The Montreal Canadiens have been a team in need of more consistent scoring for a long time. They increased their potential for scoring but not consistency in signing Alexander Semin Friday, July 24.
There is no doubt Semin is worth a shot on a one year, $1.1 million deal. Unlike the Carolina Hurricanes, they will not be stuck with buying out over half of a $35 million deal.
Semin is also less likely to slack off on a one-year deal, though he may also figure he is still getting almost $5 million on the buyout so why not party up? After all, Montreal has lured other Russian players to its night life.
Semin may be worse than Martin Havlat as players with a reputation for not really trying that hard, if only because his reasons and compensation are worse. There is no doubt he has offensive skill but his game-to-game motivation and defensive commitment are seriously lacking.
If Semin plays to his potential, this is the deal of the summer and the Canadiens win the Atlantic Division for the second consecutive season. If he slacks, they lose out to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Montreal’s defensive prowess starts with elite goalie Carey Price and blue-liner P.K. Subban, but there is great support from all the skaters. One more scoring threat makes this the team to beat for the Stanley Cup.
In fact, the only team on their level in the Atlantic Division would probably be the Lightning. Ben Bishop appears to have taken the step to elite goalie and this team has developed a second scoring line to support arguably the best top line in the NHL. Subban could still be the difference if Semin does not work out, but bet on the Canadiens getting just enough to hold first place.
The Detroit Red Wings are a bit of a wild card—they could end up just that or seriously challenge for the Atlantic Division title. Pavel Datsyuk’s early-season injury could give his 37-year old legs rest for April, Mike Green could give them blue-line scoring and Jimmy Howard return to his good-not-great form to make this team a Stanley Cup contender.
It is also possible that a coaching transition, new players taking time to develop chemistry and the breaking down of Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg from age could hit the team hard. Detroit will face stiff competition from the Ottawa Senators for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Ottawa has elite young skating talent that continues to improve, and could even contend for the Atlantic Division title if Andrew Hammond can improve faster than the league adjusts to him. They could be the most certain team to reach the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs that is not likely to earn one of the three automatic berths given to each division.
The Boston Bruins took some losses and are in a rebuilding phase, but Zdeno Chara is still their elite blue-line captain and Tuukka Rask is still their elite goalie. They still have the best two-way forward in the game and a recent tradition of excellence.
They will not earn a Stanley Cup-playoff berth but should still hold off the weak bottom of the Atlantic Division. For all the positive off-season changes being made by all three teams, they are starting from too far back in the talent and too far ahead in dysfunction.
The Buffalo Sabres have the least dysfunction as a team that not long ago consistently qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Changes that began at the trade deadline last March have continued over the summer. If they have resolved their revolving door in net, new coach Dan Bylsma could ride a significantly improved forward corps to be the best of the rebuilding teams.
Most likely, the fact that they have been in the transition and are less dysfunctional allows them to finish around 12th in the Eastern Conference. Then again, Ryan O’Reilly himself may be able to narrow the dysfunction gap between the bottom teams of the Atlantic Division and the Sabres.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made an upgrade Thursday to their front office after landing the big coaching fish in May, Mike Babcock. The poor mindset the team carried itself with—being historically bad after the firing of Randy Carlyle—is the biggest change that needed to be made, and it has been. However, they still do not know if they have a franchise goalie and they seriously lack skating talent in front of him.
Still, there will be enough improvement for them to finish ahead of the Florida Panthers. When Roberto Luongo and a rookie are the best players on a team (at least in the 2014-15 NHL season), there are problems. They have the worst forward unit in the NHL and will be fighting the Arizona Coyotes (fresh off an agreement to keep them there for two more seasons) for the best chance at the top pick in the 2016 NHL entry draft.