Image found here.
This year, the National Hockey League ushers in its 98th season, and the hype is high for rising stars Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel (among other hot prospects). But will new blood be enough to rally the weak? Will powerhouses like the Blackhawks continue to dominate? Here is a comprehensive preview of this year’s teams. CSN staff member Austin Petronack with Josh Mehr discuss teams entering this season.
Atlantic Division Preview
Last season the Atlantic Division contained both some of the best teams in the league and the absolute worst.
The Montreal Canadiens finished with a record of 50-22-10 going into the offseason before losing to Tampa Bay in the conference semifinals. The strength of the team lay in the excellent defense led by Subban and the superb goaltending of Carey Price, which should return this year. The overall success and failure of the Habs this year will fall on their ability to successfully generate enough offense to win games and if Carey Price can repeat the level of play that won him the Most Valuable Player award last year. Still, this season looks optimistic for Montreal. Expect to see the Canadians at the top of the Atlantic Division yet again this year.
The Buffalo Sabres, on the other hand, finished dead last in the league with a meager 23 wins. Not much went well for the Sabres last year, as they faced injuries in addition to poor offense, defense, and goaltending Buffalo has a young and talented core this year, however. For the Sabres to win, they need Eichel, Kane, and O’Reilly to assert their dominance in addition to Lehner proving his NHL merit. This is a lot to ask of a rebuilding team. We predict the Sabres to fall 5th in the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay was another bright light in the Atlantic Division. They fell only to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals and performed well in the regular season. Their highlights last year should make a full return this year, especially if Vasilevskiy can develop his talent under established starter Ben Bishop and see more time between the pipes. In addition, Hedman showed last season that he has potential to be another elite player on the Lightning roster with Stamkos. The only downside we see to the Lightning’s chances this season is if Stamkos’ ongoing contract negotiations become a distraction. Therefore, the Lightning have very good potential for another run at the Cup. We project Tampa Bay 2nd in the Atlantic Division this year.
The Detroit Red Wings were another playoff contender from the Atlantic Division this season with a decent overall record of 43-25-15. Their veteran lineup featuring Zetterberg and Datsyuk may start to slow, so hope that young players such as Larkin and Pulkinen step up. We predict that the Red Wings finish 4th in the Atlantic Division but miss the playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators barely made it to the playoffs last year on a wild card spot and lost to Montreal in 6 games in the first round. The Senators should continue to look to Karlsson for defensive support and rely more on their young forwards. The question still remains: Can the Senators replicate their miracle end-of-season run? We see them finishing 3rd in the Atlantic Division.
The Toronto Maple Leafs struggled last year, finishing 7th in the Atlantic Division and missing the playoffs entirely. The Leafs took their opportunity to change their culture by trading away star player Phil Kessel to the Penguins and acquiring new head coach Mike Babcock. The Leafs have some young prospects in the hopper in Marner, Nylander, and Brown, but we don’t expect them to be ready at an NHL level. This seems to be a restructuring season for the Leafs, and it will be interesting to see if core players Phaneuf and Van Riemsdyk stay with the team or move to new pastures. We don’t see the Leafs making it far, so look for them at the bottom of the Atlantic Division this year.
Despite the Florida Panthers inability to make it to the playoffs last year, some positives remain this year. The nice balance of young stars Barkov, Huberdeau, and Bjugstad alongside veteran stars Jagr and Luongo. But will the veterans continue their strong play despite their age? We expect a slow in their pace and predict them to finish 7th in the Atlantic Division this year.
Lastly, the Boston Bruins fell short expectations last season by not even making the playoffs. Despite their lackluster finish, the Bruins still have stars Bergeron and Rask to drive the team alongside emerging star Pastrnak. The Bruins will also have to handle the departure of stars Lucic and Hamilton and lack of momentum from last season. We see them at 6th in the Atlantic Division.
Austin Petronack, CSN Staff
Josh Mehr, Contributor