The Atlantic division brought about several surprises last season, and looks to be shaken up once again this year.
Several teams in the division for better or worse have a new look and are poised for significant change from a year ago.
Predicting the NHL always proves to be a near impossible task, but here is how I expect the Atlantic Division to look like come mid April.
8th place: Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings were among the NHL’s elite for decades, but after going 25 straight years without a playoff berth, they find themselves in the NHL’s basement.
Their defense should slightly improve after signing Trevor Daley in free agency, but he’s entering a D corps that struggled last season.
Jimmy Howard was solid between the pipes last year but he is can’t carry a team like other elite goaltenders.
For the most part, it’s the same average roster from last season however, and they don’t have any prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL. This is critical, because this team needs youth badly. Henrik Zetterberg is now 37 and several other key players are now over 30. If the Red Wings want to get better, they have to get younger.
For the first time in seemingly forever, the Red Wings will be forced into rebuilding mode and in the 2017-2018 they will lie at the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
At least they’re opening a new arena.
7th place: Florida Panthers
After winning the division in 2015-16, the Florida Panthers failed to make the playoffs last season.
Injuries played a large part in the Panthers’ downfall last year, however don’t expect them to rebound .
Roberto Luongo is becoming old and injury prone and thus is no longer a reliable starting goalie.
The Panthers have lost a lot of fire power and will struggle to score. Last year they had seven forwards reach double-digit goals but four of those players are now gone, including Jonathan Marchessault.
This team has several young players with promising futures, but they aren’t ready to make the jump quite yet.
6th place: Ottawa Senators
This pick might shock some people given how well they did last year, but hear me out.
They may have the best defenseman in the league with Erik Karlsson, but they don’t have the fire power to keep up with most teams.
Last year a great defensive scheme and game plan by head coach Guy Boucher got them one game short of the Stanley Cup Final, but that success will be hard to repeat. Teams will be ready for that scheme now and they can’t rely on defense forever.
It’s also hard to imagine Craig Anderson repeating his playoff performance from last year’s playoffs. He is 36 now and it will be hard for him to stay consistent as he gets older.
Ottawa still has talent, but it’s hard to see them returning to the Eastern Conference Final.
5th Place: Buffalo Sabres
Jack Eichel is legit. He missed 25 percent of his sophomore season and still managed more points than his rookie year.
Eichel is the leader of this young team that lacks star power, but hold a lot of solid depth.
Last season they had eight players with double-digit goals and six players with over 40 points.
Add a new head coach who assisted in leading the Nashville Predators to their first ever Stanley Cup Final and you’ve got yourself a playoff hopeful team.
After several seasons of failure, the Sabres look poised to breakthrough to the post season, but they have a couple of teams to contend with.
4th place: Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens had a busy offeason. They lost Alex Radulov to the Dallas Stars, but they brought in several free agents that should make a positive impact.
I love the signing of Karl Alzner, the Canadiens were desperate need for some solid bodies on defense, and they got a good one with the former Washington Capital.
This team is hard to get a beat on because they look different from a year ago. Their offseason acquisitions were great, but most of them seem like replacements for what they lost in free agency and the expansion draft.
The defending Atlantic Division champions shouldn’t be the favorite to take the Atlantic crown once again, but they are still a playoff team.
It’s not so much that the Canadiens got worse, there are simply other teams I feel will be better.
3rd place: Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins had a very different approach to the offseason than the Canadiens. The Bruins had a very quiet summer and look very similar to their 2016-2017 team.
The Black and Gold’s offseason was very safe, they didn’t lose any potentially key players other than Colin Miller to the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
This team isn’t much better, but it isn’t any worse, so I see more of the same from Boston this year.
There are reasons for optimism in Boston however. This will be the first full season under Bruce Cassidy who helped turn the team around when he took over mid season last year.
The Bruins will be a top three Atlantic team once again, but unless young players such as Charlie McAvoy and Anders Bjork can make an immediate impact, they won’t have home ice in the playoffs.
2nd place: Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning were surprisingly absent from the playoff picture last season, but expect them to rebound and in a big way.
Jon Cooper has proved to be a great head coach over the years and he once again has a solid roster to work with.
The goaltending situation is stable. Andre Vasilevskiy has been great and is only going to get better with more experience. The team now has a solid backup in Peter Budaj who excellent in relief of Jonathon Quick for the Los Angeles Kings last year.
They added Chris Kunitz to an already scary group of forwards that look to put up big numbers.
They needed a big-time player to anchor their blue line and they got that by signing Dan Girardi in free agency.
2016-17 was a surprise to say the least, but this team has the talent to take a big step forward.
Division champion: Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Mathews and company broke through to the playoffs last season and will be even better this season.
This team was already solid before free agency, all that lacked was solid depth and a an elite veteran presence. They added both.
They added Ron Hainsey for cheap to add some depth on defense. Adding Dominic Moore provides some solid depth at center.
Their big free agency splash was signing Patrick Marleau. The 37-year-old may be aging but he is still playing at a high level and will provide a great veteran presence on an otherwise pretty young team.
The Toronto Maple Leafs championship window has officially opened, and don’t expect it to close anytime soon.