The Bruins took a bigger hit than any other team during the offseason, but they still have some great pieces. With the departure of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, their biggest issue is at centre ice. Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle are solid players, but having them as your first and second center isn’t great. However, the Bruins will still be a tough team to score goals against with a deep blueline and a goalie tandem that was easily the league’s best in 2022. They also still have Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak up front, so I expect to see this team in the postseason at the end of the year. With a lot of teams looking to make a big step in the Atlantic, though, it could be with a wild card spot.
The Sabres are certainly moving in the right direction, but can they snap the NHL’s longest playoff drought this year? The loyal, rowdy fans of Buffalo certainly think so. I think they could too, but they’ll need breakout years from a few of their exciting young players to get it done. At forward, JJ Peterka, Dylan Cozens, Casey Middlestadt and Peyton Krebs are all going to be key pieces of the puzzle if this team succeeds. All four of them are between the ages of 21 and 24, and if they all improve, Buffalo will be very deep at forward. Then, there’s defenceman Owen Power and goaltender Devon Levi. Power is the former first overall pick, but both are coming into this season with large expectations for the future.
The Atlantic Division might be the most competitive in the NHL this year, but the future is bright in Buffalo and for the first time in a while, the postseason is a realistic goal.
Detroit Red Wings
Like the Sabres, the Red Wings are looking to make a serious move in the standings this year. Only Buffalo has a longer current playoff drought, and for an organization that is so used to winning, it’s been a very difficult last seven years. Over the last few seasons, though, improvements have certainly been made. They may not be quite there yet, but it feels like this is the season where we should really start to see the rebuilding process pay off for the Wings. They’re not a particularly deep team at any position, but Detroit is solid everywhere and has key young players waiting for their chance to make a difference. They still may be a year or two away from really scaring the postseason, but hopefully this year will mark another positive step.
Florida’s season could go so many different ways. On the one hand, they’re the reigning Eastern Conference Champions with one of the best players in the league on their roster. On the other hand, they barely made the playoffs last year and they’ll be without their top two blueliners to start the season. With the injuries and the competitiveness of the Atlantic, there’s no guarantee this team will even make the playoffs again this year. I expect the offence to be high-flying once again, but unless Sergei Bobrovsky can find his game like he did in May and June, I think the best Florida can hope for is third place in this division.
When you’re at this point in a rebuild, you’re just hoping to see your young prospects improving each and every game. It won’t be an easy year for the Habs, but there are still reasons to be excited about this team as a fan, especially at forward. Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, Alex Newhook and Juraj Slafkovsky are all 22 or younger and will be in the lineup to start the season. Defensively, the team may be even younger, but the players on the bluelines don’t come with the same expectations or pedigree. In fact, the blueline may be where they run into most of their issues. The Canadiens should have no problems putting a decent number of goals on the board, but keeping the pucks out of their own net will be much more of a challenge. Expect another lottery pick in Montreal at the end of the year.
Ottawa is yet another team in the Atlantic looking to take a big step this year with a nucleus of talented young players. They’ve locked up Stutzle, Tkachuk, Batherson, Chabot and Sanderson for at least the next four seasons, and now it’s time for these players to show everyone why they got paid. They’re obviously the core for Ottawa’s future, but these guys are already all great players. If Ottawa can get solid goaltending throughout the season from Joonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg, their skill and depth everywhere on the ice could very well be enough to get them in the postseason. The Sens also picked up Vladimir Tarasenko and Dominik Kubalik in the offseason. If they fit in well, Ottawa should be one of the higher-scoring teams in the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay will be without Andrei Vasilevskiy for the first two months of the season, but if any team can find a way to work through a loss like that, it’s the Lightning. John Cooper’s team just came off their longest offseason in three years and are hungry to prove that the championship window is still wide open. With players like Stamkos, Kucherov, Point, Hedman and Sergachev leading the way, it’s easy to see why they think they can still get it done. The loss in net will be tough, but Vasilevskiy also hasn’t had a lot of time off in a long time. I could definitely see him coming back fresh for Tampa Bay and being better than ever. Don’t sleep on the Lightning. They’re still one of the best teams in the East.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular season success is great for most organizations, but it’s not enough anymore in Toronto. In each of the past three years, they’ve finished no worse than 6th in the league in points. Despite that, the playoff success hasn’t happened. Obviously, this team is still very good and, in my opinion, they should win the Atlantic this year. The ‘core four’ is all still intact, and Brad Treliving did a great job of bringing in guys who can give the lineup a little more toughness. However, the blueline is still a bit suspect. Their forwards have been great for so long, but at some point, you would have expected this team to make a serious effort to improve the defence. They’ll be good, but the real test for the Maple Leafs will once again come at the end of April.
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