NoVa Caps’ annual division previews begin today where we will look into every team in each division. We will start the series with the Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay Lightning
2017-18 Season Review: Tampa Bay finished No. 1 in the Eastern Conference with a 54-23-5 record and 296 goals for, which was 19 more than the Winnipeg Jets for the most goals in the league. In the postseason, the Bolts breezed through the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins, as it took them just five games to win each series. After losing the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final at home to the Washington Capitals, the Lightning rattled off three consecutive victories but lost Games 6 and 7 of the series by a combined score of 7-0.
Key Players: Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy
2018-19 Season Preview: The Bolts didn’t make any significant changes in the offseason after coming one win short of the Stanley Cup Final. They added Andy Andreoff (3 goals, 9 points, -6 rating in 45 NHL games in 2017-18) from the Los Angeles Kings, to add grit to their fourth line, but had to give up backup goaltender Peter Budaj (3-3-1, .876 save percentage, 3.77 GAA). They also gave out big extensions to defenseman Ryan McDonagh (seven-years, $6.75 million AAV) after acquiring him from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline and forward Nikita Kucherov (eight-years, $9.5 million AAV). Kucherov led the Lightning with 39 goals and was third in the NHL with 100 points last season. With no major changes made, the Lightning will again be one of the top powerhouses in the east. However, several key players are entering contract years. Forwards Brayden Point, who was second on the Lightning with 32 goals and third with 66 points (RFA) and Yanni Gourde, who was fourth on the Lightning with 25 goals and 64 points (UFA) are due big pay raises. Defensemen Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, and Brayden Coburn can all become unrestricted free agents after 2018-19.
2017-18 Season Review: The Bruins were one of the league’s most surprising teams with a 50-20-12 record, finishing second in the East behind the Lightning and fourth in the league behind the Jets and Nashville Predators. Boston beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in Round 1 before falling apart against the Lightning in Round 2, losing in five games.
Key Players: Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask
2018-19 Season Preview: The Bruins could be a team that falls back with higher expectations and if some of their younger stars take a step back. Forwards Danton Heinen (16 goals, 47 points, +10 in 77 games) and Jake DeBrusk (16 goals, 43 points, +13 in 70 games) will likely take a step back. Boston has had a quiet offseason with their big acquisitions being goaltender Jaroslav Halak (20-26-6, .908 save percentage, 3.19 GAA in 54 games with the New York Islanders in 2017-18) and defenseman John Moore (seven goals, 18 points, +3 rating in 81 games with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18). The Bruins do have a nice piece in Charlie McAvoy, who tallied 7 goals, 32 points, and a +20 rating in 63 games in his rookie season. The Bruins also have arguably the best top line in the NHL with Marchand (34 goals, 85 points, +25 rating in 68 games in 2017-18), Bergeron (30 goals, 63 points, + 21 rating in 64 games in 2017-18), and Pastrnak (35 goals, 80 points, +10 rating in 82 games in 2017-18), which should be enough to make them a postseason team even if the team’s rookies drop off.
Toronto Maple Leafs
2017-18 Review: Toronto set a franchise record with 105 points while going 49-26-7. They finished third in the Atlantic after having a double-digit lead on the Bruins in early December. The Maple Leafs averaged 3.29 goals per game, which tied the Pittsburgh Penguins for third in the NHL and converted at a 25% efficiency on the power play (which was second behind the Penguins – 26.2%). The Maple Leafs got off to a rough start in their first-round series against the Bruins, dropping the first two in Boston and three of the first four games but won the next two to force a Game 7. The Leafs led 4-3 after the second period but gave up four goals in the third period to go on and lose 7-4.
Key Players: Auston Matthews, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, William Nylander
2018-19 Season Preview: The Maple Leafs added the top free agent this summer by signing center John Tavares, who tallied 37 goals and 84 points in 82 games with the Islanders last season, to a seven-year deal worth $77 million ($11 million AAV). Despite the losses of forwards Tyler Bozak (signed with St. Louis Blues) and James Van Riemsdyk (signed with Philadelphia Flyers), who had 36 goals last season, the addition of Tavares bolsters their center depth with Tavares, Auston Matthews, and Nazem Kadri – all 30-goal scorers – down the middle. The Maple Leafs still have a solid goalie in Frederick Andersen, who posted a 38-21-5 record with a .918 save percentage and a 2.81 goals against average last season but could still use some depth on defense to become a legit Stanley Cup contender. Toronto still needs to sign winger William Nylander, a restricted free agent, to a contract after the 22-year old registered back-to-back 61-point seasons. Matthews, who was second on Toronto with 34 goals and 63 points despite missing 20 games, and winger Mitch Marner, who led the Maple Leafs with 69 points last season, can become restricted free agents next offseason and Toronto will need to lock up those two long-term.
2017-18 Season Review: The Panthers got off to a slow start, going 19-22-6 in their first 47 games, but finished 25-8-2 and only one point out of a playoff berth. The 25 wins were tied for most in the NHL with the Jets over that span. Florida tied the Pittsburgh Penguins for the best shots per game average (34.4) in the league.
Key Players: Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman, Vincent Trocheck, Roberto Luongo
2018-19 Season Preview: The Panthers have been mostly quiet this summer but did make a big splash when the team acquired winger Mike Hoffman and a 2018 seventh-round pick from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for second, fourth, and fifth-round draft picks in 2019. Hoffman was traded to the Sharks by the Ottawa Senators earlier that day, along with defensive prospect Cody Donaghey and a fifth-round pick in 2020, for forward Mikkel Boedker, defenseman prospect Julius Bergman, and a sixth-round pick in 2020. Hoffman, 28, tallied 22 goals and 56 points in 82 games for the Senators last season and has recorded at least 22 goals and 48 points in each of the past four seasons. The Panthers have a lot of strong pieces like Barkov, Trocheck, forwards Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau, who all had at least 27 goals and 65 points last season. With the addition of Hoffman and a healthy Luongo, who went 18-11-2 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average in 35 games, the Panthers should be playoff contenders this season.
Detroit Red Wings
2017-18 Season Review: The Red Wings missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season after making the tournament for 25 consecutive seasons from 1981-2016. Detroit finished the year 30-39-13 with 73 points, 23 points behind Florida for the fourth spot in the division. The Red Wings finished in the bottom nine in the league in goals per game (2.59 – 4th fewest), goals against (3.10 – 8th most), power play efficiency (17.5% – 8th worst), and penalty killing percentage (77.5% – 9th worst).
Key Players: Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou
2018-19 Season Preview: The Red Wings mostly obtained their free agents over the summer, signing Athanasiou to a two-year contract after he tallied 16 goals and 33 points in 71 games with the team last year; all-star defenseman Mike Green to a two-year contract after he recorded eight goals, 33 points, and a -14 rating; Mantha to a two-year contract after he racked up 24 goals and 48 points last season; and Larkin to a five-year contract after he piled up team-highs with 47 assists and 63 points. Detroit also added goaltender Jonathan Bernier on a three-year contract after he went 19-13-3 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average with the Colorado Avalanche last season and forward Thomas Vanek on a two-year contract after tallying 24 goals and 56 points in 82 games with the Vancouver Canucks and Columbus Blue Jackets last season. The Red Wings also drafted forward Filip Zadina with the No. 6 pick in the draft. The Red Wings have a lot of offensive weapons but have a thin and aging defensive unit. Jimmy Howard, who went 22-27-9 with a .910 save percentage and a 2.85 goals against average last season, is also not getting younger at 34 years old.
2017-18 Season Review: After winning the Atlantic Division in 2016-17, the Canadiens dropped down to 71 points and finished with the fourth worst record in the NHL at 29-40-13. Their 11 road wins were the fewest out of any team in the league. Montreal averaged 2.52 goals per game in 2017-18, which was the third worst in the NHL, and their penalty kill had an efficiency of 74.1%. Only the Islanders (73.2%) were worse on the penalty kill.
Key Players: Carey Price, Max Pacioretty (for now), Shea Weber, Brenden Gallagher
2018-19 Season Preview: The Canadiens made a blockbuster trade for the third consecutive summer, acquiring winger Max Domi from the Arizona Coyotes for center Alex Galchenyuk. The Habs were silly to make that deal because even though they had to trade Galchenyuk after a year of trade speculation, they didn’t even get a center for him. Domi tallied 36 assists and 45 points in 82 games for Arizona last season and has never had more than 52 points in his three-season NHL career. The Habs also got forward Joel Armia from the Jets to add scoring depth after Armia recorded 12 goals and 29 points in 79 games last season. Their only free agent acquisition was center Tomas Plekanec, who the team traded to the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline and tallied 20 assists and 26 points in 77 games with Montreal and Toronto last year. They also drafted center Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the third overall pick at the NHL Draft last June. There is speculation that Montreal wants to trade captain Max Pacioretty, 29, after he tallied a career-low 17 goals last season. He had at least 30 goals in the four seasons before last year. Defenseman Shea Weber, who only played in 26 games last year and didn’t play after December 16, will be out until December with a knee injury. Goaltender Carey Price, who will enter the first season of an eight-year contract worth $84 million ($10.5 million AAV), looks to bounce back after going through the worst year of his career when he went 16-26-7 with a .900 save percentage and a 3.11 goals against average.
2017-18 Season Review: After pushing the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Senators fell apart in 2017-18, ending the season with a 28-43-11 record (67 points), which was 30th in the NHL. The Senators were thought to become Stanley Cup favorites after they acquired center Matt Duchene from the Colorado Avalanche as part of a three-team trade (which also included the Nashville Predators) on November 5 but came nowhere close to that hype. Ottawa was 25th in the NHL with an average of 2.67 goals per game, 30th in the NHL with an average of 3.46 goals against per game, 27th on the power play with a 16.6% efficiency, and 26th on the penalty kill with a 76.2% efficiency.
Key Players: Erik Karlsson (for now), Matt Duchene (for now), Mark Stone (for now), Thomas Chabot
2018-19 Season Preview: Ottawa re-signed forward Mark Stone, who tallied 20 goals and 62 points in 58 games last season, and defenseman Cody Ceci, who recorded five goals, 19 points, and a -27 rating in 82 games last season, to one-year contracts. Ottawa drafted forward Brady Tkachuk with the fourth overall pick and signed him to a three-year entry-level contract earlier this week. The team traded Hoffman to fix their locker room earlier this offseason but the Sharks arguably got a much better return from the Panthers than the Sens got from the Sharks. The Senators are expected to trade captain Erik Karlsson, who tallied nine goals, 62 points, and a -25 rating in 71 games, sometime this season since he can become an unrestricted free agent and has shown no interest in re-signing as long as Euguene Melnyk is the owner of the team. The Senators could also trade Duchene, who tallied 23 goals, 49 points, and a -23 rating in 68 games after being acquired from Colorado. Duchene can become an unrestricted free agent and he has expressed desire to go to a playoff contender, which almost certainly will not be in Ottawa for the forseeable future. Stone could be traded as well in an effort to reload for the future, especially since the Senators do not have a first round pick in 2019 (traded to Avalanche in Duchene trade). Ottawa will likely be a bottom dweller again but will likely be in good shape for the forseeable future if they trade Karlsson and, possibly, Duchene and Stone for reasonable returns.
2017-18 Season Review: The Sabres finished dead last in the NHL with 62 points and a -81 goal differential. Their 11 home wins also were last in the league and Buffalo was the only team in the league to score less than 200 goals (198). They also gave up the second-most goals in the league (278). Buffalo also finished 19th in the league with a 19.1% power play efficiency and 22nd with a 77.9% penalty killing rate. The team traded winger Evander Kane at the trade deadline to the Sharks for conditional first and fourth-round picks and forward prospect Daniel O’Reagan.
Key Players: Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, Rasmus Ristolainen
2018-19 Season Preview: The Sabres upgraded big time this offseason and could make a big jump this season, even if they don’t make the playoffs. The Sabres selected Rasmus Dahlin, who recorded seven goals, 20 points, and a +4 in 41 games in the Swedish Hockey League, with the first overall draft pick. The Sabres also acquired forward Conor Sheary, who tallied 18 goals and 30 points in 79 games with the Penguins last season and had 23 goals, 53 points, and a +24 rating in 61 games in 2016-17, and defenseman Matt Hunwick, who recorded four goals, 10 points, and a -4 rating in 42 games last season. They sent a conditional fourth-round pick to Pittsburgh to get Sheary and Hunwick. Buffalo also traded forward Ryan O’Reilly, who tallied 24 goals, 61 points, and a -23 rating last year, for first-round and second-round picks, center Patrik Berglund, who recorded 17 goals, 26 points, and a -5 rating in 57 games last season, and forwards Vladimir Sobotka, who tallied 11 goals, 31 points, and a -6 rating in 81 games last season, and Tage Thompson, who recorded three goals, nine points, and a -12 rating in 41 games last season. They also acquired forward Jeff Skinner, who tallied 24 goals and 49 points last season after scoring 37 goals the year prior, from the Carolina Hurricanes later in the offseason for forward prospect Cliff Pu in addition to second, third, and sixth-round draft picks. On the free agent market, they signed goaltender Carter Hutton, who led the NHL with a .931 save percentage and a 2.09 goals against average, to a three-year contract with the team after going 17-7-3 with the Blues last season to bolster their goaltending. Buffalo is definitely trending in the right direction, and who knows? The team who picked first overall the past two years made the playoffs, so Buffalo could be a deep sleeper team in 2018-19.
Breakout Candidates and Difference Makers
Ryan Donato – Boston Bruins
The 22-year old signed with the Bruins in March after registering 26 goals, 43 points, and a +15 rating in 29 games at Harvard and five goals, six points, and a -1 rating in five games for Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Donato lit it up once he got to the big leagues with five goals, nine points, and a +2 rating in 12 games with the Bruins, including a three-point NHL debut. He played three playoff games and was held scoreless.
Andreas Johnsson – Toronto Maple Leafs
Johnsson, 23, only tallied two goals, three points, and a -2 rating in nine regular season games but really had his showing out party in the playoffs… both in the NHL and AHL. He recorded a goal and two points in six games in the Leafs’ seven-game first round exit and then was sent down to the Marlies for the Calder Cup Playoffs. Not only did he help the Marlies win the tournament, but he was the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs, tallying 10 goals, 24 points, and a +13 rating in 16 playoff games.
Casey Mittelstadt – Buffalo Sabres
The 19-year old finished last season with the Sabres after tallying 11 goals, 30 points, and a +4 rating at the University of Minnesota. Mittelstadt, the eighth overall pick in 2017, closed out the season strong with a goal, five points, and a +1 rating in the team’s final six games.
Owen Tippett – Florida Panthers
The 19-year old closed out the season with the Cats after recording 36 goals, 75 points, and a +1 rating in 51 games with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL. Tippet, the 10th overall pick in 2017, finished the season with a goal and a -6 rating in seven games.
2018-19 Projected Division Standings
- x – Lightning
- x – Maple Leafs
- x – Panthers
- x – Bruins
- Red Wings
**x denotes playoff teams
By Harrison Brown