Well folks, we’re getting closer and closer to that magical date. The NHL season is right upon us, and with that means more predictions to be made. Today, I’m predicting the standings for the Atlantic division. Like I mentioned on the previous article, these are impossible to predict, but are fun to try out nonetheless.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Without a doubt, the most disappointing team of the 2018/19 season. They did have a great regular season, in fact, they tied the 95/96 Red Wings NHL record of 62 wins in the regular season. Consider the fact that they have a salary cap now, it is likely the best regular season for any team of all time. They were unanimously the cup favorites, and anything less than a championship for them would have been considered a major disappointment. Not only did they fall short of that goal, but they were swept in the first round by the Blue Jackets, who were barely able to squeak into the final wild card spot. They have kept mainly the same roster, but did make a few changes in order to try and push themselves to the top.
Additions: Shattenkirk, Mcelhinney, Maroon, Schenn, Witkowski
A few solid adds for Tampa this offseason. Shattenkirk never worked out for the Rangers, but has had some monster years offensively before. He won’t have the pressure of being the main guy in Tampa Bay like he was in New York, and perhaps that allows him to get his game back. He certainly has enough skilled forwards to feed the puck to. Mcelhinney is a veteran back up who probably provides more consistency than Louis Domingue. Maroon comes in fresh off a Stanley Cup win with St.Louis and will certainly be able to provide some leadership on what it takes to be a champion, which this team desperately needs.
Departures: Miller, Erne, Callahan, Stralman, Girardi
The biggest loss for Tampa this offseason was J.T. Miller. They traded him to the Canucks, not because they wanted to but more so were forced to dude to the salary cap. Luckily for them, they have many forwards who can play in the top 9 and shouldn’t miss a beat without him. Stralman is another very solid player who ended up signing with Florida. He was limited to just 47 regular season games last year, yet Tampa continued to play well without him, and they should continue to do so. Erne was a nice bottom 6 player that they moved to Detroit, but he should be easily replaceable. Callahan’s career is over due to a back injury, but he is still under contract, so it was nice that Tampa was able to trade his salary over the off season. Girardi is another who’s career may be over, as he is still a free agent with the regular season less than a month away.
Regular season wise Tampa will continue to be a dominant team. Although last years regular season will be tough to repeat, they will still be one of the leagues best. The question for them will be the playoffs. It feels again like its Stanley Cup or bust for this team, which puts enormous pressure on them considering they didn’t win a single playoff game last year. As far as regular season predictions, it seems like a slam dunk pick to have them as the top seed in the Atlantic division, and I am going to do just that.
Boston Bruins: What an outstanding season for Boston. Although, it may have actually ended in a more frustrating way for both the fans and players, as they were one game away from winning it all. They ultimately lost in seven to the Blues in the final, but the season as a whole was still a huge success.
Additions: Ritchie, Lindholm
Nothing really here at all. Both Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm are players who are likely to be in and out of the lineup and likely play fourth line minutes.
Departures: Johansson, Acciari
Marcus Johansson is a solid top 9 player who would’ve been a nice player for Boston to hold onto. Unfortunately, due to the salary cap, this wasn’t able to happen and he left as a free agent. Boston has enough depth that they will be able to replace him with no issues. Acciari is another fourth line player who they were able to replace with both Ritchie and Lindholm.
Overall, the biggest win for the Bruins in the offseason was simply that they were able to keep almost the exact same team. Considering they were one win short of winning it all, that is a great job by management. Some of their core, mainly Patrice Bergeron, are getting older. However, until they begin to show any type of decline in play, it doesn’t appear the Bruins are going to slow down anytime soon. I’m predicting another very solid season from the Bruins, who I believe no doubt will continue to be a favorite to come out of the East. However, I have them dropping down one spot from second to third in the Atlantic, not because of them regressing, but because of another team on the rise.
Toronto Maple Leafs: A lot of hype, but yet again not even a single series win to show for it. Although, it’s hardly the Leafs fault, as they played a Bruins team in the first round who went all the way to the finals. It felt like when this series had an upcoming game seven that this was finally the year Toronto would beat the Bruins and advance to the second round, but it just wasn’t meant to be. They are a very young team though, and are in a great position to have many successful seasons, both regular and playoff, over the upcoming years.
Additions: Barrie, Kerfoot, Ceci, Spezza, Harpur, Aberg, Agostino
Some pretty significant changes in Toronto during the offseason. They acquired both Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot from Colorado in a trade that featured Nazim Kadri. This was a great move for Toronto as they acquired one of the better offensive defencemen in the game in Barrie. He will be a huge upgrade to their blueline, and is also in a contract year. I expect him to have a monster year for Toronto, although playing in a media crazed market like that is no easy task. Kerfoot is a solid player who put up 42 points in 78 games last season. He can play up and down the lineup and will help contribute to their secondary scoring. Spezza has had a remarkable career and is a great veteran presence for the young Leafs team, although it’s fair to question how much he has left to give at this stage. Ceci seems to be a whipping boy online, but I expect him to quiet a lot of his critics this season. It’ll help him playing on a much better team along with lower minutes than he had playing in Ottawa.
Departures: Kadri, Zaitsev, Marleau, Brown, Ennis, Gardiner, Hainsey
Yow. Some pretty big names here, but this is what happens when you have young players that need to be paid like the Leafs have these last few seasons. Kadri was a great player for the Leafs who could be relied on to do pretty much anything you needed from him. However, the trade for Barrie and Kerfoot should be one that is viewed as a win for Toronto. They were able to move out Zaitsev’s contract in trading him for Ceci and Harpur. Connor Brown was another versatile player who they likely didn’t want to move, but were forced to because of their salary cap situation. He will be missed, but they found a better replacement for him in Kerfoot. Jake Gardiner was a lightning rod for criticism during his time in Toronto. He was a better player during his time in Toronto than he will get credit for because of his tendency to save his worst performances for the most important games. They found a better replacement in Barrie. Marleau and Hainsey were both great veterans for the young core, but were not contributing much on the ice anymore. Spezza should be able to help replace their leadership.
Even though they lost some significant pieces, I think the additions outweigh them. Because of this, I expect the Leafs to be even better than they were last season. With Mitch Marner just re-signing, and assuming Auston Matthews will stay healthy this season, this Leafs team should be one of the most exciting to watch in the entire league. Their core is a year older, and should continue to improve. Barrie really gives them a lot on the backend, which was questioned going into last year and now all of a sudden looks quite strong. Freddy Andersen remains underrated, and should continue to give the Leafs a chance to win night in and night out. My prediction for the Leafs this year is a 2nd place finish in the Atlantic.
Montreal Canadiens: Despite missing the playoffs, it was still a pretty successful season by all accounts for Montreal. This was a team predicted to be near the bottom, if not last place in the entire league. They ended up missing the postseason by just two points. Just a year ago it looked like this team was down in the dumps and were years away from contending. Now, with the season they had last year, it looks like they are a team who could become a contender sooner than later.
Additions: Cousins, Chiarot, Kinkaid
Very little was done by Montreal this offseason. Cousins is a useful bottom six forward, and Chiarot is a dependable third pairing defenceman. They needed to add a reliable back up goalie for Carey Price, and were able to do so bringing in Keith Kinkaid.
Departures: Shaw, Niemi, Benn, Deslauriers
Although they didn’t add much, they also didn’t lose much. Andrew Shaw is a feisty agitator type player who can also put up points. This trade seemed a little odd for Montreal, as Shaw had a career year this past season with 47 points in just 63 games. Nonetheless, they moved on from him and will certainly miss his grittiness as well as his offence. Niemi was dreadful last season and Montreal much improved their backup situation with Kinkaid. Jordie Benn was essentially replaced with Ben Chiarot.
I don’t mind the makeup of this team. They have some good young talent up front. Max Domi had a big season last year, and is expected to build off of that going forward. They have several other young forwards with tons of skill and potential such as Jonathan Drouin and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. In net, they have one of if not the best goaltenders in the world in Carey Price. Whenever you have a goalie as dominant as Price, anything is possible. In saying that, however, I still don’t think this team has what it takes to be a playoff team. There are too many question marks in every position other than goaltending, and I don’t believe it’s there time yet. I am predicting the Canadiens finish 5th in the Atlantic this season.
Florida Panthers: There aren’t many teams who improved like the Panthers over the offseason. They already had a strong core of both forwards and defence. Last year, the issue was almost strictly goaltending. Luongo was hurt throughout the majority of the year, and struggled when he was able to play. Reimer was equally bad. This season, they are likely going to be a must watch team in terms of skill level alone.
Additions: Bobrovsky, Stralman, Connolly, Acciari
Well, adding a two time Vezina winner isn’t a bad way to fix your goaltending issues. Bobrovsky signed a 7X70 million-dollar contract with the Panthers this offseason. The length is certainly something that could end up being an issue, but for the present this looks to be a huge boost for the Panthers. Bobrovsky struggled a bit last year, but he is still arguably the best goalie in the world. They also shored up their blue line by adding veteran Anton Stralman who is criminally underrated and will help them out a lot. Brett Connolly had a breakout season with the Capitals last year and will add to an already lethal scoring forward group. Acciari rounds out the offseason acquisitions and adds some grit to their bottom six.
Departures: Luongo, Reimer
Well, getting rid of two goalies who were both near the bottom of the league in all statistical categories isn’t a bad way to fix your goaltending issues either. Roberto Luongo will go down as one of the greatest goalies of all time, but had simply just gotten to the age where he was always on the injured reserve or trying to play through injuries. When he did play last year, it was clear he just didn’t have what he once did, and was unable to steal games for the Panthers like everyone had become so used to seeing from him in the past. James Reimer struggled just as much, and was also on a fairly big contract for a goalie of his caliber. He is a reliable back up that gets paid like a starter, so it was a nice job by the Panthers management to be able to move out that contract.
Although they were also considered heavily in the running for Artemi Panarin, it was still a very strong offseason for Florida. And not only because of the player additions you see up above. They were also able to add head coach Joel Quenneville. Ya, the Joel Quenneville who won three Stanley Cups with Chicago. Quenneville is highly regarded as the best coach in the entire game, and the fact he was willing to choose Florida when he no doubt had a lot of other offers on the table goes to show what direction this team was already headed. Adding him only helps. This team has so much talent, especially up front, but at times has lacked structure. This is something Quenneville will fix and I believe he will turn them into a contender. Although it is a tough division this year, I am predicting the Florida Panthers to place 4th in the Atlantic.
Buffalo Sabres: Another disappointing season in Buffalo. This was a team that seemed to be on the rise a few seasons ago, with tons of young potential that was sure to have them be a contender for years to come. Fast forward to where we are now, and it seems they are still in the same place, only with less hope. Sure, they still have young promising talent, but they really haven’t shown it at the NHL level just yet. There could be a breakout year coming, but they are an unpredictable team. Unfortunately for them as well, they play in a division which features three of the best teams in the league.
Additions: Johansson, Miller, Vesey, Jokiharju
The Sabres big free agent splash came with the signing of Marcus Johansson. Johansson is a skilled veteran who can play up and down the lineup and if healthy should be relied upon to put up near 50 points. They also did a nice job of grabbing Colin Miller for a pretty cheap price as Vegas was forced to make a move due to their salary cap situation. Miller is a defenceman who can put up offensive numbers and has a bomb from the point which should help Buffalo’s powerplay. Another player who came into the league with a lot of potential was Jimmy Vesey. It never panned out the way him or the Rangers had hoped, and he was traded to Buffalo this offseason. He hasn’t shown much at the NHL level yet, but by all accounts, has the skill to produce. If he can put it together, it will be a huge pick up by the Sabres. Another forward they had with a ton of potential who has been unable to put it together at the NHL or even AHL level for that matter was Alex Nylander. It wasn’t working out for him in the Buffalo organization, and they were able to move him to Chicago for Jokiharju. Although Jokiharju is also still a bit of a gamble, he appears to have the much better chance than Nylander at this point to turn into a high impact NHL player. This is a trade that should have Buffalo fans very excited.
Not much going on here. Pominville has yet to sign with an NHL team and it appears it could be the end of the road for him. If it is, it was an exceptional career, with many of those great seasons coming in a Sabres uniform. He still was decently effective last season with 31 points (16 G, 15A) in 73 games. Ultimately, they found a better offseason replacement in Johansson.
This is a team I still don’t see doing to much damage this year. They still have to many unproven players. Along with unproven players, they hired head coach Ralph Krueger. Being an Oilers can, I remember Krueger coaching the Oilers during the lockout shortened 2012/2013 season. He did a very good job with them, and from what it sounds like all the players loved him. It’s important to remember though that it was an extremely small sample size. I also don’t know what to think about their goaltending. Neither Ullmark nor Hutton showed they were capable of being a number one in the NHL. If they were to make the jump they would need a lot to go right. Is this the year Jack Eichel really breaks out? Will Rasmus Dahlin be even better than last year? These are tough questions to answer. Even if both these things happen, they would still need much more than just that to go their way. Because of this, I’m predicting the Sabres to finish in 6th place in the Atlantic again this season.
Detroit Red Wings: Detroit was a very good team for a long time. They set an NHL record of making the playoffs 25 straight seasons in a row. In any professional sport, every team will have it’s ups and downs. The Red Wings had many years of ups, and are now experiencing the downs. They are currently in a complete rebuild. Give them credit for fully committing to a rebuild. It’s something many teams struggle with and end up in that tough position of either squeaking in to playoffs and being eliminated first round, or just miss by a few points and are also unable to attain a high draft pick.
Additions: Filppula, Nemeth, Pickard
Valtteri Filppula isn’t the player he once was. If he puts up 30+ points this season, it will be considered a successful year for him. The main thing he brings is a veteran presence and an ability to teach the young group in Detroit what it takes to win. It’s important to remember he was once a young player on those very competitive Red Wings teams, and even won a Stanley Cup with them during the 2007/2008 season. Patrik Nemeth is simply a cheap defenceman that fills a hole while they wait for their younger guys to develop further. The same goes for Calvin Pickard, who is a cheap back up option for the time being.
Departures: Kronwall, Vanek, Frk
Niklas Kronwall just recently announced his retirement. He played in Detroit his entire career and has been an excellent defenceman for a long time. The Red Wings left the door open for him to return but he ultimately decided not to. They will miss him in the dressing room. Vanek is another old veteran who has not announced his retirement, but has not been signed yet. He could give a contending team a cheap option for secondary scoring, but it doesn’t make sense for a rebuilding team like Detroit who would rather give that role to a young prospect. Martin Frk is still fairly young so it wouldn’t have been overly surprising to see Detroit give him one last shot, but they decided they had seen enough and let him walk as a free agent.
It will be a long season in Detroit. The nice thing for the fans there is that they do have plenty of young talent who are fun to watch and will have Detroit become a good team in future years. Between Larkin, Athanasiou, Zadina, and others, there is certainly room for excitement. Another reason to get excited for this team is the fact they were able to bring in Steve Yzerman as their general manager. Yzerman is highly regarded as the best general manager in the game, and is the main guy responsible for one of the best teams in the NHL in Tampa Bay. Yzerman proved that his work in Tampa was no fluke, making countless moves every offseason in order to wiggle around the salary cap. He should be able to help turn the rebuilding Red Wings into a cup contender soon enough. However, no one would be able to turn it around this soon, and no one is expecting that out of him. Because of that, I have Red Wings finishing 7th in the Atlantic again this season.
Ottawa Senators: Trainwreck. Complete trainwreck. Is there a worse team to cheer for than the Senators right now? They seem to have a new headline story every single week, mostly due to their Eugene Melnyk. It is tough to be excited as a fan when your general manager gets asked in an interview “What’s the number one thing you’re optimistic about?” and his response is “Well…we’re a team…”
Arrivals: Anisimov, Zaitsev, Brown, Hainsey, Ennis
The Senators collected from the Leafs scrap pile. They added Anisimov who has been around the league for a long time. He has skill and should help this roster. Zaitsev’s play has dropped off immensely the past few seasons, but if he can find the level he played at his first year in Toronto, this will be a valuable piece. Brown and Ennis are bottom six forwards who can add a little secondary scoring to a team who desperately needs it. Hainsey is another veteran, and although it is hard to say how much he will contribute on the ice at this stage of his career, he will be a good veteran for the young Senators team.
Departures: Ceci, Harpur, Smith
The Senators had no choice but to trade Cody Ceci. He had become the fan bases whipping boy, and couldn’t do much to change their point of view. It’s possible the Zaitsev for Ceci swap ends up being a win for both teams. Zack Smith was a solid Senator for quite a few years, but they likely made the right decision in trading him for a much more skilled Artem Anisimov.
Another long, long season coming for Senators fans. Hopefully one with less headlines too, as the Senators were being talked about for all the wrong reasons last year. There isn’t much else to say regarding this team. D.J. Smith was brought in as their new head coach, so perhaps he will be able to pull off a miracle. They have a few very skilled pieces in Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Thomas Chabot. Aside from that, there are a lot of depth pieces, and a goaltender that is a shell of his former self in Craig Anderson. The Senators and their fans alike will be hoping the season ends in a hurry. I am predicting an 8th place finish in the Atlantic.
1) Tampa Bay Lightning
2) Toronto Maple Leafs
3) Boston Bruins
4) Florida Panthers
5) Montreal Canadiens
6) Buffalo Sabres
7) Detroit Red Wings
8) Ottawa Senators
What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below!