We talked about the Metropolitan division a couple of days ago, now we’ll jump right into the Atlantic division. Last year the Atlantic leader was a bit of a surprise, Florida came out on top and Tampa finished second, with Detroit and Boston in at three and four. Montreal had a bit of a down year due to many injuries and just not being able to stay healthy, where Buffalo had a more productive year than in previous seasons, but still finished seventh. No surprise here, Toronto finished last yet again.
I’ll start it off with my prediction for the top four teams in the Atlantic division.
Number one, the Florida Panthers. After a very successful offseason, Florida looks to be coming into next year even better and ready to go deeper in the postseason. With additions like Keith Yandle, Jason Demers and James Reimer Florida strengthened their back end well.
Yandle will not only put up 45-50 points a year but he will also be a great powerplay addition for this team, along with some speed and great puck moving ability. Jason Demers will help Florida lock in that top four defensemen spot and be a reliable player on the back end for them. James Reimer helps the aging Roberto Luongo get some time off every now and then, which will only be beneficial for the 37-year-old goaltender.
If Florida just so happens to come in at number one, there’s no saying that this team can’t be a threat in the playoffs. That’s if they can get some scoring up front from forwards like Jonathan Huberdeau, Jaromir Jagr, Vincent Trocheck, Alexander Barkov and Jiri Hudler. With a well-balanced lineup, the Panthers can without a doubt be the number one team in the Atlantic division.
Number two, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning continue to make deep runs into the playoffs and have proven themselves to be one of the best in the league. Going to the Conference Final without your captain and best scorer just shows how dangerous this Lightning team is.
However the Lightning have not made any offseason moves, but re-signing Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Alex Killorn to long-term contracts is a good sign that this team will be competitive for a long time. Adding players like Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov to the mix only makes this Lightning team even better. When Johnson and Kucherov are carrying the load in the playoffs and doing their part during the regular season at such a young age, shows that Tampa Bay are only going to keep moving forward.
Their defense, on paper, doesn’t look like the best but this past postseason they proved to stand strong and shut down some of the best players in the league. With two solid goaltenders, Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy, goaltending is not an issue with the Lightning as of right now. Although another deep playoff run could tire this team out – we’ve seen it happen to many teams around the league – but right now it’s just playing your cards right and continuing to win games.
Coming in at number three is a bit of a shocker, the Boston Bruins. I’m going to stick firm to my decision with ranking Boston at three. Boston made some peculiar offseason moves last year, and many doubted their ability to win games. They had the playoffs in sight last year but fell just short, plus they still won 42 games.
David Backes is obviously getting older and not putting up the numbers he used too, but he adds a good physical offensive presence that fits well with this Boston system. Alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, I think Boston will be just fine up front. However their defense does seem a bit uncertain, they’ve shown that they can get the job done and be solid enough for Boston to win games. Plus with a good draft pick, hoping Charlie McAvoy can develop rather quickly, only helps this Bruins defense.
This is a tough one between the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings, I’m stuck on who gets the four spot. I’m giving it to Montreal, sorry Detroit. Montreal added a great physical forward in Andrew Shaw, and acquire Shea Weber who will fit well in this Montreal system. If Montreal can stay healthy and get Max Pacioretty back to his scoring ways, they have a good shot at coming in fourth. Plus, a healthy Carey Price gives Montreal that edge over Detroit.
The five spot for Detroit is reasonable, they can finish higher but nothing lower in my opinion. Detroit losing their hall of fame forward Pavel Datsyuk is crucial, but getting rid of his contract was big for them. Detroit needs some veterans in the locker room, adding Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott helps this team add some veterans to the locker room. Concerns regarding defensemen Danny Dekeyser, and goalie Petr Mrazek not being signed yet is an issue for Detroit. Dekeyser is a top four defensemen and Mrazek is their starting goalie. Detroit needs to lock those guys up quickly, if not then this raises concerns for Detroit next year.
Six, seven, eight are pretty much set in stone. Ottawa at six, Buffalo at seven and Toronto at eight. Although I do believe Buffalo can have a better year and see themselves in the six spot. These three teams are all capable of having better years, but any of these teams sitting in the top four or five isn’t realistic in my opinion. Now, give Toronto and Buffalo some time to develop their prospects for two or three years maybe, Toronto and Buffalo could be a top five team – just not yet though.