Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Atlantic Division.
2019-20 Atlantic Division Preview
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Higley-Blair writes:
The Tampa Bay Lightning just had one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, tying the record with 62 wins. So naturally, they come in at the top spot in our Atlantic division preview. This squad’s defence is arguably one of the best, boasting Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and two-time Norris trophy nominee and one-time winner, Victor Hedman. They also have the reigning Vezina winner in Andrei Vasilevskiy. At forward, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a franchise centre in Steven Stamkos, and an Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, and, Hart Trophy winner in Nikita Kucherov. Not to mention Brayden Point, who is coming off of a breakout season with 92 points. Even with the loss of J.T. Miller in a trade with Vancouver, this is without a doubt, still the best team in the NHL. The Lightning scored, on average, 1.44 times for every goal an opponent scored over the course of the season. If Tampa Bay can play like they did last season, they should be the favourite to win the Stanley Cup.
2. Boston Bruins
Brandon Higley-Blair writes:
The Boston Bruins are coming off of a tremendous season that saw them come up just one game short of a Stanley Cup title. With a record of 49-24-9, the Bruins finished in second place in their division, conference, and third entire NHL (losing the tiebreaker to the Flames). With a combined 260 points, Boston’s three-headed monster of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak carried the offence, and expect them to do the same this season. David Krejci and Jake Debrusk will provide scoring from the second line but it has yet to be seen who will take the other wing job. Charlie Coyle or Danton Heinen could be candidates for that role. Defensively, there are questions. Can captain Zdeno Chara continue to play well in his 22nd NHL season? Will the looming expiry of his contract hold over Torey Krug‘s head? While there are some questions about the big pieces on the back end, this team has good depth that will be able to perform. Boston should have yet another strong season.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Now that the Toronto Maple Leafs have taken care of all their business (re-signing Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, and Andreas Johnsson), the team looks primed to contend again in 2018-19. The Maple Leafs are armed with an elite forward group that features a versatile array of weapons. The deadly shot of Auston Matthews, the playmaking ability of Mitch Marner, the swiss army knife quality of John Tavares, and the blazing speed of players like William Nylander, Kapanen, and Johnsson give the Leafs multiple ways to put the puck in the net. Though the Leafs possess a deadly attack, there are still questions present for the team.
The first bit of uncertainty comes in the net. Frederik Andersen is a fringe-elite goaltender, but the Leafs have seemingly overworked him in the past. Toronto has not invested in a quality back-up for Andersen, so the workload remains an issue. Past that, many doubts have been cast upon the Leafs defence. Toronto has a top-heavy defence that includes quality players like Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and newly acquired Tyson Barrie. After that trio, the defence certainly gets thin. Teams like the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins have won championships before with average defenders, but it’s still not an ideal situation. Finally, the Leafs will also be missing a couple of key players to start the season. Forward Zach Hyman and defender Travis Dermott will both miss time at the beginning of the year. This could result in the Leafs not getting off to a stellar start, and in a tough division that could be the difference between second and third place.
4. Florida Panthers
Brandon Higley-Blair writes:
The Florida Panthers had a tough season. Finishing with a 36-32-14 record would not be good enough to get this team into the playoffs. They would be led by Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Evgenii Dadonov offensively. Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle solidified the back end. Goaltending, however, was a huge issue for the team. Goaltenders Roberto Luongo and James Reimer both had very down years, and neither will be returning to the team. This off-season, they addressed the goaltending issue and were able to bring in Sergei Bobrovsky. They also signed Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari, giving this team greater offensive depth, in addition to signing Anton Stralman, who should provide more stability on the blueline. While they have struggled in recent years, this season could be different from their past. This team could eclipse the 40 win mark this season. If new head coach, Joel Quenneville, can work his magic they should be a sniffing a playoff spot.
5. Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens finished the 2018-19 season barely outside the playoffs. Carey Price began to look like his old self, sporting a 0.925 save percentage after December 1st. Shea Weber came back from injury, dominant as ever. Not only that, but they were a top 5 team in the NHL at 5v5. Their even-strength play was better than almost any team, and Brendan Galagher, in particular, was exceptional at 5 on 5. Where the Canadiens lacked, however, was on the powerplay. They had the second-worst powerplay in the league, where they only converted on 13.2% of their opportunities. With the Canadiens young players having another years experience under their belt, and the Habs looking to optimize their powerplay, they should have a season to watch. Led by Price, Weber, and Gallagher, the Habs will be looking to make it back to the playoffs.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Oscar Elieff writes:
While the Buffalo Sabres made additions this off-season, most of which were for the better, they still haven’t done enough to push them over the edge to put themselves into playoff contention. They are clearly above the 7th and 8th place teams in the division but are very clearly below the rest. While the additions of Colin Miller, Henri Jokiharju and Marcus Johansson are all excellent, the Sabres simply do not have enough quality in any position. The Sabres have good high-end players with Rasmus Dahlin, Jeff Skinner, and Jack Eichel, however, it is the quality of players after their stars where the team falls flat. They do have a better team on paper this season than last, it seems. This should be encouraging to fans of the team as it seems management has been making good moves of late. It just isn’t enough to push them to the playoffs in this division.
7. Detroit Red Wings
Rob Brent writes:
The Detroit Red Wings finished second to last in the Atlantic Division last year. Though they finished the season strong (winning 7 out of their last 10 games), they seem primed to repeat that finish during the 2019-20 campaign. Detroit has some promise in their forward group with a core of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi. They will also hope for a breakout season from their first-round draft pick last year, Filip Zadina. They also return a dependable goaltender in the long-time starter, Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings’ real issue resides on the blueline. Detroit gave up the fifth-most goals of any team last season (277) and shows no signs of improvement. The retirement of Niklas Kronwall takes away a veteran presence that had some value, despite his injuries and age catching up to him. The Detroit blueline is filled with young, ineffective, or defenders that represent a combination of both. The Red Wings have an improving forward group, but their situation on defence will still be their undoing.
8. Ottawa Senators
Rob Brent writes:
The Ottawa Senators finished last in the NHL during the 2018-19 season with 64 points, and it’s unlikely they improve much heading into this season. The Senators have some promising young players, namely Brady Tkachuk, Colin White, and Thomas Chabot. Despite their young core, those players are unlikely to carry the Senators to a strong season. Ottawa is weak in net with an ageing Craig Anderson and has very little depth at both the forward and defence positions. The Senators may be able to win some games with youth and speed, but it still seems unlikely they finish anywhere but last in the Atlantic division. They will be hunting for a high first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft in order to advance their rebuild.
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