The Atlantic Division is fascinating because of the disparity between the top and the bottom, and the three different races happening within it. There is a race to the top between three truly elite teams so that they can win the division and avoid the No. 2 or No. 3 spot. There is a race to a wild card spot between the two teams in the middle, and there is a race to the bottom and the No. 1 overall pick between the three worst teams.
We’ll start with the competition to be the worst of the worst and work our way up from there.
8. Ottawa Senators | 2018-19 | 29-47-6 | 64 points
Key losses: D Cody Ceci | F Zack Smith
Key additions: F Artem Anisimov | D Nikita Zaitsev | F Connor Brown | D Ron Hainsey | F Tyler Ennis
Can it possibly get any worse for the Ottawa Senators and their fans? The answer is probably not, but I also don’t want to bet against this franchise’s ability to set itself ablaze. The Senators finished with a whopping 64 points last season. That number probably won’t go up much based on the offseason additions the team made. The team jettisoned much maligned defenseman Cody Ceci to the Toronto Maples and in return got the much maligned Nikita Zaitsev and the aging Ron Hainsey.
If there is a bright spot for this team, it’s in the young talent. Up front, Brady Tkachuk and Colin White could be a duo that gives opponents’ trouble in the future, but for now they’ll be a couple of young kids who are strapped with an underwhelming forward group that they have to carry. On defense, Thomas Chabot is a budding superstar. At the ripe old age of 22, Chabot put up 55 points from the blue line last year. That’s pretty impressive, especially considering the cinder blocks around him.
I don’t want to spend much more time on the Sens. They stink. Everyone knows they stink. They’re gonna stink for a few years, so we’ll have plenty of time to discuss how much they stink. The most entertaining part about this team is the fact that their owner pinches pennies so tightly that you can hear Abe Lincoln cry out in pain if you listen closely enough (yes, I know Canadians don’t use pennies).
7. Detroit Red Wings | 2018-19 | 32-40-10 | 74 points
Key losses: D Niklas Kronwall | F Thomas Vanek | F Martin Frk
Key additions: F Valtteri Filppula | D Patrik Nemeth | G Calvin Pickard
The mighty have fallen, and they have fallen hard. This is a very bad hockey team. Players like Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha don’t deserve what is coming over the next 82 games. The Wings don’t have any elite talent at the forward position, and players like Larkin and Mantha will be asked to carry the load. Filip Zidina is an exciting prospect, but he may need more time before he becomes a truly impactful player. Beyond that, the corpses of Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader have been exhumed and will be suited up Weekend at Bernie’s style and forced to play for Detroit.
The forward group is bleak, but the defense might be worse. Young Filip Hronek has some promise, but outside of that it’s pretty ugly. Mike Green still has some offensive ability, but when it comes to the primary purpose of his position, defending, he’s not very good. Trevor Daley remains a player in this league who gets somehow paid over three million dollars. Decisions like that are why Detroit’s cap situation is a complete mess. At 4.2 million dollars, the Wings have the 11th most cap space in the league, but it’s still not ideal for a team in Phase 1 of rebuild mode.
Hockeytown won’t be a fun place this season, but at least that town has the Lions, who will in no way disappoint anyone at all.
6. Buffalo Sabres | 2018-19 | 33-39-10 | 76 points
Key losses: F Jason Pominville
Key additions: F Marcus Johansson | D Colin Miller | F Jimmy Vesey | D Henri Jokiharju
When the calendar flips to 2020, fans will get to celebrate the 50th year of this franchise by *checks notes* watching their team get smoked by the top half of the division (but in cool new jerseys). Buffalo may be more competent that the bottom two teams in this division, but frankly that’s a low bar to clear.
At the very least, the Sabres have exciting playmakers up front in Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel. Those two combined for 68 goals and 145 points last year. Unfortunately for Buffalo, they didn’t get too much help aside from Sam Reinart. The team’s offseason additions aren’t bad. Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey certainly won’t hurt the offense, and Colin Miller will likely give a boost to the defensive group.
Speaking of that defensive group, it should be improved to some degree. Future superstar Rasmus Dahlin enters his second NHL season and should continue his development toward an elite level. Brandon Montour is an interesting piece, as he enters his first full season in Buffalo and will get to show what he can do in a full-time role.
The lack of depth anywhere on the roster is still a big problem though, and the goaltending is an even bigger one. I’m as big of a Carter Hutton fan as anyone, but making him the No. 1 goaltender after one good season in St. Louis was a questionable move at best. With Linus Ullmark behind him again, that goaltending tandem will cost its team some games.
The passionate fan base of Buffalo deserve better than this.
5. Montreal Canadiens | 2018-19 | 44-30-8 | 96 points
Key losses: F Andrew Shaw | G Antti Niemi | D Jordie Benn | F Nicolas Deslauriers
Key additions: F Nick Cousins | D Ben Chiarot | G Keith Kinkaid
Montreal is in limbo. The Canadiens aren’t nearly as bad as the bottom three teams in this division, but they’re not nearly as good as the top three teams in this division. The Habs won’t really overwhelm you with talent, but they’re still a solid squad. That puts them squarely on the playoff bubble.
Brendan Gallagher, who quietly scored 33 goals last year, is the team’s most impactful player. Flanked by Max Domi and Tomas Tatar, that gives the Canadiens a fairly potent top forward group. The depth isn’t too bad either. Jonathan Drouin and Phillip Danault are good young players in their own right, but the biggest issue with this Montreal team is the lack of a game-breaking talent.
Defensively, Shea Weber still leads this squad. If he can stay healthy, he’s still quite effective, even though he is likely exiting his prime. We’ll see if Victor Mete and Brett Kulak continue to develop into solid defensive options for the Canadiens.
The single player who can determine this team’s playoff fate is goaltender Cary Price. The Montreal star netminder bounced back last season after a disastrous 2017-18 season. If Price is healthy and on his game, the Canadiens’ playoff chances go up quite a bit.
The Canadiens are in a bit of an in-between spot here. They might make the playoffs. They might not. They have some young talent on the rise. They have some key players who are starting to get up there in age. They aren’t bad, but they aren’t a contender. I’m sure the fine folks of Montreal will handle this in stride.
4. Florida Panthers | 2018-19 | 36-32-14 | 86 points
Key losses: G Roberto Luongo | G James Reimer
Key additions: G Sergei Bobrovsky | F Noel Acciari | D Anton Stralman | F Brett Connolly
As you can see, Florida made a significant upgrade at the goaltender position in the offseason. The addition of Sergei Bobrovsky, in a vacuum, should improve this team. The Panthers were ninth in goals scored last season, but they also gave up the fourth most goals. All that hard work they did in their offensive zone was undone because they couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net.
Bobrovsky is a top goalie in this league, but with his lengthy and rich contract the team will need to make hay while the sun shines. The good news for the Panthers is that the sun does that quite often in Florida.
That said, let’s not get it twisted here. The defense needs to be better too. The Panthers lack a true impact player on the blue line, assuming Aaron Ekblad continues to struggle to reach his rookie form. This group is a big part of the reason Florida was addicted to giving up goals last year, and it didn’t change much in the offseason. The Panthers have to contend with three of the best teams in the league in its own division, and having a defensive corps with more holes than a collender isn’t ideal.
The forward group is what moves the needle for this team. If you asked most casual fans outside of Florida how many points Aleksander Barkov tallied last year, the answer would probably be, ‘Who?’ The correct answer is 96. Barkov is an elite player in this league, and he’s not alone. Jonathan Huberdeau put up 92 points while Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov tallied 70. Despite playing in just 55 games, Vincent Trochek notched 34 points. He can be an impact player when healthy too.
Perhaps the biggest offseason addition Florida made was hiring Joel Quenneville to be its head coach. Quenneville is a fantastic head coach who can get the most out of his players. He’ll be a fantastic asset to this Panthers team as they try to return to the playoffs. That won’t be easy in the Atlantic, but they have the talent to sneak into a wild card spot.
3. Boston Bruins | 2018-19 | 49-24-9 | 107 points
Key losses: F Noel Acciari | F Marcus Johansson
Key additions: F Brett Ritchie
The Boston Bruins can be a nightmare to play. They have, for my money, the best line in the game, an incredibly solid defense, and a solid goaltending tandem. The championship-deproved city of Boston will ice a Stanley Cup contender again this fall.
When the line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak is on the ice, it can seem like the Bruins have six players on the ice. When Marchand isn’t getting under the opposing team’s skin by treating their face’s like a bomb pop, he is getting under their sking by scoring goals in bunches. Marchand hit the 100-point mark last season, and his two linemates both scored 30 goals. They’re nearly impossible to stop.
Boston’s forward depth may not be great, but it’s certainly good enough. The Bruins are pretty solid down the middle with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle centering the second and third lines, respectively. On the wings, players like Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen can chip in when necessary, and that top line doesn’t need much help to begin with.
Defensively, ageless orc Zdeno Chara is still getting it done. His partner, Charlie McAvoy is half his age and one of the best young defensemen in the league. Those two make up an odd couple pairing, but it’s extremely effective. Behind them, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo make up a damn good top four. Even on the third pairing, a player like Matt Grzelcyk won’t do more harm than good. It’s not easy to get behind the Bruins.
Even when you do, it still isn’t easy to score. Tuukka Rask takes a lot of flak — and he wasn’t fantastic in the regular season last year — but he showed exactly what he can do in the playoffs last season. When Rask is on his game, he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league, despite what drunk Bostonians may yell in the middle of a 4-1 loss in January. Behind Rask, Jaroslav Halak makes up one of the more solid duos in the league.
The biggest thing working against Boston, which is the same for all three of these top teams, is its own division. While the Bruins have owned the Maple Leafs in recent years, Toronto did upgrade in the offseason. Then again, that will probably make the Leafs’ first-round exit even more hilarious. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that the route back to the Cup Final will be an arduous one for the Bruins.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs | 2018-19 | 46-28-8 | 100 points
Key losses: F Nazem Kadri | F Tyler Ennis | D Ron Hainsey | D Nikita Zaitsev | F Connor Brown | F Patrick Marleau | Jake Grdiner
Key additions: F Alex Kerfoot | D Tyson Barrie | D Cody Ceci | F Jason Spezza
It was a busy offseason for Toronto GM Kyle Dubas, who had to give out Brinks trucks worth of cash to Mitch Marner while also upgrading the roster elsewhere. The Leafs will be so tight to the salary cap that you could put slip of paper between their contracts and the $81.5 million ceiling and it wouldn’t fall, but it might be worth it. Or they might be done playing by May. Who knows?
John Tavares and Auston Matthews make up the best 1-2 punch at the center position outside of maybe Pittsburgh, and even then it might be better than those two. Throw in Mitch Marner and William Nylander on the wings, and you have an offense that will score like it’s going out of style. You could put me on a wing with one of those two pairs and I’d throw up a Craig Smith 20-20 type of year.
Depth wise, Toronto traded away Nazem Kadri for defensive help, but they also got Alex Kerfoot in return. The young center is a pretty good third-line option, considering the players ahead of him will get most of the attention from opposing teams. Andreas Johnsson and the speedy Kasperi Kapanen round out an elite top nine forward group.
The one area where where Toronto has had questions in recent years has been on the blue line. Trading Kadri landed the Leafs Tyson Barrie from the Colorado Avalanche. Barrie is exactly what Toronto has been chasing all these years, besides a Cup, and he should bolster that defensive corps quite nicely along with Jake Muzzin and Morgan Reilly. That’s not to say there aren’t holes, of course. Cody Ceci comes over from the Senators and figures to play some important minutes, and he’ll be the guy who gets picked on the most by opposing forwards.
In net, Freddie Andersen is a top notch starter in the NHL, but Toronto cannot run him into the ground by giving him 60 starts like they did last year. This team is going to the playoffs, whether Andersen starts 55 games or 65 games. The Leafs should give Andersen more frequent breaks throughout the year, but who knows if that’ll actually happen.
It’s been quite the summer in Toronto with the Mitch Marner negotiations and Auston Matthews turning into Captain Underpants in Arizona. The media in that market, and on this blog, have a lot of fodder to work with if the Leafs falter again. I’d be lying if I wasn’t rooting for this team to underachieve in order to watch the city of Toronto collapse within itself, but I can’t deny this team has more than enough talent to hoist the Cup.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning | 2018-19 | 62-16-4 | 128 points
Key losses: D Anton Stralman | F JT Miller | F Adam Erne | F Ryan Callahan | D Dan Girardi
Key additions: D Kevin Shattenkirk | F Patrick Maroon | D Luke Schenn | D Luke Witkowski | G Curtis McElhinney
I feel for the Lightning and their fans. Having a stellar regular season and having nothing to show for it in the postseason isn’t an unfamiliar feeling in Nashville. After a historic regular season in 2018-19, Tampa Bay was swept out of the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets of all teams.
Despite that giant disappointment, the Bolts are still the most dangerous team in the NHL. That obviously starts with the forward group made up of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, and Patrick Maroon. Kucherov was a man amongst boys last season. He put up 128 points on the year, which is a number that you just don’t see anymore. Stamkos, being the massive slacker that he is, put up just 98. Point comes in at 92 while Johnson and Gourde both scored over 20 goals.
This forward group is like an aggressive tide at the ocean, and opposing teams are like the guy who has had too much Tecate trying to wash the sand off his legs. That top line will knock you down, and right as you’re trying to find your feet, the rest of the lines keep coming to make sure you don’t get up and get a bunch of water in your ear and get an ear infection.
The Lightning aren’t as strong on defense, relatively speaking, but that doesn’t mean much considering how great those forwards are. Victor Hedman, a Norris Trophy winner, headlines the top pairing alongside Mikhail Sergachev, who is already a great defender and barely old enough to drink legally. Ryan McDonagh and Eric Cernak make up a nice second pairing while Braydon Coburn and Luke Scheen round things out on the blue line. This isn’t the best defensive corps in the league, but it’s more than good enough to win a billion games again this year.
Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is between the pipes again this season, and he might be in a league of his own as far as goaltenders go. He can make any save, no matter how impossible it might seem, and he can steal games for a team that needs no help getting extra wins in the few games where they don’t play well in front of him. The issue with Vasilevsky will be balance. The Lightning can’t work him too hard, but they also can’t let him get out of a rhythm prior to the playoffs, issues that have come up in the last two postseasons.
Because of what happened last season, this team’s regular season dominance will be taken with a grain of salt. This team is postseason bound. This team is the favorite in a division where two other teams might be the favorite in any other division in the league, but none of that matters if they pee down their leg in the playoffs again.