Using the Puck Prospectus projection system, VUKOTA, PP and ESPN team up to take a look at one breakout and one declining candidate per team for the 2010-2011 season. This week we begin with the Northeast division.
(Note: For a definition of GVT, Goals Versus Threshold, click here)
Summer Skate: Boston Bruins
Despite a disappointing collapse to end their season, the Bruins are in good shape, with two solid goaltenders, a former Norris Trophy winner in Zdeno Chara, and a good mix of talented youngsters and veterans at forward. Even more happily, thanks to Phil Kessel and Brian Burke, they have Tyler Seguin and likely another high draft pick in 2011.
But more immediately, they'll have the improvement of another youngster to look forward to.
Trending Up: C David Krejci
Last Season: + 9.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 11.1 GVT
While Krejci's 73-point, plus-37, 18.9 GVT season in 2008-09 was a fluke, his skills are real. It seemed the Bruins couldn't score into a soccer net last season, but Krejci was still the team's leading point-scorer with 52. He's only missed three games in the past two seasons, and his ability to play in all special-teams situations means he'll continue to garner good ice time. VUKOTA sees a return to 60 points.
Trending Down: D Zdeno Chara
Last Season: + 15.4 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 12.2 GVT
Chara remains an elite blueliner, but he is a physical player who is already 33 years old, an age at which many players begin a slow decline (they can't all be Nicklas Lidstrom). Chara will still be the Bruins' rock at the blue line, and the drop in his contribution probably won't be noticed.p>
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Boston Bruins, click here.
Summer Skate: Toronto Maple Leafs
Is Brian Burke a genius or a madman? Both positions had their supporters last season, as Burke paid a very high price at the beginning of the season for mercurial forward Phil Kessel and traded away seemingly every other player on his roster with offensive talent. In all, he dealt Matt Stajan, Ian White, Lee Stempniak, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jason Blake. On the other hand, he won the sweepstakes for goaltender Jonas Gustavsson and acquired a blue-chip defenseman in Dion Phaneuf. The overall result was poor, as the Leafs finished 29th, and because of the Kessel trade, they didn't profit from the high draft pick that is the reward for such an awful finish.
Looking at this season's projections however, there's reason to reserve judgement on that ill-received trade.
Trending Up: C Phil Kessel
Last Season: + 10.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 12.9 GVT
It's always good when the face of the franchise performs, and right now in Toronto that face is Kessel. Kessel missed the first month of last season and, with limited offensive help, managed 30 goals, 25 assists and 10.7 GVT in 70 games. But he is capable of more, and with a more stable lineup around him will likely achieve more. A true first-line center would help, but even playing with someone reasonably talented like Kris Versteeg, VUKOTA sees Kessel back at 12.9 GVT.
Trending Down: RW Colby Armstrong
Last Season: + 5.8 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.1 GVT
One of the few silver linings of a disastrous season like the Leafs' is that there's nowhere to go but up, and indeed there are few Leafs players who are projected to slip even farther this season. While Armstrong's projected drop is nothing to be alarmed about, it isn't likely to fulfill the expectations that come with signing a three-year, $3 million per year contract. While Armstrong is an adequate penalty killer, he's never exceeded 0.5 points per game except in his first NHL season, playing with Sidney Crosby. It's safe to say he won't find that caliber of linemate in Toronto.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, click here.
Summer Skate: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens put together their best playoff run in 17 years this past spring, riding goaltender Jaroslav Halak first to the playoffs and then to the Eastern Conference finals. However, less than a month later, Halak was sent packing, and the reins were handed to young Carey Price (who's not under contract yet) and Alex Auld. Can the Canadiens come close to their success of last season?
Trending Up: C Maxim Lapierre
Last Season: - 0.7 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 2.0 GVT
Despite his modest offensive totals, Lapierre is a fan favorite in Montreal thanks to his Francophone name, physical play and colorful personality. But he was quite mediocre in 2009-10, posting only 14 points in a limited role. If he manages to hold on to his roster spot, which is likely, he should be able to bounce back. VUKOTA sees him at 21 points and 2.0 GVT, acceptable numbers from a fourth-liner.
Trending Down: C Tomas Plekanec
Last Season: + 14.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 9.6 GVT
Plekanec chose the right time to have a career year, as he bounced back from a 39-point, 4.2 GVT 2008-09 season to post 70 points and a 14.5 GVT last year. The center remains a special talent: Like Jordan Staal, Antoine Vermette and Ryan Kesler, Plekanec can score, take faceoffs and work the power play yet anchor the top penalty-killing unit. But it's unlikely he'll match his offensive totals from last season, and a 57-point season is a more reasonable expectation from him.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Montreal Canadiens, click here.
Summer Skate: Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres rode the superlative goaltending of Ryan Miller to the division title last year, but the fact is that the rest of the team was average at best. The Sabres lost two of their top four defensemen in Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder, but with the continuing development of Tyler Myers, a good group of forwards in their prime should ensure that they challenge for the division again.
Trending Up: RW Drew Stafford
Last Season: + 3.3 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 6.0 GVT
Stafford took a step back last year, registering only 3.3 GVT after seasons of 8.1 and 7.1. He's a former first-round pick and still only 24, so he should be able to return to his previous form. He'll have to: Stafford is not known for his defensive play, and he has only one year left on his contract, so a 50-point season is the best way to ensure he remains in Buffalo.
Trending Down: G Ryan Miller
Last Season: + 35.6 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 17.9 GVT
Don't take this the wrong way: Miller's projection is the highest among NHL goaltenders and sixth overall in the league at any position, so it's not like VUKOTA is expecting him to crash and burn. The past two Vezina trophy winners, Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas, dipped significantly the following season, and while Miller will probably remain among the NHL's elite, another season with a .929 save percentage and 35 GVT is probably out of the question.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Buffalo Sabres, click here.
Summer Skate: Ottawa Senators
It's hard to shake the image of the Senators as a team in disarray. Over the last two years, they've lost Dany Heatley and Anton Volchenkov, endured countless Jason Spezza trade rumors, and remain one of the few NHL teams without a convincing No. 1 goaltender. Yet they finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last year and put together a 10-game winning streak midway through the season.
Trending Up: C Peter Regin
Last Season: + 6.5 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 5.6 GVT
VUKOTA is a bit fooled by Regin's limited track record, but you shouldn't be. The projection system bases it's score on the limited ice time he's seen; we think he should head over the boards more often this season.
Regin is the real deal: Playing less than 13 minutes a game with little power-play time, Regin quietly posted 29 points and led the team with a plus-10 rating. He was also spectacular for Denmark at the Olympics. Only 23, there is no doubt that Regin will continue to get better, and with Daniel Alfredsson and Alexei Kovalev starting to show their age, the opportunity for Regin to move up to the top two lines will arise, which should increase his point total.
Trending Down: RW Daniel Alfredsson
Last Season: + 15.1 GVT | VUKOTA Projection: + 9.6 GVT
It will be a sad day for Ottawa hockey, and the entire NHL, when Alfredsson decides to hang up his skates. He has been the Senators' captain for 11 years, and not only is he the Senators' all-time leading scorer, he has over twice the points of the No. 2 man on the list, Alexei Yashin. Alfredsson has a lot of mileage on his frame, and at age 37 he can only be slowing down. His point totals the last three years have dipped from 89 to 74 to 71, and his GVT from 21.9 to 16.8 to 15.1. It's likely this decline will continue this season.
For ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek's take on the Ottawa Senators, click here.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Tom Awad is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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