Some big changes have made for some great story lines as the 2013-14 NHL season is about to tip-off. The league decided to realign the divisions with the hope of creating some new rivalries, but still keep some of the best traditional games alive.
The Atlantic Division has an interesting twist as the Detroit Red Wings have moved to the Eastern Conference, but unfortunately for the other franchises, they could also be the best team in the division heading into the upcoming hockey season.
Detroit has made 22 straight trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and that streak will likely stay alive as the front office added veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to an already talented lineup. Youngsters Brendan Smith and Tomas Jurco should be ready to make a major contribution and despite finishing seventh in the Western Conference last season, the move East should actually benefit this squad and winning the Atlantic Division is within their grasp.
Boston made the Stanley Cup Finals last season, but the Bruins have made too changes to predict how they will finish this year. Jerome Iginla should make up for the loss of Jaromir Jagr, but the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas for Loui Eriksson and Joe Morrow could make or break this franchise in 2013. The Bruins still have a solid group of experienced players, but chemistry will play a big role in how this team plays this season.
Montreal was one of the biggest surprise stories in the league last year, finishing second overall in the Eastern Conference just one year after a dead last finish. The Canadiens have a very balanced team with three terrific lines, but a lack of a true superstar on the ice hurts them in crucial situations and until this franchise adds a top-notch scorer, they will struggle in big games. Defense is the key for this squad and with the talent they have on hand, finishing third in the division is realistic, but they could surprise again in 2013 and finish in the top-2.
Ottawa is one of the youngest teams in the NHL, especially with Alfredsson now in Detroit, but the Senators lacked offense last year and that hurt them. The front office made a big move adding Bobby Ryan from the Ducks and that coupled with the youngsters having another year of experience, could make this a dark horse team for the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The best news in Ottawa is the return of goalie Craig Anderson, who allowed just 1.69 GAA last season and while the team can't expect those kind of numbers again, Anderson will solidify the play in net and help the young Senators be competitive throughout the entire season.
Toronto finally broke through and made a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, their first since the league instituted the salary cap, but a return trip will be tough with the new alignment and the lack of size this team has entering the 2013-14 season. Adding goalie Jonathan Bernier from the LA Kings was a solid move, but with salary cap restrictions and a lack of a physical center, finishing above fourth in the Atlantic Division this season is highly unlikely and missing the playoffs is a strong possibility.
With eight teams now in each division in the Eastern Conference it will be tough for the lower level clubs to make a move upwards. Buffalo is in rebuilding mode after several player changes to their roster and if the latest rumors come true, trading Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek will only make it tougher on the team and its fans this season. Buffalo has some quality talent, but it seems the franchise is looking to rebuild and that could make for a long season for the Sabres.
Florida and Tampa Bay round out the division. Both teams struggled to stop opponents from scoring last year and that could spell trouble for this season. The Panthers made no big moves in the off-season, so a step up is highly unlikely, but the Lightning do have some offensive weapons and General Manager Steve Yzerman has done his best to add more talent on the back line. Tampa Bay has the best shot of the bottom teams in the Atlantic to move upwards, but counting on young players doesn't always work well in the NHL and it could be a matter of a couple of years before either of these franchises are playoff contenders.
With 16 teams in the East and just 14 in the West, making the playoffs has just become harder and teams like Toronto and Buffalo will need to play more consistent hockey if they wat a shot at playing for the cup. Detroit and Boston are the class of the division, but it is a new year and surprises happen every season and that's why hockey fans love their sport.