Well ladies and gentlemen, the summer has come and gone, NHL training camp has ended, and the 2017 – 2018 hockey season is upon us. Before I dive in to my NHL Atlantic Division preview and predictions , I would love to introduce myself. I’m Matt Brown. In 2010, I broke my neck in a high school hockey game. Although I was no longer able to play the game, my love for it only grew. That is why I am so excited to be covering it for MHL. In 2016, I graduated from Stonehill College in Easton Massachusetts with a degree in communications. I am new to the journalism game so I will be learning as I go, but I am very excited. I look forward to hearing your feedback.
As we know, last season ended with the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup in Nashville. Ottawa’s run brought them all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Connor McDavid captured his first Hart trophy, while other young guns made their impressions noticeable.
The Atlantic division had four teams make the playoffs. Montréal was bounced by the NY Rangers, Boston lost to an Ottawa team that opened eyes as they made it all the way to the conference finals, and Toronto captured the second wild-card spot. Detroit, on the other hand, had their playoff streak of 25 consecutive seasons snapped. This off-season, faces came and went, veterans retired, and now a new batch of guys are figuring out what is needed to make a team.
As for this season, it was more difficult than I thought it would be, but this is how I see each team finishing.
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Montréal Canadiens
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Boston Bruins
- Ottawa Senators
- Detroit Red Wings
- Buffalo Sabres
- Florida Panthers
1. Tampa Bay –. First things first, I really feel like the division is wide open. You could pull the first five or so teams from a hat, put that as your order, and be able to debate it. For me though, the Lightning claimed the top spot. Stamkos is back. After only participating in 17 games last year due to a knee injury, I believe he’s going to come out flying. They also have Kucherov who has proven he’s a star. 85 points is nothing to gaffe at. I’m interested to see how the veteran presence of Chris Kunitz pans out. Plus they have Budaj to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy. I like what they’re doing in Tampa.
Player to watch: Tyler Johnson
2. Montréal – There is a giant question mark in Montréal and it’s between the pipes. Can Carey Price stay healthy? When he is on and in net, he is one of the best. If he can stay healthy he’s my Vezina winner. The addition of Jonathan Drouin, along with the strengthening of the blue line is going to go a long way. Karl Alzner and David Schlemko are great veteran pickups. Are they deep enough up front though?
Player to watch: Jonathan Drouin
3. Toronto – Patrick Marleau came East and will likely finish his career in the blue and white. Auston Matthews is coming off a 69 point rookie campaign and is looking to avoid a sophomore slump, like that will ever happen. It seems as if things between the organization and Joffrey Lupul have calmed down. With the young core they have, if they can get their salary-cap issues under control, they could be just a few years away from something special.
Player to watch: William Nylander
4. Boston – The Bruins are going to need their youth to make an impact. Anders Bjork looks to make the jump from the collegiate level and what better way to do that than to slate him with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Charlie McAvoy enters his first full season and Brandon Carlo has another year under his belt. Both should make an impact right away. With other rookies chomping at the bit to play, it should light a fire under the asses of Ryan Spooner and Matt Belesky.Plus, the Pastrnak deal is out-of-the-way. It is no longer lingering over the locker room. Boston could surprise some people.
Player to watch: Charlie McAvoy
The Maple Leafs and the Bruins round out the teams that will be making the playoffs from the Atlantic. I believe the Bruins squeak in to that final wild-card spot. Both teams are going to be very interesting to watch. Both teams will be integrating veteran players with youth.
As for the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, and Florida Panthers, playoff hockey will need to wait another year.
5. Ottawa – The Senators were the most difficult team for me to predict. I don’t want to say that their conference finals run last year came out of nowhere, but didn’t it? Upfront, they are pretty solid. Bobby Ryan was solid in the playoffs last year, though in 62 regular-season games, he only registered 13 – 12 – 25 tallies. If he is able to get those numbers back up and forwards like Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, and Mike Hoffman do their job, then watch out. Defensively, it will be fun to see the season pans out. I have Karlsson as my Norris trophy winner. Cody Ceci in a contract year with something to prove will only benefit the team and don’t sleep on the Johnny Oduya signing. Hampered by injury last year, him and Karlsson could form one helluva pairing.
I’ve realized I could be very wrong by this Ottawa seeding. Time will tell.
6. Detroit – From 1991 – 2016, there was playoff hockey in Detroit. 25 straight years. That streak was snapped last year when the Red Wings finished sixth in the division. It was a strange sight to see. By no means do I think leadership was an issue. Leadership can’t be an issue in a locker room with Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Johan Franzen. What I think is happening, is that they are in an awkward position where guys are getting older and their youth prospects just aren’t there yet. I would love to see Dylan Larkin make that next step.
Player to watch: Dylan Larkin
7. Buffalo – Well, with just hours to go before the season starts, the Sabres have found their franchise man. Jack Eichel signed an 8 year/$80 million dollar extension. This deal adds on to the exciting off-season the Sabres have had. In June, Buffalo sent Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, and a third round pick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for defenseman Marcos Scandela and past captain Jason Pominville. These moves, along with the signing of Ristolainen and they even balance of the young and old, as a Sabres fan, how can you not be excited? I just don’t think it happens this year. Soon.
Player to watch: Jack Eichel
8. Florida – Well, the Florida Panthers had one of the stranger offseasons in the league. There is no doubt the Panthers have one of the strongest and talented young groups in the league. With an offensive core featuring Jonathan Huberdeu, Aleksander Barkov, and Vincent Trochek to go along with Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle anchoring the blue line, there is promise. But, in a strange turn of events, after breaking out for 51 points, Jonathan Marchessault was not protected in the expansion draft, Reilly Smith was traded for a fourth-round pick to Vegas, and Jason Demers was traded for a cheaper Jamie McGinn. Also, the ageless Jaromir Jagr is not re-signed. Four of the Panthers top eight scores from last season are elsewhere. This year is to grow as a team and become stronger individually. We will see where they are down the road.
Player to watch: Jonathan Huberdeau