Although it wouldn't be surprising if the trade market heats up again before the start of the 2014-15 campaign, most noteworthy unrestricted free agents have signed at this point and we can get a good sense of what each team will look like heading into training camp.
With that in mind, we're kicking off a six-part series where we'll preview five teams each week:
2013-14 Finish: 54-19-9 record, lost in Conference Semi-Final to Montreal (4-3).
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Boston Bruins made the tough and perhaps ultimately errant decision to trade Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars in the summer of 2013. The big name the Stars sacrificed to get Seguin was Loui Eriksson, but Eriksson struggled to find his footing with the Bruins and the fact that he suffered multiple concussions certainly didn’t help. That might have made the Seguin trade look like a complete disaster if not for the rise of Reilly Smith, who scored 20 goals and 51 points in 82 games.
Can he do it again? Absolutely. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith do even better in 2014-15. He’s just 23 years old and has a lot of offensive upside.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: For the reasons mentioned above, it has to be Eriksson. He can’t be blamed entirely – he dealt with multiple concussions and that can have a huge impact on a player’s performance once he returns. That being said, there’s no question that the Bruins were hoping from more from the three-time 70-plus point forward.
Will he bounce back? If he can stay healthy, yes. He figures to get top line minutes now that Jarome Iginla is gone.
Notable Additions: None
2014-15 Outlook: The Bruins lost Iginla due to cap restrictions and Zdeno Chara isn’t getting any younger. However, they still have a fair amount of offensive depth, a promising young defensive core to help take some of the burden off of Chara’s shoulders, and a top-tier goaltender in Tuukka Rask. This is still a team that can’t be dismissed in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
Player to Watch: The Bruins aren’t projected to enter the 2014-15 campaign with much in the way of unknown quantities. That being said, Dougie Hamilton is worth keeping an eye on. The 21-year-old (he celebrated his birthday on Tuesday) now has two seasons under his belt and seems ripe to breakout. After scoring 25 points in 64 games this season, he might push the 40-point mark next season.
2013-14 Finish: 21-51-10 record, eighth in Atlantic Division.
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: There was none. The Buffalo Sabres season was as close to a complete failure from an on-ice performance perspective as you can get. But since someone, needs to be put here, let’s go with goaltender Jhonas Enroth. Granted, his 2.82 GAA and .911 save percentage in 28 games wasn’t good, but he deserves credit for stepping up after Ryan Miller was traded and giving Sabres fans hope that they still have a starter they can rely on.
Can he do it again? Enroth isn’t likely to have a great season in 2014-15 because he probably won’t get too much support. He’ll also have to compete with Michal Neuvirth, who shouldn’t be ignored in the battle for the starting job. That being said, Enroth has the capacity to be a solid netminder and it’s within him to be one of the Sabres’ better players next season.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: It has to be Ville Leino. He played in 58 games and didn’t score a single goal. Over the course of three seasons with the Sabres, he has just 46 points in 137 games, making him an obvious buyout candidate.
Will he bounce back? Leino hasn’t found a new home yet and it wouldn’t shock us if he ends up going to Europe. He had a good playoff run with the Flyers in 2010 and followed that up with a solid 2010-11 campaign, so I don’t want to completely dismiss the possibility that he bounces back, but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it.
2014-15 Outlook: The Buffalo Sabres are focused on rebuilding and they deserve credit for their efforts thus far towards assembling a promising young core. That being said, they still look like one of the worst teams in the league. Which isn’t a bad thing for them as it means they might end up with Connor McDavid, who has the potential to develop into a player that could rival Sidney Crosby.
Player to Watch: Speaking of the Sabres’ young core, all eyes will be on Sam Reinhart going into the 2014-15 campaign. He was taken with the second overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft and has the potential be a contender for the Calder Trophy. He’s as Brian Burke put it, an "Einstein on the ice" and can be trusted with playing time on the power play and penalty kill.
DETROIT RED WINGS
2013-14 Finish: 39-28-15, lost in first round to Boston (4-1).
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: Gustav Nyquist is the easy pick for the Red Wings. Detroit was decimated by injuries last season and made the playoffs on the back of their youngsters. Nyquist was the most prominent example of that as he scored 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games last season.
Can he do it again? He probably won’t maintain that point-per-game pace, but he should still be a valuable top-six forward for Detroit in 2014-15. If Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Pavel Datsyuk manage to stay healthy next season, then there will be less pressure on Nyquist, but he is still one of the guys they’re looking towards to carry on the Red Wings’ legacy of sustained success.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: Granted injuries were a big factor in Stephen Weiss’ horrendous showing in 2013-14, but he still was by far the team’s biggest letdown. Weiss had just two goals and four points in 26 games in his first season of a five-year, $24.5 million contract.
Will he bounce back? Well, statistically speaking, he can’t do much worse. He’s expected to be healthy for the start of the 2014-15 campaign and if that proves to be the case, then he will get another opportunity to serve as the team’s second-line center. He’s capable of being serviceable in that role and might end up with around 50 points if everything goes his way.
Notable Additions: None
2014-15 Outlook: The Detroit Red Wings have been attempting to rebuild while staying competitive and the 2014-15 campaign will be another season of that. They had hoped to expedite the process by luring over a top-four defenseman over the summer, but unless they find one on the trade market, it won’t happen. It’s hard to see the Red Wings being as unlucky on the injury front as they were last season and even if they are, they are in a better position to handle it as their young core continues to develop. They’re a decent bet to make the playoffs yet again, but aren’t close to being Stanley Cup contenders.
Player to Watch: Nyquist would have been a good choice here, but we’ve already talked about him, so let’s highlight Riley Sheahan instead. Like Nyquist, Sheahan took advantage of the Red Wings’ injury situation last season. He ended up with nine goals and 24 points in 42 games as a rookie. His role might be reduced in 2014-15 if the Red Wings are relatively healthy, but he’s unlikely to be sent down to the minors again after agreeing to a two-year, $1.9 million contract. If he can get regular minutes with Detroit this season, then he might end up with 40-50 points.
2013-14 Finish: 29-45-8 record, seventh in Atlantic Division.
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Florida Panthers offense was barren last season as their scoring leader, Nick Bjugstad, finished with less points (38) in an 82-game campaign than any other prior team scoring leader in NHL history. That’s an embarrassing way to get into the record books, but looking past that, it was actually a pretty solid season for Bjugstad. It was the 22-year-old’s first full NHL campaign after leaving the University of Minnesota in 2013 and it’s not like he had a lot of talent to play alongside.
Can he do it again? He should develop prove to be a solid top-six forward in the NHL that’s capable of contributing both with and without the puck. In other words, I think Bjugstad will build off of his rookie campaign.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: Jonathan Huberdeau won the Calder Trophy in 2013, but he suffered a sophomore slump. He finished with just nine goals and 28 points in 69 contests. On top of that, he suffered a concussion in March that cost him about a month of playing time.
Will he bounce back? Definitely. His rookie campaign was far from a fluke and he won’t be the first player to bounce back after struggling in his second NHL season. It helps that the Panthers hired Gerard Gallant as their new head coach, who previously helped develop Huberdeau when they were both on the QMJHL Saint John Sea Dogs. He doesn’t have a ton to work with in terms of skilled forwards in Florida, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to project him to lead the Panthers with about 60 points next season.
2014-15 Outlook: The Panthers look like a significantly better team than the one that they had for most of the 2013-14 campaign. That’s due in part to their summer additions, the likely growth of forwards Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, and the fact that they’ll have a full season with Roberto Luongo playing between the pipes. They’re still not good per se, but they should be in the running for a Wild Card spot, which is more than they were able to do last season.
Player to Watch: There’s a lot of good choices on the Panthers, but I’m going to avoid the crutch of picking one of their talented youngsters and instead highlight Bolland. He’s obviously a known quantity after his years of service as a two-way center with the Chicago Blackhawks. However, his playing time was limited in Chicago and that, along with injuries, stood in the way of him ever recording more than 47 points. His season with Toronto in 2013-14 was a chance to earn a bigger role, but he ended up spending most of the time on the sidelines. Now that he’s with Florida, he has another opportunity to establish himself as a top-six forward and that could lead to him breaking his previous career-high by a healthy margin.
2013-14 Finish: 46-28-8 record, lost in Conference Final to the Rangers (4-2).
Last season’s breakout performance/pleasant surprise: The Montreal Canadiens didn’t have a shortage of players who enjoyed strong 2013-14 campaigns, but most of them were simply repeating what they had done in previous years. They didn’t have a guy that took a huge leap forward or bounced back from a particularly bad campaign. The playoffs was a different story for them though as they got their offense from less conventional sources. Perhaps the most noteworthy example is Lars Eller, who scored five goals and 13 points in 17 playoff contests after getting just 26 points in 77 regular season games.
Can he do it again? In this case the question is really: Is his playoff success an indication of what he could do over a full campaign. We think it is, especially after we got a preview of that in 2013 when he recorded eight goals and 30 points in 46 contests. If he plays regularly on one of Montreal’s top two lines, then he might shatter his previous career-high by flirting with the 50-point mark.
Last season’s biggest disappointment: Rene Bourque – sort of. He did redeem himself to an extent in the playoffs, but he finished the regular season with just nine goals and 16 points in 63 games. His time with the Montreal Canadiens has been less than pleasant overall after he reached the 50-point mark in back-to-back seasons with Calgary.
Will he bounce back? The silver lining is that he had eight goals – including a hat trick against the Rangers – and three assists in 17 playoff games last season. Finishing the campaign on a high like that will give people hope, but keep in mind that he averaged just 14:11 minutes per game in 2013-14 and he didn’t get much time with the man advantage. That’s not likely to change substantially in 2014-15 and it makes him enjoying a significant comeback campaign unlikely.
2014-15 Outlook: They’ve lost some of their veteran leadership over the summer, including team captain Brian Gionta. That being said, they still have a strong duo leading their defense in P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov, a great netminder in Carey Price, and a decent offense that will look better than it did in 2013-14 if Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk take steps forward in their third NHL campaign. As was the case last season, they should compete for a playoff spot, although they’ll have a tough time getting back to the Eastern Conference Final.
Player to Watch: While we’re on the subject of why Montreal’s offense should be better this season, we can’t overlook the importance of Parenteau. He had 67 points in 80 games with the New York Islanders inn 2011-12 and then 43 points in 48 games with Colorado in 2013. Despite that, he fell out of favor with the Avalanche last season and they finally shipped him to Montreal over the summer. He’s coming off of a rough season by his standards, but he might even lead the Canadiens in points this season.