2019-20 Atlantic Division Preview

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The Atlantic Division features the Tampa Bay Lightning, the reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners (Tampa Bay tied a league-record 62 wins), and the Boston Bruins, last season’s Eastern Conference champion. This year the division promises to be even more competitive with teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers making some significant upgrades in the past few months. NoVa Caps starts their annual division previews a look at the Atlantic Division.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2018-19 Result: 62-16-4 (First In Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, NHL), Lost To Columbus Blue Jackets In Four Games In Round 1

2018-19 Leaders: C Steven Stamkos (45 goals), F Nikita Kucherov (87 assists, 128 points), D Ryan McDonagh (+38 rating), G Andrei Vasilevskiy (39 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: F Pat Maroon, D Kevin Shattenkirk, D Luke Schenn, G Curtis McElhinney, D Luke Witkowski

Key Offseason Subtractions: F J.T. Miller, F Adam Erne, F Ryan Callahan, D Anton Stralman, D Dan Girardi

2019-20 Outlook: The Lightning bring back a roster similar to the one that ran away with the President’s Cup, tying a league record with 62 wins last season and leading the NHL with 319 goals. In fact, one could argue that they got even better in the offseason. After getting swept by the second wild card in the first round, the Lightning should come into this season hungrier than ever. They have done a good job of keeping their core intact and added some pieces in Maroon, Shattenkirk, and McElhinney to make them better.

Kucherov’s point total has continued to climb in each of the last four years, the Lightning’s offense is solid, they have a solid defense led by Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman and the reigning Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes.

They have to re-sign center Brayden Point, who recorded 41 goals and 92 points last season and is currently a restricted free agent, but expect Tampa Bay to be on the top of the mountain once again when the regular season is done.

Boston Bruins

2018-19 Result: 49-24-9 (Second In Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, Third In NHL), Lost To St. Louis Blues In Seven Games In Stanley Cup Final

2018-19 Leaders: F David Pastrnak (38 goals), F Brad Marchand (64 assists, 100 points), F Patrice Bergeron (+23 rating), G Tuukka Rask (27 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Par Lindholm, F Brett Ritchie

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Marcus Johansson, C Noel Acciari

2019-20 Outlook: The Bruins sport a very similar lineup to the one that got within a win of claiming the Stanley Cup last season, but they lost a couple of key contributors from that run in Johansson and Acciari. There is a spot in the top-six forward group that is up for grabs but the Bruins are in a good spot to challenge for a top spot in the East once again. Their top line of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak is one of the best trios in the league as all of them scored at least 32 goals last season.

The Bruins also have a really deep defense, which tied the Nashville Predators for the third-fewest in the NHL last season (212), but Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, both restricted free agents and key fixtures in their top-four, remain unsigned.

Goaltending is not a question in Boston as Rask is coming off of a postseason where he posted a .934 save percentage and a 2.02 goals-against average and Jaroslav Halak had a strong year last season, posting a .922 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average. The Bruins should remain near the top of the East once again in 2019-20.

Toronto Maple Leafs

2018-19 Result: 46-28-8 (Third In Atlantic Division, Fifth In Eastern Conference, Seventh In NHL), Lost To Bruins In Seven Games In Round 1

2018-19 Leaders: C John Tavares (47 goals), F Mitch Marner (68 assists, 94 points), D Morgan Reilly (+24), G Frederik Andersen (36 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: D Tyson Barrie, C Alexander Kerfoot, D Cody Ceci, F Pontus Aberg, F Kenny Agostino, C Nick Shore, C Jason Spezza, F Garrett Wilson, D Kevin Gravel, D Ben Harpur, D Jordan Schmaltz

Key Offseason Subtractions: C Nazem Kadri, D Ron Hainsey, F Tyler Ennis, F Patrick Marleau, D Jake Gardiner, D Calle Rosen, D Nikita Zaitsev, G Garret Sparks, F Connor Brown, assistant coach D.J. Smith,

2019-20 Outlook: The Maple Leafs made a lot of changes after losing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive season, adding forward depth with Aberg and Kerfoot and undergoing some major changes on the blueline with the additions of Barrie and Ceci and the departure of Gardiner, Zaitsev, and Hainsey.

Despite the loss of Kadri, the Maple Leafs should not drop off very far from their average of 3.49 goals-per-game last season, which was fourth in the NHL, with Marner, Tavares, center Auston Matthews, and forward William Nylander still around.

After dealing Sparks, the backup job behind Andersen is up for grabs in training camp with Michael Hutchinson and Michael Neuvirth, who is at Maple Leafs’ camp on a PTO, among those who are competing for the job.

The Maple Leafs will be a powerhouse again this season and this could be the year where they finally exorcise the demons against the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens

2018-19 Result: 44-30-8 (Fourth In Atlantic Division, Ninth In Eastern Conference, 14th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Brendan Gallagher (33 goals), F Max Domi (44 assists, 72 points), F Tomas Tatar (+21 rating), G Carey Price (35 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: G Keith Kinkaid, C Nick Cousins, D Ben Chiarot

Key Offseason Subtractions: Agostino, F Nicolas Deslauriers, F Andrew Shaw, D Jordie Benn, D David Schlemko

2019-20 Outlook: The Canadiens had a relatively quiet offseason after surprising many last season. They signed Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho to a five-year offer sheet that carried a cap hit of $8.45 million per season but that backfired. The Canadiens bring back a similar offensive group to the one that tied the Vegas Golden Knights for 13th in the NHL last season at 3.00 goals-per-game and have some young talent in center Jesperi Kotkaniemi, forward Paul Byron, and forward Ryan Poehling.

Montreal’s defensive depth is pretty thin as there’s a big drop off after their top-pair of Shea Weber and Jeff Petry.

Goaltender Carey Price, who recorded 35 wins, a .918 save percentage, and a 2.49 goals-against average last season, remains one of the best in the business and the Canadiens are dangerous as long as he’s around.

While the Canadiens do have an exciting group, it may not be enough to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing in each of the past two years with concerns on the blueline and tough competition in the Eastern Conference.

Florida Panthers

2018-19 Result: 36-32-14 (Fifth In Atlantic Division, 10th In Eastern Conference, 19th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Mike Hoffman (36 goals), C Aleksander Barkov (61 assists, 96 points), C Nick Bjugstad (+2 rating), G Roberto Luongo (18 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Acciari, G Sergei Bobrovsky, D Anton Stralman, F Brett Connolly, Head Coach Joel Quenneville

Key Offseason Subtractions: Luongo, C Riley Sheahan, G James Reimer, Head Coach Bob Boughner

2019-20 Outlook: The Panthers are arguably the most-improved team in the NHL this offseason after adding a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Bobrovsky, scoring depth with the acquisitions of Connolly and Acciari, and an experienced top-four defenseman in Stralman.

The Panthers already finished ninth in the NHL with an average of 3.22 goals-per-game last season and Connolly, who scored 22 goals with the Washington Capitals last season, and Acciari, who tallied 14 points with the Bruins in 2018-19, should further boost that.

The Panthers had five players with 60+ point seasons (Barkov: 96, F Jonathan Huberdeau: 92, Hoffman and F Evgeni Dadonov: 70, D Keith Yandle: 62), so they are primed for a big season with their offseason additions.

After failing to meet expectations in each of the past three seasons, the Panthers are due to make some noise in 2019-20.

Buffalo Sabres

2018-19 Result: 33-39-10 (Sixth In Atlantic Division, 13th In Eastern Conference, 27th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Jeff Skinner (40 goals), C Jack Eichel (54 assists, 82 points), D Casey Nelson (+1 rating), G Carter Hutton (18 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Johansson, F Dylan Cozens, F Curtis Lazar, F Jimmy Vesey, D Henri Jokiharju, D Colin Miller

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Alex Nylander

2019-20 Outlook: The Sabres have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, the longest current drought in the NHL. They re-signed Skinner to an eight-year contract and added some depth pieces in Johansson, Vesey, Jokiharju, and Miller.

Forward depth is an issue in Buffalo as there is a considerable drop-off after the top-line of Eichel, Skinner, and forward Sam Reinhart while they are loaded on defense. The rumor is that they are looking to ship out defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, who posted an NHL-worst -41 rating last season, for forward depth before the season starts.

Goaltending is also a concern as Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark combined for a team save percentage of .9153, the seventh-worst in the NHL, last year.

Barring some unexpected breakout seasons from unlikely candidates, the Sabres will likely be near the bottom of a competitive Eastern Conference.

Detroit Red Wings

2018-19 Result: 32-40-10 (Seventh In Atlantic Division, 14th In Eastern Conference, 28th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Dylan Larkin (32 goals, 41 assists, 73 points), F Tyler Bertuzzi (+11 rating), G Jimmy Howard (23 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Erne, C Valteri Filpulla, D Moritz Seider, G Calvin Pickard, D Patrick Nemeth

Key Offseason Subtractions: Witkowski, F Martin Frk, F Thomas Vanek

2019-20 Outlook: The Red Wings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for three consecutive seasons after making the tournament for 25 years in a row. They have plenty of talent up front with Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Andreas Athanasiou have some young stars coming up on offense in Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, and Michael Rasmussen.

But the Red Wings are weak on the blueline as they didn’t have a defenseman with more than seven goals or 26 points a year ago. In addition, their average of 3.32 goals-against per game was the fifth-most in the NHL last year.

Detroit also has questions in goal as Jimmy Howard isn’t getting any younger and none of their goalies from last season posted a save percentage better than .909.

The Red Wings showed potential towards the end of last season as they won eight of their last 10 games but will likely miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a tough Atlantic Division.

Ottawa Senators

2018-19 Result: 29-47-6 (Last In Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference, and NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Mark Stone (28 goals, 62 points, +13 rating), D Thomas Chabot (41 assists), G Craig Anderson (17 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Smith, Brown, Hainsey, Zaitsev, Ennis, C Artem Anisimov

Key Offseason Subtractions: Ceci, Harpur, F Brian Gibbons, F Oscar Lindberg, F Magnus Paajarvi, F Tom Pyatt, G Mike Condon

2019-20 Season Outlook: The Senators go into this season without Stone, center Matt Duchene, and forward Ryan Dzingel for a full year for the first time after selling each off at the trade deadline. Ottawa finished 17th in the league in offense (2.95 goals per game) but dropped off after the departures at the trade deadline.

Their average of 3.67 goals-against per game was the worst in the league last year and while they brought in Hainsey and Zaitsev improve it, it won’t to the extent where the Senators need it to be.

Goaltending is a concern as Anderson turned 38 in May and they didn’t make changes to the Anderson-Anders Nilsson tandem, which finished last season with a .9072 save percentage, the third-worst in the NHL.

With no major improvements and a full season without the likes of Duchene, Stone, and Dzingel, Ottawa will likely be at the basement once again in 2019-20.

Breakout Candidates

Kerfoot – Maple Leafs

The 25-year old has gotten to the 40-point plateau in each of his first two NHL seasons while playing on a top-heavy Colorado Avalanche team. If he gets power-play exposure and an opportunity to play with the likes of forwards Kasperi Kapanen and/or Andreas Johnnson, Kerfoot could see a big boost in his offensive production. Playing behind Tavares and Matthews will also be beneficial for Kerfoot as he will get more favorable matchups with the Maple Leafs than when he was with the Avalanche.

D Mikhail Sergachev – Lightning

After losing Stralman and Girardi to free agency, the Lightning have an opening in their top-four defense core and Sergachev is the favorite to win the job. The 21-year old posted 40- and 32-point seasons in his first two seasons with the Lightning while mostly playing in a third-pairing role. With the potential of playing with one of defensemen Victor Hedman or Ryan McDonagh, Sergachev should be able to hit the 50-point mark this season.

F Sean Kuraly – Bruins

Kuraly, 26, was quiet in the regular season with only eight goals, 21 points, and a +6 rating in 71 games but broke out in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he had four goals, 10 points, and a +4 rating to help the Bruins get within a win away from a Stanley Cup Championship. With an opening in the Bruins’ top-six, Kuraly has a chance to step in and play with center David Krejci, who posted 53 assists and 73 points last season, and forward Jake DeBrusk, who potted 27 goals and 42 points last season. If Kuraly gets that spot, expect him to have a big season in 2018-19.

F Frank Vatrano – Panthers

After posting seven goals in 2017-18, Vatrano, 25, tallied 24 goals in 81 games last season. After the Panthers made some significant roster upgrades over the offseason, Vatrano has the potential to take the next step and a chance to gain some power-play exposure on the Panthers’ second unit. Vatrano’s shooting percentage has gone up from 8.1% and 8.6% in two seasons with the Bruins to 16.7% and 11.5% in the past two, respectively with the Panthers.

Projected Division Standings

  1. Lightning*
  2. Maple Leafs*
  3. Bruins*
  4. Panthers*
  5. Canadiens
  6. Red Wings
  7. Sabres
  8. Senators

*denotes Stanley Cup Playoff teams

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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