The NHL’s Atlantic Division seemed to be more competitive than it ever was during the 2017-18 season. Though only three of its eight combatants made the playoffs, those three claimed the first, second, and fourth place in the Eastern Conference by the season’s end. Looking ahead to the 2018-19 season, there is reason to expect even more of that competitive nature coming out of the Atlantic Division.
The Boston Bruins found themselves in a battle for the Eastern Conference last season, falling short by just a single point. The beginning of their 2017-18 campaign was riddled with struggles, but they certainly bounced back and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
The Bruins added a few pieces in free agency. The two highlighted acquisitions come in the forms of goaltender Jaroslav Halak and defenseman John Moore. With the Adam McQuaid trade, Boston has seven NHL-ready defensemen and Moore is expected to lock down one of the six starting roles. Halak, on the other hand, replaces Anton Khudobin and will be backing up starting goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Fans in Boston should expect another stellar performance as youngsters such as Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, and Jake DeBrusk enter their sophomore seasons. Especially if GM Don Sweeney adds another starter to the lineup before the trade deadline, the Bruins could very well make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond.
The Buffalo Sabres were the worst team in the NHL last season, producing a record of 25-45-12 which accumulated to just 62 points. It was certainly a grim year for one of the United States’ north-most cities.
Heading into the 2018-19 campaign, the Sabres have reason to hope for a better outcome. The addition of Jeff Skinner has Buffalo hoping for more production this season and possibly the future. Skinner is on the last leg of a six-year deal signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, but he should be excited in his joining of an up-and-coming team. There is little reason to worry that he won’t ink an extension with the Sabres.
There is also the highly touted Rasmus Dahlin who was selected by Buffalo with the first-overall pick of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Dahlin is expected to make an immediate impact along the blueline which has been a weak point for the team in recent years. In the end, Buffalo will likely miss the playoffs once again. However, they should see themselves in the middle of the pack compared to their last-place finish last season.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings also failed to have an impressive 2017-18 season. Young forward Dylan Larkin led the team in scoring with 63 points at just the age of 21. He is giving many Detroit fans reason to hope for a promising future. However, that future may not include the upcoming season.
Second on the scoresheet was Henrik Zetterberg who announced his retirement this summer. The loss of Zetterberg will greatly impact the Red Wings as his 56 points cannot easily be replaced. Anthony Mantha, on the other hand, promises a wealthy future just like Larkin. The 23-year-old potted 24 goals and 24 assists last season and is due for more this year. However, Detroit will likely remain a middle-of-the-road team this season.
I expect the Florida Panthers to be a playoff team this year. They just barely missed the 2018 postseason, falling short of a wild card spot by just one point. In addition to the young Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, and Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers added 29-year-old Mike Hoffman who potted 56 points on a struggling Ottawa Senators team last season.
They also have young rookie Henrik Borgstrom who is poised to make an impact on one of the deepest Florida teams we have seen in years. Couple this with a solid defensive unit with names like Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers have the tools to get the job done. They should be able to nail down a wild-card spot and even see the postseason gates open through one of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division.
The Montreal Canadiens had a rough 2017-18 campaign. This summer they attempted to stir things up with a blockbuster trade: the team shipped Alex Galchenyuk off to the Arizona Coyotes for Max Domi. After an altercation with Florida’s Ekblad, Domi was suspended for the remainder of the preseason. It wasn’t exactly a great look.
Leading up to the 2018-19 season, the Canadiens named Shea Weber as their newest captain. Weber, however, is expected to miss the first three months of the campaign after having surgery over the offseason. Brendan Gallagher led the Habs with 31 goals and 23 assists last season and is expected to once again lead the charge.
The defense was a big weakness for the team last year which only made matters worse. Montreal finished with a 29-40-13 record and will seek to turn things around this year, but I wouldn’t bet on them making the playoffs anytime soon.
The Ottawa Senators were one of the biggest topics of discussion in the NHL this offseason. Though they were able to draft Brady Tkachuk, who is expected to make an immediate impact, the rest of the Sens’ offseason was riddled with bad apples.
There was, of course, the whole Erik Karlsson-Mike Hoffman debacle which led a boatload of friction in the locker room. Hoffman was subsequently traded to the Panthers while Karlsson was shipped off to the San Jose Sharks. By trading one of the best defensemen in the league, it seems the Senators have fully committed to a rebuild – something the team has needed for quite a while.
With that said, there is not much to look forward to this season for the Senators. The one thing that may draw some attention is the performance of the organization’s young stars, namely Tkachuk. Ottawa may once again find themselves with one of the best picks in the NHL Entry Draft.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning locked down the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference crown when the 2017-18 campaign settled. They finished the season with a 54-23-5 record before skating past the New Jersey Devils and Bruins with ease. They were then stumped by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals.
Even though the Lightning fell shy of a Stanley Cup appearance, the team had a very successful season and the means to build upon it. They have one of the best wingers in the NHL today in Nikita Kucherov. The Russian produced 39 goals and 61 assists last year, totaling 100 points. Then there is Brayden Point who, at the age of 21, came up with 32 goals and 34 assists. He went on to tally 16 points in 17 postseason appearances.
Another bright spot comes in the form of defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. The 19-year-old produced 40 points in 79 games and is expected to top those numbers during the 2018-19 campaign. To sum things up, all is good in Tampa Bay, and the Bolts are expected to have success once more.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs made the biggest free-agent acquisition of the summer. The team added star-center John Tavares who brings 621 points in 669 career games to a Leafs squad in need of a boost.
Though Toronto achieved a playoff berth last season, they were knocked out by the Bruins after giving up a lead in Game 7. While the team has a good offensive base in Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitchell Marner, they needed something else and the Leafs seem to think Tavares is the answer.
In net is Frederik Andersen who pushed for a Vezina Trophy consideration by the end of the season. He just barely missed the title as a Vezina Finalist in 2017-18. However, Andersen is capable of topping his 38-21-5 record from last season and making yet another bid for the Vezina. In addition, if Toronto is to have postseason success, they will need their goaltender to bring his A-game.
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