We are back to the old divisional alignment in the Atlantic Division. The three Canadian teams — Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal — will return to playing games in the U.S. against their division mates with the Sabres and Bruins in the fold again after playing in the East last season.
Is this finally the year for the Maple Leafs, or will they once again get “nothing?” The Lightning once again lost pieces but have found ways to fill them in-house, which bodes well for their three-peat chances. David Krejci went home to the Czech Republic, how will the Bruins fill that hole down the middle? When will Spencer Knight take the No. 1 job from Sergei Bobrovsky and push the Panthers forward? How improved will the Red Wings and Senators be in their different stages of rebuilding? Will the Canadiens be able to overcome the missing bodies from their lineup? Just how bad will things get in Buffalo?
How will things shake out as we get back to a normal 82-game schedule? Here’s how the PHT staff see the Atlantic Division shaking out.
Michael Finewax, NBC Sports Edge Senior Hockey Writer/Editor: The top four teams in the Atlantic are better than any other top-four by a lot. Florida is looking awfully good and if Bobrovsky can’t do the job, Spencer Knight is waiting in the wings. The Maple Leafs will continue to play very well during the regular season while the Bruins grab fourth. The Lightning are without their third line from last season due to expansion and UFAs but will still be good enough to finish at least third. Ottawa and Detroit will be much improved and the Canadiens will finally miss the playoffs after a couple of lucky regular seasons.
Jake Abrahams, Managing Editor, NHL content: I could see any of the teams I’ve listed in the top three winning this division. Boston’s goalie situation scares me, but to me they are still a playoff team until proven otherwise.
James O’Brien, NHL writer: The universe simply demands that the Maple Leafs set expectations uncomfortably high. Some key losses and the aging curve make the regular season somewhat challenging for the Bolts and Bruins, while the Panthers are bursting with talent — most of it young. The Canadiens certainly have a chance to make the playoffs, but some painful losses swing things just enough to make them this year’s Stars.
Sean Leahy, NHL writer: A three-peat? The odds aren’t in Tampa Bay’s favor, and they lost their entire third line, but they will just drop in new faces from the AHL like they’ve always done and they’ll fit in seamlessly. Florida’s goaltending will be vital if they’re to build off last season, but it seems inevitable that it’ll be Spencer Knight’s net at some point.
Adam Gretz, NHL writer: Boston has to fight off the Rangers for a wild card spot but ultimately gets in with some defense and goaltending questions while struggling to replace David Krejci on the second line. Tampa Bay and Florida spend the season fighting for the top spot in the Division while Toronto does what it normally does: Finishes in third place and loses in the First Round of the playoffs to a team everybody thinks it should beat.