The hockey season is hours away, and we have only one more division here to preview, and it’s the Atlantic Division!
8. Ottawa Senators
This one comes as no surprise as the Senators are still the worst team in the NHL. There is hope in Ottawa now as they have assembled a nice young group of players with Tkachuk, White, Chabot and Brannstrom leading the way moving forward.
The Senators added some veterans this year to help with the culture in Ottawa, which at times lately hasn’t been the best. Players like Ennis, Hainsey and Anisimov should provide some good veteran leadership for this very young team.
Bottom line though, this team isn’t much better than they were at the end of last season. They won’t score many goals, and with such a young defence core they will likely surrender a lot of goals as they try to learn how to play defence at the NHL level. New coach D.J Smith won’t be able to fix all their defensive issues with the snap of his fingers, but he will slowly work with each player to gradually improve. Their goaltending isn’t anything to get too excited about either.
It will be another long season for the Senators, but at least this time they will have their own first round pick to look forward to!
7. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings have a very similar team to the one they iced last year, with the only addition of significance being veteran C Valtteri Filppula.
The Red Wings have some really nice young players in Larkin, Mantha and Bertuzzi. Their top prospects like Zadina, Seider and Veleno still don’t seem ready to be full-time NHL players just yet, but their times will soon come.
The issue in Detroit is the big money they have tied up in players who just aren’t worth it. Players like DeKeyser, Abdelkader and Nielsen all make north of four million per season and all of those contracts are on the books for at least another three seasons.
The Red Wings won’t be an easy team to beat as they are very resilient and play a good style of hockey. They just don’t have the talent and the depth to win a lot of hockey games this season. They will once again be sellers come trade deadline time.
6. Buffalo Sabres
At the start of last season, it looked to be Buffalo’s year where they finally start to get out of the basement of the Eastern Conference. Come the end of the season, they weren’t far from it with only 76 points.
Eichel and Skinner are a lethal duo that the Sabres will now have for a long time moving forward, but sometimes the Sabres looked liked they relied too much on them to produce. They will need more from players like Reinhart and Okposo, along with new wingers Vesey and Johansson to become a more well-rounded offensive team.
The Sabres on paper look to have a pretty solid defence, as they added Montour during last season and acquired Colin Miller this off-season. It’s the goaltending duo of Hutton and Ullmark that will own a huge bulk of the pressure this season, as top prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is going to need more time to develop before he is ready for the NHL.
The Sabres have talent but every single year can’t seem to get past that loosing culture they’ve had for some time now. They will need their new players to help change that, but ultimately it will come down to their pre-exciting core to change Buffalo into a winning organization.
5. Montreal Canadians
The Habs didn’t spend much of the cap space that they had available going into this off-season. They tried but the offer-sheet for Aho was matched and Jake Gardiner picked the Hurricanes instead. In the end the only additions they made were Nick Cousins, Ben Chariot and Keith Kinkaid.
They are hoping that with internal growth from young stars like Drouin and Kotkaniemi, along with Nick Suzuki who surprised everyone and made the team out of training camp, that this team can become more dynamic offensively than they were last season.
Their defence is ok, but is likely heightened by Carey Price, who is still one of the top goaltenders in the game. If Weber can stay healthy this season and play big minutes in front of Price, this team has a legit chance to make the playoffs.
However those are a lot of “ifs”, and it will be at least another full season without playoff hockey in Montreal as they will just miss out on the post-season this year.
4. Florida Panthers (Wild Card)
The Panthers can score goals, and this off-season they added Brett Connolly.
The Panthers can defend, and this off-season they added Anton Stralman.
Their issue was finding a goalie to stop the puck, and this off-season they did just that.
In adding Bobrovsky, the Panthers are finally ready to get over the hump and return to the playoffs. They have one of the league’s best power play’s, depth of defence and now a world-class goaltender. This team is a lot of fan’s sleeper pick to make a run at the cup this season and the roster absolutely backs up that claim.
Over an 82 game season they still won’t finish above the big three in the Atlantic, but they will secure the 1st wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
3. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have arguably the best line in all of hockey with Marchand, Bergeron and Pasternak. Behind them though, only Krejci and DeBrusk really stand out as offensive threats. It worked for the Bruins last year and will be just fine again this season, but an injury or two come playoff could be disastrous, more so for the Bruins then some other elite teams.
Their defence is elite along with a really solid duo of Rask and Halak behind them in net. Boston also has one of the most defensively responsible group of forwards in the NHL. If you want to beat this team, you will have to make the Bruins play a more open ice, offensive style of game (which they aren’t terrible at either) because they will beat you if you let them play their style of rock-solid defensive hockey.
This team will be staying in the elite three of the Atlantic this season, and have no sign of leaving anytime soon.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs really re-shaped their roster this off-season. Out is Kadri, Gardiner and Marleau, in is Barrie, Kerfoot and Ceci. Along with numerous depth acquisitions including Spezza and Russian free agent Ilya Mikheyev, who looked fantastic in the pre-season.
The Maple Leafs were able to keep together the big four up front of Matthews, Tavares, Marner and Nylander. The fact that they have players like Johnsson, Kapanen, Kerfoot and Hyman behind them just looks too good to be true, but it is.
Add to that two of the best offensive defensemen in the game in Morgan Rielly (72 points last year) and Tyson Barrie (59 points last year) and collectively the Maple Leafs have the best offensive team in the NHL.
Their defence now with Barrie, Ceci and youngster Sandin looks much better. Once Dermott comes back from injury they might have a top 10 defence in the NHL, which hasn’t been said in Toronto for a very long time.
Add in a top 10 goalie in Frederik Andersen and this team has a legitimate shot at winning the Stanley Cup. They would likely win any other division in hockey, but because they are in the Atlantic their is still one team stopping them from winning the division.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning are still the league’s best team despite last year’s playoffs being an absolute disaster. Going in as the team to beat, they crashed and burned as they got swept by the Blue Jackets in the first round.
The Lightning have four lines up front that can score, in that being last year’s Art Ross trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov. Add with him offence players like Stamkos, Point, Palat, Johnson, Gourde, Cirelli and the list goes on.
They already had a stellar defence, including possibly the best defensemen in the NHL in Victor Hedman. Then they went out and signed Kevin Shattenkirk. If Sergachev takes another step forward this year the lightning might have a top three defence in the league.
Oh ya, not to mention one of the best goaltenders in the league in Andrei Vasilevskiy, who posted a very strong .925 save percentage last season.
There are no glaring weaknesses on this team. There are no holes in their offence and Defence. Even when Vasilevskiy went down with an injury last season the Lightning didn’t skip a beat and continued to win. They might not put up another 62 win regular season, but they could come close. This is still the team to beat, and they might come back even hungrier after being embarrassed last spring.
There we go, every team in the NHL predicted on where they will finish. Puck drop is only an hour or two away, then we can just sit back an enjoy the wonder that is the NHL regular season.