With the 2011-2012 season just over two months away, we're taking a division-by-division look, and handing out ratings in order to decide, which is the toughest division in the NHL. First off the Northeast...
Last year's winner: Boston Bruins
Teams that made playoffs: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal
Point differential between first and last: 29pts (Boston 104, Ottawa 74)
Last season the Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, and Montreal Canadiens made it out of the Northeast and into the post season, leaving both the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators on the outside looking in.
Next year, the Northeast division will be home to the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins. For the other four teams that get to face off against the Bruins six times a year this will prove as an automatic increase towards the difficulty in this division .
Along with the defending champs casting a larger than life shadow over the rest of the division, three of the best goalies in the league, Tim Thomas, Ryan Miller, and Carey Price, man the crease's of Boston, Buffalo, and Montreal respectively. Not the ideal trio of goalies you would want to be playing against a combined 18 times a season.
After the division's top three teams the competition does drop off, with the Toronto and Ottawa continuing to search for an identity. Although Toronto did make a late season push for a bid into the playoffs last season, they fell just short and will look towards building off that surge next season.
During the off season a tough division got tougher. The Buffalo Sabres added a supporting cast for Miller, the Canadiens grabbed a top six forward, while things stayed familiar in Boston. In the lower end the Maple Leafs signed an injury plagued center man, and the Senators are going to leave it up to the youth to turn the franchise around.
The Bruins will have a tough fight on their hands with the Sabres and Canadiens bolstering up their respective blue-lines and reeling in a play-making forward, next years Northeast is all but a sure lock.
If this division were composed of only Boston, Buffalo, and Montreal the difficulty level would be quite high. However, with Toronto and Ottawa likely to serve as punching bags for the rest of the division for at least one more season the difficulty drops off somewhat.