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Post-Free Agency Atlantic Division Outlook

Now that the major portion of free agency season has come and gone, let's take a look at how the Atlantic Division, as of today, is stacking up for 2017-18 (listed by predicted order of finish):

1) Toronto Maple Leafs: It's easy to criticize going three years for Patrick Marleau, but TSN's Scott Cullen may have summed it up best when he said, "...if the Maple Leafs end up going further in the playoffs with Marleau in the lineup, criticism will be muted". Truth be told, the surging Leafs were already on the verge of breaking through the stratosphere to elite contender status, and adding Marleau certainly shouldn't change that. The group that was third in the NHL in 5-on-5 shot attempts, and took a lot of mojo out of the Washington Capitals in the first round of the playoffs, remains pretty much intact, less rental Brian Boyle. The Leafs are primed for really big things this season.

2) Tampa Bay Lightning: Whether you think of Jonathan Drouin as a potential superstar or an often moody, sometimes selfish, occasionally petulant, one-dimensional, streaky player, his offense will certainly be missed in Tampa. The good news is Steven Stamkos should be back at full strength, and would it surprise anyone if he had a huge bounce-back season? Adding a still serviceable Chris Kunitz should help, while the Dan Girardi signing will work out best if they don't ask him to do too much.

3) Montreal Canadiens: The loss of Alexander Radulov to Dallas will hurt, but his numbers should be replaced, if not surpassed, by Drouin (and at a $750K lower drag on the cap per season). The problem is the Habs are weak on the right side with Brendan Gallagher, Andrew Shaw and newly signed Ales Hemsky (who hasn't topped 14 goals in 8 years) as the best they have. The blue line lost Alexei Emelin, Nathan Beaulieu and likely Andrei Markov, but Karl Alzner and David Schlemko will fill out what should still be a pretty good defense around future $10.5M per season goaltender Carey Price.

4) Boston Bruins: The Bruins had the best shot attempt for/against ratio in the NHL, and mostly the same group will be back minus expansion draft casualty defenseman Colin Miller, rental forward Drew Stafford and the recently bought out Jimmy Hayes. While the team is aging, the veterans are collectively still very good -- notably, Brad Marchand is coming off a career 85-point season -- and the B's should have enough in the tank to earn a playoff spot.

5) Ottawa Senators: Ottawa's biggest loss this offseason was Marc Methot, who served as Erik Karlsson's defense partner. The Sens are high on blue line lefty youngsters Thomas Chabot and Fredrik Claesson, but it's not likely either of them are ready for big time minutes just yet. While Methot's loss could have a negative impact, Karlsson is still considered the best in the league. But that might not be good enough to get this team, even with some talented forwards and a deft coach in Guy Boucher, back to the playoffs.

6) Buffalo Sabres: New GM Jason Botterill hasn't wasted much time putting his stamp on the organization. The number of new Sabres expected to be in the opening night lineup is 7 and counting. The defense needed the biggest facelift and added Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin, while Benoit Pouliot and Jason Pominville (in his second Buffalo go-round) were brought in to the forward ranks. Botterill won't subtract Evander Kane from last season's 26th-ranked offense without a good return. New head coach Phil Housley's system should gradually help turn things around, but a playoff push will likely be delayed a year due to the management and roster transition.

7) Detroit Red Wings: A beautiful, shiny new building awaits the Wings for 2017-18, but a return to the playoffs is not likely in the cards. Trevor Daley is a good acquisition for the defense, but there's no logical reason to think an offense with only a single 20-goal scorer (Tomas Tatar netted 25), and without any upgrades, will be that much better.

8) Florida Panthers: Allowing yourself to be put in a position where you have to leave your leading goal scorer unprotected in an expansion draft is not a good look, but that's what happened to the Panthers when 30-goal man Jonathan Marchessault was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. Florida was gutted of 3 of its top 6 forwards this offseason, but they justified the loss of Jaromir Jagr by getting a replacement in Radim Vrbata who is 9 years younger and was 9 points better last season. Vincent Trocheck is one of the most underrated players in the league, and Aaron Ekblad is an anchor on defense, but there isn't enough roster depth to keep this season's ship from sinking towards the bottom of the Atlantic.


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  Tags: atlantic+division, bruins+prediction, canadiens+prediction, leafs+prediction, lightning+prediction, nhl+predictions, panthers+prediction, red+wings+prediction, sabres+prediction, senators+prediction


ilovehomers's avatar

Did not realize Florida lost so much. I am still not sure if Vrbata is better than Jagr, despite age, and the points totals.

Ottawa can bounce back from losing Methot - it’s that type of system.

Just want to see Stamkos healthy for the entire year. TB most man games lost last year.

Boston’s age continues to be a problem.

Overall, a pretty weak division IMO.
I see the top 3 being the same as you do - But I’ll give: TB, TOR, MTL.


Posted by ilovehomers on 07/05/17 at 08:50 AM ET


Hard to ague with this assessment.  Toronto’s going to be the team to beat this year and for the foreseeable future (congrats to Babcock for hitching his wagon to that pony).  Tampa Bay & Montreal will be right behind, with TB probably in better shape to compete with the Leafs going forward. Boston & Ottawa will be in the wild card hunt.  Buffalo, Florida & Detroit will be jockeying for draft position.

Posted by Steve1306 on 07/05/17 at 09:12 AM ET


Last season Panthers had a injuries to many of their core, Huberdeau, Barkov, Ekblad, Petrovic and Bjugstad were out for long periods, not to mention Luongo.. With a healthy group this is a much better team than people realize. Jonathan Huberdeau only played the final 31 games….
Jaromir Jagr will be replaced by a much faster Evgenii Dadonov who comes back to Panthers from a productive stint in the KHL. Radim Vrbata and his 20 goals replaces Reilly Smith and his 15. Marchessault had a very good year but it remains to be seen if he can get that when not playing with one of the Panthers top 2 centers. Jagr got 16 goals mainly because of Aleksander Barkov, Dadonov should have no problem surpassing that. Panthers have plenty of depth on defense in a young core of Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk and Michael Matheson… Sorry but I totally disagree with the Panthers assessment. If healthy this will be a team to be reckoned with. Last season the Habs were a good team, the year before they were terrible due to injuries. Similar situation for Panthers now….

Posted by Puckbubba on 07/05/17 at 10:31 AM ET

ilovehomers's avatar

Posted by Puckbubba on 07/05/17 at 10:31 AM ET

I really appreciate the retort. My guess is that Marchessault’s production will be replaced by committee? What about the coaching change?

Posted by ilovehomers on 07/05/17 at 11:06 AM ET


The coaching situation were the Cats problem.  First round of Dale Tallon and the team was making gains by leaps and bounds.

They absolutely have the roster to make noise and a grossly underrated team… when Viola isnt getting in the way.

Posted by ThatGuy on 07/05/17 at 11:29 AM ET


Posted by ilovehomers on 07/05/17 at 11:06 AM ET

He was replacing production out of the lineup.  No need to replace his I wouldnt think, theyve got more than that that was just unavailable last year, hence his minutes.  Shouldve picked him up in my fantasy league last year.

Posted by ThatGuy on 07/05/17 at 11:31 AM ET


I think people are buying a bit too much into Toronto’s upward trajectory at this point. They could just as easily take a step back as another step forward this year. While things certainly look good for the future, I think they are still a few years away from being serious Cup contenders.

One thing to their advantage is that the much of the Eastern Conference is either pretty bad, in decline or should be in decline within the next couple of years.

Posted by evileye on 07/05/17 at 12:36 PM ET


Panthers also have signed a young Finnish forward Henrik Haapala. Dale Tallon raves about this guy. Expected to play on a line with Trocheck and Vrbata…As for the coach, Bob Boughner may be the perfect guy…From what I heard he wants to play a fast game and could be the reason Jagr and Jokinen were not in the plans…

Leafs do look good but I tend to agree with evileye, they could take a step back. I have seen many teams get adulation for signing a player with high expectations only to see the exact opposite happen. That said Patrick Marleau should make any team better. Did the Sharks replace his goals?

Posted by Puckbubba on 07/05/17 at 05:22 PM ET


Sad to say, but I think the Wings are last.  Ott ahead of Bos and MTL.  Panthers may be higher too with new coach.  This year may force the start of a real rebuild for the Wings.

Posted by cantskate on 07/05/17 at 05:53 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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