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Monday, September 23, 2019

NHL Eastern Conference Preview-Atlantic Division

Only 9 days before the NHL regular season starts and we will preview each division. We will start with a preview of the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division.

Tampa Bay Lightning  A historic regular season last year for the Lightning with 62 wins and 128 points but it came crashing down abruptly as they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jacks in the first round of the playoffs.

Things to like  They still possess the most talented roster in the league and have no real weaknesses.  They led the league in goals and power play percentage last year and return league MVP Nikita Kucherov (41 goals, 87 assists) along with tons of scoring depth with Steven Stamkos (45 goals), Brayden Point (41 goals), (who just signed today and is coming off hip surgery and should be good to go by mid-October), Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn & Ondrej Palat.  On defense they are anchored by Victor Hedman and added Kevin Shattenkirk from the NY Rangers who the Lightning are hoping will bounce back after a subpar season last year.  Good depth on the defensive side as well with Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Eric Cernak, and Braydon Coburn.  In net they return last year's Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy who signed an 8 year $76 million dollar extension.

Where things could go wrong  The Lightning will not duplicate the incredible regular season they had last year and there will be a ton of pressure on this team after last year's playoff debacle.  Questions if Shattenkirk can regain his form and if Vasilevskiy will slump after signing the big extension.  A long term injury to Hedman could also slow this team down. They play in a very top heavy division with the Bruins and Maple Leafs so just getting out of the division will be a challenge.

Outlook  Still the team to beat so it is Stanley Cup or bust.

Boston Bruins   A great regular season for the Bruins last year tieing for the 2nd most points in the league with Calgary at 107 and included a great playoff run to the Stanley Cup Finals ending with a disappointing game 7 loss at home to the St Louis Blues.

Things to like  The Bruins have one of the best trio of scorers in Brad Marchand (36 goals), David Pastrnak (38 goals), and Patrice Bergeron (32 goals) and had the 3rd best power play last year.  They have good scoring depth with veteran center David Krejci who should still be effective at age 34 and Jake DeBrusk who scored 27 goals last year could be the break out star and score 30+ this year.  They have 2 of the more talented defensemen in the league in Torey Krug and 21 year old Charlie McAvoy and if they stay healthy (Krug missed 18 games last year and McAvoy missed 28) they will anchor the Bruins blue line.  Tuuka Rask had a solid regular season and playoff and at age 32 is still a top flight goaltender and the Bruins have one of the best back up goalies in Jaroslav Halak who won 22 games last year with a 2.34 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Where things could go wrong  They have many key players who are now in their 30's (Marchand, Bergeron, Rask, Krejci)  and not sure if they can still get anything out of 42 year old Zdeno Chara.  They did not make many changes to their roster while other teams in the division look to be improved.  Any long term injury for Marchand, Pastrnak, or Bergeron would test the Bruins scoring depth.

Outlook  This is still an upper division playoff team and should be a contender once again.  Will probably not duplicate the 107 points from the previous year but should not finish worse than 3rd in the division.

Toronto Maple Leafs  A disappointing end to the Leafs season last year losing in the 1st round of the playoffs to the Boston Bruins.  The Leafs had a chance to eliminate the Bruins at home in game 6 but lost at home and got routed in Boston losing game 7 5-1.

Things to like  Another team with a lot of firepower in the division (4th overall in goals last year) with John Tavares (47 goals, 3rd overall) Auston Matthews (37 goals), and the recently resigned Mitch Marner (26 goals, 68 assists 4th overall).  Add William Nylander (20 goals) who could possibly sitting on a 30 goal season, Kasperi Kapanen, Andreas Johnsson, and Alexander Kerfoot who they acquired in a trade from the Colorado Avalanche in the off season.  The big jewel the Leafs acquired in the trade with the Avalanche was defenseman Tyson Barrie who finished 7th overall in scoring for blue liners last year.  Goaltender Frederik Andersen tied for 3rd in wins last year and has established himself as a steady presence.

Where things could go wrong  Another team and coach under a lot of pressure from the media and local fan base with a 50+ year Stanley Cup drought.  Andersen slumped badly toward the end of the regular season so they will have to limit his workload and hope that whoever wins the back up goalie job will be efficient.  Barrie will be under a lot of pressure to perform and with a number of new faces with the Leafs this year it could take a little bit of time for this team to gel.

Outlook  On paper with the addition of Barrie this is a Stanley Cup contender.  All the pieces are in place but can they get through Boston or Tampa Bay?

Montreal Canadiens  A good year as they overachieved and just missed making the playoffs finishing 2 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets and 3 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes.

Things to like  The top scoring line for the Canadiens came up huge last year with Max Domi, Tomas Tatar, and Brendan Gallagher combining for 86 goals and could possibly improve with all 3 players under the age of 30 and in their prime.  Carey Price stayed healthy last year with 66 starts and is still capable of putting together a Vezina type season.  All star defenseman Shea Weber, who missed 24 games last year at the beginning of the season, is back healthy to anchor the blue line.

Where things could go wrong  If Weber or Price miss any significant time this will not be a playoff team. Also if the Canadiens top line doesn't produce like last year they don't have the scoring depth to make up for it.  They have to improve their power play per ranking 2nd to last in power play efficiency at 13.2%.

Outlook  This is a team who could finish 4th in the division and grab one of the last playoff spots or finish 6th or 7th in the division and miss the playoffs.

Florida Panthers  Missed the playoffs last year with 86 points

Things to like  They signed 3 time Stanley Cup winning coach Joel Quenneville as their head coach and had the arguably the biggest free agent signing with the addition of Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who led the league in shutouts last year.  They have good scoring power with Aleksander Barkov (35 goals, 61 assists), Jonathan Huberdeau (30 goals, 62 assists), Mike Hoffman (36 goals, 34 assists), and Evgenii Dadanov (28 goals, 42 assists).  They had the 2nd best power play at 26.8% and scored the 9th most goals last year.

Where things could go wrong  Bobrovsky ends up being a total bust and the Panthers defense keeps giving up goals in bunches.  An already apathetic fan base continues to stay away in droves and gives the franchise no real home ice advantage.  This franchise has missed the playoffs the last 16 of 18 years.

Outlook  Sleeper team who should finally break through and grab a playoff spot.

Buffalo Sabres  Faded badly and missed the playoffs last year with 76 points.  Lost 15 out of 16 games from March 2nd to April 2nd.

Things to like   They have good frontline scoring with Jack Eichel (28 goals, 54 assists), Jeff Skinner (40 goals, 23 assists) and Sam Reinhart (22 goals and 43 assists) and added scoring depth in the off season with Jimmy Vesey from the NY Rangers and Marcus Johansson.  They have one of the best young defensemen in future all-star Rasmus Dahlin and also added defensive depth in Colin Miller from the Vegas Golden Knights and Henri Jokiharju from the Chicago Blackhawks.  Also they added a new head coach with the hiring of Ralph Krueger who replaced Phil Housley.

Where things could go wrong  Jack Eichel's bad luck with injuries continues, the goaltending tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark don't show improvement, and the new off season additions on defense do not pan out.  Already the Sabres are struggling with injuries before the regular season starts.

Outlook  Will have to show tremendous improvement for any shot at the playoffs.  Still probably a year or two away.

Detroit Red Wings  Missed the playoffs with 74 points.

Things to like  A homecoming for all time Red Wing great Steve Yzerman as he took over as General Manager on April 19 and will try to rebuild this franchise into a Stanley Cup contender.  He built the talent pool and formed the roster for arguably the best team in the NHL right now in the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou each scored 30 goals last year and could improve and their is potential with young forwards Tiro Hirose and Michael Rasmussen.

Where things could go wrong  Goaltender Jimmy Howard at age 35 shows nothing and is finished, the defense continues to struggle with injuries, and Dylan Larkin's preseason heel injury turns into something worse.

Outlook  Still years away from being a playoff team.

Ottawa Senators  Finished with the lowest point total in the league with 64 and also gave up the most goals last year

Things to like  Veterans like Matt Duchene and Mark Stone were traded away last year and now the Senators are going into full rebuild mode with a nice core of young players starting with Brady Tkachuk who at age 20 finished with 22 goals and 23 assists along with 75 penalty minutes and Thomas Chabot who at age 22 finished 10th overall in scoring for defensemen.  Ron Hainsey and Nikita Zaitsev were signed in the off season to fortify the defense.

Where things could go wrong The defense continues to give up goals in bunches and goaltender Craig Anderson continues to his downward slide, the veteran signings don't pan out and the young kids continue to struggle.

Outlook  Continued struggles and at least 3-4 years away from being a playoff contender.

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