In previewing the Atlantic Division, there was a theme that kept coming up. Most experts believe that the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and the Montreal Canadiens are the class of the division. For the rest of the teams in the division, they will be viewed as underdogs. Reason being is these NHL Atlantic teams have blue line issues.
The Boston Bruins blue line has seen better days. The Bruins defense is anchored by Zdeno Chara, who turns 40 at the end of the upcoming season. The future hall of famer is still solid but no longer a franchise defenseman. Torey Krug is a top four blue liner. However, after that, the Bruins are counting on a mixture of veterans and youngsters in Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, John-Michael Liles, Colin Miller, and Joseph Morrow.
Quite simply the Bruins defensive unit is not sufficient to make the playoffs. Last year Boston finished 20th in goals allowed per game, and that was with having a franchise goalie between the pipes in Tuukka Rask. This year’s squad might be worse.
After the top three teams in the Atlantic, the team that has the greatest depth on the blue line is the Buffalo Sabres. Considering how much the Sabres goaltending was in a state of flux last year, finishing 16th in goals allowed per game was a positive.
Adding Dmitry Kulikov this summer was a huge positive. Young veterans Zach Bogosian and Cody Franson need to be solid, consistent performers. Youngsters Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe need to continue to improve their game in their own end and away from the puck. Ristolainen was fourth in team scoring last year fro Buffalo. The 21-year old defenseman has a significant upside.
The growth of the young Sabres blueliners and the addition of Kulikov could be the reason why Buffalo makes the playoffs this season.
— theScore (@theScore) September 15, 2016
Detroit Red Wings
If the Detroit Red Wings 25 year playoff streak ends this year, it will be because of their defense. Detroit’s top four blue liners are built around three players who are at least 30 years of age in Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, and Mike Green. Danny DeKeyser signed a six-year deal this summer.
While Detroit has an abundance of talented forwards and possibly a future stud in net in Petr Mrazek, it’s hard to see the Red Wings being an Eastern Conference contender with their current defensive corps.
On paper, the Ottawa Senators blue line unit seems like a good mix. But last year’s stats don’t lie. Ottawa finished 26th in goals allowed per game. The play of goalie’s Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond were clearly a factor.
However, there are issues on defense. While Erik Karlsson put up a ridiculous 82 point season, he was also a minus-two. Cody Ceci, Marc Methot, and Chris Wideman were solid in their own end but need to do more regarding contributing offensively. The big question is Dion Phaneuf still a top four defenseman?
— TSN 1200 (@TSN1200) September 23, 2016
Toronto Maple Leafs
Even though the future appears to be brilliant for the Toronto Maple Leafs they still have a lot of work to do regarding their defense. The Maple Leafs finished 25th in goals allowed per game last season. Adding Frederik Andersen will inevitably reduce the goals scored against the Leafs.
The big question for Toronto is other than Morgan Reilly do the Maple Leafs have a defenseman they believe will be part of their long-term plans? Most likely the answer to that questions is no. Still, a lot of work to do in Toronto regarding making them a playoff team, let alone a contender.
Keep in Mind
In regards to two of the top three teams in the Atlantic, there are a couple of big questions regarding their blue lines. The Panthers have had a huge amount of turnover on their blue line. Aaron Ekblad and Alex Petrovic are all that’s left from last year’s top six defensemen from Florida’s opening night lineup. For the Canadiens Andrei Markov turns 38 in December.
Questions are everywhere in the NHL Atlantic regarding teams blue lines.