2021-22 Atlantic Division Preview

Photo: Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

With training camps and exhibition games for the 2021-22 NHL season nearing its halfway point, our division preview series looks at the Atlantic Division.

Buffalo Sabres

2020-21 Result: 15-34-7, last in NHL

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Victor Olofsson (13 goals, 19 assists, 32 points)
  • C Jack Eichel (0.86 points-per-game)
  • LHD Rasmus Dahlin (21:36 average TOI/game)
  • G Craig Anderson/Dustin Tokarski (two wins each)

Key Offseason Additions: Anderson, LHD Will Butcher, RW Vinnie Hinostroza, RHD Mark Pysyk, G Aaron Dell, LHD Robert Hagg, G Devon Levi, C John Hayden, LHD Jimmy Schuldt

Key Offseason Subtractions: RHD Rasmus Ristolainen, RW Sam Reinhart, G Linus Ullmark, G Carter Hutton, LHD Jake McCabe, LHD Matt Irwin, LW C.J. Smith, LHD Will Borgen

The Sabres started yet another rebuild over the offseason as they dealt Ristolainen and Reinhart over the offseason and lost their starting goalie in Ullmark to free agency.

The much-anticipated Eichel trade may not come for a while as the Sabres and his camp disagree on how they should approach his neck injury and he may not be able to suit up for a long time. It appears that the 24-year-old has played his last game in a Sabres uniform after being stripped of his captaincy.

The Sabres brought in a solid goaltending prospect in Levi, who posted a .964 save percentage and a 0.75 goals-against average in seven games for Canada at last Winter’s 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships, but they will have to settle for the league’s worst tandem for the near future with Anderson (who went 2-1-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average in four games with the Washington Capitals last season) and Dell (1-5-0, .857 save percentage, 4.14 goals-against average with New Jersey Devils) after losing Ullmark.

Defenseman Owen Power, the first overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, will start the season at the University of Michigan and it will take time before the other assets gained in the Ristolainen and Reinhart trades make an impact at the NHL level.

The Sabres are expected to finish with one of the worst records in the NHL once again.

Detroit Red Wings

2020-21 Result: 19-27-10, seventh in Central Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Jakub Vrana (15 goals, 36 points)
  • RHD Filip Hronek (24 assists, 23:23 average TOI/game)
  • G Alex Nedeljkovic (15 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Nedeljkovic, C Pius Suter, C Mitchell Stephens, LHD Nick Leddy, LHD Jordan Oesterle, C Carter Rowney

Key Offseason Subtractions: C Valtteri Filppula, RW Richard Panik, C Luke Glendening, LHD Christian Djoos, RHD Alex Biega, LHD Dennis Cholowski, C Darren Helm, LW Mathias Brome

The absence of Vrana, who underwent shoulder surgery last week and will miss at least four months, is a huge loss for a Red Wings team that seemed poised to take a step forward this season. The 25-year-old earned eight goals and 11 points in 11 games with the team after being acquired from the Capitals in a swap that sent left-wing Anthony Mantha to Washington.

The Red Wings’ goaltending is expected to be much-improved after adding Nedeljkovic, who led the NHL in save percentage (.932) and goals-against average (1.90) as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes last season.

Even though Suter (who notched 14 goals and 27 points in 55 games during his rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks) was a smart low-risk signing, it likely will not be enough to improve an offense whose average of 2.23 goals-per-game was better than only the Anaheim Ducks (2.21).

After allowing an average of 3.00 goals-against per game (20th), the Red Wings added Leddy (two goals, 31 points, a -3 rating, a 45.82% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.9% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.26% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 games with the New York Islanders) and Oesterle (a goal, 11 points, a -10 rating, a 45.94% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.11% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.11 five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 43 games with the Arizona Coyotes).

The Red Wings are on the right track but patience will be the key in Detroit.

Ottawa Senators

2020-21 Result: 23-28-5, sixth in North Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Connor Brown (21 goals)
  • LHD Thomas Chabot (25 assists, 26:17 average TOI/game)
  • LW Brady Tkachuk (36 points)
  • G Matt Murray (10 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: LHD Michael Del Zotto, LHD Nick Holden, RW Kole Sherwood, LW Pontus Aberg, LW Andrew Agozzino, LW Zach Sanford

Key Offseason Subtractions: RW Evgenii Dadonov, LW Ryan Dzingel, C Artem Anisimov, C Derek Stepan, C Matthew Peca, C Michael Amadio, G Joey Daccord, C Logan Brown

The Senators had a quiet offseason where they lost a couple of offensive weapons in Dadonov and Dzingel but did not do much to replace their production as Sherwood, Aberg, Agozzino, and Sanford are all bottom-six forwards at best.

After averaging 3.38 goals-against per game (fourth-highest), they brought in Holden, who tallied two assists, a +3 rating, a 54.33% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.15% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 54.69% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 17 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season, and Del Zotto, who earned four goals, 13 points, a +5 rating, a 47.7% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.55% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 47.24% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 17 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

They made a late offseason swap with the St. Louis Blues as they acquired Sanford, who notched 10 goals and 16 points in 52 games last season, for Brown. The Senators averaged 2.77 goals-per-game in 2020-21, which was tied with the Calgary Flames for 19th.

The Senators are still looking to re-sign Tkachuk, who earned 17 goals last season and is currently a restricted free agent, before the start of the season.

They had Filip Gustavsson grab the starter’s job in net down the stretch last Spring as he went 5-1-2 with a .933 save percentage and a 2.16 goals-against average. Matt Murray had a disappointing first season between the pipes in Ottawa where he recorded a 10-13-1 record, an .893 save percentage, a 3.38 goals-against average, and two shutouts.

The Senators should improve with some growth from their young players but are not likely to make a big jump this season.

Montreal Canadiens

2020-21 Result: 24-21-11, fourth in North Division; lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in Stanley Cup Final

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Tyler Toffoli (28 goals, 44 points)
  • RHD Jeff Petry (30 assists, 22:44 average TOI/game)
  • G Carey Price (12 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: RHD David Savard, LW Mike Hoffman, C Cedric Paquette, LW Mathieu Perreault, RHD Chris Wideman, C Christian Dvorak, LHD Sami Niku

Key Offseason Subtractions: RHD Shea Weber, LW Tomas Tatar, C Philipp Danault, RW Corey Perry, LHD Erik Gustafsson, LHD Jon Merrill, RHD Cale Fleury, C Jesperi Kotkaniemi

After falling short in the Stanley Cup Final, the Canadiens have made a lot of headlines this offseason from exposing their franchise goaltender in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, drafting a player who showed his teammates pictures of him performing “sexual acts” with a woman without her consent, and losing a restricted free agent to an offer-sheet.

With Weber’s NHL career likely over after surgery, the Canadiens signed Savard (who tallied one goal, six points, a -27 rating, a 44.57% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.11% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games with the Blue Jackets and Lightning). The team averaged 2.95 goals-against per game (18th) last season.

The team also made changes up front after finishing last season 17th with an average of 2.82 goals-per-game as they brought in Hoffman (who earned 17 goals and 36 points in 52 games with the St. Louis Blues last season), Dvorak (17 goals and 31 points in 56 games with Arizona Coyotes), Paquette (four goals, eight points in 47 games with the Senators and Hurricanes), and Perreault (nine goals, 19 points in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets). The loss of Danault is a tough one as he did a fantastic job of shutting down the opposition’s top players on the Canadiens’ run to the Cup Final last season. Losing Tatar and Perry is also a blow to their offensive depth.

After the Seattle Kraken passed on Price in the expansion draft, one of the NHL’s best goaltending tandems in the 34-year-old (went 12-7-5 with a .901 save percentage, 2.64 goals against average, and one shutout last season) and Jake Allen (11-12-5, .907 save percentage, 2.68 goals-against average).

The Canadiens may have that, which should give them a shot at the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but do not have as much depth as last season when they were a mediocre team in a bad division during the regular season. They should be in the hunt but could miss the tournament this season.

Boston Bruins

2020-21 Result: 33-16-7, third in East Division; lost to New York Islanders in six games in second round of 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Brad Marchand (29 goals, 40 assists, 69 points)
  • RW David Pastrnak (1.00 points-per-game)
  • RHD Charlie McAvoy (24:00 TOI/game)
  • Ullmark (nine wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Ullmark, LW Nick Foligno, C Erik Haula, LW Tomas Nosek, LHD Derek Forbort, C Steven Fogarty

Key Offseason Subtractions: G Tuukka Rask, G Jaroslav Halak, C David Krejci, LW Nick Ritchie, LHD Jeremy Lauzon, C Sean Kuraly, RHD Kevan Miller, RHD Jarred Tinordi, RW Ondrej Kase, G Dan Vladar

The Bruins will go into the season with a new look in goal after losing Halak in free agency and with Rask out for the foreseeable future. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman showed that he is ready for a bigger role in the organization last season when he went 7-3-0 with a .945 save percentage, a 1.50 goals-against average, and two shutouts down the stretch. They also signed Ullmark, who went 9-6-3 with a .917 save percentage and a 2.63 goals-against average with the Sabres.

After their big line of Marchand, Pastrnak, and center Patrice Bergeron combined for 72 of the Bruins’ 164 goals (43.9%) last season, the team brought in Foligno (seven goals, 20 points in 49 games with the Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs), Haula (nine goals, 21 points in 51 games with the Nashville Predators), and Nosek (eight goals, 18 points in 38 games with the Golden Knights) to improve their bottom-six forward group. Though, the second-line center position is up for grabs after Krejci left to play in the Czech Republic.

Following the loss of Lauzon in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the Bruins signed Forbort (two goals, 12 points, +1 rating, 48.22% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 46.24% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 46.49% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 games with the Winnipeg Jets) and kept Mike Reilly in the mix on the backend. The team averaged 2.39 goals-against per game, tied for fourth in the NHL last season.

The core led by Bergeron (36 years old) and Marchand (33) is not getting younger and the Bruins will likely trend down soon but should still compete for a spot in the top-three in the Atlantic.

Tampa Bay Lightning

2020-21 Result: 36-17-3, third in Central Division; 2021 Stanley Cup Champions

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Brayden Point (23 goals, 48 points)
  • C Steven Stamkos (0.89 points-per-game)
  • LHD Victor Hedman (36 assists, 25:03 average TOI/game)
  • G Andrei Vasilevskiy (31 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Perry, C Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, RHD Zach Bogosian, G Brian Elliott, RHD Andrej Sustr

Key Offseason Subtractions: Savard, Stephens, C Tyler Johnson, C Yanni Gourde, LW Blake Coleman, RW Barclay Goodrow, RHD Luke Schenn, LHD Andreas Borgman, G Curtis McElhinney

After a second straight Stanley Cup Championship, the Lightning lost many key contributors from both of those teams as their entire checking line of Coleman, Goodrow, and Gourde in addition to Johnson and Savard are gone.

To replace them, the Lightning signed some low-risk but potential high-reward type signings by bringing in Perry (nine goals, 21 points in 49 games with Canadiens), Bellemare (nine goals, 11 points in 53 games with Colorado Avalanche), and Bogosian (four assists, +7 rating, 52.75% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 55.56% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, 56.1% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage).

The Lightning will also be counting on their internal depth featuring players such as center Alex Barre-Boulet (three goals in 15 NHL games, eight goals/12 points in 10 AHL games), center Ross Colton (nine goals, 12 points in 30 NHL games), and defenseman Cal Foote (one goal, three points, +9 rating, 49.16% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 50.69% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, 46.58% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 35 NHL games) to take the next step.

Having right-wing Nikita Kucherov, who missed the entire regular season before earning eight goals and 32 points in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games, back will help an offense that was already tied for eighth with an average of 3.21 goals-per-game. Vasilevskiy will also give this team a chance at going for three.

The Lightning should be near the top of the NHL again despite losing many key contributors, though we have yet to see the effect of all the hockey that they played over the past two seasons will have on them.

Toronto Maple Leafs

2020-21 Result: 35-14-7, first in North Division; lost to Canadiens in first round

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Auston Matthews (41 goals, 1.27 points-per-game)
  • RW Mitch Marner (47 assists, 67 points)
  • LHD Morgan Reilly (23:47 TOI/game)
  • G Jack Campbell (17 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Ritchie, Kase, Amadio, Biega, LW Michael Bunting, RW Kurtis Gabriel, C David Kampf, LHD Carl Dahlstrom, G Petr Mrazek

Key Offseason Subtractions: Bogosian, Foligno, G Frederik Andersen, G David Rittich, LW Zach Hyman, C Joe Thornton, C Alex Galchenyuk, C Nic Petan, LHD Ben Hutton, RW Stefan Noesen

Following a fifth straight first-round exit, the Maple Leafs shook their forward group up a bit as they signed Ritchie (15 goals and 26 goals in 56 games), Kase (who played in just three games last season and tallied seven goals and 24 points in 55 games with the Bruins and Anaheim Ducks in 2019-20), Bunting (10 goals, 13 points in 21 games with Arizona Coyotes), and Kampf (one goal, 12 points in 56 games with Chicago Blackhawks). The team finished sixth in the NHL with an average of 3.32 goals-per-game last season.

After Jack Campbell grabbed the starting job in Toronto, they let Andersen walk and signed Mrazek, who went 6-2-3 with a .923 save percentage, a 2.06 goals-against average, and three shutouts with the Hurricanes.

The Maple Leafs have plenty of offensive fire power led by Matthews (the reigning Maurice Rocket Richard Trophy winner after he tallied the most goals in the NHL last season), Marner, center John Tavares (19 goals, 50 points in 56 games), and right-wing William Nylander (17 goals, 42 points in 51 games), though the loss of Hyman will sting. The additions of Ritchie, Bunting, and Kase should provide some depth around the big four.

The Maple Leafs bring back the same blueline that was tied for seventh with an average of 2.64 goals-against last season, though against teams they finished at least 11 points ahead of (except one).

After some turnover, the Maple Leafs should battle the Bruins for a spot behind the Lightning and Panthers but the real assessment of this team will come in the spring. If they fail again, some major changes could be coming in Toronto.

Florida Panthers

2020-21 Result: 37-14-5, second in Central Division; lost to Lightning in first round

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Jonathan Huberdeau (41 assists, 61 assists)
  • C Aleksander Barkov (26 goals, 1.16 points-per-game)
  • RHD Aaron Ekblad (25:05 average TOI/game)
  • G Sergei Bobrovsky (19 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Thornton, Reinhart, C Zac Dalpe

Key Offseason Subtractions: Levi, Hinostroza, C Alex Wennberg, LHD Keith Yandle, RHD Anton Stralman, LW Nikita Gusev, C Lucas Wallmark, G Chris Driedger

The Panthers made some solid moves over the offseason as they acquired Reinhart (25 goals and 40 points in 54 games with the Sabres last season) at a fairly cheap price and signed Thornton (five goals and 20 points in 44 games with the Maple Leafs) after averaging 3.36 goals-per-game last season (tied with the Capitals for fourth).

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky’s seat is getting hot in Florida after the 33-year-old went 19-8-2 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average in just 31 games last season. Rookie Spencer Knight took over the Panthers’ crease late in the year and went 4-0-0 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.32 goals-against average. He started the last two games of the Panthers’ first-round series loss.

After acquiring Reinhart, the Panthers have six forwards who averaged over 0.7 points-per-game last season (Barkov, Huberdeau: 1.11, C Carter Verhaeghe: 0.84, Reinhart and LW Anthony Duclair: 0.74, RW Patric Hornqvist: 0.73).

The Panthers are seeking to find some consistency defensively after finishing ninth with an average of 2.70 goals-against per game, which followed two seasons where they combined to allow 3.29 goals-per-game. They did not make any acquisitions on defense but lost Stralman and Yandle, which were cap dumps. The return of Ekblad, who missed the final 27 games of last season due to a fracture in his left leg, will be a big one for Florida.

Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, is heading into the final year of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent on July 13. The Panthers are hoping to resolve this by the start of the season.

Following the addition of Reinhart, the Panthers are expected to compete for the top seed in the Atlantic Division.

Breakout Candidates

C Sam Bennett — Panthers

After getting acquired from the Calgary Flames, Bennett earned six goals and 15 points in 10 games. The 25-year-old has never had more than 36 points in a season and hit 30 points just once in his six-season NHL career. He fit beautifully into the Panthers’ system and could break out with a full season in Florida.

Ritchie — Maple Leafs

Following the loss of Hyman, the Maple Leafs have an opening in their top-six forward group and have given Ritchie a look on Matthews’ wing during training camp. The 25-year-old’s 15 goals last season was a career-high and he was on pace to finish with 22 in an 82-game season. The Maple Leafs have the most talented offense that Ritchie has been apart of during his NHL career, so perhaps he could see his numbers jump.

G Jeremy Swayman — Bruins

The 22-year-old jumped ahead of Halak on the Bruins’ goalie depth chart down the stretch last season and will likely see an even bigger role this season with Rask out for at least the first few months of the season. The Bruins’ average of 27.1 shots-against per game last season was tied for second in the NHL and their defense got even tougher with the addition of Forbort. Taking that into account, Swayman has a good chance at establishing himself as an NHL starting netminder.

RW Drake Batherson — Senators

Following the loss of Dadonov, the 23-year-old should get more ice time this season. In his first full NHL season, Batherson posted 17 goals and 34 points. With many of the Senators’ young players maturing, they should be able to produce better results, which should bode well for Batherson after he was tied for the second-most goals on the team.

Standings Predictions

1. X – Lightning

2. X – Panthers

3. X – Maple Leafs

4. X – Bruins

5. Canadiens

6. Senators

7. Red Wings

8. Sabres

Other 2021-22 Division Previews:

Pacific

Central

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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