2017-18 NHL Preview: Atlantic Division

atlanticThere may be no bigger division in terms of attention than the Atlantic Division as this group includes some of the biggest fan bases in the league.

The Atlantic is home to some of the oldest teams from the most traditional hockey markets in the NHL.

With the NHL continuing to expand to traditional markets they are constantly looking to have the success that the Atlantic has had.

It is the end goal for every team as they all hope to become the powerhouses that are located in the division.

Of course, that powerhouse label has little to do with the performance on the ice and a lot more to do with their performance off of the ice.

The Atlantic is home to three of the top five teams in the 2016 Forbes ranking of most valuable teams in the league.

The Montreal Canadiens are worth a total of $1.12 billion, Toronto came in at $1.1 billion and the Boston Bruins are valued at $800 million.

Every team in the league would like to be able to match these types of values and become one of the most stable teams in the league.

The majority of the teams in the Atlantic are in that spot as they are in no danger of suffering through a bad season off of the ice.

That is largely because of the loyal fan bases that these teams have had and a big part of those fan bases is the history in this division.

Montreal and Toronto are among the two oldest and most successful teams in NHL history, even if it hasn’t followed through in more recent years.

Together they have 37 Stanley Cups with the Canadiens taking the total of 24, the most out of any franchise in the league.

Both of these teams and cities are considered the biggest hockey markets in the world and they have proven to be the most successful teams on a consistent basis off of the ice.

The Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings have put their own history into the league as well with the Bruins among the Original Six teams and the Red Wings representing one of the best franchises in recent history.

These four teams make up a massive base for the NHL as they are some of the biggest franchises in the league when it comes to their fan bases.

The Buffalo Sabres might not have the same history but Western New York is a good hockey market.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are becoming a team that the league can depend on as they continue to be good.

Not every team is in the same boat in the division though as the Ottawa Senators are one of the few Canadian teams struggling and the Florida Panthers have been in trouble for years.

Still, the entire division remains one of the most watched in the NHL and a division that is one of the most visible in the world.hockey-sidebar

That visibility is a big advantage for every team in the division but it can also be a massive issue for these teams.

The more people are watching the more pressure there is to compete and win which is something that has been tough for many of these teams in recent years.

The Red Wings were one of the best teams in the league but their move to the east coincided with the end of their time at the top.

Last year marked the first time in 26 seasons that they missed the playoffs taking them out of the running.

The Boston Bruins were also one of the top teams and they couldn’t do much in the playoffs last year.

The same can be said for the Canadiens who were consistently a top team but haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup in years.

Tampa Bay looked great for years but are in a weird spot where they have the talent but aren’t that competitive.

The Maple Leafs are only now getting back to relevance after years of terrible hockey while the Florida Panthers haven’t been able to consistently be great.

The Senators were the only team from the Atlantic to make it past the first round in a surprising run but some question whether they can do it again.

There is plenty of promise in this division and a lot of talent but they have failed to make much of an impact.

That won’t do for most teams in the division as the fans are demanding and they are hoping a new season brings back the competitiveness to the most watched division in the league.

boston_bruins

The Boston Bruins enjoyed a period where they were one of the toughest teams to beat throughout the league winning Stanley Cups and taking home division titles. That period might just be over though as the Bruins are no longer that devastating team that they used to be. They are no longer the big bad bruins from a few years ago and they have struggled to find their way back to the top of the league. The Bruins are caught in the bos-statsdifficult spot that almost every team finds themselves. They are an ageing group but not old enough to be considered over the hill and they have a lot of skill throughout their lineup but not quite enough to compete with the best in the league. The Bruins last year barely made the playoffs and then were eliminated right away after making the playoffs. They had an amazing year from Brad Marchand while the rest of the team struggled to live up to their expectations. They enter a new season as a team on the decline that made little to no effort to try to improve their team. That is going to make things tough for the Bruins as they try to get back to the top of the league with the same group that only made it one round last year. The Bruins need Marchand to duplicate his season from a year ago as he was the clear leader for this team after putting up 85 points. It was his best year yet and if he can do the same the Bruins at least have a top-level scorer to lead the offence. Marchand is joined by David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron as serious scoring threats but that is where the threats end. There is nobody else behind them to provide much scoring and that is a big problem for the team. They are hoping that potential young stars in Anders Bjork and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson can provide that secondary scoring. On the blue line, they will look to another young star in Charlie McAvoy who showed a lot of promise in the playoffs last year and could be the heir apparent to Zdeno Chara. The veteran captain is still a top defenceman but his age is beginning to show leaving holes on the defence that they are trying to fix with youth but might not be fixable right now. That hurts their goaltending too as Tuukka Rask is still one of the best but without a good backup he simply plays too much and is relied on too heavily. The Bruins have holes and none were fixed from a year ago leaving too many questions and likely seeing them out of the playoffs.

buffalo_sabres

For Buffalo, things were looking like it could all be changing thanks to some big additions mainly through the draft and the fans were fully on board. A new owner brought a new hope for the Sabres and they were on their way to becoming a real competitor in the league. Things stalled last year though as their building momentum disappeared with a terrible season that found them at the end of the season sitting at the bottom of the buf-statsdivision. That is where things got even more interesting for the Sabres as the bad season led their biggest star to speak out. Jack Eichel essentially just told the Sabres that they should fire their GM and their head coach. When he spoke it seemed like he was essentially saying that they need to go forward with this or he was not going to be in Buffalo very long. The ownership seemed to follow through after the veiled threat and they cleaned house firing Tim Murray and Dan Bylsma. They enter the new season with Jason Botterill taking over as GM and Phil Housley as the head coach. Both will hope that they can keep this team together unlike the regime before them and they seem to have made some progress. There is no doubt that Eichel is the leader of the team with or without the captain and putting up 57 points last year despite an injury-shortened season. He is not alone up front either as Ryan O‘Reilly has been right beside him putting up points. This year they will hope to see some development from Sam Reinhart who has been good but not as good as many thought. They will also look to new additions Jason Pominville and Benoit Pouliot to provide some secondary scoring in what looks like a good first two lines. They may struggle after those players but the offence still has more depth than others in the league. On defence, the Sabres have struggled but they are finally taking steps towards correcting that. Signing Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu should help as they are upgrades while everyone still wonders if Rasmus Ristolainen can be a top defenceman. His offensive output is great but there are questions about whether or not he can truly handle the minutes that a top defenceman needs to eat. In net, the Sabres are solid with Robin Lehner among the top goalies, even if he flies under the radar. There are some questions for this team, especially on defence but the other aspects of the team look good and could only be getting better. If the entire team can stay healthy and happy under the new regime a playoff appearance could be in the cards for the Sabres.

detroit_red_wings

It was one of the most impressive streaks in NHL history as the Detroit Red Wings gave their fans 25 straight seasons of playoff hockey. That was one of the longest playoff streaks In NHL history and it was during an era where the league saw a new champion every year. Those two and a half decades of playoff hockey came to an end at first slowly but then all of a sudden. For a number of years, they struggled to make the playoffs then det-statsfell to the bottom of the league in 2016-17. They struggled right off the bat and finished second to last in a division they used to rule marking a massive change for the team. They head into a new season without the streak weighing them down and for one of the best-run franchises in the league the pain not be around too long. That doesn’t mean that this new season won’t be painful though as the Red Wings are still a mix of young untested talent and ageing veterans. This year their success will only come if they can find a reliable goaltender which is what was missing in last year’s massive collapse. Petr Mrazek was supposed to be the next starter for the Wings but he was simply not good enough last year putting his future in question. It will likely leave a bit of a question mark at the position as Mrazek hopes to keep his starting role but Jimmy Howard is there to challenge him every step of the way. It doesn’t help that the defence has taken a turn for the worse as well with Niklas Kronwall moving further away from the top defender he used to be as he ages. It leaves the Wings depending on players like Mike Green and Danny Dekeyser who are good defenceman but are not really a top pairing on most teams and while the addition of Trevor Daley is good it isn’t going to fix everything. Up front, the Red Wings have some talent as Henrik Zetterberg is still putting up great numbers, although his age could be a concern. Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are doing what they are supposed to do, adding points at a consistent pace while Anthony Mantha is looking like he can be the guy that many thought he was. That is about it for the Red Wings though as they lack any depth up front behind these few guys. The Red Wings have some promise with some of their young talent but overall they are not in for a great season as they will begin a new streak of seasons without a playoff appearance going to two straight years.

 

florida_panthers.fw

They were one of the teams to watch when they entered last season as a great playoff run had them looking like a team on the rise and one to watch. Then they struggled throughout the start of the season and they never could find their way back to that magic that helped them make the playoffs. The Panthers struggled all year and fired their coach midway through but things only got stranger in the off-season. That is when they refused fla-statsto sign Jaromir Jagr despite his great production over the past few years. Then they failed to protect 30-goal scorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft allowing the Golden Knights to take him. Then they traded another young star in Reilly Smith to the Knights getting rid of another promising prospect and leaving a lot of fans wondering where they were going. After looking so great and having a down year it almost seemed like the Panthers were getting ready to change course entirely. It doesn’t really need to be that dramatic of a change for this team as the talent is still there for them to be successful they just need to find a way to meet that potential. Everything surrounds their young talent and up front, there is plenty of that young talent. Aleksander Barkov leads the way as a top young talent in the game right alongside Jonathan Huberdeau. They lead the attack while Vincent Trochek seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the team in points and provide his own chunk of production. The additions of European star Henrik Haapala who put up 60 points in the Liiga last year alongside Radim Vrbata and Evgeny Dadonov give some help to the offence. Those additions also attempt to reduce the sting of the loss of those young stars on offence. On the defensive side, the Panthers are full of talent with Aaron Ekblad leading the way alongside Mike Matheson, Keith Yandle and Jason Demers. It is a good group that counts as a strength even if they didn’t really perform like a strength last season. Their mistakes are often covered up though as Roberto Luongo remains a top goalie in the league. He will not last forever though and eventually, age will catch up to him, just hopefully no time soon. Right behind him is James Reimer who is a good backup goaltender and together they form one of the top tandems in the league. The Panthers are a team that lacks depth up front and their losses hurt that but their additions might just be able to keep them competing. That plus their good defence keeps them in the hunt this year for the playoffs but it is no guarantee that they will get a spot.

montreal_canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens have been one of the strongest teams in the Atlantic Division over the last few years. They are the team that has become the toughest teams to beat and every year they seem to be headed to the playoffs as a favourite to win it all. Every year they rise to the top of the league but then come crashing down in the playoffs unable to make a true run through the rest of the league. The problem is the same every mtl-statsyear for the Canadiens as they depend far too much on Carey Price. The Canadiens saw the results of that dependence last year when they lost Price for an extended period and were far from their dominant selves without him in the crease. They will enter a new season hoping that they have found some help for Price but the early outlook seems like they simply haven’t done enough for yet another year. Price is the leader of this team and there is little question about that as he is consistently a favourite to win the Vezina every year. A healthy year by Price means success for the Canadiens as Al Montoya is simply not good enough to replace their best player. The defence was good last year although their numbers can be inflated by Price’s play in net. Shea Weber remains one of the top defencemen in the league with one of the most feared shots but he will get a new partner in Karl Alzner who replaced Andrei Markov and is a fairly good replacement. The signing of Dave Schlemko is a good one but beyond those players, the blue line is pretty thin leaving Price out to dry when it gets beyond the top pairing. The difficulty for the Canadiens has been the lack of goal-scoring talent up front as they have never been able to give Price a lot of insurance in most games. That made many wonder why they would let Alexander Radulov walk after putting up 54 points last season. They hope that the addition of Jonathan Drouin can help as the young star has a lot of potential but not have been able to meet it while he was with Tampa and not happy. In a new situation, he could be the difference-maker they need alongside Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. The group still lacks depth up front though and that is not good for either the team or Price. There is little doubt that they will remain a top team in the league and take a playoff spot this year but they are still not built for a deep run leaving the franchise in a tough spot.

ottawa_senators

The Senators were possibly the biggest surprise of the season last year as they never seemed to be a team that anyone thought could make it very far. They were good and had talent but the reality was that the talent was just not going to be deep enough. Without the depth and the superstar power throughout the lineup, it was expected that they would fall short of making the playoffs. Then they took that surprise all the way to ott-statsthe Conference Final where they pushed the eventual Champions to seven games. They fell just short but the introduction of Guy Boucher as the head coach had turned out to be a big move for the Sens. His modified trap once again became the story as the Sens didn’t have the talent or the stats that most teams need to make it as far as they did. Boucher’s system does work but it also tends not to work for very long and the Sens are in their second year which is when this system failed for Tampa Bay. The Sens are hoping that they won’t fall victim to the same issues as they hope to take some of that momentum from last year into this new season. The Sens are clearly built with the blue line at the top of mind and that is all because they have one of the best defencemen in the league. Erik Karlsson can take over games and he has done that for the Sens as their clear best player on the roster. Beyond him there isn’t a lot on the blue line as Dion Phaneuf is good but ageing, Cody Ceci is a solid defenceman but not a top blueliner. Meanwhile, Thomas Chabot and Chris Wideman could be good but they are still young leaving some questions at the position. That can make things difficult for the goalies and Craig Anderson is a bit of a wildcard. He can look pretty pedestrian at times but also unbeatable at other times and the Sens don’t know what they will get this season. He can get some scoring support though as Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman are adept at putting up points. Everyone else struggles at time as Bobby Ryan is good but hasn’t performed up to his potential consistently while Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard are good forwards but don’t match up with other top centres in the league. The Sens are a bit of a strange team as they don’t seem like they can make the playoffs without some magic again this year. Then again everyone said that last year and they almost made the Stanley Cup Finals. Expect them to fight for the wild card but come up short this time around.

tampa_bay_lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference for a number of years but last year was a rough season. They lost some of their top players including their most important piece when Steven Stamkos went down. Their superstar would miss the majority of the season only playing in 17 games throughout the year and that was a massive issue for the team. They did well to keep things going as best they tb-statscould but in the end they were eliminated from the playoffs by only a single point. That performance should inform everyone on where the Lightning stand as they were almost a playoff team even without their biggest piece. With Stamkos back, the Lighting are hoping that a new season will mean a reset and with their best player back it is expected that they will find their way to the playoffs again. The team is clearly built around their star as Stamkos is one of the best scorers in the game when he is on the ice, which has been a struggle recently. He makes a massive difference for the team but he is not the only player that can put up points. Nikita Kucherov is emerging as a great player that can make everyone better including Stamkos who came alive when playing with Kucherov before his injury. The two of them make up some serious firepower up front which could be hard to deal with for other teams. They hope that Tyler Johnson can show some of that promise he had a couple of years ago to gain that all-important secondary scoring. They have guys that can score but there isn’t a lot of them which can hurt them in the long run. On defence, the Lightning have another star in Victor Hedman who remains one of the top blueliners in the game. Alongside Anton Stallman, Tampa has a powerful top pairing that can be very tough to get around. Behind them is a big drop off although they do hope to see something out of Mikhail Sergachev after trading Jonathan Drouin from the promising Russian. In net, it is time for Andrei Vasilevsky to step up as the starting role is his and only his with Ben Bishop no longer on the team. He needs to take over and although they got a promising backup in Peter Budaj there is nobody else that can take workload that he will need to in order to prove he has the ability to be a top goaltender. The Lightning are not a deep enough team to win it all this year but they are skilled enough at the top to make the playoffs.

toronto_maple_leafs

Things are getting exciting in Toronto where the game of hockey is bigger than anything else and yet the team has regularly been one of the worst in the league. They have struggled as a franchise missing the playoffs for years and not winning a Stanley Cup since 1967. Hope seemed to come back last year when they drafted Auston Matthews who immediately launched a youth movement in the city. Matthews was one of the few to-mapleleafscan’t miss prospects before the draft and he was added to a stock of young talent that the Leafs had been building for a number of years. They marched towards the playoffs and broke a seven-year drought but more importantly gave some optimism for a franchise that hasn’t had a lot to get excited about. They enter a new season with all of that optimism but for the Leafs there are still a lot of questions. Like any young team, they aren’t about to surprise anyone this season and they can’t do the same things they were doing a year ago. If they are going to be successful they need to avoid the sophomore slumps from their super rookies and will need to get some support from the veterans to get back to the playoffs. The team is all about their young stars as Matthews leads the way as one of the league’s best and alongside William Nylander and Mitch Marner, the Leafs have one of the best young corps in the game. They are the driving force for this team while players like Nazem Kadri, James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak provide pretty good secondary scoring. The Leafs hope that the addition of Patrick Marleau gives them a boost as he is not necessarily expected to put up massive points but he is a true veteran presence that could help this team in a big way off of the ice while still putting up points on the ice. On defence, the youth movement is continued with Nikita Zaitsev, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly all under 30 years old. The only issue with their blue line is that none of these young stars have really stepped up to be a true top defenceman. In goal, the Leafs may have found their guy in Frederik Andersen but would hope for some more consistency from him throughout the season. The Leafs look like a good team but their youth can be both a blessing and a curse as they have a lot of talent and energy with these young players but also lack experience. Their limited additions hope to make the difference and although they seem like they are headed to the playoffs they may take a small step back from a year ago.

Prediction:
The Atlantic has plenty of people watching and this year it might be for a very good reason with a lot of capable teams. There are teams continuing to develop and becoming legitimate contenders as well as the old guard unwilling to give up their spots. That makes for some great battles and with more than enough capable playoff teams, it is going to be tough for them all to get into the playoffs. At the top, a Tampa Bay team that is seeing their star return will likely take over the top spot as long as everyone stays healthy. They will be followed by the Canadiens who have proven that they can ride Price into the playoffs. The Leafs might not finish right at the top but they will still get a top three spot and return to the playoffs as their development is ahead of their plans. The wild card is the interesting part as the Sabres look like they can come out on top but the Panthers and the Senators can always take that spot with the potential of two spots going to the Atlantic, although the competition might be too much for two spots. Then the old guard that has given up their titles as the Bruins and the Wings slide to the bottom of the league informing the Bruins of a rebuild and continuing the rebuild in Detroit.

atlantic-prediction

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