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Super 16: Atlantic contenders ready to push Bruins

by Corey Masisak

Time remains undefeated in life, and it may be causing a shift in the balance of power for the Atlantic Division.

The Boston Bruins have four division titles, two Stanley Cup Final appearances and a championship in the past six seasons, but they also didn't have quite the cache of young star players other successful franchises like the Los Angeles Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins possess.

Injuries have been a problem so far this season, but so too has a trio of teams with younger impact talent. This could be a problem for the Bruins not just in 2014-15 but in the years to follow. The Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings and especially the Tampa Bay Lightning look poised to contend for Atlantic Division titles for the next several seasons, in part because of their collections of young talent.

Boston has talented young players, guys like Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Reilly Smith who are already really good at the NHL level, and others like David Pastrnak, Alexander Khokhlachev and Seth Griffith could rise to that level in coming seasons.

The Lightning are led by captain Steven Stamkos, who has yet to celebrate his 25th birthday. (Photo: Dave Reginek/NHLI)

And some of the Bruins top players are not "old" yet. Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand are 26. Tuukka Rask is 27. David Krejci is 28. But great players at that age start to become very expensive, and general manager Peter Chiarelli has already had to make some difficult decisions to remove title-winning players from the roster because of salary-cap concerns.

Meanwhile, the Lightning, Red Wings and Canadiens have all crafted rosters talented enough to challenge the Bruins, both in 2014-15 and beyond. The Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres have also been collecting large sums of precocious talent and could join this group in the near future.

Tampa Bay is loaded with present and potential young stars. Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have yet to celebrate their 25th birthday. Jonathan Drouin was the best prospect not in the NHL before this season, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best at his position not currently in the League.

Detroit has parlayed its incredible scouting, drafting and developing into a new generation of impact talent to support Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. There are young forwards (Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan) and defensemen (Danny DeKeyser, Brendan Smith) having a big impact now and elite prospect Anthony Mantha could join them soon.

Montreal already beat Boston in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, though that was clearly an upset. Now the Canadiens are trying to prove they are at the Bruins level over a full season. P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher will be leading that crusade for years to come. GM Marc Bergevin has made a couple of deft moves already this season to help clear cap space for next season, when the Canadiens could be able to make the roster even better.

Foretelling the Bruins demise in 2014-15 is foolish at this point. Boston still needs to see what the team looks like with Zdeno Chara and David Krejci healthy. And the future can still be bright, especially if a few young players develop. Malcolm Subban could prove to be one of the most valuable trade assets in the NHL in the coming months or years as well.

The Bruins don't have half the roster locked into long-term contracts like Chicago and Los Angeles does. There will be more tough decisions for Chiarelli, including key players needing new contracts this offseason. Boston's window as a championship contender doesn't have to close, but the margin for error is getting smaller.

A big part of that is the window to contend for a couple of other teams in the Atlantic is just starting to open.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (16-8-1)

The Blackhawks have won seven of eight, and just beat three of the best teams in the Western Conference by a combined 12-3 margin. One team has won the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the past six seasons, and that was the Blackhawks in 2013. This incarnation could be better than that one.

MUST READ: Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette writes about the passing of a special man, Montreal Canadiens icon Jean Beliveau.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (17-6-3)

Ryan Callahan has 17 goals and 38 points in 41 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning since arriving in a trade from the New York Rangers. Martin St. Louis has 11 goals and 28 points in 43 games for New York. St. Louis' contributions to help the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final can't be diminished, but that also helped net the Lightning a second first-round draft pick in the trade.

MUST READ: Vincent Lecavalier wore No. 4 with the Lightning because of his idol and had a special connection to Beliveau, writes Curtis Zupke for and Sarah Baicker for CSN Philadelphia.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (17-5-2)

The injuries keep piling up, but so do the victories. The overall possession numbers have slipped a little, but the Penguins are still in the top eight in both Corsi and Fenwick when the score is close (within a goal in the first two periods or tied in the third).

MUST READ: Beliveau was captain of the Canadiens and hero of Canadians, writes Bruce Weber for the New York Times.

4. St. Louis Blues (16-7-2)

If Martin Brodeur plays well in a short burst for the Blues, that will be a great story. The numbers do not lie though. In the past four years, 36 goaltenders have played in at least 120 games. Brodeur's save percentage is 36th at .904 in 183 games. For what it's worth, Tomas Vokoun is at .920 in 125 games and Ilya Bryzgalov is at .912 in 199 games in that same span. Brian Elliott is the Blues' best goaltender, and will give them the best chance to win this season.

MUST READ: Dave Stubbs of the Montreal Gazette writes about the man affectionately known as Le Gros Bill.

5. Nashville Predators (16-6-2)

Several teams in Major League Baseball have found success in building bullpens by buying in bulk from the bargain bin. Predators general manager David Poile may have stumbled onto something with a similar approach this offseason. Teams often add one veteran player to fill a certain position or void, but Poile opted for a net instead of a pole when he decided he need help at center.

Mike Ribeiro has been great. Derek Roy and Olli Jokinen have been OK (both have been average possession players, at least). Given the rules of the collective bargaining agreement about players in the minors not counting against the salary cap up to $925,000 (and that rises to $950,000 next season), why not try Poile's approach and grab three veterans at a bargain price instead of one?

MUST READ: The hype for Beliveau as an amateur player reached incredible levels, writes Vince Lunny for the Hockey News (in 1955).

6. New York Islanders (18-7-0)

From 1998 (the year after Roberto Luongo) to 2005, the Islanders had 11 first-round picks. The best of the lot was either Tim Connolly, Raffi Torres or Sean Bergenheim. From 2006 to 2011, the Islanders had seven first-round picks. Five of them have either double-digit goals or at least 18 points in the NHL this season (not all for the Islanders because of the Nino Niederreiter trade). That, plus some nice veteran additions, is how a rebuild works. It just took the Islanders a long time to get there.

MUST READ: Beliveau was viewed by many as the "father of the Canadiens," writes Francois Gagnon (en Francais) for

7. Minnesota Wild (14-9-1)

After his team drubbed the Montreal Canadiens at even strength Wednesday, coach Mike Yeo said the only thing preventing the Wild from being elite was the power play. Nashville is the only other team among the top 14 in the NHL in points per game that has converted less than 14 percent of its power plays. The Predators are at 12.0 percent, while the Wild are at 9.0. If Minnesota gets to 14 percent (still in the bottom third), it will be an elite team.

MUST READ: Everyone who ever met Beliveau had a story to tell, writes Stu Cowan of the Montreal Gazette.

8. Los Angeles Kings (13-7-5)

The Kings haven't played anywhere near the level they've been at the past couple seasons, and yet they are still six points back of the top seed in the West with two games in hand. Jake Muzzin has been great since missing the start of the season, and like TJ Brodie in Calgary, the Robin to the team's Batman looks more and more like a star in the making (and the making is almost complete).

MUST READ: Ten life lessons to be learned from a true gentleman, writes Joanie Godin (en Francais) for the Journal de Montreal.

9. Anaheim Ducks (15-6-5)

Sami Vatanen did not play in more than half of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Ducks. Inserting him into the lineup didn't receive as much fanfare as John Gibson in net, but the diminutive Vatanen helped the Ducks control the middle of the second-round series against the Kings, and he's playing at a very high level in 2014-15. The older ones keep getting hurt, but they younger ones are carrying the defense corps anyway.

MUST READ: Beliveau's legend was never hyperbole for younger fans, writes Laura Saba of Eyes On The Prize.

10. Vancouver Canucks (17-7-1)

Through 12 games of his NHL career, Bo Horvat has won more than 59 percent of his faceoffs, but is still among the worst on the team in the puck possession stats. He has five points in 12 games, but is playing less than 10 minutes per contest. Will they trust with a few more shifts per game, and can he handle them?

MUST READ: Beliveau was "the Pope of Hockey," writes Serge Touchette for

11. Detroit Red Wings (14-6-5)

Six wins in eight games has helped the Red Wings get beyond an inconsistent start to the season. They prevent shot attempts and earn advantageous faceoffs (second in the League in Corsi-against per 60 minutes and second in percentage of offensive zone faceoffs). They are the equivalent of a football team that plays solid defense and wins the field position battle. In both sports, those types of teams win a lot.

MUST READ: Beliveau and Gordie Howe were great rivals but greater friends, writes Stubbs for the Montreal Gazette.

12. Montreal Canadiens (17-8-2)

A couple of weeks ago the Canadiens were atop the NHL standings. Now they are close, but some of that is games played (they are eighth in points per game). They are still just about the same team, though playing time and roles on the defense corps need to be sorted out now that Bryan Allen and Sergei Gonchar have joined the ranks. The Canadiens need more time to evaluate those two veterans, but they don't look like better options than Nathan Beaulieu at this point.

MUST READ: Beliveau was an uncommon man with a common touch, writes Jack Todd for the Montreal Gazette.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-8-3)

The Maple Leafs were the worst possession team in the NHL each of the past two seasons. They're still among the worst, but a four-percent increase in Corsi and about a seven-percent jump in Fenwick from last season is a significant boost. The top line is still doing most of the scoring, but the depth guys are competent, which is a major step forward from the previous campaign.

MUST READ: Beliveau had no equal, writes Steve Simmons of the Toronto Star.

14. Boston Bruins (14-11-1)

Dougie Hamilton has five goals, 15 points, 60 shots on goals and the Bruins control more than 55 percent of the shot attempts when he is on the ice. He's also up to more than 22 minutes per game in part because of injuries to several others on defense. Boston needs to find out what it has with the young defensemen, and Hamilton certainly looks like a keeper.

MUST READ: Beliveau had the respect of his archrivals in Boston, even as he tormented them, writes Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.

15. San Jose Sharks (12-10-4)

The results continue to be a frustrating blend of inconsistency and playing up or down to opponents. San Jose beat the Islanders, Lightning and Ducks in November, while also losing to the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets. The pieces are in place, except for possibly another top defenseman to go along with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The returns on Brent Burns back on defense have dwindled of late.

MUST READ: Beliveau was in a class of his own, writes Sean Icon for All About The Habs.

16. Florida Panthers (10-7-6)

The Panthers couldn't score early on, but the offense is coming around a little. No. 1 pick Aaron Ekblad is tied for the team lead in scoring, and getting Vincent Trocheck a regular spot (11 points in 14 games) has helped. If one or two more young players start to produce like Ekblad, Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad are, this team will compete for a playoff spot. They are 6-3-2 and have 29 goals in that span after 20 in 12 games to start the season.

MUST READ: Beliveau's greatest achievement may have been his character, writes former teammate Ken Dryden for the Toronto Star.

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