Predictions and projections are fun.
Unfortunately, hockey is a very difficult sport to pin down, and things almost never break the way you think they're going to.
Preseason prediction: 1st place in the Atlantic
This result has to be the most shocking of the bunch, after this very common prediction:
...the Bruins should be expected to win the division and contend for the Stanley Cup yet again given their current roster....
Simon Gagne and Ville Leino offered no help on the cheap; injuries plagued their lineup and, as always, they struggled to score goals. But they didn't prevent them at an elite level like they had over previous seasons; Tuukka Rask's save perecentage dropped from a Vezina-caliber .930 to a respectable .922, and the Bruins ended up allowing 211 goals after giving up just 177 a season before.
Reilly Smith cooled off considerably and the losses of Jarome Iginla and Johnny Boychuk hurt the team considerably. But almost no one predicetd a fall in the standings from 117 points to 96. Last season, 96 points would have had them as the 1st wild card and in the playoffs, but with so many teams tanking this season, the bar for the playoffs was higher. Points were being given away, especially in the Atlantic, and Boston didn't make the cut.
David Pastrnak was a bright spot and they added Brett Connolly from the Tampa Bay Lightning at the deadline, but one has to wonder if this isn't the beginning of the end for the Bruins' dominance in the East, especially when Mike Milbury is being rumored to replace your Stanley Cup-winning coach.
Preseason prediction: 3rd place in the Atlantic
The Montreal Canadiens have a very good roster and a very bad coach.
Michel Therrien holds back what would otherwise be a very threatening team in the East; GM Marc Bergevin continues to make smart decisions, like spending to acquire Jeff Petry at the deadline, shoring up their right-side blue line depth.
The real story of the Habs season, though, is Carey Price, who was so good for so long that he's likely to not only win the Vezina trophy, but the Hart as well.
Fortunately, the Lightning found a way to beat the otherwise superhuman Price in the head-to-head match-up this season. Still, Price elevated what amounted to a mediocre team to 1st place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round match-up with the Ottawa Senators, forcing the Lightning to face the Detroit Red Wings instead.
It's scary to think what this roster could do with a competent coach.
Preseason prediction: 6th place in the Atlantic
I guess you could call this season growing pains for the new regime in Toronto.
After spending an offseason retooling (adding Kyle Dubas and Mark Hunter to the front office, creating an analytics team, and acquiring veteran depth like Daniel Winnik and David Booth) the Leafs ultimately fell flat on their faces in the first half under head coach Randy Carlyle, and president Brendan Shanahan could wait no longer. Carlyle was cut loose and the tank began, with Peter Horachek the sacrificial lamb.
By the end of the season the Leafs were in a real contest with the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes for the first overall pick, though the Edmonton Oilers ultimately won the lottery. There are plenty of questions yet to be answered in Toronto; Shanahan finally cut away what remained from the previous front office group, firing Dave Nonis and a substantial number of scouts.
What Toronto will be -- who will be the GM, the coach, and what direction they will take -- remains to be seen. But they're at least a few seasons away from contending in what is a very tough division.
Raw Charge's preseason projection for the Atlantic Divison:
- Tampa Bay Lightning
Montreal Canadiens Detroit Red Wings Toronto Maple Leafs
- Florida Panthers
- Buffalo Sabres
We were much too confident that Boston would continue to be good and far too low on the Ottawa Senators, who went on a surprising run towards the end of the season to make the playoffs. The Florida Panthers were better than expected but still finished 6th in the division, where we expected them, and the Lightning as runner-up in the division was accurate.
The easiest prediciton was Buffalo, who started trying to lose months before everyone else and was always destined for that 8th spot.