What They Did: The Bruins play a wicked style of hockey. They're big, gritty, aggressive, and will wear you down physically before burning you with a potent offense that boasts one of the hardest slapshots in the leauge.
For the entire season, that very style terrorized the Eastern Conference, leading them to the regular season Eastern Conference championship.
They made quick work of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round, including winning a few games on the road at The Joe. Then when the bell sounded for the second round and the Bruins faced their archrivals in the opposite corner, they choked. The Bruins fell in seven games.
What They've Done: Well... not much. Matt Kalman said it best really: "There is no panic button in [Peter] Chiarelli's world."
The Bruins didn't freak out about their early exit and didn't make any drastic changes. Granted they lost some key names such as Jarome Iginla, Shawn Thornton, and Andrej Mezaros, but those are pieces that could easily be replaced by the up-and-coming talent in their system. Reilly Smith was a revelation last season, making the trade that dealt away Tyler Seguin to Dallas not look quite so bad.
What They'll Do: It's hard not to continue to like this team. The defense is rock solid, led once again by Zdeno Chara. The goaltending will once again be great led by Tuuka Rask. The offense has its anchors in Selkie winner Marc-Andre Bergeron, the aforementioned Smith, and mega-pest Brad Marchand. With the remaining talent in this division (or even the entire conference for that matter), it's hard to see anyone else really contending for it within the next year or so. First in the division, Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
What they did:
This. via 1.bp.blogspot.com
What They've Done: Well they're FINALLY no longer paying Ville Leino, ending one of the worst gambles on an asset to build a franchise around in history. And likewise they also did away with the mostly-useless-except-when-punching-faces John Scott. Likewise failed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff found himself bought out and briefly unemployed.
To try to right the ship, the Sabres had three draft picks in this year's first round, taking amongst others Sam Reinhart with the second-overall pick. Reinhart could see the NHL next season. The Sabres also reacquired Matt Moulson, and picked up the budding Josh Gorges from another team which you'll read about in a few minutes here. They also added some veteran leadership in Brian Gionta and Andrej Mezaros.
On second thought they pretty much just assembled a new team based on the castoffs of other, much better teams in this division.
What They'll Do: Probably be one of the frontrunners for Connor McDavid next fall. Eighth in the division, no playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings
What They Did: For the second straight year, the Detroit Red Wings got bit hard by the injury bug, forcing much of their lineup's talent and veteran leadership to miss a good chunk of the season. As a result, the organization known for drafting so strongly in the late rounds was forced to play some of its cards and it worked out for them as they secured the second and final wild card playoff berth.
Youngsters Reilly Sheahan, Tomas Tartar, and Tomas Jurco all proved to be valuable assets to fill in for Detroit when both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg went down with major injuries.
It looked as though the Red Wings were poised to make another surprise run to the playoffs as they began getting healthy and heating up at the right time once again (a combination that eliminated Anaheim in 2013), but the Wings ran into the best of the East in the Boston Bruins in the first round and fell early.
What They've Done: In a very Detroit-like fashion, the Red Wings haven't really done anything. No big overreaction to an early exit. No major reworkings. Same management. Same coach. Same style. Deadline rental David Legwand departed, and the club bought out Jordin Tootoo.
The young guys will be playing a more prominent role this coming season, and that alone signals a bit of a change from the Red Wings of the past, who relied so heavily on veteran talent and experience to make deep playoff runs.
What They'll Do: This largely depends on how healthy the team can stay. If the injury bug bites them again, the Red Wings are going to have yet another largely up-and-down season as their youth continues to struggle with growing pains. If their superstars can stay in the lineup, expect the Red Wings to contend for the playoffs and be a comfortable pick for either the final playoff spot in the Atlantic or the first Wild Card. Third in the division, first round loss.
What They Did: In 2012 the Florida Panthers shocked the hockey world by going from bottom-feeder to playoff team in a year. Then they promptly took the bullet-train back to the sub-basement finishing the next two seasons last and second-to-last, respectively. There were not many bright spots from this past season for the Panthers, and it's looking more and more grim for this franchise from a financial standpoint as well, as the arena is consistently empty on game nights. GM Dale Talon has to get this team playing competitive hockey again, and quick.
What They've Done: The NHL Draft gods gave a giant middle finger to the Buffalo Sabres and granted the Sunrise Cats the first-overall pick in this year's draft which turned into Aaron Ekblad, a talented young defensemen who should be NHL ready come this season.
Then much like in 2012, Dale Talon went on a spending and signing spree, signing veteran free agents from around the league to try to build a seasoned structure in which his large amount of potential talent can flourish. Young Ekblad will have veterans Willie Mitchell and Greg Zanon to work with. Their young forwards will be looking to Dave Bolland, who is getting a fresh start after a lackluster spell with the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as veteran winger Jussi Jokinen. The Cats also added grit in Shawn Thornton and speed in Derek MacKenzie.
Perhaps even better news is the amount of dead weight the Panthers were able to shed as well. Ryan Whitney is finally an unrestricted free agent and has not been resigned, as are Scott Gomez, Krys Barch, and Mike Mottau. Veteran Ed Jovanovski found himself bought out of his contract as well and has been released.
What They'll Do: While this year's team certainly looks a good amount better than last year's, I don't see it faring too much better. The team still lacks depth at most positions and has no true bonafide superstars. Erik Gudbranson and Dmitry Kulikov both have a ton of potential but neither have yet panned out in the way the likes of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Gabriel Landeskog have yet. Still, even if they have good years, the Panthers just aren't very good still, and likely won't be for a few more years. Seventh in the division, no playoffs.
What they did: The Montreal Canadiens weren't exactly underrated going into the playoffs, but not many people had them advancing past the second round, where they were most likely to face their bitter rivals from Boston. Even though they technically went into the playoffs as the third seed, the Habs had zero trouble sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning out of the playoffs.
The Habs then shocked the hockey world by upsetting their rivals and advancing to the Eastern Conference finals before they fell to the New York Rangers, mostly due to an incredible goaltending performance from Henrik Lundqvist.
An Eastern Conference Finals berth is certainly nothing to scoff at, but the big question is will this team be able to put it together enough to get back there again?
What They've Done: The Habs haven't made a ton of moves this offseason but there has been a pretty serious shakeup.
In terms of losses, the Habs parted ways with veterans Brian Gionta and Daniel Briere, as well as promising young Josh Gorges. They also did away with deadline-rental Thomas Vanek who went exactly where everyone expected him to... Minnesota.
But the Habs replaced them with a bucket of budding young potential in P.A. Parenteau, while also inking veterans Manny Malhotra and Tom Gilbert. Parenteau could look to be the team's best signing, and potentially one of the best in the league should he finally have that breakout year teams have been expecting for the last few seasons now.
What They'll Do: The Habs are still a very talented team. Carey Price is still an amazing goaltender. PK Subban is still really good at hockey. And the Habs still play an electrifying brand of hockey. With most of their core still in tact there's no reason this team can't get back to where it did last season.
However, the Habs were also a bit of a statistical anomaly and while I don't buy into the argument that things like this can't be repeated, the Habs were in the bottom-third of the league in terms of shots on goal at even strength per game. With most of the game played 5-on-5 this means the Habs were often times greatly outpossessed and outshot over the run of 5v5 play, a trend that does not often translate to many wins.
If Montreal simply stays the course, I expect them to have a pretty rough season trying to repeat. Fourth in the division, first wild-card seed. First-round loss.
What They Did: The Ottawa Senators became a sneaky but surprisingly popular dark-horse pick for a deep Stanley Cup Playoffs run before the start of last season. Then they hit the ice. Then they fell flat on their faces.
With numerous injuries and very little depth on the blue line, the Senators struggled mightily through most of the season, finishing five points out of the playoffs despite winning their final five games of the year.
What They've Done: Despite their poor finish, the Sens are not starved for offensive talent. Kyle Turris has finally ascended to the role of number-one center after Ottawa sent Jason Spezza to Dallas. In return came Alex Chaisson, whom Ducks fans remember vividly having a massive impact on their first-round playoff series. Also added to the center role is veteran David Legwand, signed after his contract was not extended in Detroit. The Senators also parted with rental Ales Hemskey after his contract was not extended.
Oh and let's not forget about this kid named Bobby Ryan who's pretty good at hockey too.
What They'll Do: Despite their lackluster season, the Senators really didn't improve the one position where they were weakest last season: defense. Beyond superstar Erik Karlsson, the Sens really don't have much in the way of high-end talent. Marc Methot, Chris Phillips, and Jared Cowen will once again form the rest of the core along the Senators blue line, and looked mediocre on most nights last season. Unless this gets upgraded (in a league that's short on truly excellent blueliners right now), I expect more of the same from the Senators. Sixth in the division, no playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
What They Did: With a team that looked largely like a bottom feeder, the Lightning shocked the hockey world when they started off white-hot, and then took everyone's breath away when they continued to win after losing their superstar sniper Steven Stamkos to a gruesome leg injury in November.
Ben Bishop probably would have won the Vezina Trophy had Tuuka Rask not been a thing. And the young core that brought the Syracuse Crunch so much success (and likewise the Norfolk Admirals before the Ducks and Lightning switched affiliates) carried over to the NHL.
The Bolts played a gritty but effective style of hockey that gave teams fits, and the Lightning racked up win after win, cruising to a second-best finish in the division.
But then Ben Bishop went down with an injury in the dying stretches of the season, and Anders Lindback was forced to take the reins for the playoffs. The Lightning were swept by the Canadiens.
What They've Done: The Lightning have re-tooled and reworked their lineup and look downright scary. Big bust Ryan Malone has been dumped, along with backup netminder Anders Lindback. Likewise failed Leafs players Mike Kostka and Keith Aulie have been subtracted, as well as frequent healthy-scratch Teddy Purcell.
To replace them, the Lightning beefed up their skill by signing defensemen Jason Garrison and Anton Stralman, forwards Brenden Morrow and Bryan Boyle, and goaltender Evgeni Nabokov to push Ben Bishop for the starters job. The Bolts also re-upped Ryan Callahan to really cement themselves as the New York Rangers South.
The Lightning could also debut Jonathan Drouin, the second-overall pick in the 2013 draft.
What They'll Do: The Lightning aren't flying under any radars anymore. This team is good. Expect another solid season and the Bolts to contend for both the division and conference titles in both the regular season and playoffs. They'll definitely give the Bruins a run for their money, and when the playoffs come around, all bets will be off. Second in the division, second-round playoff exit (to the aforementioned Boston Bruins).
Toronto Maple Leafs
What They did: The Maple Leafs were kind of enigmatic last season. At certain points the Leafs looked shaky, but at others looked downright dominant. One night they'd beat one of the league's best teams, and the next night they'd blow a stinker to one of the worst.
The end of the season was punctuated by one of the worst regular-season collapses in recent memory. At the beginning of March, the Leafs held the second playoff spot in the division, behind only the dominant Bruins. By the end of April, two wins in their final 10 games put them 12th amongst the East's 16 teams, nine points out of the final wild card berth.
What They've Done: Heads rolled and a bunch of people lost their jobs. However, GM Dave Nonis and head coach Randy Carlyle are both still employed. This surprises a number of people still, as many people believe these two to be the source of many of Toronto's problems.
What they haven't done is get rid of one of their budding young studs in Nazem Kadri. He remains a Leaf along with most of the roster from last season. The Leafs added a ton of players to support them, most notably David Booth and Leo Komarov, as well as former Ducks Daniel Winnik and Stephane Robidas.
Perhaps their biggest moves, however, came in the front office. The team hired former NHL-disciplinarian Brenden Shanahan in a hockey-ops role, and in a sweeping move hired Kyle Dubas as an assistant-GM. Dubas is known for being heavily pro-analytics, and set the tone for numerous hirings of advanced-stat gurus across the league.
What They'll Do: The thing with the Leafs is that beyond the crew of Phil Kessel, James Van Remisdyk, Nazem Kadri, and Joffrey Lupul, there still isn't a ton of top-tier talent. More like a lot of what Steve Dangle would call "competent bums;" guys who can play well enough but aren't going to turn heads. Dion Phaneuf remains their only truly blue-chip blueliner (with Jake Gardiner developing along) and will likely have to shoulder the vast majority of the load once again.
And there's the fact that this team is still coached by Randy Carlyle and his god-awful excuses for playing systems.
Expect another season of pretty much the same from the Leafs: flashes of brilliance negated entirely by periods of utter incompetence. 5th in the division, no playoffs.