The Battle of Ontario isn't quite what it was a few years ago when both the Senators and Maple Leafs were contenders. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Northeast dynasty is dead.
OK, so it isn’t exactly the fall of Rome, but the fact the Northeast has become hockey’s worst division is still an item of note.
Since the lockout ended, four different teams have claimed the Eastern Conference’s top seed, all from the Northeast. In chronological order, they are: Ottawa, Buffalo, Montreal and Boston.
(Apparently nobody told the Leafs it’s actually their turn to be good this year.)
The Sabres and Sens both went over the 100-point mark in the first two years after the lockout, while Boston was the quintet’s weakest sister those seasons.
When the Sens and Sabres stumbled, the B’s and Habs picked up the slack, with Boston asserting itself as a league power last season on the heels of squeaking into the playoffs in 2008.
But don’t bet on a Northeast No. 1 this year.
The Leafs have been terrible to start the year and Montreal has been only marginally better. Buffalo’s beginning is nice and all, but something tells me the Sabres can’t continue to give up just 1.3 goals per game as they have through four contests this season, good as Ryan Miller is.
Ottawa has been wandering aimlessly since losing the 2007 Cup final to Anaheim and doesn’t exactly seem on the precipice of walking out of the woods just yet.
And Boston? They’re good, really good, I think. But expecting another top regular season finish with the likes of Washington, Philly and Pittsburgh about was probably a long shot, even before the Bruins’ middling start.
(Of course, using the first round pick they acquired from Toronto in the Phil Kessel trade should go a long way in buoying the Bruins’ spirits, no matter how things turn out this season).
Not long ago, drawing a Northeast team meant you were in for a trying night on the schedule. At the same time, people were using the ultra-witty ‘South-Least’ pun to describe the messy hockey scene in America’s Southeast.
I guess it’s officially time to shift that handle north.
In truth, maybe the division wasn’t really that good to begin with. Although a Northeast team topped the East in four straight regular seasons, Ottawa was the only team of the group to ever advance to the Cup final. Perhaps the old Adams Division needed a few more Claude Lemieux’s or Cam Neely’s around.
Maybe this is the year the Northeast takes a step back in the season, only to explode in the playoffs.
Or, more likely, it’s the year when only one Northeast club – Boston – makes the post-season, while the rest wonder how they failed to pick up more points while consistently competing against lackluster competition.
Ryan Dixon 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 will appear regularly in the off-season and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
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