The other half of the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division, could also have a role in determining whether the Carolina Hurricanes make the playoffs since the two wild cards are chosen from the top two teams not to be in the top 3 of their division. So here’s to hoping the Atlantic Division sucks, and both wildcards come from the Metropolitan
Key Additions: John-Michael Liles, David Backes
Key Subtractions: Loui Eriksson
The Bruins have missed the playoffs two years in a row now. They lost one of their better scorers when Loui Eriksson left in free agency to sign with Vancouver. Up front, after Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, the scoring gets pretty thin. The Bruins will attempt to replace Loui Eriksson’s 30 goals with David Backes who they signed to a regrettable contract. On defense, Chara isn’t getting any younger, and while John-Michael Liles was a nice depth signing, any defense giving substantial ice time to Adam McQuaid is bad. The Bruins still have Tuukka Rask in net so the mediocre defense might not be an issue. Rask had a relatively bad (for him) year last season posting a .915 SV% considerably down from his career average of .924. So if the Bruins are going to have a shot, Rask needs to return to his old form quickly. Ultimately, there are just too many holes up front and on defense which causes the Bruins miss for the third year in a row despite finishing fourth in the division because both wildcard spots go to the Metropolitan division.
Key Additions: Kyle Okposo, Dmitry Kulikov
Key Subtractions: None
The Sabres made one of the biggest signings in the offseason by grabbing Kyle Okposo for seven years at $6 million a year. It was another in a long line of dubious contracts from this offseason, and there is no denying that it makes the Sabres a better team. But will it be enough to get them in the playoffs? Maybe, there is a large youth movement on this team led by future franchise player Jack Eichel, and if players like Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart keep improving they’ll be a tough team to face very soon. But soon is not now, and the Sabres, while improving on last years 81 points, again fail to make the playoffs
Detroit Red Wings:
Key Additions: Frans Nielson, Tomas Vanek
Key Subtractions: Pavel Datsyuk
This is the year, right? The year where the Red Wings finally miss the playoffs? I mean it’s looking like a good chance especially with the mess in goal where Detroit is paying Jimmy Howard more than $5 million a year to sit on the bench; there’s also the strange Darren Helm contract and the fact that Mike Green is one of the team’s top D pairing. It all points to the streak finally coming to an end. Feel free to bookmark this and bring it back up when they prove me wrong yet again.
Key Additions: Keith Yandle, James Reimer, Jason Demers
Key Subtractions: Brian Campbell, Brandon Pirri, Dmitry Kulikov
The Panthers surprised everybody by winning the Atlantic Division last season. Also surprising was the continued career of Jaromir Jagr as a productive forward who scored 27 goals in the NHL at the young age of 44 years old. Can he still hold up for one more season? It will be an important factor to the Panthers success since Jagr was the second leading goal scorer for the team last year. Jagr is joined by other players up front like Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck who chipped in 28 and 25 goals respectively themselves. Florida has a lot of weapons and can roll four solid lines making them a tough opponent. The Panthers overhauled their defense in the offseason as well. Letting Dmitry Kulikov and Brian Campbell go, and bringing in the Kieth Yandle and Jason Demers to replace them should make the Panthers blue line even more formidable than it was last year. Add to that, Aaron Ekblad’s emergence as an elite dman, the Panthers defense is looking very formidable this year. Dropping Dave Bolland’s contract, and bringing in James Reimer to give Luongo some more rest top off the Panther’s moves this offseason. On paper they look to be enough to turn Florida into a legitimate cup contender. I think they’ll repeat as division winners.
Key Additions: Shea Weber, Alexander Radulov
Key Subtractions: P. K. Subban
Like the Devils in the earlier breakdown, Les Habitants were also involved in a blockbuster trade this offseason that sent P. K. Subban to the Nashville Predators in return for Shea Weber straight up. This deal has been discussed ad nauseam, but the consensus is that the Canadiens got the short end of the deal on this one. Whether they won or lost the deal doesn’t really matter as the Canadiens playoff hopes begin and end with Carey Price. If Price is healthy Montreal makes the playoffs as the no. 3 seed in the division.
Key Additions: Derek Brassard
Key Subtractions: Mika Zibanejad
Is there really any greater tragedy in hockey than watching a generational talent like Erik Karlsson waste the prime years of his career playing for the Ottawa Senators? The Senators are never truly bad enough to get any great talent through the draft as they always squeak into the playoffs or barely miss, but they aren’t good enough to be considered serious cup contenders. The trade for Brassard was more of a lateral move at best. Unless they make some major improvements through trades, the Ottawa Senators are going to remain in hockey purgatory for one more year and they come in fifth in the division.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Key Additions: Cory Conacher
Key Subtractions: None
The Tampa Bay Lightning return mostly the same team that got them to the Eastern Conference Finals last year where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bolts also came to terms with their captain and star player Steven Stamkos before he hit free agency, a move most around the league thought would be impossible. Yet somehow GM Steve Yzerman was able to get the deal done along with deals with Alex Killorn, Vladislav Namestikov, and Victor Hedman keeping together a core of players that will make the Lightning a powerhouse for years to come. There are some questions about Ben Bishop. He is in the last year of his contract, and the backup Vasilevsky played strong in the playoffs while Bishop was injured, so there are rumors that Bishop might be traded. Whether they keep Bishop or trade him, Tampa Bay is making the playoffs this year as the 2nd seed in the division. The only question now is how deep they will go.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
Key Additions: Auston Matthews, Matt Martin
Key Subtractions: Are losing players that led the team to the basement a subtraction?
The worst team in the NHL last year, the Maple Leafs were rewarded with the number one overall pick in the draft lottery only because Edmonton decided they didn’t want it this year. It was a pick that even the Leafs couldn’t mess up and they grabbed Auston Matthews the consensus number one. While not as good as Connor McDavid, Matthews is still a legitimate franchise player and showed why with his play on Team North America at the World Cup of Hockey where he scored 3 points in 3 games. In addition to Matthews, the Leafs have two other blue-chip forwards in Mitch Marner and William Nylander as well. Like the Sabres, the Maple Leafs will be a really good team soon; however, if they keep signing people like Matt Martin to four-year contracts no amount draft picks will save them. For now, though, the Leafs are going to stink and finish at the bottom of the division ensuring another high draft pick