Maxim Lapierre and Milan Lucic will be one of several battles to watch in the Northeast Division this season. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
One of the knocks on free agency is that the chasing of dollars ultimately leads to a lot of roster turnover, dulling rivalries in the process. After all, it’s hard to get a hate-on for an opposing player when you’re not familiar with his past dastardly deeds.
But thanks to some fortuitous signings and trades this summer, the 2009-10 members of the Northeast Division have set us all up for some fun.
I’m officially dubbing it the NorthBeast Division.
True, we’re only looking at one serious Stanley Cup contender coming out of the section (that being the Boston Bruins), while even a third playoff entry is a dicey proposition. But oh, we’ll have a lot of fun watching the carnage nonetheless.
Think about it: Boston will trot out Milan Lucic, Zdeno Chara, Mark Stuart and Shawn Thornton for every NorthBeast matchup. Toronto will counter with Luke Schenn and new bruisers Colton Orr, Garnet Exelby, Francois Beauchemin and transplanted Hab Mike Komisarek, thus preserving the Lucic-Komisarek storyline.
Speaking of which, while Komisarek will likely get booed on his return to Montreal, what about new Ottawa Senators pickup Alex Kovalev? If AK-27 got his own protest to keep him in Habsland, it’s hard to picture the Bell Centre faithful giving him too tough a ride when his Sens roll into town.
But how the Maple Leafs and Bruins play against the other three teams in the division will really determine the fate of the NorthBeast. The Canadiens are clearly loaded with skill and not much else. If new Habs Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri can skate their way past the physical forces in opposite colors, it will be a good year in Montreal. If not, Habs fans are going to see a lot of ribs bruised and bones broken by precisely the people they hate the most. And Georges Laraque can’t fight everybody.
Similarly, the Buffalo Sabres have a lot of talent on their roster, but it’s brittle. Every year we play the “if Tim Connolly stays healthy…” game and every year the inevitable injuries occur. Can you foresee a season in which Connolly can get through 12 combined games against the Boston and bulked-up Toronto defense corps unscathed?
Ottawa’s signing of Kovalev is perhaps the biggest wild card of them all. The enigmatic winger has already stated he would attempt to talk Dany Heatley back into town, which would give the Senators four incredible offensive weapons (Spezza and Alfredsson being the others, naturally) up front. That’s enough talent for two threatening lines, which by my count is twice as many as in previous years.
Even if Heatley is dealt, Ottawa will be improved. In the toughness department, Chris Neil, Mike Fisher and Anton Volchenkov put the Senators ahead of the Habs and Sabres and below the Leafs and B’s. It goes without saying the Battle of Ontario will be rekindled now that both teams are near the same talent level, not to mention the fact Kovalev has some ill history with the Maple Leafs from his Montreal days.
In the end, we’re looking at a lot of venomous, toughly contested games in the NorthBeast this season. Under the first post-lockout schedule, these squads would have played each other eight times. With the current rosters, there may not have been enough ambulances available to play that many.
Host Edward Fraser sits down with writers Adam Proteau and Ryan Kennedy to discuss... The Leafs signing Jonas Gustavsson... The addition of Francois Beauchemin to Toronto’s blueline… Brian Burke’s off-season grade… And Alex Kovalev landing in Ottawa. Producer: Ted Cooper.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.