The new NHL season is less than two months away, and after a busy summer, the outlook of the Atlantic Division may be very different come 2017/18.
Due to a number of personnel changes, the Atlantic Division looks to be one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NHL. With several teams on the upswing, the final standings in April 2018 are bound to look different from last season.
Some of the biggest trades this summer involved teams within this division, more specifically with the Montreal Canadiens and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Buffalo Sabres weren’t quiet either, as they went through a major-face lift and look to be one of the biggest risers in Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, teams like the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers were hit hard by the expansion draft in June. As the Senators lost one of their best defensemen in Marc Methot whereas the Florida Panthers lost a 30 goal scorer in Jonathan Marchessault.
All things considered, let’s take a look at how things can play out heading into next season.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning missed the playoffs last season, due to major injuries to Steven Stamkos, and veteran winger Ryan Callahan for much of the season. They were still able to make a respectable late season surge and narrowly missed out on the final wildcard spot.
In the process, they were also able to shed salary by shipping out long time veterans Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, and Brian Boyle. This essentially gave them the needed cap space to keep their young core intact, by re-signing key players: Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Jake Dotchin.
Key Roster Moves
Ondrej Palat – Re-signed, five-year contract, worth $26.5 million.
Ondrej Palat is a key member of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s offense. In addition to Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson give the team a second dynamic offensive line. Having Palat solidifies Tampa’s offensive depth and makes them one of the most offensively potent teams in the NHL.
Tyler Johnson – Re-signed a seven-year contract, worth $35 million.
Much like Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson is a key part of the Lightning’s offense. Despite being undrafted, Johnson has scored 24 or more goals for the Lightning twice and was a huge part of their playoff run in 2015 and 2016. Leading the team in points (23) in 2016.
Jake Dotchin – Re-Signed, two-year contract, one-way contract worth $1.625 million.
Jake Dotchin was originally drafted by the Lightning in the sixth round (161st overall) in 2012. Since that time, he has continued to develop his game and worked his way into the NHL. At first, he was a short-term call-up in January last season, but his play gave the Bolts no choice but to keep him long-term.
Heading into 2017/18, the 23-year-old should take another step forward, and has the potential to be a key-contributor on the Lightning’s blueline for years to come.
Chris Kunitz – Signed as free Agent, one-year contract worth $3 million.
Although Chris Kunitz is 37-years-old, he showed last spring that he can still play in the NHL. He was a decent complimentary player for the Pittsburgh Penguins during their back-to-back championships. The 2014 Olympic gold medalist scored the second overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
The four-time Stanley Cup winner should bring some grit, experience and be a huge presence in the dressing room. Lightning fans shouldn’t expect Kunitz to be a 25-goal, 60-point player, but a 15-goal and 40-point player at this point in his career.
Mikhail Sergachev – Acquired via trade with the Montreal Canadiens along with a conditional 2nd-round pick in the 2018 draft, in exchange for Jonathan Drouin and a conditional 6th-round pick in the 2018 draft.
The Lightning lost offensive depth by trading away Jonathan Drouin, but it doesn’t look like they will miss him much, as they still have a lot of firepower up front.
Meanwhile, adding Mikhail Sergachev is huge for the team’s defense. He is only 19-years-old with plenty of upside and is projected to be a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. The Lightning have the luxury to bring him along slowly. With Sergachev in the mix along with Victor Hedman, Jake Dotchin, and Slater Koekkoek, the Lightning blueline looks to have a bright future.
Dan Girardi – Signed as a free agent, on a two-year contract worth $6 million.
The New York Rangers bought out long time defenseman Dan Girardi this summer, and the Lightning did not hesitate to bring in the 11-year NHL veteran on a reasonable deal.
Although Girardi is 33-years-old and may be on the decline, he should still be able to give the Lightning quality minutes in a top-four role. He can serve as a stopgap defender until players like Jake Dotchin, Mikhail Sergachev and Slater Koekkoek develop into a top-four role.
The Tampa Bay Lightning look poised for a deep Cup run. With a healthy roster and the additions they have made, they may be as deep as ever.
They should be the cream of the crop of the Atlantic and look to be the favorite to win the division. Not many teams in the Eastern Conference have the offensive depth to match, especially with their two superstar snipers in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. Few teams also have a stud-defenseman like Victor Hedman, who can anchor the blueline for 25 minutes a night.
2) Montreal Canadiens
Even though the Montreal Canadiens won the Atlantic division last year, it doesn’t look like they can repeat in 2017/18. There were a lot of turnovers this summer and they lost several key players including Alex Radulov, Andrei Markov, and Nathan Beaulieu.
Based on their new acquisitions, it doesn’t look like they significantly improved their team much. Nevertheless, the Habs still have a top-five goalie in Carey Price, and a legit number one defenseman in Shea Weber. As long as the duo can stay healthy, the Canadiens should be playoff bound and be a top three-team in the Atlantic Division.
Key Roster Moves
Jonathan Drouin – Acquired via trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with a conditional 6th-round pick in 2018, in exchange for Mikhail Sergachev and a 2nd-round pick in 2018.
The Montreal Canadiens needed to improve their scoring and Jonathan Drouin should help them do just that. Montreal has been looking for a number one center for a while, and they are hoping Drouin can be their guy.
The former third-overall pick may have been buried behind many talented players in Tampa Bay, but he will be given every opportunity to shine in Montreal.
It will be interesting to see if Drouin can emerge into a superstar for the Montreal Canadiens next season, but whatever the case may be, he will be counted on to score at least 60-65 points for “Le Bleu-Blanc-Rouge” this coming season.
Karl Alzner – Signed as a free agent, on a five-year contract worth $23.125 million
Karl Alzner was a major free-agent pickup for the Canadiens. He is a steady NHL defender capable of sliding into a top-pairing role. At only 28-years-old, he should be at the top of his game for several more years.
Alzner was a solid addition, but if you look at the grand scheme of things, he was brought in to replace long-time Habs defenseman, Andrei Markov. In that, it might be more of a lateral-move than an upgrade.
Mark Streit – Signed as a free agent, on a one-year deal worth $1 million.
Mark Streit is a low-risk, inexpensive signing for the Canadiens. Although he is 39-years-old, he can still skate and will give Montreal another puck-mover from the back end.
He is probably not able to play heavy top-four minutes but should be a reliable bottom-pairing guy with the ability to quarterback a power play.
Heading into 2017/18, the Canadiens should have a roster good enough to make the playoffs. They should be a top-three team in the Atlantic Division, but it doesn’t look like they have the depth to prevent Tampa Bay from taking the top spot.
Losing players like Radulov and Markov will be hard to replace. On paper, it seems like the Canadiens made a lot of lateral moves this offseason, and haven’t significantly improved as a team.
Only time will tell if the newcomers in Drouin, Alzner, Hemsky, Streit and Schlemko will make this team better next year.
3) Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs are definitely a team to look out for next season. They took a huge leap forward last year and look to be one of the biggest risers in the Eastern Conference.
With one more year of NHL experience, their young trio of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner will continue to progress and be even better for the Maple Leafs next year.
They claimed the second wildcard position just ahead of the Islanders and the Lightning, respectively. The Leafs should be trending up for now and the foreseeable future.
Key Roster Moves
Patrick Marleau – Signed as a free agent, on a three-year deal worth $18.5million.
Patrick Marleau was one of the biggest names on the free agent market, and the Toronto Maple Leafs paid a hefty price to sign him.
The two-time All-Star will turn 38 in September, but the former San Jose Shark still has the speed to keep up.
Marleau averaged 26 goals in his past four seasons with San Jose and with the possibility to be Auston Matthews’ full-time winger; he should easily score 20 or more goals again next year.
Ron Hainsey – Signed as a free agent, on a two-year deal worth $6 million.
Ron Hainsey is a quality depth signing for the Leafs. He brings size, leadership and also steady defensive play at a reasonable price. Look for him to provide quality minutes in a bottom-pairing role.
We should see an improved Toronto outfit with higher expectations. Playoffs should be a minimum, and the team’s postseason success will largely depend on the growth of their young players (Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Nikita Zaitsev).
It doesn’t look like the Maple Leafs have the roster to win the Atlantic division just yet. They are still missing a quality defenseman who can play heavy minutes in the top-four.
The signing of Marleau gives them a winger with some serious pedigree. It is possible that a player like James van Riemsdyk will be moved to improve their defense sometime soon.
4) Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins surprised a lot of people finishing third in the Atlantic division last year. A big reason for that is Brad Marchand’s career year, and forward David Pastrnak’s breakout year.
Although the Bruins may not be a Stanley Cup contending team, they still have a decent core built around David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask. That core should be good enough to make them a low-seed playoff team again in 2017/18.
Key Roster Moves
Ryan Spooner – Re-signed, on a one-year, $2.825 million contract
Ryan Spooner was originally a second round draft pick of the Boston Bruins back in 2010. He has worked his way into the Bruins’ lineup and has provided some solid secondary scoring, with a career high of 49 points in the 2015/16 season.
Aside from Spooner, the Bruins have been awfully quiet this offseason and haven’t done much to change the outlook of their roster.
Next season looks to be another transition year for the Bruins. A lot of the team’s success will depend on their youth. If players like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy can make a huge impact on the Bruins’ aging defense, then there is a lot to like about the team’s potential to surprise some people next year.
5) Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are another team on the rise in the Eastern Conference. They finished last place in the Atlantic Division last year but has potential to jump up a few spots in 2017/18.
The organization went through a major facelift, naming a new general manager (Jason Botterill) and a new head coach (Phil Housley). They also went through a nice overhaul with their roster and we should expect to see a more exciting team on the ice next season.
That along with the combination of key players in Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, and Jack Eichel all returning to full health, we should expect a much-improved Sabres team in 2017/18.
Key Roster Moves
Marco Scandella – Acquired from the Minnesota Wild along with Jason Pominville, in exchange for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
Marco Scandella is a huge addition for the Sabres on defense. With the addition of Scandella, the Sabres defensive core now consists of Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen, Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Jake McCabe.
On paper, this looks like a defense good enough to help the Sabres take a run at a wild card playoff spot.
Jason Pominville – Acquired from the Minnesota Wild along with Marco Scandella, in exchange for Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno.
The former Sabres’ captain returns for a second run with the team that drafted him back in 2001. He is now 34-years-old and may not be the dominant player he once was, but should still provide depth scoring and quality leadership for a young Buffalo team on the rise.
The Buffalo Sabres may not be guaranteed a playoff spot, but they look like they have all the tools to make a big jump in the standings next year. With a top-six forward group that includes two elite centers in Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, along with great complimentary wingers in Kyle Okposo and Evander Kane, there is a lot to like going forward.
If all of their key players are able to stay healthy, and if Jack Eichel can take a huge step forward to become a top-five center in the NHL as early as next year. Buffalo may be one of the dark horse teams to sneak into the playoffs next year.
Phil Housley’s impact may also light a fire on this team and help them become one of the most improved teams in the NHL next year.
6) Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators had a tremendous season last year. Exceeding expectations by finishing second in the Atlantic Division. They then went on an amazing playoff run, with Erik Karlsson playing on a broken foot, and Craig Anderson standing on his head. They were literally one goal away from making it to the Stanley Cup Finals!
Heading into this new season, the Senators may come back down to earth and be in for a tough season. They lost one of their top-defenseman in Marc Methot, to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft and didn’t really do much to replace him.
We will see what head coach Guy Boucher has up his sleeves this upcoming season and if he is able to pull off another magical season again.
Key Roster Moves
Johnny Oduya – Signed as a free agent, one-year deal, worth $1 million.
Johnny Oduya was the only major signing for the Ottawa Senators in a rather subdued off-season.
The 35-year-old split time with the Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks last year. He is one of the more underrated signings in the NHL this summer, and can potentially have a huge impact for the Senators’ defense, playing a top-four role next year.
With not much activity, the Sens did very little to improve their team. It looks like they believe in their roster and are relying on their youth (Colin White and Thomas Chabot) to make a huge impact.
With teams like the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs on the rise, it is hard to see Ottawa being able to hold down the second position in the Atlantic Division again.
Essentially, Erik Karlsson will need to have another career year, and Craig Anderson will need to stand on his head again.
7) Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers lost a lot of firepower this summer, including Jaromir Jagr, Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen and Thomas Vanek.
Incidentally, they did very little to make up for these huge departures, which may result in a very disappointing season in 2017/18.
They still have a decent young core built around Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck. However, it doesn’t look like they have a good enough supporting cast to be considered a top-six team in the Atlantic.
Dale Tallon seems to think highly of his youth (Jared McCann and Denis Malgin), in that they can step up and be huge impact players for the Panthers. This is essentially the only way that the Panthers will be able to keep up in the Atlantic Division next year.
Key Roster Moves
Radim Vrbata – Signed as a free agent, one-year deal, worth $3.75 million.
Radim Vrbata is the only proven NHL forward Florida brought in to replace their departures. He is coming off a very productive year scoring 20 goals, and 55 points for the a struggling Arizona Coyotes side. He might be able to pull off the same type of season again, but is this enough to fill the Panthers’ scoring needs?
Evgenii Dadonov – Signed as a free-agent, three-year deal, worth $1.2 million.
Evgenii Dadonov was originally a Florida Panthers’ draft pick back in 2007. He was never really able to establish himself in the NHL before. At any rate, it looks like the Panthers believe he is worth a second shot, as they expect him to be a big part of the team’s offense next year.
With a new Head Coach in Bob Boughner and Dale Tallon back as the team’s GM, the 2017/18 edition of the Panthers will look a lot different than years past.
Injuries were a major problem for the team last year, and to stand a chance at a playoff spot, they will need to stay healthy next year.
Their defense is probably what will keep them in games throughout the season, as they have quality names in Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. Meanwhile, their goaltending may be a little bit suspect with the ageing Roberto Luongo and James Reimer.
Outlook in South Florida is rather bleak, and a high lottery pick may be a real possibility by mid-January.
8) Detroit Red Wings
After an amazing 25-year run, with consecutive seasons of playoff appearances, it is finally time for the Detroit Red Wings to fully embrace the rebuild. There will be a lot of growing pains for this team in the next few years, and Hockeytown fans will be very familiar with prospects eligible to be drafted into the NHL.
Their prospect pool isn’t overly deep, and they will need a few more years to restock their talent for another shot at the playoffs.
Key Roster Moves
Tomas Tatar – re-signed on a four-year contract, worth $21.2 million.
Tomas Tatar is a key offensive player for the Red Wings and can be counted on for at least 20-25 goals next year. However, it doesn’t look like he is a key franchise player that can carry the team to the next level.
Nonetheless, he should at least entertain Detroit fans with a few highlight-reel goals in the coming seasons.
Trevor Daley – Signed as a free agent, three-year contract, worth $9.5 million.
Trevor Daley should bring some veteran leadership and Stanley Cup-winning experience to help some of Detroit’s younger defenders (Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul) along.
He is not exactly young at 33 and appears to serve as a stop-gap mentor for the future of the Detroit blue line. In the process, we should see Daley play a role on the Red Wings top-four defense next year.
Detroit has the highest possibility to finish last in the Atlantic Division next year and should be lottery bound as well.
However, the franchise has nothing to be ashamed of, as it has been one of the most successful sports organizations for more than two decades, and still holds records among many professional sports teams.
Playoffs are highly unlikely next season, if the Red Wings are able to finish in the top five in the Atlantic, it should be considered a year of exceeded expectations.
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