In anticipation of the upcoming season, our 2014-2015 season preview begins by examining the Senators goaltending, defensemen, forwards, and management as compared to the rest of the division. Up first: goaltending.
Boston's blue paint is guarded by the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner, Tuukka Rask. Since emerging from Tim Thomas's shadow, Rask has been arguably been the best goaltender in the league. Last year Rask backstopped the Bruins with a 94.1 save percentage at even strength. 2013-2014 back-up Chad Johnson has moved on and the Bruins are hoping 25-year-old Swedish rookie Niklas Svedberg can step up and provide quality play in support.
After almost a decade with current Canucks goalie Ryan Miller as the starter, Buffalo's starting job is up for grabs this season. Long-time Miller back-up, 26-year-old Jhonas Enroth, gets a shot at the gig. Enroth's 2013-2014 numbers aren't great (4 wins, 91.1 save percentage in 28 games) but the team in front of him was terrible and finished with just 52 points on the year. Fellow 26-year-old Michal Neuvirth, acquired late last season to help cover the gap left by Miller's departure will push Enroth. However, Neuvirth was never able to grab the starter's job in Washington and his best season in the NHL was four years ago. Dark horse candidate Matt Hackett saw action in eight games last season for the Sabres and has an outside shot at the back-up job.
Detroit Red Wings
Jimmy Howard had a forgettable 2013-2014. Marred by injury, it was probably the worst season of his career in terms of results, with just 21 wins in 51 games and a 91.9 save percentage at even strength. While talented, Howard frustrated Wings fans last season and his uneven play has been the subject of numerous examinations. Back-up Jonas Gustavsson has signed another one-year deal with the team and will be pushed by goalie of the future, Petr Mrazek, who saw action in nine games last season.
The Panthers finally completed the long-awaited trade for Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline last season and upgraded its talented between the pipes. The Panthers had four goalies play more than 10 games for the team last season and Luongo's 93.7 save percentage at even strength while with the Panthers was a huge improvement on his next closest competition (Scott Clemmensen, 92.1 in 17 games). Three of the five goalies Florida used last season are gone (Tim Thomas was traded at the deadline for Dan Ellis, Scott Clemmensen has signed with New Jersey, goalie of the future Jakob Markstrom was sent to Vancouver Canucks as part of the Luongo trade), leaving the back-up duties to free agent signing Al Montoya, with Ellis as a third option. Luongo will improve the situation over the course of a full season and provide much-needed stability, probably starting in 55-60 games this season. Montoya is a more than capable back-up who can play 30 games in a season and was actually Winnipeg's best goalie last season, with a 92.5 save percentage at even strength (Ondrej Pavelec, 90.8 save percentage).
A healthy Carey Price provides Montreal with one of the more reliable options between the pipes in league. Price had a 93.4 save percentage at even strength in 2013-2014 but his injury in the playoffs provided Habs fans with a glimpse of the future. Peter Budaj is on the final year of his contract and will provide back-up coverage, but 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski took Montreal by storm last season and will be an option if Budaj falters or Price suffers another injury.
Both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner had down seasons in 2013-2014. Anderson (92.5 save percentage, 53 games) and Lehner (91.5 save percentage, 36 games) will likely share the load in 2014-2015 and will need to improve on their totals from a season ago if either wants more playing time. It's a tall order for either goalie, as the Senators defense, so porous in 2013-2014, remains the same.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ben Bishop made a name for himself in 2013-2014, much to the disappointment of Sens fans. He was able to turn Vezina-hype and his 93.2 save percentage at even strength into a lucrative two-year extension. A season-ending injury to Bishop derailed Tampa's playoff hopes and Steve Yzerman has added to Bishop's supporting cast this off-season. Prized free agent defenseman Anton Stralman was signed and veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov was brought in to back-up Bishop.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs begin the 2014-2015 season with the same tandem the team employed in 2013-2014. Jonathan Bernier is Toronto's number one, and his 93.3 save percentage at even strength kept Toronto in many games last season and James Reimer is more than capable as a back-up or in a 1A role.
Atlantic Division Rankings
Best: Boston Bruins. The Bruins have the defending Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes and an impressive group of two-way forwards headlined by Patrice Bergeron helping Rask out. It doesn't seem fair. The class of a very strong group.
2. Montreal Canadiens
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
4. Florida Panthers
5. Toronto Maple Leafs
6. Ottawa Senators
7. Detroit Red Wings
Worst: Buffalo Sabres. The additions of Josh Gorges and Andre Benoit should help a little on the blue line, but this team also shed its best defenseman (Christian Ehrhoff) in the off-season. Enroth and Neuvirth are two goalies you'll have trouble naming in five years and probably won't steal many games for a bad team.