

2. The Bad: The Panthers will be the most expensive failure this season. True, 14 other teams have greater salary-cap expenditures than the Panthers (according to capgeek.com's projections as of today), but--with the possible exception of the Philadelphia Flyers--those teams will be in competition for playoff spots. (Yes, even the Oileers.) The Panthers' post-season aspirations will end dismally by Christmas. 

3. The Ugly: The pricey acquisitions of Bolland, Willie Mitchell, and Jussi Jokinen will once again remind the league that no team, rich or poor, can simply buy a playoff contender in July. For pioneering this failed model, the Leafs' ears will burn all season as people revile Dale Tallon's managerial decisions.

Montreal Canadiens:

1. The Good: After rebounding from his latest knee injury, Carey Price will handily backstop the Habs to one of the division top-three postseason seeds. While Price vies for the Vezina, P.K. Subban will be a strong contender for the Norris Trophy.

2. The Bad: The quest to fill the team's vacant captaincy will devolve into a fiasco. As usual among Original Six fanbases, Habs supporters will become bitterly divided regarding who should wear the "C." Whoever doesn't gets the honoured letter will have to answer questions about "being snubbed" all season long.

3. The Ugly: The MSM's attempts to fuel the captaincy controversy will become increasingly absurd. From tricking players into deriding the new captain's leadership, to inventing rumours of discord in the locker-room, media outlets will do all that they can to make this personnel selection become a juicy story. Meanwhile, players will point to the team's logo and insist that "they all wear the 'C'" (daaaaw!).

Ottawa Sentaors
1. The Good: The Sens won't be incinerated by a meteorite? I'm not sure what can really go right for a team that seems to be caught in a "debuild" as so many star players have treated the organization as an "in-between phase" in their careers. 

2. The Bad: Bobby Ryan will not re-sign during the season, forcing Bryan Murray to look baffled and disappointed when forced once again to trade an elite player for a pittance. . 

3. The Ugly: Whoever fills the vacant captaincy will not stay with the team for more than three seasons (including next year). Ottawa's "C" will be referred to as the "kiss of death" among the team's detractors. The phenomenon of newly-minted captain bailing will be called the "Curse of Alfredsson," a belief that the mistreatment of Alfie has poisoned all relations between management and team leaders.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

1. The Good: This team looks mighty strong on paper, and they're only going to get better in the coming years. They won't reclaim the Cup this season, but--so long as Steven Stamkos resists the siren-like call to Toronto--the team will be contenders in the near future.

2. The Bad: The one dark cloud in the team's longterm forecast is the contract and cap hit of Ryan "He makes how much?" Callahan. I predict that Callahan will have a David-Clarksonesque rough patch to begin his first full season as a bolt. Disappointing numbers, absences from the lineup and box score, and behavioural issues will make Callahan an object of ire.

3. The Ugly: he worst thing to happen to the Bolts has already occurred: they now have the worst arena name in the league. Yesterday, news broke that the Tampa Bay Times Forum was no more. While the renovated rink remains much the same, the name has changed for the worse. The Lightning will now play in Amelie Arena. My sources indicate that the team was hoping to strike a naming deal with Strawberry Shortcake, but owners of the berry-scented heroine balked at the price tag.

Toronto Maple Leafs:

1. The Good/The Bad: The Leafs will struggle early on, and Randy Carlyle will be fired as executives try to salvage the season. Given the restructuring of the organization's management over the summer, it seems unlikely that Carlyle could succeed as he will be undermined on all fronts by unfamiliar coaches and assistant GMs. And perhaps that was the pont behind retaining Carlyle: let him take the heat while presumptive-heir-to-the-bench Steve Spott acclimates himself to the NHL.

For some, canning Carlyle will be the feel-good firing of the decade. Others will lament not the loss of the coach himself but the truculent style of play that he represents.
2. The Ugly: The real ugliness will take place on social media, where statistics will form a fault line through the heart of Leafs Nation. Some advanced Stats aficionados will treat every win as a personal victory for their way of assessing the game, and they'll treat every loss as an easily-chartable improbability that in no way suggests that we should reassess their metrics.Meanwhile the anti-stats zealots will use every setback as proof that the game is won with grit rather than algebra. The excesses of both camps will make moderates renounce calculators and all synonyms for "pugnacious" in disgust.

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