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Canes Country Clash: Northeast Division Predictions, 2009-10

Bob and I are at it again, this time handicapping the Northeast, home of the reigning Eastern Conference No. 1 seed Boston Bruins. Last year I was widely mocked for picking the Bruins ahead of the mighty Canadiens. We know how that went.

Bob and I both see the top two the same, but we disagree on the bottom three. Here goes.

You can also read our predictions for the Southeast and Atlantic divisions.

Bob's Take:

1. Boston
2. Buffalo
3. Toronto
4. Montreal
5. Ottawa

After Boston, the talent in the "Northleast" drops off considerably. But will more than one team make the playoffs? I think so.

The Boston Bruins will win this division easily once again. There is simply no one else who can challenge them. But when you are not challenged within your own division and have too easy of a time, what happens when you reach the playoffs? (see last year) The boys from Beantown lost Phil Kessel and Aaron Ward, but they added Derek Morris and get back Marco Sturm, who was injured most of last season. Is Morris an upgrade over Ward? That is arguable. Sturm is a very good player, but he always seems to be hurt. While these guys will win the division without much trouble, I don't see them advancing far in the postseason.

Buffalo has it's share of weaknesses, but they should be better than their Canadian neighbors. Ryan Miller is always tough and these guys probably would have made the playoffs last year if he didn't get injured. They lost one of their best defensemen in Jaroslav Spacek, but Steve Montador is a nice plug in. Mike Grier was also added and he brings some much needed grit, so this team might be a bit better than they were last year. They should make it to the postseason, but they can not match up with the Bruins.

My surprise pick for third is Toronto, and I'll even predict that they will be fighting for a playoff spot right up until the end. Luke Schenn is just going to get better and better. They over-paid for Mike Komisarik, but he's a good addition, and the rest of their defense looks serviceable. Lee Stempniak, Matt Stajan, and Mikhail Grabovski are under-rated forwards. A lot will depend upon the goaltending and Vesa Toskala is very inconsistent, but will "The Monster", Jonas Gustavsson have a monster year? Stranger things have happened.

Will newcomers Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Mike Cammalleri revitalize the Montreal Canadiens? I wouldn't count on it. This team's roster does not impress and I don't see playoffs in their immediate future. Carey Price has not proven himself as a winner and can't even consistently out-play counterpart Jaroslav Halak. The defense doesn't scare anyone. The big question is, will anyone in Montreal care? They seem more concerned that very few players on the team speak French. Fans will soon learn that even though coach Jacques Martin does speak French, that doesn't necessarily make him a good coach.

Ottawa improved their play a lot last year when it was too late to matter. Will they be able to continue their improved performance when it counts? I doubt it. Don't get me wrong, there is still some skill and talent on their roster, but they seem dysfunctional. Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are very good players, but there is a drop off after that. And there is no guarantee that newcomers, Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek will find their scoring grooves. After Anton Volchenkov, the defense looks weak. The goaltending might be okay, but I look at the roster and I see last place.

* * *

Cory's Take:

1. Boston
2. Buffalo
3. Montreal
4. Ottawa
5. Toronto

This is clearly a division in rough shape. While the Maple Leafs have made some in-roads under the guidance of GM Brian Burke, the rest of the division seems to have taken a step back in talent.

The Bruins should have an easy time repeating in the Northeast. While they lose Kessel, they get back Sturm — an always-underrated player. Like Bob mentioned, Morris instead of Ward is a lateral move, though definitely a difference in philosophy for that role. Still, I expect them to have a solid season, just maybe not as good as 2008-09.

The Sabres, like a lot of the NHL, are looking to get bigger and tougher. Keeping 6-8 defensive prospect Tyler Myers with the Sabres would help, even if it came with some growing pains. By all accounts, he'll be starting the season with Buffalo. They still have Miller between the pipes, but will miss Teppo Numminen as a steadying force in their own end. I expect them to fall short of the postseason, putting Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff further on the hot seat.

In Montreal, we're going to call this the Bob Gainey farewell cruise. His curious offseason moves, coupled with new ownership — even though they, like Gainey, have lifelong ties to the Habs — could mean the end for the GM if they falter. While other teams have gotten tougher, Gainey has assembled a top line of Gomez-Cammalleri-Gionta. Good luck with that. Oh, and we all know I'm no Carey Price fan.

The Senators lost their best scorer in Dany Heatley and handed the goaltending keys to erratic Pascal Leclaire, who is either playing superbly, terribly or not playing because he's hurt. Michalek is a nice addition and Cheechoo, if on a line with Spezza, can still finish, but there's not a lot to be excited about. Brian Murray — along with Gainey and Regier — could be looking for work if things don't come together.

Along with Boston's Peter Chiarelli, Brian Burke is the only GM on stable ground in the Northeast. He's already put his stamp on the Leafs by injecting a lot of grit to the lineup, plus he acquired Kessel from the B's. But there are still tons of holes and more changes to be made. I expect them to keep up with Montreal and Ottawa, but wind up last and a-ways from the playoff hunt.