Tonight the 2013-’14 Boston Bruins will begin yet another journey towards their ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup. This year the team will have to face new challenges as the NHL realignment takes effect. The 16-team Eastern Conference has been broken up into two eight-team divisions.
The Bruins now find themselves in the new Atlantic Division. Joining them will be old rivals like the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as the newly added Eastern Conference team, the Detroit Red Wings. The new realignment will also affect how playoff teams are decided.
Instead of the top eight teams from each conference making the playoffs, only the top three teams in each division will be guaranteed a spot in the postseason. The other two playoff slots will be filled by the teams with the highest point totals in the entire conference. This means one division could potentially only send three teams to the playoffs with the other having five representatives.
The Bruins will have to place an emphasis on finishing among the top three in the Atlantic Division so they can avoid one of the top teams in the early rounds of the playoffs. If they plan on doing this however, they will need to consistently bring their playoff intensity and avoid long stretches of poor play.
Consistency always seems to come up in the discussion at times during the season when the team is underperforming and seemingly lackadaisical out on the ice. The team cannot afford to have long stretches where they rely too heavily on the top two lines for scoring. Another common theme each year for this team seems to be some of their star players missing in action for long periods in the season. In particular, rugged forward Milan Lucic and playmaker David Krejci often look like they’re auditioning for the role of Dr. Jack Griffin in the Invisible Man at times during the regular season. Although they ultimately turn it on when the postseason comes, with the new playoff format, they may find themselves behind the eight ball late in the season struggling to be among the top three in their tough division.
While each season is different and predicting how every team will finish is an inexact science, the Atlantic Division is projected to have five solid teams. The Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators all made the playoffs last year and appear to have good teams this year as well. Even the teams that do not project to make the playoffs this year will require the Bruins’ best effort because each team has the ability to be dangerous. Whether it’s an elite scoring threat like Steven Stamkos with the Tampa Bay Lightning or excellent goaltending with the likes of Ryan Miller and potentially Tim Thomas of the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers respectively, every team in the division could defeat the Bruins on any given night.
The change in playoff format and division realignment will not allow the Bruins to coast through parts of the season like in years past. The top teams in their division are tough and finishing in the top three will require a consistent effort on a night to night basis. While it will be difficult, the team seems to have enough talent across their roster to cover up a few off nights by their star players. However, when the regular season is winding down in April, the Bruins will be able to look back on how consistent they were and point to that as the number one reason why it was a successful or disappointing season.