Sizing Up the 2014-15 Eastern Conference’s Potential
Who is the favourite to win the Eastern Conference next season? Many experts can’t answer this question. Where do the Toronto Maple Leafs fit into everything? It’s hard to answer this question, too.
This column will be a regular feature, looking at the NHL’s Eastern Conference and projecting where each contending team will finish. It begins at the top of the standings from 2013-14 and looks at the conference from the perspective of the Leafs.
Boston: The reigning President’s Trophy winners were not happy about the way their season ended losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the semi-final of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The worst part is that the Boston Bruins could not make any significant improvements to their team as a result of their salary cap restraints.
The Bruins did not add any new players but lost Jarome Iginla and Shawn Thornton to free agency. The loss of Iginla hurts the Bruins the most because he was tied with Patrice Bergeron in goals with 30 and third on the team with 61 points. He also lead the Bruins in playoff goals with 5 in 12 games. Unless Loui Eriksson can stay healthy it will be hard to replace Iginla’s production.
Toronto Maple Leafs fans know all too well that Boston is not a team that should be taken lightly. For years the Leafs could not buy a win against the Bruins they had a streak that lasted 8 games. Now it seems as if the big bad Bruins has lost it’s stranglehold on the Eastern Conference.
Schedule against the Leafs:
Saturday October 25 @ Maple Leafs, 7:00PM, TV-CBC
Saturday November 12 @ Maple Leafs, 8:00PM, TV-Sportsnet
Wednesday December 31 @ Bruins, 7:00PM, TV-Sportsnet
Saturday April 4 @ Bruins, 7:00PM, TV-CBC
The potential good: The Bruins had enough depth at center they could afford to trade away Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars. The pieces that were traded give the Bruins more bang for their buck even though it meant that they had to deal away a talented player. Rielly Smith will have to replace Jarome Iginla’s production, he had 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games which is pretty good but it will be interesting if he can stay consistent.
Dougie Hamilton time is now and after his performance in the playoffs (2 goals, 5 assists for 7 points in 12 games) it will be interesting to see whether he can take a load off Zdeno Chara’s “massive” plate. He did miss some time last year but the Toronto native will try to show that he can be an everyday top four defenceman for the Bruins.
The potential bad: The Bruins cannot afford a major injury this season. Patrice Bergeron has been crucial for the Bruins success and if he misses time it will be hard to replace his contributions. Their depth at forward gives them some extra cushion but their defence cannot afford an injury in their top four group. Luckily their starting goaltender position is solidified but they will be relying on a 25 year old back up in Niklas Svedberg. He has great stats in the AHL with Providence but the Bruins will look for him to give Tuukka Rask some time off so that he can be ready for the playoffs.
Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season rank: 1st place
This year’s potential preseason FS rank: 2nd place place
It is likely that the Bruins will win the Atlantic division again mostly because they have the deepest roster. The only team that I can see challenging the Bruins are the Tampa Bay Lightning. In terms of their position in the Eastern Conference Pittsburgh has a new coach and some newer players that will make them a serious threat for Boston’s top spot in the East. Again do not mistaken the Bruins lack of activity in free agency as a potential problem. More younger players will have to step up and make a difference for the Bruins and under Claude Julien it will not be that hard to repeat the success in Beantown.
Click here to read the series introduction, which includes links to the rest of the series.