Now that there are just four divisions in the NHL, there isn’t really one “weak” division. I’d say that the Pacific would take that title, but as we’ve seen before that can change quickly. The Metropolitan was supposed to be the weakling this year but it clearly wasn’t. The Atlantic will be tough for years to come, and the Ottawa Senators need to keep up with all the other teams.
There were a lot of upgrades for the teams, and I wanted to take a look at which direction each team is trending. Let’s start off at the top.
Subtractions: PA Parenteau, Brandon Prust
Today the Canadiens made a smart low-risk high-reward signing by getting Alex Semin, which could really help their offense. Besides him, their additions and subtractions aren’t very significant and they will be a similar team to last year. However, I wouldn’t say this team is particularly that strong. We saw just how much they rely on Carey Price and if he isn’t playing out of his mind then they are vulnerable.
They aren’t stacked or anything in their farm system, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a small step back next season. It’s hard to get Price to do what he did two straight seasons. In the long haul, they are positioned well, but I also don’t quite see them as in the same tier as Tampa Bay, Chicago, New York, etc.
Trending: Slightly down
Tampa Bay Lightning:
The Lightning haven’t made many moves, but they did upgrade their bottom-six by adding possession wiz Erik Condra, plus Tye McGinn is a fine addition. They were already a powerhouse last year, and they will be in 2015-16. The scary thing is that Jonathan Drouin isn’t even a productive player yet, but I would bet on him taking the next step. They also have Andrei Vasilevskiy in net who will most likely end up being better than Ben Bishop.
They haven’t finished their climb upwards, and with their abundance of young talent like Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman, Nikita Nesterov, Jonathan Drouin and Vladislav Namestnikov, they will be at the top for years to come. They are the scariest team in the East.
Trending: All the way up to the topJun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop (30) stands for the national anthem with his teammates before game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Red Wings:
The two additions made by the Red Wings were very solid, especially getting Green for only a three-year deal. He addresses a need for the team, and Brad Richards adds some depth. I’m not sure if they will be insanely better next year, but they certainly did improve. The only way they will be successful is if their goaltending is solid, whether that is Jimmy Howard or Petr Mrazek.
They have some good young talent and you can never count them out. As long as Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are producing, the Red Wings will be a playoff team. I’m not even so sure that after they are gone they will be bad, as Detroit always finds a way to replace their players. Look for them to have a similar season to what the Washington Capitals had last year.
Trending: Slightly up
Additions: Chris Wideman
I have so many thoughts on where the organization is going, but I’ll limit this to two paragraphs. Ottawa has made no upgrades so far, and I would argue that they have gotten worse. Losing Condra will definitely hurt, as he isn’t so replaceable like people are saying. The Senators are banking on their young players to improve again next season, which is reasonable. I’m happy that for once they are rolling with the youngsters instead of the veterans.
That said, they aren’t that amazing of a team. If they are lucky, they might slip into 3rd in the Atlantic, but they are still a bubble team. They need Craig Anderson to be above average, and if he’s not then they won’t make the playoffs. The team will stay stagnant until they upgrade the defense, add another top-nine forward, and have younger players take another step forward.
Wow. I mean, what can I say? I have no idea what new GM Don Sweeney is doing, but as a Senators fan I love it. Trading Dougie Hamilton was just inexcusable, and looking at the draft picks they got in return for him, they severely overreached on two of their three first round picks. It’s too early to fully evaluate the trade obviously, but right now it looks plain idiotic.
The Lucic/Jones swap and subsequent Jones/1st round pick trade was good work, but besides that I don’t like what he has done. Letting Soderberg go will hurt more than they think, and Matt Beleskey will prove to be another free agent bust that got his payday just because of a hot playoff streak. I don’t see them as the intimidating team like I did before, especially with Zdeno Chara getting older and declining. I wouldn’t be surprised if they missed the playoffs next year once again.
Additions: Reilly Smith
The Panthers have been very quiet so far, although they did make a good deal by upgrading Jimmy Hayes to Reilly Smith. There were points where they looked like a playoff team last year, but I just don’t see them making a run next year. They have solid young core with Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Nick Bjugstad, but in the immediate future they look to have minimal improvement.
In the long run they may be a threat, but they still need lots of reinforcements.
Toronto Maple Leafs:
I really like what the Leafs are doing. I don’t think I had ever said that in my life, but it’s true. They finally have some smart people managing the team, and the direction of the team is headed down a winning path. They don’t have a very good team right now, but they have made some solid cheap additions that will give the team some value and perhaps a draft pick if Toronto decides to trade them later in the year.Apr 8, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Phil Kessel (81) against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
They obviously are far from being a playoff team, but they have built a much better foundation than in years past. They now have blue-chip prospects like Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and Kasperi Kapanen who could make an impact quite soon.
It may be another two or more seasons before they are good again, but with the people in charge of the team, I would trust them. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am scared of what the Leafs are capable of because the money they have and all the intelligent minds in their front office.
Trending: Up, but slowly
The Sabres are a very interesting team. Tim Murray is the mastermind of all these moves, and I think he has a master plan that he’s currently following. He got his guy in Robin Lehner, and he may look like a genius with that move. Right now they have killer centre depth, with Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Zemgus Girgensons. The wing positions aren’t quite as good, but Evander Kane might be the top line force that everyone thought he’d be in Winnipeg.
Their defense is still horrendous, but I think the Sabres could get much better very quickly. I think Murray will be even more aggressive next summer, and they should be a bit better this year. They have plenty of young talent, and it may work very well or it may end up being an Edmonton Oilers type situation. Either way, I wouldn’t sleep on the Sabres.
Trending: Quickly up
How Does It Look?
All in all, the Atlantic is getting better and in a few years it might be scary good. In the immediate future, the Lightning, Red Wings, and Sabres should be better. But in the long run, the Lightning will still be just as good, the Sabres and Leafs might be contenders, and the Red Wings will most likely still be up there. That doesn’t even include the Canadiens who have Price and Subban for a long time, the Senators who have such a young core, and the Panthers who also have lots of young talent.
The only team left is the Bruins, who might be going through a transition phase in a year or two. It’s way too early to say they are done as contenders, but it’s not impossible to imagine them being near the bottom in two or three seasons.
No matter which way you put it, the Atlantic will be über competitive, especially in a couple of seasons. The Sabres and Leafs have plenty of young assets that they could turn into another Tampa Bay, which would make life hell for the Senators. There’s also a chance that those two teams stay in the basement for a long time, but it seems unlikely.
Long story short, there will be lots of improvement in the division, and Ottawa better make a run or two soon before other teams catch up.
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