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Where they stand: Atlantic Division

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As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands. 

With August approaching, NHL GMs are mostly transitioning from “time at the cottage” to “tropical drinks on the beach.”

There’s more work to do, but much of it may happen closer to training camp time, aside from some deals to settle RFA situations and avoid salary arbitration. This seems like a great time to ponder which teams look likely to rise or fall in each division, so let’s go in alphabetical order.

Boston Bruins

Summer summary: “Meh” seems like the right word to summarize Boston’s off-season.

They lost the Ri-Nashes (Rick Nash and Riley Nash), swapped backups, said goodbye to some depth players, and signed John Moore to a somewhat bewildering contract. So, yeah, meh.

More to do?: The B’s covered their free agent bases already, so their near $3 million in space (via Cap Friendly) could come in handy, with a “rental” probably making most sense.

The most interesting questions revolve around making some near-future calls regarding defense.

Brilliant young defenseman Charlie McAvoy‘s rookie contract expires after next season, while Zdeno Chara has to slow down at some point, right? The Bruins are lucky that Chara is OK with one-year commitments, but a raise is coming for McAvoy. Maybe they’d be better off settling on an extension now, rather than after another high-level season?

Where they stand: On somewhat shaky ground.

Consider this: the Maple Leafs pushed them to a Game 7 without John Tavares. The Lightning didn’t make any big splashes, yet they creamed the B’s with their current crew. Florida finished last season on a strong note, and could be really dangerous if the Mike Hoffman gamble works out.

So, the Bruins face challenges even if they maintain last season’s often-impressive progress. What if some key players hit the aging curve hard, too? Patrice Bergeron is somehow 33, and they feature some old Davids (Backes and Krejci) along their brilliant young one (Pastrnak). Chara is 41, and even Brad Marchand is 30.

On the other hand, the Bruins entered 2017-18 with some worries, and instead looked really promising while seeing some young players emerge. It wouldn’t be shocking to see some young talent rise to the occasion once again.

Buffalo Sabres

Summer summary: The Sabres traded Ryan O'Reilly, and probably lost that trade, yet they may have improved overall this summer.

For one thing, the package they landed for ROR should at least help them get deeper. More obviously, Rasmus Dahlin is now in the organization, and he could very well pay significant dividends as a rookie. Speaking of rookies, Casey Mittelstadt may also be a difference-maker.

Landing Conor Sheary is pretty neat, especially if he finds almost as much chemistry with someone like Jack Eichel as he did with Sidney Crosby.

Between those additions and going with Carter Hutton instead of Robin Lehner in net, the Sabres should be very interesting this season. Now, will interesting translate to better?

More to do?: Sam Reinhart stands as a significant player still in need of a contract, as he’s currently a 22-year-old RFA.

With no arbitration date set, that situation might drag on for a while. Sure, Reinhart hasn’t been spectacular considering that he was the second pick in 2014, but he’s hit 20+ goals twice and scored 50 points in 2017-18. You can see where there might be some room for haggling there.

Without a Reinhart contract settled, the Sabres have about $12.2M in cap space. Buffalo’s likely better off waiting and seeing if real progress is possible before spending much more of that surplus.

Where they stand: Possibly in that same awkward “baby steps” stage that they seem perpetually stuck in?

There’s a lot to like with what Buffalo’s done – although, even if ROR needed to be traded, it’s not an upgrade – but it still feels like a work in progress.

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Detroit Red Wings

Summer summary: Detroit still seems a bit stuck in purgatory, adding veterans (Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier) you’d expect more of a contender to seek. There’s still a vibe of “one foot in, one foot out” when it comes to a should-be rebuild.

At least they seemed to get the 2018 NHL Draft very, very right, though. Filip Zadina fell to them at the sixth pick, and Joe Veleno going 30th seemed to be a potential steal, too. You never know how college-age players will actually turn out, but these prospects seem quite promising. Getting those picks right matters a lot more than minor free agent signings.

More to do?: The Red Wings signed reasonable bridge deals with Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, but Dylan Larkin is still an RFA. PHT’s advice is for the Red Wings to sign Larkin for as long as possible.

That’s about it, unless the Red Wings can convince other teams to take some of their bad contracts.

Where they stand: They seem slated to be mediocre, but will they be bad enough? Because they’re better off being really bad and landing another premium prospect. Oh yeah, and they should also try to get rid of bad contracts.

Florida Panthers

Summer summary: After enduring jokes about Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith during much of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Panthers … didn’t commit any major unforced errors. Progress.

Then again, if Mike Hoffman ends up being a disruptive force, maybe they did make a mistake? Eh, at least it’s a much smarter summer on paper.

More to do?: The Panthers don’t have any significant RFAs to deal with, and not much cap space, particularly for a franchise that frequently gets described as a “budget team.” Landing Hoffman gives this team a pretty robust top-nine of forwards, so that will probably have to do.

Where they stand: The Panthers finished 2017-18 on a tear, and it seems like they’ve gotten better heading into 2018-19. Aleksander Barkov centers one of the best top lines in the NHL, Vincent Trocheck‘s second trio really got things going later in the year, and Hoffman could give them more punch (whether it means adding to existing strengths or giving the third line a boost).

From here, it sure seems like Florida has playoff potential. Then again, we’ve seen this movie before.

Montreal Canadiens

Summer summary: Another year, another questionable trade featuring another player who seemed to absorb inexplicably harsh criticisms.

Much like P.K. Subban, Alex Galchenyuk‘s seemingly inevitable trade happened, netting Montreal Max Domi. The Canadiens also managed to get Joel Armia, while throwing fans a bone by bringing Tomas Plekanec back (his turtleneck never looked right in Maple Leaf blue anyway).

It will be fascinating to see if Jesperi Kotkaniemi was a worthy choice at third overall or if the Habs reached. It also remains to be seen if he can make the team, and if doing so would even be beneficial for either the player or the Habs.

More to do?: Ideally? Or maybe not?

The Max Pacioretty situation remains unsettled, as they haven’t been able to trade the winger and allegedly don’t seem particularly interested in signing “Patches” to an extension.

It’s a nerve-wracking situation. On one hand, Pacioretty seems less valuable as the season goes along, at least if a side deal for an extension would be a no-go. On the other hand, Habs GM Marc Bergevin doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence in his ability to land proper value in trades. Maybe no move would somehow be better than another bad move?

Where they stand: It’s been frustrating to watch Montreal bleed talent year after year, a painful Bergevin tradition. You can’t totally dismiss the Canadiens’ chances while they have Carey Price in the mix. Yes, his contract is terrifying, particularly long-term, but it’s feasible that he could still generate elite work. If so, the Canadiens could very well compete for a playoff spot.

Is it really best for them to scratch and claw to get in the playoff bubble instead of landing another high-end pick, though? Probably not.

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Ottawa Senators

Summer summary: Woof.

Oh, you wanted more? The Senators have been a full-fledged disaster, both on and off the ice, during the past few months. And they haven’t even traded Erik Karlsson yet. Again, woof.

More to do?: Again, that Karlsson trade is brewing, and allowing it to drag into the regular season would rank as yet another ugly distraction for a team that’s setting a new standard for being substandard.

Beyond the enormously important Karlsson situation, the Senators have two lingering RFA situations (both slated for salary arbitration): Mark Stone and Cody Ceci. Stone, in particular, stands as a crucial consideration. Already sour fans could become outright outraged if the Senators nickle-and-dime Stone out of town.

Where they stand: Normally, they’d have every reason to tumble down the rankings and try to land Jack Hughes.

The Matt Duchene trade, and Ottawa’s decision to make the fourth pick in 2018, means that Colorado gets their 2019 NHL Draft pick. So Senators fans can’t even enjoy the cognitive dissonance of half-enjoying their team’s failures thanks to tanking, as the team doesn’t even have that luxury. (Did we mention “woof?”)

The Senators sometimes surprise the hockey world by winning when not expected, and it’s fair to expect that Craig Anderson will be better next season – he couldn’t get much worse – but the outlook is quite dismal.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Summer summary: Instead of landing a big name – so far? – the Lightning instead raised some eyebrows by handing hefty extensions to J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh.

The most important extension was handed to Nikita Kucherov. It might seem strange to call a $9.5M cap hit a bargain, but considering what Kucherov brings to the table, what he’s paid now, and what he’d get on the open market … yes, it’s a big bargain.

So, even though the Lightning haven’t made another splashy addition, Stevie Y hasn’t exactly been loafing.

More to do?: Can they still win the Karlsson sweepstakes? The Lightning rank among the teams who’d be most sensible if Karlsson is a mere rental, even though there’s talk that Tampa Bay is one of the few placed he’d be interesting in signing an early extension. If Karlsson talks reignite, then there’s quite a lot of work to do.

One way or another, it sure wouldn’t hurt to move Ryan Callahan‘s contract. One also can’t help but wonder about Anton Stralman. Are the Lightning content to let him play out his contract and then leave?

Where they stand: The Lightning head into 2018-19 as a genuine contender, with or without a splashy addition.

Honestly, the McDonagh trade’s greatest benefits might be seen this season, as players often struggle to make a full impact amid the rush of being moved around the deadline. McDonagh gets to settle in with a training camp and extension in hand, so maybe he’ll be more effective?

As good as the Lightning seem – and they appear poised to be a strong team – they could fall in the second round and not really underachieve. That’s because of the NHL’s playoff setup, which could set the stage for annual showdowns with the Leafs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Summer summary: Oh, no big deal. Basically a leisurely stroll.

The Maple Leafs accomplished something incredibly rare in the NHL salary cap era, landing a true superstar free agent in John Tavares. Adding Tavares to Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri gives the Buds the sort of center depth just about any franchise would envy.

That would be a big enough change, but the Maple Leafs also saw big organizational changes, and in some cases departures.

The team is now in Kyle Dubas’ hands, as he became GM while Lou Lamoriello and others left town. Key subtractions also happened to the roster, as James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Roman Polak, and Matt Martin are all gone.

Expectations will be sky-high in Toronto.

More to do?: People will appraise the Dubas era for more than just signing Tavares, as he faces quite the juggling act in trying to navigate new contracts for William Nylander, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner.

Nylander is most pressing, as he still needs a contract heading into 2018-19 as an RFA. Meanwhile, Matthews and Marner can be signed to extensions, but they’re both entering contract years. It’s tough to imagine the Maple Leafs saving a lot of money in letting any of those situations drag out, especially if Marner ends up on a line with Tavares.

(Pro tip: Tavares’ wingers get paid.)

Where they stand: Maple Leafs fans have, for the most part, been patient when it comes to Brendan Shanahan’s rebuilding plan. Fans and media have been holding out for a moment like this, though, so the stakes are skyrocketing.

Yes, the Maple Leafs have some flaws, as they lack a true shutdown defenseman. Still, there’s talent even in that area, and Toronto’s forward group and an underrated workhorse goalie in Frederik Andersen make for a formidable opponent.

It’s going to be a huge challenge for Mike Babcock to mold all of these pieces into a true contender, especially considering capable competition, particularly with Tampa Bay. There’s a strong chance that this roster will live up to the hype, but it won’t be a cakewalk.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins win Game 3 without Rask, Pastrnak; Hurricanes lose, Svechnikov injured

Bruins Hurricanes Game 3 Coyle Halak
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Heading into Game 3, the news was really bad for the Bruins. Heading out of a 3-1 win for the Bruins, who took a 2-1 series lead, the bad news swung against the Hurricanes in a big way.

[Read up on Tuukka Rask opting out of the NHL bubble.]

Halak was brilliant — except for a blunder — in helping Bruins beat Hurricanes in Game 3

For those of us familiar with Jaroslav Halak‘s career — not just that incredible 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs run, but that too — it was hard not to belt out a “the other guy’s pretty good” when word surfaced that Rask opted out.

Aside from a disastrous puckhandling/passing moment that opened the door for a Nino Niederreiter power-play goal, Halak was nearly perfect in Game 3. Halak made 29 out of 30 saves in this big win. While Petr Mrazek was fine, it’s fair to wonder if the Hurricanes might turn to James Reimer, who helped Carolina win Game 2.

Here’s that blunder by Halak, which again ended up being an aberration:

Hurricanes lose game, Svechnikov might be injured

Looking back at Game 3, and looking forward at the rest of this First Round series, the Hurricanes must feel a mixture of regret and concern.

When it comes to regret, the Hurricanes must rue some special teams setbacks. While both teams went 1-for-5 on their power plays, the Bruins scored the game-winner shorthanded. It’s also tough to stomach when you realize that Carolina’s lone goal mainly boiled down to Halak’s gaffe.

Of course, there were also some moments that might tempt Rod Brind’Amour to get fined again. In particular, a missed high stick to Dougie Hamilton‘s face left Hurricanes fans fuming.

But the biggest concern is going forward. Late in Game 3, Andrei Svechnikov appeared to suffer a knee injury getting tangled up with Zdeno Chara. While it’s too early to tell how severe the issue might be, Svechnikov needed help off of the ice.

The Bruins showed that they could win without David Pastrnak and Rask, and maybe Carolina can do the same without its budding star. It’s pretty painful when you combine it with narrowly losing Game 3, though.

Charlie Coyle played well in Game 3, scoring a goal and an assist. Also, David Krejci turned some heads with some sharp passing, finishing Game 3 with two assists. Brad Marchand inflated the margin of victory with an empty-netter.

After being outshot 15-7 in the first period, the Bruins ended up with a 39-30 shots on goal advantage. That sure seems like a strong response to losing key players, and supporting Halak.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (BOS leads 2-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13:Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston 3, Carolina 1
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Coyotes-Avalanche stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Friday’s First Round matchup between the Coyotes and Avalanche. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC. Watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream at 2 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When you look at effort alone, the Coyotes presented a night-and-day difference between their play in Game 1 (passive, bad) and Game 2 (aggressive, good). Unfortunately for Arizona, the Avalanche are also aggressive and good, and they were able to squeeze out a win.

With that, the Coyotes find themselves down 2-0 heading into Game 3. The two teams played a physical, close game on Friday, so it will be interesting to see how the Avs and Coyotes perform during this back-to-back.

Could the fatigue factor benefit the defense-minded Coyotes? Maybe the Avalanche can burst out of the gate in Game 3 and leave the Coyotes feeling less than confident? So far, Nathan MacKinnon has been deadly, while Nazem Kadri has been clutch. Meanwhile, time is running out for Taylor Hall and the Coyotes. It could be a short series if Arizona can’t get it done in this one.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Colorado Avalanche
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, August 15, 3 p.m. ET
TV: CNBC
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 2-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Avalanche 3, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Hurricanes-Bruins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s First Round matchup between the Hurricanes and Bruins. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

When Tuukka Rask made comments about not being in “prime shape” for the NHL Return to Play, maybe we should have seen it coming. Even so, it was a little startling to hear that Rask opted out of the return to play before Game 3 of Bruins – Hurricanes.

As the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Bruins were already dealing with turmoil. You don’t often see top seeds fall all the way to fourth place, but then again, sports leagues also don’t often need to navigate global pandemics. If the Bruins are going to go deep in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, they clearly need to overcome more than the Hurricanes.

While these are far from ideal circumstances, don’t count the Bruins out altogether. Boston turns to capable backup Jaroslav Halak, who probably could have had a shot at a starting job (or at least a 1A/1B situation) if he didn’t stick with the Bruins.

Being that David Pastrnak missed Game 2, the Bruins are dealing with some tough times. In the Hurricanes, they also face a very tough opponent. We’ll see if Boston can roll with the punches in Game 3 on Saturday afternoon on NBC.

WHAT: Carolina Hurricanes vs. Boston Bruins
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Saturday, August 15 – 12 p.m. ET
TV
: NBC
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13:Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Bruins’ Tuukka Rask opts out of NHL return to play

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The Boston Bruins announced on Saturday morning that starting goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL’s return to play this postseason and will be leaving the bubble in Toronto.

Rask had started the first two games of their First Round series against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The two teams play in Game 3 of the series on Saturday afternoon (12 p.m. ET, NBC).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I want to be with my teammates competing, but at this moment there are things more important than hockey in my life, and that is being with my family. I want to thank the Bruins and my teammates for their support and wish them success,” said Rask in a statement released by the team.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said on a conference call that the team “completely” understands where Rask is coming from in his decision to opt out, and that the organization fully supports his decision, why he made it, and is not totally surprised by it.

Sweeney pointed out that Rask has three children at home, including a newborn daughter and that family has to be the priority. He also added that Rask’s family is safe and healthy and that there was no specific incident that resulted in him opting out, other than that he was having a difficult time being away in this environment.

With Rask now leaving the bubble, Jaroslav Halak will take over the starting goaltending duties for the Bruins.

Halak started one game for the Bruins in the Round-Robin phase, stopping 25 out of 29 shots in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. He appeared in 31 games during the regular season, posting an 18-6-6 record with a .919 save percentage.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.