Continuing on with predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season, it’s time to look at the Atlantic Division.
Similar to the Metropolitan Division, the Atlantic has a host of elite teams at the top, but it trails off significantly after that. This division seems, among the others, to be the most clear cut in terms of who can make the playoffs and who cannot.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (X)
Regardless of Steve Yzerman’s departure, the Lightning are in great hands in the foreseeable future. With Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the charge, it is nearly impossible to bet against the Lightning.
Stamkos’ and Vasilevskiy’s individual injury problems are always a concern, but there appear to be no lingering issues heading into the season.
Tampa Bay did not add any significant players this offseason, however they did not lose any either. Andrej Sustr left for Anaheim, but Erik Cernak, acquired from Los Angeles in the Ben Bishop trade, appears to be ready to go.
The Lightning will be looking to get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2015, when they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. Tampa Bay seems primed for a deep run, and in all probability a Stanley Cup, so it is an easy choice to place them atop the division.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs (X)
Hey, do you like goals? Well look no further.
The Maple Leafs are going to absolutely light the lamp in 2018-19. They scored 277 goals last season, tied for second-best with Winnipeg and behind Tampa Bay.
They did lose a significant amount of production, including James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak, but the acquisition of John Tavares basically wipes that all clean. Tavares centering behind Matthews is a daunting task for any team coming in to face the Buds.
Kyle Dubas certainly needs to find a stellar right-handed defenseman in order to transform the Leafs into a Stanley Cup contender. Then again, the Penguins won the Cup in 2016 without any defense, so it is possible.
Freddie Andersen in the cage always helps too. The Danish superstar has proven himself to be a true top-tier goalie while in Toronto and will likely stay there for long, long time.
3. Boston Bruins (X)
The Bruins stayed largely the same this summer, although they did bring in John Moore on the back-end and Jaroslav Halak to sit behind Tuukka Rask.
After a few years of struggle and a few swings-and-misses on draft day, the Bruins appear to be in formidable shape for the next few years. Charlie McAvoy has developed into a stud in only a few years, and Brandon Carlo has turned into a reliable asset as well.
Time is not on Boston’s side in some regards, though. This season could be Zdeno Chara’s last. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are getting up there in age. Brad Marchand will start declining eventually, too.
The Bruins need to go all-in these next few seasons while their core is still intact. As much as that may hurt, the development of their prospect pool has allowed for this to be a reality.
The Middle of the Pack
4. Florida Panthers (X)
Much like with the Devils, I am making this prediction with extreme caution.
The Panthers, now with Mike Hoffman, have some incredible pieces up front. Roberto Luongo in the cage is not bad either. Still, though, nothing screams ‘amazing’ to me about them.
With the current roster the Panthers have, they will be a middling team. Nothing more, nothing less.
Florida did finish the 2017-18 season on fire, so maybe it will translate over. It remains to be seen, though.
5. Buffalo Sabres
Buffalo, especially with Carter Hutton in front of a still shaky defense, does not strike me as a playoff team just yet.
They are definitely getting there, and there is a lot to be excited about if you are a fan of the team. Casey Mittelstadt and Alex Nylander look ready to go, and Rasmus Dahlin is essentially a sure-fire superstar. Jeff Skinner being added to the mix for peanuts was a tremendous addition as well.
The Sabres, though, just are not there in totality yet. It is just hard to see the escaping from the East, but in a perfect world, they could leapfrog the Panthers. Stranger things have definitely happened — just ask the Golden Knights.
6. Montreal Canadiens
There is no “The Outside Looking In” section for the Atlantic division because none of the tree teams at the bottom deserve it.
Starting with Montreal, it is truly impressive how they managed to get the sixth-spot on this prediction.
They do have Carey Price in the cage and a handful of quality forwards, but they will not be a good team. Newly appointed captain Shea Weber is out until at least November (but it will likely be longer) and the rest of the defense is in shambles.
There is not too much to look forward to, aside from Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s debut, in Montreal this year. The best thing that management could do moving forward is can Marc Bergevin, but given that he has made a series of team-building moves in the last few months, it does not seem like that will happen.
7. Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings, now without Henrik Zetterberg, are in for a rough few years.
They had an excellent draft in 2018, but that does not help the team at hand. The best thing for them, right now, is to tank and get another high draft pick in 2019.
The waiting game is also in effect for Detroit, as Steve Yzerman is about to hit unrestricted free agency as an executive. There is plenty of rumblings that he will replace Ken Holland as general manager and lead the team back to glory, but it remains to be seen if that will actually happen.
For now, though, the Red Wings will just have to trudge along and make the best of a poor situation.
8. Ottawa Senators
I truly do not even know where to begin with this organization. From Eugene Melnyk, to Pierre Dorion, to the handling of the Erik Karlsson and Mark Stone situations, everything has been a disaster in Canada’s capital city.
The fact that they do not have their own first round pick this year is pretty incredible. It feels like just yesterday that the hockey world was laughing at Joe Sakic for his handling of the Matt Duchene saga.
The Senators definitely have some nice pieces, including Thomas Chabot and Brady Tkachuk, but that it not going to save them this year or any time in the future.
So, so, so much work needs to be done with the Senators, and it starts at the top with management. Until that changes, nothing else will.
Stay tuned for the Central Division preview coming soon.
Metropolitan Division preview can be found here.