All this week, we’ll be going division by division previewing the other 30 teams in the NHL. Today: the Atlantic Division boasts some exciting players but could any of these teams challenge for supremacy in the East?
The Boston Bruins always seem to find a way to get it done, but this year may be a bit different for them. The offense, led by Brad Marchand and the recently re-signed David Pastrnak, should have no issue causing trouble for opposing defenses. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron remain viable two-way forwards and will mostly likely not show a dip in production.
However, the Bruins’ biggest question is, unusually for them, on defense. Torey Krug seems to be the only productive defenseman on the roster. An aging Zdeno Chara is not what he once was and will have continue to have issues keeping up as he heads into the season at 40 years old. The Bruins will likely struggle to keep goals out of their net, but may outscore their opponents enough to stay competitive.
Another major disappointment from last year was the Buffalo Sabres. Expected to take the same path as the Edmonton Oilers when they drafted Jack Eichel, the Sabres still find themselves as basement dwellers. The team will enter this year with first-year head coach Phil Housley, the Sabres’ fifth head coach since 2013, leading the way along with all new upper management - and, crucially, without Eichel under contract beyond the end of the season.
While Buffalo was lucky to have Casey Mittelstadt fall to them in the draft, it will be surprising if he makes their roster this season. The largest offseason move in upstate New York was a trade that brought Jason Pominville back to Buffalo along with Marco Scandella from Minnesota for Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and a 2018 third-round draft pick. Both Pominville and Scandella will provide some leadership and help settle an unstable lineup. The Sabres would need a lot of things to go right in order to be a playoff contender this season, and while it is certainly possible, it is likely they will find themselves toward the bottom of the division once more.
Detroit Red Wings
Last season was very emotional for the Red Wings as they bid adieu to their longtime home, Joe Louis Arena. Additionally, they also saw their record-setting 25-year playoff streak come to an end. This off-season saw little to increase the playoff odds for Detroit, as they are in full rebuild mode for the first time in over 30 years. The team will turn to Henrik Zetterberg for leadership and offense, while it hopes young guys like Dylan Larkin take the next step forward in their career.
The Red Wings drafted Michael Rasmussen 9th overall this year, but it appears the team will let him develop a while before becoming a viable option up front. Following an arbitration hearing but before a contract was awarded, the Wings re-signed Tomas Tatar on a four-year, $21.2 million deal. On the back end, Trevor Daley was signed for 3 years to shore up the defense - and, for those keeping track, they also re-signed Hurricanes waiver-claim legend Martin Frk. Detroit will want to be at least competitive as they move in to the fancy new Little Caesars Arena, but expect them to linger at the bottom of the division once again unless something crazy happens.
Florida may not have received much of a roster shakeup this offseason, but they made a few moves in the front office. They have a new bench boss as former Canes defenseman Bob Boughner was named head coach. Additionally, retired agitator Shawn Thornton was named vice president of business operations and Chris Pronger will now be senior advisor to the team president.
The team on ice should be...interesting. The Panthers remain largely intact, but lost 50-point scorer Jonathan Marchessault to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, and yesterday traded analytics darling Jason Demers to Arizona. That may hurt, but with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau leading the way, they should manage to stay afloat and could compete for a playoff spot in a relatively weak division. However, between the lack of bonafide scorers on the roster and an aging netminder in Roberto Luongo, the Panthers may struggle to stay competitive.
Montreal had one goal for the offseason: re-sign goaltender Carey Price. Mission accomplished, but it didn’t come cheap as the ticket came in at $64 million over eight years. The Habs won’t have to worry about him playing up to that contract heading into the season as he remains the best netminder in the league and the heart and soul of the franchise.
The team remained active over the summer months, trading for Jonathan Drouin of the Tampa Bay Lightning who has high expectations placed on his shoulders - on top of the responsibilities that come with being a French-speaking star on the Canadiens - and will be expected to thrive in a top-six role. Shea Weber now has the nerves shaken off after his first season in Montreal and should be the anchor of the defense moving forward. All in all, the Canadiens should have no issue getting to the playoffs this year.
The Senators enter the 2017-2018 season with expectations of competing to win the Atlantic Division, if not the Eastern Conference. After posting a great run in last year’s playoffs, advancing to double overtime of Game 7 against the eventual Cup champions, anything short of getting out of the first round has to be considered a failure this year. The team is so confident in the group they have that their only real offseason accusation was Johnny Oduya, who does bring some extensive playoff experience of his own with him.
The Sens did see Marc Methot, Tommy Wingels, and former Hurricane Viktor Stalberg depart to free agency, so those spots will need to be filled. They also re-signed Jean-Gabriel Pageau to a three-year deal, hoping he can build on his breakout playoff run from a season ago. The Sens have the potential to make another run, and if Craig Anderson, Erik Karlsson, and Mike Hoffman stay healthy, the team will have a fighting shot at being on the right side of a Game 7 bounce this year.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Arguably the biggest letdown of the 2016-2017 campaign was the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, just like last season, the Lightning faces very high expectations for this season and are even being picked as Stanley Cup contenders by some. The moves made by Steve Yzerman certainly reflect those ambitions. After pulling the trigger on the previously mentioned deal with Montreal, sending Drouin north for top defensive prospect Mikhail Sergachev, the team handed out extensions to longtime contributors Andrej Sustr, Cory Conacher and Ondrej Palat.
Perhaps most importantly, Tyler Johnson was also signed to a seven-year, $35 million extension as the team identified him as a core player moving forward. The Bolts signed both Chris Kunitz and Dan Girardi in free agency to bring some extra assurance and veteran presence to the lineup. With Steven Stamkos again healthy, expectations, yet again, are very high for Tampa Bay this season and if they again fail to make the playoffs expect to see some major shakeups. Ultimately, it’s win-now mode in Tampa Bay.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs returned to the postseason last season for the first time since 2013, in which they suffered through one of the roughest Game 7s in recent memory. Rookie Auston Matthews had a stellar season, earning the Calder Trophy and emerging as one of the top centers in the league. Fellow young guns William Nylander and Mitch Marner had seasons that could have earned them top honors had they not been overshadowed by Matthews’ stellar year. Frederik Andersen was good enough in net his first year to solidify the number one goalie spot, but there is room for improvement as he dropped 14 games in overtime.
This young core looks primed for another successful season and now has veteran help. Partick Marleau was brought in on a 3 year, $18.75 million deal and he is expected to both produce and mentor. The longtime San Jose Shark had 46 points (27 goals, 19 assists) in 82 games last season. Toronto currently is one of the better teams in the Atlantic Division and will most likely be headed back to the playoffs as long as the defense anchored by Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly stands strong.