A new season, a new conference, a new division, and Detroit hasn’t seen any of these teams in over a year. Without any inter-conference play during the lockout, the Red Wings will have completely new divisional rivals this year. After a somewhat disappointing regular season that saw the Wings sneak into the seventh seed in their final game, their playoff run saw them get within one goal of eliminating the eventual champions. With the additions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, Detroit now looks poised to be one of the top contenders once again. The Wings are used to playing in one of the toughest divisions in the league and now they will have a mixture of top end contenders and rebuilding teams as their divisional competition.
Last season: 4th in East
Last meeting: Nov. 25, 2011. Det 3 @ Bos 2 (SO)
With two cup final appearances in three years for the Bruins, they appear to be Detroit’s biggest obstacle on the road to the top of the division. The Bruins like to play a rough, tough, black and blue style that can either work for or against the Wings. As the Blackhawks and Leafs showed in the playoffs, speed and skill is the weakness for Boston and Detroit possesses a lofty amount. However, physicality can also be a detriment to Detroit, as Nashville so conveniently demonstrated in the 2012 playoffs eliminating the Wings in five games. The Bruins have a slightly different look with the additions of Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson, but they also lost some key players in Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley. Expect the Bruins to be big, strong and competitive.
Last season: 12th in East
Last meeting: Dec. 2, 2011. Det 4 @ Buf 1
The question for the Sabres will be whether or not they can ride Thomas Vanek and Ryan Miller’s shoulders into the post season. After a dismal twelfth place finish in a season that saw the dismissal of longtime head coach Lindy Ruff, things still aren’t looking great for Buffalo. Unless young players like Cody Hodgson and Tyler Myers can elevate their game, the Sabres won’t be seeing much improvement this season. That is good news for the Wings because they can look for wins against the lowly Sabres. The challenge will be to not play down to Buffalo. The most excitement about having Detroit and Buffalo in the same division will be the battle of the Miller brothers, Detroit’s forward Drew and Buffalo’s goalie Ryan will bring some brotherly love to this divisional battle.
Last season: 15th in East
Last meeting: Apr. 1, 2012. Fla 1 @ Det 2 (SO)
After finishing at the bottom of the league last season, Florida’s division title the previous year looks like it was a fluke. By most accounts, they are in the middle of a rebuild and with the departure of goaltender Jose Theodore, rookie Jacob Markstrom is poised to start between the pipes. However, they are not to be taken lightly. As Montreal proved this past season, one disappointing season does not necessarily set the tone for the future. Youth can spark teams to wins and the Panthers only have seven of their 27 roster players are over 30 years old. The Panthers are not expected to be a playoff team this year, but that does not mean they will just be easy wins for the Wings. Not to mention, it’s Stephen Weiss’ former team.
Last season: 2nd in East
Last meeting: Jan. 25, 2012. Det 2 @ Mtl 7
From bottom of the conference to the top in one season, the Montreal Canadiens are for real. With a healthy Carey Price and crew, expect to see the Montreal team that earned second overall and not the team that bowed out to Ottawa in the first round. The additions of Daniel Briere and Douglas Murray certainly don’t hurt giving them the additional scoring and physicality they much needed. They will be a good match for the Wings in every game they play.
Last season: 7th in East
Least meeting: Oct. 7, 2011. Ott 3 @ Det 5
Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season: 14th in East
Last meeting: Nov. 30, 2011. TBL 2 @ Det 4
Former Red Wing Valterri Filppula is now a divisional rival and alongside him he brings Steven Stamkos and the reigning scoring champion Martin St. Louis. The Lightning did not live up to expectations last season, but with steady play from Ben Bishop they could see a return to the playoffs. The Wings will have to make sure to capitalize on points from the teams that are still in a rebuilding phase. If young defensemen like Victor Hedman and Keith Aulie have improved seasons, the Lightning could be a dark horse.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season: 5th in East
Last meeting: Jan. 7, 2012. Det 3 @ Tor 4
The Toronto Maple Leafs are certainly a team on the rise. It has been a few years since Toronto had a hockey team that could contend, and they are back with a force. They only finished five points behind Montreal for the division crown and the same is expected of them this season. The acquisition of Jonathan Bernier gives them a solid tandem in net and the addition of David Clarkson gives them the grit they’ve been looking for up front. The Wings would have played them last year in the Winter Classic, but will get the opportunity to do so this year. Hopefully the rivalry between these two original six teams will take off this year.