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.

PHT Morning Skate: Crosby would ‘love to’ be a goalie for a game

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Sidney Crosby has accomplished so much in his career, but there’s still one thing he wants to cross off his bucket list. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Crosby admitted that he’d like to be a goalie for a game. “I’d love to play one game in the NHL (as a goalie). We’ll see. There’s still some time left if it ever came down to it. I’d love to get that.” Just a hunch, but I don’t think the Pens would go for that. (Top)

–The Score looks at three 2017 draft prospects that will have the most long-term value to their respective teams. The first two picks of the draft are on the list, but the third name may surprise you. (The Score)

–As you may remember, Connor McDavid took an awkward looking picture with two strangers hugging him pretty tight. The picture, which took place at an airport, immediately went viral. Now, McDavid explained exactly how everything unfolded. Well, that story is pretty stupid. I was walking into the security line and I had actually walked past them. And then they say ‘hey Connor can we get a picture?’ and I say ‘sure’ and sure enough they come up to me and start hugging me. (Yahoo)

–Devils beat reporter Chris Ryan sat down for a Q&A with top pick Nico Hischier, who has a pretty busy summer ahead of him. “I’ll go back (o Switzerland) and practice and do my workouts every day, then I’ll come for Development Camp, and they’ll sit together and tell me what I still need, what I need to improve. Then I’ll go back again and work on those things.” (NJ.com)

–Speaking of Hischier, did you know that he didn’t start playing hockey full time until he was 12 years old? That’s only six years ago. “What you’re looking at is a guy who has a big upside and isn’t even close to reaching the ceiling,” Devils head coach John Hynes said. (New York Times)

 –Kyle Beach was selected 11th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2008. Unfortunately for Beach, he never made it to the NHL and he still isn’t over that. “Whenever you get as close as I did and don’t make it, there are going to be a lot of questions that never can be answered. I was a player growing up who never had to work that hard because I was always a top player. It was a rude awakening. Could I have been more prepared? Absolutely.” (Chicago Tribune)

Eichel’s friendship is a handy ‘recruiting tool’ as Sabres seek Vesey

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When a player gets to choose where he plays, there are plenty of things that can factor into such a decision.

Don’t underestimate the lure of playing with friends.

These were relevant factors in instances such as Lebron James taking his talents to South Beach and when Zach Parise and Ryan Suter joining the Wild. If the Buffalo Sabres have their way, it will happen when Jack Eichel helps them bring in coveted forward Jimmy Vesey.

NHL.com provides a deeper look at the friendship between the two talented young scorers.

“I think that there’d be a sense of comfort walking into a locker room with Jack there,” Vesey said.

Sabres GM Tim Murray made a humorous comment about using Eichel as a “recruiting tool,” even if the second pick of the 2015 NHL Draft seemed a little reluctant to carry such a title.

The Sabres sent quite a fleet to try to draw Vesey in, and his agent seemed optimistic about that back-and-forth.

Still, hearing positive feedback from potential teammates might make a bigger deal that suits trying to butter Vesey up. In that regard, consider what Kyle Okposo had to say to Vesey after choosing Buffalo himself.

“I would tell him we’re going to be a good team for a long time,” Okposo said, according to Olean Times Herald. “It’s going to be a fun organization to play in. We have the Pegulas at the helm. … We’re going to be contenders, and that’s something that isn’t always there on teams. I know that personally. We went through a really tough stretch (with the New York Islanders).”

Many believe that Vesey leans toward the Boston Bruins, and either way, he isn’t expected to announce his choice until Aug. 15.

The Sabres aren’t leaving any stone un-turned in their pursuit, and with money likely being equal with Vesey getting his first NHL contract, a friendly locker room could very well make the difference.

Heading home: Devils’ Tedenby signs in Sweden

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Earlier, we passed along word of Kyle Beach signing in Austria and now, there’s a report of another 2008 first-rounder heading overseas.

Mattias Tedenby, the Swedish forward taken 24th overall by New Jersey in ’08, has inked with former club HV71, the team announced on Thursday.

Tedenby, 24, leaves North America following a steady decline from his rookie campaign. He debuted with the Devils as a 20-year-old in 2010-11, posting eight goals and 22 points in 58 games to lead all New Jersey rookies in scoring. From there, though, things went south — he was shuffled back and forth between the Devils and AHL Albany, and never played more than 43 NHL games in a single season.

In January, the Devils placed Tedenby on waivers, where he went unclaimed.

 

Former top prospect Beach signs in Austria

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The first round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft was loaded with impact players: Steve Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle, to name a few.

Then there’s the guy that went No. 11 overall — Kyle Beach.

Beach, a Chicago draftee that was traded to the Rangers last season, has signed in Austria with EC Red Bull Salzburg, the club announced on Thursday. The move comes after the 24-year-old spent last season between AHL Rockford and Hartford, along with a brief stint on loan in Sweden with HV71.

A former WHL standout who’s junior career was marked with disciplinary issues, Beach has received plenty of attention (yes, from this site specifically) despite having never played a regular-season NHL game. He was a compelling story in his draft year and continued to be one during his professional career; last summer, Chicago gave him a one-year extension to possibly replace Dan Carcillo as the team’s “sandpaper” element… but three months later, the ‘Hawks waived him during the preseason.

“There’s been a lot of guys that have made that next step and got a chance here,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said at the time of waiving Beach, per the Sun-Times. “I guess you’ve got to earn it.

“Some guys got the opportunity based on how they were playing.”