The Atlantic Division boasts some of the most exciting talent in the entire NHL. With players like Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos and Jack Eichel, the Atlantic will be a high-scoring division. Unlike other years when Montreal, Boston or Tampa Bay were the clear favourites, the 2017/2018 season is full of question marks. Can Tampa Bay stay healthy? Will the Maple Leafs fall into the sophomore slump? Will the front office of the Florida Panthers stop tinkering and let Barkov and Ekblad carry them? Although the Atlantic doesn’t have many Stanley Cup favourites, it will surely have some of the most interesting storylines in the NHL.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
Last Years’ finish (5th in Atlantic, 10th in East)
This Years’ prediction (1st in Atlantic, 2nd in East)
The Tampa Bay Lighting were the team that many pundits thought would easily win the Atlantic Division last year. If it weren’t for an awful case of the injury bug, they might have. Steve Yzerman pulled off another masterful off-season by resigning Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson at reasonable yearly averages for five and seven-year terms, respectively. To add to that surplus of talent, Yzerman traded Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev. He knew that Drouin would demand a big contract, so he dealt from his strongest position and added to his weakest one. With a healthy Stamkos and co. the Lightning have a chance to put last years’ injury bug behind them and return to the Stanley Cup Final.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
Last Years’ Finish (4th in Atlantic, 8th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (2nd in Atlantic, 5th in East)
Toronto surprised many people last year by making the playoffs and giving the President’s Trophy winner a run for their money. The next step is repeating that process. Toronto is the deepest offensive team in the NHL. With as many as five NHL-ready forwards not making the opening day roster, the Leafs will have support when injury trouble arises. Although their defence isn’t one of the best in the league, Pittsburgh showed last year that defence isn’t needed when the offence is that dominant. The Leafs don’t have a Crosby or a Malkin, but they do have three responsible lines that can all score in bunches. I predicted the Leafs would make the playoffs before last season, and I’ll follow that correct prediction with another: The Leafs will lose in game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
- Montreal Canadiens
Last Years’ Finish (1st in Atlantic, 4th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (3rd in Atlantic, 7th in East)
Marc Bergevin followed a bad offseason with a tumultuous one. After trading star player and fan-favourite, P.K. Subban, Montreal traded their top prospect, Mikhail Sergachev for unproven forward Jonathan Drouin, and promptly signed him to a six-year, $33-million contract. Although the Drouin trade may turn out to be a win, what’s not a win is losing one of your top forwards and defencemen. With the loss of Radulov and Markov, the Canadiens lost two of their best players, which creates a huge hole in their lineup. They attempted to patch the hole on the blue-line by adding Mark Streit, Karl Alzner and David Schlemko. While these players will help the Canadiens reach the playoffs, they won’t be able to provide the mobility needed on the blue-line to get Carey Price his Stanley Cup.
- Florida Panthers
Last Years’ Finish (6th in Atlantic, 13th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (4th in Atlantic, 8th in East)
The Florida Panthers are a tough team to judge going into this season. Two seasons ago they ran away with the Atlantic, but lots has happened since. They fired Gerard Gallant midway through last season and replaced him with Bob Boughner this offseason. To add to their coaching change, the Panthers have had a lot of personnel changes. They lost a lot of offence this offseason. Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith were given to Vegas Golden Knights in order to protect Jason Demers… who was then traded to Arizona for Jamie McGinn. Please explain that one to me, because I still can’t figure it out. The Panthers don’t look like a scary team, but they still possess the potential to prove that last year was a bump in the road. Expect Florida to be last years’ Columbus and make their way back to the playoffs.
- Boston Bruins
Last Years’ Finish (3rd in Atlantic, 7th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (5th in Atlantic, 9th in East)
Boston could survive another regular season with a strong defence-first identity. After firing Claude Julien last year, the Bruins surged up the standings and finished in third place in the Atlantic. With teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay bound to get better this season, the Bruins will struggle to repeat that feat. The Bruins need Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask to carry them defensively, while Brad Marchand and newly re-signed David Pastrnak carry the offence. While those stars will definitely help their case for a playoff run, they still need support. The Bruins could surpass my prediction if two things happen: if they buy-in to the defence-first mentality and if Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy cement themselves in the top-four of the defence core.
- Buffalo Sabres
Last Years’ Finish (8th in Atlantic, 15th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (6th in Atlantic, 12th in East)
The Buffalo Sabres are another team that has to prove me wrong until I believe in them. While they have superstar potential in Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen, they have too many holes in their lineup. The holes are especially apparent on the defensive side of the ice. Newly added Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu stepped right into the number two and three roles behind Ristolainen, but there isn’t much behind them. Bogosian and Gorges are ageing and both have a limited skill-set in the youth-driven NHL. Their starting goaltending is still a question mark with Lehner’s injury trouble. They will also need Okposo and Kane to have resurgent seasons to help support the offence. While the Sabres have the top-end talent to make the playoffs, there are too many question marks within their lineup to say they are a sure-fire bet to get there.
- Ottawa Senators
Last Years’ Finish (2nd in Atlantic, 6th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (7th in Atlantic, 13th in East)
With Erik Karlsson, Derick Brassard and Clarke MacArthur all currently injured, the Senators won’t be able to recreate last years’ post-season magic. They relied heavily on disrupting their opponent’s momentum, and capitalizing on the few scoring chances they created. Without their top offensive player, the Sens will struggle to score from the start of the season. With their scoring struggles in full flight, the Senators will have to keep the puck out of their own net even more. The problem is, that will be a tough-ask after losing Marc Methot to the Expansion Draft. Methot was the shutdown defenceman that allowed Karlsson to thrive, and his loss will be felt this year. If you were expecting another Cinderella run to the Eastern Conference finals, don’t. It’s not going to happen.
- Detroit Red Wings
Last Years’ Finish (7th in Atlantic, 14th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (8th in Atlantic, 16th in East)
Once the organization that every team in the league strived to become, Detroit is now on the outside, looking in. Since the Red Wings made the playoffs for the 25th straight year, they’ve struggled to form a team identity. They hoped that Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha could step right in to replace the production of Pavel Datsyuk, but that just wasn’t a fair assumption. They do have star potential, but neither one will impact the Red Wings like “The Magic Man” did. The biggest question for Detroit is, how will they create more offence? Tomas Tatar was the only player to clear the 20 goal plateau, and with Henrik Zetterberg aging, they will rely heavily on the development of Larkin, Mantha and Athanasiou.
The Atlantic has a lot of potential to change these predictions drastically. There is a balance of star-power and question marks on every team, which will make for an exciting season. The only thing that’s certain about this division is that the race will be wide open.