The Northeast isn't quite turned on its head so far this year, but it is a bit inside-out. The Bruins were expected to run away with the division and finish third overall, but they instead sit at 17th in the league in GVT, well behind the division-leading Sabres. Montreal was expected to be solidly in the playoff race, but instead they find themselves in 24th place. We can at least take comfort in the Leafs poor performance to date, since that's how we expected them to play.
Northeast Division - VUKOTA vs. Actual
Team Rank (VUKOTA) Pts (VUKOTA) Pts (Actual)*
Boston Bruins 3 105 82
Montreal Canadiens 10 93 78
Buffalo Sabres 18 90 121
Ottawa Senators 22 87 96
Toronto Maple Leafs 29 80 47
* Actual points per game, projected over 82 games
Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto has been very bad this year, and that's as expected. Ultimately they should exceed our preseason expectations, of course, because those projections were made before Phil Kessel became a Leaf. The young sniper hasn't played enough yet to pull the team from its doldrums, but he has been very impressive in his short time with the team. On his current pace, if he had played every game he would be behind only Tomas Kaberle (4.3 GVT) in total GVT.
We projected the Leafs to be 22nd in league GVT on offense, and 29th on defense. They've been very close to that so far, currently ranking 20th on offense and 24th on defense. Goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (1.6 GVT) has played very well after a slow start, and should be able to lift the team a bit on the defensive side. Vesa Toskala )-8.2 GVT) has been far worse than his terrible projection, and it's time for the Leafs to finally cast him aside. Defensive additions Mike Komisarek (-1.4 GVT), Francois Beauchemin (-0.1 GVT) and Garnet Exelby (-0.8 GVT) each have negative GVTs, and should play somewhat better the rest of the year. The non-truculent Ian White (3.3 GVT) is comfortably exceeding his projections, and it is one of the few bright spots on the team.
Toronto should not finish the season in 29th place. The addition of Kessel is enough to bring them up a few spots, and as he plays more with the team they should move up in the standings a bit. But not by much, unless their defense takes some dramatic steps forward.
Ottawa has also played basically to their projections. They've been a bit better than expected on both offense and defense, but only enough to push them up to 18th overall in GVT. Milan Michalek (2.4 GVT) has replaced much of the lost offensive value of Dany Heatley (4.9 GVT), and Daniel Alfredsson (3.7 GVT) has been incredible.
The goaltending tandem of Pascal Leclaire (-2.3 GVT) and Brian Elliott (-1.2 GVT) has failed to meet even their meager expectations so far, both having recorded negative GVTs.
Expect more of the same from the Senators the rest of the year.
The only real bright spot in the division at this point, Buffalo has impressed with their play. We expected them to finish 18th overall, and they're currently sitting 8th in overall GVT. This is entirely due to their defense. The Sabres are 16th in offensive GVT, which is precisely where we projected them to be. But they're 8th in defensive GVT instead of 16th, which has allowed them to take the division lead.
For an explanation, we need look no further than Tyler Myers and Ryan Miller. Myers has been outstanding so far in his rookie season, putting up a 3.5 GVT in 15 games, which is the best among team skaters. Miller was projected to put up a 10.4 GVT in 52 games this year. He has already exceeded this total with a 10.7 GVT to start the year.
So long as Miller continues his lights-out play, the Sabres will be a very dangerous team. But he's likely to regress somewhat by the end of the year, and Buffalo will slow down along with him.
Coming into the season, the Bruins had great expectations both offensively and defensively. Without the puck, they've played up to those expectations. Tim Thomas (7.0 GVT) has so far resisted the goaltending tendency to regress to the mean, and continues to backstop the team with an outstanding save percentage, and Zdeno Chara (2.2 GVT, 2.0 Defensive GVT) has the best defensive GVT among the division's skaters.
The reason the Bruins have not been one of the best teams in the league is their offense, which currently ranks 28th in league GVT. This is due to two things: Michael Ryder (-0.6 GVT) and David Krejci (0.6 GVT) have produced next to nothing on offense, and Milan Lucic (0.3 GVT in 6 games) and Marc Savard (2.0 GVT in 7 games) have both suffered serious injuries. They've both already been out for about two-thirds of the Bruins' games.
When Savard and Lucic come back, Boston will score some more goals and climb back into contention. But unless the secondary scoring picks up, their season will continue to be a serious disappoinment.
The biggest surprise in the division thus far has been the Canadiens, languishing in 24th overall by GVT. Their poor play has been disguised by their success in overtime. The Habs are 7-0 in overtime and shootouts, which means they're barely winning when they are, in fact, winning games. Their -10 goal differential is more indicative of their play than their 9-11 record.
Of course, any team will fall below expectations when they lose their best player in their first game. With Andrei Markov out long-term, the Montreal power-play is in the 23rd spot. They sorely lack his play on the point with the man advantage (the decent play of Marc-Andre Bergeron (1.3 GVT) in his stead notwithstanding), and desperately miss his steadying influence in their own zone as well.
Essentially, the Canadiens are trying their best to tread water until Markov returns at mid-season, when they can make a push for a playoff spot. At this rate, though, they'll have a difficult time accomplishing that particular goal. Recently-deposed starter Carey Price (-1.8 GVT) has been unimpressive, and without solid goaltending the club will not have much success.
The Northeast will most likely sort itself out a bit when key players return to the Bruins and Habs. Montreal is probably not going to meet their relatively lofty expectations, but they'll be better with Markov. The real question will be whether Miller can keep up his play in Buffalo, and keep the Sabres at the top of the division.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .