*Photo Credit: lemessurier.com
The NHL season has started! Here, we take a look at how the teams in the Atlantic Division geared up this offseason, and will look ahead to how they will fare up against other teams during this regular season as well as they look forward to taking on the quest for the Stanley Cup!
Boston Bruins (2016-17 Record: 44-31-7 – Playoff Exit: R1)
The Bruins, although they finished the regular season well last year, made little to no moves in this year’s offseason. David Pastrnak made a six year deal with the team, but that was a must. Pastrnak adds so much to the Bruins squad it would’ve been extremely difficult for them to lose him. Other than that, this year had a few no-name additions like Kenny Agostino, and Paul Postma. This change in mindset might have been the Bruins’ front office being skittish after going extremely hard last summer.
The Bruins saw a sharp turnaround at the end of last season when Head Coach Bruce Cassidy took over, and they also have a dangerously effective returning core with Marchand, Pastrnak, Backes, Bergeron, and Krejci. Boston should be pretty great in their offensive zone, but what I see in the defensive zone is an old core of players, with an aging Zdeno Chara. The Bruins’ defensive core will most likely be their weak point, and could leave goaltender Tuukka Rask in bad positions at times. Although the Bruins should be solid this year, multiple other teams in the division have made so many more moves than the Bruins to continue to better themselves, and I don’t find the Bruins doing better than those teams, although they will find themselves toward the top of the standings.
Predicted Record: 40-35-7
Buffalo Sabres (2016-17 Record: 33-37-12)
General Managers, Coaches, and Players, oh my! The Buffalo Sabres, other than possibly the Dallas Stars, are the most shaken up team after this offseason. Jason Botterill was brought in as General Manager, who replaced Head Coach Dan Bylsma with Phil Housley. After the head coach swing, Botterill worked with the players, bringing in Marco Scandella and Jason Pominville from Minnesota in return for Ennis and Foligno. Other moves include bringing in Benoit Pouliot, Jacob Josefson, and Nathan Beaulieu, as well as backup goaltender Chad Johnson. With this extremely new core of players lining all positions of the ice, the Sabres could have issues with team chemistry, but should adjust quickly.
With Jack Eichel fully recovering from his injury at the beginning of last season, he could combine with Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo to have a great offensive bunch that could perform well. Although the team was switched up a lot, I feel like Housley will struggle with his first ever job as a Head Coach. This Buffalo team will look good, and should contend for a while, but there are better teams in the division and some doubt on whether or not it will be competitive in Buffalo.
Predicted Record: 36-36-10
Detroit Red Wings (2016-17 Record: 33-36-13)
The 25 year came to an abrupt halt last year when the Detroit Red Wings finally missed a playoff. Even with their new arena, (Little Ceasars Arena) Detroit is no longer a destination where free agents wish to go. The Red Wings signed Trevor Daley to a three year contract, and also re-signed Tomas Tatar and Xavier Ouellet to four and two year contracts, respectively. Red Wings also sought after PA Parenteau and David Booth in their training camp.
The Red Wings are plagued with age, going back time and time again to their core of Zetterberg and Nielson on offense, and Kronwall, Daley, Ericsson, and Green on defense. All six of these players are above the age of 30 and are all on huge contracts to be in Detroit for a while. Although the age is against them, they do have many youngsters in Larkin, Athanasiou, Mantha, and Bertuzzi to lead the team in the future. In goal, Jimmy Howard, who missed many games last year, will get the starting spot, backed up by Petr Mrazek, who played awfully while Howard was out. All those years of success might finally be catching up to the Red Wings, so they could be looking for a rebuild soon. Except…. They have no cap space left. Detroit might be in this awful ride for a while.
Predicted Record: 30-40-12
Florida Panthers (2016-17 Record: 35-36-11)
The Florida Panthers, as Youtuber UrinatingTree describes them, they are the NHL’s “Analytical Shitshow”. This is due to their consistent obsession with statistics and analytics when choosing players. However, this year may be different. After last year’s awful season, they fired head coach Tom Rowe and returned to their previous state, giving Dale Tallon his role as general manager back, and bringing in Bob Boughner as a new head coach. They cleared their roster, losing Marchessault and Smith to Vegas, Jagr to free agency (where he later signed with Calgary), and Jokinen to Edmonton. The Panthers acquired Jamie McGinn from the Arizona Coyotes for Jason Demers as well. There is a younger core to the Panthers coming up from the minor leagues, and they’re ready to play.
Another head coach, a cleared roster of players, and a young core of players mean that this is prime rebuild phase for the Florida Panthers. Their top like of Huberdeau, Barkov, and Dadonov is built for speed and could be extremely dynamic throughout this season. The Panthers are on the right track, and it seems like all they need is time to become good. This season, however, there is little to no NHL experience for the bottom lines, and the defense looks spotty at times. Let’s just hope, for Florida’s sake, that Luongo stays there for a while and saves a few shots.
Predicted Record: 32-35-15
Montreal Canadiens (2016-17 Record: 47-26-9 – Playoff Exit: R1)
Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov for Jonathan Drouin and Karl Alzner, that’s music to Canadiens fans’ ears. An insane trade that added seriously good players to the Montreal squad could make or break their contention for yet another high place in the Atlantic Division. The Canadiens also added right winger Ales Hemsky, and other big defensive names in David Schlemko, Mark Streit, Joe Morrow, and Matt Taormina. These additions covered up for the losses of names like Beaulieu, Emelin, and Nesterov, but I think they came out on top in the end.
The Atlantic Division is probably one of the most unpredictable, especially in a year where a team like the Buffalo Sabres can become competitive again. However, the Canadiens can be fueled to another top-3 finish by their big players like Shea Weber, Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw, Max Pacioretty, and Tomas Plekanec. Can the Canadiens make or break this division yet another year? The answer is most likely yes, as long as Carey Price is still sitting in the goal crease.
Predicted Record: 46-28-8
Ottawa Senators (2016-17 Record: 44-28-10 – Playoff Exit: ECF)
After collectively getting millions of their fans’ hearts broken in a double overtime loss in Game 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Ottawa Senators are back and ready to go yet again. Small moves were made in the offseason, but leaving a name like Mark Methot available to Vegas in the expansion draft was probably a risk. Johnny Oduya has been brought in to cover up the hole left on Karlsson’s line, but only time will tell when it comes to how well he’ll do this year. Other changes include the addition of Nate Thompson as well as the loss of Stalberg, Wingels, and Neil.
Guy Boucher’s squad of insane defensemen and Craig Anderson has continuously frustrated teams over and over again with their 1-3-1 extremely defensive system, and I think this year will be no different. Even though the Senators failed to put a goal-scorer in the NHL’s list of Top 35, they shouldn’t have any trouble winning games. Players like Karlsson, Ryan, and Hoffman continue to shut down high scoring teams, and do it in mad style. The Senators won’t change much, and as long as people don’t figure out the 1-3-1 system too quickly they should cruise into another playoff spot.
Predicted Record: 43-30-9
Tampa Bay Lightning (2016-17 Record: 42-30-10)
In addition to an already killer team led by Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan, the Lightning have gone and added more, acquiring Chris Kunitz, Dan Girardi, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Mikhail Sergachev all this offseason. While not all of those names are big ones, they’ll still have a great impact on Tampa Bay’s lines and will add a ton of depth to an already strong team backed by Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. Although Vasilevskiy’s ability is put into question, he has shown time and time again that he is at least worthy of some starting time throughout the season. As for their backup situation, it seems like they’ll be rolling with Peter Budaj who was acquired last year at the trade deadline.
As long as Stamkos and the rest of Tampa’s main core of players can stay healthy, I expect the Lightning to do extremely well and go far this year. Steve Yzerman did the right thing this offseason by not overreacting and selling everything after one bad season, and as long as the goaltender situation stays strong and the defense works well, the Lightning should be able to cruise into a playoff spot easily.
Predicted Record: 46-32-4
Toronto Maple Leafs (2016-17 Record: 40-27-15 – Playoff Exit: R1)
The Leafs have gone all in now, and will be prominent this year, and for years to come. Led last year by an extremely young core with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, the Toronto Maple Leafs have made big moves to bring in some veteran players like Patrick Marleau, Dominic Moore, and Ron Hainsey. Although the Leafs lost Brian Boyle and Matt Hunwick, the depth is still there.
With talented players like Zach Hyman and James van Riemsdyk adding depth to the team and a young defense of Gardiner, Zaitsev, Rielly, Marincin, and Carrick, this team is destined to go far. Goaltender Frederik Andersen proved last year that he could very well be a great starting goaltender for the leafs and shines a light toward Toronto’s dreams of winning the division. Last year showed promise, and if their defense can keep it together I plan on seeing Toronto hold up the honor of winning the Atlantic Division.
Predicted Record: 48-25-9
The Atlantic Division is arguably the most unpredictable, time and time again throwing different teams into playoff contention, and this year should be no different. I see the young squad of Toronto surging to a first place finish, rounded out by the Canadiens and Lightning. Battling for wild card spots will be the Senators and Bruins. That being said, I don’t expect other teams to not be competitive. Buffalo, Florida, and Detroit, even though they’re in the basement, they should still be good enough to try and take those spots from Boston and Ottawa. The Atlantic shouldn’t see much of a change, but anything can happen.