NHL Preview Capsules: Northeast Division
LAST SEASON: 49-29-4, 102 points. Lost to Washington 4-3 in first round.
COACH: Claude Julien, 6th season with Bruins, 228-132-50; 10th overall, 347-218-10-73 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Tuukka Rask. With Thomas, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner, opting to take a year off, the Bruins will rely on former backup Rask as the primary goaltender. He won the job from Thomas in 2009-10, posting a 1.97 GAA. Anton Khudobin will be the backup.
OUTLOOK: The Bruins are essentially the same team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago -- with the important exception of Thomas. The enigmatic Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the title run surprised the team by deciding to take a year off to rest. He will be placed on the suspended list.
LAST SEASON: 39-32-11, 89 points. Missed playoffs by finishing ninth in Eastern Conference
COACH: Lindy Ruff, 15th season with Sabres and NHL, 565-422-161.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Grigorenko, 18-year-old Russian-born first-round draft pick, who will be given opportunity to immediately make Sabres roster. Skilled, playmaking center already has 29 goals, 21 assists for 50 points in 30 games for Patrick Roy-coached Quebec of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season.
OUTLOOK: Sabres counting on additions of grit (Ott, Scott) and skill -- including late-season acquisition of C Cody Hodgson -- to improve high-priced under-achieving lineup that was one of NHL's biggest busts last year. Must stay healthy and get consistent goaltending from Ryan Miller, and steady production from top-two lines to start matching free-spending owner Terry Pegula's objective to deliver a winner.
LAST SEASON: 31-35-16, 78 points. Missed playoffs by finishing last in Eastern Conference.
COACH: Michel Therrien, 4th season with Canadiens, 77-77-36 (2000-03), 8th overall, 212-182-68 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rookie first-round pick Alex Galchenyuk, who was selected with the No. 3 pick in the draft. He's already looking impressive during training camp this week. The Canadiens could use additional scoring punch to take the burden on the line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Erik Cole, who combined to score 84 of the team's 207 goals.
OUTLOOK: After two coaching changes and a roster upheaval that sent Michael Cammalleri to Calgary, the outlook can only get better after the bottom fell out of Habs last season. Still, too soon to expect full turnaround under new GM Marc Bergevin, who is still retooling the roster that included sending C Scott Gomez home for remainder of season in order for the team to buy out his contract this summer.
LAST SEASON: 41-31-10, 92 points. Lost to New York Rangers 4-3 in first round
COACH: Paul MacLean, 2nd season with Senators and NHL, 41-31-10.
PLAYER TO WATCH: D Erik Karlsson's continued emergence as the NHL's top play-making defenseman. The 22-year-old Swede won his first Norris Trophy in only his second NHL season after leading all blue-liners with 78 points (19 goals, 59 assists).
OUTLOOK: A surprising run to the playoffs led to captain Daniel Alfredsson's decision to put off retirement for at least one more season. The Senators have the capacity to build on last year under the firm direction of MacLean, the longtime Red Wings' assistant, who had an impressive debut as a first-time head coach.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
LAST SEASON: 35-37-10, 80 points. Missed playoffs by finishing 13th in Eastern Conference.
COACH: Randy Carlyle, 2nd season with Leafs, 6-9-3; 8th overall, 279-191-64 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The focus in Toronto continues to be on the turnstile in goal, a position that's been unsettled since Curtis Joseph led the Leafs to their last playoff berth in 2004 (yes, two NHL lockouts ago). Unless the Maple Leafs do go ahead and make a push to trade for Vancouver's Roberto Luongo, they'll settle on the tandem of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens.
OUTLOOK: Unsettled as usual. The Maple Leafs couldn't even get out of the lockout without making headlines by firing GM Brian Burke last week. Toronto has more than enough offensive punch, particularly with the addition of van Riemsdyk. The question always remains whether they have enough defense and goaltending to end what's now a seven-season playoff drought.
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press
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