Questions Facing the 2019-20 Atlantic Division

Marcus Johansson, a member of the 2019-20 Atlantic Divison, skates the puck
BOSTON, MA - MAY 04: Boston Bruins left wing Marcus Johansson (90) gets ready to pass the puck up along the boards. During Game 5 in the Second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs featuring the Boston Bruins against the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 04, 2019 at TD Garden in Boston, MA. (Photo by Michael Tureski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The 2019-20 Atlantic Division is on pace to be the most competitive in the league. It features an immense amount of talent that was bolstered over the summer. After detailing these improvements in the Puck Drop Preview series, the Last Word on Hockey team now turns their attention towards the questions surrounding each division. With so many improvements and changes facing the 2019-20 Atlantic Division, there are plenty of these questions to go around.

NHL Notebook: 2019-20 Atlantic Division

Can the Bottom-Six Stay On Top?

The Boston Bruins thrived off of their depth last season. They created an unsuspecting bottom-six, featuring names like Sean Kuraly and Joakim Nordstrom. Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson also joined at the trade deadline. The expectations for these players were fairly low but, down the stretch, all of them became critical pieces of the Bruins success. If it wasn’t for the post-season heroics of players like Coyle and Kuraly, the Bruins wouldn’t have made the Stanley Cup Final.

Heading into the new season, this depth needs to stay consistent. In a much tougher division, the Bruins lineup looks largely unchanged. Their goaltending and defence will continue to be among the best in the league but the stability of their offence is up-in-the-air.

Will a New Head Coach Be Able to Bring Together a New Roster?

The Buffalo Sabres made a healthy amount of additions this summer. With Colin Miller, Johansson, Jimmy Vesey, and many more joining the team, their success isn’t easy to predict. What adds to this is the team’s new head coach, Ralph Krueger. Krueger hasn’t coached in the NHL since the 2012-13 season. That year, he set a 19-22-7 record with the Edmonton Oilers. Since then, he’s been absent from the game of hockey, instead serving as the director and chairman of the Premier League’s Southampton Football Club.

He was dismissed from Southampton this past April and decided to make the switch back to hockey. He now replaces Phil Housley as the head coach of the Sabres. Housley was the scapegoat of many of the team’s woes last year. Now, with a new coach in place, fans will get to see if Housley was truly to blame. With an improved roster, hopes are high for many Buffalo natives.

Can a Young Top-Line Live Up to Hopes?

The Detroit Red Wings are rebuilding their roster, in hopes of reaching their former glory. Yet, they boast a very impressive amount of young talent. Among this young talent are Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi, nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi. These three players form the team’s top-line but have disappointed in recent years.

Mantha has served as the specific target of many fans ire but is looking to be on the upswing. He had a tremendous end to the 2018-19 season and performed very well during the World Championship tournament during the summer. While Detroit may see another year of disappointment, the question of whether Mantha can continue his dominant play, and rejuvenate the team’s top-line, is present nonetheless.

Can the Paper Translate to the Ice?

On paper, the Florida Panthers look like a scary bunch. They boast one of the best goaltenders in the league, recently signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a historic contract. They also reeled in plenty of tremendous additions to their offence and defence and signed Joel Quenneville, one of the greatest head coaches in history. There is no real way to predict how the Panthers 2019-20 season will turn out, with such a new group, but it seems the sky is the limit.

At least, in theory. There is never any certainty with such a new roster. The very real possibility of new names conflicting is something that could plague the Panthers lineup. If they can meld well, the playoffs seem to be a given. If not, the Panthers could finish among the bottom half of the league yet again.

Do They Have the Extra Spark?

The Montreal Canadiens missed the playoffs by one point last season. One point held Montreal back, adding extra meaning to the eight overtime losses they had during the 2018-19 season. Over the summer, they made multiple moves to hopefully add this final boost.

This included bringing in players like Ben Chiarot and Keith Kinkaid. Chiarot will provide a significant boost to the bleak left-side of Montreal’s defence. He’s a positionally sound defenceman with a knack for defence, adding significant stability to the Canadiens lineup. Kinkaid adds similar stability. Despite being on a poor New Jersey Devils team, Kinkaid has boasted a lot of promise in the last few years. Last season, though, that promise took a bit of a dip. His save percentage dropped to a career-low .891 and his goals-against-average rose to a career-high of 3.36. It wouldn’t be absurd to chalk this up as a poor year, though, and adding Kinkaid to the already strong Montreal roster will surely pay off.

But is it enough? The goaltending duo of Carey Price and Kinkaid is daunting and the Montreal offence has plenty of potential but fans will still be eager to see if they can reach the post-season next year, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2017.

How Good Are They?

The Ottawa Senators experienced a truly monumental breakdown during the 2018-19 season. All of their star players, including Mark Stone and Matt Duchene, left the squad. This leaves the future 2019-20 team looking extremely barren. While additions like Artem Anisimov, Ron Hainsey, and the swap of Cody Ceci for Nikita Zaitsev could build the team up, there are no true stars left on the roster.

That is, save for Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot. Both players had tremendous rookie seasons last year, scoring 45 and 55 points respectfully, in 71 and 70 games. To the relief of many fans, Tkachuk and Chabot looked like they were truly the future of the team. Skeptics have pointed out the potential skew that could have affected both players as a result of playing so much ice time with elite talents Stone and Duchene. This year, both players will face a hefty challenge. Not only do they have to avoid the notorious sophomore slump but they also have to again prove their worth to fans. On a barren roster, Tkachuk and Chabot will now be front-and-center. Everything they do will be meticulously observed by fans, whether it be good or bad. So, after tremendous rookie seasons, it’s time to find out if the Senators future is really all-that; good enough to fend for themselves.

Can They Do It Again?

The Tampa Bay Lightning were truly historic last season. They tied the NHL record for wins in a single season, truly blowing away the entire league. The Lightning looked incredible all year but broke the hearts of everyone when they were eliminated in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The off-season was fairly stagnant for Tampa. They lost Anton Stralman but reeled in Kevin Shattenkirk, also adding recent Stanley Cup champion Pat Maroon who will add a punch to their bottom-six. In the end, though, the summer didn’t help or hurt Tampa. This leaves many fans wondering if they can match their 2018-19 regular season and if they can improve on their 2019 post-season. There’s really no telling. The entire league has seemed to improve this summer, with the 2019-20 Atlantic Division looking particularly daunting. There’s no way to confidently say that the Lightning will repeat their historic year but the expectations are very, very high.

Was It Worth It?

The Toronto Maple Leafs have officially gone all-out. Mitch Marner signed a six-year contract extension with a cap hit of $10.893 each year. The Leafs are now paying their three stars, Marner, Auston Matthews, and John Tavares, a combined $33.527 million, or almost 40 percent of their entire cap space. The Leafs also dealt away Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen for Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot. The former of the two will likely only be in Toronto for one season, as the team will struggle to re-sign him when his contract expires at the end of the year.

The deal went to show how much Toronto is betting on this season. After an unnecessarily long, dramatic summer, the team is finally turning their sights towards the 2019-20 season. After so many dramatic moves, anything less than a Stanley Cup would be a tremendous disappointment for the cap-strapped Leafs. This isn’t going to be an easy feat, though, with so many elite teams, especially the 2019-20 Atlantic Division, standing in Toronto’s way. There’s no time like the present, though, as fans eagerly wait to find out if all of their summer-stress was worth it. The Leafs have only made the playoffs four times in the last 15 years and haven’t won the Cup since 1967. They’re long overdue for a win and are surely ready to show fans their worth.

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