Toughness Preview 2014-15: Atlantic Division
Rookie camp has opened, and we're days away from the preseason. It's that time of the year again to take a look around the league to find out who's returning, who's gone, and who to look out for, measuring up the quality and quantity in this year's toughness preview. We start with the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins let both Iginla and Thornton leave via free agency, and while that does leave a big number gone in terms of fighting majors (15 of their 46 last year), it shouldn't see their fight count dwindle too much. A healthy Adam McQuaid should also help the Bruins’ toughness outlook. Of course, Zdeno Chara is patrolling the blueline and Milan Lucic up front rounds out a solid Bruins team.
Tampa let a lot of their toughness go in not bringing back B.J. Crombeen, Pierre-Cedric Labrie and buying out Ryan Malone (18 of their 30 fights from last season). With the likes of Steven Stamkos and the arrival of Jonathan Drouin, the Bolts are looking to returnees Radko Gudas and Eric Brewer to ensure the young forwards stay in one piece. They have brought in the impsoing frame of Brian Boyle from New York Rangers and the never shy, former longtime Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow. Jean-Philippe Cote is also only a call away in the AHL if needed.
There was no toughness shortfall in Montreal last season, and that appears to be carrying over to the 2014-15 season. Even with the departure of George Parros, Ryan White and Douglas Murray (accounting for 14 of their 41 fights), the Habs are sitting nicely with a solid mix of gamers in most weight classes. Dale Weise should figure more prominently, as should a healthy Brandon Prust. Jarred Tinordi is expected to player a bigger role, which should also mean more fights for the big youngster.
As sure as the sun will rise, the Red Wings will ice a team that makes fans of tough hockey laugh, and cry a little. Detroit was pitifully soft last year and this year decided not to bring back their lone - rarely dressed - tough player in Jordin Tootoo. Worse yet, there is no notable new arrival to remotely look to for toughness. Last year's seven fights may not be reached this year given the cast in "Hockey Town."
It must feel like deja vu for Chris Neil in Ottawa. The Senators have a top notch heavyweight, then cut him loose in free agency. The previous occasion, it was Brian McGrattan and now it's Matt Kassian. As always, Neil will provide the heavy lifting for the Sens. Mark Borowiecki will likely see more time, and likely be counted on more to step up to the plate. Zack Smith should round out the lighter weight classes. Jared Cowen and Eric Gryba can provide support and new arrival Alex Chiasson can stir the pot a bit too.
Toronto went through an organizational upheaval at the top but very few changes on the roster took place. For a team with the most fighting majors last season, that means few things should change. Tim Gleason was bought out, so they'll miss the good soldier attitude he brought along. Returning Colton Orr, David Clarkson, Troy Bodie and Frazer McLaren should have no shortage of dance partners with the re-arrival of Leo Komarov, who will hit anything that moves and stir the pot. The outlook is sunny for fisticuffs in the center of the hockey universe.
Florida once again passed on Krys Barch, this time opting to let him go via free agency instead of trade. To replace his 13 fights out of the team’s 30 last year, they chose the Stanley Cup champion enforcer from the Boston Bruins, Shawn Thornton. Thornton joins returning young defenseman Erik Gudbranson in helping to keep the other talented youngsters in Florida from being run over.
Cody McCormick will once again be one of the fighting mainstays in Buffalo after signing via free agency following his trade away from the Sabres last year. The Sabres opted to let massive John Scott go via free agency and chose not to sign waiver acquisition Zenon Konopka (who's now suspended for 20 games). Chris Stewart, who was hampered by injury last season should figure more in the fisticuffs department this year. Mike Weber and Marcus Foligno return to Buffalo to round out the cast of willing combatants.
Thanks to Chris Phillips for editing duties on this one.