Photo: Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images
NoVa Caps has just finished its annual Capitals player previews for the 2017-18 season. The NoVa Caps team is now shifting focus to the rest of the NHL with previews for each of the Divisions. The series continues with the Atlantic Division.
2016-17 Record: 44-31-7 95 points
Division finish: 3
Key Players: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask
2017-18 Outlook: The Bruins finally made their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season after missing the 2 years previous. Though they didn’t last long, outplaying Ottawa at times, but ultimately losing to them in 6 games.
The Bruins are one of the older teams in the league, but will try to balance that out with a lot of young kids coming in to try to make an impact, much like the Capitals. However, with less than two weeks until the start of training camp, their most important kid, David Pasternak, still hasn’t signed. Pastrnak is one of the best up and coming talents in the NHL, and if the Bruins want to return to the playoffs, they need him signed before the regular season begins.
More than likely, with the Metro division being so stacked, there will be no Wild Card spots open for Atlantic Division teams. That means Boston will have to make it into the top 3 spots in the Atlantic. That doesn’t seem likely with Montreal, Toronto, and Tampa Bay all having more talent.
2016-17 Record: 33-37-12 78 points
Division finish: 8
Key Players: Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Marco Scandella
2017-18 Outlook: Seems like the Sabres have been rebuilding forever. They’ve gone six straight seasons without a playoff appearance, with good to great picks to go along with it in that time.
The Sabres were able to grab a generational talent in Jack Eichel, but still have yet to build a team around him. The Sabres will start the season with a new head coach and General Manager, hoping to finally get back on the right track.
The new GM, Jason Botterill, started his new job with a great trade that brought back fan favorite Jason Pominville and solid defensemen Marco Scandella. There’s no doubt the Sabres will be able to build a very good offense, but outside of Scandella, no one stands out on defense.
Rasmus Ristolainen is a great power play specialist, but doesn’t do much beyond that. Maybe new head coach, Phil Housley, who was the defensive coach for the Nashville Predators on their run to the Finals last season, can help bring more of a balance. But still, it seems the Sabres will once again miss the playoffs, unless they can be one of the three best teams in the Atlantic, and that doesn’t seem likely.
2016-17 Record: 33-36-13 79 points
Division finish: 7
Key Players: Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist
2017-18 Outlook: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Once considered to be the best franchise in the modern era, the Red Wings are now a bottom feeding team, handcuffed by old and poor playing players on bad contracts that can’t be moved.
Like Buffalo, Detroit should be able to put together a pretty good offense, but a weak defense and unreliable goaltending should hold them back from sniffing the playoffs for years to come. On top of that, one of their rising kids, Andreas Athanasiou, still hasn’t signed and is talking to KHL teams to play overseas.
And when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, one of Detroit’s main stays, Henrik Zetterberg, is talking about retiring after this upcoming season, which would leave Detroit with a $6.08M cap hit a year through the 2020-2021 season. The immediate future is not looking bright for the Detroit Red Wings.
2016-17 Record: 35-36-11 81 points
Division finish: 6
Key Players: Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck, Aaron Eblad
2017-18 Outlook: After being Atlantic Division champs just two seasons ago, the Panthers missed the playoffs all together last season. Their outcome mainly came down to injuries as they suffered big injuries to almost all their core guys.
The Cats had an up and down summer. They traded 30-goal-scorer Jonathan Marchessault to Las Vegas just so they would take 25 goal scorer Reilly Smith along with him. All together, Florida lost 75 goals over the summer.
However, Florida did make a few good UFA signings like Radim Vrbata and KHL star Evgeni Dadonov. Their biggest weakness is in goal. Roberto Luongo is a great goalie, but he’s now 38 years old. The Panthers have a good backup in James Reimer, but he’s never stuck as a starter so he shouldn’t be relied on too much.
As long as Florida can stay healthy they should make a pretty good run at the playoffs. The question again will be are they better than Tampa Bay, Montreal, and Toronto? If they can catch breaks with health they might be able to push one of them out.
2016-17 Record: 47-26-9 103 points
Division finish: 1
Key Players: Carey Price, Jonathan Drouin, Max Pacioretty, Shea Weber
2017-18 Outlook: The Canadiens made the playoffs last season, but were bumped out in the 1st round leading their GM to make some changes. Last offseason, the Canadiens shocked the NHL world by trading for Shea Weber. This summer, they pulled another big trade in acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightening.
With the addition of Drouin, the Canadiens can make a pretty great offense but that’s if Drouin works out at center. He’s played wing at the NHL level, but Montreal really needs center help since they don’t seem to trust Alex Galchenyuk at the position.
The Habs defense may have got worse over the summer, after letting Anrei Markov go and replacing him with Karl Alzner. But that doesn’t matter too much when your goalie, Carey Price, is arguably the best in the world. Price is the backbone of the team and his fate is the teams fate. If he gets hurt or misses significant time it’s possible the Canadiens miss the playoffs. But as long as he’s in the crease and their top 6 puts up the goals, they should finish top 3 in the division.
2016-17 Record: 44-28-10 98 points
Division finish: 2
Key Players: Erik Karlsson, Erik Karlsson, Erik Karlsson, Erik Karlsson
2017-18 Outlook: The Ottawa Senators are an odd team. Coached in the 1-3-1 tactic style of defense, watching any Ottawa game last season was basically a bore. But it worked for them as they were one goal away from going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
This year, their luck will most likely run out. They have the best defensemen in the league with Erik Karlsson, but outside of that, they don’t scream anything special. Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone are sniper wingers but don’t get much help from Kyle Turris and Derick Brassard, who had a down year last season with only 39 points.
Essentially, they just don’t have the talent to be one of the better teams in the league. It doesn’t help that Karlsson had offseason surgery on his foot, so he could have a slow start for Ottawa. Without Karlsson they’d probably be consistently in the bottom 10 of the league.
Senators have to hope their brand of slow hockey continues to work, but with the game getting faster and more skilled, it’s doubtful they make any noise this upcoming season.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTENING
2016-17 Record: 42-30-10 94 points
Division finish: 5
Key Players: Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy
2017-18 Outlook: 1 points. That’s all Tampa Bay needed to make the playoffs last season: 1 point. Without their captain again, Steven Stankos, for almost the whole season, the Lightening just couldn’t seem to find their footing. They had up and downs, but just couldn’t get it all together. Don’t expect that this season. Tampa Bay should come out of the gate on fire, led by Stamkos, trying to make up for lost time. And don’t forget about Nikita Kucherov who almost single handily carried his team into the playoffs with his elite play last year. Their young Russian goaltender Andrei Vasilveskiy should find his game this season but will get help by future Norris winner Victor Hedman in front of him. Tampa Bay made a questionable signing in the offseason with human pylon Dan Girardi and still have a bad contract with Ryan Callahan, but there’s enough talent and skill to go around that the Lightening should be returning to the playoffs this upcoming season.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2016-17 Record: 40-27-15 95 points
Division finish: 4
Key Players: Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Morgan Reilly
2017-18 Outlook: The Maple Leafs surprised everyone by jumping ahead of schedule in their rebuild this past season. They made the playoffs as the 2nd Wild Card team but did it with flair. Their rookies were absolutely dominant, led by arguably the 2nd best kid in the league, Auston Matthews. He scored 40 goals as a 18 year old, and was supported by William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, and a handful of other rookies through out the lineup.
Their offense should be even deadlier as the kids get stronger and smarter. Their defense wasn’t great last season but it too was very young and should be better with the emergence of Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardner.
Frederik Andersen had a very rough start to his season, but the goalie bounced back, and finished the season strong. The only thing that’s a question mark for the Maple Leafs is can the young guys prepare themselves for the league? They surprised everyone last season with their skill but now the league is ready for them.
And what will happen if all of their great rookies hit sophomore slumps? That could hurt the team. Still, it would take quite a lot for this team to miss the playoffs this upcoming season.
2017-18 PROJECTED STANDINGS
1. Tampa Bay Lightning*
2. Toronto Maple Leafs*
3. Montreal Canadiens*
4. Florida Panthers
5. Boston Bruins
6. Buffalo Sabres
7. Ottawa Senators
8. Detroit Red Wings
*Denotes playoff teams
BREAKOUT PLAYERS AND DIFFERENCE MAKERS
CHARLIE McAVOY – BOSTON BRUINS
The 19 year old defensemen was thrown right into the NHL fire as his first game was a playoff game last April. He played all of the Bruins 1st round games and notched 3 assists in 6 games. McAvoy has all the tools to be a high end defensemen in the NHL and he could show as much this upcoming season. Look for McAvoy to slot into the top pairing with Zdeno Chara this upcoming season.
ANTHONY MANTHA – DETROIT REDWINGS
A towering winger coming in at 6’5″ and 215 pounds, the 22 year old Anthony Mantha is looking to have a break out season. He has the rare gift of being huge but also having slick hands that can do damage in small areas. With all the problems that the Red Wings have they can’t allow Mantha to have a bad season, so he should be getting top line and top power play minutes, which could translate into big points.
EVGENY DADONOV – FLORIDA PANTHERS
Evgeny Dadonov is stepping onto NHL ice for the first time since 2012. He’s basically a Russian version of TJ Oshie: small but plays a rugged game and has sweet hands. Last season in the KHL he put up 66 points in 53 games and wants to transition that into the NHL. It’s hard to predict how a 28 year old will do for the first time in the NHL in the last 5 years, but if he gets top 6 minutes, which he should, then he could rack up some points.
JONATHAN DROUIN – MONTREAL CANADIENS
Not really a surprise, since Jonathan Drouin was drafted #3 overall, but Drouin never really reached his potential in Tampa Bay. He had some off ice issues which limited his time. He did put up 53 points last season in 73 games, but with Montreal he should get a lot more opportunities to show his high skill. He’ll take a shot as the #1 center, which means more touches and more chances to show off his incredible hands and speed.
By Luke Adomanis